Chapter 1: Seeing Things
Not everyone had a guardian. And the people who did have one didn't usually have one that talked. For a reason Felicity had yet to determine - not that she understood a lot about her strange ability - talking was unusual for the protectors. Only the stronger personalities had ones that talked. Still there were days when she struggled to keep the real conversations separate from the imaginary ones.
No, not imaginary. They were definitely real. Time had proved that to her over and over again. Everyone had a burden to bear. She figured her burden was the sprites. Or fairies. Or guardians. Or protectors. She had never been able to settle on a name.
All she knew was that some people had creatures that followed them around and commented on what that person was doing, others had silent ones that lingered in the background of their lives, and some people did not have one at all. She was the only person who could see them. She knew she wasn't crazy. She knew that they were there. She trusted herself and her senses. But no one else could see them. She had no idea why.
She had always been curious about why some people had the fairies - it was her word choice of the day - and others didn't. Even after years of being around them, pretending not to notice them, living with them, her curiosity had not dimmed.
Her own fairy was as far from happy and magical-looking as possible. She - her fairy could only be feminine, though she was certain her invisible protector did not subscribe to gender roles - was what the casual observer would describe as a monster. She was nine feet tall, with slick, grey skin and looked a bit like the alien from the movie of the same name. Although the monster in Alien was not nearly as scary or intimidating as the creature that watched over her day and night. Sometimes the height and sheer size of her fairy amused her, like when it crouched in the backseat of her Mini or hovered over her shoulder in her small office.
Most of the time, though, she forgot her fairy was there. Unless, of course, the dark ones started hovering. Then her fairy would snarl, drool flecking from her large mouth, and attack. The dark ones would always scatter and recede back into the shadows. The dark ones were the reason she pretended she couldn't she the fairies. She saw them around people a lot. Those people usually died within a day.
She did not want to draw their attention. She did not want them to focus on her. She did not want to be next.
Some days were harder to pretend than others. If she ran into a particularly chatty or scary-looking fairy, she would feel her eyes being slowly drawn to it. It took a lot of willpower and twenty-five years of practice to keep the truth to herself and her eyes on the ceiling or ground. It didn't help that she was prone to babbling. She had found a way to use her babbling as a shield. If she just kept talking, no one would notice she was hiding a secret - no one would notice that her secret freaked her out.
She was still cautious, however, and guarded. Being around people was complicated and more of a challenge for her than it was others. She did not have social anxiety. It would have been better if she had, she sometimes thought. She was lucky, though, that she had been blessed with a talent. It was a very specific talent that did not depend entirely on interacting with people. Computers were solid, easy to understand. Even when they presented a mystery to her, she could unravel them. She just had to be patient and keep her mind focused on the task. They made much more sense than people and the fairies they carried - or didn't carry - around with them.
She liked her tiny office on the twentieth floor, even if it made her laugh to see her fairy crouched over uncomfortably in the corner. The room was dark, unassuming. The servers at her back hummed with the familiar sound of progress and technology. And, more importantly to her, people did not find their way to her office very often. They called her, of course, or complained about their computers crashing via email, but they did not visit very often. She was the one to visit them. Her fellow technicians were the only ones to really pay her attention, but she tended to gravitate towards the ones who did not have a fairy perched on their shoulders. It was less exhausting to be around them, but not being exhausted by someone was not a great way to be friends with them. It meant a whole lot of settling.
She was honest with herself to admit that she was a bit lonely. But if loneliness was the price she had to pay for flying under the radar, she would take it. It meant staying alive and doing what she loved.
The trouble was that she was really, really good at her job. She had worked her ass off to be the best, and Queen Consolidated, particularly Walter Steele, had noticed her skill. They wanted to promote her. The thought scared her. A promotion to a leadership position in the company meant people. It meant giving presentations, working in tandem with other departments, using her skills to push the company into the future. She didn't know if she had it in her.
Felicity was nothing if not brave. The monster at her back was proof of her fierceness, even if most people only generally saw her bubbling, happy light.
"Ms. Smoak?" Walter asked kindly, bringing her attention back to the promotion he had just offered her and the fact that he was waiting for an answer.
His fairy, protector, and guardian, a panther, was curled at his feet comfortably. It was purring slightly as it slept, having barely given the monster as Felicity's shoulder a glance before closing its eyes. It did not see Felicity as a threat. She was glad. She had seen some of the fairies get into a fight before. Their human counterparts never really got along when that happened.
"Sorry...I'm just a bit surprised. Good surprised, not bad surprised, and I'm trying to think your very generous offer through carefully. I don't want to say yes and mean no, though I'd be crazy to say no, wouldn't I? Of course I would." She met his eyes boldly, confidently, though her heart was hammering in her chest at the idea of the duties the job would hold and how it would change the comfortable world she had built up.
"You can have a couple of days to consider it, if you wish," Walter said, his deep voice calm and steady, his hands clasped together over his desk.
"No," Felicity said, realizing in that moment that she did not need the time. She was afraid, but she refused to let her fear run her life. Courage was about facing her fear, right? Her fairy growled slightly in approval. She was not surprised. She always seemed to know what she was thinking.
Walter's eyebrow quirked up slightly at her refusal.
"I'll take the job," Felicity added firmly.
Walter smiled, his eyes, so much like coals in a warm fire, lighting up with pleasure. "Good."
He stood and held his hand out to her. She took it quickly, also standing, and beamed at him. She shook his hand firmly and turned, knowing that he was a busy man and didn't have the time or patience to celebrate her promotion with her.
"My assistant will show you to your new office. I'll give you until the end of the day to get settled in and sort through your predecessor's paperwork before sending you the projects I'm going to want you to oversee and report to me on."
"Yes, sir," she said, wincing a little at the mention of paperwork. She knew for a fact that the man who had so recently retired had not been an organized man. His leftover workload would not be pretty. Her smile returned in force as she rested her hand on the door. "And thank you."
Walter smiled politely at her, and she could almost see him thinking that she would not be thanking him once she saw the task in front of her. She pulled the glass door out of her way, not leaving it open for her fairy as she had done as a child, knowing that boundaries like doors meant little to it, and looked at the woman who was waiting for her. Walter's assistant was in her forties, with a perfectly tailored suit and muted makeup. She was just the sort of person to blend into the background. Felicity got the distinct impression that she preferred it that way. She did not have a fairy. She smiled politely at Felicity and gestured for her to follow her.
They chatted in the elevator but Felicity had no idea later what was said. She was excited, nervous, and just shy of nauseous. She wanted to be alone, to maybe have a panic attack in the privacy of her office, but she knew her time would come. She just had to keep her cool long enough for Walter's assistant to show her to her new office, which was...
Felicity let out a low whistle and turned a full circle as she stepped inside the office. She had known that her predecessor's office was only three floors below the executive floor, but she was still surprised by how swanky-swank it was. She had never had a reason to visit it before. She had not been the man's favorite person, mainly because she had a habit of correcting him when he was wrong. Which was a lot. Her guardian had spent a lot of time growling at the man's guardian; his guardian had spent a lot of time whimpering.
She took in the view of the skyscrapers along the opposite side of the door, as well as the large desk. She did not have a fancy entryway or an assistant, as Walter did, but the view was fabulous. She was particularly glad that the glass windows were the only part of the office that were see through. The walls on either side of her were painted cream, and the door was metal.
The symbolism of glass walls in business was all well and good, but she did not like the idea of her neighbors catching a glimpse of her trying to cram her lunch into her mouth while working at her station, per her usual ritual. And she definitely did not like the idea of having to constantly avoid looking at her neighbors' fairies and pretending they weren't there. The office was a perfect blend of beauty and privacy, and way better than expected.
"Will you need anything else?" Walter's assistant asked kindly, her conversation with Felicity warming her considerably. Felicity had that effect on people.
"No, thank you," Felicity said. "I can take it from here."
The woman nodded, patted Felicity once on the arm, and then disappeared around the door. Felicity very calmly walked over to the door and slowly slid it shut. She paused and took in the office again. Then, because she was eager to be more excited than nervous, she did an uncoordinated happy dance around the entire office.
Giggling, she sat down on the plush leather chair and let her momentum spin her in a circle, her eyes lingering on the view and the marble floors of her new office. She had her things to collect from her office eighteen floors below her and things to sort out, least of which was the paperwork she saw in the inbox in front of her, but she was willing to give herself a moment to enjoy the fact that her talents, her hard work, and her years of steady practice had finally given her the job of her dreams.
Even the fact that the paperwork situation was worse than she had assumed, and the fact that she had dropped her box of belongings in the elevator when a man's fairy started rambling happily about how the man was imaging her naked, did not deter her good mood. She was humming happily right until the moment she got the memo in her inbox that Walter wanted her to join him in a meeting tomorrow to introduce her to the colleagues she would be working closely with. She also thought it might be his way of easing her into the boardroom without putting pressure on her. She would have hugged him for his consideration if she hadn't thought him not the hugging type, at least not with his employees.
That night, she treated herself to a double helping of mint chip and a new outfit to help her feel more confident in the meeting. She fell asleep to the gentle breathing of her guardian standing watch, content in the knowledge that while her life was moving forward into unknown territory, it didn't mean she had to be afraid. She would find a way to balance her secret life with her dream job. She could manage it. There was always a way.
The meeting was set for ten o'clock. It was the perfect time for a meeting, Felicity thought. It was not too early for her brain to be fuzzy and not so late that she was desperate for food. Walter seemed to think of everything. Or else she had gotten lucky with the time.
Despite her eagerness to make a good impression, she was running late. Well, late in Felicity time meant she only had five minutes to get upstairs.
Her paperwork was nothing compared to the need to get her head around the projects Walter wanted to get off the ground. She had a lot of ideas. She had a lot to say. She knew her ideas would have to wait until she had more than a day on the job. She would have to earn respect first. Her arms were full of files so she pressed the call button to the elevator with her elbow. She kept glancing at her watch as she waited, wondering if being on time was considered late for Walter.
She groaned slightly when she saw that the elevator was half full. The clamoring of voices was strengthened by the more animalistic sounds of the guardians surrounding their people inside. Yeah, it was definitely a guardian sort of day. The sounds quieted when the guardians noticed Felicity's protector, then started right back up as Felicity stepped into the space and saw that the floor she was after was already lit up.
She looked at the top of the doors to keep from looking around the small space, a trick she had learned long ago to keep herself from being noticed. It was harder to keep her ears from noticing the sounds around her.
"Such a tight ass. Hot, for a nerd. Maybe librarian chic. We could use her up in so many ways..." a gruff voice overrode the others.
Felicity sighed. She knew it was a guardian and not an actual man speaking, but she knew that guardians always reflected the people they looked after. If the guardian was a creep, so was the man.
"Are you kidding me?" another voice asked. This voice was masculine, rough, as though it had weathered the roughest of seas and come out stronger for it. "She wouldn't willingly get within a hundred feet of your guy's naked dick. She's got way more class than that."
"Oh, so you think your guy has a better chance?" the first voice retorted.
"I think it would be a good idea for you to learn some manners," the second voice replied in a low rumble. "Or we're gonna have a problem."
Felicity titled her head to the side, surprised at the turn the conversation had taken. None of the other guardians she had met seemed to care about censoring what one of the others said. They usually ignored each other and carried on, unless there was a fight that involved both of their people. It was peculiar. There was a low growl from next to her and she realized her thoughts had keyed her guardian into her discomfort.
The second voice, the one that had piqued her interest, spoke again, "And I don't think I'm the only one you're going to have to deal with," he said with an amused chuckle. "You really want to mess with her?"
The silence from the first voice was profound.
"That's what I thought, asshat," the second voice said smugly.
The doors dinged and Felicity jumped, realizing that the car had emptied somewhat as she stood listening to the conversation. She had one floor to go. She moved slightly back to let the others out, her curiosity getting the better of her, and risked a glance to the left. One man, tall, athletic, but with a hungry look to his eye met her eyes immediately. He winked at her in what she assumed he thought was a charming manner and then stepped out. The stubby gnome creature that hovered at his heels looked up at Felicity's guardian with wide eyes. He was the one who had been thinking about her ass. Yuck. She winced when his back was turned and shook her head.
Then her eyes fell on the remaining three people in the car. One was a woman she recognized from fixing her computer. Amanda, she thought. Or Amy. She couldn't remember exactly. She knew she was in charge of the new Applied Sciences division. She liked that very much. Working with another woman would be nice. Hovering above her was a swarm of bright blue butterflies.
The man standing next to her was black, with thick arms, a crisp suit, and a commanding presence. Everything about him, down to his expression and the way he held himself, screamed sardonic and just a little bit sassy. A large bear loomed behind him, seemingly not taking up at any space despite its size. Her first impression of it was that it looked more like the snuggly, teddy bear kind of bear, rather than the maul your face off with its gigantic claws kind of bear.
Finally, her eyes landed on the man in the far corner of the elevator. His hands were gripping the railing lightly and his entire body screamed casual as he leaned back. His suit was grey, and his shirt was open at the collar. Two buttons were undone. He looked like something out of a movie. She knew she was only half right. He was something off of television, the news and tabloids to be exact.
He had returned from the dead two months ago. Two months had passed since Walter, Mrs. Queen, and the youngest Queen had gotten the best news of their lives. She blinked several times as the door slid shut behind her and turned away, not wanting to appear rude. His eyes had not moved at all despite the car emptying. He was studying the floor, seemingly tracing the lines with his eyes.
His guardian was definitely moving. It fluttered around the car curiously, coming closer to her guardian than she had ever seen another one dare. She tried not to flinch when it flew in front of her, but she couldn't help but be impressed with what she saw. It was a dragon, and had the most vivid colors she had ever seen in a guardian. Red, gold, black, and blue mixed together in pattern of brightness and light.
"Please tell me you talk," the dragon guardian said to Felicity's guardian after it was done with its survey of Felicity's face.
Felicity had only heard her guardian speak once - the day the dark ones had almost reached out to claim Felicity. Her guardian had told her to run. And she had. The warning was the only reason she was alive and not another casualty of the fire that had claimed her apartment complex at MIT only seconds later.
Her guardian didn't speak in response, but it did make a low noise that was just shy of being friendly.
"Oh, I see," the dragon guardian said, as if her guardian had actually spoken. He fluttered around and landed on Oliver Queen's shoulders lightly. "I get the feeling we're going to get along just fine."
Felicity almost snorted at that. She had trouble picturing a world where Oliver Queen and her spoke, let alone got along. It seemed as likely as someone from NASA picking her to lead a space walk on the moon.
She looked up at the doors again, willing them to open. When they did, she was the first one out, her new high heels clicking over the ground in a purposeful stride that bellied her profound nerves at what was to come.