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Stroke of Luck

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Oliver Queen stares up at the building in front of him, gripping his bow in a leather-clad hand. For months he‘s been doing this, taking down members of the list with a sense of accomplishment and clarity. Though the work is lonely, Oliver finds he’s better off alone; coming home has been taxing for both him and his family over the last six months.

Shaking his head to clear it away from darker thoughts, Oliver focuses on the Hunt Multinational building, the one target he‘s taking down on Laurel’s behalf. Adam Hunt is scum, and no one is doing a damn thing to stop him in his crime spree. He has judges in his back pocket and all the lawyers money can buy. A little non-profit service like the City Necessary Resource Initiative doesn’t stand a chance, and they all know it. He’s sure Laurel is good, but not that good.

So he does this one for her, even though she‘ll never know who the man under the green hood is. He isn’t going to endanger her like that, but he feels like he owes her a few things after Sara died on The Queen’s Gambit—especially since he was using Sara to cheat on Laurel. His former girlfriend still hates him—and he deserves that—but it doesn‘t mean he won’t try to atone.

Even though he already knows he never will.

Adam Hunt is well-protected since Oliver’s last visit to deliver the warning, staffing his building with practically every mercenary in the city. He doesn’t know how he’ll do it, but Oliver has an arrow for every man there and he doesn’t miss. Most of the mercenaries are positioned on the top floor, in and around Hunt’s office, so Oliver decides to do something bold and daring.

He enters through the front door.

Really, it’s the best way to go; he can let a few guards fire off shots, disperse the men to different floors, and spread out his targets. The guards behind the desk go down with two tranquilizer darts, guaranteed to make them sleep for a few hours. One of the mercenaries fires at Oliver, but an arrow dispatches him quickly. Three more fall on the stars with green arrows protruding from their chests, and he steps over the bodies on his way up the stairs.

He doesn’t reach anything difficult until the upper floor, when the mercenaries start to overpower him by sheer numbers. He launches arrows at every man that appears, but it seems two more pop up for every one he drops. Maybe Oliver miscounted his arrows; he’s starting to run low, leaving him with little more than the tech arrow meant only for Hunt’s servers on the top floor.

Suddenly, a new sound adds to the carnage: screaming. Oliver is quick and efficient when he kills, using an arrow through the heart to stop them when he fires. His targets don’t scream—rarely do they even feel their ends meet them. Curious, he edges himself around a pillar, looking at the scene laid out in front of Hunt’s office. The first thing he notices is the blood. It’s unmistakable, even in the dark offices, as it pools under the bodies among the carnage and the mayhem. Several of the men have red gashes across their chests, and he sees more than one with missing limbs. Most of them are dead now, but a few men still move.

With a grim frown, he pulls an arrow loose from one of the bodies he dropped, using it to slit the throats of those that still move. He may be a killer, but even he isn’t that cruel. Making a face, he reminds himself that this was to be expected; there’s a reason why Starling’s crime rate is half of what it was five years ago.

Oliver wondered if he would ever cross paths with the monster.

After his return, Oliver had learned the newest form of justice in Starling City. Extensive research informed him of Deathstroke, a vigilante aptly named for the weaponry he uses so efficiently. Reports indicate the police are baffled; they only know that he uses swords with ease, plunging them into his victims without mercy. His targets generally seem to be mercenary fighters, organized crime, and illegal weapon trafficking.

There’s a flicker of motion out of the corner of Oliver’s eye, and he turns to see a figure clad in black, kneeling over a body in the corner. Using one of his sabers as leverage, he draws himself up to full height before sheathing his swords with a flourish. Taking two steps forward, the vigilante steps into a sliver of moonlight afforded by the nearby window, giving Oliver his very first look at Deathstroke, the terror of Starling City.

He reveals not an inch of flesh from head to toe, wearing black leather pants, jacket, and gloves. Despite the carnage strewn around them, it’s the mask that finally gives Oliver pause; it covers Deathstroke’s face and head completely, removing all shape and discerning features. The mask is split into halves down the line of his nose: one black, one gold. There’s something unnatural about those hawk-like eyes shining through, causing the hairs on the back of Oliver’s neck to stand on end. He might as well be looking at a ghost.

It takes him only a few seconds of staring to realize they’ve been wrong about Deathstroke all along. The height is wrong, the boots are wrong, and the black leather hugs against skin far too well to hide very feminine curves. There’s no mistaking her as female, but he doubts anyone else has survived an encounter with Deathstroke to inform anyone of those details.

Her head tilts to the side as she studies him, and Oliver knows immediately this won’t end well—Deathstroke isn’t known for her mercy or restraint. With no intention of surviving five years of hell so that he could die here, Oliver fires the arrow meant for Hunt’s server at her. It’s the last one he has, other than his highly-specialized grappling arrows, which are useless in this situation. All it takes is a glance for him to know the shot is good.

She’s better.

Deathstroke is quick—far faster than he expected. As soon as she sees the arrow, her sabers are drawn. In one fluid motion, she swings the swords as one, slicing the tip off the arrow just before it reaches her. It falls in midair, completely useless to either one of them.

Instead of firing back, she twists the white, round device at her hip. “I don’t want to fight you,” she declares. Her voice comes out deep and robotic under the modulator, adding to the threat she presents. It does offer his first hint about her, however: she speaks English with a generic American accent.

“We’re both after the same thing,” she insists. The swords stay to her sides, tips dragging the floor. Oliver’s brow furrows; she’s shorter than he expected. He grips his bow, knowing that size has nothing to do with threat. “We both want Adam Hunt’s weapons and money.” Her head tilts to the side. “I’m not opposed to sharing the credit.”

Oliver frowns at her. “I work alone,” he says flatly, under his own modulator. It makes the pitch of his voice just as unnaturally deep and sinister, but he has to admit there’s something about Deathstroke that makes her more intimidating than him. Maybe it’s the collection of mutilated bodies on the floor around them.

“You’re out of arrows,” she counters. Deathstroke swings her swords at her sides, feet apart as she takes a fighting stance. “And if you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.” Waving a hand, she motions with a sword to one of the nearby bodies. “And I don’t think I have to tell you, but I have no mercy for my enemies.”

“I don’t need arrows,” Oliver retorts, though they both know he’s lying through his teeth. The bow is the one advantage he’d have against her in a fight. Without any arrows, he doubts he could win a fight using only his fists—not when she has two swords that she handles like extensions of her arms.

A breath leaves her in a huff. “I don’t need a guy running around in a green suit to help me do my job,” she counters, “but it would make this easier. The police are going to be after us soon. I see no reason why we should fight each other, too.” She sheaths one sword behind her back, but Oliver doesn’t relax. “Just for tonight, though. One show only—no encores.”

Though she makes a good argument, Oliver still has doubts and qualms. “I don’t know if I can trust you,” he says flatly. Perhaps he’s spent too many years alone on that island, learning archery from Yao Fei and Shado, learning that the only person he can trust is himself. Ever since Sara’s betrayal resulted in Yao Fei’s death, he hasn’t been able to trust in anyone else—except that they will feed him lies and misdirection.

Deathstroke is already shaking her head by the time he finishes, the mask appearing to hang in the air, detached from the rest of her. “I don’t want your trust,” she declares. “I want your arrows and to know you’ll point them away from me.” The mask tilts sideways. “Can I count on that or not?”

Seeing little choice in the matter, Oliver nods once. She sheaths the swords in response, taking steps past him to one of the bodies. Something about the way she moves reminds him of a panther stalking its prey, a predator who rules her concrete jungle.

She only stops once she reaches one of the bodies Oliver felled earlier, pulling the arrow from his chest. After inspecting the arrowhead, she offers it back to him. “Hunt may have backup coming,” she informs him in a flat voice. “You’re going to need every arrow you can get.” Something in her tone changes. “It’s not exactly sanitary, but I don’t think anyone will complain about it.”

Oliver blinks at her before he realizes she made a joke, a special kind of morbid humor used to cope with the fact she sees the worst of humanity every night. Or maybe it’s from being the worst of humanity every night.

He offers a slow chuckle in response, taking the arrow from her hand and dropping it in his quiver. “I planned on hacking Hunt’s servers,” he tells her, “but I used my electronic arrow on you.” He frowns as he pulls another arrow from a different victim.

“I don’t need your arrows,” she assures him with a scoff. Her self-confidence may not be subtle, but Oliver decides he likes that about her: she knows her abilities, and she doesn’t bother hiding them with false modesty.

She sheaths her other sword in one fluid motion, as if she’s so in tune with her weaponry that it’s part of her. Her attention turns toward Hunt’s desk, sliding into the chair behind it as if she owns it. Her fingers fly over the keyboard as she calls to Oliver, “I need you to spot me if anyone comes.”

A black box appears on the screen, and Deathstroke types a string of nonsense into it that Oliver can’t even begin to comprehend. It must make sense to both her and the computer because a series of bank records appear on the screen when she finishes. The values in the accounts border obscene, but they turn to zeroes with just a few keystrokes.

It’s then that Oliver decides she has a background in computer science. Not just anyone could do what she just did, which means specialized training and years of practice. He files that away for later, deciding that a female computer technician in a very male-dominated field might help him discover her identity later.

When she finishes draining Hunt’s accounts, Deathstroke slides her chair over so that Oliver can see the screen more clearly. She props her feet up on the desk, leaning back as she informs him, “I’ve transferred all of Hunt’s funds to the people he stole from—plus a few of the extra millions to the various charities that want to restore the Glades or help the homeless.”

The mask turns toward him as she waits for an answer, and he can see her eyes for the first time. They’re shadowed in the darkness, but Oliver doesn’t have to know their color to tell that they’re hardened and cold. This is a woman who keeps the world at arm’s length and sees people only as targets.

Oliver sees the same qualities in his own eyes when he looks in the mirror.

“Looks good,” he says finally.

Deathstroke nods before finalizing the transfers, rising to her feet in a fluid motion. At close range, Oliver realizes she barely reaches his shoulder. The architect of Starling City’s nightmares can’t be more than five and a half feet tall. It’s easy to miss because of her presence, which seems to dominate the room, but at this distance, it’s impossible not to notice how far she has to tilt her head up to meet his eyes.

A door slams in the distance, and Deathstroke responds to the noise at the same time Oliver does. Almost in unison, their heads swivel in the direction of the movement. Oliver nocks his bow, while Deathstroke reaches for the swords at her back. The growling voice of Detective Lance is unmistakable, and Deathstroke mutters, “Police again.” Turning to Oliver, she declares, “I don’t tangle with cops. If you want to take on Starling City’s finest, be my guest, but I’ll be taking my leave now.”

With a grim smile, Oliver pulls a grappling arrow from his quiver. “I have an exit strategy,” he assures her. Her hesitance is palpable as she looks around the room for any other exit option, but he supposes that prison—or a death sentence—is more unappetizing than a twenty-story drop. They aren’t going to let her go after the trail of bodies she’s left in her wake.

The police converge upon them before she can give an answer, and gunshots ring out in an attempt to shoot to kill. “Go now!” Deathstroke yells, but Oliver isn’t going to let her jump without direction, not when she doesn’t seem familiar with it. Instead, he snakes an arm around her waist, pressing her into his side.

If she has any issues with his sudden grip on her, she doesn’t protest. Her arm winds around his neck, holding onto him as she realizes his plan to jump through the cracked glass window. He pushes his shoulder through it, drawing the bow and firing the grappling arrow in midair. The shot pierces the concrete building a few seconds later, allowing them to rappel to the ground.

Oliver lands with unsteady feet. Deathstroke stumbles a few steps, but quickly finds her footing. “I owe you one,” she states in a tone that dares him to argue. While he doesn’t care for the concept of keeping score, he doesn’t find himself brave enough to challenge her. While he provided the most direct route out of the building, he has no doubt she’s resourceful enough to have made it out on her own.

At the same time he opens his mouth to say so, she places a hand on her left shoulder and pulls it back with glistening gloves.

Before she can do little more than stare at the blood on her fingers, Deathstroke crumples. Oliver catches her before she hits the ground, pulling her unconscious body into his arms. Blood spills from the wound, trailing across her jacket and onto his chest.

With the amount of blood already starting to pool, he knows she isn’t going to wake up anytime soon without help. Bullets and hospitals aren’t a good combination if she wants to avoid jail, so there are only two valid options: he can try to save her, or he can leave her to die on the street. Only one choice is acceptable, so he loads her into his arms and starts carrying her toward his Ducati.

Oliver has watched enough people die for one lifetime.

 


 

By some miracle, she’s still breathing when he reaches the old Queen steel factory, even if the two of them are covered in her blood. As he flies down the stairs to his base of operations, he’s already unbuckling her swords from her chest, careful not to let his hands linger in places they have no business lingering. They drop to the floor with a clatter, and he steps over them as he releases the buckle on his quiver.

After he drapes her across the metal gurney, Oliver pulls his hood back and mask off with one hand. He removes his gloves before grabbing a towel, applying heavy pressure as he decides what to do next. Frowning, he comes to the decision that he’ll have to monitor her heart rate, which means her full face mask impairs him. He hesitates for only a brief moment before unzipping her jacket just enough to slide the edges of the mask from her shoulders.

Oliver has no idea what to expect from this woman—from the vigilante he thought was a man only hours ago. When he pulls the mask free of her face, he’s first met by a pale complexion. Wildly fuchsia lips contrast oddly with the black grease paint around her eyes, and a loose, flat braid attempts to hold her hair. Blonde strands fall out of it, some wet with perspiration and sticking to the back of her neck. Despite his hurry, he can’t help but study her with a mixture of surprise, respect, and amusement.

The last thing he expected under that mask was a pretty blonde.

His lips press together in a thin line as he finishes unzipping her black jacket, hoping that she wore something underneath it. As luck would have it, she did: a black tank top with thin straps peeks out, giving Oliver the courage to finish unzipping the jacket. He somehow manages to slide the jacket off the gurney without releasing pressure on her injury.

Though he doesn’t try to invade her privacy, it’s impossible not to notice the series of scars across her arms and shoulders. They speak of repeated trauma, but some of their patterns are familiar to him. A thick scar runs across her upper arm that looks like an injury with a sword. Several circular scars tell him this isn’t the first time she’s been shot. There’s even a pattern of scattered scratches on her arm that look like shrapnel from a grenade. A sense of determination washes over Oliver.

This woman has been through too much to die here.

Carefully, he slides the straps of her tank top and bra down her shoulder. Inspecting the wound, Oliver slides his toolbox of medical equipment over with his foot. He takes a pack of suture from the toolbox, pulling the line and needle from the pack. He dabs at the wound to determine where the leaking vein is, picking it up with a pair of hemostats in preparation. His medical knowledge may be somewhat limited, but some of the tricks he’s learned in the last five years may just save her life tonight.

When he finishes closing the vessel, blood has pooled down her chest, across the table, and onto the floor. He frowns at the blood loss, hoping she still has enough in her veins to survive. Without knowing her blood type, he can’t give her a transfusion. Stopping the bleeding will just have to be enough.

As he starts to remove the bullet with the hemostats, an unfamiliar ringtone echoes in the space, the singer vowing not to let anyone down. After pinpointing the sound to her discarded jacket, he scrambles for her phone. The word Red is displayed in large letters.

The blood on his hands makes it difficult for him to work the touchscreen, but after smearing blood across it, he finally manages to answer and put the call on speaker. “Are you one of Deathstroke’s friends?” he asks, picking up the hemostats again. “Don’t hang up—she’s here and she’s hurt.”

There’s a long pause, but finally the caller asks, “How do I know you’re not the one who hurt her?” The boy has to be young, his voice quivering even as he demands an answer. Oliver can’t help but smile at that kind of courage.

“I’m the reason she isn’t dead,” Oliver replies, forcing the hemostats into her wound. “If I tried to kill her, I wouldn’t be trying to save her life.” He releases a breath as he pulls the bullet out of her shoulder, fatigue starting to set in. “I’m in the basement of the Queen steel factory. Enter from the front, stairwell on your right. If you want to help your friend, you’ll be here.” With that, he presses the button to terminate the call, even as the boy protests.

Continuing to patch the wound, he packs gauze into the space until the bleeding slows. When he’s sure she’s stabilized, he slides the heart monitor over, slowly attaching leads to her chest while avoiding her wound. He hesitates with the lead that attaches to the right side of her abdomen, sliding the corner of her shirt up only as much as necessary to attach the sensor. He nearly drops it when he sees the tattoo of a phoenix curled into a circle there.

It’s the symbol of the local weapons cartel.

Though it does help to solve part of the mystery that is the woman before him, it raises more questions than it answers. The way she targets organized crime makes more sense, but her reasons behind it remain a mystery. Is she a mole in their organization? Is she a former employee, disillusioned by the life? Does she have a vendetta against her old bosses? Is she avenging someone who suffered at the hands of these smugglers? Despite her reasons, it seems that she’s smart, efficient, and capable—three things that gun runners would want on their side.

There’s no doubt Oliver could call Anatoly and get an answer—the Bratva distributes weapons from a wide variety of sellers, and he makes a habit to keep up with them. Even thinking about it seems like a betrayal of some sort, as though he would be invading her privacy. He’s already done enough tonight trying to keep her alive.

If she wants him to know more, she’ll have to tell him herself. Oliver knows he isn’t going to pry—he owes her that much. He sighs anyway, knowing that decision means he won’t receive an answer to his question anytime soon.

With a nod to himself, Oliver attaches the lead in his hand. The heart monitor starts beeping at a steady pace. He doesn’t expect her heart rate to be within limits, and it’s a little low for his comfort, but at least she’s still breathing.

Oliver picks up the suture again, this time using the needle at the end to start closing the wound. The steady beeping of the heart monitor creates a rhythm in the background, almost comforting despite the situation. He focuses so much on it that he almost misses the sound of footsteps on the metal staircase.

Immediately, he grabs his bow from the floor at his feet, taking three arrows that slid out of the quiver when it fell. He nocks one, holding the others in his right hand for easy access. Though he knows that it’s most likely Deathstroke’s contact, he still steps in front of the woman lying on the table. The act of protection feels foreign after so many years on his own. He waits on high alert, cautious and patient as the intruder’s footsteps grow louder.

Finally Oliver can see worn, grimy sneakers on the stairwell, and he fixes the bow on their path. Sneakers give way to jeans, and then the boy’s red hoodie and dark hair become visible. Oliver drops his bow at the sight of him; the kid can’t be more than a teenager. “You know this looks like a B-list slasher flick, right?” the teenager asks dryly, voice unmistakable as the one Oliver heard on the phone only moments ago.

The moment the kid’s eyes land on him, they go wide. “You’re…” The words come out in a breath, but he stops abruptly as he shakes his head. “I can’t do the whole billionaire-turned-psychotic-killing-machine thing right now—that’s my friend.” He pokes his head to look around Oliver, wincing immediately. “No offense, but I hope some of that blood is yours. Otherwise this doesn’t look good for her.”

“It doesn’t look good,” Oliver answers bluntly. The truth might be harder in this situation, but the kid needs to know what they’re up against. “She hasn’t stopped breathing, though. That’s a good sign.”

He places the bow on a nearby work table, turn to Deathstroke with a grave frown. The kid studies the scene, but looks a little green. “You didn’t play Operation as a kid?” he asks, corner of his mouth lifting. His first experience with a bad wound comes to mind; this teenager is already handling this better than Oliver himself.

If possible, the boy turns a more visible shade of green. “Of course I did,” he retorts, snapping at Oliver as the sickly tinge is replaced by an angry heat. “It just never made me want to yodel groceries.” He can’t help but look up from Deathstroke’s injury at that, meeting Oliver’s eyes across the table. Behind the anger is a scared kid whose friend’s life is on the line.

Sighing, Oliver decides to take pity on him. “If you’re going to throw up, use this.” He shoves the large trash can in the kid’s direction, suddenly wishing that everyone was trained for this sort of experience at birth. “But if you can stand it, I could use some help here.”

As he stands on the opposite side of the table from Oliver, the kid watches with a wary frown. He moves the trash can closer, but after a deep breath, he demands, “Tell me what I need to do.” It causes Oliver’s mouth to twitch up at one corner. Something about the kid’s bravery reminds Oliver of himself a few years ago—he always wanted to be brave. When he admitted that to Shado once, her reply had been nothing less than expected: Bravery is only a kind word for foolishness, Oliver.

Despite her warnings, Oliver finds himself very fond of that variation of stupidity.

He points to the pack of gauze on top of the toolbox. “I’m going to need that,” he instructs, “and plenty of it. I’ve managed to tie off the vessel that was gushing blood and pull out the bullet, but I need to sew this up before anything else happens.” The teenager hands him gauze with shaking fingers. Glancing up at him, Oliver asks,“Do you have a name?”

“Roy,” he answers immediately, opening another pack of gauze. “Roy Harper.” He swallows so loud that Oliver can hear it. “And she’s… Her name is Felicity. I think she’d want you to know that after all you’ve done for her.”

Noting the defeat in Roy’s tone, Oliver looks up at him. “Hey,” he calls gently, focusing Roy’s attention on him before continuing, “she isn’t dead yet, Roy.” It takes him a minute, but he finally nods. Oliver turns back to his work, dabbing at the wound a few times so that he can see the area better. Oliver starts sliding the needle through both sides of the wound, pulling them together with a tight stitch.

Roy groans, and Oliver glances up to find the kid’s head turned away from the scene. “This is probably a bad time, but I hate needles,” he explains. Oliver doesn’t answer, instead focusing on his stitches. They’re rough and spaced incorrectly, not at all as neat as the ones Shado put into the scar on his right shoulder. The wound was still fresh from where she had shot him, and she patched him up while talking about her experience in medical school.

The room is quiet for a long moment, but Roy eventually breaks the silence. “She wasn’t always like this, you know,” he says quietly, as though the words are burning out of him. It causes Oliver to glance up at him, but Roy only holds out a square of gauze, eyes focused on the gurney. “Her family lived next door to us. She worked for a tech research and development company with her dad three years ago. That’s when something happened while she was in Japan—her dad was killed and there was a hostage thing.”

He makes a noise in his throat. “They went to find some missing computer parts or something at the dock. Turns out the shipping company they were using was also moving illegal weapons, and backed out of a deal with the cartel. Felicity and her dad were just bystanders.” A chuckle leaves his throat, but there’s no humor in it. “Wrong place, wrong time.

“The cartel took everyone there—six people—as prisoners. It took seven months to find them.” Roy takes a shaky breath. “Felicity was the only one who lived. She came back like this—pissed off and ready to make a difference.” When he settles into quiet again, Oliver glances up, only to find Roy staring at him with a knowing look in his eyes. “But I think you know all about that.”

Deciding that he hates the all-too-familiar tone in Roy’s voice and his uncanny ability to read people, Oliver decides to focus on things that don’t hit so close to home. Sewing the final stitch, he says, “I saw her fight—she’s one of the best I’ve ever seen with a blade. She didn’t get that way by staying someone’s hostage for seven months.” While that might be part of the truth, he knows that there must be another part of the story.

The conversation is interrupted when the heart monitor breaks into a long, sustained note. Dread claws at Oliver when he realizes what it means. Ignoring Roy’s frantic protests, Oliver barks, “Third drawer behind you. I need one of the epinephrine syringes.” While the kid scurries for it, Oliver turns to the defibrillator on a tray to the side. He flips the switch and waits, but, by some miracle, the ancient machine powers on. He leaves it there, standing by in case they need it.

Roy hands Oliver one of the small syringes, and Oliver immediately stabs it into the outside of her thigh, ignoring the gagging sound Roy makes. Oliver immediately reaches up for a pulse with his fingers against her throat, but he can’t feel anything. The monitor still reads zero. He knows they’re in a closing window: the longer her brain goes without oxygen, the more likely it is that she won’t wake up again.

He’s about to reach for the paddles when her eyes fly open.

Her eyes are bleary and unfocused at first, but the twitch of her hand by her side makes Oliver shift his weight. He studies her, trying to determine if she’s awake enough to talk to, but the vacancy in her expression tells him to wait.

Something hardens in her features half a second before she finally moves. Felicity sits up at the same time she pulls a knife from her side. Roy makes a noise of protest a second after she throws it. Oliver dodges at the last moment, turning to watch the knife embed in one of the pillars behind him. He’s pretty sure that, if he hadn’t dodged it, she would have sent it through his eye.

Oliver holds up his empty palms as he turns back to a wild-eyed Felicity. She’s already reaching for a second knife, flicking open a butterfly knife. Before she can try to kill Oliver again, Roy steps between them. “Whoa, wait! He’s with us!” he calls. Holding his hand out for the knife, he sarcastically adds, “Thank you, Hit-Girl, for that demonstration of what not to do when someone saves your ass.”

Instead of passing the blade to him, she sheaths it. A fresh sheen of sweat coats her forehead as she places her hand on the table to steady herself. Oliver moves forward, but she flinches away, groaning as she puts weight on her bad arm. “What the hell did you do to me?” she growls. Whether it’s aimed at him or Roy, Oliver doesn’t know. “My head feels like you hit me with a hammer.”

“The bullet hit just above your heart,” Oliver answers. When he walks up to her this time, she doesn’t flinch, instead taking a moment to study him. Her eyes rove over his green suit, and the first flicker of recognition crosses her features. “The headache is probably from epinephrine. I had to dose you when your heart stopped beating.”

When she sways again, Oliver reaches for her instinctively. She flinches away when his hand touches her arm. It causes her to tilt again, and this time she reaches out for his shoulder with a grip like iron. He can feel her hand shaking—probably from the epinephrine in her system.

“You know, most people would have just let me die,” Felicity states conversationally, in a tone most people would use to talk about the weather. “They say I’m a menace to society, you know. High body count, no discrimination for victims, no self-control. Deathstroke is just a monster roaming the streets.” Her brow furrows. “And you just saved my life.” With a thoughtful expression, her head tilts to the side. “I’m not sure that makes you the hero in this story.”

Oliver shrugs before replying, “I couldn’t let you die without a fight.”

There’s something playful about the brightness of her eyes when she smirks at him. “Good choice. I assure you, I will not be going gentle into that good night.” As he scrambles for something to say, she shifts to examine the wound. Ultimately she saves him from a response by demanding, “Give me the details.”

This, Oliver can do. “The bullet just barely missed your carotid artery,” he tells her bluntly. There’s no doubt in his mind that she can handle it. “I tied off a few vessels and extracted the bullet. We were stitching you up when you flatlined.”

Felicity thinks on that for a moment, and he takes the opportunity to study her. After a moment, he realizes she has to be younger than he is—and already three years of this under her belt. She‘s different than he expected; there’s a lightness to her that wasn’t apparent under the mask. Her eyes are blue and vibrant, but the thick, black grease paint around them adds some coldness and mystery to her expression.

When she stays silent, Oliver offers as a poor consolation, “You were lucky.”

After a moment, she meets his eyes, studying Oliver with calculating intelligence that makes him squirm on the inside. People don‘t usually look at him like this, with this level of perception that makes him feel like he’s an open book. It feels like Felicity is seeing him—not just Oliver Queen, not just the Arrow, but the man he is.

Finally she replies in an unreadable tone, “So it would seem.”

The mood passes just as quickly as it appeared, and she groans with a wince. “If lucky feels like a splitting headache,” she adds in a dry tone, “ I’d say I was very lucky.” She peels off her black gloves before extending a hand to Oliver, exposing lime green fingernails that add to the lovely mystery she presents. “Thank you, Mr. Queen—I think I owe you two now.”

He chuckles at that as he shakes her hand, surprised by the sudden display of unnecessary formality. “Oliver,” he insists. “Mr. Queen was my father.” While he has no desire to hold her to favors or a system of repayment, he can tell by the steely determination in her eyes that she won’t accept anything else. “I’ll hold you to that, Miss…?” He trails off, waiting for her last name.

“Smoak,” she offers. “Felicity Smoak.” She pulls away the lead on one shoulder, straightening the straps of her tank top and bra. “You don’t have to be so formal,” she assures him. “People who have saved my life get to call me Felicity.”

Her eyes focus on the floor with interest, as though trying to determine if she can stand. Oliver peels the adhesive pad away from her other shoulder, and she turns her attention on the suture there. When he pulls the third lead away from her side and pulls the hem of her shirt down, her breath hitches and she tenses.

As he pulls away, Felicity uses her good arm to push off from the table. She stumbles when her feet touch the floor, her expression hazy with dizziness. Without thinking, Oliver pulls her against him, only to realize how uncomfortable the action might be for her. Whatever she survived in those seven months in Japan probably didn’t endear her to men touching her.

Her hands use his biceps as leverage to brace herself against the sudden surge forward. He expects her to pull away immediately, but he’s starting to realize that Felicity Smoak isn’t predictable. Instead, her index finger traces a circle on his arm. “I can stitch that up for you, if you want,” she offers, causing him to frown. “Putting in stitches one-handed is a pain in the ass.” When Oliver glances down in confusion, it’s to find a bleeding hole in his arm that he didn’t even feel.

Apparently Felicity isn’t the only one suffering from the aftereffects of adrenaline.

Before he can respond to her offer, she pulls away, turning her attention back to Roy. Her hand falls on his shoulder. “Thanks for showing up, Harper,” Felicity comments in a dry tone. “I always wondered if you were the kind of friend who would give a damn if I died.”

Roy shrugs, but Oliver notes the smile that turns his mouth up for a brief moment. “If you were going to kick the bucket, I wanted your swords,” he answers simply. Oliver recognizes it as gallows humor. “I might not be able to do anything with them, but they’d look pretty badass on my wall.”

A short, sharp bark of laughter leaves Felicity as she throws her good arm around him. Roy groans at the contact and makes a show of pulling away, even as he grins. The affection between them reminds Oliver of the relationship he had with Thea so many years ago, but the island ruined that for them. The scene before him is a reminder that, just maybe, he could have that again when the wounds aren’t so raw.

“Could you get the car ready?” Felicity asks suddenly with a pointed look. Roy rolls his eyes, clearly understanding that she wants to speak to Oliver privately. “I’ll be up in a minute, but I’d like to pull this bullet out of him before I go. One good turn deserves another.”

Roy rolls his eyes at her before turning to Oliver with a short, jerky nod of his head. “Weird meeting you,” he declares in a clipped tone. Felicity levels a dark look at him, and he releases an exaggerated sigh. “You could have let Felicity bleed out on the street, but you didn’t. Thanks for not being an asshole.” Before Oliver can think of a way to respond, Roy charges up the stairs.

He’s barely out of the base before Felicity is motioning to the table. Oliver follows her unspoken order, hoisting himself onto the gurney. She comes to stand in front of him, picking up some gauze and a new pack of suture from the toolbox.

“I’ve given up apologizing for Roy,” she tells him conversationally, as though she patches up vigilantes every day. “He grew up across the street from me, so we were friends. His dad died when he was eight, and his mother has been…” She frowns. “She’s out of the picture. He’s been living with us for the past decade or so. He’s practically my brother.”

She wraps her fingers around the zipper on his jacket, pulling down on it. The slow motion is agonizing for reasons he shouldn’t even consider. He barely knows this woman, but something about her connects with parts of him that he thought died on that island.

Oliver tries to clear his head. Maybe it’s because he’s been alone for so long. After Shado and Yao Fei died, his life had been a whirlwind of locales and people he couldn’t allow himself to care about. He’s forgotten what it is to care about another person. In a way, he thinks Felicity has, too. In that sense, they’re the last of their kind: two people who understand the desperation of lone survival. Despite that, Felicity is a powerful brand of hope—a dangerous one that makes him reckless and impulsive.

For the first time since the island, he feels as though someone understands.

He removes his jacket so that she doesn’t have an excuse to touch him. Her eyes rake over the scars and tattoos that mar his chest, but she doesn’t flinch. Usually, he feels exposed like this, as though he’s proclaiming to the world just how damaged he is. With Felicity, he only feels relaxed. It’s dangerous because of his complacence; the feeling could easily become his undoing if given the opportunity.

As she works on his bicep, Felicity starts, “Roy was all I had after I came back from Japan.” Oliver opens his mouth to speak, but she doesn’t give him a chance to answer. “My mother might have been there, but she wanted me to be the person I was before.” She scoffs. “She didn’t understand that a part of me did die over there.

“I was empty after I returned, and she was grieving my father. He died in the assault when they took us hostage, so I had seven months to grieve. I was done crying. I was angry.” She chuckles humorlessly as she dabs at his wound with alcohol. “When they had me… I convinced myself that I wouldn’t live through it. I thought that I’d never see Roy or my mother again.” She swallows hard, words sticking in her throat.

Oliver says them so she doesn’t have to. “There were days you wanted to die,” he offers quietly. Her eyes meet his with new understanding. “There were nights you begged or prayed for death, but it never came. At some point, you realized that you were on your own. If you were going to die, you had to be the one to end it.” His mouth sets into a thin line. “But some part of you…” He breaks into a hollow laugh. “You weren’t finished fighting yet, and you didn’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of dying.”

She takes the explanation with a simple nod. “I wasn’t ready to die,” she agrees. “I was pissed and ready to fight. I argued with my captors, defied them as much as I could. They beat the shit out of me, but I kept fighting, even when I felt like I was covered in one giant bruise.” Her fingers falter for a moment. “I kept fighting anyway. Finally one of them decided to help me.” A soft smile comes to her lips. “His name was Slade, and he taught me how to fight.” The smile vanishes just as quickly as it appeared. “They killed him for it.” A darkness enters her eyes that explains the end of the story better than any sentence. So I killed them, it says, and I’d do it again.

Clearing her throat after a few moments, she continues, “When I came home, it was Roy who understood that I was different. He didn’t try to look for the person I was. He just learned to accept who I am now.” She offers a thoughtful tilt of her head. “Which isn’t always easy.” Turning her attention to Oliver, Felicity stops her work for a moment. “Letting someone in is the only thing that made this bearable.” Her expression is unreadable. “You should let someone in, Oliver. Holding all this in will destroy you.”

The truth Oliver discovered in Hunt’s office earlier tonight bursts from him: “You’re the only person I’ve ever met who could understand, Felicity.”

A soft breath leaves her in surprise, and when her eyes meet his, he knows she’s reached the same conclusion. It all shuts down a moment later, her expression turning neutral. The black and gold mask isn’t the only one she wears.

“One show only,” she repeats, tone firm. “No encores.”

Shaking his head, Oliver realizes she might be more stubborn than he gave her credit for. “I’m not asking you to join me,” he insists. “I’m asking to talk to you when I can’t talk to anyone else. You know what a crucible like this does to you.” His hand twitches as he starts to reach for her, but thinks better of it. “How it changes you.”

“If you ever need to talk about your day, Oliver,” she assures him as she knots the end of the suture, “you can talk to me.” Her answer comes so fast that it seems like the easiest thing in the world. It makes him feel like they might be friends one day.

After she cuts the suture, Felicity studies him. Without warning, she cups his face with her right hand, stroking his cheek with her thumb. He stills completely, afraid that any sudden movement will startle her away. The last thing he wants is for her to change her mind about what she’s about to attempt.

“I know you aren’t ready to believe me yet, but you’re not broken,” she tells him suddenly. Oliver’s brow furrows, not expecting this turn of events. Maybe he needs this more. Her eyes are dark with something he doesn’t understand as she continues, “I thought I was broken when I came back. I needed someone to tell me that I wasn’t—and I needed them to make me believe it.” The laugh that follows is empty. “No one has convinced me yet.”

Oliver is already shaking his head when she finishes. “You’re not broken, Felicity,” he insists. “The world is broken, and we’re the only ones who noticed.” Her hand slips away as he rises from the table. Though he doesn’t want to break the spell, he can’t sit still anymore. “We’re trying to fix it in our own ways.”

Something he doesn’t understand makes her shake her head with a smile. She doesn’t bother to explain it, instead rising up on her toes to press her lips against his. It lasts for a long moment that will always be too short, but Oliver doesn’t push his luck. He doesn’t try to start something she clearly isn’t looking for—that he isn’t looking for yet. Maybe someday, but not today.

Instead, he comments, “I’m not sure I deserved that.” It’s the truth; no way in hell is he anywhere close to deserving Felicity Smoak. He’s not sure he ever has been. He’d like to think he could be worthy of her in the future, but today is not that day.

“So you got lucky, then,” she replies with a lift of her shoulder. Seconds later, a flush crosses her cheekbones, and it takes Oliver a moment longer to hear the accidental innuendo. “Not got lucky. I mean, you had exceptionally good luck.” This awkward side of Felicity is new to him, and it intrigues him so much that he can’t bring himself to stop her. “Not that a kiss from me is particularly lucky—or that I’m particularly lucky—but you just thought you didn’t deserve it. So hopefully it’s good luck.” She takes a deep breath. “That’s what I meant.” She shakes her head with the slightest hint of a smile. “I’ll program my number into your phone so if you need me, you can contact me. Whether I’m lucky or not.”

Oliver only smiles, unable to resist teasing her. “I hope I can get lucky again sometime, Felicity.”