Chapter 1: Prologue
Moonlight flooded the courtyard where Oliver waited restlessly for his sister. What was taking so long? Had she changed her mind?
Finally he spotted her, making her way across the courtyard toward him with steps quickened by nervousness. She had a knapsack slung over one shoulder, and she had traded her usual dress for attire more practical for traveling- a tunic, leggings, and sturdy leather boots.
“Are you ready?” Oliver asked when she reached him. Thea nodded, but asked “Are we really doing this Oliver? Are we really about to go sneaking off into the night like thieves and leave behind everything we’ve ever known?
“A gilded cage is still a cage,” Oliver reminded her. “Mother has only gotten more controlling since Father died. We need to get out of here now, before her hold over who we are and how we live our lives becomes absolute. We may never have another chance.” Thea nodded again, looking small and frail and fearful.
“Come here,” Oliver murmured, drawing her into his embrace. “Everything will be fine. I’ll be with you every step of the way.” Thea nodded and pushed away from him.
“Let’s go,” she said. “Before I lose my nerve.” Oliver turned away from her and climbed up onto the courtyard wall, then reached a hand down to help her up. A moment later, they were standing on the other side of the wall, closer to true freedom than they’d ever been.
They made it only as far as the next town before their mother’s men-at-arms caught up with them. The last Oliver saw of his sister was her screaming his name and reaching desperately for him as they dragged her through the door of the inn, leaving him wondering why they didn’t take him too…
Oliver’s eyes flicked open. Through his chamber window, the sun could be seen rising over the mountains far in the east. He sat up in bed, dragging a hand over his face. He hadn’t thought oft- hadn’t allowed himself to think of- the last time he’d seen his sister in years. To dream of it now felt like a portent of something. Or at least it would have if Oliver had been the sort of person who believed in fate. He dressed, shivering in the brisk morning air, then went to the kitchen to break his fast. Dig was already there when he arrived. He grunted by way of greeting. He wasn’t the most talkative person in the morning. After a time, he spoke.
“I would strongly advise against patrolling today,” he said. His deep rumbling bass voice rattled off the kitchen’s stone walls. “There are rumors circulating that your mother is looking for you again.”
“My mother is looking for the Green Arrow,” Oliver corrected, swallowing down the last of his breakfast. “She has no reason to suspect that he and I are one and the same.” Dig narrowed his eyes. It was clear he didn’t appreciate Oliver’s apparently flippant attitude in response to the news.
“Still,” he said after a moment. “Be careful out there. Don’t get yourself into trouble trying to rescue damsels in distress.”
“How many damsels in distress am I likely to encounter in the middle of the forest, John?” Oliver asked as he went to the armory to retrieve his weapons. If Dig answered, he didn’t hear it.
Outside, Oliver drew in a deep breath of the crisp morning air and smiled. He felt energized. He felt alive. He felt...complete. He may not have believed in fate, but he still felt deep in his soul that this was what he had been put on the world to do. He could help so many more people this way than he ever could have in his family hall, trying to navigate around court life and political intrigue. Hearing a disturbance somewhere off in the distance, he set off to do what he did best.
Chapter 2: A Summons
Felicity’s quiet morning was shattered by someone knocking on her door.
“Coming!” she called, despite knowing that her unexpected visitor couldn’t hear her. She took a moment to wipe away the words written in chalk on the floor in front of her door before unlocking it and pulling it open to find a courier dressed in the green and gold livery of those employed by the Queens standing on her stoop, his fist raised to knock again.
“Felicity Smoak?” he asked, dropping his hand to his side. She nodded.
“I’ve been sent by Lady Starling to summon you to her hall,” the courier said.
“What does she want with me ?” Felicity asked.
“She declined to share that information with me,” the courier replied in a distinctly snarky tone. “Now we’d best get going. She doesn’t like to be kept waiting.” He waited while Felicity locked her door, shifting impatiently from one foot to the other, then set off through the streets at a pace so brisk that Felicity had to jog to keep up with him. He didn’t slow when they reached the gates of the Queen hall, and the guards there didn’t stop him, only nodded in greeting and opened them without a word, allowing him to pass with his increasingly bewildered charge in tow. It seem that everyone in the Queen’s employ knew that Lady Starling had sent for the city’s resident mage.
With the rapid pace her escort had set, it wasn’t long before Felicity found herself in Lady Starling’s audience chamber, face to face with the lady herself. She was seated in an ornate, high backed chair carved with the Queen family crest- an arrowhead aimed at an eight pointed star. Dressed in the green and gold of her house, with an emerald pendant gleaming at her throat and a golden circlet glinting in her blonde hair, her posture and expression regal and aloof, she looked a queen in more than just name. Felicity swallowed nervously.
“Miss Smoak,” Lady Starling said, the construction of the audience chamber magnifying her voice such that though they were several feet apart, Felicity could hear her as clearly as if there were mere inches between them. “No doubt you’re wondering why I’ve summoned you.” Felicity nodded, not trusting her voice.
“It’s simple really,” Lady Starling said, a touch of something like amusement coloring her tone. “I want you to find my son.” A short, sharp bark of laughter escaped Felicity before she could stop it.
“Your son vanished with leaving so much as trace five years ago,” she said, forgetting for a moment the decorum with which Moira Queen no doubt expected to be spoken to. “Finding him now is hardly what I would consider simple.” Lady Starling narrowed her eyes.
“Indeed,” she said with a slight dip of her head, as though they were simply having a polite conversation, but her tone was icy. It was as if she were daring Felicity to speak out of turn again. “That’s why I summoned you. I have exhausted all mundane methods of finding my son and have turned up nothing. He has shirked his responsibilities for long enough. It is high time he came home, and at present you are my only option.” Her lip curled in distaste, and in that moment Felicity remembered that she was known to have a strong anti-magic prejudice. She thought it best to choose her next words carefully.
“Where do I start?” she asked.
“I have reason to believe that the stories of the vigilante known as the Green Arrow and my son are connected somehow,” Lady Starling replied. Felicity didn’t think it very likely that a spoiled lordling who had run away from his responsibilities when things had gotten to hard was in any way connected to the Green Arrow, tireless defender of the innocent and the downtrodden, but she knew better than to voice those doubts. “Find him, and you find Oliver.”
“No doubt you are aware that almost nothing is known about the Green Arrow,” Felicity said, careful to frame her statement in a way that couldn’t be construed as insolent or challenging. “Finding him would be next to impossible, possibly even more difficult than finding your son. Where do you suggest I start looking?” Lady Starling spread her hands.
“I can only suggest that you follow the rumors, Miss Smoak,” she said. “Before your escort returns to fetch you, I want to inform you that I have the resources available to ensure that you will be well compensated for your work. However, a little extra motivation never hurts, so I’ll leave you with this- if you return withou my son, I will make sure that neither you nor anyone in your family will ever find work again. You will be left destitute on the streets and die an agonizing death in poverty if you fail me, so do not fail me. Find Oliver. Bring him home. Don’t return here without him. Understood?” Felicity nodded fearfully, a chill racing down her spine at the casual manner in which Lady Starling had leveled her threat. At that moment, the door to the audience chamber opened and the courier who had brought her entered.
“Good,” Lady Starling said, speaking to Felicity but nodding to the courier in acknowledgement of his presence. “I await the day you return Oliver to me.” Felicity barely felt the hand the courier put on her shoulder to guide her out of the room. It felt like she was floating through the halls rather than walking, and she wasn’t jolted back to full awareness until she found herself standing outside of the gate and realized that it was time for her to begin her search for the Green Arrow and, by extension, Robert Queen’s heir.
Chapter 3: Chasing Rumors
Felicity leaned back against a wall and blew out a heavy sigh. She was tired. She was frustrated. Her feet hurt, and she could feel the pressure of a headache building behind her eyes. After leaving the Queen hall the previous day, she’d gone straight home and spent the remainder of it pondering Lady Starling’s words. She’s said to “follow the rumors”, so today that’s what she was doing. She’d travelled what must have surely been the entire length of the city, what felt like several times, searching for stories of the Green Arrow. At that moment, Felicity would have been willing to swear that there wasn’t a single shop, inn, or tavern that she hadn’t set foot in.
So far, it had all come to naught. The only constant in all of the stories she’d heard was that there was no constant. None of them seemed to agree, and more than a few times Felicity had found herself in the middle of a tavern brawl as drunk, angry men sought to prove that their version of the story was the correct one with something stronger than words. If Moira Queen’s threat hadn’t terrified her so deeply, she might have simply given up and gone home. As it was, she was running out of options.
With another sigh, Felicity pushed herself away from the wall against which she’d been leaning, which either by coincidence or fate turned out to be part of what must have been the only tavern in the city that she hadn’t yet been to. Night was falling, and a chill was settling in the air. Felicity decided to stop in for some hot spiced wine before heading home to resume her search- however fruitless it was turning out to be- on the morrow.
“Let me guess,” said the man behind the long bar at the back of the room the moment she entered. He had short dark hair and a charming smile. “Some hot spiced wine?” Before Felicity could ask how he’d known that, he said, “You look cold,” punctuating his explanation with a noncommittal shrug. Felicity nodded and took a seat at one of the tables without speaking. Nearby, a group of men were talking in the loud voices of people who were trying to be discrete but were also too drunk to effectively control their volume. As a result, Felicity barely even had to eavesdrop to know that they were talking about the Green Arrow. She couldn’t say that she was surprised. He seemed to be a favorite topic of conversation in places like this. At the same time that she started planning how to insert herself into the conversation, the tavern owner, in the process of circling the room, deposited an earthenware cup on the table in front of her. He was moving again before she had a chance to thank him.
“Did I overhear you gentlemen talking about the Green Arrow?” Felicity asked, approaching the table, cup of wine in hand. The men seated in front of her eyed her suspiciously.
“Maybe,” one of them grunted. “What’s it to you?” Felicity held back a sigh of relief that none of them had recognized her. Her work thankfully afforded her a certain degree of anonymity- everyone in Starling knew the name of the city’s resident mage, but not necessarily her face.
“I’m looking for him,” she said matter of factly. “Lady Starling wants me to find him.”
“Funny,” another of the group of men said. “You don’t look like one of Moira Queen’s lackeys.” Meaning she wasn’t wearing green and gold. That subtext came through perfectly clearly.
“I’m not,” Felicity replied with a shrug. Her read of the group had told her that the best way to break through their sullenness and suspicion was to act uncaring. “But work has been hard to find these days, and she promised to pay me quite handsomely, so…” She trailed off, leaving out the part about Lady Starling threatening her.
“What does Lady Starling want with him anyway?” The question was posed by the first man to have spoken.
“She thinks he has some sort of connection to her missing son,” Felicity explained simply.
“You’re going to have to look somewhere else if you want information on him,” the second man who’d spoken put in. “We don’t have anything to tell you.” Felicity felt the mood of the group shift. It was clear that they thought of the Green Arrow as one of their own, a champion of the people, and they weren’t about to- as they saw it- sell him out to some uppity noble who only wished to harass him. She sighed. It was time to change tactics. There was only one way to get these men to give her the information she needed.
“Look,” she said, “I don’t want to be doing this. As much as I might disagree with some of his methods, the Green Arrow is doing good work, and I’d much prefer to leave him alone to continue doing it. But Lady Starling...she threatened me. She threatened my family. She made it all too clear what will happen to me and to them if I don’t do as she’s commanded me to do. I don’t have a choice.” Felicity noticed the men’s demeanors soften the instant the words left her mouth. Nobility bullying and threatening those beneath them to get their way was something they were well familiar with. Perhaps too familiar. She held her breath, hoping sympathy would loosen the tongues loyalty had tightened.
“Not much is known about the Green Arrow,” one of the men began, and Felicity released her pent up breath in a sigh of relief, “not his name, nor his face, nor where he comes from.”
“That would explain why none of the stories I’ve heard today agree,” Felicity remarked. The man who’d been speaking inclined his head slightly, a silent acknowledgement of the truth of her words. She wondered if perhaps she should learn the names of the group, but before she could act on that thought, one of them was speaking again.
“There’s only one thing that anybody knows for sure ” he said. “Whoever the Green Arrow is, you’ll find him in the forest that the main road out of the city runs through. That’s where he’s been sighted most often.” Felicity nodded. She was immensely relieved to at last have an actual starting point.
“Thank you,” she said, perhaps more fervently than she’d intended. “I’ll leave you gentlemen alone now, but again, thank you.” She backed away from the group and left the tavern in a hurry. She needed to get home to prepare for what would surely be a long journey. Tomorrow the real work would begin.
Chapter 4: Unexpected Encounters
Felicity was feeling a lot more apprehensive about her trip through the forest than she was willing to admit. She hadn't been outside Starling in many years, and her nervousness was not at all helped by the fact that this part of the road was known to be plagued with brigands and criminals of all kinds, which might explain why it was also where the Green Arrow had been sighted most frequently. Where there were criminals, so too would he be to stop them. Or so Felicity surmised.
What made the situation even worse was that she hadn’t exactly entered the forest with an actual concrete plan. She’d brought what she would need for a lengthy journey, but unless she ran into the Green Arrow by happenstance somewhere along the road, she didn’t really know what she was going to do. She supposed, if she made it all the way through the forest without encountering the object of her search, she could always visit Harrison Wells, the resident mage of Central City- so named because it lay in the exact center of the kingdom- and continue the search from there. The problem with that course of action was that, as she had learned the hard way yesterday, chasing rumors was a terribly inefficient way to find someone, and she dreaded what might happen if she kept Lady Starling waiting too long. Moira Queen was renowned- and feared- for her ability to see ten steps ahead in any given situation, for having the patience to see her plots through to their end, even if they took months or years to come to fruition. Somehow, though, Felicity doubted her patience would extend as far in regards to the matter at hand, especially considering how long she’d likely been working at it before getting Felicity involved. The empath in her dreaded what Lady Starling had planned for her son when she at last got him back. She was sure, given her reputation, that it couldn’t be anything good.
A noise somewhere in the trees had Felicity quickening her pace without conscious awareness that she was doing so.
All right, calm down, she told herself. It was probably just an animal. A moment later, a rabbit darted across the road, proving her right, but that didn’t make the tense feeling in the pit of her stomach go away, nor did it stop her from all but running headlong down the road until she forced herself to slow to a walk, scolding herself for being so skittish and paranoid. If there was anyone watching her, trying to decide whether she was worth the trouble, acting afraid would only make her more of a target. Criminals were very seldom braver than their victims, unless they were desperate. It occured to Felicity that the ones who hung around here might well be very, very desperate.
“Damn it, that doesn’t help,” she said to no one in particular. She forced herself to take a deep breath and take it just one step at a time and not think about anything except her goal. Thankfully, that seemed to help. Her heart rate slowed, the tense feeling in her stomach went away, and she didn’t feel nearly so nervous as she had a few minutes ago. Still, she felt it prudent to remain alert. She knew exactly what might happen if she let her guard down.
Afternoon lengthened into evening, the shadows stretching out. The setting sun turned into a fat orange disk through the trees in the distance as it sank toward the horizon. It would be full dark soon. Felicity began looking for a place to make camp for the night. Spotting a gap in the undergrowth, making a sort of natural path, she followed it, hoping it lead to a meadow or clearing where she could set up camp. She did her best to ignore the rustling she heard in the undergrowth all around her as she made her way down the path. More than likely it was caused by the movements of animals and thus was nothing to worry about.
Before long, Felicity came to the clearing she’d expected to find at the end of the path she’d been following. With a sigh, she dropped her pack and bedroll on the ground and set about gathering wood for a fire. It took several trips before she had a good sized pile.
There was another rustle in the undergrowth, much louder than the others had been. Felicity’s head shot up. She scanned the edges of the clearing, searching for the source of the sound. Seeing nothing, she went back to arranging the wood she’d gathered in a way that would make a decently sized fire when lit. With a few whispered words of heat and light and flame, her campfire was brought to life, blazing and crackling merrily as if it had been burning for hours. Felicity smiled and dragged her belongings over next to it.
“Now, what’s a pretty girl like you doing out in the forest all by yourself?” a voice suddenly hissed in her ear, accompanied by a talon-like grip on her shoulder. She turned her head to see a man dressed in dark green and black leaning over her, holding onto her so that she couldn’t escape. Around the edges of the clearing were other, similarly dressed men, hemming her in. She was surrounded, and silently cursing herself for not noticing them sneaking up. How many times had she heard rustles in the undergrowth and dismissed them as the activities of animals? Who knew how long had these brigands- for that’s what they were- been following her?
Desperate, she jabbed her elbow into the stomach of the man holding her and darted into the center of the clearing the second he released his grip. Her eyes flicked from one man in the group of brigands to the next, trying to formulate a plan in her fear and panic.
“Come on darling,” the man who’d been holding her crooned when he’d gotten his breath back, straightening up. “We want your money, not your life.”
“Personally, I’d rather not give you either,” Felicity shot back, thinking that one day that mouth of hers might well end up getting her killed. While the band of brigands was distracted, laughing at what they saw as misplaced bravery, she turned and ran back the way she’d come, thinking that if she could make it back to the road she might be able to evade them long enough to make it back to the relative safety of Starling until they were gone.
About halfway down the path, Felicity’s foot snagged on a jutting tree root and she fell to the ground with a cry of distress. In an instant, the brigands were on her again. She braced herself for the end, knowing there was no way they’d let her live after she’d given them so much trouble.
One of the brigands screamed in pain, and the next thing Felicity knew he was pinned to a nearby tree, a green fletched arrow sticking out of his arm. In the next instant, a man appeared amongst the group in a flash of green cloth- his cloak, which he’d swept out in front of him to disguise the angle of his approach. He engaged the brigands, scattering them like leaves in an autumn wind. It wasn’t long before they were either unconscious or pinned to trees like their compatriot. One of them managed to get away, and grabbed Felicity, hauling her to her feet and pressing a knife against her throat.
“Let. The girl. Go,” the Green Arrow growled, leveling an arrow at the man. If Felicity hadn’t been so terrified, she might have gotten angry at being called a girl. The brigand holding her pressed the knife harder against her throat, drawing a thin trickle of blood.
“I said let her go!” the Green Arrow shouted. Though he sounded angry, the rise and fall of his chest was even and steady. He wasn’t even breathing hard, and Felicity knew that someone who could maintain their composure in the heat of battle like that was someone to be feared. Apparently the man holding her wasn’t aware of that though, because he refused to release her. An arrow embedded itself in his shoulder with a thud , making him cry out in pain and let go of her at last. She stumbled forward, staring at the Green Arrow in awe. She hadn’t even seen him move. He turned his head to regard her. Beneath his mask, his eyes were a brilliant, blazing blue that pinned her in place as surely as fear had done only a moment before. A chill raced down her spine under his scrutiny. After all the tales she’d heard of the Green Arrow’s heroics, she’d never expected she’d be afraid of him, but that was exactly what she felt. Scared. He was a warrior, that was evident in his every movement, and while he hadn’t killed any of the brigands that had attacked her, he was clearly capable of killing, and that terrified her.
The Green Arrow took a step toward her, and she cried out, scrambling backwards away from him without thinking. He faltered.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said. The angry rasp was gone from his voice.
“How am I supposed to trust the word of a man in a mask?” Felicity demanded, hoping she sounded braver than she felt. The Green Arrow seemed to struggle with some internal debate for a moment. He pushed down the hood of his cloak and lowered his head, reaching behind it to untie his mask. When he lifted his eyes to Felicity’s once more, she gasped.
“Oliver,” she said, his name the only word she could manage in her shock at having found him so unexpectedly. Oliver frowned.
“How do you know who I am?” he asked.
“Your mother sent me to find you,” Felicity explained, “and it looks like you and I have a lot to talk about.”
Chapter 5: Compromised
“We should go,” Oliver said. There was an undercurrent of anger in his voice, but Felicity knew, somehow, that that anger wasn’t directed toward her. “We don’t want to be caught out in the open.” He started back down the path, not once looking behind to see if she was following. She didn’t bother to point out that they would be just as out in the open in the clearing as they were on the path. If he had been living in the forest the entire five years he’d been missing- which seemed likely- he knew more about it than her.
They reached the clearing and Oliver faltered, just for a moment.
“How long has that fire been burning?” he asked.
“Just a few minutes,” Felicity replied.
“Then how…” Oliver said, trailing off. He studied the cheerily burning fire for a moment. Whirling around to face Felicity suddenly, he asked, “You’re a mage?” Felicity nodded.
“Your mother’s getting desperate,” she said. “She wants you back, by any means necessary.” Oliver shook his head, his eyebrows lowered in a scowl.
“I’m not going back,” he said bluntly. His tone made it clear that he had no interest in discussing the matter.
“You have to,” Felicity pleaded, hating the desperation in her voice. “You don’t understand. Your mother, she...she threatened me. If I come back without you…” She trailed off, unable to quite bring herself to repeat Moira Queen’s threat.
“My mother... threatened you?” Oliver asked through a clenched jaw. His voice was quiet, and there was something dangerous in it. Felicity nodded nervously.
“With what?” Oliver asked. There was still anger in his voice, but something else had crept in as well. Sympathy, maybe. Caring. Felicity would have thought it unusual that he could care so much for a stranger, had she not now known exactly what he’d been doing for the last five years.
“I...don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “It’s-it’s extremely unpleasant.”
“Please,” Oliver said gently. There was an earnestness in his bright blue eyes that had Felicity’s resolve weakening in an instant.
“She told me…” she began hesitantly, “that if I come back to Starling without you, she would- she would make sure that neither I nor anyone in my family would ever be able to find work ever again. We’ll ‘die an agonizing death in poverty’, as she put it, if I fail her. So either you have to go back, or I can never return to Starling again.”
“And what makes you think I care about the fate of a stranger?” Oliver asked, his cold, uncaring persona much less convincing given his actions just a few minutes ago.
“Because your actions over the past five years suggest exactly that,” Felicity replied, wielding her newfound knowledge that Oliver Queen and the Green Arrow were one and the same like a weapon. Her voice shook as she struggled to regain her composure after repeating the threat on her livelihood. Oliver sighed, angry and frustrated. He was trapped, and Felicity could see that he knew it.
“Fine,” he ground out at last, dropping heavily to the ground in front of the fire. His back was stiff, his shoulders tense.
“I’m sorry,” Felicity said softly, sitting down beside him, perched on top of her pack. “I had no desire to put you in such a compromising position.” Oliver shook his head vigorously.
“It’s not your fault,” he said. “It’s my mother’s, for resorting to something like this. It’s mine, for not realizing that she would.” A tense silence followed his words.
“I know I can’t go back to Starling without you,” Felicity ventured at last, “but I don’t want to force you to return. I can...I can go to Central City. I was headed that way anyway. I-” Oliver cut her off with a shake of his head.
“No,” he said. “That won’t work. My mother would find you there too. You have no idea how far her reach extends.”
“So what are you going to do?” Felicity asked.
“I don’t know,” Oliver said desperately. There was panic in his eyes that Felicity wished she could do something to alleviate.
“I don’t know,” he repeated, quietly, more to himself than her this time. The only sound was the crackling of the fire and the rustle of wind in the trees. Oliver sat staring blankly into space, statue still except for his breathing. Feeling restless and uncomfortable, but sensing that she needed to give Oliver some space, Felicity slid off of her pack and set about her preparations for the night. She snagged a charred stick from the fire and used it to lay down spells around the perimeter of the clearing, writing words of shielding and protection in the grass with ash from the burnt end of the stick. That way, unless wind blew the ashes away, they would be protected during the night if the brigands from earlier regained their courage. The spells left a faint shimmer in the air, similar to a heat mirage, that was difficult to detect unless you knew what to look for. That done, she tossed her impromptu writing instrument back into the fire and unrolled her bedroll, smoothing it out and making sure there were no rocks underneath it. She carefully avoided making eye contact with Oliver during all of this. Finally, she crawled into her bedroll and pillowed her head on her pack. She doubted she’d be able to get to sleep anytime soon, but she thought she might as well try.
“My father’s old hunting lodge is two day’s travel from here,” Oliver said suddenly, making Felicity lift her head from her pack to look at him. The flickering light from the fire accentuated the angles of his face and made deep hollows of his cheeks. It was a strangely compelling image. “It’s where I’ve been living these past five years. I can take you back there with me while I figure out what to do.” Felicity nodded, privately glad to have at least a semblance of a plan.
“Whatever you wish to do,” she said, “I’ll cooperate. I trust you.” She found that to be the truth, though she hadn’t known it until she’d said it. It was hard not to trust someone who’d saved her life. Oliver mumbled something that sounded like, “You shouldn’t.” Felicity couldn’t be sure, and by the time it occurred to her to ask, Oliver was lying wrapped up in his cloak with his back turned to the fire. He clearly wasn’t in the mood to talk.
“Oliver…” Felicity tried anyway, trailing off when she realized that she didn’t know what to say.
“Get some sleep, Felicity,” Oliver grunted. “We have a long journey ahead of us.”
Chapter 6: Travels and Revelations
When morning came, a sullen silence had settled over the camp. Felicity had a million thoughts clammering in her head, but Oliver clearly was still not in a talkative mood. Neither of them spoke to the other as they set off. Trailing after Oliver, Felicity was surprised when he headed for the road instead of forging a path through the undergrowth like she’d expected him to.
“Shouldn’t we…” she said, trailing off, gesturing back behind them.
“We have two days of travel ahead of us,” Oliver said gruffly. “I didn’t think you wanted to be fighting your way through the brush the whole way there.” Felicity didn’t have a response to that. They walked in silence. Felicity trailed slightly behind Oliver, occasionally jogging to try and keep pace with his much longer strides. Finally, she couldn’t take the quiet any longer. It had become too oppressive.
“Do you miss it?” she asked, managing to draw even with Oliver. He adjusted the length of his strides to match hers, seemingly without thinking about it. “Court life, I mean.”
“Felicity,” Oliver said, a warning in his voice.
“We’re going to be stuck together for a long time,” Felicity said, countering the protest she could sense was coming. “The least I can do is get to know you a little bit. I refuse to walk the entire way in silence.” Oliver sighed in resignation, his shoulders slumping. Felicity waited while he gathered his thoughts.
“No,” he said after a moment. “I don’t miss it. I was never one for political maneuvering and intrigue. I was always subject to the machinations of others, and eventually I reached a point where I could no longer tolerate feeling like my life wasn’t in my control. My father’s death just gave me an opening.” He paused, no doubt considering his next words carefully, which Felicity could now understand as most likely being a holdover from his old life, when anything he said might have been used against him. His words at last considered, he said, “There are people I miss though.”
“Who?” Felicity asked.
“My friend Thomas, for one,” Oliver replied. “And...my sister. Thea. I miss her most of all.”
“Is she alright?” Felicity asked. There had been pain in Oliver’s voice when he’d said his sister’s name, deep and aching. It may have simply been the pain of long separation, but some part of Felicity urged her to make sure that that was all it was.
“That depends on your definition,” Oliver said cryptically, and didn’t elaborate. Felicity supposed that might have been asking to much of him. She could sense that it had been difficult for him to open up even what little he had. Eager as she was to learn everything she could about what had driven him to life on the run as a vigilante, she kept the questions rattling around in her head to herself for now. Let Oliver answer them on his own time, when he felt ready. It wasn’t fair to expect him to divulge his life story to a stranger.
“It’s your turn,” Oliver said, apparently out of the blue, when they’d made camp for the night.
“Hmmm?” Felicity asked.
“I told you something about myself,” Oliver said, “so now it’s your turn to tell me something about yourself.”
“Alright,” Felicity said, unable to deny the logic of what he was proposing. “What do you want know?” She fidgeted, tugging with nervous fingers at her bracelets, wary of what Oliver might ask her.
“Why did you decide to become a mage?” Oliver asked. “What made you choose that life?”
“I didn’t choose anything,” Felicity replied. “My life was decided for me the moment my aptitude for magic manifested itself.” She hoped he wouldn’t ask when or how that had happened. It wasn’t something she liked to talk about.
“Would you have done something else, if you could have?” Olive asked. Felicity found that to be an impossible question to answer. Magic was a part of her. It sang in her bones and in her blood, and it was pointless to try and imagine what she’d be without it. She couldn’t even begin to try.
“I can’t answer that,” she said, voicing her thoughts. “Magic is a much a part of me as-” She cast about for an equivalent quality, painfully aware that she knew next to nothing about Oliver- “a desire to help others is a part of you. There’s no point in trying to imagine who I’d be without it.” Olive nodded solemnly and didn’t ask any more questions. That was alright with her. She didn’t know if she had it in her to answer any more.
That night, Felicity dreamed of the very thing that, earlier, she had hoped Oliver wouldn’t ask about- the day her aptitude for magic had made itself known. She still remembered that day vividly, though she’d been very young, only seven years old. She’d been begging her father not to leave and somehow, suddenly, her words had held him in place. He’d only escaped because he himself was a mage, fully trained and at the height of his power, not just coming into it as Felicity had been.
“Are you alright?” Oliver asked her the next morning. He was studying her with a crease of concern between his eyebrows.
“I’m fine,” she said. “Why do you ask?”
“You were muttering in your sleep during the night,” Oliver replied. “You were begging someone not to leave. You sounded really distressed.”
“It was just a bad dream,” Felicity said. “I’m fine.” Eager to change the subject, she asked “Do you think we’ll reach our destination by sunset?” Oliver looked off into the distance, his eyes narrowing as he no doubt made calculations in his head.
“I think so,” he said. “It shouldn’t be too much farther.” Felicity nodded, and when they set off again, she found that this time she didn’t have to struggle to keep pace with Oliver. They didn’t talk at all as they walked this time, which was fine with Felicity. She didn’t really want to.
By the time sunset came around, they had come within sight of a clearing so wide that it was obviously man made. In its center sat a rambling structure with mortared stone walls and a timber roof. It looked like what a nobleman’s idea of a small forest cabin was, and so could only be Robert Queen’s old hunting lodge, Oliver’s home for the last five years.
“My father called it the Foundry,” Oliver said in Felicity’s ear, startling her. She’d had no idea that he’d been standing that close to her. “Though I have no idea why. Nothing that happened had anything to do with steelwork.” After a pause, he added, “We should get inside. There’s someone you need to meet.”
Chapter 7: Introductions
A large, muscular, dark-skinned man was waiting for them when they stepped inside the entry hall of the Foundry. Felicity froze when she saw that under his breastplate and chainmail, he was dressed in green and gold. Had Moira Queen sent someone after her so soon?”
“Felicity,” Oliver said, coming up behind her and laying a calming hand on her shoulder. “This is my friend John Diggle, though sometimes I just call him Dig-”
“She can call me Captain Diggle for the time being,” Oliver’s friend interjected. He had a rumbling bass voice that rattled in Felicity’s ribcage. “I don’t know how long she’ll be staying here, after all.”
“As long as it takes me to come up with a plan,” Oliver said. “I couldn’t just leave her to her fate, John.”
“I just don’t know if it’s a good idea to bring someone else into your crusade, Oliver,” Captain Diggle said evenly. “Remember, it didn’t go so well with Helena.”
“Did you really need to bring her up?” Oliver muttered. Whoever Helena was, she clearly had been involved in some mistake Oliver had made, one that he didn’t like to be reminded of, judging by the tightness of his voice.
“I just want to make sure you’ve thought this through,” Captain Diggle explained.
“I have,” Oliver insisted. “This was the only option.” Captain Diggle nodded, but didn’t look convinced.
Oliver moved into Felicity’s view, lifting his hand from her shoulder as he did. Felicity rested her hand over where his had been just a moment before.
“Dig was captain of the city guard in Starling,” Oliver told her. “He helped get me out. We almost got Thea out too, but my mother’s men caught up with her.” His voice turned somber.
“You’re wearing Queen livery,” Felicity said quietly, her eyes downcast, addressing Captain Diggle.
“Moira Queen misused her power,” he said. “She forgot that though she provided us with our pay, we worked for the city and its people, not for her. She used us to solve her petty disputes when she had her own men-at-arms for that. But I’m loyal to Oliver, and to his sister. That’s why I wear the Queen colors.” Now that she knew to look for it, Felicity examined Captain Diggle’s clothes for the black starling badge that distinguished members of the city guard from Lady Starling’s personal men-at-arms.
“You won’t find it,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t wear it anymore.” Felicity nodded. That made sense. Why would he wear it when he no longer held a position in the city guard.
An uncomfortable silence settled over the room. Felicity played nervously with her bracelets.
“Come on,” Oliver said at last, nodding toward the staircase at the back of the room that curved away out of sight. “I’ll show you where you’ll be staying.” Felicity hefted her pack and followed him up the stairs.
“May I ask you a question?” she queried.
“That would depend on the question,” Oliver replied.
“Is Captain Diggle always so…” Felicity began, trailing off as she searched for the right word.
“Standoffish?” Oliver supplied. Felicity nodded, remembered that he couldn’t see her, and said, “Yes. That.”
“Not usually,” Oliver said. “He’s just...concerned. And rightly so. This life, it’s...it’s not ideal. And we have to be careful who we bring into it, because not everyone can handle it. And there’s always the danger that if I reveal my identity to someone, they might immediately give me up to the local authorities.”
“But you trusted me not to do that?” Felicity asked.
“Of course,” Oliver replied. The tone of his voice left no room to doubt that he meant it.
“And does Captain Diggle?” Felicity asked.
“He will,” Oliver said, again with that conviction in his voice that made it impossible to doubt that he belief in what he was saying. “Just give it time. Here we are.” He stopped in front of a door that was nondescript enough to give away nothing of the room that lay beyond it. He opened the door and stepped aside to allow Felicity entrance into the room. She stopped just inside it and examined her new surroundings. An elegant four poster occupied one corner of the room, an ornate writing desk and a large wardrobe the other. The hangings, both on the bed and the large window that took up most of the far wall, were obviously of high quality, the walls were hung with rich tapestries, and a plush rug was laid out on the floor in front of a massive fireplace. In other words, it was room Felicity wouldn’t have felt comfortable spending even a single night in, let alone every night for the foreseeable future. She was used to a relatively modest lifestyle, not...whatever this was.
She backed up, shaking her head, letting out a small oof of surprise when she ran into something solid. It took her a moment to realize that she’d bumped into Oliver.
“Felicity,” he said. “What are you doing? What’s wrong?”
“I can’t stay here,” Felicity explained, craning her head up and back to look at him. “This room’s too...nice. I’m half afraid I’m going to ruin something just by breathing in the wrong direction.”
“You forget who owned this place,” Oliver said, quiet laughter rumbling in his chest. “Unless you want to sleep outside, you’re going to have to get used to this.”
“Alright,” Felicity said with a defeated sigh.
“Alright, good,” Oliver replied. “I’ll leave you to get settled.” He moved away from her, and she had to put her hand against the doorframe to keep from falling over. She hadn’t realized that she’d been leaning against him that much. When she looked back, she was alone. She sighed, pushed the door closed, and went about doing what Olive had mentioned before he’d left.
Later that night, Felicity went to see Oliver in his chamber, which she found her way to with the help of terse directions from Captain Diggle. She found him seated at a writing desk not unlike the one in her own room, his elbows braced against the top of the desk, his head in his hands, his fingers curled in his hair.
“Oliver?” she asked, rapping gently against the doorframe to get his attention. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” Oliver said, straightening up and twisting in his seat to face her. “I’m still trying to figure out the best way to confront what my mother is doing. I think that might take a few days, though.”
“Best not take too long,” Felicity warned. “I dread what will happen if she becomes impatient.”
“As do I,” Oliver agreed, his voice solemn and laced with worry. “She’s been after me for five years now. She may have built a reputation on her patience, but I’m afraid that it won’t extend much further.” Felicity nodded. Her own feelings on the matter where nearly the same. She only hoped that Oliver would find a solution before disaster struck.
Chapter 8: An Offer of Help
The Foundry was an easy place to get lost in. Felicity had the misfortune to learn that the next morning when she was trying to locate the kitchen to have breakfast, and by the time she found what she was searching for, her stomach was growling so loudly that she was sure the other residents of the Foundry could hear it, wherever they might be in the building.
When she entered the room, she found Oliver sitting alone at the long wooden table in its center. A fire roared in the hearth behind him, and the delicious smell of baking bread filled the room, making Felicity’s stomach growl even louder.
“You bake?” she asked by way of greeting, easing herself into the seat across from Oliver.
“And cook,” he replied. “I know a bit of medicine, as well. Enough to get by if Dig or I are injured, at least.”
“It seems you’re a man of many talents,” Felicity said with a small smile.
“It’s amazing what you can learn when you’re forced to by necessity,” Oliver replied quietly. The bitterness in his voice worried her. It seemed he blamed himself for failing to learn those things sooner, when really it was his former lifestyle that was to blame for that, not Oliver himself.
“You shouldn’t blame yourself,” Felicity said, though not loudly for enough for Oliver to hear. They ate their morning meal in silence, both occupied with their own thoughts.
“No Captain Diggle this morning?” Felicity asked after a while, trying to make conversation.
“Not for about another half hour yet,” Oliver replied. There were no windows in the kitchen, yet he seemed to know exactly what time it was. “He usually sleeps in for about an hour past first light. He says it’s the one luxury he’ll ever allow himself.” Felicity nodded. Neither of them spoke again.
After a time, the quiet was broken by Captain Diggle entering the kitchen. He nodded to Felicity in greeting, exchanged good mornings with Oliver, and went straight into discussing plans with him while he ate. It seemed that they were trying to decide whether or not to patrol that day. Captain Diggle wanted them to go out as usual, arguing that it was better if they not disrupt their usual routine. Oliver advocated for waiting another day to resume patrolling, to give Felicity more time to settle in before she had to learn to adjust to the routine of the Foundry’s other residents.
“I think you should do as Captain Diggle suggested,” Felicity put in, addressing Oliver, making the decision for them. “It will give me time to learn my way around this place while the two of you are gone.”
“Well, if you’re sure…” Oliver said uncertainly, trailing off.
“I’m sure,” Felicity confirmed. “I can manage perfectly well on my own for a few hours. Besides, the Green Arrow’s mission is more important than my personal comfort” Oliver frowned at that, but didn’t argue. Instead, he got up from the table without a word and followed Captain Diggle out of the room. On his way out, he put a hand on Felicity’s shoulder and said, “We should be back by sundown, but we can’t plan for everything, so if we don’t return until later than that, try not to worry about us, alright?”
“Alright,” Felicity said. “And when should I start worrying?” Her smile made it clear that she was joking.
“When it’s sunrise and we still haven’t returned,” Oliver replied, his tone making it clear that he was serious. Felicity nodded.
“But it won’t come to that,” Oliver assured her. “We do this every day. We’ll be fine.” He left the room at that, and Felicity was alone. The Foundry was silent in the way only a building normally occupied by several people emptied of all its residents but one could be. Felicity sighed, knowing she had several hours of that silence ahead of her.
The first thing Felicity found in her exploration of the Foundry was the library, where she spent a good half hour using the books contained therein to practice casting illusions, a skill she didn’t often have occasion to use but nevertheless felt was important to keep sharp. From the library, she found her way back to her own room, and from there to one she assumed was Captain Diggle’s, as it was sparsely furnished in a way that seemed deliberate, as if anything its resident deemed superfluous had been removed long ago. The fact that it was down the hall from the armory further cemented in Felicity’s mind the idea that that resident was Captain Diggle. A room with easy access to weapons with which to defend oneself seemed like the kind that the former captain of the Starling city guard would want to take up residence in.
By the time sunset was drawing near, Felicity felt confident in her ability to navigate the halls of the Foundry. She made her way to the entrance hall and sat down at the top of the stairs to wait for Oliver and Captain Diggle. She found herself waiting much longer than she’d expected to, and, despite Oliver’s assurances, she started to worry.
It was getting close to full dark when they finally returned. They entered the Foundry with weary expressions, dragging feet, and a few new cuts and bruises, but otherwise looked none the worse for wear. Felicity breathed a sigh of relief. Odd how she had come to care for two people she had known for less than a week.
Oliver’s gaze settled on her, but she didn’t think the sound of her sigh had drawn his attention. He just always seemed to know where she was in a room. He smiled in greeting, and something about it made her breath catch in her throat, just for a moment.
“You didn’t have to wait up for us,” he said, approaching where Felicity sat on the stairs.
“I know,” she replied, “but I wanted to.” Oliver inclined his head, as if to say Fair enough . Captain Diggle moved past them on his way up the stairs, and Oliver made to follow him.
“Oliver?” Felicity said before he could disappear around the corner, getting to her feet. He stopped and turned back toward her.
“I just wanted to tell you that, until you decide whether or not to return home,” she said, “I’ll help you with your crusade. I’ll lend my skills to it in whatever way you need.” Oliver studied her for a moment, his expression guarded. She could see that he was running through scenarios and motivations in his mind, calculating whether she was sincere. It didn’t offend her that he felt the need to do so. It only broke her heart that he had lived a life where it was necessary for so long that the behavior had become ingrained.
“Thank you,” he said at long last, and disappeared around the corner, leaving her alone for the second time that day.
Chapter 9: Words of Power
When Felicity woke, the Foundry was silent. The only sound was that of birdsong filtering in through her window. When she went to the kitchen, she found a piece of parchment sitting on the table with a note written on it in what she assumed was Oliver’s handwriting, since it was signed with his initials.
Went out to patrol , it read. Didn’t want to wake you. We should return by nightfall. It served to confirm what Felicity had already suspected- that she had another day spent alone to look forward to. She sighed. Oh well. At least she could get some things done while she waited for Oliver and Diggle’s return that night.
The first thing she did was return to her room and write out a letter to her mother. In it, she told her that Lady Starling had hired her to find her son, and that she had taken up with the Green Arrow in the meantime, omitting the detail that the Green Arrow and Oliver Queen were one and the same in case the letter was intercepted before it reached its intended recipient. She also warned her mother of Lady Starling’s threat, and told her that if her men came after her, she should try to make for Central City, where the king’s power and influence might protect her, and if not there, then somewhere far away, somewhere where no one had ever heard of Moira Queen or her family. Felicity felt like she was putting part of her soul into that letter when she wrote that though she would miss her mother if she had to go away, especially if she had to go far, it was far more important to her that she was safe. When she finished writing her letter, she folded it, sealed it, and went to the window. Holding it loosely between two fingers, she began to recall, out loud, every detail she could about her mother, weaving power into her words with barely a second thought. When she finished, a breeze sprang up out of nowhere, carrying the letter off to its intended recipient. She didn’t relax until it was out of her sight.
That done, Felicity moved away from the window and fell back against one of her bedposts, feeling hollowed out. It would have been so easy to fall the rest of the way into her bed and sleep the rest of the day away. But as much as she wanted to do that, she couldn’t. She still had work to do. With a sigh, she levered herself away from the bedpost against which she had been leaning. On her way out of the room, she grabbed her cloak, just in case she might need to be able to ward off the night’s chill- she didn’t know how long what she was about to do would take.
She made her way downstairs and paused before the ornately carved wooden door that formed the main entrance of the Foundry. Reaching into the pocket of her dress, she pulled out a piece of chalk and inscribed words of protection over the door, the same ones she’d written over her own door, as well as over Oliver’s and Diggle’s. This time, as she had the others, she made sure to use dark grey chalk for this purpose, because it wouldn’t stand out as much against the Foundry’s stone walls as white chalk would and thus wouldn’t be immediately visible as a target if someone with hostile intentions should manage to breach the Foundry. Felicity hoped that once she finished the task she’d set for herself such a thing wouldn’t be possible, but one could never be too careful.
When she finished her work, Felicity stepped outside the Foundry for the first time in two days, being sure to close the door behind her, and stood in the clearing that surrounded the building, tapping the chalk in her hand against her cheek while she contemplated the task before her. Permanent protections spells like the ones she was planning on laying down around the perimeter of the Foundry were more difficult, by several degrees of magnitude, than the temporary ones she’d put over their camp each night while she and Oliver had been traveling here. For one thing, if the spells were written, she’d have to add an entire extra layer of magic to protect them from erosion and weathering. If she used spoken spells- which she planned on doing- the amount of power needed to make them permanent ran the risk of being enough to kill her if she overextended herself. On top of all of that, she’d have to make spells that could recognize the people who were supposed to be here, as well as sense the intent of those who weren’t. In short, she had a lot of work to do. She’d best get started.
For the next few hours, she walked the perimeter of the Foundry, tracing one hand along its walls, laying down her spells. It required a constant stream of speech on her part, words of shielding, of protection, descriptions of Oliver and Diggle, messages of intent. By the time she finished, she could feel the air thrumming with power, encircling the Foundry all the way to the edges of the clearing that surrounded it. But she also knew that people without magical aptitude or ability wouldn’t be able to sense that power, which of course was the whole point. The best defenses were the ones that only the person who had laid them down knew were there. Felicity smiled to herself, knowing that she had done a good job. She’d turned the Foundry from a simple base of operations into a veritable stronghold.
All of her exhaustion hit her at once in a massive wave, and she swayed on her feet, putting a hand against the nearest wall to stop herself from falling. She heard the telltale sounds of Oliver and Diggle returning home, and she went around to meet them in front of the building. She was so tired that she could barely keep her footing, and she stumbled as they came within sight. Her mind felt fuzzy, and she didn’t even realize that she was falling until Oliver’s hands were around her upper arms, steadying her and keeping her upright.
“Are you alright?” he asked, in a soft voice that matched the look in his eyes, his hands lingering on her arms for perhaps longer than was strictly necessary.
“I’m fine,” Felicity replied, trying to ignore the way her skin was tingling beneath Oliver’s touch. “Just tired. Let’s get inside. I’m sure I’m not the only one who needs rest.” Oliver nodded, removing his hands from her arms at last, and the three of them went into the Foundry together, all exhausted from the day’s events.
Chapter 10: Discussions
The sound of footsteps made Felicity glance up from her work. She was surprised to see Oliver and Diggle entering the library- a quick glance out its long floor to ceiling windows confirmed that it was in fact still light outside and so far earlier in the day then it usually was when they returned from their patrols.
“You’re back early,” she remarked, keeping her tone neutral.
“It was unusually quiet out there today,” Oliver explained, dragging a chair over to where Felicity was working and sitting down. Diggle followed suit a moment later. “So we decided to call it early.”
“And we came to find you,” Diggle put in, “because we need to discuss our next move and Oliver felt that discussion should include you.”
“You’re part of this now,” Oliver said, “at least as far as I’m concerned, and you should have a say in how we do it.”
“And you are agreed?” Felicity asked, turning to Diggle.
“I don’t know about that,” he replied, “but following Oliver’s lead has gotten me this far. I intend to continue doing it.” Felicity nodded. Turning back toward Oliver, she asked “How did you know you would find me here?” She gestured expansively to indicate the library around them.
“I didn’t, really,” Oliver admitted. “I guessed. I thought someone who could draw power from words would want to spend a lot of time surrounded by them.”
“That’s quite the astute observation,” Felicity said with a smile.
“Not really,” Oliver replied, shrugging off the compliment. “My friend’s father, he was a mage. Well, not trained, but he had the aptitude. I remember he spent most of his time either in his study or in his library, surrounded by books.” There was resentment in his tone, like he thought he should have spent that time doing something else. Felicity decided not to comment on it.
“Getting back to the matter at hand,” Diggle cut in, steering the conversation back to its original topic. “What should we do next?”
“I see no reason to deviate from our usual routine,” Oliver said. After a pause, he amended, “For the time being.”
“Are you saying you don’t think the lack of activity out there today indicates some larger pattern taking shape?” Diggle asked.
“I’m saying it’s too early to tell whether that’s the case or not,” Oliver replied, “but we should keep an eye out in case it does in fact indicate a larger design at work.” Felicity listened to this back and forth in silence, having nothing to add. As it was, Oliver and Diggle had gotten so deep into their discussion that they seemed to have forgotten she was there.
“And what of you, Felicity?” Diggle said, startling her. Apparently, they hadn’t forgotten about her after all. “Have you anything to add?” Felicity shook her head.
“Nothing that pertains to this,” she said. “I haven’t participated in your patrols and I don’t think I’d be much help on them anyway. After all, I have no skill for combat.” Diggle nodded.
“Still,” he said. “I would hear your counsel.” Oliver nodded his agreement.
“I have some things I’m working on,” Felicity said, indicating the books and notebook in front of her, the quill and ink set beside them, “but at the moment nothing sufficiently developed enough to be put to practical use. It’s all just theory right now.”
“But give me the rest of today,” she continued after a brief pause, “and I might have something that one of you can take on a test run tomorrow. We’ll see.” Oliver and Diggle both nodded. Diggle got up from his chair, dipped his head to both of them in farewell, and left. Oliver didn’t move.
“Was there something else you needed, Oliver?” Felicity asked, pulling one of the books on the table in front of her towards her. She dipped her quill in ink and prepared to resume her studies.
“Nothing else I needed,” Oliver replied. “Just something else I wanted to ask.”
“Oh?” Felicity asked. “And that is?”
“What’s it like?” Oliver answered with a question of his own. “Magic, I mean. My mother’s prejudices made the subject taboo in our household, but it’s always fascinated me.”
“And you couldn’t have asked your friend’s father about it?” Felicity asked. Oliver shook his head.
“He wasn’t exactly easy to talk to,” he said. “Too wrapped up in his own head.” There was that resentment again. Felicity realized that it wasn’t resentment for Oliver’s sake, but rather for his friend’s. She sighed.
“I don’t know if I can explain it, Oliver,” she said. “I don’t know if you’d understand.”
“Try me,” Oliver said. His expression was open and curious. There was a gleam in his eyes that made them seem even brighter blue than usual.”
“When you’re out there,” Felicity said, “in the forest, doing what you do, do you ever draw an arrow from your quiver and feel like it already knows exactly where it wants to go and all you’re doing is helping it get there?” Oliver nodded.
“I’d never have thought to describe it that way,” he said, “but yes.”
“Okay,” Felicity replied. “That’s what magic feels like to me. Like the power in the words I hear and read is just lying in wait, ready for me to direct it where it wants to go.”
“What happens when it wants to go somewhere that isn’t where you need it to?” Oliver asked.
“I convince it otherwise,” Felicity replied simply. “It probably sounds silly, but that’s the best way I can think to describe it.”
“It’s not silly at all,” Oliver said, shaking his head. “I don’t think you could have done a better job of explaining it so that I could understand.” Felicity ducked her head, a smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. She returned to her studies at last, and for a moment the only sound was the scratching of her quill as she took down notes.
“Felicity,” Oliver said in a soft voice. She felt his hand on her arm and lifted her eyes to his.
“Thank you,” he said. “For helping me understand.
“Of course,” Felicity replied, feeling a blush warming her cheeks. After a moment, she said, “You should probably get to bed, Oliver. No doubt you’ll need the rest tomorrow.”
“I’d like to stay and watch you work, if you don’t mind,” Oliver replied.
“Alright,” Felicity said, though privately she wondered why. It wasn’t like she was doing anything particularly interesting.
Chapter 11: Testing Magic
Felicity woke disoriented. She wasn’t in her room, and she wasn’t in her bed. She wasn’t even laying down. Rather, she was mostly upright, draped precariously backwards over a chair, the back of it digging into her spine. It was that sensation that had woken her. She realized that she must have fallen asleep in the library last night while researching and developing the spells she’d come up with to make Oliver and Diggle’s patrols easier. Which meant that Oliver was most likely still there as well- she vaguely remembered him falling asleep sometime around midnight, shortly before she had. She straightened up and sure enough, there was Oliver, slumped over the table, his head pillowed on his arms.
“Oliver,” Felicity whispered, reaching across and gently shaking his shoulder. He shot upright so suddenly that it startled her into pulling away from him. For a moment, there was panic in his eyes. Then it faded as he looked around and realized where he was.
“Are you alright?” he asked, glancing over at Felicity.
“You woke in a panic and you’re asking me if I’m alright?” she asked instead of answering Oliver’s question. The look he gave her wasn’t quite a glare, but it was close.
“You’d be surprised how often that happens to me,” he said, in a voice so quiet that Felicity wasn’t sure if he was talking to her or to himself. “And you didn’t answer my question.”
“I’m fine,” Felicity said. “You startled me, is all.” Oliver nodded in understanding. His shoulders were tense, and there was a shadow in his eyes. Like most people living in these troubled times, Oliver was a product of his traumas, and in that moment, it seemed to Felicity that she could see them, lurking like shadows just beneath the surface of the face he presented to the world. She wondered where that clarity of understanding had come from. After all, she still didn’t know him all that well. She had a feeling that wouldn’t be the case for much longer.
“Did you have any success?” Oliver asked, pulling her from her introspective thoughts. “With what you were working on, I mean?”
“You were here the whole time,” Felicity pointed out. “What do you think?”
“I think I don’t know enough about magic to puzzle out either success or failure,” Oliver replied in a bland tone.
“I think I accomplished what I set out to accomplish, yes,” Felicity said, answering Oliver’s earlier question. “I have some spells for you to take on a test run, at any rate.”
“Why me?” Oliver asked. “Why not Dig?” Felicity shrugged.
“You’re here,” she said. “Diggle is not.”
“Fair enough,” Oliver conceded. “Do you want to do it now?”
“There’s no time like the present,” Felicity replied. Oliver nodded and got to his feet.
“Alright then,” he said, gesturing out the door. “Lead the way.”
“What do you see?” Oliver asked Felicity a short time later. It was a little disorienting to hear his voice when she couldn’t see him, but it told her that at least one of the spells she’d spent all night developing was working as she’d intended. Now came the time to test the other one.
“Give me a moment,” she said, reaching for the slate she’d set in front of her on the writing desk in her room, where she’d gone after Oliver had left the Foundry, determining it to be the closest thing to a distraction free environment that she was likely to find. She waved a hand over the words written on the slate, and an image of the forest filled the room, not unlike the illusions that she was silently thanking her past self for having the forethought to practice casting a few days ago.
“Felicity?” Oliver asked.
“All of it,” Felicity replied. “I see all of it. The whole forest.”
“How do things look?” Oliver asked. “Any trouble I don’t see?”
“There’s a family getting into trouble with brigands right outside Central City,” Felicity replied. “Looks like the same ones you rescued me from.”
“I’ll never make it in time,” Oliver said. “The city guard will take care of them.” In her mind’s eye, Felicity could see him shaking his head regretfully. He knew as well as she did that the brigands would be gone before the guard noticed anything amiss.
“If you run-” she started to say.
“How many days travel is it from Starling to Central City?” Oliver interjected. He sounded tense, like there was something he was desperate to make her understand.
“At least five days on foot,” Felicity replied automatically.
“Right, and the Foundry is two days away from Starling, which means I’m three days away from Central City right now,” Oliver said. “Unless I somehow developed superhuman speed, those brigands would be long gone by the time I got there. The hardest part of this is accepting that I can’t save everyone.” His voice had turned grim. Something told Felicity that, no matter what he said, he hadn’t accepted that, and Iikely never would.
“There...might be a way I can make you faster,” she mumbled. “Not by much, but enough to allow you to get to the people who need your help more quickly.” Oliver didn’t say a word for several minutes. Felicity waited with bated breath for his answer.
“How?” he asked at last.
“Come back to the Foundry and I’ll show you,” Felicity replied. “You’ve helped me determine that the spells work anyway.”
“Right foot or left?” she asked Oliver when they were face to face again. She had to admit, even if only to herself, that it was a little strange to see him sitting on the edge of her bed. Or perhaps the strange thing was that he seemed to belong there.
“What?” Oliver asked, his eyes shifting from side to side the way they did when he was trying to process something that had been said to him.
“Do you lead with your right foot or your left?” Felicity clarified.
“Oh,” Oliver said. “My right.”
“Alright,” Felicity said. Holding out her hand, she added, “Give me your right boot.” Oliver looked a little puzzled but handed it over. Felicity borrowed one of his flechettes as well, and for the next few minutes it was quiet while she busied herself with carving words into the sole of his boot.
“There,” she proclaimed at last, handing boot and flechette back to Oliver. “That should give you a speed boost. Not a large one, but hopefully still enough. Just start running, and the magic will take care of the rest.”
“Thank you,” Oliver said. “Though I wonder how Dig is going to be able to keep up with me now. When things go sideways, I need him at my side.”
“If you want to send him to me later,” Felicity said, “I can do the same for him.”
“Of course,” Oliver said. “I should have thought of that. I’ll take my leave now. I wouldn’t want to tire you out with too much of my presence.”
“I don’t think that’s possible,” Felicity said as he went to the door, though not loudly enough for him to hear. Oliver paused in the doorway.
“Felicity,” he said, turning back toward her. She looked at him curiously, wondering what he could have forgotten.
“You’re remarkable,” Oliver said after a pause, shaking his head in apparent awe. Overwhelmed, it took Felicity a moment to figure out how best to respond to such a compliment.
“Thank you for remarking on it,” she said at last, smiling in spite of herself. She glanced briefly down at her lap to hide her spreading blush, and when she looked back up, Oliver was gone.
Chapter 12: New Methods and Strange Happenings
“How are things looking out here, Felicity?” Oliver asked.
“All quiet right now,” Felicity replied, glancing at her projection to make sure. This was only the second time she’d used these spells, but it was already starting to feel like second nature to her. “The best course of action would be to continue your patrol as normal for the time being.”
“We’ll take that under advisement,” Oliver said. Felicity could tell when he’d deactivated the spell that allowed them to speak to each other over long distances on his end of it by the silence that followed his response. She supposed it made sense- there was no reason to have it active when it wasn’t being used.
For the next few hours, Felicity, Oliver, and Diggle continued as they had been earlier, testing their new modus operandi. So far, everything had been going smoothly, to Felicity’s very great relief. She would never tell Oliver so, but she’d had the slightest bit of fear that the spells she made wouldn’t work with the addition of Diggle.
“We’re heading back now, Felicity,” Oliver said as the sun started to sink below the horizon.
“Alright,” Felicity replied. “I’ll see the both of you soon.” Silence filled the room once more. Felicity waved a hand through the projection of the forest all around her, causing it to shimmer out of existence. She stood and examined the room for a moment, though she wasn’t sure exactly what she was looking for, then made her way downstairs to the entrance hall to wait for Oliver and Diggle, something else that had quickly become habit for her.
When Oliver and Diggle walked through the door, a grin spread across Oliver’s face the second he laid eyes on Felicity. It caught her off guard- she had never seen him smile like that before.
“You truly are remarkable,” he declared, eyes shining, reiterating what he’d said to her the night before.
“You said that last night,” Felicity mumbled, eyes downcast.
“I know,” Oliver replied, “but it bears repeating. What we did out there today, what we were able to do, was incredible. And it was all because of you.”
“Makes one wonder how we ever managed to do this before you came along,” Diggle put in, only half joking. Oliver nodded in agreement.
“I imagine we need to discuss what we do next?” Felicity asked. She wasn’t sure if that was something that Oliver and Diggle did after every patrol, or only the one time they had decided to include her in that discussion. It was still strange to say “we”, to think of herself as part of that unit, no matter how many times Oliver had told her she was.
“Yes,” Oliver and Diggle said in unison. The three of them retired to the library to have that discussion.
“It’s strange,” Oliver said when they’d all gotten settled in. “Except for those few isolated incidents you warned us about, it was quiet out there today.”
“We were really just going through the motions for most of it,” Diggle told Felicity.
“So Diggle was right, then?” she asked, directing the question at Oliver. “When he said that the lack of activity was indicative of a larger pattern taking shape?”
“It would appear that way, yes,” Oliver confirmed with a nod.
“So what do we do?” Felicity asked.
“I don’t know that there’s anything we can do,” Oliver replied. “Except keep our eyes and ears open for whatever the cause might be.” Felicity and Diggle nodded in understanding and agreement. That seemed to be the most reasonable course of action, given what they knew- or, rather, didn’t know.
“Oliver,” Felicity said, hanging back as the three of them dispersed, their discussion concluded. “May I speak with you for a minute?” Oliver nodded, pausing in the doorway. Felicity waited until Diggle was out of earshot before she said, “There’s something else, isn’t there? I can tell you know more than you’re saying.” For a moment, Oliver just stared at her. He had the expression of someone caught in a lie.
“Yes,” he finally said. “There was something else.”
“And that is?” Felicity asked. She tried not to sound demanding, but it came out that way anyway.
“I think someone or something might be scaring travelers away from the forest,” Oliver said. “And fewer travelers means fewer people for criminals to prey on. That’s why it’s been so quiet lately.
“And you and Diggle refrained from mentioning that why?” Felicity asked.
“We didn’t think you’d believe us,” Oliver said sheepishly. “It’s...you’d have to be there, Felicity. There’s this...aura of fear hanging over everything. I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s...it’s palpable.”
“Perhaps next time you and Diggle patrol I should come with you,” Felicity offered. “So I can gain a better idea of what we’re facing.” Oliver visibly balked at that.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Absolutely not.”
“Why not?” Felicity demanded. “You said yourself that I’m part of this now. I’ll be much better able to help you form a strategy if I know what we’re dealing with.”
“But we don’t know what we’re dealing with!” Oliver shouted. Felicity was surprised to hear what sounded like desperation in his voice.
“But maybe I can help figure that out,” she countered. Oliver just shook his head.
“Whatever is out there, I don’t want you anywhere near it,” he said firmly. “Please don’t fight me on this, Felicity. We need you safe.” Then, so quietly that Felicity wasn’t sure she’d even heard him correctly, he added, “ I need you safe.” She was silent for a long time, unsure how to respond to that admission or if she’d even been meant to hear it.
“Promise me, Felicity,” Oliver said after the silence had gone on for a while. “Promise me that you’re not going to go out there.” Felicity studied him for a long moment before answering.
“I promise,” she said. She could see how much he needed to hear her say those words.
Chapter 13: A Visitor with a Warning
“Tell Oliver we have a visitor,” Diggle told Felicity the next morning, leaning into her room and then continuing on his way before she could respond. She sighed and got dressed, wondering who the visitor could be. Whoever they were, they must not have had any hostile intentions, or else her wards wouldn’t have let them through. She hoped. Shaking her head, she went to do as Diggle had asked.
“Oliver, Diggle said we have-” Felicity said when she reached his room and found the door open. The words died in her throat when she saw the scars marking Oliver’s skin in a dozen different places- knife slashes on his shoulder, lash marks between his shoulder blades, a burn scar across his lower back, and others besides, the causes of which Felicity couldn’t even begin to guess at.
“Don’t you knock?” Oliver snarled. Felicity knew, somehow, that the anger in his voice was only there to cover up the shame he felt at having his scars seen.
“Your door was open,” she said in a small voice. Oliver fumbled for his shirt and started to yank it over his head.
“Wait,” Felicity said, crossing the room and putting her hand on his arm, freezing him in his tracks. She moved to stand in front of him and took in the scars on his torso and arms- stab wounds, slash marks, another burn scar, an old puncture wound that looked to have been made by an arrowhead- a half decade of injuries had left their mark on him.
“Gods,” Felicity breathed. “Oliver, I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry that I got hurt?” Oliver asked bitterly. “What good does your pity do me now?” Felicity just shook her head.
“No,” she said softly. “This isn't pity. I am sorry that you got hurt, but that’s not what I’m saying sorry for. Oliver, I am truly, deeply sorry that you’ve been made to feel that your scars are something to be ashamed of, because they’re not.”
“What else am I supposed to feel,” Oliver said, “when everyone who’s ever seen them has been repulsed by them? How is something that elicits that reaction in people anything but something to be ashamed of?”
“You shouldn’t be ashamed of your scars, Oliver,” Felicity said, steel in her voice. She wanted him to understand. “You should be proud of them, because they’re marks of everything you’ve survived.” Silence fell over the room, broken only by the quiet rustle of cloth as Oliver pulled his shirt the rest of the way on. The tension was a real, tangible thing, solid as a wall between them.
“What was it you came to tell me?” Oliver said at last. The change of subject was clearly deliberate, but Felicity didn’t mind.
“Diggle said we have a visitor,” she said. Oliver raised an eyebrow.
“Whoever they are, they don’t have hostile intentions, or else my wards wouldn’t have let them through,” Felicity added, though most of her confidence was false. She was fairly certain that was the case, but her wards had yet to be fully tested, so she couldn’t be sure.
“Did Dig happen to mention where he had the visitor wait?” Oliver asked. Felicity shook her head. Oliver sighed.
“Alright, well,” he said, “we should start with the entrance hall. That’s the most logical place to leave a visitor, at least in my estimation.” Felicity nodded and followed him out of his room and downstairs.
Standing in the entrance hall, his back to them, was a tall, lanky man dressed from head to foot in scarlet, from his tunic from his sturdy looking leather boots. Stuck through his belt was a courier’s baton, though Felicity couldn’t imagine who would know there was anyone here to send a courier to. Oliver cleared his throat as they reached the bottom of the stairs, and the man in scarlet turned. Oliver rocked back on his heels, apparently caught off guard.
“Bartholomew?” he asked.
“Oliver,” Bartholomew replied in a bland tone. “It’s been a long time.” The two friends embraced, and Felicity watched the way they interacted with each other, wondering how they could have met. They didn’t exactly seem to move in the same circles.
“You work for the king?” she asked suddenly, noticing the lightning bolt standard emblazoned in gold thread on the chest of Bartholomew’s tunic. He nodded.
“My family owes him a debt,” he said, his mouth twisting into a wry grin at odds with the blandness of his answer. “I’ll probably be working for him until the day I die, and then my children will have to pick up my slack.”
“But why would he have you employed as a courier?” Felicity asked.
“Who better to make sure his letters and decrees get delivered quickly and efficiently?” Bartholomew responded. “After all, I’m the fastest man alive.” He grinned slyly at that, like he’d just made some clever joke, and pushed up his sleeves, revealing the stark black lines of tattoos on his forearms. They were spells- Felicity could feel the power radiating off of them- and they seemed to be meant to give Bartholomew superhuman speed, similar to the spells Felicity had carved into the soles of Oliver and Diggle’s boots, though to a much more extreme degree than hers.
“Those are fascinating,” Felicity said, nodding to Bartholomew’s tattoos. “I’ve never thought of applying the principle of written spells that way. Who did those?”
“Harrison Wells,” Bartholomew replied. “They’re his specialty. People come from all over the kingdom to have them done by him. Mine are the reason why, in Central City, they call me the Flash.”
“I’ll have to pay Wells a visit the next time I’m in Central City,” Felicity said. “It seems he and I are overdue for a chat.”
“I hate to cut this conversation short,” Oliver cut in, “and it’s not that it isn’t nice to see you again, Bartholomew, after such a long time, but why exactly are you here? I don’t imagine the king has a message for me.”
“No, he certainly doesn’t,” Bartholomew agreed. “This is a personal errand, of sorts. I’ve come to give you a warning.”
“A warning?” Oliver asked. “About what?”
“You hear a lot of stories working in the king’s court,” Bartholomew explained. “And lately there’s been quite a number of them floating around concerning something strange and evil lurking in this forest.” Oliver and Felicity exchanged a look. Perhaps that was what was scaring travelers away.
“Whatever it is that’s out there,” Bartholomew went on, “I suggest you and Diggle keep an eye out. Taking extra precautions when you’re out there might also be wise.” Felicity saw Oliver’s gaze shift sideways toward her, though not enough for Bartholomew to notice, and bit back a smile. The message in that shift was clear- Bartholomew had no idea just how late his advice to take extra precautions had come.
“We’ll be sure to do that,” Oliver said. “Thank you for the warning.”
“Of course,” Bartholomew replied. “Anytime. Now, I don’t mean to leave in a hurry, but I really must be going. Lots of business to attend to.” He turned away from them then and vanished out the door in a blur of scarlet. Felicity couldn’t resist a glance at Oliver, but if he was at all fazed by the manner of Bartholomew’s departure, or by the warning he’d brought them, he didn’t show it.
Chapter 14: Canaries Join the Fight
Felicity paused just outside the kitchen. There were too many voices coming from within it. Oliver and Diggle’s she recognized immediately, but there were two others she didn’t. What was more, the two voices she didn’t recognize were female, which was unexpected, perhaps even more so than the presence of two extra people in the Foundry. She poked her head curiously into the room and was greeted by the sight of Oliver and Diggle seated at the long kitchen table, deep in conversation with two women who were strangers to her, one dressed from head to toe in white leather, the other in black. The woman in black wore a matching mask, while the one in white was maskless, and while one had light brown hair and the other had blonde, they looked so alike that they could only be sisters.
Felicity cleared her throat, drawing the attention of the room’s occupants to her.
“Who are they?” she asked, nodding to the two women. The question wasn’t directed toward anyone in particular, but Oliver answered.
“The Lance sisters,” he said, “Laurel and Sara, known as the Black and White Canaries, respectively. They’ve come to join the crusade.”
“And you’re alright with this?” Felicity asked Diggle, remembering his initial misgivings when she’d joined Oliver’s crusade. “Where are the misgivings you had when Oliver brought me into all of this?” Diggle shrugged.
“Different circumstances here,” he said. “Besides, the Lance sisters have been doing fairly well as vigilantes all on their own. As far as I’m concerned, their decision to join up is doing us a favor.”
“Fair enough,” Felicity replied, inclining her head. “I trust your judgement completely, as I’m sure Oliver does as well.” Diggle dipped his head in silent acceptance of the compliment.
“White is a bold choice,” Felicity said to blonde haired Lance sister, Sara. “Especially combined with the one you made not to wear a mask.”
“I move quickly enough for the white not to be noticeable,” Sara replied evenly. “Most of the time, I’m just a flash in their peripheral vision. Not to mention that nobody I’ve gone up against has had the chance to see my face.”
“And if she misses anyone, I knock them out with this,” the other Lance sister, Laurel, put in, pulling down the collar of her leather jerkin to reveal a tattooed spell across her collarbone, the second example Felicity had seen in as many days of Harrison Wells’ work. When used, she saw, it turned Laurel’s voice into a weapon. She shuddered to imagine what power like that might do in the wrong hands.
“Now that introductions are out of the way,” Oliver cut in suddenly. “I imagine it should be about time for us to get things underway.” He looked pointedly at Felicity.
“Of course,” she said. “As you say. I imagine you’d like me to give Laurel and Sara spells for speed before the four of you head out?” She phrased it like a question, but it wasn’t one, not really. If she didn’t do as she’d just suggested, Laurel and Sara would be unable to keep up with Oliver and Diggle, thus making it impossible for the four of them to work as a team as they so obviously intended to do. Oliver nodded, and she made quick work of it, carving the necessary spell into the soles of Laurel and Sara’s boots just as she had done for Oliver and Diggle not long ago.
Felicity had a lot on her mind as she retreated to her room and the others headed out, but she pushed her troubled thoughts aside the moment she sat down at her writing desk and called up her projection. Oliver and the others needed her complete focus. She couldn’t afford to be distracted. Things proceeded smoothly and as normal from that point forward, even with the addition of two more people, which Felicity found comforting. It was nice to know that some things were constant. It made the shadow of the unknown threat they faced seem just a little less dark. And yet still it hung over everything they did.
“We’re on our way back.” Oliver’s voice pulled Felicity out of her pensive mood.
“Alright,” she said, knowing that Oliver expected a response. Take as long as you need. There’s no rush. I’ll be here patiently waiting for the four of you to return.” It felt strange to say “four of you” instead of “two of you”. If Oliver responded, she didn’t hear it because she’d already deactivated the communication spell on her end of it. She trusted Oliver and the others to be able to get themselves home without her input.
The Oliver who returned to the Foundry with Diggle and the Lance sisters in tow was an Oliver Felicity had never seen before. The tension he normally carried in his posture and in the set of his shoulders had lessened considerably, and the shadows that normally lurked behind his eyes were, for the time being, gone. Something about the Lance sisters joining his crusade seemed to have improved his outlook. Whether that improvement was permanent or not remained to be seen.
Oliver surprised Felicity by striding across the room toward her and pulling her into his embrace. She rested her head against his chest, listening to the rhythmic thump of his heartbeat, and allowed herself to enjoy the feeling of being held by him for only a moment before she pulled away.
“What was that about?” she asked.
“Nothing, really,” Oliver replied with a smile. He shook his head, huffed out a laugh, and added, “I’m just in a really good mood right now.”
“Odd, considering we still don’t know what we’re facing out there,” Felicity said dryly. She tried not to let her worry over the matter show, but it must have crept into her voice because Oliver frowned, concern shadowing his brilliant blue eyes.
“Hey,” he said soothingly, reaching out and putting his hands on her shoulders. “Whatever it is, we’ll figure it out. And when we do, we will stop it. After all, there’s five of us now, right?” He didn’t seem to notice that he’d started running his hands up and down her arms, subconsciously seeking to calm her fears with his touch as much as with his words. Felicity offered him a weak half smile in return for his efforts, trying to tell him that she appreciated that he’d tried.
Chapter 15: Doubts and Fears
Sitting alone in her room one morning, a few days after the Lance sisters had joined Oliver’s crusade, Felicity had time to think about how much her life had changed over the past several weeks. If anyone had told her that being summoned by Moira Queen would lead to her meeting the Green Arrow and lending her skills to his crusade, she would have laughed at them, or called them insane, or both. And never would she have imagined that in joining the Green Arrow she would come to know the long vanished scion of the Queen family, but she had. Over the weeks that had passed since she and Oliver had first encountered each other, they had grown closer with each passing day, the instant connection of their first meeting strengthening into something else. Something greater. Despite not knowing anything about Oliver because of his tendency to be tight lipped about his past, Felicity still felt like she knew, not about him, but him . She felt that she knew exactly the kind of man he was, and the kind of man he might one day become.
There was a shadow hanging over Felicity’s thoughts, however- Sara Lance. She’d noticed a connection of some kind between Oliver and the younger Lance sister. It was almost as if they had a history, though if that was in fact the case she knew Oliver wouldn’t be the one to confirm it. Whatever connection Sara and Oliver had, Felicity wondered why it bothered her so much. Why it left her feeling so troubled. Whatever the reason that it dogged her thoughts, she hoped she would figure it out soon, before it drove her insane.
A knock sounded at Felicity’s door, pulling her focus away from her dark thoughts, for which she was grateful.
“Come in,” she called out. Her door swung inward, and Oliver’s face appeared around the edge of it.
“Oliver,” Felicity said, setting aside the book she had sitting open on her lap, which she’d been attempting to read before her thoughts had drifted toward her current predicament. “Am I needed?” Oliver shook his head as he stepped further into the room and closed the door behind him.
“Not at the moment,” he said. “I decided to leave off patrolling today.”
“I’m shocked,” Felicity replied, deadpan. “I didn’t know you even understood the concept of rest.”
“I thought with everything being so quiet out there lately, we can afford to take a break, if only for a day. And I do know what rest is, Felicity. I do it every night.” Felicity shook her head.
“I don’t mean rest as in sleep, Oliver,” she said. “I mean rest as in taking a break every once and awhile. I mean rest as in allowing your body and mind time to recover from everything you put it through. If you keep going without pause like this, it’s going to break you down.”
“I don’t think I can,” Oliver said. “I’m afraid that if I do something terrible will happen because I wasn’t there to stop it.”
“You told me that the hardest part of doing what you do is accepting that you can’t save everyone,” Felicity replied, “and I know you well enough to know that you haven’t, but please , I am begging you, at least try. You can’t sustain this pace forever, and I don’t have the strength to witness when it finally breaks you.” Oliver just stared at her, clearly taken aback.
“I’m sorry,” she said, immediately regretting her outburst. “It’s just...I worry about you, probably a lot more than I’m willing to admit, even to myself. You’re my friend, and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“No Felicity, it’s-it’s fine,” Oliver said in a rush. “I’m...not used to people caring about me, that’s all.”
“Lots of people care about you,” Felicity protested, not sure why she felt the need to argue. “Your sister. Diggle. Your mother, in her own twisted way. Maybe even the Lance sisters, though that might remain to be seen.”
“I mean I’m not used to people caring about me the way you do,” Oliver explained with just the tiniest shake of his head. “The people you named care about me, true, but the way they care is different from the way you do.”
“How?” Felicity asked, because she hadn’t even realized that there was a difference.
“I don’t know,” Oliver replied, shrugging helplessly. “I just know that it is.”
“Fair enough, I suppose,” Felicity mumbled, nodding to herself. Speaking up, she addressed Oliver once more, “Before I joined your crusade, I never could have imagined how hard it is. Even as far removed from the action as I am, the work you’re doing...it weighs on me. There’s so much evil in the world, so much more than I realized, and knowing it now...it takes a toll. I know I need to tell someone about what it’s doing to me or it will eat away at me, but I can’t imagine how I would.” She fell silent, and the second she did she realized that Oliver hadn’t said so much as a single word while she’d been speaking. She was used to him being taciturn, but it still felt strange to bare her soul to someone who offered not a word in response. In a way, though, that was what made Oliver so easy for her to confide in- he got the feeling that he was actually listening to what she was saying, not just waiting for it to be his turn to speak again or silently formulating judgements about what she was telling him. In her experience, that was a rare thing, to have someone in whom she could truly confide, who well and truly listened to what she had to say, and she was grateful for it.
The silence lengthened as Oliver seemed to mull her words over. He opened his mouth to speak, but at the same moment he did, Felicity heard someone calling his name from elsewhere in the Foundry. She recognized Sara’s voice and felt her heart sink.
“I think Sara needs you for something,” said, interrupting whatever Oliver had been about to tell her, whatever advice or condolence he’d been about to offer. He looked startled for just a moment, then nodded and went to the door, resting a hand on her shoulder briefly on his way out. When he was gone, Felicity went back to attempting to read, wondering why Oliver’s touch had seemed to linger, and why that simple gesture affected her so deeply.
Some time later, there was a knock at Felicity’s door once again. This time she got up to answer it, and was a bit surprised to find Oliver standing on the other side of the door when she opened it.
“Oliver,” she said, her surprise creeping into her voice. “What brings you back?”
“I was thinking about what you said,” Oliver replied, “and I wanted you to know that if you ever need to tell someone about your day, you can tell me.” His words had Felicity smiling in spite of herself.
“Thank you,” she said, being sure to convey in her tone of voice how truly grateful she was. “I’ll keep that in mind.” Oliver nodded once in acknowledgement of her thanks and disappeared back down the hallway. Felicity watched him go, wondering where he was off to in such a hurry.
Chapter 16: A Friend's Counsel
As much as she’d tried to stave it off over the past several days, doubt and worry still ate at Felicity, her mind going over the same thoughts in an endless loop , like a dog gnawing at an old dry bone, hoping to get something out of it despite there being nothing to be found. She was caught in a thought spiral from which she feared there was no escape.
It was not unlike the thought spiral she’d been caught in in the days before she’d had her conversation with Oliver about what she feared his crusade might be doing to him, with one fundamental difference- that conversation had, for the time being at least, mostly assuaged her fears regarding Oliver’s well-being, and so the focus of her current thought spiral was less on him and more on herself. It felt incredibly selfish, but her mind would not release its hold on her doubt and worry and fear about her place in the group of vigilantes she’d taken up with. As much as she wished to deny it, she knew the reason why it was only recently that the baser parts of her nature, that little voice whispering in the back of her mind that she tried so hard to ignore, had started her doubting her place and her worthiness to be among them- it was only recently that the Lance sisters had joined them. They were both fierce, skilled fighters, something Felicity was not, and that made limitations she hadn’t even thought she had suddenly seem glaringly obvious to her.
“Felicity?” Dig’s booming bass voice startled her out of a reverie she didn’t know she’d slipped into. He was hovering in the doorway of the library, looking altogether concerned and bewildered.
“Dig,” Felicity said, surprised at how easily the shortened form of his name, which was clearly only used by his friends, slipped from her tongue. “What brings you here?”
“There isn’t much else to do around here when I’m not out patrolling with Oliver,” Dig said, easing himself into the chair nearest to where Felicity sat. He studied her with his head tilted to one side for a moment and asked “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” Felicity replied, knowing that he wasn’t quite as adept at telling when she was lying as Oliver was. All the same, he looked like he didn’t believe her. “Why do you ask?” One of Dig’s shoulders lifted in a half shrug.
“You’ve just seemed...off since the Lance sisters joined up,” he said. “Not like yourself.” Felicity wondered if the fact that he’d picked up on that meant that Oliver had to. She thought about asking Dig that very question, but decided against it.
“Since they came to join Oliver’s crusade,” she admitted, “I’ve been struggling with quite a lot of self doubt. They’re fierce, and they’re strong, and they’re skilled fighters, nothing short of warriors. They’re everything I’m not. Especially Sara. In fact, she’s almost exactly like Oliver, and I can’t stop myself from wondering if he wouldn’t much rather work with someone who’s like him then someone who’s like me.”
“Sometimes what looks good on parchment isn’t what works in real life,” Dig counseled. “It can be hard to work with someone who’s too much like you. You can end up butting heads with them for wanting to do the exact thing in a situation that you would do, if you know that it’s something you shouldn’t.”
“But Oliver and Sara don’t have that problem, do they?” Felicity asked.
“They do, actually,” Dig replied. “Sara, as it turns out, has a much harsher approach to vigilantism than Oliver, and they clash over it quite a bit.”
“But why do you guys even need me when you have her?” Felicity muttered.
“Because you’re irreplaceable, Felicity,” Dig said, surprising her. She hadn’t really been expecting an answer. Even more surprising was the realization that she couldn’t identify the exact point at which she and Dig had become friends, but they were, and it didn’t even occur to her to question that fact. With all of their shared experiences, it felt only right that they should be.
“You should talk to Oliver about all of this,” Dig said, pulling Felicity’s rambling train of thought back on track. "He cares about you, Felicity. He’d want to know, so he can help.” Felicity shook her head.
“No,” she said. “Absolutely not. Oliver has enough to worry about without bringing my personal emotional issues into it. I don’t want to distract him from his mission.”
“Felicity-” Dig began.
“No,” Felicity interrupted. “I’m not going to tell him, and that’s final. The work he’s doing is more important than my personal comfort.”
“That’s a dangerous way of thinking,” Dig warned. “It’ll lead you to keep giving up pieces of yourself to others until there’s nothing of you left.”
“For Oliver’s sake, I'll endure it, ” Felicity said firmly. Dig frowned, appearing surprised by her response.
“You love him,” he said quietly. “Don’t you?”
“I don’t know how I feel about him,” Felicity replied, ignoring the voice in the back of her mind that whispered that that wasn’t true. “Except that he’s my friend, and I don’t want him to get hurt because he was distracted by something I shouldn’t have allowed to affect him.” Dig was silent for a long time. When he did speak, it was only to say, “Alright, you’ve made your point.”
“But?” Felicity asked, because she could tell that there was one.
“But I shouldn’t wonder if perhaps you ought to do some serious self examination regarding just how deep your feelings for Oliver actually go,” Dig said. “Because is it seems to me that you care for him much more than just as a friend.” When Felicity glared at him, he lifted his hands in a gesture of surrender and said, “It’s merely a suggestion. I’m only trying to help.”
“I know,” Felicity said with a sigh. “I’m sorry. Thank you.” Dig nodded and they lapsed into silence. Dig turned away from Felicity to peruse the shelves. Another minute, and the scratching of a quill on parchment cut through the silence as Felicity resumed writing in her notebook, as she’d been doing before Dig had come in.
“What are you up to?” he asked, turning back toward her. “More research?” Felicity shook her head.
“Journaling,” she said. “I find it easier to organize my thoughts if I write them down. Besides, this might all be important to historians someday.”
“Isn’t that a bit presumptuous?” Dig asked.
“I never said it was me future historians would want to know about,” Felicity replied. Dig’s eyes widened as he realized what she must have been writing about.
“Relax, Dig,” she said. “I have no intention of letting anyone read what’s written in this notebook while I’m alive. I only thought that someday, decades or perhaps even centuries after you and I and Oliver are dead and buried, people will want to know about the Green Arrow. Hearsay won’t survive that long. Better to have some written record somewhere of all the good that Oliver has done and continues to do.”
“You care for him so deeply that you’ve taken it upon yourself to make sure that, when it’s safe for such things to be so, people know that he’s a hero,” Dig said. It wasn’t a question, but Felicity responded to it like it was.
“I do,” she said.
“Whatever denials the logical part of your mind might make- and I know that it makes them-” Dig said, “I really do think that you love him.”
Chapter 17: Searching for Understanding
Felicity wasn’t entirely surprised when, the morning after her talk with Dig, she was informed by Laurel that Oliver wanted them all to meet in the kitchen. She’d noticed that he’d had something on his mind for a while now, and it seemed he was finally ready to share it.
She entered the kitchen trailing just behind Laurel, who had waited for her after passing along Oliver’s summons. Dig nodded in greeting, and Oliver, when he spotted her over Laurel’s shoulder, fixed her with a pointed look, as if there were something he was desperate for her to understand without his having to say it. This time, for some reason, she failed to grasp his unspoken meaning, so she took a seat at his side and whispered “Is everything alright?”
“You’ll see,” Oliver replied instead of answering. He waited until Laurel had sat down by her sister before he spoke up to address the entire room.
“Since things have been so quiet lately,” he said, “I think it appropriate that we take a break from patrolling for a few days. As Felicity pointed out to me not to long ago”- He turned his head to gaze at her for a long moment, his expression unreadable- “It’s good to let ourselves rest and recover from what we put ourselves through every once and a while.” He turned away from Felicity at last, and only then did she allow herself the smallest of smiles, pleased to hear that, even if he felt forced to by current circumstances, he was taking her advice. In some small way, she was helping, not just his crusade, but him, specifically. Dig noticed her smile and responded with a private, amused one of his own. Sara noticed it too, and her eyes narrowed, her gaze flicking back and forth between Felicity and Oliver. She looked like she suspected something, though Felicity couldn’t imagine what.
“What is happening between you and Oliver?” Sara demanded of Felicity a few minutes later, cornering her as the brief meeting concluded and everyone filed out of the kitchen. Felicity looked around frantically for help, but Sara was smart. She’d made sure to corner her after everyone else was out of sight and earshot.
“What?” she asked, feeling panicky. “Nothing. He’s only my friend.” Sara raised an eyebrow, clearly skeptical.
“Friends don’t look at each other the way you two did back there,” she said, her voice a low murmur. Felicity sighed.
“I don’t know what’s going on between Oliver and me,” she mumbled. “I don’t know if there is anything between us, and until I figure that out, it’s...simpler to say that we’re only friends.” She eyed Sara for a moment, then asked “What does it matter to you anyway? Are you in love with him?” Sara shook her head, her loose blonde curls bouncing.
“Not anymore,” she said. “I was, once, a long time ago. We courted off and on for awhile, but we could never make it work, and eventually we both simply moved on.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Felicity asked.
“I don’t know,” Sara replied with a shrug. “Except that I think you’re in love with Oliver”- Felicity flinched involuntarily, remembering that Dig had said much the same yesterday- “and Oliver, whether he knows it or not, is in love with you. And I think you’re good for him, better than I was or ever could be.” There was something like regret in Sara’s voice that made Felicity’s heart ache for her.
“So?” she asked, deflecting her feelings for the moment.
“So if you were worried about having to compete with me,” Sara said, “or having to live up to some standard you think I’ve set that you can’t meet, don’t. There’s no contest.” A pause, then she added, “You’re the best of us, Felicity. We all see that.”
“Even Oliver?” Felicity asked. Even as she said it, she wondered why she thought she had reason to doubt it. Sara nodded.
“Especially Oliver,” she confirmed. “He saw it long before the rest of us did, I think.” Felicity found herself heartened by that news. It was pleasantly surprising to know that Oliver apparently thought as highly of her as she did of him.
“I hope to continue to prove myself worthy of such high appraisal from all of you,” she said.
“You will,” Sara assured her. “Of that I have no doubt.” Felicity and Sara walked in silence for awhile. Felicity followed the younger Lance sister without much concern for where she might be going. It wasn’t as if she had anywhere she needed to be or anything she needed to be doing at present.
“Tell me something,” she said after a time, attempting to break the silence. “Was I right in thinking that you and Oliver have history?” Sara gave her a sidelong look.
“I think you already know the answer to that,” she said.
“True enough,” Felicity agreed, falling silent again.
“Why do you want to know?” Sara asked after a moment.
“If I wish to understand Oliver,” Felicity replied, “I must first understand where he comes from.”
“And you thought I’d be the best person to ask about that?” Sara said.
“Well, it was either you or your sister,” Felicity replied with a shrug. “Or Dig. But certainly not Oliver. He never talks about his past.”
“There’s a good reason for that,” Sara said. “It’s not my place to talk about Oliver’s past. If he wanted you to know about it, he would have told you. And there’s a chance he still might, eventually.” Felicity wished she could believe that. Regardless of the fact that Sara knew Oliver better than she did, it didn’t seem very likely.
“Why the sudden interest?” Sara asked. “Why the sudden need to understand Oliver?”
“There’s nothing sudden about it,” Felicity replied, shaking her head. “I feel it’s important to know the people I’ve taken up with, starting with him. I just never had the means of learning more about him than what I could glean from my own observations until now.”
“So that means?” Sara asked.
“I’m glad that the arrival of you and your sister turned out so well,” Felicity said.
“How did you think it was going to turn out?” Sara all but demanded, giving Felicity a sidelong look again.
“Truthfully, I’m not sure,” Felicity replied, “but I’m glad things turned out the way they did.”
Chapter 18: Aftermath
Felicity woke with a start in the middle of the night, certain that something terrible had just happened. She lit a candle and went downstairs, reaching the entrance hall just in time to a figure come through the door. They were stumbling, leaning heavily on the door like they lacked the strength to hold themselves up, and clutching their side as if gravely wounded. As the figure collapsed, the dim light from Felicity’s candle gave her just the barest glimpse of green.
“Oliver!” she cried, rushing over and dropping to her knees beside his unmoving form, setting the candle down on the floor next to her. She managed to roll him over, and her hands came away sticky with blood. He was slashed and bleeding in a dozen places, cloth and flesh parted neatly in a way unachievable by any bladed weapon that Felicity knew of. It was clear to her in an instant that Oliver’s wounds had been inflicted by magic. She felt like her stomach was being coated with ice.
“Just hold on, alright?” she begged Oliver, despite knowing that he couldn’t hear her and wouldn’t respond. “I’m going to go get Dig. Please just hold on. ” Her voice broke on those last words. She pressed a kiss against Oliver’s forehead, the only form of prayer she could offer, then stumbled to her feet and ran to wake Dig.
Dig answered Felicity’s frantic knocking with a bleary, bewildered expression, blinking owlishly.
“Felicity?” he asked, sounding like he was still half asleep. “What-” he stopped mid-sentence when he saw the blood on her hands.
“Are you alright?” he asked, almost frantic. “Where are you hurt?”
“What?” Felicity asked. Panic and fear had numbed her thoughts, and it took her a moment to process Dig’s words. Reflexively, she wiped her hands on her skirts, no doubt leaving bloody handprints on them as a result. “I’m fine. It’s not me who’s hurt, it’s- it’s Oliver. He was attacked, I don’t know when or by whom except that it was by a mage. He’s in the entrance hall. There’s so much blood, and he collapsed and I didn’t know what to do except wake you, and-”
“Felicity,” Dig said urgently, putting his hands on her shoulders and stopping her mid-ramble. “Take me to him.”
By the time Felicity reached the entrance hall with Dig in tow, the candle she’d left sitting on the floor beside Oliver was guttering, the circle of its illumination growing smaller and dimmer by the minute. Despite that, Felicity could see the way it gleamed wetly off of the blood oozing from Oliver’s wounds, and she felt her gut twist. She heard Dig stumble behind her, clearly caught off guard by the horrible spectacle- or at least what he could see of it in the rapidly encroaching darkness- but she didn’t check to see if he was alright because she was already running to kneel beside Oliver’s still form for the second time that night. She moved her hands along the length of his body without actually touching any of his magically inflicted wound, irrationally afraid of what might happen if she did. She managed to shift him into her lap, not wanting to leave him lying on the floor for a second longer than he already had been, but when she tried to lift him the rest of the way off the floor, she found that he was too heavy for her.
“Help me!” she cried desperately, voice breaking, but she needn’t have bothered- Dig was already there, crouched on Oliver’s other side, making a quick visual examination of his injuries. Felicity hadn’t even realized that he wasn’t where she’d left him. Before she could say anything else, he was grabbing Oliver under his arms and lifting him easily into the air. Felicity scrambled to lift his feet from the floor, staggering under even that little bit of his weight before she found her footing.
Together, Felicity and Dig carried Oliver to his room, a tense, terrified silence settling between them. As they set him on his bed, as gently as they could possibly manage, Dig took stock of Oliver’s injuries again and said, “Go get Sara. This is a two person job.” His low, commanding tone spurred Felicity into action where otherwise she might have still been frozen in panic. She quickly ran to do as Dig had said.
“Felicity,” Sara said when she answered her door. “Did something happen? What’s going on?”
“It’s Oliver,” Felicity replied in a rush. “He’s been attacked. Dig sent me to come and get you. He said that what needs to be done to save him is a two person job.” Sara nodded, her expression solemn.
“Give me just a moment,” she said, and disappeared behind her closed door. She emerged a moment later, as she’d promised, dressed in a tunic and leggings, an unfamiliar looking leather satchel slung over her shoulder. She was rifling through the contents of the satchel as she stepped through the door, and as she flipped the flap closed Felicity caught of a whiff of what smelled like the fragrances of dozens of herbs mixed together at once.
“Let’s go,” Sara said, striding past her with quick, purposeful steps. She raced to keep up with her.
When they reached Oliver’s room, Sara shoved forward and put a hand on Dig’s shoulder to get his attention. She conferred quickly and quietly with him, and they set to work. Dig sutured Oliver’s wounds closed with a steady, practiced hand, while Sara took up position at the writing desk in the corner, making poultices out of various herbs that she pulled from her satchel and applying them to Oliver’s newly sutured wounds. Felicity hovered in the doorway, watching them work. Sara in particular seemed in her element. She worked with an urgency befitting the situation, and she didn’t so much as flinch when Oliver shifted or cried out in pain. In another life, Felicity realized, or if this one had taken a different path, she could have been a healer.
After what seemed like an eternity but in actuality was probably not more than a few minutes, Sara and Dig finished their work. Sara began putting her supplies back in her satchel, and Dig stepped past Felicity, she assumed to find something with which to wash Oliver’s blood from his hands.
“How is he?” Felicity asked when Dig had gone.
“Safe. For now,” Sara replied in a dull, exhausted voice. “We should leave him to rest, and check on him tomorrow.” Felicity nodded, but once Sara had left, she found the thought of leaving Oliver alone to be unbearable. After deliberating for a moment, she climbed into the bed next to him, and passed the night away sleeping at his side.
Chapter 19: Recovery
Felicity awoke in a confusion. For a moment, she didn’t know where she was, couldn’t remember why she could feel the warmth of another person in the bed with her. Then she rolled over and saw Oliver stretched out beside her, and the events of the previous night came rushing back. She watched him for a moment, mesmerized by the steady rise and fall of his breathing when last night she had been afraid that she’d never see it again. Her gaze caught on slashes crisscrossing his torso and arms, the ones that Dig and Sara had worked so tirelessly to repair. She tried not to think about how many more scars they and all the other slashes the mage who’d attacked him had inflicted upon him would leave him with once they healed.
“I thought I told you that we should leave him to rest.” Sara’s voice, from the doorway, so quiet that it was little more than a vibration in the air.
“He is resting,” Felicity said, as defiantly as she could manage while still speaking in a whisper. She propped herself up on her elbow to see over Oliver. Sure enough, there was Sara, holding a tray in her hands, on which sat a hunk of bread, a slice of cheese, a still steaming kettle, and an earthenware cup.
“Stop talking about me like I’m not here,” Oliver grunted, startling them both.
“How are you feeling?” they asked in unison, although in Sara’s case it sounded clinical, a healer assessing the status of her patient.
“I hurt in places I didn’t even know I could hurt,” Oliver said. He groaned as he pushed himself upright, the sound slashing through Felicity like a knife blade. Her fingers twitched as she fought the urge to reach out to him.
“Here,” Sara said crisply, handing Oliver the bread and cheese from the tray. “Eat this. You need to keep your strength up.” Oliver offered not a word of protest, either seeing the logic of Sara’s command or understanding that it would be pointless to try and argue with her. He tore into the bread like he hadn’t eaten in days, the cheese vanishing in a similar fashion less than a minute later. Sara nodded to herself, appearing pleased. She busied herself with pouring water from the kettle into the earthenware cup, apparently making some kind of tea. Felicity caught her eyeing her and Oliver out of the corner of her eye as she did so. Apparently clocking some kind of tension between them, she said, “This is going to need to steep for a bit, so I’ll...give you two the room in the meantime.” She set the kettle down with a clunk and none-too-subtly removed herself from the room. For a few minutes after she was gone, there was silence. Felicity lacked the courage to give voice to her feelings, and the words to describe exactly what those feelings were.
“You saved me,” Oliver whispered, breaking the silence. He surprised Felicity by lacing his fingers through hers. She felt the rough scrape of calluses on his fingertips and upper palm and wondered why that detail stood out to her so sharply.
“That was Dig and Sara,” she said, shaking her head. “I had nothing to do with it.”
“You found me,” Oliver insisted. “I remember that much. If you hadn’t...I’d be dead right now. I would have bled out on the floor of the entrance hall. Felicity, I owe you my life.” Felicity was at a loss as to what an appropriate response to a declaration like that would be. She was saved from having to figure it out by Sara reentering the room. She raised her eyebrows pointedly at the pair, causing Felicity to hurriedly disentangle her fingers from Oliver’s in response.
“Drink this,” Sara said in the same commanding, no nonsense tone as before, seeing that Oliver now had both hands free. Oliver took the cup she handed him, wrapping both hands around it and giving the liquid inside an experimental sniff.
“It smells disgusting,” he grunted, making a face that would have made Felicity laugh had the situation not been the exact opposite of funny.
“I’m sure it tastes just as bad,” Sara said, “but you need to drink it. It will help with the healing.” Oliver nodded and did as she’d told him. He’d only taken a few sips when his eyes started to drift closed. A few more, and he was asleep, Sara snatching the cup before it fell over and spilled.
“What did you give him?” Felicity asked as Sara set what was left of the pungent smelling tea aside.
“Crushed poppy seed, for the pain,” Sara replied in a soft voice, mindful of waking her patient. “And valerian, to help him sleep. His body needs rest if it’s going to heal.” She reached out and brushed a lock of Oliver’s hair back from his forehead, an intimately tender gesture that left Felicity’s heart aching with a desire to do the same.
“He looks so peaceful sleeping,” Sara whispered, pulling her hand back and clasping it together with her other one in her lap. Felicity examined Oliver’s face and saw Sara meant- the lines of concern and stress that creased his face when he was awake were smoothed out in sleep, leaving him looking youthful and untroubled.
“You don’t know him like I did, Felicity,” Sara said. “Before his father died. Before...all of this.” She made an expansive gesture. “He was so...light. Carefree. He didn’t carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he-he smiled. He laughed. He made jokes.”
“He does that now,” Felicity pointed out. Sara shook her head.
“It’s not the same,” she said. “He was happy back then. You can’t tell me that you don’t see the shadows behind his eyes. Felicity didn’t respond. She did see the shadows Sara had mentioned, but she suspected that they’d always been there. From what Oliver had told her, he’d never truly been happy. Perhaps life had weighed less heavily on him once upon a time, but true happiness had, by his own admission, always eluded him. The fact that Sara didn’t see that indicated that she’d never truly known him, whatever she believed. She’d only seen what she wished to see, or, more precisely, what Oliver had wished for her to see. The trouble was, Felicity wasn’t sure how to broach that subject to Sara without sounding dismissive of her relationship with Oliver.
“Oliver will be asleep for a while,” Sara said, jolting Felicity’s train of thought to a halt. She wasn’t sure how she could tell that she wanted to be with Oliver as long as he was awake. “You should use that time to get yourself cleaned up. You still have blood on your clothes.” Felicity nodded, seeing the sense of Sara’s suggestion. She left the room with one last backward glance at Oliver sleeping soundly in his bed.
By the time Felicity returned from washing her clothes- a task that had taken over an hour, since many of the stains on them had had time to set- Oliver was awake again, sitting up in bed and watching her approach.
“Hey,” he said softly.
“Hey yourself,” Felicity replied, edging herself onto his bed. This time, she was the one who took his hand in hers. “How are you feeling?”
“Rested,” Oliver said, getting a laugh out of her. “Still in pain, but less than before.”
“That’s good,” Felicity said. After a moment, she asked “How much do you remember from last night?”
“Almost nothing,” Oliver replied. “I remember going out into the forest, and I remember being attacked, and I remember you finding me in the entrance hall, but everything else is a blank.” Felicity frowned. That wasn't good. She’d been counting on Oliver remembering something from the previous night, some clue that might lead to who had attacked him and why.
“Do you remember why you went out into the forest in the first place?” she prompted, an anxious trill in her voice.
“I think...I think I was looking for clues as to what the thing Bartholomew warned us about might be,” Oliver said, his words halting as he struggled to drag buried memories to the surface.
“And did you find any?” Felicity asked. Oliver shook his head, but didn’t answer beyond that.
“What about the person who attacked you?” Felicity asked. “Did you see their face? Do you remember what they used to hurt you?” Oliver shook his head again.
“It’s all so hazy,” he said, “but...I remember that the person who attacked me...they were in shadow, so I couldn’t make anything of them out, and I- I still don’t know how they hurt me. I didn’t see any weapon, just felt this- this blinding pain, and when I looked down, I’d bee slashed somehow, and it happened over and over and over and over again.” He fell silent. Felicity felt a chill race down her spine.
“Felicity?” Oliver asked. “Is everything alright?”
“Everything’s fine,” Felicity replied, because she couldn’t bring herself to tell him that what he had just told her confirmed what the nature of his wounds had already led her to suspect- that he’d been attacked by a mage. Somewhere out in the forest there was another mage, or mages, and while whether or not they were what had been scaring travelers away remained to be seen, the fact that they had gone out of their way to hurt Oliver so grievously certainly did not bode well.
Chapter 20: Truths
The carved wooden doors of the Foundry flew open with a crash, and a mage swept into the entrance hall, gliding as if propelled by some dark force, cloaked in shadow, his face shrouded by a hood that cast it into darkness black as pitch. Felicity froze. She stood paralyzed with fear like a rabbit caught in the path of a stooping falcon as the mage moved inexorably toward Oliver. He muttered words Felicity could not hear and made a slashing motion with one hand, and Oliver fell to one knee with a cry of pain. The faceless mage lashed out with his magic again, and Oliver’s knee buckled, sending him crashing him to the floor.
The mage continued on his slow path toward him, drawing long, bloody slashes down the length of his body, impervious to his cries of pain, or perhaps drawing enjoyment from them. Felicity moved desperately toward Oliver, but some unseen force stopped her from reaching him. She realized with a start that the mage was holding her back, preventing her from stopping his slow, agonizing torture of Oliver. The thought made her blood turn to ice in her veins. She’d never before encountered- or even heard of- a mage who could keep multiple spoken spells going at once. If this one was the unnamed evil they’d been warned about, what chance did they have?
Powerless to help Oliver or to stop what was being done to him from happening, Felicity could only watch as he was tortured, as the light slowly faded from his brilliant blue eyes until there was nothing left of the man she - Felicity woke with a start in the chair that sat before Oliver’s writing desk, where she’d taken up position earlier that night. During the course of Oliver’s recovery, she’d hardly left his side, and in that moment, with her heart pounding and her breath coming in rapid gasps, Felicity found that a comfort, as it wasn’t until her roving gaze settled on the shape she knew to be Oliver sleeping soundly in his bed and heard the steady rhythm of his breathing in the dark that her heart rate finally slowed. It was only the reassurance that he was alive, and safe, that at last chased away the shadow of her dream. But still her thoughts lingered on it, specifically on where her mind had been going at the end of it, in the moment before she’d roused herself, as her dream self had stood powerless and watched Oliver die. The man she… the man she what?
A moment later it dawned on her- the man she loved. She was in love with Oliver. Dig and Sara had hinted- and often outright stated- as much, but she hadn’t wanted to accept it. Had denied it, even to herself. Especially to herself. But she could no longer maintain that deception when the truth was staring her hard in the face.
It was strange how accepting that truth suddenly made everything else fall into place. It explained why so often lately she’d felt that what was between them was deeper than simple friendship, why she’d been so loathe to leave his side during his recovery. Everything she had done, everything she had felt, every thought she had had about Oliver and about her relationship with him became clear in the moment, however brief it had been, that she at last accepted the fact that she had, in spite of the odds against it and her, fallen in love with him.
Felicity realized then that what she had feared in the past day and a half since Oliver had been attacked was not that it would happen again if she let him out of her sight, even for a moment, but rather that if she left his side, for however brief a time, she would return to find that the as yet unknown mage who’d attacked him had come to finish the job, and the man she’d come to love was dead. Hence the content of her nightmare, she supposed. Dreams were the way the subconscious mind dealt with concepts that the conscious one could or would not- or so Felicity had been told- and Oliver’s death was an idea too horrible for her to even begin to contemplate in her waking thoughts.
She shifted uneasily in her chair, restless, tired but unable to fall back asleep. She knew that the moment she did, her nightmare would visit her again. With a groan of frustration, she stood and went to the window, gazing out at the moonlit forest and the mountains far in the distance. The shadows seemed far more sinister knowing what might be lurking in them. She shuddered at the thought, and in the same moment, as if in response, there was a rustle of bedclothes and Oliver’s voice, soft as a gentle breeze in the darkness.
“Felicity?” There was a note of surprise in his tone, like he hadn’t been expecting her to still be there. A pause, then he asked “Are you alright?” Felicity didn’t answer.
“You had a nightmare,” Oliver said. It wasn’t a question.
“Yes,” Felicity confirmed in a whisper.
“About what?” Oliver asked. Again, Felicity didn’t answer. She couldn’t. In order to do so, in order for him to fully understand it, she’d have to tell him that she was in love with him, and she didn’t think she was ready to do that yet. It was still so new.
“Did I wake you?” she asked instead.
“No,” Oliver said. There was a brief pause before he elaborated. “My mind is often troubled, and sleep does not come easily to me. I feel I must have slept more in the past day and a half than I have in many months. So again, no. You did not wake me. While not intending to, I had already roused myself from slumber when I heard you awake.”
“And you knew it had been because of a nightmare?” Felicity asked.
“I’ve been woken by quite a few myself,” Oliver replied. “I know what it sounds like.” His voice turned somber. He had done Felicity the courtesy of not prying into what her nightmare had been about, and she returned that courtesy by not asking what he had nightmares about. Instead she said, “Your wounds are healing well. Sara tells me you should be able to resume your normal activities by tomorrow, or the next day at the latest.”
“With many new scars, I imagine,” Oliver said softly. Felicity thought she heard just the tiniest hint of bitterness in his voice.
“That’s better than the alternative,” she said fiercely. “Consider those new scars a mark of honor, Oliver, another sign of when the world tried to break you and failed.” She was aware that she sounded like she was just repeating earlier conversations they’d had, but she wanted him to see himself as she saw him- solid as stone and strong as steel.
“That’s no mean feat, Felicity,” Oliver said. “But for you, I think I can try.”
Chapter 21: Midnight Conversation
Felicity sat up in bed, her heart pounding. She was sleeping in her own room for the first time in two days, Oliver having fully recovered from his ordeal, but it seemed the change of setting didn’t matter overmuch to her subconscious. She’d still been visited by that dream of the faceless mage. She sighed, knowing that sleep would likely not find her again for the rest of the night. Getting up from her bed, she lit a candle, trying not to think about what had happened the last time she had gotten up in the middle of the night like this, and left her room behind, thinking that perhaps wandering the Foundry for a little while might calm her mind and body enough to make trying to get back to sleep an actual viable plan, if a vague one, rather than an impossibility.
Wandering into the kitchen, Felicity was surprised to find a fire burning in the hearth and Oliver seated at the table.
“Oliver,” she said to get his attention, because, lost in his thoughts, he hadn’t noticed her yet. She set her candle down on the table, its light seeming small and weak in comparison to that of the fire. The dull thunk of the metal candle holder impacting the wood of the table made Oliver stir at last, slowly, as if coming out of a dream.
“Felicity,” he said softly. There was an odd sort of sleepy, half-awake tone in his voice. He studied her face for a moment and asked “Couldn’t sleep?” Felicity shook her head.
“No,” she confirmed. “You?”
“I told you that sleep and I are often not on the friendliest of terms,” Oliver said by way of reply. Felicity nodded to herself. She remembered Oliver telling her that. It was difficult not to remember when it had only happened two days ago.
“Nightmares?” she asked. Oliver nodded in answer.
“You?” he asked.
“The same,” Felicity said. “Or actually, nightmare singular. I’ve had the same one every night since you were attacked.”
“Dare I ask what it is?” Oliver asked. Felicity shook her head.
“I’d really rather not talk about it,” she said.
“Fair enough,” Oliver conceded. I won’t pry.” He paused, then said, “And… I thank you for extending me the same courtesy.”
“Of course,” Felicity said, inclining her head. “One good turn deserves another, after all.”
“It’s more than that,” Oliver said, shaking his head. “I can see that you...care, about me, and about the team, and I appreciate it. I must admit that I sometimes feel I don’t deserve it.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Felicity said emphatically. “There isn’t a single person on this earth undeserving of care, least of all you. Even the lowliest of scum have people in their lives who care about them, and clearly you are a much higher class of person than they.”
“Sometimes I’m not so sure that’s true,” Oliver mumbled.
“Why?” Felicity asked, genuinely wanting to understand his thought process. If she understood it, perhaps she could help him change it.
“This life, it...does things to a person, Felicity,” Oliver replied in a whisper. He sounded almost fearful, as if speaking of such things might manifest them into existence. “Makes them live in a morally grey area for so long that eventually they start to lose all sense of right and wrong. They become willing to do terrible things in the name of fighting the good fight. I personally have done things that, if you knew about them, you wouldn’t think that I’m a hero. I have killed, and I have tortured, and I have hurt. I have caused unspeakable pain in the name of doing good.”
“Exactly,” Felicity said. “In the name of doing good. You were trying to do the right thing. And maybe the methods by which you did that were not what some people would consider good, but that doesn’t make you a bad person. If you were, you wouldn’t even feel the way you do about the things you’ve done. Bad people aren’t capable of remorse.”
“That’s...heartening, I suppose,” Oliver said. “It’s a difficult thing to remember, though.”
“Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try,” Felicity pointed out. “For my sake, if not your own. I worry about you, Oliver. Especially lately.”
“You don’t need to,” Oliver said. “I can take care of myself. And I highly doubt I’m likely to get attacked by a rogue mage more than once.”
“You can’t know that,” Felicity said, fear choking her to such an extent that her voice came out in merely the barest hiss of a whisper. “ We can’t know that. We don’t know what’s out there.”
“You’re right,” Oliver said. “I apologize. It was callous of me to dismiss your worry like that.”
“You don’t have to apologize to me,” Felicity replied, shaking her head. For a moment, the only sound was the crackling of the fire.
“I’m going to try and see if I can manage to get any more sleep tonight,” Felicity said, rising from her seat and taking up her candle. She retreated to her room without another word.
“Felicity!” She heard her name being called only distantly, still in the throes of her dream, unaware of how much time had passed since she’d left the kitchen. Strong arms wrapped around her and pulled her against a muscular chest. Felicity screamed and thrashed, trying to push away from her perceived attacker.
“It’s alright, it’s just me.” Oliver’s voice. She whimpered.
“Ssh,” Oliver soothed. “It’s alright. You’re safe. I’m here.” Fear fled Felicity in an instant, leaving her feeling empty and gutted. She collapsed against Oliver’s chest, sobs clawing their way out of her. Her hands traced over his scars, needing to confirm that he was really there, really alive, really safe.
“It’s alright,” Oliver murmured, rocking her gently back and forth. “We’re okay. It was just a dream.” He continued like that, holding her, rocking her, murmuring reassurances, until at last she calmed. If she hadn’t still been mostly out of it, she would have been embarrassed by how close together they were.
Felicity pulled away from Oliver to wipe away the tears streaking her face, and he studied her intently, his brilliant blue eyes shadowed with concern.
“What happened?” she asked before he could.
“I was on my way back from the kitchen,” Oliver said, voice low, as if he were afraid he might frighten her if he spoke too loudly, “and I heard you crying out in your sleep as I passed by your room. You sounded like you needed help, and I was right there-” He cut himself off with a shrug.
“Thank you,” Felicity whispered. Oliver averted his eyes from hers, as if uncomfortable or embarrassed.
“I need you to tell me what your nightmare is about,” he said.
“Oliver, please don’t,” Felicity began.
“Please,” Oliver begged. “I hate to ask you to relive it, but I- I need to understand. Please.” The look of desperate concern in his eyes made it impossible for Felicity to deny him.
“Alright,” she said. “In my nightmare...there’s a mage, with his face in shadow so I can’t make it out. And he breaks in here, smashes right through the wards I put up, and tortures you right in front of me. And eventually, he-he kills you, and there’s nothing I can do to stop him. All I can do is stand there and watch you die.” She shuddered.
“It was just a dream,” Oliver reassured her. “I’m right here.” He took her hand and placed it flat against his chest, over his heart. The steady thump of his heartbeat beneath her palm chased the last lingering shreds of her dream away.
“Thank you,” she said, offering him a thin smile. He nodded and started to ease himself off of her bed.
“Oliver, wait,” Felicity said, grabbing his wrist and stopping him in his tracks. When he looked over his shoulder at her, a question written on his face, she asked “Will you stay with me? Just for tonight?” Oliver nodded.
“Of course,” he said softly. “Whatever you need.”
Chapter 22: Growing Closer
Felicity woke with Oliver’s arms around her. They’d gone to sleep back to back, but at some point during the night they must have shifted positions so that Felicity had ended up within the protective circle of Oliver’s embrace. Not that she was complaining. She realized with no small amount of pleased surprise that her nightmare had not visited her a third time, nor had she heard Oliver get up during the night, much as he claimed to be plagued with nightmares of his own.
Felicity could feel the rise and fall of Oliver’s chest against her back, and it soothed her. With Oliver still asleep and herself only just waking, for a moment, she could pretend. She could allow herself to live in the fantasy world where she woke up like this every morning, where Oliver felt the same way about her as she did about him and they were together in every sense of the word.
After all , she thought idly. Every storybook hero has his lady love. For that’s what the Green Arrow had seemed to her from all the stories she’d heard about him before she’d found out who he was, before she’d come to know the man behind the mask- a storybook hero. Someone superhuman, who couldn’t possibly be real.
Oliver stirred, bringing Felicity’s short-lived fantasy crashing down around her. She allowed herself only a moment to regret the return to reality.
“Good morning,” Oliver mumbled sleepily. “How did you sleep?”
“Better with you here” Felicity replied sincerely. Oliver hadn’t pulled away from her yet, and so, feeling warm and safe wrapped up his arms, she allowed herself to be much more open and vulnerable with him than she normally would.
“I’m just glad I found a way to help,” Oliver murmured.
“You always do,” Felicity replied. There was that vulnerability again. As close as they were to each other, she felt it would be wrong, in that moment, to give him anything less than the whole truth.
“I should go,” Oliver said after a minute. He pulled away from Felicity at last, leaving her feeling chilled without the warmth of his body beside her. She pulled the covers up to her chin to compensate for the lack and asked “Why?”
“I don’t want to have to explain to Dig or Sara why I was sleeping in your room,” Oliver replied. Felicity was turned away from him, but she somehow knew that he’d just shrugged.
“Just tell them that I had a nightmare and asked you to stay with me,” she said quietly. “Seems like a pretty simple explanation to me.”
“That’s just going to raise a whole bunch of other questions that I won’t know how to answer,” Oliver replied. “I’m sorry Felicity.” Felicity wondered what exactly it was he was apologizing for, but made a noise of acknowledgement, and when she received no response, she knew that Oliver had left.
Felicity’s nightmare visited her again that night, which was how she knew that the only reason that she hadn’t had it a third time the night before was because Oliver had been there. He wasn’t there now, but she was fairly certain she knew where to find him. She went down to the kitchen, and sure enough, there he was, sitting at the table with a fire burning in the hearth behind him, just as he’d been the night before. He glanced up at her approach, but didn’t ask what had brought her there. She was fairly certain he knew exactly what it had been.
“You know,” Oliver said as Felicity dropped wearily into the seat across from him, her limbs heavy with exhaustion. “It occured to me recently that I know almost nothing about you.”
“I don’t know much about you either,” Felicity countered. Oliver was clearly trying to start a dialogue that would distract them both from their dark and troubled thoughts, and she appreciated that. “You can be very closed off, you know.”
“That’s fair,” Oliver said, dipping his head. “That said, I propose an arrangement- I tell you something about myself, and you tell me something about yourself.”
“Like we did when we were traveling here?” Felicity asked, finding herself smiling at the memory.
“Exactly like that,” Oliver confirmed. “Ask me anything, and for the rest of this night, at least, I promise to answer, and to do so honestly.” Felicity thought for a moment. There were a lot of things she wanted to know about Oliver, but what to ask? Finally, she decided on “What made you decide to become a vigilante?” Oliver stared at her for a moment before he answered.
“I thought I already told you that,” he said. Felicity shook her head.
“You told me why you left home,” she said. “Not why you started your crusade.” Oliver sighed.
“When my father died,” he said, “he left behind a title and a legacy that I didn’t feel I was ready to take up yet. My father, he- he wasn’t perfect. He made a lot of mistakes, but he wanted to do good. He tried to do good, and at first... at first I thought that if I could just succeed where he had failed, do what he hadn’t been able to, then I would prove myself worthy of his legacy.”
“And now?” Felicity asked.
“I don’t know,” Oliver replied with a shrug. “But it feels bigger than just that now.”
“For what it’s worth,” Felicity said, “I think your father would be proud of you.” Oliver just stared at her.
“I almost don’t want to ask you anything now,” he said quietly. “You already give so much of yourself to others. It doesn’t seem fair to ask more of you.”
“Go ahead and ask,” Felicity said, unable to meet Oliver’s eyes. “That was our arrangement.”
“A while back,” Oliver said, “when you mentioned the day your aptitude for magic manifested, it sounded like there was something about that experience that was painful for you. What was it?” Felicity winced in spite of herself at the question.
“You don’t have to answer,” Oliver said, noticing her reaction.
“No, I- I want to,” Felicity assured him. “You were honest with me. The least I can do is return the favor.” She paused. “The day my aptitude for magic manifested… my father walked out on my mother and I. I remember I was pleading with him, begging him not to leave, and somehow, for just a moment, my words held him in place. The only reason he got away was because he himself was a fully trained mage at the height of his power, and his magical ability easily overpowered mine.” Oliver reached across the table and took her hand in his.
“I am so sorry that happened to you,” he said solemnly, staring deep into her eyes. “I am so sorry your father hurt you that way. I can’t imagine what it must have done to you in the long run.”
“It seems we’re both carrying our fathers with us,” Felicity replied in a shaky voice, blinking back tears.
“I suppose we are,” Oliver replied with just the barest hint of a smile.
After that night, Felicity and Oliver fell into a pattern of meeting in the kitchen, or sometimes in the library, whenever they couldn’t sleep and talking together until the small hours of the morning. Much as Felicity was grateful to learn so much about Oliver, her sleepless nights happened far more often than she would have liked, and she suspected Oliver had them even more often than she did. Her heart ached for him, having to suffer through some of those nights alone, with only his own dark and troubled thoughts for company.
Chapter 23: The Enemy Revealed
Deep in the forest, many miles from the Foundry, two mages were plotting. They’d been sent after Felicity by Moira Queen, who’d begun to grow impatient.
“It was foolish of you to attack Queen,” one of the mages, Damien Darhk, said. He fancied himself the leader, but the massive egos of them both made it so that there was no true leader among them. “If he’d seen you it would have spelled the end of what we’re doing here. You could have destroyed our plan before we’d had a chance to truly set it into motion.”
“He was getting too close,” the other mage, Malcolm Merlyn, replied in an irritated tone, angry at being challenged. “He was about to discover us. Besides, I was careful. He didn’t see me.”
“Maybe not,” Darhk said, “but now you’ve attracted the attention of that mage he’s got hanging around with him!”
“You mean the one we were sent here after in the first place?” Merlyn asked. “Remember, the plan only works if we appear to be doing as we were commanded to do.”
“You don’t have to tell me to follow the plan, Merlyn,” Darhk snapped. “It was my plan! And nowhere in it was there anything about you murdering Oliver Queen in the dead of night!” Merlyn’s only response was a scowl.
“I was doing what I thought I had to do in order to protect our interests,” he growled. “ Not that I’m in any way obligated to explain myself to you. ” This time it was Darhk’s turn to scowl in answer.
“It would be unwise to underestimate Felicity Smoak,” he warned in a low voice.
“Why?” Merlyn asked scornfully. “She’s not a match for one of us, let alone the both of us together.”
“If we could actually work together,” Darhk snarked.
“You mean if I would just follow your orders,” Merlyn snapped in response.
“Yes,” Darhk said, “because, as I’ve already said, the plan we’re following is mine.”
“And here I thought we were equals,” Merlyn muttered bitterly. Darhk snorted disdainfully.
“Please,” he said. “We are not equals. We have never been equals. I could crush you like a gnat at only half my strength. The only reason we’re working together is because it is more advantageous to me to work with you than against you.”
“That and because Moira Queen hired us both,” Merlyn pointed out contrarily.
“She hired us both, separately, to increase her chances of getting back Smoak and her son,” Darhk countered. “We formed our unholy alliance on our own.”
“True enough,” Merlyn conceded, unable to argue that point.
“I trust events have been moving apace?” Darhk asked. Merlyn nodded.
“Whilst you’ve been scaring travelers away from the forest,” he said, “I’ve been keeping an eye on Queen and his accomplices. The trap is nearly ready to be sprung.”
“Good,” Darhk said, nodding. “And the bait?”
“None the wiser to what’s about to happen,” Merlyn said. “She won’t know what’s coming until it’s already too late.”
“It's good to know that you aren't completely incompetent,” Darhk said, earning himself a glare from Merlyn, which he ignored. There was a long pause while Merlyn silently stewed over what he saw as being unfair treatment.
“What's next?” he asked at last, managing to keep an even, civil tone in his voice.
“We watch,” Darhk replied. “And we wait. And when the moment is right, we strike."
Chapter 24: An Unseen Danger
This chapter has art! It was drawn by the lovely and talented shaniartist over on Tumblr. Ao3 won't let me link to it, but you can check it out on my Tumblr the-shy-and-anxious-fangirl
Felicity paced the length of her room for what must have been the hundredth time, sure that by now she must have worn a track into her floor. She’d been trying for hours now to dispel the restless energy that filled her limbs, urging her to move , to no avail. She felt helpless and trapped within the walls of the Foundry. She needed to get out. She needed to do something . But she didn’t want to break her promise to Oliver. Not if she didn’t have to.
Felicity stuttered to a halt in the middle of her room as she realized that there was a way to escape the confines of the Foundry without breaking her promise. She went to the wardrobe, tossed on her cloak to ward of the encroaching chill of autumn, then bolted out into the hall and down the stairs to the entrance hall, passing Oliver on the way. He looked startled at the sight of her, and opened his mouth as if to say something, but she was already past him before he could speak his piece.
Out in the clearing surrounding the Foundry, Felicity took a deep breath of the crisp autumn air and felt her restless energy settle down, if only a little and only for the moment.
“Felicity!” She heard Oliver call out behind her. There was something dangerously close to anger in his voice, and it startled Felicity into turning around so quickly that she tripped on the hem of her cloak. She stumbled, and Oliver moved to stop her from falling before she even had time to register it. His touch was gentle as it always was, but his eyes were blazing in a way that made Felicity just a little afraid.
“You promised me you wouldn’t go out into the forest,” Oliver said. His voice was low and tense. It was missing the angry rasp, but otherwise he could have been confronting a criminal as the Green Arrow. The comparison sent a shiver down Felicity’s spine.
“I’m not,” she managed, reminding herself that Oliver would never hurt her. “I just...needed to get out of the Foundry for a bit. I’m not going to leave the clearing.”
“Do you promise?” Oliver asked. His voice was still tense, but in a different way now, closer to concern than anger.
“I can’t,” Felicity said, shaking her head, hating that she had to say it, hating the way it made Oliver grimace like she’d stabbed him, but she didn’t want to lie to him.
“I need you to stay here,” Oliver intoned in a quiet voice. “So that I know you’re safe.” His hands tightened around her arms, making her cry out in surprise and pain. He let go of her and backed away with a muttered apology.
“Oliver, please ,” Felicity implored. “Don’t make me lie to you. The person who hurt you is still out there, and I might be the only person who can find them and stop them. I know I promised you I wouldn’t go out there, but if I see or hear something that might lead me to answers, I can’t just sit here and do nothing. ” Oliver didn’t respond.
“Hey,” Felicity said softly, closing the distance between them and taking his hand in hers. “I can promise that I’ll be alright.” Oliver slumped forward, cupped a hand around the back of Felicity’s neck, and pressed his forehead against hers. For a moment, they simply stood there in each other’s space, breathing the same air. Felicity could feel where Oliver’s forehead was folded into creases as he frowned.
“Alright,” he whispered, his eyes closed. “Just please, please stay safe. I...I can’t lose you, Felicity.” He turned his face away from her, as if ashamed of the admission.
“Oliver, look at me,” Felicity said softly. When he didn’t, she reached out, their physical proximity and the situation making her bolder than she would have otherwise been, and cupped his face in her hands. The stubble on his cheeks scraped against her palms as she gently tilted his head upwards until his eyes met hers.
“You’re not going to lose me,” she said, her voice quiet but fervent. “That’s the one thing I can promise.” She let her hands drop to her sides and backed up a bit, putting just the tiniest space between them. For a moment, Oliver just stared at her, his eyes dark with an emotion Felicity didn’t know how to name. Then he nodded, slow and solemn. He stepped forward, closing the gap between them again.
“Go back inside, Oliver,” Felicity said, offering him a smile. “I’ll be fine.” He nodded a second time, and as Felicity watched him disappear into the Foundry, she told herself that she’d imagined that she’d felt his lips against her forehead in the moment before he’d turned away from her, that, awash in his scent of pine needles and wood smoke, her dizzied brain had made it up.
Regrettably, it wasn’t long after Oliver had left that Felicity’s restless energy returned, threatening to overwhelm her. She hadn’t realized how much of her earlier calm had been due to Oliver’s presence. She glanced at the edge of the clearing, at the heat mirage shimmer of her wards blurring the forest beyond it. She took a half step forward, then another one back, debating whether she was really prepared to accept the risks that came along with breaking her promise. But she knew that what she’d told Oliver was true- she might be the only person who could stop the person who’d hurt him from doing it again, and if somewhere out there were clues that would lead her to them, then she couldn’t allow herself to cower in the safety of the Foundry instead of going out and looking for them.
It was that fact that made Felicity’s mind up for her. She crossed the clearing and stepped past her wards, and then she was standing in the forest for the first time in months. She allowed herself only one glance back at the Foundry before she set off.
Felicity roamed far and wide, deeper and deeper into the forest, searching. For what, she wasn’t entirely sure, but she knew that she would know it when she found it. When the sun began to sink below the horizon and the darkness of night began its slow creep through the trees, she turned and headed back the way she’d come, home to the Foundry, unaware that she was being watched. The evil that lurked in the forest was ready to spring its trap, with her as the bait.
Chapter 25: Kidnapped
Felicity was woken in the middle of the night by her wards breaking. She felt the ones around the outside of the Foundry give first, shattering as a much more powerful magical force slammed into them. She knew it would be mere moments before the ones protecting the building itself gave way as well. And she’d been so sure they could withstand any force that was thrown at them.
She felt the protective spells within the building break and sat up in bed, readying herself to go for the dagger sitting on top of her neatly folded clothes on the other side of the room, the one that Oliver had pressed into her hand shortly after Bartholomew had visited the Foundry with a desperate look and a whispered, “Just in case.” Before she could, her door flew open and two mages- she could feel the magic radiating off of them the instant she saw them- swept in. One of them had dark hair and eyes seemingly shadowed with secrets, and the other had hair so light blond as to be nearly white, and eyes that were blue and cold like chips of ice. The light-haired mage whispered, “Ssssh” as Felicity’s door was about to slam into the wall, making a loud banging sound that would surely have alerted everyone in the Foundry that it had been breached, and it impacted it without so much as a whisper. The two mages must have done something similar when they’d entered the building, so as prevent its residents from realizing they were there.
At a wordless signal from his companion, the dark-haired mage moved in front of Felicity’s doorway, blocking her escape. She locked eyes with him and knew that he was the one who had attacked Oliver. Her gut twisted.
Oliver , she thought, desperate and panicked. She did not fear for her own safety- if these mages took her, which seemed to be their intent, she knew that Oliver would come for her- but she did fear for Oliver’s. She knew that these mages would kill him if given half the chance. She was terrified that her nightmare would come true and she would have to watch him die.
“Merlyn,” the light-haired mage said before Felicity could offer herself up to them, to promise that she’d go with them willingly so long as they promised not to hurt Oliver. “Bind her.” He jerked his head in Felicity’s direction. The dark-haired mage, Merlyn, hovered in the doorway for a moment, seeming to question the wisdom of leaving Felicity with an opening to escape, then moved to do as his companion had told him. Before Felicity could even think of attempting to get away from him, he spoke words of tying, of knotting, of trapping, the power in them thrumming in the air, and she was bound hand and foot with invisible ropes, unable to move.
“Now what, Darhk?” Merlyn demanded, turning back toward his companion. “We can’t very well just take her back out the way we came in. We’re pushing our luck as it is. Queen could discover us at any moment.”
“Oh, I doubt that,” Darhk replied, shaking his head. “We made no noise that would have alerted him to our presence, and there’s no way Miss Smoak could have given him any sort of warning.” He turned his icy gaze on Felicity, as if seeking confirmation. She nodded.
“So we are going out the way we came in then?” Merlyn asked.
“Oliver doesn’t sleep very well,” Felicity spoke up, hating that she was helping them but wishing to avoid a confrontation that might end badly, particularly for Oliver. “And he has a tendency to wander the Foundry at night. He would almost certainly catch you if you were to go out that way.” Darhk frowned, thinking. As the silence stretched out, Felicity dared to hope that perhaps Merlyn and Darhk would decide she wasn’t worth the trouble they’d have removing her from the Foundry, and they’d give up and leave. It was a desperate hope, but desperate hopes were the only ones she had.
“We’ll take her out the window,” Darhk said at last, jerking his head in that direction. Felicity’s heart sank. Darhk stepped around Merlyn and hoisted her over his shoulder as easily as a baker might hoist a sack of flour. It seemed that physically he was much stronger than he appeared to be, though Felicity harbored no illusions about his magical strength, especially not after he floated them both out the window and down to the ground with little apparent effort.
Darhk waited for Merlyn to join him on the ground before he set off at a rapid pace, his quick strides causing Felicity to bounce against his shoulder as he went. She shifted uncomfortably, and his grip on her tightened, as if in warning. Merlyn, trailing behind them, never once took his eyes off of Felicity. She glared at him as fiercely as she could manage under the current circumstances. The very sight of him made her blood boil. She didn’t normally consider herself to be a vengeful person, but she wanted to hurt him for what he had done to Oliver. She wanted to make him suffer the way he had made Oliver suffer.
As quickly as they had traveled, it wasn’t long before they reached a clearing in which there were two pavilions and the ashes of a campfire long since burnt out. This was clearly where Merlyn and Darhk had been living and operating from. As hidden away as it was, Felicity wasn’t surprised that Oliver and the others hadn’t come across it on their patrols.
Darhk strode to the center of the clearing and dropped Felicity unceremoniously on the ground. Without the use of her hands or feet to break her fall, she landed hard on her side, slamming into a rock that lay hidden in the grass. Both Merlyn and Darhk ignored her cry of pain, and Merlyn made no move to remove her bounds. It seemed there wasn’t much he did without the direction from or at the very least the agreement of Darhk.
Felicity managed with significant difficulty to right herself, and with her hands safely hidden behind her back, began tugging at the magical bonds around her wrists, trying to find any weaknesses in them, any way they could be broken. Beyond that, all she could do was wait for someone to find her, and hope that Merlyn and Darhk didn’t kill her before they did.
Chapter 26: Rescue
“Why are you doing this?” Felicity asked as a means of distraction while she continued to struggle, so far ineffectually, against the invisible bonds around her wrists. Just because she knew that Oliver was no doubt coming to find her by now didn’t mean she wanted to be bound hand and foot when he arrived, unable to help him if things went south. She couldn’t bear the thought of her nightmare coming true. “What do you want with me?” Darhk laughed scornfully.
“You think we want you ?” he asked. “You’re too weak to be of any use to us, except as bait for our trap. We want Oliver Queen.” Felicity felt an icy jolt of fear run through her. She silently willed Oliver to stay away, to leave her to her fate. She didn’t want him to end up dead because of her.
“Calm down, we’re not going to kill him,” Merlyn put in, almost as if he could sense her thoughts. “We don’t get anything from Moira Queen if we don’t return her son to her alive.”
“...Lady Starling sent you?” Felicity asked, unable to quite believe that she’d heard him correctly. Though she’d directed the question at Merlyn, it was Darhk who answered.
“You were taking too long,” he said, as if it were obvious. “She sent us after you. The trouble for her, though, is that once we figured out that her son is the Green Arrow, we came up with a much better plan than just following her orders like the trained dogs she apparently thinks we are. We quite like being able to terrorize and pillage as we please, so we’re going to take Oliver home to his mother, collect our payment for returning him, and then we’re going to kill him. End Moira Queen’s meddling and the Green Arrow’s interference in one fell swoop.”
“It’s pretty stupid, telling me your whole plan,” Felicity said with a smile, spotting a flash of movement in the trees that she knew had to be Oliver.
“Why?” Darhk asked with a dismissive shrug. “You won’t live long enough to tell anyone about it.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” The low, angry rasp of Oliver’s Green Arrow voice came from behind them. Merlyn and Darhk whirled around, Darhk grabbing Felicity by her hair and yanking her with him, making her cry out in pain.
“You know how this works, Queen,” he snarled. “You make one move and she dies.” Felicity didn’t think she’d ever seen Oliver look so afraid. She wondered why the thought of losing her terrified him so much.
“Please,” he said, lowering his bow and tossing the arrow he had nocked away into the grass, far out of his reach. “I’ll go with you. I’ll do whatever you want, just please don’t hurt Felicity.”
“Well, that was easier than I thought it was going to be,” Merlyn remarked.
“Quiet!” Darhk snapped. He didn’t see Oliver reaching for one of the flechettes strapped to his thigh, but Felicity did. She stifled a gasp, but not well enough- Darhk turned his head back toward the sound just as Oliver hurled the flechette almost too fast for the eye to follow, aiming it at Darhk’s heart.
“Halt!” he shouted, and stopped it in midair.
“No!” Felicity screamed, straining forward, knowing that if given the chance Darhk would turn it around and send it back the way it had come, and she would watch the man she loved die. The desperation in her voice lent her magic power such as she had never wielded before, and she swore she could feel Darhk’s hold on the flechette fray apart. It continued on its original path, striking home with a dull thud , burying itself point first in Darhk’s chest. He fell to the ground with an expression of shock frozen on his face. The sudden release of his grip on her caused Felicity to overbalance and fall forward onto her knees. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Oliver whirl around to face Merlyn, nocking an arrow and drawing back his bow in a single fluid motion. Merlyn backed up, his hands raised, then fled into the trees before Oliver could get off a shot. For some reason, he let him go.
“Hey,” he said in a soft, gentle voice, dropping to one knee in front of Felicity, setting his bow down on the ground next to him. “Are you alright? They didn’t hurt you, did they?” His hands skimmed over her body, checking her for injuries. She shook her head in response to question.
She shivered, whether from the night’s chill or from residual adrenaline, she wasn’t sure. Noticing her shiver, Oliver draped his cloak around her shoulders. He kissed her on the forehead as he leaned close, his lips lingering on her skin for several long moments.
“Come on,” he said, pulling back at last. “Let’s get you home.”
Home , Felicity thought as Oliver helped her to her feet. It might have been strange to her that she’d come to think of the Foundry that way, except that she’d realized that home, to her, had come to mean anywhere she was with Oliver.
As she followed Oliver back to the Foundry, gripping fistfuls of his cloak to keep from tripping on it and feeling thankful that the hood wasn’t up to flop over her eyes, Felicity’s thoughts kept going to the moment it had been draped around her shoulders. She replayed in her mind’s eye the way the way the kiss Oliver had pressed against her forehead had lingered, like it had wanted to be something more. Like he had wanted it to be something more. Wreathed in his scent, which still clung to the folds of his cloak, it was easy for Felicity to forget that she knew there was no chance her feelings for Oliver might be reciprocated. It was harder to dismiss the evidence of her eyes and ears and heart that cast that knowledge into doubt.
When they arrived at the Foundry at last, Felicity found Dig and the Lance sisters waiting for them with identical expressions of worry and concern on each of their faces. Swept up in a tide of greetings and sympathy for her plight and relief that Oliver had gotten her back safe, Felicity forgot about the doubts that had lingered like cobwebs in her thoughts during the trek back. When the crowd had dispersed, she turned toward Oliver, reaching up to unfasten his cloak and hand it back to him. She got only as far as unfastening it before he moved, quick and quiet as a cat, to sweep it from her shoulders. He refastened it around his own shoulders, and it settled into place with the quiet, whispery rustle of cloth against stone where it brushed against the floor.
Still standing mere inches away from her, Oliver surprised Felicity by reaching up and brushing a lock of her hair behind her ear, his touch lingering there, his hand cradling the side of her face. There was a softness in his brilliant blue eyes that Felicity had never seen before.
“Oliver,” she breathed.
“Felicity…” he murmured in response. He trailed off, leaving the rest of his sentence, after her name, unspoken. He leaned forward, closing the little distance that still remained between them, and Felicity caught her breath. At the last moment, Oliver seemed to think better of whatever he’d been about to do and backed up, shaking his head and letting his hand drop to his side. Felicity watched him disappear up the stairs, trying to ignore the ache she felt at his absence.
Chapter 27: Desperate Plans
“We need to go,” Oliver said in a rush, bursting into the library, where Felicity had been ensconced for the last few hours, attempting to lose herself in literature so as to keep her mind off of recent events, in particular just how close she’d come to death. So far, it hadn’t worked.
“Go?” she asked, setting aside the book she’d been reading. “Go where?” Belatedly, she noticed that Oliver was dressed for travel, his quiver slung over one shoulder, a pack over the other, his cloak swirling around his ankles as he paced back and forth, clutching his bow in a white-knuckled grip.
“Home,” he said. “I have to go home.”
“Home?” Felicity asked. “Home as in back to Starling?” Oliver nodded stiffly.
“Why?” Felicity asked. “And earlier you said ‘we’. What did you mean by that?”
“I meant,” Oliver said with a touch of impatience, “that I have to return home to my mother, and I need you to come with me.”
“No,” Felicity said, shaking her head. “My place is here. Our place is here.”
“Felicity, please,” Oliver said, his voice turning from impatient to pleading. “I have to keep you safe, and the only way to do that is to give my mother what she wants. If she sent those mages after you just to get me back, there’s no telling what else she might be willing to do.”
“Darhk’s dead,” Felicity pointed out. “You killed him.”
“And the other mage got away,” Oliver countered.
“Merlyn got away because you let him go,” Felicity said, an accusatory tone creeping into her tone without her meaning for it to.
“Because he wasn’t my priority!” Oliver shouted. “You were! Darhk could have killed you, almost did kill you, and I had to make sure you weren’t hurt. I had to know you were alright. I…” He trailed off, his chest heaving with barely contained emotion. Felicity had never seen him like this, frantic, almost panicking. It was deeply troubling.
“Oliver,” she murmured in a soothing tone, the way one might to calm a frightened animal. She crossed the room to stand in front of him and took his bow from his hand, gently prying apart stiff, unyielding fingers. It felt strange in her hands, unwieldy, with an odd sort of heft to it. She set it on the nearest table, eager to get it out of her hands as quickly as possible. Holding it felt, strangely, like holding a piece of Oliver’s soul. Turning back toward him, she continued, “Let’s just take a minute to think this through, alright?” She got no response from Oliver, not even a nod. She risked stepping into his space a second time. He let his shoulders slump as she approached, seeming to sense her intentions. She slid his quiver off of one, the pack off the other, and set them on the table next to his bow.
“What are you doing?” Oliver asked when she turned away from the table again. Felicity wondered why he hadn’t asked before.
“We’re not going anywhere until we’ve sat down and talked this out like rational human beings,” she said, well aware that that was really only half an answer. “Now here. Let me get your cloak.” She stepped close to him for a third time to unclasp it with slow, careful motions. She had to stand on tiptoe in order to sweep it from his shoulders, an action that also necessitated her having to lean against him to keep her balance. As she pulled back, she swore she saw his gaze flick down to her lips and then back up to her eyes. She convinced herself that she’d imagined it.
“Alright,” Felicity said, draping Oliver’s cloak over her arm and trying to ignore how unsettled she felt by the intensity of his gaze as he focused his attention on her. “Let’s take these things back to your room, and then we can take some time to come up with an actual plan .” Oliver hesitated for a moment, then nodded, grabbing his belongings and following Felicity out of the room.
“First things first,” Felicity said when they reached Oliver’s room. “I don’t doubt that returning home to your mother might be the best course of action right now, but we can’t just up and leave.”
“Why not?” Oliver asked, hanging his quiver on one of his bedposts and stashing the pack and his bow under his bed. There was a distracted tone in his voice, as if he might have had his mind on something else.
“Because we have to take time to get our affairs in order,” Felicity replied, walking over to the wardrobe and hanging Oliver’s cloak inside it. Closing the door and turning around, she went on, “We need to make sure that life in the Foundry can run smoothly without-” She was cut off mid-sentence by Oliver kissing her suddenly, the desperation and hunger in the action catching her off guard just as much as the kiss itself did.
Oliver backed her against the wardrobe, the door rattling in its frame when she collided with it. Felicity reacted without thinking, wrapping her arms around Oliver and pulling him even closer to her. The world shrank until it was nothing but the wardrobe against Felicity’s back and Oliver’s hands on her waist, their mingled breaths and Felicity’s heartbeat pounding in her ears.
Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. Oliver pulled back as if he’d been stung, a wild, broken look shadowing his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I shouldn’t have done that. I-”
“Oliver…” Felicity interrupted. Dizzied by that kiss, her thoughts caught up in a rush of emotion, whatever she’d been about to say vanished from her mind, and she left the end of her sentence hanging. Oliver made as if to leave, to flee, but then seemed to remember that he was in his own room.
“Would you please just go?” he asked.
“Oliver-” Felicity began.
“Felicity, please ,” Oliver begged, cutting her off so that, again, the only thing she managed to say was his name. She went, but she couldn’t resist one last glance back at him on her way, wondering what this all meant for them.
Chapter 28: Journeying Home
Felicity was woken by late morning sunlight shining in her eyes. She groaned and rolled over, away from her window and the light flooding through it. Her sleep had been restless, filled with dreams of Oliver’s lips on hers and his brilliant blue eyes, burning, always burning, melting away the walls she’d built up around herself like candle wax until, when she woke, she was sure there was no part of her he did not know. But of course, that had been a dream. She had no idea what the reality might be.
With a sigh, Felicity rolled out of bed, dressed, and then surveyed her room with a critical eye. If Oliver was still dead set on returning to Starling, it would do her well to prepare for the journey, so that she’d be ready the moment Oliver wanted to leave.
It didn’t take her very long to pack up her belongings- she hadn’t brought very much with her when she’d left Starling. She’d fastened her cloak around her shoulders and was in the middle of belting on the dagger Oliver had given her when a knock sounded at her door. She froze, one hand on her belt, the other on the hilt of the dagger.
“Come in,” she called, her voice coming out high and tense, because somehow, she knew it was Oliver on the other side of the door. After a moment, it swung inward, and, just as she’d thought would happen, Oliver entered the room. He eyed the hand she still had resting on the hilt of her dagger and asked “You weren’t planning on attacking me with that, were you?” His attempt at humor fell utterly, miserably flat, and Felicity didn’t see any point in responding to it.
“What do you want?” she asked instead. The question came out harsher sounding than she’d meant it to, but after what had happened yesterday, she felt tense and unsettled just being in the same room as Oliver. She wondered if he was going to kiss her again. She wondered if she wanted him to.
“I wanted to apologize for my actions yesterday,” Oliver said, dispelling any fantasies Felicity might have entertained that he intended to repeat any of them now. “I was desperate, and frantic, and I wasn’t thinking clearly. I shouldn’t have done what I did.”
“What?” Felicity asked. “Charging into the library like a madman and announcing that we had to leave, without any sort of discussion or preparation? Or kissing me out of nowhere, in the middle of what seemed to be a completely normal conversation?” She waited, afraid of what the answer would be. Afraid of what she wanted the answer to be.
“All of it,” Oliver said, and Felicity felt her heart sink. “Any of it. I shouldn’t have done any of it. As I said, I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t take the time to consider the effect of my actions.”
“It’s alright,” Felicity said. “We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t.” Her attempt at levity fell as flat as Oliver’s earlier attempt at humor.
“If I hurt you-” Oliver started to say.
“You didn’t,” Felicity interrupted. “I promise I’m quite alright.” Oliver looked like he didn’t believe her, but he didn’t press the issue.
“You already packed,” he said instead, seeming surprised by that fact.
“Yes, well,” Felicity replied with a shrug. “I didn’t take very much with me when I left Starling. Just give me some time to make some modifications to my spells so that they can be used without me having to be there, and to rebuild the wards I put up around the Foundry, and then I’ll be ready to leave.” Oliver nodded and retreated from the room, leaving her alone to do her work.
It was lucky that Felicity could practically do most of the spell modifications in her sleep, because her mind was most assuredly not on the task at hand. She kept mulling over Oliver’s words, turning them around and around in her mind. He’d said that he regretted his actions yesterday. Did that mean he regretted kissing her? If that was the case, did that mean he didn’t feel the way she’d dared to hope he might in the few breathless moments after that kiss? There was obviously some sort of attraction- people didn’t generally go around kissing people they weren’t attracted to on some level- but if Oliver regretted kissing her, that was the final nail in the coffin of the admittedly foolish notion that he felt or ever would feel the same way about her as she did about him.
Felicity forced herself to put those thoughts from her mind when she went to rebuild the wards in and around the Foundry. That required all of her concentration. This time, when she put the wards up, she made sure to reinforce them against magical attacks and hostile mages, particularly Merlyn in the second case, just in case he gained the courage to try and attack the Foundry alone, without Darhk to back him up or bolster his efforts.
When she finished her work, Felicity gathered up her meager belongings and met Oliver in the entrance hall, where he was waiting, clearly impatient to be off. They set out at once, back the way Felicity had come from, all those months ago. She hadn’t expected to walk that path again so soon. She couldn’t resist a glance back at the Foundry as they put it behind them, wondering if this would be the last time she ever saw it.
Oliver and Felicity traveled in silence. It was not a comfortable silence. Felicity suspected that the one topic they most needed to have a conversation about right now was also the one they were both the most afraid to bring up. She wasn’t sure that she minded that. She would have been content to avoid it forever. She knew that any conversation about it could only end in pain, and she wished to put off putting herself through that for as long as possible.
When they camped for the night, Felicity decided, on a whim, to show Oliver an aspect of magic she knew he had not yet seen. She got the feeling they could both use a little distraction.
“Lend me your words please, Oliver,” she said in a voice that she hoped sounded low and commanding, holding her hands out, palms up, over the fire.
“What?” Oliver asked. If Felicity hadn’t already known that the type of magic she was about to show him was one he was unfamiliar with, his question would have told her so.
“Tell me a story,” she clarified. “It doesn’t matter about what. One from your childhood, if you like.” Oliver shifted in his seat and eyed her warily. Before she had time to wonder if she should be hurt by that apparent lack of trust, he began to tell a story about a time, when his sister Thea was nine, that he’d taken her to a festival on one of the rare occasions that their mother let either of them out of sight of the Queen family hall. As he spoke, Felicity wove her hands through the air, plucking words like invisible threads and weaving them into an image of a young girl with short brown hair wearing a gold dress, brightly colored ribbons woven into her hair. She appeared to be looking at someone just out of view, someone much taller than her, as her head was tilted back.
Oliver faltered, his mouth falling open. He reached up as if to stroke his sister’s cheek, either forgetting or not knowing that she wasn’t really there. Felicity saw the tears glimmering in his eyes and, wincing in sympathy, drew her hands apart in a cutting motion, causing the illusion to shimmer out of existence. Oliver jerked forward, seeming to come back to himself.
“I’m sorry,” Felicity mumbled, eyes downcast. “I didn’t mean to cause you pain.”
“You don’t need to apologize,” Oliver said, voice soft. “You didn’t cause me any pain. I just...really miss my sister.” Felicity nodded, but she wasn’t quite that she believed him. She still couldn’t bring herself to look him in the eyes, finding it easier to keep her gaze fixed on his feet. The next thing she knew, he was moving around the fire and dropping to his knees in front of her.
“Felicity,” he implored, taking her hands in his. The calluses on his palms and fingertips were rough against her skin, but his touch was gentle. “Look at me.” Felicity forced herself to draw her gaze level with his.
“You didn’t hurt me,” he assured her. “I promise. I don’t think you ever could.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Felicity mumbled, pulling her hands out of Oliver’s grip and lowering her gaze once more. He sighed, but moved back around to the other side of the fire without a word. He didn’t press the issue, for which Felicity was extremely grateful, and they spoke no more that night.
Chapter 29: Confessions
Their travels resumed the next day in yet more silence, not a word spoken between them as they broke camp and headed for the road. Despite it being plenty wide enough for the two of them to walk side by side, Felicity chose to trail just behind Oliver, her gaze fixed on a point between his shoulder blades, doing her best not to imagine the scars that she knew to be there. It was easier to avoid the conversation she knew they still needed to have this way.
Despite her wish to ignore it, it still weighed heavily on Felicity’s mind, and after about an hour of walking in silence, she knew she could avoid it no longer.
“Oliver,” she said, drawing even with him. “There’s something I need to tell you.” She didn’t turn her head to look at him, but she swore she could feel his eyes on her.
“The other day, when I told you that you hadn’t hurt me…” she continued hesitantly, “I lied. You did. I know you didn’t mean to, but you did.” She risked a glance over at Oliver. His gaze was fixed intently on her, his eyes shadowed with guilt. “The thing is...I’m in love with you, Oliver. I realized it after you got attacked, but if I’m being honest with myself, I have been for much longer than that, maybe even longer than I’m willing to admit. And when you kissed me, I thought- I thought maybe you felt the same way about me. But then you said that you regretted it-”
“I don’t regret kissing you,” Oliver interjected. “I regret the situation in which I did. I regret that I acted out of desperation and made it meaningless.”
“Meaningless,” Felicity repeated in a dull voice. She looked away from Oliver, but not before she saw him grimace as if pained.
“Damn it, that came out wrong,” he muttered. “I didn’t mean to say that kissing you didn’t mean anything to me. It did. It’s just… when I kissed you for the first time, I’d wanted it to be clear that I was doing it because I love you, and I-I ruined that.” Felicity stopped in her tracks, only dimly aware that she was no longer moving.
“What?” she asked as Oliver’s words filtered in, not sure that she’d heard him correctly. Her voice came out in a high, choked whisper. A few steps ahead of her, Oliver stuttered to a halt, seeming to finally realize that she was no longer beside him. He turned to face her, his gaze settling on her face.
“I love you,” he said, quietly but emphatically. “When I was recovering from that attack, you were there constantly, helping me through it. You were so...kind, and gentle, and caring, and when things always seemed so much darker when you weren’t by my side, that’s when I realized that I… cared for you, in a way far deeper than one would care for a friend. And when those mages took you, when I woke up and you were gone...I thought I was going to lose you. But it wasn’t until Darhk almost killed you and I realized that losing you would break me, that I couldn’t live in a world that didn’t have you in it, that I knew that I loved you.” Felicity realized that she was holding her breath. She let it out in a rush, and then, as she was hit with the full force of Oliver’s words, she began to cry, overcome with emotion.
“Hey,” Oliver said gently, closing the gap between them. “It’s alright. We’re alright.” He cupped her face and brushed her tears away with the pads of his thumbs. She offered him a weak, watery smile. The one he gave her in return was practically radiant. He kissed her then, still holding her face between his hands. Swept up in a rush of sensations and emotions, it was hard for Felicity to think, but nevertheless there was something in the back of her mind that noted- not for the first time- the dichotomy between the rough scrape of Oliver’s calluses against her skin and the gentleness of his touch. They rotated slowly in place- Felicity knew that they were moving only by the dim awareness of the sensation of the hem of her dress brushing against her ankles- and when they pulled apart the exultant expression on Oliver’s face sent a thrill through Felicity at the thought that it was there because of her.
It was only a moment before they resumed their journey, this time walking side by side. There was Felicity needed to hide from Oliver anymore, no difficult conversation she wanted to avoid having with him. She laced her fingers through his as she walked by his side, and he turned his head in her direction and smiled, a radiant smile like before. It suffused Felicity with a warm glow of happiness in much the same way a sunbeam might have.
Felicity’s deliriously happy mood was ruined when an all too sobering thought occurred to her suddenly- what were they going to do when they met Oliver’s mother face to face once more? Considering her prejudices, Felicity doubted she’d be too pleased that her son had fallen in love with a mage. What would they say to her about their relationship? Could they say anything at all? Or would they have to hide it for fear of incurring her wrath? The thought made Felicity pull her hand apart from Oliver’s.
“Felicity?” he asked. “What’s wrong?” Felicity shook her head, biting her lip to keep herself from divulging the worries that had risen up so suddenly to overwhelm her. It seemed she’d been too quick to think that there would be no more difficult conversations to avoid having with Oliver.
“You’re worried about my mother,” Oliver said that night, seemingly out of nowhere, as they sat side by side in front of their campfire. “About how she’ll react to...all of this.”
“How did you?” Felicity asked.
“Because I’m worried about it too,” Oliver said. “Given her prejudices, I shudder to think of what she might do if she finds out about what’s between us. What she might do to you.”
“Why me, specifically?” Felicity asked, though she thought she knew what the answer might be, and it gave her a sick, nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“Because, from her perspective, the fault for this will lie entirely with you,” Oliver explained, his face and voice grim. “She’ll see it as you corrupted me, or coerced me, or otherwise forced me to feel the way I do. The only way she could possibly interpret this is that her foolish, wayward son allowed himself to be misled by a mage, and she will seek to punish you for that.” Felicity shuddered.
“So we’ll just make sure she doesn’t find out about us,” she said, forcing herself to put up a brave front in order to reassure Oliver. “We’ll figure out some way to keep it a secret from her. We have to.”
Chapter 30: The Looming Threat
Felicity was getting tired of walking in silence. She was used to Oliver being taciturn- and she didn’t mind it- but this was more than that. She hated the fact that they were traveling in silence- again- because once more there was a topic that neither of them wished to talk about but nevertheless would have to, sooner rather than later.
“We have to talk about this, Oliver,” she spoke up, voicing her thoughts.
“Talk about what?” Oliver asked, feigning ignorance. Felicity huffed.
“You know what,” she said. “Sooner or later, we’re going to have to talk about what happened yesterday.”
“I don’t want to,” Oliver said stubbornly, shaking his head, keeping his gaze fixed straight ahead of him. “If we talk about it, it makes those feelings real, and if they’re real, we have to deal with the possibility that we’ll be separated from each other when my mother gets wind of them.” Felicity sighed- though it came out sounding more like a growl- frustrated at how Oliver seemed to have backslid overnight.
“Our feelings aren’t made any less real by us avoiding talking about them, Oliver,” she said, trying to make him understand. “You know that. The last couple of weeks should have taught you that. And like it or not, we’re going to have to confront what your mother is going to do when she finds out about all of this.”
“We’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t find out,” Oliver said.
“How?” Felicity demanded, the word coming out sharp-edged and pointed, like an arrowhead. Oliver flinched as though he’d been struck. Felicity knew she had said much the same last night, but since then she’d come to understand that hiding their feelings for each other from Moira Queen was an impossible task.
“You can’t change the way you look at me,” she continued. “I can’t change the way I speak to you. Either would give us away in an instant.” Oliver sighed deeply, his shoulders slumping. Felicity felt worry settle like a lead weight in the pit of her stomach. She’d never seen him so defeated, not even when he’d been facing down Darhk while the latter threatened to kill her.
“I know,” he said, in a voice so quiet that Felicity had to lean in to hear him properly. “I know there’s no way we can keep this hidden from her, but please , Felicity. We have to try .” Felicity got the feeling that there was something else Oliver wanted to say, so she kept silent.
“I told you that I can’t lose you,” Oliver went on, confirming her suspicions. She nodded. “If we slip up, if my mother finds out about what’s between us, she won’t hesitate to separate us from each other. My mother taking you away from me is still losing you, Felicity, just in a different way. I would argue a worse way, since I would know that you’re out there, somewhere, but I wouldn’t be able to get to you. I wouldn’t be able to protect you if my mother tried to hurt you.”
“I understand that,” Felicity said, “but I can take care of myself, Oliver. It’s my life. It’s my choice. I’m the one who decides if I need anyone’s protection.”
“I know ,” Oliver said desperately, “but please , Felicity, I am begging you, let me try.” Felicity sighed.
“Alright,” she conceded. “We can try to keep all of this from your mother. I’m pretty sure it won’t work, but we can try.”
“Thank you,” Oliver said in a fervent whisper. They didn’t talk again until they made camp that night.
“Why are you returning to Starling when the thought of facing your mother again scares you so much?” Felicity asked. She’d chosen to sit on the opposite side of the fire from Oliver this time, so that she could look him in the eyes when she talked to him.
“I told you why,” Oliver said, eyeing her. “Worse things will happen to us if we don’t give her what she wants.”
“But you don’t know that,” Felicity protested, not entirely sure why she was pursuing this. “Not for sure. She doesn’t know we’re coming. We could turn around right now and go back to the Foundry. We could-” Oliver cut her off with a shake of his head.
“ No ,” he said. “We can’t. As much as I might want to, as terrified as I am of facing my mother, we can’t turn back now. Not when we’ve already come this far. Not when my mother might send worse things after us than Merlyn and Darhk if we do.” Felicity sighed, seeing that there was no turning Oliver from his current course, and no point in trying to. As much as she might wish to, she couldn’t deny the truth and the sense of his words.
Later, as Felicity was settling down for the night, she heard Oliver say, “Wait.” She turned to see him lying on the ground on the opposite side of the fire, clutching a fistful of his cloak in one hand, clearly stopped in the middle of wrapping it around himself and settling down for the night as well. She raised a questioning eyebrow at him.
“Come lay beside me” Oliver said in response, voice low, as if he were trying to avoid waking someone up. Felicity hesitated, hovering on her own side of the fire. Despite having admitted their feelings for each other, they’d been maintaining a professional distance for the most part.
“Just for tonight,” Oliver amended, noticing her hesitation. “Tomorrow we’ll be in Starling, where we’ll likely be separated. I want to be close you while I still can.” Felicity couldn’t argue with that. Whatever her misgivings, it wasn’t as if she didn’t want it too. She stepped carefully around the fire and laid down beside Oliver. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him, then draped his cloak over her. In that moment, as she fell asleep lying close to Oliver, it was easy for Felicity to forget about the trouble that loomed on tomorrow’s horizon.
Chapter 31: Confrontation
The moment Oliver and Felicity set foot in Starling, they found themselves surrounded by men in green and gold livery. Some had hands resting on sword hilts, some carried halberds, others pikes, but every one of them looked ready for a fight. Felicity looked around frantically, but the black starling badge that marked members of the city guard was nowhere to be seen. These were Moira Queen’s men, then, every one of them.
“We’re to take you to Lady Starling,” the man at the head of the group said in a harsh voice, addressing Oliver. He didn’t have a weapon drawn, but he’d pulled his sword about an inch out of its sheath in a clear warning - if Oliver attempted to resist, he wouldn’t hesitate to use force to carry out Lady Starling’s order.
“If you resist,” he went on, “we’re not responsible for what happens to you.” He turned his gaze on Felicity, who he’d been ignoring up to that point, and added, “Either of you.” Felicity felt a chill race down her spine. She locked eyes with Oliver and shook her head, a silent warning on the off chance he was thinking of trying anything. He clenched his jaw, his eyebrows lowered in a scowl, and raised his hands above his head in a gesture of surrender. Felicity followed suit. Two of the men in the group stepped forward to relieve Oliver of his bow and quiver and Felicity of her dagger. Then they marched the two of them off through the streets, the man directly behind Felicity occasionally jabbing Felicity between the shoulder blades with the point of his pike to prod her along. Forced to walk behind Oliver rather than at his side as she’d become accustomed to, she could not see his face, but she could tell by his gait and the set of his shoulders that he was angry and struggling to keep that anger reined in. She prayed he could hold on just a little longer and not act on that anger. Any such action, at this point, could only end in disaster for them both. Felicity didn’t much care what happened to her, but she wished to save Oliver from that fate.
“Oliver. Miss Smoak,” Moira Queen said in a smooth, even voice when her men deposited them in her audience chamber and filed out of the room, leaving them alone with her. “I see Merlyn and Darhk did not fail me.”
“Darhk’s dead,” Felicity snapped. “And Merlyn fled into the forest like the coward he is.”
“Felicity,” Oliver said, in that way of his that made her name into a complete sentence. This time, it was a warning. Addressing his mother, he said, “How did you know to have men waiting for us? How did you know we were coming?”
“I sent Merlyn and Darhk to scare Miss Smoak into convincing you to return to me at last,” his mother replied calmly, ignoring the tension in his voice. “And while I don’t have the slightest idea where you’ve been living for the last five years, I surmised that it would take you at least a few days to get here, so I’ve had my men waiting for you for the last week. And thus, regardless may have happened to them in the process, Merlyn and Darhk did not fail me, for here you both are.” Oliver’s shoulders tensed slightly, almost imperceptibly. Almost. Felicity laid a hand on his arm, a gesture of comfort. Moira’s gaze honed in on the movement.
“Miss Smoak,” she said, a steely edge to her voice. “I ordered you to bring my son back to me, not to fall in love with him.” Her words cut into Felicity like daggers. She knew. How could she possibly have known? What had they done that had given them away? They’d tried so hard to keep it secret, and they’d failed, just as Felicity had feared they might. She resisted the urge to back away from Moira. She may not have been a mage, but she could turn words into weapons as effectively as Felicity could.
“Felicity,” Oliver murmured, his voice halting her racing thoughts. He made her name into a complete sentence again, and this time he was saying, “It’s alright. I’m here.” That alone was enough to give her resolve. Moira Queen arched an eyebrow at her son.
“The feeling is mutual, I see,” she said, and for the second time in as many minutes Felicity had to wonder how she gleaned so much from so little. After a pause, she added, her voice devolving into a snarl, “How could you stoop so low? How could you allow yourself to fall in love with a mage? Have you forgotten that it was magic that took your father from us?” Felicity had heard about the circumstances of Robert Queen’s death- a stray word, a sunken ship- but she hadn’t thought that Moira’s prejudice would run so deep as this, so deep that she had it in her to hate her own flesh and blood for falling for a mage.
Oliver’s hands curled into fists at his sides, and Felicity wanted nothing more than to throw up a shield to protect him from the anger so unfairly thrown at him. She could not. She had not the words with which to cast it, and even so, there was no magic in Moira’s speech. She couldn’t build a defense against a threat that wasn’t there.
“That was an accident and you know it,” Oliver growled, his voice hovering right on the edge of the low, angry rasp he spoke with as the Green Arrow. “And Felicity is not the one responsible for it.”
“Of course she is!” Moira shouted, her voice ringing sharply off the walls of the audience chamber. “She is responsible for every act, intentionally or not, by her kind!”
“Ironic, then, that you worked with mages to get me here,” Oliver said, his voice quiet and even-toned, in sharp contrast to Moira’s. “Since you seem to hate ‘their kind’, as you put it, so much.”
“Merlyn and Darhk were… a necessary evil,” Moira replied. “I knew the only thing a mage would consider a threat would be other, more powerful mages.” Felicity felt sick to her stomach at the way Moira was talking about her like she was a thing , a creature to be detested, instead of a human being. Darhk had nearly killed her, but she doubted Moira would have cared if he had, so long as the end result was still the return of her son. She certainly didn’t seem to trouble herself over the fact that Darhk was himself dead.
“But no matter what crimes I may have committed in briefly associating with mages,” Moira was saying when Felicity returned her attention the conversation between her and her son, “they are much less than the one you committed by allowing yourself to be seduced by one.”
“Felicity didn’t seduce me,” Oliver growled, “and love is not a crime, no matter who it’s between.”
“Not in the legal sense, no,” Moira said in an icy tone that Felicity recognized. It was one she had heard in Oliver’s voice before- a thin veneer of cool disinterest masking deep, seething rage. “However, I think it one in the moral sense. I will not let your betrayal, your weakness , to destroy the plans I have spent years laying in place. And I will do everything in my power to make sure you never have the opportunity to corrupt our family’s bloodline with the scourge of magic.” Felicity felt her face grow hot from anger. What did Moira think she was, some glorified broodmare? Before she had the chance to let her sharp tongue get her in trouble, Moira’s men-at-arms came rushing into the room, as if they’d simply been waiting for a cue. They charged forward and seized Oliver and Felicity roughly by the upper arms.
“Confine my son to his quarters,” Moira commanded them emotionlessly. It didn’t escape Felicity how she distanced herself from Oliver by not using his name. “And put the mage”- she spat the word out- “in the farthest room from him that you can find. Post guards outside their doors, and do not allow them within even so much as a foot of each other. Understood?”
“Yes, my lady,” the man holding Oliver, who was clearly the leader, said.
“Good,” Moira replied. “You’re dismissed.” Her men hauled them out of the room, and all Felicity could do was glance helplessly after Oliver as he dwindled from her sight.
Chapter 32: Help from Lady Queen
On the third day of her forced separation from Oliver, Felicity began to wonder if she would ever see anything but the same four walls and the same half dozen faces ever again. The room Moira was keeping her in was in no less worse condition than her own back at the Foundry, but a comfortable, well-appointed prison was a prison nonetheless.
From snatches of overheard conversations between her guards, Felicity had surmised that Lady Starling was in the process of implementing some sort of plan centered around consolidating Oliver’s- and therefore, by extension, her own- power and installing him as the rightful Lord Starling, whether he had any desire to take up that position or not. She hadn’t been able to glean anything about what exactly Lady Starling’s plan entailed, but knowing her, it was likely that it involved some kind of politically motivated arranged marriage. The thought of Oliver forced into a loveless marriage, living his life as little more than a glorified puppet of his mother’s ambitions, brought an ache to Felicity’s chest, one that settled over the one that lingered there so long as she remained separated from Oliver. One of her guards knocking on her door interrupted her thoughts.
“What?” she snapped. She suspected the only reason that he’d bothered to knock at all is because whoever was here to see her wasn’t Lady Starling. As lady of the hall, she could come and go as she pleased. Anyone else who wished to see the prisoner had to announce themselves, but that didn’t mean that Felicity had any sort of privacy. She’d lost track of the number of minor nobles, upper class citizens, and members of the hall staff that had come to gawk at the city’s resident mage the way they might at a caged animal in a menagerie.
“Lady Queen wishes to speak with you,” the guard said, confirming Felicity’s suspicions that her visitor wasn’t Lady Starling, though she hadn’t expected it to be her daughter.
“You may as well let her in,” she told the guard in a begrudging tone. “It’s not as if I have the option of turning her away.” The door swung inward, and Thea Queen entered the room. She was dressed in a gown of emerald satin, her short cropped brown hair tucked behind her ears. Seeing her in person for the first time, the resemblance between her and her older brother was immediately apparent to Felicity, despite the decade between their ages. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence- or uncomfortable to Felicity at least- while Thea closed the door. Whatever it was she’d come to say, she clearly didn’t want word of it getting back to her mother. Felicity couldn’t say that she blamed her.
“You’re in love with my brother,” Thea said, turning away from the door to face Felicity. It wasn’t a question. It seemed she was speaking it out loud more to confirm what she’d heard than because she actually needed an answer. Felicity nodded, not trusting her voice.
“And he’s in love with you,” Thea went on. Felicity nodded again, chewing anxiously on her bottom lip.
“So why is my mother keeping you away from each other?” Thea asked.
“Because she’s going to marry Oliver off to some woman from a minor noble family to consolidate his power before he takes his place as Lord Starling,” Felicity said. Most of it was conjecture, though she suspected no less accurate for being that. “And she doesn’t want Oliver’s feelings for me, or mine for him, to ruin those plans.” She left out the part that Lady Starling’s hatred of mages played in her and Oliver’s forced separation. No doubt Thea had figured it out on her own.
“Oliver is a grown man,” Thea said. “He should be free to make his own decisions about his life. It’s ridiculous that Mother should wish to exert that much control over him.”
“You won’t hear any argument from me on that point,” Felicity said. Thea studied her for a moment, then said, “It sounds like there’s more to this story.”
“Your mother is furious with Oliver for ‘allowing himself’ to fall in love with a mage,” Felicity explained. “She’s known for her anti-magic prejudice, but until three days ago I hadn’t thought it went so deep that she would hate her own son for falling in love with me just because I happen to be a mage.”
“I wish could say I share your astonishment,” Thea said darkly.
“To be honest,” Felicity admitted, “I’m surprised that you don’t seem to share your mother’s feelings on the matter.”
“Just because I have lived with her and she has tried to control me all my life does not mean that I think the same way she does,” Thea replied. Her posture straightened with resolve, and in that moment she looked so like her brother that it made the pain of being separated from him turn suddenly sharp in a reminder of how desperately Felicity wished she could be with him right now. “All I want for Oliver is for him to be happy, and if you give him that then that’s the only thing that matters to me.”
“I need to see him,” Felicity blurted suddenly. Thea stared at her. “Please. I just- I just need to know if he’s alright.”
“Do you think my mother would have her men hurt him?” Thea asked. The fear in her voice suggested that she herself had considered that possibility more than a few times.
“Yes,” Felicity said. “No. I don’t know. But he’s… the last few years have been hard on him, Thea. He has nightmares, and it’s-it’s really bad for him to be left alone with his thoughts for too long. I’m afraid that his guards won’t know that, won’t understand that, and they’ll have-”
“What do you want me to do?” Thea interjected, stopping Felicity in the middle of what had quickly been turning into a panicked ramble.
“Get me into his quarters,” she said. “Somehow.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Thea said grimly.
“Please,” Felicity begged. “It doesn’t have to be for long. Just enough for me to know that he’s alright.” Thea sighed.
“Alright,” she reluctantly agreed. “I’ll do my best. But I can’t make any promises.” Felicity felt a relieved smile cross her face just as Thea headed for the door.
“You’re leaving?” she asked her.
“I’m just doing some reconnaissance,” Thea explained, her hand still on the doorknob. “Scope Ollie’s quarters, see if I can come up with some way to get you in there.” The nickname sounded strange to Felicity’s ears. Alien. She’d never heard anyone call Oliver by that shortened version of his name before, and yet it seemed only right that Thea should. Felicity could easily imagine it being a holdover from their younger days when the only allies they had in this world were each other.
“And anyway, I… need to know that he’s alright,” Thea went on, the deep, raw pain in her voice jolting Felicity out of her musings.
“Your mother hasn’t let you see him,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
“Of course not,” Thea replied bitterly. “Why would she have?” She left at that, the heavy oak door swinging shut behind her with a thud . She’d only been gone a few minutes before Felicity started to pace from one side of her room to the other, feeling like a wild animal in a cage. Now that she had a way to find out how Oliver was faring, she was anxious to hear the tidings thereof.
After a time, she heard the guards outside talking in low voices, and Thea reentered the room. It took everything in Felicity’s will not to leap toward her.
“He’s fine,” Thea said in a calming tone, apparently sensing Felicity’s disquiet. “Well, not fine. But unhurt. And exhausted.” With a small, sad smile, she added, “He misses you.” Felicity felt her eyes well up with tears.
“I miss him too,” she said in a hoarse whisper. “So much.”
“I’ve figured out how to get you to him,” Thea said. “But the most I can promise is a night.”
“That’s enough,” Felicity replied. To herself, she added, It will have to be enough. I will make it be enough.