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The Phoenix Rises

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There was something seriously very, very wrong with her coffee. 

Felicity sipped it again, tentatively, but the foul taste did not leave her mouth. 

"Why are you making that face?" 

Felicity looked across the table at Sara, as she sipped on her own Irish coffee and frowned. "Does your coffee taste like some weird sludge that was probably made in a chemistry lab?"

Sara's lips twitched but she shook her head. "No. What's wrong with yours?"

Felicity pushed away the ceramic cup and sighed. "I think they probably used beans from before I was born."

Sara chuckled. "We have been coming here for years, Fell. And speaking of being born, someone's birthday is coming up in a week."

Felicity grinned, feigning surprise. "Really? Whose?"

Sara shook her head, smacking her on the arm. "So, what's that yummy hubby of yours have up his sleeve this time?"

Felicity's heart sped up just a little at his mention. And she flushed remembering her last birthday. "He is definitely up to something. Last time, I guessed the entire thing and you won't believe how grumpy he was for a week! So, I am trying not to think of it this time and actually be surprised."

Sara's phone buzzed before she could speak and Felicity nodded for her to take the call, looking around the small, sunlit cafe. Sara had discovered the place after she had dropped out of college and asked Felicity to meet her here when she had returned from hers. And Felicity had fallen in love with the tiny, unassuming place at first sight. It wasn't like the chic, sophisticated restaurants she normally had visited her entire life, not like the places which were all facade and no substance. This cafe, Been Beaned, was all substance. There were only ten tables around the area done in browns and reds, tall, glass windows that allowed sunlight to stream in and a few stools near the granite counter.

After her wedding, their tradition of meeting every Saturday morning for coffee had dwindled down to almost nil but once things had settled with Ilyich, they had started again.

Ilyich.

Felicity inhaled deeply. It had been two years. Two years since the fiasco, since she almost killed a man, since her father killed himself. Two years of thinking it'd get better and it had, to an extent. She knew it would stay with her for life, but it didn't throw her off-kilter anymore. And almost the entire credit for that went to Oliver.

She had never, even after they got married and together, thought he would be the kind of husband he was.

Oliver Queen was a man of honor, she had known that. What she had not known, and she had discovered over the years that being in love with him and being loved by him drove her to extremes. The man either slayed her heart so completely that she would be nothing but a pile of goo, or he became so rigid and stubborn that it drove her up a wall.

But for two years, he had learned her even more. Just like she had him. And despite fights and arguments, because they were both stubborn, strong personalities that clashed way too often, their lives were happy. She was happy. And so was he, if their morning ritual was any indication at all.

She flushed slightly, thinking of it, even now. Which was ridiculous considering the sheer amount of sex and the ways they had had that sex was. A few months into their marriage, she had had a college reunion party, and she had gone, reconnecting with old classmates and people who had been her friends once. She remembered, even now, the way three of her only married friends had told her how the sex and the thrill just faded away after some time, sounding so sure and so resigned to the fact that it had scared her. Oliver had not been with her at the party, since he had been out of town for the first time in their marriage. She remembered how that had actually shaken her, and how her own thoughts of 'this is too good' had manifested that night when she had gotten home. She remembered wondering if they would fade away too, if they would forget this thrill. 

Oliver had called her that night, like he always did, and one second into the conversation, he had demanded to know what was wrong. And she had told him. Sort of. Oliver had responded with silence, then told her to go to sleep. And that was when her heart had plummeted and she had gone to their bed, and slept, hugging his pillow. She had woken up the next morning with the sensation of scruff on her neck and her eyes had flown open, heart pounding as she saw Oliver, softly kissing her neck, lying beside her in his suit. He had come home earlier than he was supposed to. And that morning, he had made love to her, telling her wordlessly everything she had needed, laying all her doubts to rest, whispering soft promises with his skin on hers.

He had made good on those promises. Two years had gone, a lot of things had changed, but they had not faded, not at all. When they fought, they had wild make-up sex. When they were happy, they made slow, soft love. And everything in between. The sex was fantastic but it wasn't the most important thing for them. It never had been.

It was the small ways he showed her that she was loved that mattered. The small ways she showed him.

Like she remembered breaking down on her father's first funeral, and like always, he had been her pillar. And when he came home some nights, with haunted eyes, she became his. Those nights always bothered her. She knew their world was not rainbows and unicorns. She knew their world was stained in blood, and she knew her husband spilled some of that blood too. She had accepted it long ago, accepted him long ago. But he never accepted himself. And on those particular nights, when the day had been red and his hands had been weapons, he would seek her out wherever she was and sit down, pulling her between his legs and bury his head into her chest, listening to her heart while she brushed his hair with her fingers. Those nights they never had sex, but just stayed that way for hours before heading to bed together and he pulled her into him, just being, just connecting. She always let him, always.

It were the mornings after those nights which were interspersed with kisses and smiles. She loved that. And when he was not brooding, he was so, so playful and teasing. It used to surprise her in the beginning, but over the years she realized something. Oliver, if he had nothing serious on his mind, or even if he did, was always playful with her. But the moment anyone else stepped into their space, he switched. It didn't matter if it was Digg or Roy or even Thea. Some of that playfulness dimmed. 

He had been plenty playful this morning, she remembered, unconsciously sipping her coffee and making a face at herself for forgetting the awful taste. The cafe people were so going to hear from her. 

Like Oliver did from time to time. He was so freaking stubborn sometimes, so rigid, not down there but in his thoughts, that throwing things at him became her only resort to keep from exploding. She hit him and punched his chest and basically became violent like she never was and he restrained her and held her down. Their fight, though not an actual physical fight, but a fight for control and all that anger spilled over into some of the most mind-blowing sex for both of them, raw and wild and animalistic, after which they talked like actual, civil people. It was almost a pattern, fueled by the knowledge that they would work out. The only time she could remember them breaking the pattern had been last winter.

She had asked him one night what he had done to keep his men away from her, since he never told her that. Oliver had stilled and just looked at her for a long time, before trying to distract her. She had stubbornly pursued the matter and bugged him for an answer for days before, annoyed, he had told her, more like yelled at her, that he had "taken care of Cooper Sheldon". That had made her freeze, even as she had felt her temper rise, ready to blow a gasket. She demanded details; he never spilled. For days, they had been angry with each other, she because he did not answer and he because she repeatedly asked and brought up something from the past. Days had gone by after finally, frustrated, they had both given in together, on the agreement that Felicity would not ask again and he would never do anything regarding without her knowledge again. She did not like it but she missed him, and that day, she learned compromise in the truest sense. He did too.  

She looked at Sara as she spoke to someone on her phone, standing near the door, and sighed. 

Things had changed a lot over the years. For one, Sara was a part of Bratva now. Apparently, she had decided that normal life was too boring for her and she had finally come into it via Oliver, working in combat training and stuff Felicity knew nothing about. But seeing her around the house sometimes, especially pulling Roy's leg, was fun. Speaking of Roy. The boy had finally, after a lot of courage, come out in the open about his relationship with Thea. And Felicity had been right. Oliver had clenched his jaw and given him the big brother lecture before walking away. At least it hadn't been a black eye.

Roy was still her bodyguard. But he didn't accompany her on her Saturday mornings since Sara was there. He took that time off for himself. And Thea. She had really made a huge success of the club, literally making it the best in the city. Felicity helped her with the security and accounts but it was all her own hard work. And she couldn't help but feel a little proud. She knew Oliver was. Which was why he had tried to give her a surprise birthday party at Thea's club last year. And Felicity had guessed it in a day. 

She grinned, remembering how grouchy he had been for that week, every time she had rubbed it in his face. It had been really sweet of him to try and she had thanked him very properly for it. But she couldn't guess what he was up to this year. He had been very careful and she had caught absolutely nothing from him except a devilish grin which always made her heart race.

Her phone buzzed and looked down, frowning at the unknown number.

That was another thing Oliver had told her. In their world, an unknown number could mean really bad news, so she should definitely never pick up those calls.

She stared at her screen, biting her lip just as Sara plopped back down in her seat. Felicity muted the call and shook away her thoughts, focusing on her friend's frowning face.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

Sara looked at Felicity and shook her head. "Nothing for you to worry about."

That did not sound like much of a reassurance.

"Who called?" Felicity persisted, curious.

"It was Digg," Sara replied, sighing. "It's just some security stuff. I'll take a look at it when we go back."

Felicity nodded, and changed the topic, and they just spent the morning away. 

Just like Saturday morning was a ritual with Sara and her, Saturday afternoon was for her mom.

Donna Smoak, after her husband's death, did not stop living, the way most of the other Bratva wives in their club did. No. She lived and recently, started dating again. Felicity was in awe of her mother and soon after the funeral, she had started going over to her for lunch after meeting Sara since the cafe was two block away from her old house. Her mom lived there, with Anatoly being the head now. 

His taking over her father's position had been a big move in the Bratva circles. Anatoly had a reputation and a clear head, mostly, and a good heart. That ensured a lot of changes in the brotherhood, including a very smooth relationship between Oliver and Anatoly. And Oliver had too, over the last two years, risen like crazy. She wouldn't be surprised if they announced for him to become a leader. She wouldn't be surprised but she didn't know how they would cope with that huge change. Power changed people, and her father had succumbed to it. She did not trust that power. And that slight trepidation made her queasy.

It was also the bad taste of coffee in her mouth making her queasy. She needed to change it.

Before she could get up, though, her phone buzzed again and she looked down to see the same unknown number flash on her screen.

She stared at it for a long time and it died down.

"Who's calling?" Sara asked her, getting up and picking up her bag, getting ready to leave. Felicity opened her mouth but for some reason, she didn't speak.

She looked down at her phone, something inside her telling her to pick up that call, and she had learned long ago to trust her instincts. The same instinct told her that the phone would ring again.

Felicity looked up at Sara. "Can you get the car? I'll just take a muffin and come."

Sara considered her for a second before shrugging and walking away, and out the door. The moment she was gone, the phone rang again and inhaling deeply, Felicity calmed her pulse and answered it.

"Hello?"

Nothing. Felicity frowned, listening closely. Breathing. She could hear heavy breathing on the other side. No reply, just heavy breaths.

She didn't dare utter another word, but something told her not to cut the call.

So, she stayed on the line, listening to the deep inhales and exhales, that were coming faster and faster, almost like pants.

Something shuffled on the other side and finally, Felicity heard something else.

"Felicity Smoak?" 

It was a woman's breathy whisper, so soft she almost didn't even hear it. 

Felicity swallowed. "Smoak-Queen," she corrected. "Who is this?" 

There was a small groan before the accented whisper came again. "Listen to me...."

She was listening, waiting with bated breath for the woman to speak. The breathing continued, but it was slowing down, going slower and slower, her soft groans interspersing her breaths. 

Felicity held the arm of her chair in a tight grip and whispered back for some reason, something heavy settling in her stomach. "Who are you?"

The woman huffed slightly, whispering back, her words slurring. "Dis naa matter." 

Felicity just waited, her eyes looking at Sara as she waved at her from the car but Felicity could not move, feeling almost as though the woman would vanish if she broke the moment. She needed to know who she was. And why she had called her. 

"What matters then?" she whispered, asking her. 

There was a loud inhale. "Be care...ah...ful," the woman said, heaving breaths in between. "There is something... ah.. you have... to.. ah..."

Sara waved even more vigorously, frowning from the car.

But Felicity stared unseeing, feeling her heart pounding violently in her chest, waiting for the woman to complete her sentence.

She did not.

"I have to what?" Felicity asked, needing the answer, knowing in her gut this was something pivotal.

Silence. 

Felicity started to open her mouth to speak again when she stopped herself, truly listening. 

There was utter silence on the other line. 

No breaths. No groans. Nothing. 

She swallowed about to put the phone down when the breathing came back. Soft and slow. Steady. This was not the woman's breathing. 

She stayed on the call. The breathing continued. 

And her heart hammered, goosebumps littering her arms, as shivers raced down her spine and she quickly cut the call, letting the implications of what had happened sit with her.

A strange woman had been calling her for minutes to tell her something. Something in her last moments. 

And Felicity had heard her die, while she had been trying to tell her something very important. Her logical mind knew it had to be of supreme importance for the woman to call in and use her last breaths. 

The last breaths which she had taken in someone else's presence. While she had been dying, someone else had been there.

Someone else who had heard that woman's life fade away and done nothing.

She jumped as Sara appeared in front of her, spooked for the first time in a long, long time and exited the cafe, nodding to whatever her friend was saying, her mind running a mile a minute.

It could have been a hoax, but something in Felicity told her it wasn't.

It told her that the woman had not been lying.

The woman, who had just died, trying to tell Felicity something.