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The Paths We Take

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“For someone who’s about to be given a very prestigious award, you don’t look very happy.” 

Felicity lets out a suffering sigh and finishes her martini before she turns around from where she’s casually leaning on the smooth surface of the open bar to address her very infuriating business partner. She plasters a smile on her face, wide and toothy, and completely fake, before answering him. 

“I’m totally enjoying myself, what are you talking about?” 

Curtis rolls his eyes. “I have not seen you this miserable since the day we failed to -” 

“We don’t talk about that day, Curtis,” she hisses. She must have come off more annoyed than she thought because he takes a tiny step back from her. She waves him off and closes her eyes. “I’m sorry, I just... these things make me so uncomfortable. You know that.” 

“All you have to do is go on stage, get the award, and then come back down. You’ve done this dozens of times before, what’s so special about this one?”

Her fingers tighten around the stem of her martini glass as she avoids Curtis’ curious gaze, focusing instead on the navy blue nail polish that matches her dress for tonight, glimmering in the cosy setting of Starling Grand's main ballroom.

She hasn’t been back here in years, never really having a reason to once she left for college. Starling City is... complicated for her. A mess of good and bad and in-between memories that she’d tried really hard to ignore for the longest time.

Maybe she shouldn’t have accepted the invitation tonight.

“The big deal, Curtis, is that being back in Starling is really weird for me, okay? Especially when everyone is here. Every big shot in the tech industry. I think I saw Bruce talking to Ray before and -” 

She falters mid-sentence when the room descends into a hushed silence, the buzz of conversation around her pausing as every head turns towards the entrance of the ballroom.

Yeah. Everyone  is here.

Including Oliver Freaking Queen.

The man strides into the room like he owns it, tall and proud, signature cocky smirk on his face. How is it possible that he allegedly (allegedly, because she hasn’t found the time to find actual, concrete evidence) spent five years marooned on an island and can still come back looking like that?

He fills out his suit very nicely, and always has, her memories supply. But this time, the sleek cut accentuates his much broader shoulders and the sleeves do nothing to hide the way the muscles in his arms ripple every time he shakes someone’s hand.

Flashes of a much younger, less muscular Oliver dances in her mind’s eye and she has to shake her head to get rid of them. His hair is no longer the shaggy mop that TMZ used to play on repeat in all the news bulletins, and instead is now very nicely styled, neat and close cropped, reminiscent of the Oliver from her memories. 

Yeah, okay, fine. The man looks good. She can admit that.

“Do you think that island he got washed up on was really like, a fancy spa retreat or something, because daaaaamn,” Curtis huffs breathlessly next to her.

“Keep it in your pants, Curtis,” she mutters. Her eyes track his movement through the ballroom, watching with muted interest as the crowd parts for him like he’s Moses and they’re the red sea.

Typical.

“Why is he even here?” she muses out loud, frowning when a woman with long, dark hair takes his elbow and hangs on to him for the rest of his journey across the room. It’s Laurel, her ever trusty memory bank supplies. 

Great.  

“Considering he’s a Queen, and Queen Consolidated is the company that’s -”

Felicity shoots him a withering look and Curtis snap his mouth shut.

“I know that Curtis. But Oliver’s never been interested in the family business. Never. So why’s he here tonight?”

“Wait, back up. Oliver? Do you know Oliver Queen? Like, outside of news headlines and I don’t know, Page Six? Because you sound like you know know him and that... actually, that’s not too far fetched because you used to hang around Starling, didn’t you?”

Felicity mentally berates herself at the slip of her tongue and studiously ignores him, turning away from her friend and partner. She waves the bartender over and slides her now empty martini glass to him.

“Another one please, and make it stronger.”

The bartender tilts his head at her with an amused smirk, but says nothing otherwise. Smart man. 

“I’m going to get it out of you somehow, Felicity. You know I will. The entire country went nuts when he came back from the dead six months ago and you said nothing. Nothing! I’m so disappointed in you. I’m glad you’re drinking yourself stupid because that is just going to make it so much easier to get answers out of you.”

“You need to drop this right now.”

She groans and buries her head in the fold of her arms, the reality of being back in Starling, facing her old friends, possibly facing Oliver again - finally hitting her. 

“Hey, how about you accept this award for me? Tell them I’m sick and I had to go home. I’ll meet you at the airport tomorrow.”

 “Uh... Feli-”

“You’ve accepted awards on my behalf before,” she barrels on, lifting her head and watching the bartender mix her drink. Maybe if she stares at him, he’ll make it faster. “Just go up there and -”

“Felicity?”

Her back straightens, flinching at the interruption because this time it’s not Curtis’ annoying pestering that cuts her off.

Instead, her skin tingles at the familiarity of his voice and she’s overcome by memories of him, and them and that same voice chuckling in her ear, whispering to her in the dead of the night, pouring his heart out to her that one time they made it out to the Vegas desert and drove aimlessly for hours.

She sucks in a steadying breath, counts down from three and slowly, very slowly, turns around.

Everything around her fades away the instant she sees him. Nothing else exists except for him, the smirk on his face, and the million and one flashes of memories replaying in her mind’s eye.

“Oliver.”

“I was hoping it was you.”

She’s vaguely aware of Curtis excusing himself as he pushes his way past her and Oliver, muttering something about ‘eye sex’ and ‘sexual tension’. She pays him no heed. How can she, when her heart is pounding so hard it’s threatening to burst out of her chest? Her hands start to sweat and she balls them into fists, trying not to completely lose it in front of him.

The difference between this Oliver Queen and the Oliver she knew then is more prominent now that he’s up close. The light smattering of stubble along his jaw makes him look wolfish, a little bit dangerous - a far cry from the clean shaven frat boy thing he had going on almost six years ago now.

The boy she used to know had very expressive eyes, bright blue, open, and so very intense. But now, though the intensity still remains, there’s a hint of something else lurking beneath that she can’t quite place.

“You changed your hair,” Oliver states before the silence between them becomes too awkward. He drops his gaze down the length of her dress, then drags his eyes up to her face, leaving a trail of heat and intrigue dancing it’s way up her body.

“Yeah, well, you changed your beard,” Felicity blurts out, desperately trying to distract herself from the strange fuzzy feeling in the bottom of her stomach from the way he’s looking at her.

A second later she cringes and sighs, pressing her lips together. “Not that... you had a beard to change, before. So you technically didn’t change it... you just... have one now.”

The corner of Oliver’s lips tilts upwards in a lopsided grin. “I see the babbling hasn't changed, at least.”

Felicity swallows, shifting uncomfortably under his scrutiny. She unfurls her fists and slides her hands down her dress, suddenly self-conscious.

She doesn’t like the way he’s evoking what she thought were long-forgotten feelings within her, doesn’t like the sudden churning in her gut, and she definitely doesn’t appreciate the way he’s staring at her as if -

As if he didn’t once have her entire heart in his hand, and then crushed it into a million tiny pieces like it had been nothing to him.

She takes a step back and feels the sharp edge of the bar top digging into her back. Her martini - finally! - appears next to her and she claims it, taking a huge sip from the glass before schooling her features.

She’s Felicity Megan Smoak, child prodigy, certified genius, founder and CEO of one of the most sought after development and consulting companies in the country. She can handle being civil to Oliver Queen.

“What are you doing here?” she asks coolly, steering their conversation away from their complicated past. “You hate these things.”

“My mother thought it would be good for me to put in an appearance on behalf of Queen Consolidated. She’s ah... grooming me to take over.” Oliver rolls his eyes. “Made me take a business course and everything.”

“She finally managed to pin you down long enough to finish something, did she?” Felicity smirks. It’s a long-running joke between them - or it had been anyway - because he’d swapped and dropped out of so many courses and colleges when he  was younger.

“Yeah, well. Being uh, away for so long... It gave me perspective.”

Oh, frack. Yeah. Felicity mentally slaps herself.

The island.

He’s been lost at sea for five years, has only been back for six months, and here she is giving him a hard time for trying to ease back into society. Is she really that much of a horrible person that she can’t let go of her dumb, unresolved issues long enough to remember that he’s been through hell recently?

“Oliver, I’m sor-”

She’s cut off by Curtis materialising next to Oliver, bumping shoulders with him, with a glint of mischief in his eyes.

“Felicity, they need you backstage. So you should go. Now.” Curtis hands a flute of sparkling to Oliver and winks at him. “You look really nice, Mr. Queen. Been to any spas recently?”

Oliver furrows his eyebrows at the man, then turns to Felicity with a questioning glance. “Friend of yours?”

“Curtis Holt, Oliver Queen. Curtis is my business partner,” Felicity mutters darkly. “You’ll have to excuse him, he’s not house trained yet.” 

Curtis scoffs. “Ha ha, you think you’re so funny. But I’m serious, they’re looking for you Felicity. You should go.”   

Curtis looks way too chipper, too tipsy, and she’s really apprehensive about leaving him alone with Oliver, but she doesn’t have choice.

“Fine, I’m just gonna...” she waves a hand towards the stage and squares her shoulders. She downs the rest of the martini, shivers through the burn of alcohol traveling down her throat, and exhales. She looks to Curtis, then to Oliver, noting that Curtis is practically mooning at him.

Oliver just smirks at her and she rolls her eyes at him before she turns to face Curtis. She can feel Oliver staring at her back, so she makes a point to speak loudly, just to goad him with an inside joke she never thought she’d have a reason to bring up again.

“Curtis, if he asks you to delete his browser history while I’m up there, do not help him.”



1999

Felicity Smoak is ten years old when she first learns of the Queen name.

She’s having lunch in the school cafeteria when an older student slaps a bright, colourful flyer onto the table, sending her juice box flying onto the floor. She glares at the student’s retreating back, affronted, but does nothing in the end because she’s tiny and new and picking a fight with someone a whole head taller than her is probably not the smartest way to make a good first impression in a new school.

So she glances down at the flyer instead, her interest piquing when she sees the words ‘School Trip’ and ‘Science Club’. Clutching the piece of paper excitedly in her hand, she quickly scans it and her heart leaps into her throat. Just then the bell rings and she shoves it into her bag, making a mental note to come up with a pro and cons list she can present to her mother when she gets home.

Unfortunately for her, pros outweighing the cons notwithstanding, Donna Smoak does not share her excitement for the proposed trip.

“It just doesn’t sound too exciting, honey,” her mother tells her, scrunching her nose in distaste later that day when she scrutinises the flyer. “It’s just a tour around some lab in Starling City.”

Not for the first time in her life, Felicity wonders if Donna really is her biological mother.

“Mom. It’s Queen Consolidated. I looked it up at the school library today, and their Innovation and Applied Sciences Division is one of the best in the country. It’s just a day trip! And the Science Club -”

“You joined the the Science Club?” Donna tilts her head at her, a confused look on her face. “I thought you wanted to join the Drama Club?”

“No, you wanted me to join the Drama Club, Mom. And I didn’t join the Science Club, it’s just being organised by them.” Felicity scowls, ripping the flyer out of her mother’s hand.

“Never mind. It’s not like you’ll get it anyway. And just so you know, there’s nothing wrong with the Science Club.”  

She shoulders her backpack as she stomps into her room in disappointment, but not before she hears her mother mutter something about the irony of her being so dramatic about everything.

She shouldn’t have been surprised, really. Her mother never really understood her fascination with technology. If her father were here, he’d understand. A pang of sadness washes through her at the thought and she’s suddenly angry at herself for even thinking about him.

The man didn’t deserve even a second of her time.

Flopping onto her bed, face down with tears in her eyes, she screams into her pillow. She’s never asked for anything in her short life. Never questioned it when her mother told her all too calmly that Dad was probably never coming back. Never questioned the half a dozen times they’d had to move in the three years after that, just following along because despite her tender age she was smart enough to know that what was happening went way beyond her comprehension.

But all she wants this time is to go on what seems like would be a really cool trip to visit one of the most advanced labs in the country - in the world, maybe. She’s not sure, she didn’t get that far in her research. And her mother won’t even allow her to do that.

She could forge her mother’s signature for the permission slip, she thinks. It’ll be easy enough. The trip is on a Saturday, which means her mother will be at work all day - possibly well into the night. She’d be able to go and come back and her mother won’t even suspect a thing.

She turns around on her bed and stares at the ceiling. It could work.


 

She decides she’s going to live in Starling City forever.

It’s practically a done deal.

Not like, now or anything, but once she’s a grown up and has a job and a home, she’s going to live here. This charming city with the tall buildings and the beautiful parks and the fresh air. She’s so not going to miss the smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke that Vegas is constantly engulfed in, that’s for sure.

And Queen Consolidated?

A dream come true.

Their tour guide, a mousy redhead by the name of Kevin takes them through the company’s primary research lab and she feels like she’s walking through a sci-fi movie. Pristine white worktables, machinery whirring around her, smart looking people in lab coats doing smart looking things - Felicity’s captivated by it all.

She wanders through the lab, marveling at everything before her. There’s a really big printer in the corner of the room that looks like it’s printing an arm, like a life-sized human arm and she gravitates towards it on autopilot.

The technology is familiar only because she’s read about it in the magazines she steals from her neighbour’s front porch. The term 3D printing has been nothing but a vague idea thrown around in the tech industry circles but it’s real and it’s here and wow, how did they even program a machine to print a human arm out of -

“You don’t want to touch that.”

Felicity gasps at the voice, pulling her hand back like she’s been burnt. Whirling around, she comes face to face with an older, much taller boy - definitely not from her school group - and she blinks at him guiltily.

“I wasn’t going to,” she denies. “But it’s printing an arm. And it looks so real and I just wanted to have a closer look.”

“Sure.” The boy squints at her, his terribly long hair flopping over his forehead. “Whose kid are you anyway? I didn’t know it was bring your daughter to work day.”

The way he calls her a kid, in that bored, dismissive tone, irks her and Felicity folds her arms and glares at him. “I’m Felicity. Whose kid are you?”  

“Excuse me? I’m... I’m Oliver.” He say his name slowly, like it should mean something to her but its not ringing any bells so she just shrugs.

“Well, okay then Oliver. I’m here with my school and they’re taking me on a tour so I have every right to be here. Just so you know.”

Oliver furrows his eyebrows. “I think your tour’s moved on without you.”

Felicity purses her lips and inches up on her tiptoes so she can see past the boy’s shoulder. True enough, her group is nowhere to be seen and she frowns.

“Did you see where they went?”

The boy shoots her an exasperated look. “No, but you should go all the same. These are expensive things and you really don’t want to accidentally break them.”

“I’m not stupid, Oliver,” Felicity grumbles.

A swirling pit forms in her stomach at the thought that her school might have left without her. She’s new after all. She doesn't have any friends who would realise she’s missing. What if the teacher loses the student list and forgets she’s on the tour as well?

What if she can’t get home on time and her mother finds out and then she’s grounded, forever? She’ll never be able to finish school, or go to college or move to Starling City!

Her panic must be reflected on her face because Oliver’s expression softens and he crouches down so that he’s eye to eye with her.

“Hey, hey, I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m sure they’re still around somewhere. Let me just put this somewhere safe and we can track down your friends, okay?”

Felicity nods and that’s when she notices that the 'this' Oliver is referring to is a laptop, sleek and shiny and it’s basically calling out to her. She’s never actually seen one before. Her father used to bring home parts for her to play with, but they were for the bigger desktop machines, and the computers at her school were even more outdated.

She just wants to touch it. Just a little bit.

“What’s wrong with the laptop?” she asks curiously, reaching out for it. But her hands are too short and Oliver’s standing up, keeping the precious thing just out of her reach.

He shrugs, turning the laptop over in his hands. “I don’t know. It’s broken. I was looking for someone down here to fix it for me.”  

“I can do it!” she exclaims, her anxiousness about losing her school group dissipating now that she’s distracted by the prospect of being able to tinker with technology. “Can I have a look? Please?”

The look he gives her screams of incredulity and disbelief but for some reason - she’s not going to question it at this point. She really isn’t stupid - he just shrugs again and hands it to her wordlessly.

“Thankyouthankyouthankyou,” she squeals as she takes it from him. It’s heavy, much more than she expected, but no way is she going to let that stop her.

She sinks to the floor, pulling her legs in so she sits cross-legged, with the precious laptop balanced on her thighs. She pushes the button she assumes will bring it to life, and the laptop beeps loudly, but nothing else happens.

“Can you find me a screwdriver, please?” she asks Oliver without looking at him. She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and flips the laptop over, scrutinising the back plate. It’s just a smaller version of a desktop, right? How different can it be from the computers she’s tinkered around with?  

Oliver hovers behind her for a moment, lurking in her periphery until he eventually decides to plop down right next to her on the floor, screwdriver in hand.

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

Felicity bites her bottom lip but doesn’t answer him, already deep in what her father used to call ‘troubleshooting mode’. She pries open the back plate with expert ease, humming to herself because she absolutely loves this.

Her blood sings with excitement. This - this is what she wants to do for the rest of her life. She’s sure of it.

“I think your RAM stick is loose,” she murmurs once she’s had her fill of digging around inside the laptop. She lifts her head and turns to Oliver, glaring at him. “Oliver, did you drop this super cool custom Queen Consolidated laptop?”

“Um. Yeah, I didn’t think it would break though.”

Boys are dumb, she thinks. So reckless. Imagine dropping such a precious machine and not even feeling the tiniest bit remorseful about it.

“Don’t do it again,” she mutters, pushing the RAM stick back into its slot. She screws the plate back in and powers it on.

The screen lights up, displaying the Queen Consolidated splash screen and she turns to beam triumphantly at Oliver. “All done!”

Oliver fixes her with a strange look, like he doesn’t know if he wants to smile or scowl. Eventually, he settles on something that looks like respect, and then he gets up onto his feet, holding his hand out to take the laptop from her.

“Thanks, Felicity.” He slides the laptop into his bag and secures it before tilting his head at her. “You’re really weird, you know that?”

“Why’s that?” Felicity asks as she stands up as well. She imitates him, cocking her head as well and blinks at him. “Is it because I can fix computers?”  

“Kind of, yeah.”

“Well, mister Oliver, you’re in the I.T. department of Queen Consolidated and I bet everyone here probably knows how to fix computers, so I think you’re the weird one ‘cause you can’t.”

Oliver looks stunned for a second, but then his face cracks into a wide grin and he chuckles loudly. “Yeah, okay, fine, smarty pants. You got me there. Do you want to go look for the rest of your group now?”

“Yes, please,” she answers, because stupid, reckless boy or not, she’d much rather wander the halls of Queen Consolidated with him than by herself. Plus, he’s kind of nice in his own way, even if he did call her weird. And he has really pretty eyes.

Oliver’s a lot taller than she is so his strides are long and he walks a little too fast for her, but she doesn’t mind. She stays a few paces behind, careful not to lose sight of him.

He leads her through the halls like an expert, but he doesn’t look old enough to be an employee and definitely isn’t tech savvy enough to be working in the I.T department, so what exactly is he doing here?

“Are you an intern?” she asks as she hurries to catch up with him, inching up on her toes to tap him on his shoulder.

“Uh, no way,” Oliver mumbles, ducking his head into one of the rooms they walk past. “No one in here.”  

“Are you the janitor then?”

“What? No.”

“Well, you have janitor hair,” she tells him.

Oliver stops abruptly and Felicity runs into him, her head bumping into the solid plane of his back.

“Ow, don’t just stop walking, Oliver! You’re so hard!”

“I’m not - Felicity, I’m fourteen, and what’s wrong with my hair?” Oliver sputters, his cheeks tinged pink for some reason. See? Weird. He’s definitely the weird one. But then he clears his throat and squares his shoulders and the grumpy, broody boy is back.  

“I’m not the janitor, okay. Or an intern, or anyone that you should be worrying about. And I think we found your friends.”

They’ve arrived at the foyer of the building, and as she follows Oliver’s line of sight, she spots the group of students from her school gathered by the front desk. No one seems to be in any particular hurry, which means her absence hasn’t been noticed.

Good.

“They’re not my friends,” Felicity states, pursing her lips. Oliver wrinkles his eyebrows and she sighs before elaborating. “I just go to school with them. I’m new, so no one knows me yet.”

She tries really hard, but she can’t help the melancholy feeling that seeps into her carefully guarded heart. And then after a beat, she shakes it off - what’s the point of being sad, really? - and huffs. “I could have stayed longer looking at the 3D printer. They don’t even know I’m gone.”

As if he can sense her sadness, his lips curl up into a lopsided grin. It’s genuine, she thinks. Like he’s not just trying to placate or patronise her and it makes her feel good again.

“They’d be stupid not to want to be friends with you. And hey, I’ll be your friend. I bet having a super smart computer expert friend will come in handy one day.”

She stares at him for a moment, bewildered at his offer of friendship, because he’s older, and a boy, but then shakes her head with regret. “I don’t live here, Oliver. I’m from Vegas. It’s too far to be friends.”

“Oh.” He shoves his hands into his pockets, thinks about it for a second and shrugs. “We can still be friends, I promise. Give me your email or something. Next time you’re here I’ll make sure you get to drool over whatever printer you want, for however long you want.”

He’s smiling at her again, and it takes away some of the aching loneliness in her heart. Who is he, honestly? Why is the world so unfair that the first friend she’s made since they moved to Vegas is this strange older boy in Starling City of all places? She’s probably not coming back here again, unless there’s another school trip and if her mother doesn’t find out about this one.

“Felicity?”

She pulls herself out of her thoughts and nods as she swings her backpack around, unzips it and pulls out her notebook and a pen. “Yeah, okay, I can give you my email address.”

Her handwriting is neat normally, but she makes sure it’s extra neat now so that he doesn’t misread her note. The page rips easily and she folds it in half before handing it to Oliver.

He winks at her as he pockets it. Glancing over the top of her head, he frowns and then looks back down at her. “You should probably get back to your group. If they didn’t notice you before, I think they’re noticing you now.”

Sure enough, when she turns back to where the rest of them are gathered, everyone is staring at the two of them, including the two chaperone teachers, mouths agape.

“‘Kay, I’ve changed my mind. They’re the weird ones,” Felicity murmurs.

Whirling around, she gives him one last smile and before she can question her sudden impulse, she reaches out to hug him. It’s quick and hurried, and as she pulls away, her little heart swells with gratitude when she finds that he’s grinning back at her.

“Bye, Oliver!” She adjusts her bag over her shoulder, waves, and strides off without another look back.


 

She doesn’t find out until half an hour into their trip back to Vegas that her new friend Oliver is in fact Oliver Queen. Heir to the entire Queen empire, Oliver Queen.

Mainly because her teachers give her a stern talking to about wandering off and bothering ‘very important’ people she’s not supposed to be bothering, and that’s when it clicks.

So she’s not too bummed out when he doesn’t contact her because he probably has better things to do. Important heir-like things, or whatever rich boys do in their spare time. It doesn’t change anything for her, in any case. He’s still going to be the nice, slightly grumpy boy with the pretty eyes who offered to be her friend when he found out she had none.

But about a month later, she finds a weird email from an address she doesn’t recognise in her inbox, with the subject line'help pls’. Against her better judgment, because viruses, she clicks on it and hopes she hasn’t compromised her entire school’s network.

Turns out the body of the email contains the furthest thing from a virus and she can’t help the smile that blooms across her face when she reads it.

Felicity.

Need help. How do u delete stuff u dont want ur parents to know ur looking at.

Oliver.