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With a Bold Heart

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Not That Kind of Hero
Artemis Crock: Aged 10

“Uh, Felicity?”

She liked to think she had a pretty good grasp of the way the teammates said her name—sometimes it was Felicity-shut-up, other times it was Felicity-I-need-help-because-I-didn’t-listen-to-you-and-use-the-cane-you-got-me-specifically-for-this-situation, and even more often than that it was Felicity-where’s-that-data-I-need—but this one was new. Warily, she swiveled around in her chair, wondering for the thousandth time why she chose to face away from most of the Foundry.

Sara, who’d called out, was limping a little as she came downstairs, Diggle on her heels. Felicity’s heart actually lifted a little to see them whole and unharmed.

“Oh, thank god,” Felicity said. “I think I got the comms system to work again, but I’m going to need to reset your earpieces if the EMP didn’t slag all of them and—Oliver, why do you have a child over your shoulder?”

“Seems our intel had some holes in it,” Oliver said. “Where’s Roy?”

Felicity shot out of her seat. Sara was limping and Diggle had a cut above his eye, but she was more concerned about the little girl Oliver was carefully lowering onto the table they kept around for wounds and other medical attention. “Bank robbery d-downtown—why is she unconscious? Why do you have a child? What the hell happened? You were supposed to take down Sportsmaster.”

“Apparently Sportsmaster had a kid,” Oliver said. “And he blew up his house. With her still in it.”

“Oh my god.” The girl, who couldn’t have been more than nine or ten, had a veritable cloud of dark blond hair around her head, her clothes dusty and well-worn. Instinctively, Felicity began checking for broken bones. She’d seen far too many injuries on her table to do anything less. “Is she okay? Why didn’t you take her straight to a hospital?”

“She wasn’t hurt when the house fell,” Sara said. “We heard her in the rubble.”

“Cursing,” Diggle said.

There weren’t any broken bones, Felicity determined, but the fact that the child was unconscious still made Felicity want to freak out. She grabbed a penlight from the drawer to check her pupils. “Why’s she unconscious now, then?”

“Because she came out swinging,” Oliver said, looking annoyed. He pushed back his hood and Felicity gasped. The area around his left eye was already purpling. “Managed to get a good hit in and knocked the mask off. She saw me.”

“And maybe I tased her,” Sara said. When Felicity gasped again, she hunched. “It was an accident. Is she okay?”

“The great Arrow and Canary,” Diggle said, and Felicity could see the corners of his lips creeping up despite the worry on his face, “one-upped by a preteen.”

“Shut up,” Sara and Oliver said.

Felicity checked the girl’s pupils and then her pulse. “She seems okay, from what I can tell, but we don’t have any better diagnostic equipment. Why did you bring her here and not to a hospital?”

Oliver’s jaw went firm. “Because she knows who I am.”

“She’s a child, and she needs proper medical care, so your identity should take a back-seat to that. In addition, she—”

“Can hear all of you losers,” the girl said, and Felicity shrieked and nearly jumped two feet in the air.

All four of the others, including the girl, blinked at her for that one. “You startled me,” Felicity said, unnecessarily.

The girl lifted her head and gave Felicity the most unimpressed look she’d ever witnessed. It was almost breathtaking in the sheer amount of attitude. “Who are you?” the girl asked, sitting up. “Where am I?”

“Worry about that later,” Oliver said. “I’m more concerned about who you are.”

The girl eyed him up and down once. “Artemis,” she said.

“Got a last name?”

“Sure, but I’m not sharing it. Should’ve known the great Arrow was Oliver Queen.” Artemis No-Last-Name pushed her hands through her hair. “And he has a secret lair, too. Figures. You hero types are all alike.”

“You meet many of those?” Sara asked, one blond eyebrow rising over her mask.

“Maybe.” Artemis shrugged. “What’s it to you if I have? I’m guessing I’m here and not a hospital because you four are worried I’m gonna spill the beans about green boy here.”

“You’re awfully mouthy for somebody not even in training bras yet,” Felicity said. “And no, they brought you to me to make sure you weren’t hurt.”

“Weirdest hospital I’ve ever seen.”

“Felicity, a word?” Oliver asked, pulling Felicity off to the side. “We may have a problem.”

“You brought an unconscious child into the Foundry. We’re well past ‘may.’” Felicity ran her hands over her face. “What is even happening right now?”

“She’s Sportsmaster’s kid and we weren’t even aware he had family. I think she scratched up her knees pretty bad in the explosion.”

Felicity craned her neck to look. “God, poor thing. She’s so little.”

“Well, her right hook’s nothing to shake a stick at.” Oliver grimaced, flinching when she reached up to trace the side of her thumb along the outside of the bruise. “I’ve been hurt worse, it’ll be fine.”

“There’s a bag of peas in the freezer for that, and I’ll get an ice pack for Sara’s ankle,” Felicity said. “But I don’t know what you expect me to do otherwise. I’ve never dealt with kids, even when I was a kid.”

“Can’t you try talking to her? People connect to you.” Oliver shifted his feet, clearly uncomfortable. “You make them feel…”

“Feel what?”

“I don’t know, important. I think there’s a lot going on in this girl’s life. She’s angry, but I think she could use, if not a friend, maybe a champion.”

“It’s never going to be what I expect with this team, is it?” Felicity let out a long sigh. “Do me a favor and go get some ice packs for you and Sara.”

“Good luck convincing her to sit down.”

“I’m the team mom, apparently. Everybody does what I say.” But she didn’t exactly feel confident as she broke off from Oliver to head back to the medical table, where Diggle and Artemis were apparently locked into a staring contest. Diggle at least seemed amused by everything, though Sara stood back (her weight on one foot) with her arms crossed over her chest. Felicity touched her shoulder. “Mind checking on the scan I had going?” she asked, nodding to her chair.

Sara gave her a look that said she knew exactly what Felicity was doing, but hobbled over to the chair nonetheless. Felicity could feel Artemis’s eyes on her, the girl likely reevaluating everything she’d already decided about Felicity, but she focused on Diggle instead. “Dinner?” Diggle asked with a wry look.

“It’s like you read my mind. You got any favorites?” She directed this last question to Artemis.

The girl didn’t move. “Maybe I do. Not telling.”

“I’ll work it out,” Diggle said, giving Felicity a grin before he walked off, leaving her alone with Artemis at the table.

“Here to head-shrink me, doc?” Artemis asked.

Felicity snorted. “My degree’s in computer science, not psychology. And no. Oliver said you got a little banged up when your house kind of blew up.”

Artemis hunched inward. “It wasn’t our house,” she said, looking away. “And I don’t need a doctor. I’m fine.”

“Like I said, computer science, not a doctor.” Because she really had no idea what on earth to say to any child on the planet, Felicity moved over to the little cabinet where they kept most of the medical supplies.

“And that’s supposed to make me trust you to patch me up even more?”

“While you have a point, I’ve patched everybody else in this place up. It’s kind of my thing. Can I see your knees?”

Artemis eyed Felicity for a long time, her eyes dark and distrustful. Finally, she pulled up the grimy leg of one of her jeans and Felicity saw the blood trail down her shin. Artemis’s thin face twisted up into a sneer that was more like a dare. “I’ve had worse,” she said, lifting her chin. “I’m no crybaby.”

“Well, clearly. If that had happened to me, I’d be crying all over the place. You must be pretty brave.”

Artemis’s lip curled up. “Don’t patronize me, lady.”

“Felicity.”

“What?”

“My name isn’t lady. It’s Felicity.” She pulled on gloves after she checked over her shoulder to make sure Sara was still sitting down. “Is it okay if I clean those scrapes out?”

“I won’t kick you, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

That seemed like permission enough. Felicity set the supplies on the table and directed her energies to clean out the scrapes around Artemis’s knee. “Probably going to sting a little,” she said.

“Don’t care—” Artemis broke off into a language Felicity didn’t know, so she had to figure the girl was cursing.

“Sorry,” Felicity said. Because she was used to vigilantes who silently brooded their way through the pain, she had to cast about for something to talk about. She kept rinsing the scrapes out. “So, you must be one of the smartest people in your class, huh?”

“What makes you think that?”

“‘Patronize’ isn’t exactly in the vocabulary of most people your age. Well, it was in mine, but I skipped grades.”

Artemis made a derisive noise. “School’s lame,” she said, but Felicity recognized an undercurrent to the words.

“I never thought that. I always liked math the best.”

“Yeah, it’s okay.” Artemis stayed quiet for a long moment. “I like history more. You know, when I get to go.”

“You move around a lot?”

“This is about my dad, isn’t it?” Artemis’s knee jerked up. “That’s what you’re really after. You brought me here so I could be bait, isn’t it?”

Felicity mimicked the same derisive noise Artemis had just made. “If we brought you here to be bait, you wouldn’t be in our secret base.”

“There’s always later.”

“We’re not that kind of heroes.”

“Then why am I here?”

“Trust me, we’re both wondering.” Felicity patted the scrapes dry now that they were clean, and reached for the antibacterial gel. “I think your dad’s in the wind. Is your mom around? Maybe we can get you to her.”

Artemis looked away. “She’s in prison.”

“Oh,” Felicity said since she wasn’t entirely sure how to reply to that. Her instinct to babble was that of course Sportsmaster’s wife would be behind bars, but thankfully she appeared to have at least some tact. And who knew if Artemis’s mother was even Sportsmaster’s wife, anyway? She was, after all, a prime example of two unmarried people creating a precocious human being with a large vocabulary. “Huh, that’s rough. I’m sorry.”

“It’s life.”

“Any, um, aunts? Uncles? Cousins? Much older siblings?”

“Lady,” Artemis said, rolling her eyes. “If I had any relatives but the guy in the weird hockey mask, don’t you think I’d have skipped town long ago?”

“While you do have a point, it’s possible you stuck around out of familial love.”

Artemis’s snort was sharp and to the point.

“Guess not,” Felicity said.

“Yeah, most dads check to make sure the house is empty before they blow it up,” Artemis said, her head dropping.

Carefully, Felicity put a hand on her ankle. “It’s going to be okay,” she said with optimism she didn’t feel.

Artemis looked up, her eyes glimmering with unshed tears. She swiped her hand under her nose, looking painfully small. “How do you know?”

“We’re in the business of making it okay. We’ll fix up your other leg, Diggle will be back with food, and we’ll figure something out.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“That’s okay,” Felicity said, and they both looked over as Sara, who apparently had slipped away at some point, came back over.

She set Felicity’s preferred energy drink at her elbow and held out a can of Coke to Artemis, who took it warily. “Sorry I tased you,” she said, pulling off her mask. “I’m still getting used to the new weapons Felicity made me. You feeling okay?”

Artemis gave Felicity a long, considering look, ignoring Sara’s question entirely. “You make weapons?”

“For grown-ups,” Felicity said, and the girl pouted, but at least she opened the soda. “You know, let’s get that other knee fixed up and why don’t I give you a tour of the secret base as a show of faith?”

“I guess that sounds okay,” Artemis said, her voice begrudging.

“See?” Felicity turned to give Sara a smile she didn’t feel. “Beginning of a beautiful friendship, right?”

“Clearly,” the Black Canary said, and Felicity decided that at first opportunity she was going to have a long conversation with Oliver about the appropriateness of bringing small children to their secret headquarters and dumping them on her because this seriously was not going to fly for Team Arrow.


Council Meeting
Artemis Crock: Aged 10

“Okay, since nobody else is saying it.” Thea hopped up onto the medical table and crossed her legs, her feet swinging together. “This is crazy. No, not crazy. This is unrealistic. This is straight out of one of those movies we always mock. This is a kid. A human child. This is not a puppy. You can’t just choose to keep her.”

Felicity could see Oliver’s jaw tighten, but he said nothing.

“You guys see what I’m saying, don’t you?” Thea looked around the Foundry. They’d gathered as a council: Oliver stood with his arms crossed, one shoulder against the glass case that typically held his uniform, Roy perched on the salmon ladder bar, Felicity sat in her regular seat, Sara balanced on the arm of her chair with her legs folded under her (it was a little strange how Sara could balance that easily, and Felicity had said so, repeatedly). Laurel, red leather jacket creaking a little every time she moved, had dragged over another chair next to where Diggle sat at the weaponry table, half of their heavy artillery disassembled in front of him.

All in all, a typical Tuesday night at the Foundry, except that Artemis was sleeping in the sound-proof cell they’d installed in the corner for naps and the occasional villain-slash-hostage. It wasn’t locked, but they also couldn’t trust her not to run.

“For the record, I’m with Thea on this one,” Diggle said.

“Thanks, Digg. We’re not in any way equipped to handle the care and feeding of a small child. We can barely take care of ourselves most nights.” Thea’s eyes lingered on Oliver as she said this, which Felicity felt was a little unfair to him. But she’d also learned not to get involved in their sibling disputes. Thea had a sharp tongue, but Oliver could take it.

“I don’t know.” Roy kicked idly at the one of the sides of the salmon ladder with a red-toed sneaker.

“Oh?”

“I’m just saying, if I’d had somebody take me in, even somebody that cared a little bit at that age, I wouldn’t be…”

“Dressing in a red hood every night and fighting bad guys with medieval weaponry?” Laurel asked.

Roy shrugged. “I was gonna say ‘so messed up.’ I think it’s kind of noble, taking her on like this.”

“But she’s a kid. She’ll have emotional needs and we are seven of the most, as you said, messed up people on the planet—well, six. Felicity’s actually pretty balanced compared to the rest of us,” Thea said.

“Oh, trust me,” Felicity said, shaking her head emphatically. “I have an entire briefcase of abandonment issues I haven’t unpacked on most of this group. Don’t feel you need to exclude me from that. Not that I think any of us are really that messed up.”

“Oh?” Sara asked, twisting to look down at her.

“I prefer to think we’re all special.” Felicity raised her chin a little bit.

“Still cute,” Sara told her in an undertone, and Felicity stuck her tongue out at her best friend. Across the room, Oliver smiled a little, though he quickly schooled his features back to a thoughtful look when Thea turned her head in his direction.

“I do have an in with the district attorney,” Laurel said, handing Diggle a polishing cloth. “I can make sure child services gets her a good placement. A good home. It’s a place to start over.”

“She’ll just run,” Oliver said. “And she’ll end up on the streets, in the Glades. You know how bad it is out there.”

“So your proposal is just to keep her?” Laurel asked.

“I can afford it.”

“It takes a little more than that, though, is what I’m saying,” Thea said.

“And how do you know she won’t run from you, too? If you’re so sure she’s going to run anyway?” Laurel asked.

“We can find her if she does. I mean, we could put a tracker on her and—too diabolical again?” Felicity broke off when most of them gave her individual ‘we are not going to blow up the building, Felicity, stop suggesting that’ looks they had developed over the years. “Okay, no on the tracker, but we’re the Starling City Seven. We have a lot of resources the police don’t have if she does run.”

“And maybe we don’t give her a reason to run,” Oliver said.

Thea regarded her brother with a squint. “What do you mean by that?”

“She respects Felicity. I think if Felicity asked her not to run, she’d stick around.”

“I have no idea why. Small children tend to regard me as an alien entity and the feeling’s mutual,” Felicity said, waving her hands emphatically. It still blew her mind a little that Oliver and the others had brought back a child at all, but to have Artemis regard her with those dark, untrusting eyes and not immediately dismiss her as irrelevant was a strange feeling.

“Shouldn’t have told her you made weapons, then,” Sara said, nudging Felicity’s shoulder with her elbow.

“Which brings up another concern about our suitability as guardians, given that we regularly break federal laws,” Laurel said. “I’m not condemning us for that, I’m just pointing it out as a fact. I mean…” She gestured at the M-134 that Diggle was currently cleaning. “Case in point.”

“I move to second that motion,” Diggle said, earning him a smirk from Laurel.

“I dunno. It’s kind of a war zone out there.” Roy’s shoulders moved up to his ears. “She’s probably going to be surrounded by this stuff anyway, especially if she goes anywhere near the Glades.”

“And given that her mom’s in prison in Gotham City and her dad’s Sportsmaster, she’s well on her way,” Felicity said. Next to her, Sara wobbled, putting a hand on Felicity’s shoulder to balance herself, so Felicity didn’t shrug, though she wanted to. “We’re unorthodox—well, me literally—but compared to what she’s had before, we have to be an improvement. I mean, none of us have blown up a house with her inside.”

“That’s such a high benchmark to strive for,” Laurel said.

“Precisely what I mean,” Felicity said.

“But is ‘better than what she’s had before’ good enough?”

Oliver finally stood up straight, which made everybody look over at him. “We set out to save the people of Starling City,” he said. “Our methods were never conventional, so maybe it’s fitting. She’s a citizen of Starling City and she needs our help.”

“We realize how much help that’s going to require, right?” Thea asked.

“We’re aware,” Oliver said.

“Okay, just checking. So, now that we’ve established none of us are sane, how’s this going to work? We each pick a day of the week to keep her? She becomes our little Foundry science project?”

Sara cleared her throat. “I think she needs to stay with one of us rather than being shifted around. It would be the most stable.”

“Not it,” Roy and Thea said.

Sara grinned at them. “I wasn’t going to suggest you. I was going to say Felicity.”

“What? Huh? No, seriously, what?” Felicity whipped around so quickly she nearly jostled the chair and upset Sara’s balance. “Why me?”

“That’s a lot of responsibility,” Oliver said, frowning. “There’s plenty of room at Queen Manor.”

“Ollie, we all love you, but that’s a bad idea,” Sara said, and Oliver’s frown deepened. “Queen Manor’s so far out of the city. Felicity’s place is a lot closer, she’s connected with Artemis, Artemis respects her, and…”

“She kind of has a lot fewer issues than you do, bro,” Thea said.

“Yeah, speaking as your actual apprentice, I think Felicity’d be better at this,” Roy said. “No offense.”

“Offense taken. I can’t ask anybody else to take on this level of commitment when it was my fault she’s here at all,” Oliver said.

Diggle shook his head. “This is why all of this is a bad idea. You’re not equipped for this, and it’s too much responsibility to ask of Felicity when she already gives up so much for this team.”

“Well, it’s not like I had much to do before ‘I spilled a latte on it,’” Felicity said before she could stop herself. Inside, her thoughts whirled, ping-ponging through her head at a rate that was almost frightening. Take on Artemis full time? Most days, she barely felt competent enough to look after herself, and she’d been doing that since she was seventeen. She had no idea how to communicate with a small human, much less take on all of the responsibility that went with caring for, feeding, and generally raising one not to grow up to be a serial killer. She didn’t have maternal instincts. Sure, she had compassion, but that was mostly because everybody around her tended to limp into the lair in pain and she hated seeing another human hurting.

She realized that everybody was staring at her now, and wrenched her thoughts away. “Not that I’m saying this is a good idea or that I’ll do it. Just that before this, I wasn’t doing much but IT work and binge-watching Netflix.”

“Still not reason to rearrange your entire life to take on a strange kid,” Diggle said.

As much as she wanted to agree, something niggled at the back of her brain. “But if we don’t help, who will?”

Diggle sighed and put the screwdriver down. “This is not the hill I’m going to die on,” he said to Laurel.

“Hey, I haven’t said ‘yes, I’ll do it,’” Felicity told him.

“But you’re going to,” Diggle said, giving her a skeptical look. Next to her, Felicity felt Sara begin to shake with suppressed laughter.

Oliver cleared his throat. “I still think it would be best if I took on Artemis.”

“I think you’re going to get voted down on that one,” Laurel said. Thea, Sara, and Roy nodded in unison. “See?”

Felicity looked over toward the little sleeping cell. Artemis was facing the other way, curled up and looking impossibly tiny since that cot was usually used by Oliver or Diggle when they wanted to catch a nap during long nights of crime-fighting. She thought of the hurt and the anger hiding behind a raised chin, a runny nose, and far too much bravado for somebody that young.

“What about Sportsmaster?” she asked.

“What?”

“He’s her father. Maybe he didn’t know she was in the house. Could we track him down and rehabilitate him?” When at least four people gave her ‘you’re being indulgent again’ looks, she sighed. “It was just a thought. As somebody whose father didn’t care enough to stick around, maybe I want to give somebody else the benefit of the doubt.”

“That’s sweet, but I don’t think it applies in this case,” Sara said. “Maybe we can look at all of this as temporary, though.”

“What?” Felicity asked.

“We agree to take care of Artemis—without making her sound like a pet—and we actively seek out new options that will be better for the girl,” Sara said. “But right now, she needs some kind of stability.”

Felicity sighed. “I’ve got a couch in my office,” she said.

“Wait, before we go any further.” Oliver held up a hand. “I pay for everything. Not negotiable.”

“Oh, none of us thought otherwise,” Sara said.

It was Oliver’s turn to sigh.

“I’m just teasing, Ollie,” Sara said.

“Maybe we should put it to a vote,” Felicity said. “We keep Artemis at my place as a temporary solution—enroll her in school in the meantime—while we look for something better. Agreed?”

“Before we vote, I want to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into,” Diggle said.

Felicity shrugged. “Honestly, I have no idea. But this little girl doesn’t have anybody else that’s not a complete psychopath in a hockey mask. I mean, I appreciate the offer to find her a good home, Laurel, but she’ll run and Roy’s right, things aren’t great out there. With us, she has some protection. At least until something better comes along.”

“Good enough for me,” Diggle said.

“So we vote?” Oliver looked around and when everybody nodded, he gestured. “All for temporarily keeping Artemis with us until something better comes along?” Roy, Felicity, Sara, Diggle, and Oliver raised their hands. Only Thea and Laurel remained the hold-outs. “Guess that settles that.”

“Guess I should clear off my couch,” Felicity said. “I’ve got a Commodore 64 on there right now—which is a computer, for the non-geeks in the room. Not, like a robot or anything.” She saw two audible sighs of relief and sent narrow-eyed looks in those directions. “I swear, you build one maybe-evil robot and people never let you forget it.”

“A maybe-evil robot really isn’t that out of place with the crazy-pants that is this group,” Thea said.

Laurel laughed. “Welcome to the Starling City Seven,” she said. “I’ll keep looking for legal ways to get Artemis matched up with a permanent home, but I’m afraid I won’t be much more help than that. I’ve got the Quincy trial coming up.”

“I appreciate it,” Oliver said, giving her a nod.

“As for right now, there’s a convict on the run that needs to be hunted down.” Laurel pulled her red mask down and, twirling her night-stick idly, walked off with a whistle. Felicity saw her pause by the stairs and study Artemis’s sleeping form for a minute before she vanished up the stairs in a final creak of red leather.

“Yeah, I’m thinking she has the right idea,” Thea said, and Roy hopped down off of the salmon ladder. They made their good-nights and headed out, too, leaving Sara and the core trio behind.

Diggle finished assembling the last gun. “Never know what’s coming with this team,” he said, though he was smiling a little. “At least we keep it interesting. Morning, kid. Have a nice nap?”

All of them turned. Artemis stood in the doorway, looking a little like a disgruntled owl as she regarded all of them with sleepy eyes. They’d given her one of Diggle’s spare shirts to sleep in and it fit her like a tent. “It was all right, I guess,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “You were talking about me, weren’t you?”

“You’re popular around here. Guess you’ll just have to get used to it.”

Artemis snorted. “Gonna give me up to the cops now or later?”

“Actually, we thought you could stay with me.” Felicity had to clear her throat. “For a little while. We’ve got things to figure out.”

“Why?” Artemis asked.

“You got somewhere else to go?” Sara asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Maybe I do. What’s it to you?”

“Felicity’s place is nicer. She stocks enough ice cream to feed an army.”

“Well, maybe I’d use less if I didn’t have to stress-eat my feelings about random people jumping off of buildings all the time,” Felicity said, giving Sara and Oliver pointed looks. Neither, of course, had the grace to look ashamed. “But yes, I do have ice cream, and other food. And as for why, well…why not? I mean, you’ll have to sleep on the couch until we can come up with something better. Is that okay with you?”

Artemis looked around at all of them, one by one, distrust clearly written on her face. Felicity had seen that look before, mostly on the people who didn’t believe that the Arrow could help them. It always hurt a little, but to see it on a face so young hurt even worse. The girl swiped a hand under her nose. “Yeah,” she said. “But one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m never calling any of you Uncle So-and-So or Aunt Anybody, got it?”

“I think we can live with that,” Oliver said. “Diggle, any objections?”

“Uncle Digg has a ring to it, but I think we’re good.”

“Sara?” Oliver asked.

“I’m nobody’s aunt.”

“My name’s long enough without adding a title in front of it,” Felicity said. “Though Aunt Felicity is better than ‘lady.’”

For a second, a small smile popped the corner of Artemis’s lips up, but she quickly sobered again. “Okay,” she said. “Do you have a motorcycle?”

“Nope, just a boring old car.” She collected her jacket and purse from the rack in the corner and led the way up the stairs. Or she started to—Artemis stopped at the top of the stairs and didn’t move. “What’s wrong?”

The girl looked around the Foundry for a minute, her face wary. “Can we…can we come back here, maybe? I kind of want Sara to show me how she did that…” She pantomimed something that Felicity didn’t understand, but she had to figure the girl had seen it earlier during the fight.

Felicity looked back down the stairs; at the base, Sara gave her a tiny nod of confirmation and backed out of sight before Artemis could spot her and realize they were being watched.

“I think that can be arranged,” Felicity said. “But tomorrow, okay? We’ve got some stuff we need to do first, like finding you some clothes that aren’t meant for a giant.”

“Right now?”

“Let’s go home and sleep first.”

They stepped out into the alley together, the secret entrance closing behind them, and the bracing impact of the night air against them was enough to make her realize that she had just willingly agreed to bring a small child home and possibly take care of her for a long, long time. Oh, god. Maybe Thea was right.

Felicity foresaw a lot of mint-chip in both of their futures.


Responsible Parenting
Artemis Crock Smoak: Aged 10

“Okay, here’s how it’s going to go.” Felicity pulled up the website the school had given her and clicked over to the uniforms page. “You give me your word that you’ll stay in school and that you won’t run, and I’ll let you train with Oliver and Sara.”

Artemis flopped back onto the couch, kicking her sleeping bag out of the way. “That school is lame.” She didn’t quite hide the note in her voice that told Felicity she missed school. Felicity kept quiet, though. The parenting manuals she’d been reading on the sly were very big into self-respect and saving face, especially at Artemis’s age.

“Lame or not, it’s yours. So, do you agree to my deal?”

“To your totalitarian dictatorship, you mean? Fine, yes.”

“Good.” Felicity browsed the uniform options they had available while Artemis provided color commentary (“Why can’t I just wear my own clothes?” “Because you wear all black and you scowl all the time and I’m not judging but maybe sometimes people find that offputting.”). At some point, she dug out the measuring tape from her home sewing kit and made Artemis stand, muttering, while they figured out her measurements. They settled on a few uniforms after some hot debate and then Artemis plopped herself back on the couch and grumbled once more. “Well, that was mostly painless.”

“Speak for yourself. You don’t have to wear a stupid uniform to school every day.”

“Hey, I’m not the one footing your bills, kid.”

“Why does he even care?” Artemis twisted around so that she was lying on her back, her hands behind her head as she stared at the ceiling. “Why do any of you? Don’t you have better stuff to do?”

“Than torturing you into picking out school uniforms? Nope. I live for this stuff.”

“But you work for the Arrow. You should have better stuff to do.”

With the Arrow. We’re a team.” Felicity sent the school supply list Headmaster Charlton had mentioned they would need to the printer. “And you’re basically a junior member at this point. Kind of like a mascot.”

“Really?” Artemis asked.

“Everybody loves the mascot the best. Now, c’mon, let’s go get smoothies so I can tell people you’ve had your daily fruit count. We can pick up your school supplies while we’re out.”

“You really kind of suck at this responsible parenting thing,” Artemis said. “I’m supposed to get like three to five helpings of fruit a day. And vegetables. And I’m supposed to eat somewhere that’s not the Big Belly Burger.”

“Well, one of us is going to have to learn how to cook,” Felicity said, grabbing her purse while Artemis climbed to her feet. “We’ll get something healthy-ish for dinner and then head to the Foundry. Sound good?”

“Yeah, okay, I guess. Do I hafta go to St. Vitus?”

“I think you’re looking at this entirely the wrong way.” They headed out the front door together and Felicity locked up. “It should be more like, ‘Wow, I get to go to St. Vitus. They’ve got lots of really cool extracurricular clubs and stuff, this is the greatest day of my life.’”

Artemis gave her a skeptical look. “It’s been a very long time since you were in school, hasn’t it?”

“Oh, shut up and get in the car,” Felicity said, but they were both smiling when they climbed into her Mini Cooper.

First Day of School
Artemis Crock Smoak: Aged 10

“Well, c’mon, stand up straight.”

Artemis gave her the most impressive eye-roll to date. “This is stupid.”

“Indulge me.”

If anything, the girl slouched more. “It’s not even my first real day of school. I’m not five.”

“Yes,” Felicity said, still holding her phone up and zooming in a little. “But it’s your first day at St. Vitus, and we’re going to document these things properly.”

Artemis’s chin rose. “Why?”

“Because that’s the way these things work. To embarrass you. Because I want to. Pick one of the above. Now, c’mon, smile.”

Artemis made a face that was more of a grimace, all of her teeth showing.

“Close enough,” Felicity said, and she snapped the picture, taking two just to be safe. “Look at that. Instant memories.”

“Lame,” Artemis said, re-shouldering her backpack.

She wore the St. Vitus school uniform; the skirt was a little long on her and she’d already rolled up the sleeves to the jacket, but overall, she looked up to snuff. They’d had a battle over proper hairstyles that morning, so volumes and volumes of hair was tucked back into a ponytail that went halfway down her back. It was probably the hair that had convinced Professor Charlton that they were half-sisters, as Felicity hadn’t bothered to straighten her own hair on the day that they’d had Artemis’s entrance exams to St. Vitus. Otherwise, they really did look nothing alike, as Artemis’s half-Vietnamese heritage shone through loud and clear.

Diggle, who’d been standing against the official Queen town car with his arms crossed over his chest, cleared his throat. “Ready to go to school, kid?”

“Nope,” Artemis said. “But then, I’m going against my will anyway, so might as well get it over with.”

“Got your lunch?” Felicity asked, pushing down on her instinct to smooth back some of Artemis’s hair. The girl didn’t like being touched.

“It’s not sprouts, it it?”

“Nope. Perfectly serviceable peanut butter and jelly.” And she’d included the schematics of an arrow head she was building for Oliver, too, just in case the girl didn’t have anybody to talk to at lunch. “Have a good day at school.”

“Yeah, okay,” Artemis said, climbing into the front seat. Diggle shot Felicity a grin as he moved around to the driver’s seat. Neither of them waved back at Felicity, but she figured they were all making progress. When the car was out of sight, she sent an ‘all-clear’ text.

The truck pulled into her driveway two minutes later, which told her that Oliver and Sara must have been waiting nearby. “She get off okay?” Oliver asked as he climbed out.

“Yep. Didn’t suspect a thing.”

“Thea and Roy stopped to get coffee and donuts for everybody.” Sara hopped down out of the truck, wearing paint-spattered jeans and a tool-belt, which was a really good look for her. “Nyssa said she might stop by later. She likes painting more than the rest of us.”

“Really? I…would never have guessed that about her. Like, ever. But hey, the more the merrier. I’m going to go get dressed and then I’ll be up to help carry stuff out of the office.”

Upstairs, she changed into the same work clothes she usually wore whenever they were building additions onto the Foundry. Diggle and Oliver were the ones that were best with the physical aspects of construction, though she’d had to become something of a scholar in structural engineering after the quake in the Glades and had done most of the blueprints herself. Felicity was just usually around for re-wiring and grunt labor, which she suspected would be the case today.

She’d just pulled on an old Starling City Stars T-shirt when she heard a tap at her door. “Yeah, Oliver?”

He poked his head in. “We’re going to start dismantling some of the furniture, but I wanted to make sure you were okay with this?”

“This as in losing my office or this as in letting an actual human child move into my house permanently? Because if it’s the latter, we kind of got past that point when I falsified documents changing her name to Artemis Smoak.” Felicity pulled her hair back into a ponytail.

Oliver frowned. “She can always move into Queen Manor. You don’t need to give up your office.”

“I don’t use it much, it’s not a big deal. And frankly, it makes sense for her to stay with me out of everyone. Sara travels so much—” And while Felicity was warming up to Sara’s kind of terrifying assassin lover, she wasn’t sure she should trust Nyssa around Artemis yet, not with the way Artemis enjoyed mouthing off to people. “—Digg has Lyla and everybody in his life, and she’d be under so much scrutiny if you took on a kid out of the blue, you know? Boring old Felicity, I can fly under the radar.”

“You’re not boring,” Oliver said, and Felicity felt that giggly warmth spread up from her midsection. “But okay, if you’re sure.”

“Hey, you two gonna stand around all day flirting, or are we going to move some furniture?” Thea poked her head into the room, eyebrows high. Felicity could see Roy behind her in the hallway, grinning broadly. “I mean, it’s cool with us if we do all the work, but we’re the ones that get to tell the kid you two don’t care.”

“Ha, ha,” Oliver said. “Very funny. C’mon.” He grabbed his sister by the arm and hauled her out of Felicity’s bedroom.

It took them less than an hour to have the office completely cleared out, with Roy and Oliver hauling away the old furniture to a consignment shop down the street that Felicity had already contacted. Diggle arrived back at about the same time as Nyssa, right as Sara and Felicity were laying down the plastic sheeting that would protect the carpeting, so he focused on setting up the new desk while the women painted (Nyssa, Felicity noticed, got more paint on Sara than she did the walls, but at least the two seemed to find it hilarious). By the time they all broke for lunch, the walls had been painted a soft green and the desk, bed, and a set of bookshelves had been assembled.

“You know,” Felicity said as she and Thea made up the bed with the sheets she’d ordered online and had stored at Thea’s to keep Artemis from knowing, “if we all decide to leave the vigilante business, I’m pretty sure we’d have a solid future on one of those decorating shows where they redo your entire house in, like, a day.”

“We’ll keep it as a back-up plan. Though we’d be kick-ass at it.”

There were other tweaks to make to the bedroom, of course. Felicity set up the computer she’d earmarked for Artemis at the desk (she had about four lying around), Sara brought up a box of books she’d scrounged out of her own high school collection, the extra school uniforms and clothing they’d been slowly buying for Artemis needed to be put into the closet and dresser. The walls were left bare, as they’d already decided that Artemis could decorate as she saw fit. When Felicity saw what Thea was putting in the corner, though, she gave the other woman a look.

“What?” Thea asked. “It’s my old bow. It’s too small for me now, somebody might as well use it.”

“I thought we agreed no weapons.”

“St. Vitus has a great archery club. I was archery club president my junior year.”

The same conversation happened with the brand new iPod Oliver left on the pillow, the candy bars Nyssa hid in the desk drawer, Roy’s old pocket-knife, Diggle’s old Army tees for pajamas, and the little taser darts Sara put in the closet. “We are collectively,” Felicity said, thinking of the arrow schematics she’d put in Artemis’s lunch box, “the worst parents ever.”

“But we’re probably the best ones Artemis could ask for.”

Felicity’s watch beeped, warning her that the bus would be there in ten minutes. “Oh, crap. Everybody clear out. She’ll be home soon.”

“I’ll stick around,” Oliver said as they all trooped downstairs in masse. He set himself up on her couch with a cup of coffee and one of her spare tablets. At least he kicked off his work boots before he stuck his feet on the coffee table. “What odds do you give of her actually coming back?”

“She knows if she tries to skip town, she doesn’t get to train with you and Sara. I’d put our odds at…about fifty percent?”

“Yeah,” Oliver said.

“That’s why you’re still here, isn’t it? You want to see if she comes back.”

“And her reaction.” Oliver toasted her with the coffee, and they both pretended they weren’t watching the door. Dread began to gnaw at Felicity’s stomach. She couldn’t deny that it was a strange situation all around with Artemis coming to live with her, but the girl had grown on her already. She liked the quick wit and how Artemis would sometimes give them a crooked smile and remind them that for all of the bluster and bravado, she was still a ten-year-old stuck in a strange situation.

She liked to think they were getting the measure of each other.

When the door opened at 3:10, she absolutely did not let out a long sigh of relief. “Hey,” Artemis called. “School’s lame and so are you.”

“Your day went well, I see,” Felicity said, dryly. The girl came in, looking a little disheveled, but her knees weren’t skinned up and she didn’t appear to have any black eyes or anything. Clearly she’d avoided starting a fight for at least one day. “How’d it go? Like your teachers? Your classmates?”

“They’re okay, I guess.” Artemis eyed Oliver. “Are you here so we can spar?”

“Later,” Oliver said. “First you’ve got to tell us about your day.”

“It was okay.”

“As ever, your vocabulary is awe-inspiring. Want a snack?”

“I could eat.”

“Awesome. I’ll throw something together. Oliver, I’m assuming you’re hungry, too?”

He gave her a charming smile. “Always.”

“Got it. Hey, Artemis, can you run up and grab my other tablet from the office for me?”

“Fine.” She drew out the word, dumping her backpack on the couch as she did so. Why she stomped up the stairs, Felicity wasn’t sure, but she figured they’d have time later to pick that apart.

She traded secretive grins with Oliver once Artemis was out of sight and went into the kitchen to slice up an apple. Under her breath, she counted down from ten; at four, she heard an exclamation that she should probably talk to Artemis about and then thumping on the stairs.

“What the hell happened to the office?” Artemis asked, giving them a puzzled look from the stairs.

“What do you mean?” Oliver asked.

“It’s different!”

“It is? I mean—oh, wait, was that today?” Oliver shot Felicity a grin. “Where the redecorating fairies were stopping by?”

“You know,” and she had to bite her lip to keep from grinning, “it might have been. I forgot to check.”

“You two think you’re so funny,” Artemis said. “There’s no such thing as fairies. I’m ten, I’m not an idiot. You turned the office into my bedroom.”

“Guess we did.” Felicity selected a knife and sliced away at the apple. “Guess we thought you might be tired of sleeping on the couch.”

“We can change it back, if you want,” Oliver said innocently.

“No! I mean, uh, no, that’s okay. I’m sure I can suffer through it.” Artemis scuffed her foot against the stairs. “I mean, it’s cool. I’m just gonna go make sure it’s not, you know, lame.”

“Most people would say thank you,” Oliver said after she’d disappeared once more.

“I don’t think she’s ever had much in life to thank people for.” Felicity pulled out the peanut butter and raisins. “I’m gonna go with ‘give her time’ on this one. You want chips with your apple? And shoot, I guess I have to start thinking about dinner soon.”

“Diggle’s picking up something for everybody. I think we’re all descending on your house en masse.” Oliver at least had the grace to look embarrassed as he said this.

“That’s good,” Felicity said.

“It is? I thought you’d be upset we’re all crashing.”

“Nope, it just means all of you can help her with her homework, too.”

When Felicity came upstairs with a plate of crackers and apple slices, Artemis had the door open. She’d shed her school jacket (it was crumpled in the corner, which reminded Felicity that she probably needed to get a laundry hamper) and she was testing Thea’s old bow, sighting along an invisible arrow. She straightened hastily when Felicity knocked.

“Snackage, as promised,” she said, setting it on the desk. The room still smelled faintly of drying paint. “Pretty cool, huh? Everybody pitched in to help out.”

“Aren’t you gonna miss your office?”

“I fully plan to make Diggle and Oliver finish my basement so I can set one up there,” Felicity said. She picked up Artemis’s jacket and started folding it. “And even if that doesn’t happen, it’s fine. You needed a space that’s all yours. Do you like it? We picked green but if you don’t like the color, we can always take Saturday and repaint with—oof.”

She broke off because Artemis was clinging to her middle, the first real contact the girl had initiated. For a second, she froze, not sure what to do, but she gave in and hugged Artemis back. When Artemis stiffened and backed up, looking anywhere but Felicity, she almost had to smile. “Thanks,” Artemis said, looking at the floor. “And, um, to the others, too. Thanks.”

“I’ll let ’em know. Eat your snacks and look around, and if you have any questions, Oliver and I will be right downstairs. We’ll talk about homework after dinner.”

“Nag, nag, nag,” Artemis said, but Felicity noticed she couldn’t stop grinning as Felicity let herself out.

Saturday Morning TV
Artemis Crock: Aged 11

Oliver eased Felicity’s bedroom door closed quietly behind him, mostly to avoid waking her (though he doubted he would; he’d learned recently that she could sleep like the dead). Down the hallway, Artemis’s bedroom door was closed. They’d been meaning to bring up their relationship to her, but he got the sense that maybe six a.m. while he was trying to sneak out was not the best time. He breathed a sigh of relief as he crept past and there wasn’t any sound of movement from inside.

That same sigh died in his throat halfway down the stairs.

“So,” Artemis said, looking up from the little pile of blankets on the couch, where she’d apparently snuggled in. Across the room, some kind of sitcom played on the TV. “Your ninja skills are a little rusty.”

Oliver cleared his throat. “So it would seem. What are you—what are you doing awake at this hour?”

“I’m always awake at this hour.” Artemis rolled her eyes and then squinted. “Are you trying to sneak out?”

“I—um.” Oliver scratched the back of his head and could only thank random deities that he’d put on a shirt at least (though he still held his shoes in one hand) before creeping out of Felicity’s room. “I was going for a run?”

“In your jeans?” Artemis snorted.

“Okay, fine, yes. I was sneaking out.” Since he wasn’t getting out of this one, Oliver abandoned all getaway plans and sent a silent prayer up to the woman still asleep upstairs. Hopefully she’d forgive him. Hopefully he wouldn’t screw this up. He flopped down on the other side of the couch and propped his feet up on the coffee table. “You really get up this early every day?”

Artemis shrugged. “It’s quiet.”

“Aren’t you supposed to need sleep more than the rest of us?”

She tilted her head, thinking about it. “I think that’s a couple years from now. I’m still only eleven.”

“Oh. Okay.” Good god, he really did know nothing about kids. It had been a little over a year since they’d realized Sportsmaster wasn’t coming back for his tiny spitfire of a daughter and that Artemis would only rebel if she was placed in the system. Keeping her had been the logical conclusion, but none of them had really, truly considered the lasting ramifications or just how much they didn’t know about the basics of caring for a partially-grown person. Oliver constantly felt like he was playing catch-up with everybody else. They all made talking to Artemis seem so easy, where he was constantly wondering if it wouldn’t be easier to communicate in French.

He stared at the TV instead. “So, um, what are you watching?”

Hello, Megan.”

“Wait, that old sitcom?” Oliver squinted. “That was on when I was a kid.”

“It’s six a.m. on a Saturday, there’s not much on.”

“Should I be telling you that you should be working on homework or something?”

Artemis gave him a look that made him feel every moment of his age. “On a Saturday?”

“Yeah, homework was…something I never really did.” Oliver had to grin at that one. Felicity’s constant exasperation at his indifference to schooling in general was never not amusing to him. “Not that I’m saying you should follow my example.”

“Yeah, okay. So how come you were trying to sneak out?” A little line appeared between Artemis’s eyebrows. “Are you sneaking out because you’re ashamed of Felicity?”

“What? No. Definitely not. She knew I was going to be…leaving early. Not sneaking out.”

“Got it. So it’s me, then.”

Great, he was just making it worse. He really should have let Felicity tell her weeks ago, as she was much better at handling all of this. “Maybe Felicity was worried about what effect it might have on you now that we’re, uh…”

“Having sex?”

“You’re not supposed to know about sex yet.”

“Please.” Artemis rolled her eyes again. “If you’re not having sex, what are you doing here at waaaay too early on a Saturday morning? You’ve got, like, an entire mansion.”

A very lonely mansion that made every footstep inside echo. “It’s—more than sex,” Oliver said. “We’re seeing each other. You know. Romantically. We wanted to keep it under wraps for a bit while we figured some things out, and then we were trying to figure out when it was best to tell you.”

“Why not just say, ‘Oh, hey, we’re dating?’”

“Because adults can be really stupid. No rebuttals to that? Oh, fine. You’re important to both of us and we’re, you know, trying to make sure you don’t get hurt.”

Artemis stared at him for a long moment, eyes narrowed. She looked tiny, swallowed up in one of Diggle’s old Army shirts, and her hair was a mess around her head. She let out a long, gusty sigh. “I don’t think adults are stupid.”

“Thanks?”

“But you’re a little weird. It’s cool with me if you two want to date or whatever. Which one of you gets me in the divorce?”

“Felicity,” Oliver said right as they both heard a throat clearing from the stairs, and Felicity’s voice say, “Who says there’s gonna be a divorce?”

Of course, Artemis turned to the stairs with a falsely bright grin. “Morning! I caught your boyfriend sneaking out.”

“Yes.” Felicity yawned. She’d pulled on a robe over her pajamas and her glasses were askew. Oliver was pretty sure she was mostly asleep as she crossed the room and climbed onto the couch between them, immediately snuggling into his side. “I forgot to warn him you’re an early bird, you tiny, possibly crazy child.”

“Would’ve been nice,” Oliver said in an undertone.

“Sorry.” She hummed sleepily when he kissed the top of her head.

Artemis wrinkled her nose. “That’s weird.”

“Well, get used to it.” Felicity patted her knee. “So you know now, huh? You okay?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Wanna know something else?” Felicity asked. Artemis tilted her head in silent query. “Oliver here is, like, a king at breakfast food. He makes the best pancakes ever.”

“Oh, really?” Artemis perked up with interest.

Oliver looked at the two ladies giving him hopeful looks and let out an aggrieved sigh. “I see what I contribute to this relationship,” he said. “C’mon, kid, I could use a sous chef if we’re going to get the lady her pancakes.”

“A what?” Artemis asked as she climbed free of the blankets.

“It means assistant. I can teach you more than how to shoot an arrow.”

He was pretty sure Felicity fell asleep again as he and Artemis worked in the kitchen, mixing up the batter for the pancakes. He burnt the first two, which led to mockery from his sous chef, but before long, he had Artemis flipping pancakes on her own. Her laughter bubbled out as she successfully tossed the pancake into the air.

“Hey, Oliver?” she said as they cleared some of Felicity’s computer paraphernalia to make room for breakfast.

“Yeah?”

“I take back what I said about adults being weird. Some of ’em are okay. I guess.”

“Glad you think so. You’re still the one that has to wake Felicity up.”

“I see what I contribute to this relationship,” Artemis said, mimicking his voice as she walked off to go shake Felicity awake.

It took Oliver nearly an hour to stop grinning at that one. Artemis, he decided was, all right.


Moving Blues
Artemis Crock/Smoak: Aged 13

“She’s been playing that death metal rock for three nights,” Oliver said, pushing his hood back as he traipsed down the stairs to the Foundry. “How is that not driving you crazy?”

“You’re the one she drives crazy,” Felicity said, turning around in the chair with a smile. “And she has a long way to go before she can get on my nerves with music, as of the two of us here, only one of us survived living next door to Beatboxin’ Steve Gleason at MIT for her entire sophomore year, and it’s not you.”

“You’re not making that up, are you?”

“Oh, Beatboxin’ Steve. Every day that passes is one that I don’t miss him.” Felicity levered herself up to give Oliver a quick kiss when he leaned in, and plopped back down in her seat. “Before we get too deep into a discussion about Artemis, though, how’d it go?”

“Officer Lance and the boys in blue thank us for our help in protecting Carl Swann from the Triad.” Oliver carefully placed his bow on the rack. Thea’s red bow was already there—she and Roy had checked in from their own mission twenty minutes before and had headed out for dinner—and the compound bow Artemis trained with hung at a fastidious angle, the grooves polished to a high shine. He unzipped his uniform tunic. “Really? Beatboxin’ Steve?”

“Being at MIT does not automatically grant you the power to do all things. But Steve, he tried.” Felicity only paid the computer screens in front of her a small amount of attention as Oliver changed into street clothes. “Want me to talk to her about the music?”

“I just worry we’re being too lenient.”

“Neighbors haven’t complained, she’s doing her homework, and she only needs to be nagged a little about taking out the trash. Actually, you need to be nagged to do your chores more than she does.” Felicity notated a line to review in the financial report.

Oliver frowned. “I pull my weight around the house.”

“You’re adorable.”

Oliver’s frown only deepened.

“Oh, fine, you do.” In the year since he’d officially moved in (rather than just having a drawer), Felicity couldn’t deny that most of the little annoyance maintenance issues she and Artemis had just ignored had slowly been fixed. “I’m just saying, unless she comes out in, like, full goth makeup tomorrow, it’s not a big deal. A little loud music in protest is way low down on the list of things we have to worry about. It’s actually kind of comforting.”

“Comforting?” Oliver’s hair stuck up as he pulled on the sweater. “You find bad teenage music comforting?”

“Sure. It means she’s comfortable enough in the fact that we’re not going to get rid of her if she expresses her displeasure. You remember the early days. All talk, but I’d come downstairs she’d have the kitchen spotless whenever we had an argument, like she was scared I was going to send her away.”

“So you’re saying it’s comforting that she’s being a brat?”

“Hm? Yes, I guess I am.” She held out a hand and Oliver obligingly ducked so that she could pat his hair flat. He grinned. “Are you ready to get out of here or do you need to stick around and do maintenance-y stuff? Because Diggle will be back soon, but we should probably get home.”

“New idea. We tell Diggle to take the rest of the night off.”

“And break the no sex in the—” Felicity was not proud of the noise she made when his hand crept up her thigh. “Okay, you talked me into it. You text Thea and I’ll lock the door so we don’t have a repeat of what happened last month.”

“Thought I could convince you.”

* * *

Felicity was still feeling a little too relaxed, which she was positive would be obvious, as she made her way up the stairs, but she also couldn’t bring herself to care. Foundry Sex had probably been banned for a reason (well, many reasons, Diggle’s being “Too many couples on the team.”), but it was hard to remember why when Oliver was just that flexible. At least this time she’d remembered to erase the footage afterward.

They had a teenager that they were trying not to permanently and mentally damage for life, after all.

Speaking of which…Felicity followed the voices until she reached Artemis’s room, the door to which was open. Grinning, she stood back and just watched. Neither of the room’s occupants noticed her.

“Mm,” Sara was saying, “and here’s where the vintage Ms. Pac-Man arcade game is going to go.”

Artemis rolled her eyes and laughed. “Stop,” she said.

“Hey, it’s not your room anymore, kid. After Saturday, this house is mine. And Ms. Pac-Man’s gonna look super-sweet right where your desk used to be.”

“What’s Ms. Pac-Man?”

“Oh, god.” Sara clutched her belly, as though she’d been grievously injured. “That hurts. That legitimately hurts.”

“I’m told old age comes with its general aches and pains,” Artemis said, grinning.

“Oh, that’s it, you’re paying for that one.” Sara lunged for Artemis, absolutely none of that old-age showing as she easily put her protégé in a headlock. Felicity cringed, but Artemis simply twisted, flipping Sara back on the bed, and slithered out of the way. She did an easy somersault and sprang up onto the desk. Sara jumped to her feet. “Why, you little—”

“Ahem,” Felicity said, and she had the pleasure of seeing both combatants freeze like deer trapped in the headlights. “Don’t we have a rule about sparring in the house?”

Artemis rolled off of the desk and bounced onto her toes, lithe as a gymnast. “She started it.”

“I don’t care who started it, I’m finishing it—and oh, god, I sound like a mom.” Felicity put a hand on her forehead. “I am too young to sound like a mom.”

“You’re kind of really not, though,” Artemis said.

Felicity wrinkled her nose. “Sara?” she asked.

“On it.” Her friend grabbed Artemis in another headlock, making the teenager giggle, and gave her a noogie. “Artemis and I were just discussing the layout of my brand new games and activities room after you guys head to Queen Mansion on Saturday.”

“My room is so much cooler right now than some stupid games and activities room,” Artemis said, scoffing as Sara let her go.

“I don’t know,” Felicity said. “Ms. Pac-Man’s kind of a big draw.”

“Hilarious, all of you.” Artemis rolled her eyes.

“Yup. Hey, Oliver’s got pralines downstairs, if you haven’t had dessert yet.”

“We had some already,” Artemis said, but Sara’s eyes widened and she ducked past both of them. “Honestly, I’m the kid here and her sugar intake is the one I’m worried about.”

“She likes her pralines, what can I say? Hey, we need to talk about the music.”

Artemis’s face closed off. “Why? Don’t you like it?”

Over-produced grunge pop? What wasn’t to like? Felicity gave Artemis an unimpressed look. “You’ve been playing it a little loud.”

“It’s a free country.”

“Well, it is until the neighbors call the cops with noise complaints. Maybe turn it down a little?”

“What’s it matter? We’re moving Saturday.”

Felicity sighed and moved over to the door, closing it partway. She took a seat on the bed.

“Uh-oh,” Artemis said. “That’s your serious face.”

“Not too serious.” At least it wasn’t her ‘Just had sex’ face. She was getting better at not blurting all of those innuendos out, especially around her teenaged ward. “But I thought maybe we should talk.”

Artemis grimaced.

“About you and me and the future and stuff. Not the sex talk again. God, that was traumatic once, we don’t need a repeat of it. When I say the future, I mean, um…look, you’ve got, like, six or seven parents. When they made up the term ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ they pretty much meant our little unique situation here.”

Artemis’s expression turned wary. “Okay…”

“But the fact is, I was the one that took you in—not that I minded. You’re pretty fun to have around. So even though we’ve got everybody and their neighbor looking in on you—”

“And spying,” Artemis said, arms crossed.

“I’ll level with you. Oliver’s probably going to get worse when you start dating.” At the mutinous expression, Felicity held up her hands. “But I’ll do my best. I can’t promise miracles. Well, I can promise miracles, but not always where Oliver Queen is concerned. Either way, as I was saying before I lost the point, it’s always been you and me and this house. Sure, we added Oliver eventually.”

“And now we’re losing the house.” Artemis hunched a little.

“Artemis, it’s just a house. Things will be different. Not worse, probably not better at first, just different. It’s unfortunately part of growing up.”

“But why do we have to move? Aren’t things okay?”

“You realize you won’t be right across the hall from the boring, weird adults in the Manor? You’ll have your own space and Oliver’s built that little gym and everything. I thought you liked the place. There’s a lot more room.”

“Yeah, it’s not terrible. But.” Artemis went quiet for a long time, staring down at the floor.

“If you think this move in any way changes things with you, me, and Oliver, you should know that when he asked me to move in, he actually said, ‘Artemis and you.’ So you got top billing.”

“You’re the girlfriend.”

“And you’re part of the package deal.”

“I like this room.” But Artemis sighed and sat down on the bed next to Felicity. “It’s the first real one I had to myself.”

“I know. But you’ll have a new bedroom at Queen Mansion and it won’t be any less yours.” Felicity put an arm across her shoulders. “Plus, just think of it.”

“Think of what?”

“You know how much stuff you can talk Oliver into right now because he feels guilty?”

“I thought you were supposed to discourage this behavior.”

“Keeping Oliver Queen level and balanced is a full-time job. Does that help? Or are you still worried?”

“Yeah, it helps. I guess.”

“It’s okay to be sad. But maybe use headphones with the music from now on?”

Artemis sighed and rested her head against Felicity’s shoulder. “Yeah, I can do that.”

* * *

Three weeks later, Felicity followed her young charge into Sara and Nyssa’s new house, marveling at just how different everything felt. She’d lived in that house for years, so it was strange, like walking through some kind of Twilight Zone thing. Like, she would never have thought to put a cactus there, but it kind of worked.

“Weird,” Artemis said, which pretty much summed up the conversation. “Sara? Are you even here?”

“Upstairs. I assume you two still remember where that is.”

“She’s so funny,” Artemis told Felicity. They moved past the hammock (a hammock?) in the corner and climbed the stairs.

“In here!” Sara called from Artemis’s old room.

“Why did you even call us here? Aren’t you supposed to be having your big housewarming party tomorrow night?” Felicity led the way down the hallway, admiring the paintings on the wall. She pushed the door open. “Am I going to be walking in on—oh, wow.”

Artemis, on her heels, looked around and swore. Felicity elbowed her. “Ouch. Sorry, geez. I thought you were going to make this a games and activities room.” The last was aimed at Sara.

Sara looked up from where she was sitting cross-legged on Artemis’s old bed, with its same bedspread and everything, and paging through a magazine. “Uh, it is the games and activities room. I told you I was going to put a Ms. Pac-Man game where your desk was.”

Artemis walked over and picked up the plush Ms. Pac-Man doll from her desk. “I’m not sure this counts.”

“Whatever. It’s my games and activities room, not yours.” Sara climbed to her feet.

“Right,” Artemis said, drawing the word out for several syllables. Felicity could see the grin she was trying to hide. She turned to Felicity. “Did you know about this?”

“No idea.” That was the honest truth. Sara had offered to discard of the furniture for them, as Queen Mansion had more than enough furniture for Artemis’s new room, but Felicity hadn’t even imagined.

“We figured you’d need a place to stay those nights you get tired of the love-birds.” Sara grinned. “What do you think?”

Artemis looked around. “Eh, it’s okay.”

“Just okay? Why you little—”

And both of them were laughing as Artemis tackled her with a hug.


Carnival Dreams
Artemis Crock Smoak: Aged 13

“I’m a little worried about Artemis,” was the first thing Sara heard when she picked up the phone.

“And you woke me up at eight in the morning to tell me this?” Sara pushed her sleeping mask off and groped her way along the bed until she found the headboard. Her ribs hurt a little when she pulled herself into an upright sitting position. Felicity’s calls were never short. “You’re aware I’m a bartender at a night club, right? As in nights? As in…” She broke off to snore.

“Sorry! Sorry—we’re just leaving soon and she just left for school, so it’s on my mind. You’re still cool to take her for the next couple of days, right?”

“Got the guest bedroom set up and everything. It’ll be fun. Movie nights, pajama parties, the works.” Sara yawned and finally looked over to the other side of the bed, which was expectedly empty. Nyssa was no doubt on her morning run. “What’s up with Artemis?”

“She’s been really quiet lately. I don’t know, withdrawn. She won’t talk to me or Oliver or even Digg.”

“She’s thirteen. Isn’t being withdrawn part of being thirteen?”

“And normally I’d agree with you, but…”

“You think it’s about her dad?”

“I definitely do. God, this is the worst time to be going away. You know how she is, she pretends like things don’t get to her, but they do. I mean, how can it not?”

Sara pinched the bridge of her nose and wanted to sigh. They’d all been on the comms the night that Artemis had struck out on her own to track down Sportsmaster. They’d all heard him bluntly tell her that she would only cramp his style. And Felicity had been the one to find her afterward, after Sportsmaster had literally tossed her away from him as though she were mere offal.

“Yeah,” Sara said. “Yeah, I see what you mean. Maybe she just needs time.”

“Can you try and talk to her, maybe?”

Sara didn’t see how that would be of any help at all. She herself was the one team member who’d never suffered parental strife. Nyssa’s relationship with Ra’s was legendary for being tempestuous, Oliver had suffered from his parents’ decisions, Roy came from a couple of deadbeats, Felicity still dealt with her abandonment issues. As much as Sara had worried over how her parents might react to her after Nanda Parbat, she had no reason to doubt now, not when her father still lit up upon seeing her, as though her being alive could have been a fever dream.

But she nodded. “Yeah. I can try.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that. You’ve got the address for the hotel in Gotham and we’ll have our phones, of course.”

Sara snored again. “You sound more and more like a mom every day.”

“I have many children. Most of them just put on masks and jump off buildings when they shouldn’t.”

“Still mad about that, huh?” Nyssa had given her an earful, too. “Go on, go see what the mysterious Bruce Wayne wants. The kid and I will be fine. I’m still on the approved list to pick her up from school and stuff, right?”

“Right. Thanks, Sara.”

After she hung up, Sara settled back into the groove she’d made in the blankets, pondering her options. She wasn’t really all that big on talking about her feelings, especially not with Artemis. They had a good rapport. Artemis was a bright kid, sarcastic and quick-witted, and she took to sparring and the bow like a duck to water. But when it came to discussing feelings, Diggle and Felicity were usually better with that. Sara had no idea exactly how she was going to talk to the kid at all.

Apparently, though, she wasn’t going to get any more sleep for the day. She rolled out of bed and took a shower while she mulled it over. It was as she was towel-drying her hair that she remembered the flyers that had been stuck up around Verdant, for a carnival in town.

Felicity was probably going to kill her.

An hour later, she signed the logbook in the St. Vitus Academy front office and turned to smile at the gangly blonde who’d just let herself in. “Ready for your dentist appointment, kid?”

“Yeah, sure…Aunt Sara.” But the minute they were out of earshot, Artemis gave Sara a narrow-eyed stare. “I don’t have a dentist appointment.”

“Nope.” Sara tucked her hands into the pockets of her leather jacket. “We’re taking a mental health day.”

“Does Felicity know?”

“It’s not proper hooky if the responsible ones know you’re doing it. I brought you a change of clothes, and I thought we’d hit up the carnival.”

Artemis gave her a skeptical look. “The carnival? Seriously?”

“I wanna win a stuffed panda.”

“You know they rig all of those games.”

“And I’m the Black Canary. We’ll see who comes out ahead.”

She’d borrowed one of Oliver’s mobile fleet because Felicity had very set ideas about Artemis and not allowing her to ride on motorcycles yet. She paid for parking at the carnival and they walked across the dusty parking lot together. Artemis still had her arms crossed over her chest.

“Felicity told you to talk to me, didn’t she?” she asked as Sara paid for tickets to a bunch of rides.

“No idea what you’re talking about.”

“I wish she’d just leave it alone. I’m fine.”

“I never doubted you were.” Sara slung an arm across Artemis’s bony shoulders. “Now what do you want to do first? Kettle corn, gravitron, that incredibly rickety roller coaster over there, or winning me that panda?”

“I guess I’m a little hungry. I haven’t had lunch yet.”

“Yes, let’s eat lunch so we can lose it on the Tilt-A-Whirl.”

“Dude, my stomach is iron-clad. If anybody’s ralphing on the Tilt-A-Whirl, it’s you, old lady.”

“Bet you five bucks you puke before I do.”

“Ten.”

“Wow, big bucks from Artemis Crock,” Sara said.

The girl shrugged. “My patron is Oliver Queen. He gives me, like, a hundred bucks to go get ice cream.”

“You realize he’s doing that so he can make time with Felicity, right?”

Artemis snorted. “Still gets me a hundred bucks.”

“Well, I’m just a humble bartender, but I can at least buy you a burger and some cotton candy.”

“So, like, the opposite of the dentist appointment you lied to my school about?”

“That about sums it up. C’mon.”

After lunch, they rode the Tilt-a-Whirl five times before Artemis started to turn the same color as Oliver’s uniform. By mutual concession, they decided to try their luck on the different rides instead. Artemis took possibly a tiny bit too much joy out of stranding Sara in the corner during bumper cars and both of them found the Ferris wheel entirely uninteresting, but they rode the troika twice. When Artemis laughingly dared Sara to try out the mechanical bull, Sara disclosed some stories from college that Felicity would probably murder her over later.

It wasn’t until they’d wandered down the row of carnival games that Artemis said anything.

“So if Felicity didn’t ask you to talk to me, how come you brought me here?”

Sara took the three baseballs from the game vendor, trying not to flinch too obviously. “Well, okay, Felicity did ask me to talk to you. But I’m here with you now because I want to be.”

Artemis’s shoulders slumped. “Figures.”

“No, I meant that.” Sara handed her the first ball. “I want to be here, hanging out with you.”

“But why?”

“Maybe I think you’re all right.”

Artemis blew out a huff of breath, turned, and pitched the ball expertly. It hit and swept the milk bottles right off the pedestal, making the vendor jump.

“Wow,” Sara said. “You think about ever going out for the softball team?”

“I dunno. Seems kind of la—boring.” They’d been working on Artemis’s over-use of the word “lame,” Sara saw. “I mean, it’s just some dumb sport, not cool like sparring with you and Oliver.”

“I played softball in high school.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I could give you some tips, but I think you’re good on your own.” Sara nodded at the vendor, who was less-than-politely waiting for Artemis to choose her prize. They walked off with Artemis clutching a stuffed dinosaur. “I mean, that was forever ago, of course. But I think I’m still pretty good. And I wasn’t kidding when I said I think you’re all right.”

“Yeah, okay.” Artemis didn’t look up from the top of the dinosaur’s head.

“I mean, we all care about you. Especially Felicity. She loves you. She’s just worried because we’re not sure what’s going on in your head. You know you can talk to us, right?”

“I don’t need to talk about anything.”

She was practically bursting at the seams with unsaid words, as far as Sara could tell, but she knew better to push. “Cool,” she said. “Wanna con some more vendors out of stuffed animals? I want to win something absolutely ridiculous for Nyssa. The look on her face?”

“Priceless?” Artemis said.

“Absolutely priceless.”

It took a few tickets, but they emerged victorious with a stuffed snake and a candy necklace that Sara tossed over to Artemis. They were both over their allotted sugar intakes for the day anyway, so what the hell? She was actually feeling a little queasy after finishing the lemon shakeups she brought them, though. And a little sunburned, too. In fact, Artemis’s cheeks were a little pink-looking as well. Sara cursed under her breath. She really was the worst guardian. Should she buy them some hats or something?

“Sara?” Artemis asked, breaking Sara out of her reverie.

“Yeah?”

“What’s wrong with me?”

“You’ve got really sharp elbows for one thing,” Sara said, but when she turned, she could see that Artemis was frowning and staring off at something in the distance. By following her eye-line, she spotted what looked to be a young dad with two little black-haired daughters. They watched in silence for a moment as the little girls danced around, swinging on their father’s arms. “Oh. That kind of wrong. Nothing. Nothing’s wrong with you.”

“Then how come he didn’t want to stick around? For me?”

“That’s on him, not on you. Sometimes we’re so broken we can’t see the important things in front of us. And you, you’re important.” Warily, Sara put an arm around Artemis’s shoulders.

The girl didn’t pull away, but she did stay hunched. “But shouldn’t he want to stay? I mean, you guys aren’t even related to me and you all seem to want me around, though I have no idea why.”

“That one’s easy. We like you. Family’s not always about blood.”

“Then what’s it about?”

“It’s about people that care.” Sara thought about it, about the long conversations she’d had with Felicity and Oliver when she had returned to Starling City. “And they care about all of you, even the parts you might not.”

Artemis sagged. “And what if they change their mind?”

“Then that’s on them, not you. But I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this.”

Artemis’s head snapped up. “Tell me what?”

“You’re stuck with us, kid. I’m sorry. That’s just the way it is. You’d have an easier time getting rid of an STD than you would Felicity Smoak.” Sara frowned. “Wait, are we going to have to talk about STDs? Is that something I can pass off to somebody else?”

For a second, puzzlement flickered over Artemis’s face, and then slowly she started to grin. “Well, Aunt Sara, when a man and a woman love each other—or two ladies—what happens is—”

“Oh, my god, you little smartass, shut up.” Sara tightened her grip and gave Artemis a noogie, which made the girl protest and throw up an impressive block to get out of Sara’s grasp.

“I’m telling Felicity you called me a smartass.”

“I’m telling Felicity you begged me to take you out of school and go to a carnival.”

“Oh, fine. Can we go con some more carnies out of stuffed animals?” Artemis asked. “I want to get a stuffed monkey for Thea.”

“I think we can do that.”

They strolled on, back toward the row of games. “Sara?” Artemis asked again, her voice quiet.

“Yeah?”

“Just…thanks.”

“No problem. Let’s go win us a monkey.”


Peanut Gallery
Artemis Crock Smoak: Aged 14

“Oh, hey, you made it. I wasn’t sure you were going to.”

Sara plopped down next to Felicity, wincing as the hot metal of the bleachers seat burned her ass straight through her jeans. “I may or may not have broken six traffic laws to get here in time. The flight was late, but I got the goods.”

“Oh yeah? Gimme.”

Laughing, Sara pushed over the paper bag she’d carried through airport security. “Next time somebody else should be in charge of the T-shirts,” she said, “and not the person who just hopped off of an 18-hour flight from regions of the world where they give blondes the side-eye.”

“But you’re probably the best at drawing, and you know Oliver would spend too much money on it.”

“So basically, like he does with everything. Speaking of, where is he?” Sara shaded her eyes to look around. The gathering at the softball field behind St. Vitus Academy was a modest one, mostly parents and friends of the team, as far as she could tell. On the field, the team was warming up, throwing the ball around. It was easy to pick out Artemis between second and third base, as her yards and yards of blond hair were practically shining in the sun.

Felicity pointed the little trailer off to the side and Sara finally spotted Oliver in line for hot dogs. “Spending too much money at the concession stand. Here you go.” She peeled off one of the maroon and gray T-shirts and handed it to Sara, who wasted no time pulling it on over her tank top. Felicity did the same thing with hers. “These are genius.”

“She’s going to hate us so much.”

“I thought embarrassing your children is a necessary part of taking care of your children.”

“Dad used to be the loudest parent on the sidelines of the soccer field. Used to drive Laurel nuts,” Sara said, grinning as she helped roll up Felicity’s sleeve. “But the thing is, Mom was the one who’d argue the rules with the ref, which was way worse.”

“Well, hopefully it won’t come to that. The ump better check himse—er, herself.” Felicity tilted her head as she squinted down at the field. “Granted, I know nothing about softball, so maybe we’d better leave the arguing to you.”

“Your unwillingness to learn anything about sports is adorable.”

Felicity wrinkled her nose.

Oliver returned with an armful of drinks, popcorn, and hotdogs, and both women just gave him long looks. “What?” he asked. “Money from concessions goes straight to the St. Vitus booster club. I’m investing in the future. And I got you a cherry slushie, Sara.”

Sara snatched the drink away (the flight had been unending and after two weeks in the desert, she wasn’t entirely sure there was enough water in the world for her to drink and feel properly hydrated). “Here’s to the St. Vitus Academy booster club.”

“Your shirt, mister,” Felicity said, handing it over.

Oliver held it up to admire it, his grin spreading. “Fantastic. She’s going to murder us all.”

“We’ve already agreed that responsible parenting means causing embarrassing memories at sporting events,” Felicity said. Oliver peeled his shirt off to pull the new one on, and right at that moment, Sara saw Artemis’s head turn. She frowned at all three of them, her eyes going wide as Oliver pulled the new shirt on.

Sara couldn’t resist; she waved.

Artemis looked like she wasn’t sure she wanted to wave back for a moment. But she jerked her wrist at Sara and just as quickly returned to playing catch with the third basewoman. It made Sara grin as she turned to update Oliver and Felicity about what was happening with the League and other developments they needed to worry about. Eventually the ballplayers were called out of warm-ups and into the dug-outs to get the game started. Artemis trailed after the pitcher and the catcher, and Sara spotted the moment she could read what was on the T-shirts Sara had lovingly stenciled, for Artemis’s eyes went wide again and she mouthed, “Seriously?” at them.

Oliver grinned and let out a wolf-whistle.

Artemis ducked into the dug-out, bright red.

Sara ran her hand over the front of her shirt, over the little drawing she’d done of Artemis wearing a little tiara and holding a baseball cap. The words “ARTEMIS IS OUR QUEEN” were the kicker, in her opinion.

“She’s not going to forgive us for this one,” Felicity said, laughing.

“Don’t care, too priceless.” Sara reached over and snitched some popcorn right before the anthem. When the players took to the field for the first inning, Oliver, Felicity, and Sara were on their feet, cheering as loudly as the rest of the crowd in the bleachers. Artemis glanced at them a time or two, but once play went underway, she was focused and usually brutal in her takedowns of the other team. Two of the outs in the first inning alone came from her.

After the game, she broke free of her teammates and their high-fives. The entire left side of her neck was streaked with dirt, and she was sweaty and dusty, but she jumped on all three of them in excitement, laughing. “What are you even wearing?”

“Cheering sections come with embarrassing shirts, kid.” Sara gave her a mild punch to the shoulder. “You’re just lucky Ollie left the megaphone at home.”

All three of the women turned to look at Oliver. He spread his hands. “Felicity made me. But next time, maybe I can—”

“No, no, that’s okay,” Artemis said, shaking her head fervently. “Perfectly okay with me. I’m just happy you all made it, even if your fashion choices…leave something to be desired.”

“We’re the coolest ones here,” Felicity said, laughing. “So what do you say we celebrate your victory? Shakes at the Big Belly?”

“Uh.” Artemis looked sheepish. “Actually, the team’s going to the Snack Spot together and I kind of wanted to go? Jackie Nehemeier’s driving and she’s had her license for over a year, and she’s a good driver.” She looked at Oliver and Felicity. “I can be home by ten?”

“Eleven’s okay,” Oliver said.

“Oliver,” Felicity said.

“Taking that as gospel. Thanks, guys!” They were all given another sweaty hug before Artemis raced off, back to her teammates.

Sara glanced over at Oliver and Felicity’s shellshocked expressions and started laughing. “They grow up so fast, don’t they? You two should go drown your sorrows or something, I’m gonna go find the first mattress I can and stay there until the world makes sense again.”


Youth Culture
Artemis Crock Smoak: Age 15

His ribcage only hurt a little when he climbed off of the motorcycle, and Oliver was going to count that as a win. Every year that passed brought another, stronger reminder of the hell he’d put his body through. The hell that he continued to put his body through. Maybe it was time to let somebody else take up the mantle and wear the hood for a little while. If only so he could get a full night of sleep in peace, curled up next to Felicity and not having to be cautious about how he moved because of bruised ribs or scrapes or a litany of injuries that just added up to nothing but pain.

“You’re getting old, old man,” Felicity had told him the last time he’d voiced these thoughts. “I mean, not even taking into account the fact that basically we’ve got a teenager. You’re essentially two seconds from shaking your bow and shouting ‘Darn kids! Get off my lawn!’ like Mr. Randall down the street used to do to me and my friend Harrison.”

“Shut up,” Oliver had said, though he’d laughed.

He hadn’t been laughing when Artemis had called him the same thing during their last sparring session before she left, but then, maybe the women in his life had a point.

Speaking of Artemis…he collected his things from the saddlebags and took the front steps two at a time. He’d handed off the night patrols to Roy for a reason, though he was later than he’d have liked thanks to a little issue. Some idiot had tried to rob the store while he’d been in line, which was why the cops now had reports of a hooded man taking out a hooded gunman and why the gerbera daisies he carried were a little wilted. He figured Artemis would enjoy them more knowing that he’d hit some guy in the face with them.

“In here,” Felicity called from the kitchen when he came inside, unzipping his motorcycle jacket. “Hey, there’s something on the news about a random citizen stopping a robbery at Mack’s. Know anything about that?”

“Nope.” Well-aware of her allergies, Oliver set the flowers down on the foyer table before he entered the kitchen. Felicity stood up on her toes to give him a kiss. “Where’s Artemis? Surprised she’s not down here supervising.”

“Hey, I only burned the meatballs once and I have made this dish multiple times since then, so you can keep your ‘I grew up with a Michelin-trained chef’ comments to yourself.”

Because he was a smart man who knew when to start climbing out of the hole he’d dug himself into, Oliver snitched a baby tomato from the salad she’d already made and gave her his most innocent grin. “I think your cooking’s better.”

“Which is just a sign that you have taken a few too many hits to the noggin,” Felicity said. “She’s upstairs, if you’re looking for her.”

“She make it back okay?”

“Yeah, I think she had a good time. But…”

“But what?”

Felicity hesitated. “You’ll see. Why don’t you go give her whatever you picked up at that store where you totally didn’t beat up some burglar? Dinner will be ready in ten.”

He puzzled over that as he made his way up the stairs. He couldn’t deny that some days he was almost grateful he’d missed Thea’s life from twelve to seventeen, as he was beginning to discover that living with a teenager was kind of like an extended, never-ending game of Russian roulette where the rules were made up and the points didn’t matter. Some days she came home from school bouncing and overflowing with stories of her day, and other times he was reminded of a snarling wolf he’d encountered once.

If only there were some kind of warning system.

He stuck the flowers behind his back and knocked on her door. “Artemis?”

“Just a sec!” He heard keys clicking and then: “Come in!”

Oliver poked his head inside. “’Bout time you showed your face around these parts, kid.”

“Yeah, well.” Artemis swung around in her desk chair and bounced to her feet to give him a hug. “Apparently some people around here missed me, so I decided maybe I should come back. You know, just so you could stop crying yourself to sleep every night.”

“Felicity told you about that? Damn, I told her not to. Let me see if they disfigured you at prison camp.”

“Nope, still the most beautiful person on the team.” Artemis stepped back and did a twirly little sarcastic motion with one hand. She’d grown a full inch, maybe two, Oliver could see, and the tan told him she’d likely spent all of her time outside. “The rest of you will just have to deal with it.”

“Our burden to bear. For you. Sorry they’re a little off. I had to beat some guy in the face with them first.” Oliver held up the daisies, grinning when Artemis practically pounced on the gift.

“What’s the occasion?”

“Maybe we missed you a little around here.”

“Uh-huh.”

Oliver held up his index finger and thumb close together. “A little. Tiny bit. How was camp?”

“Oh, it was…” Artemis trailed off with a slight frown.

Oliver tensed. “What happened? Didn’t have a good time?”

“No. No, I had a great time. Camp was awesome. I made some really good friends and they had an archery range and I got pretty good at gymnastics, if I do say so myself. I’m totally giving Sara a run for her money tomorrow. She’s not gonna see it coming.” Artemis mimed doing a flip and throwing a punch (with the hand holding the bouquet), her face lighting up in a way he hadn’t seen in a few weeks. “But I’m just sad I had to leave you olds behind to do nothing but mope around and miss me.”

“Olds? Maybe we should see if the camp’s willing to keep you permanently. Hey, something’s blinking on that.” Oliver pointed at the laptop monitor behind her.

She glanced over and grumbled. “Of course,” she said. “I’ll get it later. Is dinner ready?”

“Good to know some things don’t change. So tell me about this archery range.”

Several hours later, after Artemis had regaled them all at dinner with tales of cabin-mates, Steph and Z, and they’d watched an old movie together in the den while arguing over the popcorn, Oliver climbed into bed with a weary sigh.

“Oh, come on,” Felicity said, laughing as she looked up from her tablet. “You’re not that old, Mr. Drama Queen.”

“She talked so much. She used so many phrases I don’t understand.” Oliver stared blindly at the ceiling. “So many shortened words instead of real words. It’s a nightmare.”

“You’re being totes cray right now.”

Oliver groaned.

“Oh, I’m sorry, did I strike a nerve?”

Oliver put a pillow over his face and made obnoxious snoring noises. Listening to Felicity’s giggle made him smile, so he kept the pillow in place until he could actually feel himself falling asleep, lulled by the gentle tap of Felicity’s fingertips against the screen.

“Oliver?” she asked right before he entered a doze. She’d always had the uncanny ability to catch him right on the cusp of sleep.

He rolled over to face her. “Hmm?”

“Did Artemis seem a little…off to you?”

“I figured she was just settling back in. Always took me a couple of days coming back from camp to get back into the swing of things when I was that age.”

“I think there might be…I think there might be a boy.”

“What?” Any thoughts of sleep immediately fled. Oliver sat upright. “No. She’s, like, twelve.”

“She’s turning sixteen in three weeks. This isn’t even the first boy, Oliver.”

“What? She’s already had her first date?”

“It was a group date, and he didn’t impress her much.” Felicity waved a hand. “It’s not important. But yeah, I think she met somebody at camp. It would explain the moodiness.”

“How? Boys that age are stupid. I know this because I used to be one. We didn’t even like ourselves, much less other people liking us.”

“Hey, teenager girls aren’t always the brightest either. I think it’s a teenage thing in general. And, I don’t know. She spent like an hour arguing with somebody on Facebook today—and no, I didn’t hack her Facebook, I promise. I just saw something when I went to check on her.” Felicity raised both eyebrows at Oliver.

“How does arguing with somebody mean there’s a boy?”

“Because boys that age are stupid,” Felicity said, mimicking his voice terribly.

Oliver rubbed his hands down his face and stared at the wall while he gathered his thoughts. He’d known this day was coming for a long time, but it still hit like a boxing glove arrow to the gut. Somewhere, faintly, off in the distance, he could hear karma having a good old belly laugh at his expense, but all he could think about was Artemis getting moon-eyes over somebody that talked and acted exactly like he had before the island. Cold sweat broke out over his skin.

“Oliver?” Felicity asked. “Oliver, you’re creeping me out a little here. What are you thinking?”

“Can we lock her in her room until she’s forty?”

“Not without her hating us.”

“It’d be worth it.”

Felicity, to his surprise, started to chuckle. “Oliver, it’s okay. She’ll be fine.”

“She’s not the one I’m worried about. I’m going to buy a shotgun.”

“We have four shotguns in the armory. Well, two. Two of them belong to Laurel, technically. Not that I’m advocating anything about this. Nor am I going to spy on her and find out who the boy is, either, before you even ask. Because we’re going to be the adults here and trust her to tell us about the boy on her own time, right? Okay?”

“I’m not agreeing to that.” Oliver crossed his arms over his chest. “What? I’m not.”

“I wonder what all of those people who watched you make the tabloids every week would think if they found out you weren’t the laissez-faire parent,” Felicity said, still laughing. “Though do me a favor, okay? Seriously let her tell you on your own time.”

“Parenting manuals again?” Oliver settled back against the pillow.

“Common sense. That kid has eight different guardians. She’s got the semi-traditional nuclear family unit with us, Aunt Thea and Uncle Roy, her lesbian other-moms, and Laurel and Digg. I figure she’s probably the most protected kid on the planet, all in all. So let her have this much, at least.”

“I’m not promising that I’ll like this kid. He’s not good enough for her, whoever he is.”

“Oh, no doubt.” Felicity smiled and gave him a big kiss on the cheek before she set her tablet to the side and burrowed into the blankets. “But I guess we have to give him a chance, whoever he is, if he’s caught her interest.”

Two weeks later, when the kid’s identity finally came out in a conversation on the way to school, Oliver wasn’t so sure he agreed.

* * *

“A speedster.” Oliver pushed his hands through his hair and left them there, fingers interlaced against the back of his skull, as he followed Felicity out of the kitchen. “Not only is he not a normal, regular kid always glued to a cell phone or something, but he’s an actual speedster. As if Barry wasn’t bad enough, there’s another one. Smaller, probably, more annoying, too.”

“I think it’s cute,” Felicity said. “And that he’s cute, too.”

“I don’t like him, Felicity.” Oliver had done a lot of research on Wally West ever since Barry had called Felicity up and mentioned that he was coming to Starling City with some Wests in tow, Artemis had asked if maybe Wally could come over. She hadn’t seen him since camp. And Felicity, the dirty, rotten, traitor, had wasted absolutely no time inviting the Central City trio over for dinner. “He’s skinny.”

“He’s sixteen, Oliver.”

“Barry was skinny.”

“He still is,” Felicity said, opening up the side cabinet where they kept all of the fancy dishes. “Also, have I mentioned lately how cute it is that you’re jealous of my quasi-exes?”

Oliver scowled and muttered under his breath.

“What was that?” Felicity asked.

“Nothing, dear.”

“I thought so. Can you reach the good plates up there? Iris is coming, too.”

“I don’t see why you had to invite them here. We could have met them for dinner somewhere.”

“You’ve teamed up with Barry several times and while the pouting’s cute, you should get over it.”

“Ahem,” Artemis said, and both Oliver and Felicity turned to see her. She was lying on a recliner upside down with her green chucks in the air, hair trailing to the floor. She regarded both of them with a suspicious look over the copy of Hamlet she’d apparently been reading. “Why does Oliver hate Barry Allen?”

Felicity started gathering silverware while Oliver collected the plates. “Barry and I had sort of a thing awhile back. Your pseudo-dad here—well, let’s just say his costume wasn’t the only green thing about him those days.”

“It’s a uniform,” Oliver said, collecting the plates. “And I wasn’t jealous.”

“Totally jealous,” Felicity said.

Oliver handed over the plates. “I was not. But now the kid over here is insisting on inviting another one of them for dinner. What is it with the women in this family and speedsters, huh?”

“Maybe we just have good taste.” Felicity winked at Artemis as she carted the china from the room.

Oliver moved to follow, but a sound stopped him. He swiveled on his heels. “Did I just hear a sniffle?”

Artemis quickly pulled Hamlet over her face. “No.”

Oliver’s eyes narrowed. He folded his arms over his chest and waited.

“Maybe,” Artemis said, not lowering the book. In a small voice, she said, “You called us a family. Like, a real one.”

“Somebody here has missed a few memos,” Oliver said, though he had to smile as he tweaked her foot on the way by. Maybe it was time to see what sort of weapons he could display in the front hallway. Just to give the West kid an idea about what he would face if he dared even so much as make Artemis cry. “Now, go help Felicity set the table, will you?”

“Yes, sir, pseudo-dad.”

“Smartass,” Oliver called over his shoulder even as he laughed.

They had a mace around here somewhere, didn’t they? A mace seemed like a good place to start.