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Things Fall Apart

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A/N – This is a Skyelicity friendship crossover story in which Skye and Felicity were childhood friends and will be about 8 chapters in length, depending on how I cut chapters for length. As always that is subject to change because sometimes I edit/add and stories grow by a chapter or two. It was inspired by a Tumblr post someone sent to me that made it look like Skye and Felicity were friends - I can't find the post anymore or I'd link it because it was really funny. I might reference it later in the story, though. This is a sequel to the Skyeward short story (2 chapters) titled ‘Things We Lost in the Fire’ – it is AU so Ward was never Hydra, but you do need to read that one first in order to understand what’s going on here, why Skye left, and exactly why she's felt so isolated. This is an altered Agents of SHIELD early season 2 and Arrow early season 3 story. Assume spoilers up to 3x05 The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak for Arrow, and I’ll be bringing in some history on Skye’s background from seasons 1 and 2. Since these characters are new to each other, I can get away with kind of explaining things as I go along, which should help if you’re not totally familiar with one show or the other.

There is NO HATE on characters in this story and it will feature all of the characters from Team Bus, Team Arrow and a few from The Flash. I am doing my best to be fair to all characters but if you watch Arrow, you’ll see that I changed some things from early season 3, and that will become clear in later chapters. The main reason is because some things that happened early in Season 3 would take too much focus away from where I wanted it in the story, which is on Skye and Felicity’s friendship. For example there’s no Ray Palmer (other than mentioned in business dealings) because I don’t have time for that and unlike Arrow, I’m not writing for a spinoff here. Also, assume everyone knows about Oliver, including Thea, and Lance is still being willfully ignorant because he doesn’t want to know the Arrow’s identity.

Chapter 1 – Until We Break

Every evening, Ward told himself the same thing. Don’t look. Don’t think about it – about her. Let it go.

And every evening since they’d left Skye at the base, he checked in on her. The tracking bracelet she wore showed her movements, though she seemed to spend most of her time in her bedroom. Jemma had instructed her to rest; he was almost surprised she was taking the advice seriously. After noting her vitals and concluding that she was asleep, he logged off of the tracking system.

It was a weakness at this point. She was a weakness, one that he didn’t know how to excise because she’d burrowed deep when he wasn’t looking. He’d been trained well to see the enemy coming. His training just hadn’t prepared him for her.

He remembered a quote from one of the books on the reading list Garrett gave him.

The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies.

Irony was a hell of a thing. He’d been betrayed first by Garrett and then by Skye. His rational brain told him they weren’t the same situation. On some level he recognized that Skye wasn’t the enemy that Garrett had been. It just didn’t change how he felt about her lies and secrets, and that cold anger settled bone deep. He’d allowed her to get closer than anyone had in years. He’d trusted her, and he still felt like a fool for allowing himself to be deceived for so long.

May had accused him of nursing the grudge to an extreme, and maybe she was right. Grant still didn’t appreciate her interference in forcing him to confront the situation. Training with Skye again wasn’t in the best interests of either one of them. He was distracted, so was she, and the result was an injury that likely wouldn’t have happened with May. Seeing her hurt brought his carefully compartmentalized feelings back to the surface, and he’d been struggling for weeks to put the lid back on the box.

Ward made his way back to the lounge of the Bus to find Simmons reading while Fitz and Hunter watched a news report. He paused when he saw that the news report featured more violence in Starling City. It hadn’t escaped his attention that Skye had been following Starling City news closely in recent months, and he’d even heard Hunter asking her about it once. What concerned him now was how worried Fitz looked.

Simmons looked up from her book and glanced over at Fitz and Hunter. “Really, I can’t imagine why anyone would continue to live in Starling City after the terrorist attacks and brutal murders of so many city officials. It has one of the highest crime rates in America.”

Fitz looked agitated as the news story wrapped up. Standing, he muttered, “I just need to check on something.”

Ward watched him hurry from the room before turning to Hunter. “What’s wrong with him?”

Hunter raised a brow and shrugged. “Wouldn’t know, mate.” He stood and stretched. “Think I’ll turn in – big day tomorrow.” He stepped around Ward and headed down the hall towards his bunk.

He didn’t trust Hunter despite Coulson and Bobbi vouching for him. As far as Ward was concerned, mercenaries were the lowest of life forms. They were paid to do a job, and most weren’t all that discerning about which side they played for as long as payment was wired into their accounts on time. Hunter appeared to have a slightly more balanced moral compass, but that wasn’t saying much.

He told himself that was the reason he hated to see Hunter with Skye, but he suspected May saw through him. She’d told him that she would ask Hunter to take over Skye’s training if he couldn’t or wouldn’t do it himself. Maybe Ward should have called her bluff; May didn’t like Hunter any more than he did and he’d been doubtful she would actually entrust him with such a task. He just didn’t want to risk it because as much as it pained him to see them teasing each other, watching them train together would have been worse.

Ward sat at the bar and poured a drink. He could feel Simmons’ eyes on him but he ignored her, and within minutes she murmured that it was getting late and left him to his thoughts. He didn’t want to think about Skye or her connection to Starling City. They had a mission to finish up tomorrow, and his mind should be firmly fixed on those mission details.

After finishing his drink, he walked back to his bunk, undressed, and slid into bed. Closing his eyes, he willed his mind to let go of her, at least for the night.

***

The mission went off as planned the following day, and they managed to obtain highly classified files from the small Hydra base they hit. They also picked up one of the higher ranking officers, and May had them back in the air within the hour. Bobbi, Hunter, Coulson and Simmons were eating dinner in the lounge. Fitz, however, was noticeably absent.

Ward walked downstairs to the lab. Fitz was there just as he suspected, and he was again watching Starling City news coverage while simultaneously scanning information on a laptop.

“Come on, where are you?” Fitz muttered.

He was so intent on his screens that he didn’t even notice as Ward approached him. “What are you doing?”

Fitz jumped and whirled around. “I wish you wouldn’t lurk about like that.”

Ward sighed but resisted the urge to point out that he should have better spatial awareness. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing.” Fitz’s eyes slid away from his and he scratched his chin.

He was lying, that much was clear. The question was why? Ward walked over to his workstation to see he had Skye’s tracking system pulled up. It showed she was in her bedroom, and again her vitals indicated she was sleeping. Since it was late, that wasn’t a surprise. He scrolled through her day’s movements – bedroom, lounge, kitchen, bathroom. There was nothing suspicious there, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.

Fitz had turned back to the news, his brows drawn together in a worried frown. Ward shifted his attention to the news report. As Simmons noted the night before, Starling City had faced its share of troubles over the last couple of years. It had been the target of two terrorist attacks, one of which leveled a section of the city. Countless city officials had been murdered as well, including two mayors, a mayoral candidate, and the district attorney.

Starling City had pinged on SHIELD’s radar first because of the earthquake machine used to facilitate the first attack and later due to enhanced soldiers swarming the city streets. They had briefings about both events but Coulson later said ARGUS would be handling it. At the briefings he learned the city was home to a handful of vigilantes, and it appeared they had more to do with putting down the super soldiers than ARGUS did.

He knew Coulson had continued to monitor what was going on in Starling City all summer. When he first noticed Skye’s interest, he thought she’d been asked to do the monitoring. Later he learned that another analyst was behind Coulson’s weekly briefs, though that didn’t stop Skye from following the news on a daily basis.

In the last forty-eight hours, there had been two power surges in the city which caused blackouts. Mob violence followed, and the news footage showed chaos in the streets, particularly in the area known as the Glades.

And now Fitz was hiding something. “Does Skye know someone in Starling City?” he asked, wondering if Skye had asked Fitz to keep an eye on someone for her.

Fitz shrugged but didn’t answer. Ward turned back to the tracking system and looked up Miles Lydon, but he was still in Texas. He felt the knot of tension in his chest relax a little.

“There’s something strange about these power surges,” Fitz suddenly said. “Before each blackout, there was an emergency broadcast.”

“Okay,” Ward said, crossing his arms. “The city updated their emergency response system over the summer, so that makes sense.”

“If it went out to the whole city, yes. But the first broadcast targeted one section of the city, and the second targeted another. Some areas didn’t receive the broadcast at all. The areas that received it recorded more violence than other areas – well, that’s true of the first one, anyway. I’m still trying to gather police reports from the second one.” Fitz was back on the laptop now. “Skye’s better at this kind of thing.”

“Why are you looking into this?” Ward asked. “Coulson gets weekly briefs on Starling City, but they fall under ARGUS.”

A sudden beeping noise distracted them both before Fitz could answer. It was coming from the tracking system; Skye’s monitor tag was blinking to indicate she’d gone offline. Ward watched as Fitz hit a few keys while muttering under his breath. A few minutes later it was online again. There was no change in Skye’s position or vitals.

“Is something wrong with the tracking system or with Skye’s tracker?” Ward asked.

“I don’t know,” Fitz replied, his tone short. “I can think more clearly if you’re not standing over me, though.”

Ward raised his brows at Fitz’s uncharacteristic display of temper but left him alone to work on the issue. He could check in again when they arrived at the Playground in a few hours. Settling in the lounge, he ate dinner and then worked on writing up his mission debrief notes. But the closer they got to the Playground, the more uneasy he felt. He pulled up the tracking system and checked Skye’s position again. Nothing had changed.

Giving up on his report, Ward shut down his laptop and tried to read instead. He’d been staring at the same page for a few minutes when Fitz suddenly ran up the stairs, through the lounge and into Coulson’s office. That vague uneasiness suddenly grew teeth and claws, and he knew something was very wrong.

Fitz was already babbling when Ward followed him into Coulson’s office, and Coulson held up a hand. “Fitz, you’re not making any sense. Slow down. What’s wrong with Skye’s tracker?”

Fitz took a deep breath, looking more upset than Ward had ever seen. “Nothing is wrong with the tracker, sir. It’s doing exactly what we wanted it to do only… Skye isn’t at the Playground. She’s in Starling City.”

Ward’s uneasiness turned to a sense of dread. “What the hell do you mean she’s in Starling City? Her tracker still shows she’s at the base!” He thought about the chaos in the city at the moment and felt his dread turning to something more akin to panic.

Coulson looked equally concerned but seemed to understand what Fitz was getting at. “You helped her bounce the signal somehow.”

Fitz nodded. “She’s just been so upset lately and she wanted to see her friend…”

“What friend?” Ward demanded.

“I don’t know,” Fitz admitted,” but that’s not important now. Her signal has been interrupted since the blackouts started, so I started tracking her around the city more closely. A few hours ago, she disappeared completely. Her last location was in the Glades, and that area has been hit the worst by crime, so I started searching for her. Then I found this.”

Ward watched as Fitz pulled up a video and hit play. The footage was shaky, and from the chatter in the background he thought it was probably recorded by teenagers on a cell phone. It was dark but he could clearly make out a hooded figure fighting two men in an alley. The hooded figure took them down with little trouble and then turned abruptly when confronted by someone at the mouth of the alley.

He heard someone whispering to zoom in. The image blurred and then cleared again, this time closer and in better focus. Ward’s heart slammed against his chest as he realized the person entering the alley was Skye. She was speaking to the hooded figure – a woman, based on the build – and she had a gun pointed at her, or most likely an ICER.

The hooded woman drew a bow so fast it was a blur, as was the arrow that almost hit Skye before she dove out of the way. Skye fired back but missed. Suddenly, a blonde woman dressed in black dropped down from the roof. She was speaking, holding out a hand towards Skye.

Then Skye fell.

“What just happened?” Coulson asked sharply.

Fitz swallowed hard and backed up the video, then played it again. This time Ward could see the arrow that hit Skye before she crumpled to the ground.

Get up. His hands clenched, eyes glued to the screen, but she didn’t move. His world narrowed to that small figure on the ground and his hands felt cold. Get up.

The women moved closer to stand over Skye, and the masked blonde knelt down to check for a pulse. She shook her head and stood up, turning in the direction of the camera. He could hear muttered curses and the image blurred as the owner started running before the video abruptly ended.

“Her vital signs slowed significantly before her signal disappeared,” Fitz explained in a shaky voice. “At first I thought it was just a problem with the signal interference but then I found the video.”

Coulson didn’t say anything as Ward played the video again, and then again, his eyes scanning her still form for any sign of movement. There was none.

Ten days earlier…

Skye tapped her fingers nervously against the table as she sat in a holding room at Starling City Police Department. She was tired, hungry, and her ribs were beginning to ache from having her hands cuffed behind her back on the way to the station.

When she’d arrived in Starling City, she immediately tried contacting Felicity again. But just like her other calls the night before, it had gone straight to voicemail. She went to Queen Consolidated first and found that their recently beefed-up security meant there was no way in hell she was getting past the lobby without an appointment.

In fact, she couldn’t even get the security guard at the front desk to call up to the IT department. Instead he asked for her name and number. When she saw him add it to a similar stack of messages, she somehow doubted Felicity would get it that day.

So she sat outside and waited. When she saw a catering service pull around to a side entrance for a lunch delivery, she snagged a jacket from the truck and slipped inside to the service elevators. She actually made it up to the IT department only to find that Felicity didn’t even work there anymore. She was now on the executive floor with the CEO, Oliver Queen.

She’d pushed her luck trying to get up there. The caterer was setting up lunch in one of the large conference rooms when she spied Skye and blew the whistle on her. Skye was summarily detained and then escorted down to the security office where she suffered the humiliation of being photographed for some kind of Stalker Wall of Shame. Then she was left in a room to wait for the police.

Skye had picked the lock and managed to sneak back out of the building. This time she waited across the street, watching as people came and went. It was after five when she spotted Oliver’s bodyguard and driver pulling a car around. However, she wasn’t able to get across the street before Oliver and Felicity emerged and got into the car. The luxury vehicle was merging seamlessly with traffic by the time the light changed, and Skye was left frustrated as she watched her friend disappear.

She knew from the news reports that the Queen family mansion was up for sale, so she didn’t think they would be going there. She had no idea where either one of them lived, either. The only other information she had was that Oliver owned a nightclub in the Glades called Verdant. His sister had been running it for the past year, but she’d seen a few clips of Oliver and Felicity entering and leaving the place together. It was worth a try.

Unfortunately, Queen Consolidated security was thorough and they had already circulated her photo. So not only were Oliver and Felicity not at Verdant, she’d been arrested and hauled into the Starling City Police Department on trespassing charges. She’d been here for at least a couple of hours – they’d run her prints, something she hoped Fitz caught before Coulson did.

Skye had cards for the identity under which she’d traveled; they were hidden in a small pocket inside her pants leg, along with her money. Her bag only contained her laptop, a few changes of clothes and an ICER gun she’d taken apart, the pieces hidden among her laptop accessories. She didn’t want them running her alias if she could avoid it. It was the only clean one she had, and she hoped she might be able to reach Felicity before that was necessary.

She looked up as the door opened, expecting to see the captain who’d questioned her earlier. Instead a tall, slender brunette walked in and closed the door behind her. Her periwinkle silk blouse, cream business suit, understated jewelry and heels set her apart from every cop Skye had ever seen. Based on the briefcase, she guessed she was a lawyer.

The brunette pulled out the chair opposite Skye and sat, placing her briefcase on the table in front of her. “So… Skye, is it? Can you state your last name for the record?”

Skye sat back and affected a relaxed pose. “Just Skye, actually.” When the brunette raised a brow, Skye shrugged. “It worked out for Madonna.”

“Okay then.” The woman reached into her briefcase and pulled out a few papers. “I’m Laurel Lance, assistant D.A. to the City of Starling. My office was notified of the trespassing incident earlier today at Queen Consolidated, as well as the fact that you showed up at Mr. Queen’s nightclub. Mr. Queen has very generously decided to drop criminal trespass charges in exchange for your signature on this restraining order.” She tapped a well-manicured finger against the papers.

“I’m not a stalker,” Skye protested, feeling an embarrassed flush creeping into her cheeks. She was never going to live this down when Felicity found out.

Ms. Lance’s answering smile was tinged with both humor and disbelief. “That’s exactly what the last five women said. Mr. Queen is an old family friend, and I know exactly how charming he can be. And maybe it is a misunderstanding, which is why he’s willing to let this incident slide as long as you give us proof of identity and you sign the restraining order.”

“No, I meant I wasn’t looking for Mr. Queen,” Skye told her. “I was looking for his friend, Felicity Smoak.”

Ms. Lance looked surprised. “Well, that’s new and different. Unfortunately, admitting to stalking Ms. Smoak doesn’t make this any better. It just means I have another name to add to the restraining order, which I’d urge you to sign quickly before Mr. Queen changes his mind. I can assure you he won’t like your interest in his assistant.”

His assistant? Felicity was Oliver Queen’s assistant?

She shook her head and leaned forward to look the other woman in the eye. “I am not stalking Mr. Queen or Felicity. Felicity is an old friend of mine and I’ve been trying her phone all damn day but it keeps going to voicemail. If you could just find a way to get in touch with her and tell her that I’m here, she can straighten this out.”

A strange expression crossed Ms. Lance’s face. Sliding a piece of paper across to Skye, she said, “Write the phone number down.”

Skye quickly wrote the number from memory and pushed it back across the table. “Look, I know this seems weird. I haven’t seen Felicity since before she moved to Starling, so I’m not sure where she’s living now and there’s no home address on record. I’ve left her voice messages, but she hasn’t gotten back to me yet.”

Ms. Lance glanced up from the paper, her gaze assessing. “So if I call Ms. Smoak and tell her that her friend Skye is here, she’ll know who I’m talking about?” When Skye nodded, she stood up. “Wait here.”

***

Laurel stepped out of the holding room and walked across the room to her father’s office. When she knocked on the open door, Captain Quentin Lance looked up from his paperwork and smiled at her.

“Did you manage to get a real name out of her?” he asked. “Skye sounds like something she made up to me.”

Laurel shook her head. “She claims to be a friend of Felicity’s and she has her current phone number. She said she’s been trying to call her all day and it’s been going to voicemail. I tried to call Felicity a few times earlier and also got her voicemail, so she might just be telling the truth.”

“A friend, huh? Do you want us to hold her overnight?”

“Let me see if I can get in touch with Oliver first,” Laurel replied.

Lance went back to his paperwork as Laurel tried Oliver’s cell. When she got his voicemail, she assumed he might be wearing his other suit and tried Diggle instead. When he answered, she explained the situation and asked if Felicity was with them at the foundry.

“She’s here,” he confirmed. “She’s a little busy at the moment.”

“Okay. Can you ask her if she knows a young woman named Skye? She’s about my height, long brown hair and brown eyes – maybe Asian American?” Laurel listened as Diggle spoke in the background.

There was a sudden scrambling noise and then Felicity was on the line. “Skye?”

“No, this is Laurel,” she answered. “Do you know a woman named Skye?”

“Yes. Is she there with you? Can I talk to her?” Felicity asked in an anxious tone.

“She’s in a holding room here at the police station,” Laurel told her. “She said she couldn’t reach you on your cell phone, so she tried to get in to Queen Consolidated to find you. She skipped out before the cops arrived but Verdant staff recognized her from the security photo when she showed up there. You know the SOP for these situations, which is where I come in.”

“God, no, she’s not a stalker,” Felicity said quickly. “She’s my oldest friend, but I haven’t heard from her in months. And I dropped my phone last night and haven’t had a chance to replace it yet. I’ve been using one of the spare burners today.”

“I see.”

“Laurel…” Felicity hesitated and then continued. “The thing is, I don’t know exactly what her situation is right now, or if anyone is looking for her, but there can’t be a record of her.”

Laurel considered that information before answering. “They already ran her prints, but Dad says nothing popped in the system. I’ll take care of it.”

“Thank you. I don’t want you to think she’s dangerous or anything. It’s nothing like that,” Felicity explained quickly. “I’m just worried about her. We’re kind of in the middle of something right now, though. Could you give her a ride here? She can wait for me. Oh, and I’ll have Thea pull her photo from security upstairs so you don’t have trouble getting in.”

“Tell you what. She’s been here for hours, so I’ll stop for something to eat and then bring her to Verdant.”

After she ended the call, Laurel looked over at her father. “It sounds like Skye might be in trouble or might have someone looking for her, which explains why she wasn’t cooperating earlier. Is there any way you can wipe her from the system? Felicity sounded worried that her prints were run.”

“I noticed she was injured when they brought her in. I thought security might have been too rough with her but when I asked her, she said it happened a couple of weeks ago – looked like bruised or cracked ribs to me,” Lance observed, his expression serious. “Think it might be a domestic case?”

“I don’t know, but if someone hurt her, I don’t want them finding her because we led them to her,” she told him grimly. “I’ll try to find out more when I see Felicity later so we can be prepared if that’s the case.”

Laurel waited while her father accessed the system and erased all records of Skye’s detainment, starting with the call to pick her up at Verdant and ending with her prints. “I’ll have to mosey on over to booking and pull the physical copy, but that should take care of it. Queen will have to pull the security files at his company.”

“Thanks, Dad.” She leaned over to hug him and went back to the holding room.

Now that she knew what to look for, she could see that Skye was favoring her left side as she stood up and looped her bag over her right shoulder. Her money was on bruised ribs. She also looked tired, and it was the kind of exhaustion that usually built over a period of weeks.

“It turns out Felicity dropped her phone last night,” she told Skye as they walked out. “She’s a little tied up at the moment with a business function, but she sounded relieved to know you were here. She’s going to meet us at Verdant later.”

Skye nodded as she followed Laurel to her car.

Laurel waited for Skye to fasten her seatbelt and then asked, “Are you hungry? Because I was in court all day and I’m starving.”

Skye’s stomach growled in response, and she smiled. “Lunch was a hot dog from a street vendor for me, so I could definitely eat.”

Laurel could see that she was tired, so she didn’t push her to talk as she drove to Big Belly Burger. Once inside they took a back booth and placed their order. Laurel watched curiously as Skye pulled out her laptop and began typing furiously. She supposed that she shouldn’t be surprised that a friend of Felicity’s was also good with computers.

“If you’re worried about your records at the police station, don’t be. My father deleted them and pulled the physical copy of your prints. No one will ever know you were there.”

Skye looked up from her screen. “The captain?” When Laurel nodded, Skye said, “He was nice. He brought me some ibuprofen and water earlier.”

“Bruised ribs?” Laurel asked.

Skye shrugged and looked back at her screen. “They’re healing. The handcuffing didn’t help.”

Laurel waited while Skye continued to sort through information on her screen. After a few minutes she breathed a sigh of relief and logged off. “It’s fine.”

Although she wanted to ask questions, Laurel contained her curiosity. Their food arrived and while Skye only ate half of her burger and fries, she slowly sipped her large chocolate shake until it was gone. Ibuprofen on an empty stomach earlier probably hadn’t been the best idea.

When they finished, Laurel insisted on paying and then stopped at a coffee shop for a couple of coffees.

“It might be another hour or so before Felicity can meet us, and you look like you’re ready to fall over,” Laurel explained as she handed her one of the coffees.

Skye accepted it with a grateful smile. “It’s been a long day.”

Thea met them at the entrance to Verdant in order to make sure there were no problems. “You’ll be happy to know your mugshot is off the wall. And sorry about the whole being arrested thing but Ollie attracts weirdos.”

“It’s fine,” Skye told her as Thea led them to a private alcove upstairs.

“I’ve never met any of Felicity’s friends,” Thea continued, glancing at her curiously. “Her mother was here a few weeks ago, which was kind of hilarious.”

“Donna was here?” Skye asked, sounding pleased at the mention of Felicity’s mother. She slid into the comfortable booth as Thea lifted the ‘Reserved’ card from the table.

“Just for a few days. I wouldn’t have guessed they were related, but I liked her.” Thea glanced at the bar and signaled one of the bartenders. “Mark will bring whatever you need – water, food, whatever - no charge. It’s nice to meet you, Skye.”

Laurel allowed the younger woman a chance to get her bearings. She didn’t miss the way she had scanned the room as they entered, almost as if she were making note of the exits. Since she was more relaxed now, she decided that it might be an ingrained habit more than concern about her immediate circumstances.

“So how long have you known Felicity?” Laurel asked, sipping her coffee.

She wasn’t crazy about being in the club environment, but Thea had placed them as far away from the bar as possible. She’d been attending her AA meetings regularly as well, and she was proud of nearing the one year sober mark. Reminding herself of how far she’d come helped.

Skye played with the sleeve on her cup for a moment. “Since elementary school,” she finally said. “She’s the only family I have.” Reaching for her laptop, she opened it again and hit a few keys before motioning for Laurel to slide around.

Laurel almost laughed out loud as she saw a photo of a young Felicity with blonde pigtails hugging a dark haired girl with a crooked headband. “How old were you here?”

“Nine,” Skye said, smiling. A moment later her smile faded, and she closed out the files before shutting down the computer.

When she leaned her head back, Laurel could see the exhaustion was starting to catch up with her. “Why don’t you rest for a little while? I’ll wake you when she gets here.”

Skye nodded and moments later she appeared to be asleep. Thea came by to check on them once, leaving quietly when she saw that Skye was resting. Laurel sent Diggle a message to let him know where they were and then sat back to wait.

***

“So who is this girl?” Diggle asked, watching as Felicity shut down the computers.

Oliver hurried to change out of his uniform because he could see that Felicity was anxious to go upstairs. He went into the small bathroom he and Diggle had installed and cleaned up as quickly as possible while also straining to listen to the conversation outside.

“I told you, she’s a friend – my oldest friend,” Felicity replied. “We’ve been best friends since we were eight years old.”

“We’ve known each other for two years,” Diggle pointed out. “I’m just surprised you’ve never mentioned her.”

“Well, you never mentioned your wife until last year,” Felicity retorted. “We’ve stayed in touch regularly, but I haven’t seen her since I moved here to Starling. She was busy and then she was… away.”

“Away,” Diggle repeated. “Felicity, you had a very strong reaction when Laurel called earlier. You were worried and I heard you say that there couldn’t be any record of Skye in the system. I’m just saying that if she’s in trouble, it’s better to know what we’re dealing with.” 

Oliver finished changing into the suit he’d worn earlier and walked out to see Felicity standing with her arms crossed in a defensive gesture, a mulish expression on her face.

“Felicity.”

She turned to look at Oliver, and the stubborn expression on her face faded a little. She sighed and looked over at Diggle again. “It’s not that I don’t trust you. Of course I do – you know that. But these aren’t my secrets to tell, and it’s been months since I’ve heard from her. I don’t know what’s going on yet, but I know that she was looking into something that might have been dangerous before she dropped off the face of the earth, and so I’m worried.”

“Okay,” Diggle replied simply. “We’ll operate under the assumption that we need to be vigilant.”

Felicity nodded and glanced over at Oliver as she picked up her coat and bag. “I’m going to need at least a day or two off. Sorry. But Clara from the temp pool is familiar with how your schedule runs, and I’ll do my best to find a way to run missions.”

Oliver could see how important this was to her, and there weren’t any urgent cases since they’d been handling mostly petty criminals for the past few weeks. He nodded. “That’s fine.”

They left the basement by going out the back door where Diggle had parked and then walking around to enter the club from the front. Roy was already inside manning the bar, and Thea waved as she saw them coming.

“Your friend is asleep upstairs,” Thea told Felicity. “She looks like she hasn’t slept in weeks, to be honest. Laurel is sitting with her.”

Oliver saw the way Felicity frowned, that anxious look returning to her eyes, and her pace sped up as she practically flew up the stairs. Oliver, Diggle and Thea followed closely behind her.

Upstairs Oliver saw Laurel seated at a booth with a girl about Felicity’s age. She was dressed down in jeans, a pullover and a light jacket, and her long, dark hair tumbled across her shoulders. Her olive complexion looked pale under the dim lights, and he could see shadows beneath her eyes. She appeared to be sleeping and as Thea had observed, she looked like she hadn’t slept well in weeks.

The expression on Felicity’s face was equal parts elation and sadness as she stopped beside the table, her eyes never leaving her friend’s face. Laurel slid out of the booth to make way for Felicity, who immediately sat and moved around next to Skye.

The young woman startled awake, but her eyes lit up when she saw Felicity. “Hey.”

“It’s been months, Skye.” Felicity took a deep breath and reached out to touch the other woman’s hair. “Are you okay?”

Skye sat up and nodded. Then she held up her wrist and said, “I wanted to contact you but…” her voice trailed off. “I hate the news, by the way. It’s terrible, and nothing happy ever happens in this city.”

Oliver watched as Felicity fingered a bracelet on Skye’s wrist, and a flash of anger crossed her expression before she pulled Skye close and hugged her fiercely.

Skye winced. “Ow.”

Her hand went to her ribs, and Oliver’s eyes narrowed as he saw that she was injured. Bruised ribs, maybe.

“Oh, God,” Felicity pulled back. “Are you hurt? Why are you hurt? What happened?”

“Always with the multiple questions,” Skye suddenly said, and they both cracked a smile at what was obviously an inside joke. Then Skye’s face crumpled, and she sniffed. “It’s a long story.”

Felicity pulled Skye close, this time careful of her ribs. Skye wrapped her arms tightly around her friend, leaning her head against Felicity’s shoulder as she took a shuddering breath. Oliver wasn’t sure which one of them started crying first, but they were both in tears moments later, oblivious to anyone or anything else around them for the moment.

It was heartbreaking, and a look at the others showed similar expressions of empathy.

“I’ll go pull the car around,” Diggle said quietly, and Oliver nodded without taking his eyes off of the two women.

“Is she okay?” Thea asked. Her concern was obvious. “Does she need a doctor? I knew she seemed tired but I didn’t realize she was hurt.”

“She said that it happened a few weeks ago,” Laurel answered as her eyes met Oliver’s. “She didn’t say how.”

“If you and your father hear anything or get any official inquiries, let me know,” Oliver told her. “Felicity’s going to take a few days off.”

Laurel nodded and squeezed Thea’s shoulder before heading down the stairs.

Oliver looked over at Thea and put his arm around her, pulling her against him. “Same if anyone comes around here asking questions, okay Speedy?”

Thea nodded.

Oliver watched as Felicity leaned back and kissed the top of Skye’s head before resting her cheek against her hair. Her red rimmed eyes met his, and her lips trembled as she tried to smile.

Things obviously weren’t okay, but they would be. He’d make sure of it.

A/N: I’ve never written a crossover fic before, so let me know if anything is confusing. I’m doing my best to explain things as I go along. Most of the story is told from either Skye or Felicity’s POV, but I’m adding other POV conversations here and there for the purposes of an outside look into Felicity and Skye, and also for the purposes of clarity. As the story catches up to the beginning, we’ll get back to Team Bus to see how/why they arrive in Starling City and you’ll find out exactly what happened in that alley. Thanks for reading! Update to UMS up next :)

Chapter Text

Felicity shifted in her seat as she waited for her mom to finish talking to the principal. It wasn’t the first time Donna Smoak had been called to the school, but at least this time it wasn’t because of something she’d done – like the time she’d used her teacher’s computer without permission. She’d been reading on the playground when Brainless Bobby decided to take her book and throw it in the dirt. When she demanded that he pick it up, the situation quickly escalated. He wasn’t going to back down and Felicity was tired of him bullying her just because she was smart.

Then Mary Sue Poots stepped in between them. She was a little taller than Felicity but not as big as Brainless Bobby, who’d already been held back a year. However, she had more friends than Felicity and she could see Bobby wavering as several other girls and boys looked on. If his friend hadn’t suddenly teased him about being afraid of two girls, that might have been the end of it. Instead, he’d tried to punch Felicity and caught Mary in the face when she once again got between them.

Mary punched back though, and Brainless Bobby was the one crying when the teachers came running to see what was going on. Felicity stuck with Mary, afraid she’d be in trouble, and she explained what happened to her teacher, Mrs. Hill. She was one of the teachers who knew that Bobby had been picking on her, and she was also in the principal’s office.

The door to the outer office opened, and Felicity straightened up when she saw Mary entering the room along with the school nurse. She was holding an ice pack on her face, and Felicity winced when she saw that it was already swollen and bruising.

“You can wait here,” the nurse told Mary, gesturing to a chair across from Felicity.

Mary sat down without speaking. Felicity waited until the nurse left before picking up her backpack and moving to the chair beside Mary. “Does it hurt? Because it looks like it hurts, but I’ve never been punched before so I don’t know. Why didn’t you just let him punch me? And where did you learn to punch? I wish I knew how to do that.”

Mary’s eyes widened at the barrage of questions. Then she smiled. “You talk a lot.”

“I know. Sorry. My dad used to say I have Multiple Question Disorder,” she admitted. “He said asking questions is good but not all at once. I talk more when I’m excited. Or nervous. Or scared, or happy.”

“So, you just talk a lot all the time.”

“Yeah.” Felicity fell silent as she eyed the other girl. She didn’t know Mary very well since they weren’t in the same class. They had lunch and recess at the same time, and Felicity had seen her before with other girls. She was pretty with long, dark hair and big, brown eyes, and she didn’t seem to have the same trouble making friends that Felicity did.

“It hurts a little,” Mary replied with a shrug. “And I don’t like Bobby because he’s mean to a lot of kids. I’ve seen him picking on you before but this time it was different. He looked like he was going to hit you and you weren’t getting out of the way. I figured you’ve never been hit before.”

Felicity pulled her legs into the chair and studied Mary. She wore a lot of dresses to school, and she usually had a ribbon or a hair band in her hair. She looked more like a girly girl than the type of girl who knew how to throw a punch. “Do you have brothers?”

Mary shook her head. “No.”

“Oh. I thought maybe that’s why you knew how to hit back. That’s the first time I’ve seen Brainless Bobby cry. He might think before picking on a kid again.”

Mary laughed. “Brainless Bobby?”

“Well, he’s not very smart. He told Mrs. Hill that books are for babies and losers. And you should see his test scores. He tried copying from my paper a few times, but he stopped because he figured out I was writing the wrong answers and then changing them after he copied me.”

“I guess that’s why he picks on you the most,” Mary said. She glanced over at the principal’s office. “Are your parents here?”

“Just my mom. Bobby’s mother is in there too, and Mrs. Hill, and a nun. I don’t know why the nun is here.”

“Sister Natalie. She stopped at the nurse’s office to talk to me,” Mary told her.

Felicity’s brows drew together. “Your parents called the church?”

“I don’t have parents,” Mary said, looking down at the small ice pack she was holding. “I live at St. Agnes Orphanage. Sometimes they put me with a foster family, but most of the time I live at the orphanage.”

Felicity wanted to ask what happened to her parents. Suddenly, she had a lot of questions she’d like to ask the other girl. But she remembered what her mother said – that people didn’t like talking about things that upset them.

Felicity reached into her bag and pulled out her lunch box. Inside were two cupcakes with piles of pink frosting and sprinkles. She carefully removed one from the small plastic bag and held it out to Mary. “My mom and I make cupcakes when we’re sad, and we’ve been sad a lot since my dad left. It’s a little smushed, but it’s still good.”

Mary took the cupcake from Felicity and they were both quiet as they ate the sweet treats. When they were finished, Felicity threw away the wrappers and wet some napkins at the water fountain to clean their sticky fingers.

“I don’t have friends. A lot of the kids think I’m weird because I play with computers all the time and I talk about things they don’t understand.” Felicity felt nervous again, and she pulled at one of her pigtails. “I’d like to be friends with you. Do you think the nuns would let me visit you? Or we can ask if you can visit us. I know my mom wouldn’t mind.”

“No one’s ever visited me at the orphanage before. They let me go to a birthday party once, but I’ve never been to anyone’s house. My friends are mostly just school friends,” Mary explained.

“I want us to be real friends,” Felicity said. “I can help you with your homework. Do you like computers? I know a lot about computers. If you come to my house, we can make cupcakes.”

Mary looked hopeful. “Maybe if your mom talks to Sister Natalie today, she’ll say yes.”

When the door to the principal’s office opened a few minutes later, an angry looking woman marched Billy out of the office. She was followed by Felicity’s mom and Sister Natalie, who was still speaking to Mrs. Hill.

Felicity reached for Mary’s hand and felt a little burst of happiness when the other girl squeezed her fingers. She’d never had a real friend before, but she knew real friends took care of each other. Mary took care of her today, and she was going to find a way to take care of Mary.

***

Felicity tugged on her mother’s hand, pulling her towards the entrance of St. Agnes Orphanage. “Mom, come on.”

Donna Smoak picked up her pace – difficult considering the heels she was wearing. There’d been no time to change after Sister Natalie called her at work, though she did throw a conservative jacket on over her dress as a concession to the church environment.

Sister Natalie met them inside and smiled at Felicity. “How are you, dear?”

“I’m fine,” Felicity said a little impatiently. “Did the Brodys bring Mary for a visit?”

The bad feeling Donna had was confirmed when Sister Natalie shook her head. “I’m afraid Mary won’t be staying with the Brodys anymore. They brought her back yesterday.”

It was two weeks before Christmas, and Donna knew that Mary had been looking forward to Christmas with a family. “How could they bring her back before Christmas?”

Felicity looked worried as she said, “I’m gonna go talk to her.”

Donna waited until Felicity was out of earshot before she asked, “Did they say why?”

“They just said she wasn’t a good fit,” Sister Natalie replied. The firm press of her lips said a lot about her thoughts on the subject, though she didn’t voice them.

Donna wasn’t quite so circumspect. “She’s a nine-year-old child, not a puppy! They could have at least waited until after the holidays!”

“I don’t disagree with you. I know that you asked about having Mary placed with you,” Sister Natalie said.

“They won’t allow it because of my working hours, and I’m a single mother. I also got the impression they don’t approve of my job, but I’m doing the best I can to raise my daughter,” Donna told her. “At least if Mary was with us, she’d be loved. You’d think that would be more important.”

She’d never told Felicity or Mary about trying to get Mary placed with them. She’d known it might be a long shot, and she didn’t want either of them to be disappointed if it didn’t happen.

“For what it’s worth, I argued in favor of placing Mary with you,” Sister Natalie said quietly. “In my opinion, there have been far less favorable foster home placements. I don’t understand why Mary isn’t placed more often, to be honest. I did obtain permission for Mary to stay with you during the holidays, if that’s something you’d like.”

“Yes,” Donna replied immediately. “Can we take her today? She must be so upset.”

Sister Natalie nodded as they walked back to the recreation room. “Her bags are still packed. She wouldn’t talk or eat after they brought her back yesterday, and she’s been very quiet today.”

Donna spied Felicity sitting beside Mary at one of the tables. They weren’t talking, but Felicity was stroking Mary’s hair in a supportive gesture while Mary scribbled on a piece of paper with a crayon. She could tell that the little girl was trying hard to appear unaffected.

Felicity looked up at her with sorrowful eyes as Donna joined them at the table. It broke her heart that her daughter understood loss like this. Her own father left them both behind, so Felicity empathized with Mary far more than most children would have been able to.

“You know, I was thinking about putting up a Christmas tree this year,” Donna said.

Mary’s brow furrowed in confusion as she looked up from her paper. “But you’re Jewish.”

“Well, it might be nice to decorate a little differently,” she told her. “Decorating a tree is a big job though, and we’ll have to go to the store to pick out ornaments. We might need help. Sister Natalie said that you can stay with us for the holidays if you want.”

Mary looked hopeful, and Felicity sucked in an excited breath. “Really?”

“Yes, you’re coming,” Felicity told her. “I’ll help you pack.”

“I’m still packed,” Mary told her. She looked back up at Donna. “Can I come today?”

Donna smiled at her as she reached out and straightened the hair band she was wearing. “That’s why we’re here, baby. Why don’t you go get your things and we’ll stop and eat on the way home. Tomorrow we’ll go tree shopping, okay?”

She sighed as both girls ran from the room. Thankfully she had the next two days off. It would be exhausting to do all the shopping and decorating in those two days, but it would make the girls happy. That was more important.

***

Skye opened her eyes and immediately closed them against the bright sunlight streaming through the blinds in Felicity’s bedroom. She rolled over and winced at the soreness in her ribs. She’d obviously overdone it by being so active in the last twenty-four hours.

She sat up and ran her fingers through her tangled hair. Oliver’s driver, John, had brought them to Felicity’s place the night before, and Felicity had insisted Skye take her bed since the guest room wasn’t made up. Skye guessed it was probably also full of computer equipment or spare parts. She’d fallen into bed fully dressed, too tired to worry about a shower, and she vaguely remembered Felicity lying beside her when she fell asleep.

Skye was alone now. Based on the amount of sunlight in the room, she figured it was late and a glance at the bedside clock confirmed it was nearly noon. She hadn’t slept so long in… well, she couldn’t even remember, but it had to be before Hydra came out of hiding. There’d been very little time to rest in the months since then.

She was surprised by how peaceful she felt. Peaceful and safe. Peace was another feeling she’d parted ways with in the last year. Even before the team learned of her deception, there had been an element of anxiety in her daily life. Anxiety, fear of discovery, and guilt had all weighed on her a lot more than she’d realized. After the fear was gone and she’d dealt with her feelings of guilt, the anxiety remained due to her situation with Ward, and it had blown up since overhearing the conversation in Coulson’s office.

Skye had thought a lot about what she’d heard Coulson, May and Jemma discussing. She couldn’t deny that she was afraid of what would happen to her if what they suspected was actually true. If she wasn’t human, or not fully human, would they let her leave? And if they did, would they continue tracking her for the rest of her life? Would they continue to study her?

She felt normal. She hadn’t noticed any physiological changes or side effects since the GH325 drug was administered. Before leaving the Playground, she went looking for Jemma’s notes from her blood tests. She found more background than she’d anticipated, and she’d copied the files. Technically that was treason; if she confided in Felicity it would most definitely give Coulson a reason to lock her up. She knew he had a soft spot for her, and his treatment of her was paternalistic at times, but she feared that his duty as the new director would override personal concerns.

That was why she was here. Yes, she’d been concerned about Felicity, but she also needed someone she trusted implicitly to help her reason through this mess. And no matter what they found, she knew Felicity would never turn her back.

She wished she could say the same about the team, but she just didn’t know anymore. She trusted Fitz since she was sure he’d been in the dark, and he hadn’t been horrified to learn she might not be human. She wanted to trust Coulson, May and Jemma, but she was suspicious of their motives for keeping the information from her while also continuing to track her and study her. The truth was that Coulson was different now, and May had always been a pragmatist. Their positions within the newly rebuilt SHIELD meant making hard calls, and she understood that up to a point. Jemma was a scientist, and Fitz had posited that she might have been ordered not to say anything. Skye couldn’t exactly fault her for following orders.

Ward was another concern. She didn’t think he knew what the others had been keeping from her since even Fitz wasn’t read in by Jemma. She wondered how he would feel about her if he did know. Would it matter to him if she was some kind of part-alien freak? Would he believe she was dangerous? She knew his views on gifted people. He and May had been in agreement as to how to handle the Donnie Gill situation, and Ward had taken the shot that took him down.

It wasn’t that she didn’t understand why he did it. Donnie was a risk in that moment, an immediate danger to the team, and he’d made a call. She knew better than anyone how he carefully compartmentalized his feelings in order to make those hard calls. What concerned her was that May, Ward and Bobbi – even the new mechanic, Mack – all saw gifteds as potential threats rather than people. Dealing with Ward’s anger and dismissive attitude in recent months was painful enough. She didn’t think she could bear it if he looked at her like she was less than human.

She’d promised Fitz that she wouldn’t just disappear, and she would keep that promise. She just didn’t know if she could return to the team if she no longer trusted them. Now that she was here with Felicity, she felt less inclined to blindly trust that they had her best interests at heart.

Skye could hear voices in the living room – a man and Felicity. She got up and went into the master bathroom to shower. She took the time to wash and dry her hair before getting dressed in jeans and a v necked, black pullover. It was early December and even inside her feet got cold, so she pulled on a pair of thick socks before walking into the living room.

Felicity and John were in the kitchen, and it smelled like someone was cooking. Skye smiled when she joined them and saw Felicity bouncing a baby while watching John stir something in a large pot.

“Something you forgot to tell me?” Skye asked, crossing to the fridge and pulling out a bottle of water.

“This is Sara,” Felicity told her. “John’s better half had to go into work. I asked him to come by here so I could make a trip to the store, and he got lunch started while I handled some things from the office.”

Skye raised a brow at her friend. “I don’t need a babysitter, Felicity, and I don’t want to completely disrupt your life while I’m here. You can go to work and go to the store without calling in reinforcements.”

“You’re not disrupting anything,” Felicity said. “I told Oliver that I was taking a few days off. Also, John has medic training from his days in the Army. I asked him to take a look at your ribs.”

“I’m fine. I just need to rest for a couple of days,” Skye protested. “They’re bruised, not broken – and they were healing just fine up until I was handcuffed yesterday.”

“Which could have strained them even more,” John spoke up as he added some chopped onions to the pot. “It won’t hurt to check them, and Felicity bought some cold compresses and ibuprofen. You haven’t been wrapping them, have you?”

Skye shook her head. “No.”

“Good.” He switched the heat to low and turned to face her, wiping his hands on a dish towel. “That needs to simmer for about thirty minutes. It’s white chicken chili – Felicity said you like spicy food.”

She suddenly felt hungry. “It sounds good.”

She followed John over to the table, resigned to letting him check her injury. One thing she’d learned over the years was that Felicity was a world class nag, and she didn’t doubt that her friend would eventually get her way.

Skye raised her shirt up and turned slightly so he could see the affected area.

“There’s still some discoloration,” he remarked. “How long ago did this happen?”

“Nearly three weeks ago,” she replied. “I rested up until the day before yesterday, so I was feeling a lot better.”

“Having your hands cuffed behind your back is probably what made you sore again.” He ran his hands carefully over the bruised area. “No sharp pains?”

“No – it’s not worse than before. I can still do my breathing exercises.”

“This kind of injury usually happens when you receive a blow to the chest.”

He didn’t ask how it happened, but she could tell that he and Felicity were both wondering about that. “It was an accident.”

“An accident,” John repeated, sounding skeptical. His hands suddenly stilled.

Skye froze. Damn – she’d forgotten about her scars. She met John’s eyes and shook her head, but it was too late.

“Are those gunshot wounds?” Felicity asked, her voice rising. “Were you shot? When were you shot?”

Skye pulled her shirt down and sighed. “I was going to tell you, but I wanted to wait until we’re alone. I’m fine now.”

“Fine? Are you kidding me?” Felicity handed Sara to John and sat down in the chair he’d vacated. “If you were shot twice in the gut then you could have died. Don’t patronize me by pretending it wasn’t serious.”

“Since when are you a gunshot wound expert?” Skye asked.

“Since my best friend got involved in something dangerous and then dropped off the grid,” Felicity shot back. “Is that why? And what the hell is this about?” She touched the bracelet on Skye’s wrist.

Skye looked over at John. Felicity seemed to trust him as if he was a good friend and not just her boss’s bodyguard, but she was hesitant to drop details in front of anyone else.

Felicity obviously guessed the reason for her hesitation because she added, “John won’t repeat anything, Skye. And he and his wife are a resource if we need them. I just want to make sure you’re safe.” At Skye’s questioning look, she explained, “Lyla works for ARGUS.”

“She’s right,” John said, bouncing Sara in his arms. “I won’t repeat anything said here, even to Lyla, without your permission. My main concern is that you and Felicity aren’t in danger.”

Skye bit her lip as she considered exactly what to tell them. “The person who shot me is in prison – sort of. He’s no threat to me right now. And the person who ordered him to shoot me is dead.” Holding up her wrist, she looked at John and added, “As for this, it’s a tracker, but I modified it to bounce the signal. Only one person knows I’m in Starling City, and that’s all they know. I’ve never mentioned Felicity to anyone. I have at least a week, maybe two, before anyone would notice I’m not where I’m supposed to be.”

“You’re not going back,” Felicity stated flatly, crossing her arms.

Sighing, Skye reached out and took one of Felicity’s hands. “You know the reasons why I was there. You know why it’s important to me.”

“And we’ll find another way,” Felicity argued. “I have friends who can help, and there are no two hackers better than the two of us.”

Skye glanced over at John and gave a slight shake of her head, her way of letting Felicity know she wasn’t comfortable with giving out any more details. Felicity pressed her lips together, a frustrated expression on her face, but she let it go for the moment.

John seemed to recognize the conversation was over because he said, “I’m going to feed Sara.”

Skye watched him take a bottle from the refrigerator and use what looked like a travel size bottle warmer to heat the milk. “How old is she?”

“She’s two months old,” Felicity replied. She still looked upset, though.

“I promise I’m okay now,” Skye said softly. “I’m not going to lie – it was a very close call. They used an experimental drug to save my life.”

“Experimental drug? How experimental?” She looked worried now.

“I downloaded some information onto a flash drive before I left, and I’m going to tell you everything because I need some help understanding it,” Skye explained. “Just not right now, okay? I’m not sure I want anyone else to know the things I’ve learned.”

“Okay,” Felicity conceded reluctantly. “Why don’t we pull your chair into the kitchen and you can talk to me while I finish up lunch.”

Felicity refused to let her lift a finger, so Skye sat and watched her shred cheddar cheese, slice avocado, and chop up cilantro. She took the containers to the table and then opened a container of sour cream and poured tortilla chips into a bowl. By the time she finished pouring drinks and setting the table, John had finished feeding Sara, who was now sleeping in a seat that rocked, vibrated and played soft music.

“That is a very next gen baby accessory,” Skye observed.

“And worth every penny,” John told her with a smile. “She drops right off, no problem.”

They were all silent as they began eating. Skye added some more cheese to her bowl before speaking again. “So, you’re Oliver Queen’s secretary? I guess that explains the Executive Assistant Barbie makeover.”

Felicity choked and started coughing while simultaneously glaring at her.

“What?” Skye asked innocently. “I’m just saying – you wore a lot of boob window dresses and short skirts last summer, and your shoe collection has obviously been upgraded. I was surprised the entertainment media didn’t run with that. I kept expecting Perez Hilton to make some bad secretary jokes or something.”

Felicity cleared her throat and said, “You’re not funny.”

“Oh, I think I’m hilarious,” Skye told her, suddenly feeling a lot better. She’d missed teasing her friend. “I bet Donna was thrilled that you’ve found a happy medium between Jan Brady and Sandman’s Death of the Endless.”

“Death of the what?” John asked, raising his brows in Felicity’s direction.

She pointed a finger at him. “Don’t listen to anything she says.” Turning back to Skye, she added, “And Mom probably remembers exactly whose idea Death of the Endless was, anyway.”

“Eh, she still loves me. And I’d rather be blamed for that than the boob window dresses,” Skye snarked, laughing when Felicity threw a tortilla chip at her. Then Felicity started laughing, too.

“I missed you,” Felicity said simply. “You’re not allowed to disappear again.”

“I won’t,” Skye promised.

John shook his head at their antics but didn’t comment further as they finished their lunch. Getting some proper rest had increased her appetite, and Skye ate more than she’d been eating in recent months.

“You’ve lost weight,” Felicity observed as she cleaned off the table.

“I’ll probably gain it back being here. I noticed a lot of cupcake supplies in your pantry.”

“It’s something to keep us busy this afternoon while we talk.” Felicity put the last of the containers into the fridge and started making coffee.

John left, promising that either he or Lyla would pick up the baby that evening. Sara slept peacefully as Skye and Felicity laid out the ingredients for cupcakes. The first batch didn’t bake evenly.

Felicity adjusted the oven rack after dumping the burned cupcakes. “I haven’t used the stove for baking since I moved in. We may have to experiment a little.”

She returned to the table where they’d set up their cupcake station and began combining the cupcake ingredients for the second batch.

“Do you remember when we thought you could hear a heart breaking?” Skye asked.

“Well, that was more you than me,” Felicity said, stirring the batter. “I kept telling you the heart was a muscle, but twelve-year-old you liked romanticizing it.”

Skye rolled her eyes, dipping her finger in the batter and narrowly avoiding getting it slapped by the spoon Felicity held. “Still, I had this idea that maybe it sounded like glass shattering and felt like that time I broke my finger. And later, even when I knew hearts didn’t really break, I thought it must be something so strong that everyone would notice when it happened.”

Felicity looked over at her but didn’t say anything.

“I never imagined how quiet it really is,” Skye continued softly. “It’s the most painful thing in the world – worse than when I was shot. And no one can hear it.”

“Who is he?” Felicity asked.

“His name is Grant.” Saying his name brought back the ache of missing him. “I never meant to fall so hard. I guess it was stupid of me, all things considered.”

“It’s never stupid to care about someone,” Felicity said.

“It is when you’re lying to them.” Skye watched her pour the batter into the paper cups and then slide the muffin tin into the oven.

“How did they find out? I’m assuming based on the tracker that they know you had an ulterior motive for being there.”

“Miles,” Skye admitted. “I caught him nosing around in SHIELD several months ago and I went to him before telling the team. I wanted to give him a chance to explain, but it turns out he was selling information.”

“I never liked him,” Felicity said, wrinkling her nose in distaste.

“I’m aware,” Skye said dryly.

“If they know why you were there, and you’re not exactly free to snoop around anymore, why did you stay? Because of this guy?”

“I was training to be an agent before I got shot. Grant was my training officer. Afterwards they bumped me to a level one clearance and I was surprised by how much I wanted it – to be a real part of their team. Then the agency imploded, which I’ll explain later. When they caught me meeting with Miles, I told Coulson about my past. I told him what I’d learned and what I was looking for, and he said he’d help me.”

“He’s been a great help at getting you almost killed,” Felicity muttered, stirring the third batch of batter aggressively. “You say Grant was your training officer. I take it he’s not anymore?”

“No. He asked another agent to take over. He doesn’t look at me or talk to me these days if he can avoid it,” she answered, unable to keep the trace of bitterness from her voice.

“Then he’s an idiot and he doesn’t deserve you.”

“You say the same thing about every person who’s ever had a problem with me,” Skye pointed out, smiling in spite of the topic.

“Because they’re all wrong.” Felicity checked the cupcakes and pumped her fist. “Yes! Got it right this time.”

It really was that simple for Felicity. Anyone who didn’t love the people she loved was automatically in the wrong, and she’d never failed to leap to Skye’s defense. Then again, Skye felt the same way about her, which brought her to Oliver Queen.

“I’ve seen you in the news a lot in the last few months,” Skye commented. “Why did you really take this job with Oliver Queen?”

“I didn’t want to,” Felicity admitted. “But he needed someone he could trust. It’s more than an assistant’s position anyway.”

“Well, I assumed so since he doesn’t have the knowledge necessary to run a company like Queen Consolidated. He doesn’t exactly strike me as being very tech savvy. And not to sound judgmental, but I remember stories about him peeing on cop cars. Everything I read makes him sound like a raging douchewad.”

“He’s not like that anymore,” Felicity said as she poured the batter for the next batch of cupcakes. “He went through hell in the five years he was missing, and hell followed him home. That kind of loss changes a person.”

“You’re in love with him. Does he know?” Skye asked. She’d guessed something like that was going on based on the way Felicity looked at him. To her it was clear even in the limited news footage she’d seen.

“I’ve never said it aloud. Neither has he. I think he’s afraid he can’t be what I need. And changing the subject, did I mention Cooper is alive?”

“No, you definitely didn’t.”

Felicity went through the whole story as she pulled a batch of cupcakes from the oven and put the next batch in to bake.

“I never liked him,” Skye said, “but I never would have pegged him for a killer.”

“You never told me you didn’t like him,” Felicity said with a frown.

“Well, I didn’t think the best time for that talk was after he supposedly committed suicide,” Skye pointed out. “You felt guilty, and there was no point in trashing a dead man, so I kept it to myself.”

By the time Sara woke up, ready for another bottle, they had five dozen cupcakes cooling on the counters and the table. Felicity fed Sara as Skye began icing the first batch. They had vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, strawberry, and devil’s food cupcakes, and they’d already mixed up chocolate, vanilla, buttercream, and cream cheese icing.

When John and Oliver came by to pick up Sara, they both looked surprised by the cupcakes scattered over every surface.

“That’s a lot of cupcakes,” Oliver deadpanned, an amused twinkle in his blue eyes as he looked at Felicity. “You have some sugar on your nose.”

Felicity reached up to swipe at her nose, missing the sugar entirely. Oliver gently brushed it off for her.

“It’s kind of our thing,” Felicity explained, looking around. “My mom used to call it cupcake therapy when we were kids.”

“We might have overdone it this time,” Skye said. “For some reason it’s just now registering that we have five dozen cupcakes to eat.”

“Wait,” Felicity ordered John and Oliver. She began gathering some of each flavor and packing them into large containers she’d bought earlier.

“What are we supposed to do with these?” Oliver protested when Felicity handed him the containers.

“Pass them out at the club or take them to work tomorrow,” she told him. “We can give some to my neighbors, too.”

Oliver paused on his way to the door. “You’re both good here, right?”

Felicity nodded. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

After they left, Felicity reheated some of the chili for dinner. By unspoken agreement, they didn’t talk about anything important while they ate. Instead they watched TV and relaxed, polishing off two cupcakes each after dinner. Then Felicity cleaned up and brought her laptop into the living room along with a bottle of wine.

Skye poured the wine, handing one of the glasses to Felicity along with the tiny flash drive she’d stored inside her bra.

“Honestly, I can’t believe you’re still doing that,” Felicity said, smiling.

“Yeah, well, I don’t want just anyone seeing what you’re about to see. I could be charged with treason for taking this information off base,” she explained. “You could be in trouble just for looking at it.”

“What is it exactly?”

“My file. It’s everything that SHIELD knows about me, from the time I was shot, to what they learned about the experimental drug they used to save my life, to the story of a baby girl smuggled out of China twenty-five years ago.”

Felicity’s eyes flew up to meet hers, but she didn’t say anything. Instead she started reading.

Skye felt her anxiety returning with a vengeance. She knew she could trust Felicity, but she couldn’t seem to shake that feeling of dread that the people she loved most would see her differently.

Felicity remained silent as she carefully read through the information. Skye could pinpoint the moment she ran across the photo because her reaction pretty much mirrored the one she’d had a couple of days ago.

“Holy shit.”

Skye poured more wine – they were probably going to need another bottle. “My big blue forefather. I guess Coulson inherited a lot of files when he took over as director because he didn’t have all of this information on Project TAHITI before that.”

“This is…” She broke off, stunned. For once Felicity seemed speechless.

“Crazy?” Skye finished. “Now you understand though – why I feel like I have to go back.”

“What?” Felicity shook her head frantically. “No, no, no – SHIELD is probably full of scientists in white hazmat suits who chase down aliens in suburban neighborhoods to experiment on them. You can’t go back!”

“Felicity, I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of E.T., not SHIELD,” Skye pointed out, suddenly feeling amused. “I’m also reasonably certain that Fitz and Jemma would never do that even if someone ordered them to.”

Then again, someone at SHIELD had carved up Big Blue and drained him of fluids to use in experimental treatments. Skye wondered if her blood could be used in a similar way, a thought that made her feel queasy. She took a gulp of wine and tried to stop her imagination from running too wild.

“Well, I’m not certain of anything.” Felicity took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “This is a lot worse than we ever imagined, Skye. According to your file, they’ve been taking your blood and looking for physiological changes for months, and they never told you.”

“What about the genetics stuff? I don’t completely understand everything Jemma noted,” Skye said. “I mean, I understand enough. Apparently I’m at least partly human.”

“Okay, we’re not going to start talking about you like you’re not human,” Felicity said sharply. “You’re still you. I don’t care what this file says, it doesn’t change that.”

She’d known, deep down, that Felicity wouldn’t turn on her and that it wouldn’t change the way she looked at her. Still, the confirmation was enough to dispel her feelings of apprehension, and the relief that followed had her blinking back tears. “Thank you.”

Felicity leaned over and kissed the side of her head. “It’s going to take me a while to go through this, and I have a feeling that we’re still going to need some help. I have friends at STAR Labs in Central City. I trust them, but we don’t have to tell them how this specifically relates to you if you’re not comfortable with that.”

Skye thought about it for a minute. It was a risk to start telling people about aliens and SHIELD experiments, but she knew Felicity wouldn’t suggest anything that would endanger her. “How about if we only give them the basics – the physiology and sample analysis from Papa Smurf and a sample of my blood they can use for DNA comparison. They don’t need to know where either sample came from, right?”

“Papa Smurf? Really?” Felicity shot her a look as she sipped her wine.

“Hey, if I don’t have a sense of humor about this, I really will go crazy.” Skye went to the kitchen and returned with another bottle of wine. “While you’re doing that, I’m going to watch a movie.”

Felicity was already making notes on a legal pad and running searches when Skye found the movie she wanted. She connected her laptop to Felicity’s flat screen TV and pressed play.

When Felicity saw the opening credits for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, she rolled her eyes but didn’t comment. And for the first time in weeks, Skye felt normal again.

A/N: Sorry this took a little longer than expected. I didn't work on anything for a few days due to a cold – let me know if you see anything that needs fixing in this chapter because editing while on cold meds doesn't always work out well. The chapters have also ended up being kind of long once I start plugging in the flashbacks and then fleshing out scenes and conversations. Right now I'm going to just put the flashbacks at the beginning of each chapter, and I've been trying to arrange them so that they tie into current events a little. I'm not sure if every chapter will have flashbacks since I included two here and there will probably be two at the beginning of the next chapter. I'll just have to see how it works out.

ChosenTwo at AO3 helped me out by finding a link to that Skyelicity gif on Tumblr - it was made by marysuepoots. It's the gif that inspired this story, and I made a few joking references to it in this chapter. It'll come up again in one of the flashback scenes. It's hard to post links here, but I re-blogged it on my Tumblr (Poetgirl925) if you want to go take a look. Thanks for all the reviews at FF and comments at AO3, including guest reviews that I can't respond to. I'm glad so many of you liked the first chapter, and I hope you enjoyed the update!

Up Next: Skye meets Barry Allen, and she and Felicity spend more time with Team Arrow. I'll try to update as soon as possible!

Chapter Text

Felicity was at her desk and concentrating intently on her laptop screen when Mary opened her bedroom door.

“What’s up?” Mary asked, dropping her bag on the floor and flopping down on Felicity’s bed.

Felicity nibbled her bottom lip and altered a line of code before looking up at her friend. “Where have you been? I’ve been calling you for hours.”

“Had to pick up a few things,” Mary explained. “I have an idea for a makeover.”

“It’s not bangs, is it? Because you’re never happy after you do it,” Felicity reminded her.

“Not for me – for you.” Mary reached into her bag and tossed a comic book in her friend’s direction.

Felicity picked it up. She noticed that Mary had paper clipped a page, and when she opened the book, she saw a pale, goth-inspired woman wearing a black tank top and a silver ankh necklace. “What is this?”

“Sandman comics,” Mary replied. “I was helping out at the church rummage sale and this guy brought in a bunch of old comics. Michael was talking to him about this character – Death of the Endless.”

Felicity nodded slowly. “Your former foster brother likes comics. And?”

“And you could totally pull this off,” Mary said. “You don’t want to be the same old Felicity Smoak who gets picked on in college because she’s younger than the other students, right? So change it. I guarantee that nobody would pick on this chick.”

Felicity snorted with laughter. “You’re kidding. I don’t have the attitude to pull this off.”

“You’re nothing but attitude,” Mary told her sarcastically. “Why do you think you’re always getting picked on? Besides, the character is more cool than scary. She kind of reminds me of you.”

Felicity studied the picture for a moment. She wasn’t that out there, really - black hair, casual clothing in black, pale features offset by black rimmed eyes and dark lips. She already had dark hair; she could darken it a couple of shades and cut it. The rest was clothes and makeup.

“I brought what we need,” Mary continued as she pulled several pairs of dark jeans, a few dark tank tops, and one black leather jacket from the bag. “Courtesy of the rummage sale, so I got them on the cheap. You have a pair of black boots. I also called Cindy and she said she could fit you in for a hair appointment this afternoon,” she added.

Cindy worked at a nice salon that gave discounts to guests and employees of the casino where Donna worked. She and Donna were friends, so Felicity knew she’d get a good rate.

“How do you feel about industrial piercings?” Mary asked, raising a brow.

Felicity lifted her hands over her ears in a defensive gesture. “You know, if I’m going to do all this, you’re getting a makeover too. You could start by throwing out your grunge chic plaid shirts.”

“I was thinking of doing something a little more drastic,” Mary said slowly. She scooted to the end of the bed. “I’ve decided I’m not staying here after you leave.”

Felicity sighed. She’d known something like this was coming. “But you’ll have to drop out of school.”

“School has always been more your thing than mine,” Mary said with a shrug. “I have some money saved up from fixing computers, and I can keep doing that to make more money. It’s time for me to find out where I came from. And when I leave here, I don’t want to be Mary Sue Poots anymore.”

They had already discussed ways that they could erase Mary from the system. It would be a big job, but it was feasible. “Do you know who you want to be?”

“I was thinking… Skye. No last name.”

“You’ll still need a clean alias – maybe more than one,” Felicity pointed out. The sensible part of her wanted to protest the idea of Mary running away because she was afraid it was dangerous. Still, she knew that this was important to her friend, and she was going to support her no matter what. “I like it. Skye, I mean.”

“Yeah? Then Skye-with-no-last-name it is.” Mary smiled as she got up and stood before Felicity’s dresser mirror. Holding her hair up and letting the ends fall over her forehead, she added, “I think I might like the bangs this time.”

***

Four hours later, Felicity stood in front of the mirror at the Dashing Diva salon. “Holy crap.”

They’d visited a tattoo parlor first, and she’d gotten an industrial piercing in her ear. It still hurt, and she gingerly ran her finger over it before turning her attention to the long, inky black hair that now fell over her shoulders. Mary and Cindy had helped with her makeup and she’d traded her glasses for contact lenses. One change of clothes later, she actually looked like the character from the comic book. Like Death of the Endless, the only deviation from solid black in her attire was the silver ankh necklace hanging around her neck.

She didn’t even look like herself. She looked… badass. If she could stop her tendency towards babbling, this makeover might actually do its job. “I look older than sixteen. My mom’s going to flip out. Just so you know, Mary, I’ll blame you.”

“Skye,” her friend reminded her.

Felicity rolled her eyes. “I’ve been calling you Mary for eight years – give me a minute to adjust.” Glancing over at her, she asked, “How do you like the bangs?”

Skye wrinkled her nose. “I think they might have been a mistake.” She’d gone for a face-framing fringe that cut straight across her forehead, covering her brows. While it was a great cut in general, Felicity agreed that it wasn’t the most flattering for Skye.

“Well, at least your hair grows fast,” Felicity said with a sigh. “You’re not planning to throw out all that plaid, are you?”

“Nope,” Skye replied cheerfully. “I need to save my money – a girl’s gotta eat.”

“I can help with that – no, do not even think about arguing,” Felicity stated firmly when it appeared Skye would protest. “My scholarship covers tuition, books, housing, and a meal plan. My mom can help a little with clothes and things, and I’ll take a campus job so I can help you out. It’s not safe for a sixteen-year-old girl on the streets. We both know that, so shut up and just accept that I’m going to get my way on this.”

“God, you’re stubborn,” Skye told her, pursing her lips. When Felicity crossed her arms and raised her brows, she laughed. “You almost look scary now, which is hilarious.”

“Don’t change the subject. I’ve already set up an account for you.”

“Wait, when did you do that?” Skye asked. “I only told you a few hours ago.”

“Like I didn’t know this was coming? I set it up a year ago and started putting a little money in here and there because I had a feeling you were going to skip town if I left. Please don’t argue and just take it so I can go to college without worrying that my best friend in the entire world is starving or freezing to death in a cardboard box set up in a dirty alley somewhere.”

Skye snorted with laughter. “Geez, you are so dramatic. If computer science doesn’t work out, I think you have a career in drama. I can take care of myself better than that. Unlike you, I have actual street smarts.”

“Mar-“ Felicity broke off and cleared her throat. “Skye, please – just take it. I know you can take care of yourself, but there’s no reason you have to do it alone. Please.”

Skye hesitated for another minute before relenting. “Okay, okay. Thanks.” Moving to stand beside Felicity in front of the mirror, she said, “Donna really is going to freak out about this.”

“Yeah, I know.” Felicity couldn’t help smiling as she imagined her mother’s reaction. “She still has this idea that I’m going to the prom, and she bought me this horrible pink dress even though I’ve told her at least a thousand times I’m not going.”

“You could ease up on Donna, you know. She’s not that bad.”

“No, but she’s just so… frustrating. She wants things for me that I don’t want, like boyfriends and parties, and I want things she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t get me.” They’d begun arguing more and more in the last two years, and Skye had taken to playing referee.

“Well, at least she tries,” Skye told her bluntly. “And she’s always been there – for you and for me. Cut her some slack.”

Felicity felt a twinge of guilt because she knew Skye was right. “I know.”

“So, are we ambushing her with the new and improved Felicity at the casino or at home?” Skye asked. “Don’t worry, we’ll tell her it was my idea.”

“At home.” Felicity picked up her bag and linked her arm with Skye’s. “Let’s pick up pizza and some cupcake supplies – cupcake therapy will be a good distraction.”

***

Felicity was still wide awake long after Skye had fallen asleep watching movies. She was far too anxious to sleep, and her head was buzzing with all of the information she’d learned about her best friend that night.

Skye was different. Regardless of what she said, Felicity knew that was a dangerous thing to be in the world of SHIELD. As far as she could determine based on the notes Dr. Simmons had made, Skye was an alien-human hybrid, and the SHIELD doctor suspected that she could have some sort of powers, albeit ones that hadn’t yet manifested. This was where it started getting hazy because she didn’t understand all of the notes on Skye’s genetic makeup. However, a prisoner named Raina had told them that if Skye was the baby from the Chinese village, then her people had powers, and it appeared that Director Coulson believed she was telling the truth.

By the time she’d made her way through the entire file, she had a headache. Deciding to switch gears, she spent the next half hour hacking into the tracking bracelet Skye wore. Hacking the microchip that blocked and bounced the signal helped her locate the base from which they were operating, a place called the Playground. She squashed her initial feelings of guilt as she began working to break through the servers’ firewalls, careful not to leave any trace of her activities. She’d promised Skye long ago that she wouldn’t hack into the agency, but as far she was concerned, all bets were now off.

Once she was in, she quickly discovered SHIELD had amassed a lot of information on world events that fell into the alien or supernatural categories. It all sounded like science fiction to her even though the existence of aliens was no secret since the Battle of New York. In addition to files on aliens like the Chitauri and the Asgardians, she found records on the metahumans affected by the particle accelerator malfunction, all of whom SHIELD had been tracking, and there were files on other gifted individuals as well. SHIELD even had a registry for these gifted people - they called it the Index.

A quick search through the Index showed they had taken an interest in specific metahumans in Central City. They had a file on The Red Streak, as well as brief accounts of a few metahumans Barry had stopped. They had a much larger file on Slade’s super soldiers, proof that they had been in contact with ARGUS at some point. Felicity made a mental note to check into the ARGUS files later.

While SHIELD had been tracking alien threats since its inception, it was clear they were equally interested in powered people, regardless of how those powers had come about. Now they had discovered that Skye was something else altogether and it scared Felicity. She doubted they were going to let it go because this blue alien wasn’t one that SHIELD had much information on – according to Skye’s records, he wasn’t Asgardian like Thor, nor was he one of the Chitauri who had attacked New York. They had also ruled out any connection to someone named Loki, who had been adopted by Asgardians but was of another race altogether.

She found the names of Skye’s supervising officers, Grant Ward and Melinda May. After downloading their service records, she moved on to agents Triplett, Coulson, Fitz, and Simmons. From notes she could see that Agent Triplett was working an assignment at a smaller base, but the rest of the team’s current mission file gave her two more names to follow – Barbara Morse and a mercenary named Lance Hunter. She also found Raina’s file. Despite having kept the woman locked up for the last few months, they knew very little about her, and Felicity planned to remedy that.

They had also picked up an artifact that Raina claimed came from the same Chinese village from which Skye had been taken – something they were calling an Obelisk. Felicity thought about asking Barry to steal it for her before dismissing the idea as too dangerous. She had no doubt he could get into the SHIELD base undetected, but after reading about the effects from touching the alien artifact, she worried that one wrong move would result in his death. It was something she’d need to discuss with Barry and Caitlin first.

It would be so easy to erase everything about Skye from their system. She could delete some of it remotely, but it would be better to have Barry speed in and load a data-wiping virus onto the server. He could grab the physical files and blood samples on his way out. They might come looking for her, but Felicity could make sure she was ready for that.

Grabbing her phone and pressing Barry’s speed dial number, she waited for him to pick up.

“Hello?”

Barry’s groggy voice reminded Felicity it was the middle of the night – around two thirty in the morning, to be exact. “Barry, it’s Felicity. Sorry – I wasn’t thinking about the time.”

“Felicity? Is something wrong?” She could hear a rustling noise, and he sounded more awake now.

“I need your help with something.” She bit her lip and glanced over at Skye, who was still sleeping soundly at the other end of the sofa. If she asked Barry to break into the Playground, Skye would be upset when she eventually found out. God, she was so tired and worried she wasn’t sure she was reasoning this through properly. “Actually, maybe this is a bad idea. I’ll call you tomorrow, okay? Sorry I woke you.”

There was silence from Barry’s end of the line as she hung up, but a minute later she heard a knock at her door. Wary, she tiptoed to the front door and peeked out to see Barry on her doorstep.

Felicity opened the door and let him in before locking it again. “You didn’t have to come all the way over here.”

“Felicity, you wouldn’t have called at this hour if something wasn’t wrong,” Barry pointed out reasonably. “Is it Oliver?”

“Shhh.” Felicity put her finger to her lips and motioned towards the sofa.

Brows drawing together, Barry asked, “Who is that?”

“My friend, Skye. She’s visiting from out of town.” She took off her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose, rolling her shoulders to release the tension. When she looked up, Barry was looking back at her with a concerned expression. “And no, nothing’s wrong with Oliver.”

“Then what’s going on?”

“I may need your help with something,” Felicity finally said. “What do you know about SHIELD?”

“Aren’t they the agency that handles alien threats?” Barry asked. “I only heard about them after the Battle of New York, but then suddenly they were everywhere until the organization went down.”

“It didn’t go down so much as it went underground,” Felicity told him. “They’re still keeping tabs on the world, and they’ve expanded their interest to metahumans, among others.”

Barry looked back over at Skye. “Your friend is…?”

“No – not a metahuman.” That was the truth. “She and I are looking into something though, and I need a genetic analysis done. Do you think Caitlin would be willing to do that without asking too many questions? I don’t want to drag you too far into this.”

“You know she will, but if you’re in trouble, Felicity, then let us help you. Why did you really call?”

“I wanted you to break into the secret SHIELD base and load a virus onto their server.” When his brows rose, she nodded. “Yes – drastic. It was a bad idea. Maybe later, after we know more.”

“Maybe later…” Barry shook his head. “Felicity, what is going on? You’re not making sense.”

“I know because I’m tired and I never make sense when I’m tired.” She took his arm and led him back to the door. “Tomorrow morning I’m going to bring you a blood sample from one test subject and some files on another subject for comparison. Skye and I will take the mid-morning train and we can be there some time after lunch.”

“Okay.” Stepping outside, he turned back and added, “It sounds like this is one of those ‘It’s not my secret to tell’ situations – am I right?”

“Something like that. See you tomorrow.” She patted his arm and watched him speed off before locking the door and heading into her bedroom for a few hours’ sleep.

***

Skye sipped her coffee as she watched Felicity digging through a bag of medical supplies. “Felicity, this isn’t going to work. You’re terrified of needles, remember? You can’t even participate in blood drives, and you threw up when you got that industrial piercing.”

“Well, we don’t have a choice,” Felicity snapped back, agitated as she approached Skye. “John’s busy this morning but I’ve seen him do this before, and you admitted you don’t know how to draw a blood sample, not to mention drawing your own sample would be really difficult…”

“Okay, Felicity? Breathe.” Skye bit her lip to stop the smile that threatened. She rolled up her sleeve and held out her arm, raising a brow expectantly.

Felicity made a big show of tying the rubber band around her arm and wiping the inside of Skye’s elbow with an alcohol swab before taking a deep breath and removing the cap from the needle. She immediately balked, the needle never making it anywhere close to Skye’s skin as Felicity gagged and breathed deeply again.

“I probably can’t do this,” Felicity admitted, setting the syringe carefully on the table.

Skye swallowed her laughter and rolled her sleeve back down. “Felicity, it’s okay. I knew that if we were going to give the lab a blood sample that someone else would have to draw it. You forget how long I’ve known you.” She sighed and propped her chin on her hand. “You said your friend Barry is a scientist, right? Could he do it?”

“Yes,” Felicity replied. “I trust him, Skye. You know I’d never endanger you.”

“I know.” Skye drained her coffee cup. “Let’s just go to Central City and let him draw my blood. If you say he won’t tell anyone where it came from, then it’s fine.”

They finished breakfast and then drove to the train station. Skye suspected that Felicity had stayed up most of the night  looking over her files because she’d been cranky all morning and slept most of the way to Central City, which allowed Skye time to relax and listen to music as she stared out at the scenery speeding by.

It had been so long since she’d been just a normal girl in a relatively normal city that her first impression of Central City was that it was impossibly bright – a stark contrast to the dark feeling she got in Starling City. As they walked downtown from the train station, they passed a newspaper stand. Skye saw that the front page story was on the Red Streak, recently renamed The Flash.

“Central City is home to a lot of metahumans since the accident with the particle accelerator,” Felicity explained when she saw what had caught Skye’s attention.

Skye nodded. “Yeah, I know. SHIELD has a database where they keep track of gifteds – they call it the Index. I think at some point they plan to add metahumans to it, but they’ve got bigger problems right now with Hydra.”

“You said ‘they’ like you’re not a part of them anymore,” Felicity observed quietly. When Skye didn’t respond, she added, “I don’t like the idea of putting people on a list like that. If they’re dangerous or criminals then fine, I guess I can understand it, but I’m guessing that’s not how this Index works.”

“It’s complicated. I get it on a certain level – that people with powers have the potential to be dangerous. If one of them goes off the rails, then having a file on them and their specific abilities can be useful.”

“What you’re not saying is that you’re afraid of being added to it,” Felicity said. “They can call it whatever they want, but the way I see it? It’s profiling, it’s an invasion of people’s privacy, and it’s wrong. Someone who’s not doing anything to harm other people – someone like The Flash, who’s helping people – SHIELD has no business tracking them.”

Skye shook her head. “It’s just – it’s not as simple as that, Felicity. Yeah, I’m scared, and I don’t know what I want anymore, but we’re talking about the same people who took me in and risked a lot to save my life. Without SHIELD, I probably would have died in China, and I definitely would have died in Italy. Plus, I’ve seen things. I’ve helped them do things that saved people, and I think that Coulson is doing the best he can to protect people from these bigger threats.”

“Fine – I’ll concede that they saved your life by getting you out of China, but getting you shot was their fault in the first place,” Felicity insisted stubbornly. “I don’t trust them Skye – not when it comes to your life, and that’s what we’re dealing with here. Big organizations like that are about secrets and lies, and they’ll sacrifice a few to save the majority. I don’t want you to be one of those sacrifices.”

Felicity had a point. Skye let the subject drop because she wasn’t sure she still had the conviction to argue that point, and it was clear that Felicity was holding a very deep grudge against SHIELD. She doubted anything she had to say was going to change her friend’s mind at the moment.

When they arrived at the Central City Police Department, Barry was waiting for them downstairs. Skye took a moment to study him as he greeted Felicity with a hug. She judged him to be about their age; he was tall with thick brown hair and blue eyes, and he exuded a boyish charm that made him seem open and approachable. He wore jeans with a button down shirt, a vest and a jacket, and that casual conservative mix seemed to suit his personality.

“Skye, this is Barry Allen. We met last year when he came to Starling City to help the SCPD out on a case involving a break-in at Queen Consolidated,” Felicity explained. “Barry, this is my oldest friend, Skye.”

Barry squeezed Skye’s hand, his smile friendly. “So how long have you known Felicity?”

“Since we were eight,” Skye replied. “She was about to get pounded by Brainless Bobby on the playground and I intervened.”

“She got a black eye for her efforts, so I shared my cupcakes with her, and a lifelong friendship was born,” Felicity summarized, wrapped her arm around Skye’s shoulders as they followed Barry up the stairs to his laboratory.

Barry closed and locked the door behind them before turning back to Felicity. “Okay, you said you need a genetic analysis, right?”

Felicity glanced at Skye reassuringly before passing a folder to Barry. The folder contained a copy of the detailed genetic analysis of the blue alien, as well as a detailed physical description to go along with the copy of the photo Felicity had included.

After reading the first page, Barry’s eyes widened. “Aliens? Oh, that is so cool! What are we dealing with here – I mean, he’s not an Asgardian, right?”

“No. Flip to the back.”

Barry did as she asked and found the photo. “Wow,” he said softly. He skimmed through the pages. “So not a known alien, not Asgardian or Chitauri. This is so awesome, Felicity – even though we know about the existence of aliens now, seeing the file puts it into a new perspective. And this guy was here in the 1940s? It’s like The X-Files, where they’ve been among us forever and they’ve created hybrids…”

Skye choked on the water she was sipping and started coughing. She felt Felicity patting her back but didn’t look at her.

“Are you okay?” Barry asked Skye. When she nodded, he turned his attention back to the file. “So this comparison – is it just a record like this or a physical sample you want compared?”

“Both,” Felicity replied. She handed over the second folder she’d labeled Subject 2.

“And the physical sample?”

Taking a deep breath, Skye rolled up her sleeve and held out her arm. “Felicity tried to take the sample herself, but she’s got a thing about needles. She swears we can trust you with this, so…”

Barry looked stunned for a moment. “Wait are you saying that you’re an alien?”

“Well, if the scientists at SHIELD got it right, I’m an alien hybrid,” she said, looking away from. When she saw Felicity about to protest her choice of words, she rolled her eyes. “Fine, a human hybrid. Felicity objects to the alien label.”

“Because you’re not an alien,” Felicity retorted. “You’re … you. You’re Skye, and that’s all that matters.”

“Well, if that were true, we wouldn’t be here,” Skye joked, shrugging when Felicity shot her a look. “Anyway, Barry, I can trust you – right?”

“Absolutely,” he told her firmly. He placed the files on his desk and began gathering what he needed to draw the blood sample. When he finished, he carefully labeled it as Felicity placed a band-aid over the small puncture wound.

Skye looked up and caught Barry staring at her. “What?”

“Sorry,” he said, a sheepish expression on his face. “I was just thinking that this is my first close encounter of the ali-“

Felicity pointed a finger at him.

“Uh, the human hybrid kind,” he finished awkwardly.

Skye couldn’t help laughing, both at his expression and the way he abruptly cut off the word ‘alien’ when Felicity glared at him. “Don’t get too excited, Barry. I grew up in Vegas, not a galaxy far, far away.”

“Still, for a guy like me who loves the paranormal and all things extraterrestrial, this is pretty cool, which makes me a nerd, I know.” He slipped the two vials of blood into a sample bag, sealed it, and picked up the folders. “And since you trusted me, I’m going to return the favor. Be back in a flash.”

He waved. Then he vanished in a brief streak of color.  

Skye blinked. “Wait a minute. What…?”

“Looks like you just had a close encounter of the metahuman kind,” Felicity said with a smile.

“He’s the Flash,” Skye murmured, shaking her head in amazement. “And he just trusted you with that secret?”

“Yeah, it’s kind of a long story.”

Felicity gave a brief history of her friendship with Barry, his accident in the lab and subsequent coma, and how he had recently confided in her about his powers.

Skye was still processing that information when Barry suddenly appeared in the chair before her. He grinned when she jumped, startled by his entrance.

“Well?” Felicity prompted.

“Caitlin, Cisco and Dr. Wells are going to make this a priority,” he told her. “If you want to stick around for a night, they think they should be able to tell us something by tomorrow.”

Felicity glanced over at Skye, who shrugged. “Fine by me.” They’d both packed a small bag with essential toiletries and a change of clothes, so they were prepared for an overnight stay.

“Okay then. I’m sure you have work to do, so we’ll go get checked into a hotel, maybe rest a little since Skye is still recovering.” At Barry’s questioning look, she added, “Bruised ribs.”

“Ouch.” Barry’s expression was sympathetic. “Why don’t we meet up at Jitters around five-thirty and then we can go have dinner together?”

After setting a time to meet later, they left Barry in his lab and checked into a local hotel to rest up. Skye  claimed one of the double beds, turned on the TV and found herself yawning within minutes as Felicity checked in with Oliver at the office.

When Felicity ended the call, Skye asked, “Does he know we’re in Central City?”

Felicity shook her head. “He’d have questions I can’t answer.” She kicked off her shoes and climbed onto the second bed with a yawn. Within minutes she was asleep.

Skye set her phone alarm and then closed her eyes, listening to the low sound of the TV as she thought about her day. Meeting the Flash had been unexpected, and she now wondered if the people at STAR Labs knew about him as well. She figured that might be why Felicity was so sure they could be trusted.

Either way, it looked like they would get at least a few answers tomorrow. Then Skye knew she would have to give some serious thought to her future and whether she intended to stay with SHIELD or move on. The thought of leaving SHIELD – of leaving Coulson, May, Jemma and Fitz behind – was painful. And though her relationship with Ward was seriously damaged, it hurt to think she might never see him again.

She stroked the tracking bracelet she wore and cleared her mind, finally allowing herself to relax enough to fall asleep.

A/N – Sorry for the long wait on updates. Life got busy as it sometimes does, but I promise I won’t abandon any of the stories, and I should have more time to work on edits now. Also, the flashbacks aren't necessarily in linear order, but I do try to mention an age or time frame for each one. For example, in Ch 2 they met when they were 8 years old, and Skye left the Brody family when she was 9. In this chapter's flashback, they're 16. Later we'll go back to that first Christmas Skye spends with Donna and Felicity, and we'll eventually cover some of Felicity's time at MIT and the last time they saw each other before Felicity moved to Starling City. Just let me know if anything is confusing. 

Up Next – Skye and Barry get a chance to talk about what it means to be different. She and Felicity also get some answers from the team at STAR Labs before returning to Starling City, where Felicity has a hard time hiding her double life from Skye.

Chapter Text

Donna closed the front door as quietly as possible. She could hear the low sound of the television. When she peeked into the living room, she only saw the babysitter.

“Hi,” Donna said, toeing her shoes off with a sigh of relief. “Are the girls asleep?”

Sixteen-year-old Abby shook her head as she looked up from her phone. “I checked on them about fifteen minutes ago, and they were still awake and talking. I figured since there’s no school tomorrow that it didn’t matter.”

“It’s fine. Thanks for watching them.” She reached into her tip envelope and pulled out a few bills which she handed to Abby. “Same time tomorrow?”

Abby nodded and left.

Donna locked up and walked over to the Christmas tree to turn off the lights. She’d somehow managed to get the Christmas tree up and decorated during her two days off, and she’d also done a bit of Christmas shopping. She was going to have to pick up extra shifts over the next week to pay for it, but she was determined to provide a nice Christmas for both girls this year.

Mary would get something from the orphanage, of course, but Donna remembered last Christmas. Mary got new clothes and shoes, and she got one toy - a doll. Donna was almost certain that she didn’t even like the doll, but she clung to it since it was one of the few things she could call her own.

Last year had been their first Christmas without Felicity’s father, and money was tight. She’d worked overtime for weeks to get Felicity some new computer parts, and Felicity had been allowed to choose a gift for Mary. She’d chosen a small radio, and the girls took the thing apart at St. Agnes on Christmas morning.

Donna thought it was ruined, but they put it back together and it worked just fine. She’d tried to keep up with Felicity’s explanation of how electronics worked, but she barely understood anything she said. What surprised her was that Mary not only understood Felicity, she seemed to enjoy playing with all of the techy things that Felicity loved.

When she peeked into the bedroom, the lights from the small Christmas tree they’d chosen for Felicity’s room showed the girls snuggled up together in the daybed. Donna went into her own room and took a quick shower before changing into her pajamas and sliding her feet into a pair of comfortable slippers.

The girls were still whispering together when she checked on them again.

“I’m glad you’re not with the stupid Brody family,” Felicity was saying.

“Don’t call them stupid,” Mary told her. “They’re good people even though they didn’t want me. I just don’t fit anywhere.”

“You fit here.” Felicity tucked the blanket more securely around her friend.

“I think maybe it’s because I called her mom,” Mary suddenly confessed. “I shouldn’t have cuz it was less than a month but I just wanted to try it out. See how it sounded. I thought she liked it but that was a week ago and…”

Donna put her hand over her mouth as Mary suddenly sniffed and wiped her hand across her eyes. If she knew where to find the Brody family, she’d have a lot to say to them about the damage they’d inflicted.

“It’s okay,” Felicity whispered. She sounded as upset as Mary, and wrapped her little arms more tightly around her friend. “It’s their loss, you know. That’s what Mom says. And we’ll look for your real parents. I’ll help you.”

“What if…” Mary’s voice trailed off.

Donna had heard the girls playing what if – what if Mary’s parents were a royal family in hiding, for example. She thought that one might have come from a Disney movie they’d watched a few months before.

“What if they’re bad people?” she finally whispered.

“It doesn’t make you bad,” Felicity said softly. “I heard Mom say on the phone that if my dad was here he’d probably be arrested. He did something bad.”

Shit, Donna thought, dismayed. She didn’t realize Felicity heard that.

“You’re here.” Felicity placed a hand gently over Mary’s heart. “And here is good. I think inside we must be sisters because we both lost someone but inside we’re still good. That’s all that matters. We can decide to be sisters.”

“Sisters,” Mary repeated, sounding happier. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Donna sniffed and wiped her fingers under her eyes before entering the bedroom. “I see two little girls who should be asleep.” She crawled onto the bed with them and pulled the blanket over the three of them. “Why are you still awake?”

“We’re just talking,” Felicity explained. “And we wanted your special hot chocolate.”

She fought a groan. Her feet were killing her, and she was tired. The last thing she really wanted to do was get up and go to the kitchen. But when she saw two pairs of hopeful eyes staring back at her in the dim light, she sighed. “Okay. Bring your blanket and I’ll let you watch TV in the living room while I make the chocolate.”

“With peppermint sticks,” Mary reminded her as they got up.

She held up her arms for a hug, something she’d started doing a few days ago, and Donna squeezed her tight for a minute before kissing her hair. “Sure thing, baby.”

***

Barry held open the door of Jitters and stepped aside to allow Felicity and Skye to walk in ahead of him. The café was already filling up with the after work crowd, and the baristas were bustling around the room delivering orders. Skye saw a young woman at the counter raise her hand in greeting, and Barry waved back before leading them over to an empty table in the corner.

“That’s Iris,” Barry explained when he saw her questioning glance. “We grew up together, kind of like you and Felicity.”

“Except for the part where you’re totally in love with your childhood bestie,” Felicity quipped. When Barry shot her a look, she raised her hands. “But that’s none of my business. I’ll just go order for us. Two shot latte for Skye and Barry is having…?”

“Medium roast, black,” he told her.

Skye smiled when Felicity patted her shoulder absentmindedly as she walked around the table and over to the counter.

“It’s nice to meet one of Felicity’s friends,” Barry commented. “You two seem really close.”

“We’re family,” Skye told him, crossing her arms on the table. “But I think me showing up out of the blue like this, and after being out of touch for so long, has made her kind of…”

“Paranoid?” Barry suggested, raising his brows.

Skye laughed and nodded. “Yeah. She’s struggling with the idea of me being different. She’s worried.”

“And you aren’t?” Barry countered skeptically.

“No, I definitely am. The thing is, I’ve imagined my family history hundreds of times since I was a kid – who my parents might be, the reasons why they might have given me up. Felicity and I used to dream up all these crazy scenarios, like me being a princess in hiding or the daughter of secret agents. I just never imagined that my story would read like science fiction.” Skye felt a lump in her throat and swallowed hard. Grabbing a napkin, she began twisting it between her fingers as she tried to get her nerves under control.

“We all have a story,” Barry said after a moment. “My mom was murdered when I was a kid, and my father went to prison for it. I was there and I knew it wasn’t my father, but no one believed me. Then last year I was struck by lightning and spent nine months in a coma. Now I have this new power, and I can help people, even save people’s lives. But I may never be able to help my father prove his innocence.”

“You’re saying that the story can be good and bad,” Skye said quietly.

Barry shook his head. “I’m saying that sometimes the story is just a story. Good, bad, even tragic - it doesn’t have to define you. What really matters is who you are inside. I’m the fastest man alive but it’s not who I am, you know? I know that you’re probably worried about what my friends will find in your DNA – about where you come from - but in the end all that really matters is who you are now. And I think that’s what Felicity wants you to hang onto because she’s afraid of losing you.”

Skye bit her lip. “Do you really believe that? Even if it turns out I have some weird, latent abilities? I mean, what if I spit venom or something?”

“Yeah, I do,” Barry replied firmly. “And hey, if you do have a superpower, you can officially join the superhero team. The Flash and the Arrow and… we’d have to get Cisco to give you a superhero name. Spitting venom could be useful.” He grinned at her.

“Wait, you know the Arrow? Isn’t he in Starling City? And isn’t he a killer?”

“Oh – uh.” Barry broke off and cleared his throat. “You know, he’s reformed. Mostly reformed - no more killing, anyway. And he’s saved a lot of people, so you can’t really believe the news reports.”

Skye wanted to ask more questions but Barry suddenly excused himself, holding up his phone as a reason for the hasty retreat. She thought about the file they’d received from ARGUS detailing vigilante activity in Starling City. It was true that the Arrow and his partners had averted two terrorist attacks in the last two years, but he’d racked up quite a body count during his first year of vigilantism. She found it hard to imagine someone like that working alongside someone as hopeful as Barry.

Felicity returned with their drinks, followed by Barry and Iris, who turned out to be as open and friendly as Barry. She and Felicity chatted with ease, and Skye couldn’t help noticing the changes in her friend. While she and Felicity had bonded early and subsequently guarded that connection fiercely, Skye had always formed new friendships more easily than Felicity did. While Felicity needed a strong bond with new people in order to call them friend, Skye was more apt to form different kinds of friendships – some were casual, others were with people she trusted up to a point.

None had ever replaced the friendship she had with Felicity, though.

She’d worried that Felicity would be lonely in Starling City; instead she was thriving. She was clearly very close to John and Oliver, and she’d also formed a connection with Barry that seemed to run deep considering what Barry had told her about spending nine months in a coma. They had a lot of similar interests and laughed at each other’s nerdy jokes.

Skye couldn’t hide her amusement a few minutes later when Iris interrupted their debate of favorite actors portraying Dr. Who characters. “Personally, I thought Daniel Craig was the best one.”

They both stopped talking and turned to stare at her. Then Barry rolled his eyes. “She’s totally trolling us. Oh! Did you see that new article about light fidelity technology?”

“And I’m out,” Iris said with a laugh. She stood up and nodded to Skye. “Want to help me with refills?”

Iris was already finished with her shift, but she took care of their refill orders. Placing them on a tray, she glanced over at their friends and said, “I really think they’re perfect for each other, but Barry says they’re just friends. And then seeing her with Oliver the last time they were in town, I figured that’s why.”

“Felicity’s mom used to say the heart wants what it wants,” Skye said. She’d never realized just how true that was until she met Ward. “Even when it would be easier to want someone else.”

“Sounds like a wise woman,” Iris said. “And it sounds like you’re speaking from personal experience, so I guess I shouldn’t expect sparks to fly between you and Barry?”

Skye laughed. “No. Don’t get me wrong – he’s great, and he gave me some very good advice earlier. But we’re definitely not a thing. He reminds me a lot of my friend Fitz.” It was too bad they couldn’t meet because she had a feeling Fitz would get along very well with both Felicity and Barry. And Jemma – she felt a pang as she thought about Jemma’s secrets, and she wondered again if Jemma had pulled back in recent months because she knew Skye was different.

“Advice, huh?” Iris smiled. “He’s good at that sometimes – kind of wise beyond his years. Then he wants to argue about Dr. Who or he gets excited about comic books, and I remember that I’m not the only one who still struggles with adulting.”

Since her boyfriend was working late, Iris joined them for dinner at a local pizzeria. Skye did her best to keep her mind off of Ward and the team, but knowing that she would get some solid answers the following day was bringing her anxiety back to the surface. Because once she had those answers, she was going to have to decide whether or not she could trust her team enough to stay with them.

***

Barry paused outside the entrance to STAR Labs and asked, “Are you sure you’re okay with them knowing who you are? I can still do this alone and meet you back at the hotel.”

Skye took a deep, calming breath. “This is your team, so I know I can trust them. And Felicity trusts them. I’d rather just get it over with and ask all my questions now.”

“Okay then.”

Felicity sent her a reassuring look as they followed Barry into the facility and took the elevator to the main lab. Inside a tall woman with long, brown hair was making notes on a tablet while an older man in a wheelchair rattled off information. Across the room, a young Hispanic man was tinkering with a piece of machinery.

When they walked in, the woman looked up and smiled. “Felicity! I didn’t know you were in town.” She walked around the computer station to give her a hug.

“We got in yesterday,” Felicity told her.

When the two men joined them, Barry performed the introductions. “Skye is visiting Felicity in Starling City, and they needed our help.”

Caitlin looked startled. “You mean the DNA analysis?” She glanced over at Skye.

Barry nodded. “Yeah. You said you were finished, right?”

“With the initial analysis, yes, but Dr. Wells and I were talking about ways that we might be able to extrapolate more information from the dormant DNA strand.”

“And where did you get alien DNA?” Cisco demanded. “Barry just sped by yesterday and wouldn’t tell us anything, which is so not cool.”

“Cisco,” Caitlin murmured, shaking her head slightly.

From the way she was looking at her, Skye guessed that the doctor somehow realized one of the blood samples was hers. “One of the samples came from a government agency,” Skye explained to Cisco. “I took it without permission, which makes it treason, which means that if you’re squeamish about that kind of thing then you should probably leave now.”

No one moved. Dr. Wells folded his hands together. “The second blood sample is yours.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa – back up the train,” Cisco said, holding his hands up dramatically. “She is way too pretty to be related to the weird blue guy in the picture.” When Skye didn’t dispute Dr. Wells’ claim, Cisco said, “Wait – seriously?”

“Seriously. And thanks, I think,” Skye said, forcing a smile in spite of the nerves twisting her stomach into knots. “I was hoping that you wouldn’t find any connection.”

Caitlin’s expression was sympathetic. “Why don’t we sit down so we can talk about what Dr. Wells and I found?”

Ten minutes later, Skye’s head hurt. “No offense, but I dropped out of high school and came very close to flunking biology before that, so I’m going to need a translator.”

“For which part?” Caitlin asked.

“I understand I have twenty-three pairs of chromosomes like any other human,” Skye told her. “So I understood the first sentence of your explanation. Yay me.”

“Okay, so we need a real world example,” Caitlin said. “Uhm…”

“Ever played rp games like Dungeons and Dragons?” Barry suddenly asked. “You know, with the d20 system for character stats?”

“Yes, but it’s been a while,” Skye replied.

Felicity seemed to understand where he was going with his explanation. “So imagine your DNA strand as containing traits from the game – intelligence, dexterity, strength, constitution – and you’ve gotten a number from each parent.”

“Okay.”

“From one parent, you’ve been dealt a pretty good hand,” Barry said, picking up the explanation. “You have a strong showing in all categories. And in the other parent, you also have a strong showing combined with multipliers for certain traits.”

“So what – you’re saying I’m a superhuman hybrid?” Skye didn’t try to hide her doubt. “I think I’d have noticed by now if I had superhuman intelligence or strength. High school dropout, remember?”

“No, this makes sense,” Felicity told her. “No one has ever been able to keep up with me when it comes to computers, and you picked it up really fast – faster than you should have been able to without a genius level IQ, which you might have since you’ve never been tested.”

“We were young, though,” Skye pointed out. “Kids learn things faster.”

“And you’ve never been sick as long as I’ve known you,” Felicity continued. “Of course, you flunked gym class, but you didn’t care about gym class, so that doesn’t count.”

Skye suddenly remembered May’s comments about her agility and reflexes in training. She couldn’t deny that as soon as she applied herself to the training in a serious manner, she was able to improve rapidly. Even May had been surprised by that, which meant it probably wasn’t the norm for trainees.

“So what am I?” she finally asked. “A hybrid of that alien and a regular human? I’m grateful I’m human colored and not blue, but how exactly does this happen?”

“We believe that you’re a descendent of an alien-human hybrid. My best educated guess would be that your ancestors were several generations removed from any pure alien race,” Dr. Wells explained. “Based on markers for hair and eye color, it’s likely that your mother was Asian and your father was Caucasian, but the alien DNA is only present on your mother’s side.”

Skye nodded. It was overwhelming, but even the tiniest bit of information about her birth parents felt like a gift.

Felicity reached for Skye’s hand and squeezed it in a silent show of support. “That tracks with the story of you being taken out of China when you were a baby.”

“There is something else,” Caitlin said. “Some of the alien DNA is also present in – for lack of a better term – a junk DNA strand. It’s very different from the other DNA present, though it has bonded to the human DNA in such a way that I probably wouldn’t have even noticed if I hadn’t been looking for it. The thing is, all humans have some junk DNA, but yours is different because it seems dormant rather than non-functional. Even in regular junk DNA, the non-functionality has been argued. Some scientists think that fragments of this non-functional DNA have undergone exaptation, and while it’s a controversial and by no means widely accepted finding in humans, I think that explanation may apply to you.”

“Okay, even I didn’t understand that, Caitlin,” Barry said.

“She’s saying that Skye’s junk DNA strand contains DNA that is capable of acquiring some new function through a means other than natural selection, which is how most genetic traits are determined and passed on.” Dr. Wells removed his glasses and looked at Skye. “It’s possible that something, at some point, could trigger that DNA, which would almost certainly trigger a change – an evolutionary leap forward, if you will.”

Skye nodded but didn’t say anything. Her hands felt cold and clammy, and her heart was pounding. Felicity rolled her chair closer and wrapped one arm around her.

“Possible,” Caitlin repeated gently. “There’s really no reason to worry about something that probably won’t even happen. You’re in your mid-twenties already and nothing has changed.”

“That’s probably easier to say when you’re not the one with the ticking time bomb DNA strand that might make you turn blue and grow a tail,” Skye pointed out.

“Well we can probably rule out the tail since the blue guy was strictly humanoid,” Barry said, his tone teasing. “And since only a couple of genes determine skin color, we can probably rule out turning blue. But if we’re lucky? You’ll be spitting venom the next time I see you.”

Skye burst out laughing, and it felt good to laugh – to release some of the tension and fear that had been building steadily in the last thirty minutes. She turned to Cisco and said, “So Barry tells me you’re the man to see about code names. What name would you give a venom spitting human hybrid?”

Cisco rubbed his hands together. “That could be very cool. We could do a name inspired by venomous flowers – pretty on the outside but deadly. There are venomous snakes and frogs and insects…”

“Or we could just call her Skye,” Felicity interrupted, crossing her arms and raising a brow. “My best friend, who I love more than life, is not a science project.”

Skye rolled her eyes. “Calm down. We’re just kidding around. My ET and Papa Smurf jokes, spitting venom – I told you, if I don’t laugh I’m going to lose it.”

Barry coughed to cover a laugh. “Papa Smurf?”

“Well, you saw the guy, right?”

 Caitlin cleared her throat to get their attention. “Dr. Wells and I have some ideas about how to extrapolate more data from the alien DNA markers. It might not work, but we won’t know until we try it.”

“Thank you. Both of you,” Skye said. “It’s not what I wanted to hear but at least I have some answers now.”

“This government agency that you took the files from. It was SHIELD, yes?” Dr. Wells asked.

Skye hesitated briefly before nodding. “It’s a long story.”

“Be careful,” he advised her. “Any agency concerned with the accumulation of power, information and resources is one that bears watching. In this case I believe Felicity is right to be concerned.”

She nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

***

Felicity kept a close eye on Skye as they headed back to Starling City. She was quiet and withdrawn, lost in her own thoughts. Felicity couldn’t even imagine how she must be feeling. It was one thing to suspect that you were different, but it was another when someone confirmed that your DNA had the potential to evolve without warning.

It was also the thing she’d been dreading. Skye’s ticking time bomb analogy wasn’t so far off because they had no idea what might trigger her dormant DNA. And maybe nothing would, but the possibility would always be there, hovering in the back of her friend’s mind, and there was nothing Felicity could do about that.

When they arrived back at her apartment, Felicity wasn’t surprised when Skye decided to take a nap. She’d tossed and turned the night before, her restless movements keeping Felicity awake as well.

Felicity glanced at the clock, noting that Oliver would be leaving the office soon and heading into Verdant. “I thought I would go and pick up dinner, maybe check in with Oliver and see how he’s doing with the temp. Will you be okay here alone?”

Skye walked over and hugged Felicity before turning her towards the door. “I told you, I don’t need a babysitter. I know that you want to talk this out, but I just need some time to process it first.”

Felicity told herself not to push. “Okay. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

***

Felicity was at her computer station when Oliver and Diggle came down the stairs. She’d hoped that work would be a distraction. But the uncertainty looming over Skye’s future, and how SHIELD might decide to handle a situation involving an alien-human hybrid, had her imagining worst case scenarios that would fuel her nightmares for weeks.

“Hey,” Oliver said as he walked across the room to join her. “I didn’t expect to see you here tonight.”

“Skye is resting and I just wanted to check on things,” Felicity explained. She tried to keep the apprehension from her tone but knew she was unsuccessful the moment she saw Oliver’s expression.

“How is she?” Oliver asked quietly.

“She’s fine – for now, anyway. It’s the future I’m worried about. I wish I could explain it, but…”

“But they’re not your secrets to tell,” Oliver said. “I understand that.”

“She was shot while she was away,” Felicity told him. “John saw the scars when he was checking her ribs, and then I saw them, and I shouldn’t even say that much but she could have died. I was kind of worried when I didn’t hear from her for months, but I never thought she could be dead. And what if she had died and I never knew it because she just disappeared?”

Once she started talking, all of her worries rocketed to the surface, and she was grateful when Oliver’s steady hands engulfed hers.

“She’s thinking of leaving again,” Felicity continued. “And even if I can talk her out of that, there are people who might start looking for her.” She glanced up to see Diggle standing behind Oliver. “I can’t lose her.”

“Whatever happens, we can protect her,” Diggle said.

Felicity could feel her eyes burning, and she blinked rapidly to hold back the tears. She didn’t have time to fall apart. She probably had a week at most before Skye would either try to rejoin the team or they would come after her. Somehow she needed to figure out a plan before that happened.

“John’s right. I promise you that nothing will happen to her.”

Oliver had a way of saying things that made you believe he could make them happen, even when those things seemed impossible. As much as she wanted to believe it would all work out, she couldn’t stop worrying about the alternative. “How can you be so sure?”

“Because it’s us,” Oliver told her. He held both of her hands in his and met her gaze. “All of us working together will get it done, and we can call Barry if we need help.”

Felicity looked away. She had already set up an emergency code with Barry; he would come and take Skye to STAR Labs if Felicity set off the panic button. But she couldn’t tell Oliver that without explaining why they’d been in Central City, and she knew that Skye wouldn’t want her to tell everyone what they had learned.

Diggle and Oliver might not know exactly what was going on, but from questions Oliver had asked, she thought he suspected a domestic case, possibly with someone in law enforcement. John didn’t contradict Oliver, though something in his expression told Felicity that he didn’t quite buy that.

Felicity set up an alert system to ping her tablet whenever an alarm went off in the city or a nine-one-one call was made. Ordinarily she would be monitoring radio chatter for the SCPD. Since it would be much harder to hide that from Skye, Laurel had volunteered to come in and handle that part while Oliver, Roy and Diggle patrolled.

“How is Skye?” Laurel asked as she set her bag on the desk and removed her jacket.

“She’s fine,” Felicity said. “I need to pick up dinner and get back, though. Just call me if you need anything.”

Laurel nodded. “That goes both ways, you know.”

“Thanks. Maybe one night you and Thea could come over?” Felicity suggested. “I’d like for all of you to get to know Skye because I’m hoping I can convince her to stay.”

Laurel smiled. “I’d like that.”

Felicity paused on the bottom step of the stairs when Oliver called out to her. He was already dressed for patrolling, though his hood was down and he hadn’t yet strapped on his quiver and bow.

“Call me if you need anything – even if it’s just to talk,” he told her. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead gently.

Felicity closed her eyes and soaked in the moment. This constant dance - the back and forth and emotional uncertainty – had taken a toll on her relationship with Oliver in recent months. She wanted more and so did he, but he wasn’t ready to go there. Sometimes she wondered if he ever would be.

***

Two days later, Skye followed Felicity into Verdant. “What are we doing here again?”

“Uhm – resetting the systems,” Felicity answered vaguely. “There was some kind of power surge in the Glades earlier, and it knocked everything offline. Thea and Oliver asked me to come by and take a look.”

The club was starting to fill up, and Skye glanced around as they walked towards the main bar. She spotted Thea talking to one of the very GQ looking bartenders.

“That’s Roy,” Felicity said as they waited at the end of the bar. “He and Thea are on again, off again – I think they’re in an off period right now, but it’s hard to tell with them sometimes.”

“Guess we’re all in an off period,” Skye said, not bothering to hide the snark.

“With Oliver it’s more like a holding pattern. The world’s most annoying and frustrating holding pattern,” Felicity muttered.

She and Felicity had talked a lot over the last couple of days. They’d covered her hybrid DNA and the risks of going back to SHIELD ad nauseum; on that topic they’d officially reached a stalemate since Felicity was adamantly opposed to her returning to the team while Skye still felt that she needed to do it. But they’d also talked about Ward and Oliver, and it had been such a relief, for both of them, to be able to confide in one another again.

“At least he still talks to you,” Skye said.

“Oliver’s complicated, but he cares. Sometimes I just don’t know if that makes things easier or harder,” Felicity admitted. “Ward just sounds mean, and cruel, and like he needs a surgical procedure to get his head out of his ass.”

Skye was beginning to regret confiding so much since it had only given Felicity more ammunition to use in her campaign to keep her from returning to the team. “I should have told him, though. I let it drag on too long and after everything else that happened, I can’t blame him for being angry. I just didn’t expect him to end it like he did.”

“Because he’s a jerk,” Felicity insisted stubbornly as Thea walked over to join them.

“What’s Ollie done now?” Thea asked, raising a brow.

“The jerk in question is mine – or, he used to be,” Skye said as she attempted to shrug it off. “It’s complicated.”

“Isn’t it always?” Thea replied sardonically, glancing over at Roy for a moment before looking back at Felicity. “How long do you think it will take to reset the system? The security cameras and alarms are down, so I’ve called in extra help for the evening.”

“Not too long – half an hour?” Felicity guessed. “But then I should probably do a complete system check, which will take a couple of hours.” She looked at Skye apologetically.

“Don’t worry about me,” Skye assured her. “Do you need some help?”

“No – you know how boring it is.”

“Well, I’m meeting Laurel for dinner. Why don’t you come with me?” Thea suggested.

Skye looked at Felicity, who nodded in encouragement. “Yeah, okay.”

They took Thea’s car a few blocks down and parked in an alley behind an old building. Skye took a quick inventory of her surroundings as she got out of the car. “I thought we were having dinner.”

“We are – we’re just meeting Laurel here,” Thea told her.

The building turned out to be a gym, and Laurel was in the boxing ring trading blows with a man who was barking orders at her. “Keep your hands up.”

Skye stood on the sidelines with Thea, watching quietly. She was surprised that someone like Laurel was brawling in a boxing ring, but she wasn’t bad. Her form marked her as a beginner; if Skye had to guess, she’d only been training for a few months.

A few minutes later they exited the ring and Laurel walked over to greet them. “Hey. Give me about fifteen minutes to clean up and I’ll meet you back out here.”

Thea nodded to the man with whom Laurel had been training. “That’s Ted Grant. He was a champion boxer before he retired – they called him Wildcat.”

Skye remembered hearing a few stories about him since he had matches in Vegas a few times. “I’ve heard of him.”

When Laurel returned, she spoke to Ted for a couple of minutes before joining them. She had showered and released her hair from the loose braid she’d worn while in the ring. Dressed down in jeans, a T-shirt and a black leather jacket, she barely resembled the poised and pulled together lawyer Skye had seen that first night in the holding room.

They settled on a local Italian restaurant for dinner, and Skye dug into her pasta enthusiastically. If she went back to training with May, she knew the older woman would strike carbs from her diet again, so she planned to enjoy it while she could.

“So why boxing?” she asked Laurel curiously. “You don’t really seem the type.”

“Honestly? I got tired of being the damsel in distress,” Laurel said. “I was kidnapped last year, more than once. My apartment was broken into multiple times. I was drugged. According to my addiction counselor, I was self-medicating to cope with PTSD. I managed to get that under control. Then I met Ted, and he suggested training as an outlet. I’d taken a few self-defense classes years ago through the police department, but learning how to handle myself like this – I feel like maybe I don’t have to be anyone’s victim anymore.”

Skye thought about how she felt when Quinn shot her. She was helpless to do anything other than stand there and let it happen, and it was the reason she’d applied herself so diligently to her training afterwards. “I can understand that. I was attacked almost a year ago. I don’t ever want to feel that helpless again.”

Laurel’s expression was empathetic. “If you’re sticking around, maybe you can come to the gym and train with me.”

Skye turned her attention back to her pasta. “Yeah, maybe.” She hadn’t reached a decision yet, but the more time she spent with Felicity and her friends, the more tempted she was to stay.

***

Diggle felt his phone buzz and pulled it out to see a message from Roy.

Roy: I may need backup.

He knew Thea, Laurel and Skye had gone to a little pool hall down the block after dinner, and Roy had walked Felicity over there when she finished upgrading the system. He glanced over at Oliver to see that he was busy going over the accounts with the head bartender.

Diggle left and walked quickly down the block to the pool hall, which was unusually crowded. Most of the people were gathered around a table in the back. Pushing through the wall of bodies, he saw Laurel, Thea and Skye facing off with a very angry looking gangbanger. Roy was behind Thea, and Skye appeared to have taken up a defensive position in front of Felicity.

“They hustled me!” The man spat out, glaring first at Roy and then at Skye and Felicity.

“No, you were trying to hustle them and they turned the tables on you,” Laurel said calmly, crossing her arms. “It’s not her fault that your assumptions were fallacious.”

Diggle knew he shouldn’t be amused by the situation, but his lips twitched at the look of confusion on the man’s face as he tried to figure out what fallacious meant.

“I ain’t no felon, lady,” he finally shot back.

Roy snorted. “You spent more time in juvie than me, man.”

Thea crossed her arms. “Look, Al, you can make a scene and probably end up arrested, or you can have a seat and have a round – on me. But don’t assume that you can walk over us.”

“What, you’re gonna fight?” Al snorted with laughter, but Diggle could see the uncertainty now. Being in a street gang, he had to be used to reading people, and he could see that the women weren’t as easily intimidated as he’d thought they would be.

Diggle knew Thea could fight, and Laurel had been training for months now. Based on Skye’s stance, he suspected she might be able to hold her own, which explained why she’d moved in front of Felicity.

The other man’s eyes swept over Felicity, correctly determining that she was the weaker link, and Diggle noted how Skye tensed up as if ready to counter any sudden moves he made. They stared at one another for a moment.

Al looked away first. “Whatever, bitch. I don’t got time for you.” He walked away and left the hall with a few other men.

The crowd broke up, and Diggle shook his head when the women turned and saw him. “Hustling gangbangers? Really?”

“Hey, I tried to tell him we were good, but he thought he had an easy mark,” Skye said, shrugging on her jacket. “Felicity was the one who actually beat him in the end.”

“Still, if the crowd turned on you, you’d have a problem,” Diggle pointed out.

Laurel nodded to the corner, and he recognized Ted Grant having a beer with a couple of friends.

“I think we could have handled it, but I knew he was here,” Laurel told him. She turned back to the other women and gave them each a brief hug. “This was surprisingly more fun than I’ve had in a while.”

“Felicity Smoak, pool hustler.” Thea laughed. “Talk about a surprise.”

“Oh, I have stories,” Skye said with a smirk.

Felicity pointed a finger at her friend. “No – no you don’t.”

“Let’s do dinner again this week,” Laurel said. With a wave, she joined Ted and they left together, followed by Thea and Roy, who were headed back to the club.

Diggle walked Felicity and Skye out to Felicity’s car. He held the door open for Skye and said, “Something tells me you two are trouble together.”

“Hey, I was an innocent orphan when Felicity came along and taught me how to count cards,” Skye told him with a smile. “She’s banned from about ten casinos in Vegas, you know.” She climbed into the backseat and left the front for Diggle.

Diggle raised his brows at that new bit of information. They rode back to the club, and Diggle stood in the parking lot as they pulled away. They were both laughing.

He thought he knew Felicity well, but her friend was bringing out a completely new side to her personality. She was still the fiercely loyal and protective Felicity he knew, but she was open and fun-loving with Skye, and it was encouraging her to spend time with Thea and Laurel as well.

Despite the threat of danger, he thought Skye sticking around might be good for all of them.

A/N: Okay, so there was some science-y stuff in this chapter. I am definitely no biologist or DNA expert, but I like science. I did a little reading and tried to combine the science with science fiction to come up with an explanation for Skye’s DNA and how a dormant strand might be activated. As for her enhanced DNA, that more or less lines up with what I remember from the Inhumans comics because they had the potential to have enhanced traits, such as intelligence or agility, even before terrigenesis. If you are a geneticist and I am totally off the mark here, please just know I tried lol.

Up Next: Chaos erupts on the streets as power surges and violence plague the city. Skye and Felicity visit a cyber club looking for answers, and Skye encounters vigilantes for the first time, which leads Team Bus to Starling City. That’s right – Ward and the team are up next and while I haven’t decided exactly where the next chapter will break, I think I can at least work in the first meeting between Ward and Oliver. Hope you enjoyed the update!

Chapter Text

 

A/N - This chapter is dedicated to Evieoh, who made me a really awesome photoset to go along with this story. I was going to link to it here but now I can’t find it. So, Evieoh, if you’re reading this, could you send me that link again? :)

Skye cast a worried look at Felicity as they left the funeral home. “Are you okay?” She’d been withdrawn and had barely spoken a word in the two days since Cooper’s death.

As soon as she got the call from Felicity, she’d driven her van straight through from Texas to Massachusetts and was shocked by the contrast from her usually bubbly, talkative friend to the pale, grief stricken girl who stood before her now. She’d never liked Cooper, but she respected the fact that he went to jail without dragging Felicity down with him, and she was sorry that he was dead.

“I don’t know,” Felicity whispered, dragging the heel of her hand across her cheek when the tears fell again. “I feel like I need to sleep for the next year.”

“Let’s go back to your dorm and just rest, okay?”

“How long can you stay?” Felicity asked as they drove back to campus.

Skye glanced over at her. “As long as you need me.”

“What about Miles and the Rising Tide?”

“Nothing is more important than you right now,” Skye said firmly. And it was true – in the end, no matter how many miles separated them or the other people who entered their lives, it always came back to the two of them. It was something that hadn’t changed in thirteen years, and she didn’t think it ever would.

Back in Felicity’s dorm room, Skye made her a cup of hot chocolate as Felicity changed into her pajamas. When she was settled in bed, she patted the space next to her, and Skye smiled as she joined her.

Felicity linked their pinkies together for a moment. “Thank you.”

“You can’t blame yourself,” Skye said. “I know you wrote the code, but Cooper was the one who used it illegally. He knew that and it’s why he took responsibility for it. I don’t think he’d want you to blame yourself for this.”

“The last time I saw him, he said something weird – that no matter what happened, I shouldn’t blame myself. I think he must have already been thinking of…” she broke off and shook her head. “I just don’t understand.”

“I know,” Skye said softly. She took Felicity’s cup and set it on the nightstand. “Just rest for a little while.”

She stroked Felicity’s hair until she finally went to sleep.

***

When Felicity woke up, she was surprised to see that it was the next morning, which meant she’d been asleep for more than twelve hours. It was still early and Skye was asleep beside her. She got up quietly and went to the bathroom, showering quickly and changing into jeans and a hoodie.

She stared at the pale woman in the mirror. She’d never expected to keep the Goth look for so long, but she liked it. It suited the new identity she’d forged for herself. She’d learned to take charge of her own life, and she’d met other young people interested in blazing trails in the technology world. It led her to hacktivism and Cooper, and there was something about the risk that had appealed to her.

But now she felt like a fraud. She liked toying with the idea of risk, but she didn’t really enjoy risky behaviors. She wrote a code that had no purpose other than bad things because she wanted to know if she could do it. That risk got Cooper arrested, and it was what led to his death. Suddenly none of it seemed worth it anymore. Maybe she couldn’t change what happened to Cooper, but she could change everything else.

Felicity got her bag and quietly left the dorm room. Several hours later, she stared at herself in the mirror again, amazed by the transformation. Like the first makeover, it was only hair, clothes and makeup, but a new woman stared back at her. She had golden blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail; minimal makeup and a pair of dark rimmed glasses completed the nerd chic look.

It was time to start a new chapter in her life.

***

Skye yawned as she poured her coffee and considered her breakfast options. They still had cupcake ingredients, but Felicity didn’t have much in the way of other cooking supplies since she’d never been interested in cooking. Donna’s skill was limited to cupcakes, which had apparently taken her the better part of a year to master and involved one near miss with burning down the kitchen. Despite numerous very bad dinners at the Smoak house, Skye always appreciated the fact that Donna often tried to do the normal Mom things.

Skye had taken over cooking at times, though her efforts were little better. They’d eaten a lot of soup, sandwiches and canned or frozen vegetables – things that were harder to mess up. During their teenage years, she and Felicity had switched to takeout.

Being on the Bus had given her a chance to branch out on her cooking skills. They had to take turns preparing meals and after her first disastrous attempt at baked chicken, she was always paired up with someone who had a better handle on the culinary arts. Jemma was good at cooking the meals she’d grown up eating, and Ward had lived alone for so long that he knew his way around the kitchen out of necessity. Even May had surprised her with her knowledge of traditional Asian cuisine.

Skye was peering into the refrigerator when she heard Felicity shuffle into the kitchen.

“Do we have milk?” she asked as she grabbed a cup from the overhead cabinet and poured herself some coffee.

Skye nodded. “I was thinking about trying pancakes.” She turned around to see Felicity eyeing her skeptically.

“Really?”

“I helped Jemma a couple of times. It’s not that hard.”

Skye gathered what she needed and mixed up a batter. She tried to remember the recommended consistency but couldn’t recall if the batter should be thin or thick. After taking a guess, she heated up a pan, dropped in some butter, and poured out the first pancake.

When she had two ready, she passed them to Felicity.

“Well?” she asked after waiting for Felicity to take the first bite.

Felicity chewed slowly and then nodded in surprise. “Not bad.”

Skye grinned and turned back to the pan. When the rest of the pancakes were ready, they moved to the table. Skye sliced a banana and added it to her plate. “I was thinking about getting my hair cut, maybe doing some shopping.”

“I haven’t been shopping in a while. There were probably better shopping malls in Central City – a lot of stores here closed down over the summer,” Felicity said. “But I can think of a few places you might like.”

Skye pushed everything she’d been worrying about out of her mind that morning as she and Felicity hit the largest shopping mall downtown. It was amazing how quickly they reverted to their teenage selves, trying on ridiculous hats, scarves and sunglasses before lugging an armful of clothes into the dressing rooms.

It had been so long since Skye shopped for fun that it felt weird as she stood in front of the mirror, turning sideways to better view the dress she was wearing. The sleeves were long but it was short and form fitting in all the right places, and the deep red shade looked amazing against her skin.

It was completely frivolous. She had no idea where she would even wear it, especially when she went back to the base. She still couldn’t bring herself to put it back.

They ate large pretzels with milkshakes for lunch and continued shopping. Skye bought a pair of jeans, a few tops, and a pair of sneakers. She wistfully eyed a black leather jacket and matching boots but deemed the price too extravagant. She paid for her items and then sat outside on a bench to wait for Felicity, who emerged with two brimming shopping bags, one of which she passed over to Skye.

Skye was surprised to see the jacket and boots, as well as a few other things she’d put back, inside the bag. “Felicity…”

“Look, I’ve missed a bunch of birthdays and holidays, and never let it be said that Oliver doesn’t at least pay well for the humiliation of being his secretary,” Felicity said firmly.

Their last stop was a hair salon. Skye sat in the chair and stared at her image in the mirror. It seemed wrong somehow that she should look anything like the girl she had been a year ago. In some ways that girl was long gone, and she was starting to come to terms with that. Running her fingers through the long strands, and noting the split ends that she hadn’t had time to worry about in too long to remember, she made a decision.

“I think I should cut it,” she finally said. She swallowed hard and showed the stylist what she wanted.

A couple of hours and one deep conditioning treatment later, she was staring at a whole new Skye in the mirror. Her hair still fell a couple of inches below her shoulders, but long layers revealed a slight natural wave. The stylist had made use of honey highlights and some warmer lowlights, and she had bangs for the first time in more than a decade. Rather than cutting straight across her forehead, they still allowed for a center part and lengthened as they blended in with the face framing strands.

Felicity ran her fingers through the back of Skye’s hair. “It’s so pretty. How do you feel about the bangs?”

Turning her head first to one side and then the other, Skye smiled. “I like them.”

They stopped for Greek food on the way back home and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening watching some of their favorite movies. Skye decided to stay away from a few, such as E.T. or Men in Black, because any mention of aliens would just remind her of things she was trying not to think about. Instead they watched The Princess Bride and While You Were Sleeping before turning to classic teen rom-coms like Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You. As the hour grew later Skye switched to scary films like Scream and The Craft and laughed as Felicity jumped even when she knew what was coming.

It was late and they were both starting to crash since dinner had been followed by cupcakes and coffee, popcorn and gummy worms, and a good bottle of red wine. They were watching Stardust in Felicity’s bedroom now, the movie projected on the wall as they snuggled into the blankets. The day had served its purpose. She’d pushed the team and her hybrid status to the back of her mind, though all the romantic films had her thinking about Ward in general and Paris in particular.

As if reading her mind, Felicity said, “You’re thinking about him, aren’t you?”

Skye turned her head to see Felicity watching her. “A little.” She waited, half expecting Felicity to grumble and say she should forget him. Instead her friend reached out, took her hand, and squeezed it as she turned her attention back to the movie.

“Tell me about a happy memory with him,” Felicity said.

So Skye told her about Paris. “It was unexpected because we didn’t get a lot of down time, but the whole weekend was amazing,” Skye finished softly. “Then after I was shot, I woke up in the medical bay to see him sitting by my bedside. It was the first time I realized just how different he was with me, and it gave me hope, I guess. But specialists are not like us – they can switch their emotions on and off and compartmentalize everything. I don’t know how to get through to him when he shuts down like that.”

Felicity had turned on her side while Skye talked, facing her. “It sounds like he had real feelings for you,” she finally said, albeit grudgingly. “But if what you said about his ability to compartmentalize is true, and he refuses to even talk to you now, then it’s better for you to move on, Skye.”

“Yeah because that’s so easy, right?” Skye sighed. “Your turn.”

Felicity nibbled her bottom lip. “Oliver and I had a date a few months ago,” she admitted.

“Like a real date?” Skye asked, surprised.

She nodded. “Red dress, Italian restaurant, candles, and we talked. He was opening up to me. He said that I was the first person he met after the island that he could really see as a person, and it made me laugh because the day we met, I made a total idiot out of myself, talking too much, and I was chewing on a pen.”

That sounded just like Felicity. “I’m sure he thought you were adorable.”

“Well, he remembered the pen was red,” Felicity replied with a smile. “But then there was a bomb and the restaurant exploded, and…”

Skye remembered the restaurant bomb, though she didn’t know Felicity had been there. She waited for her friend to continue, but she remained silent. “What, it triggered his PTSD or something?” Felicity never said he suffered from PTSD, but Skye thought that after being the lone survivor at sea and washing up on a deserted island, he must have had mental health issues upon returning.

“Something like that,” Felicity finally said. “I think he’s been trying to figure out who he is since he got back, and it’s hard. After everything that happened, he’ll never be the same Oliver he was before the island.”

“No offense, but I think that’s a good thing,” Skye pointed out.

“Maybe, but he lost himself, Skye, and everyone who knew him before could see that person was gone. It must have been like losing him all over again, and he sensed their disappointment. Everything he went through was just so horrific, and he put up a front for a while. He’s gotten good at that. He watched his dad die, and he spent five years struggling to survive. Then he came home and his best friend was killed in the earthquake that his mother had a hand in creating, he and Thea witnessed their mother’s execution, he’s close to broke, and it’s just – when does it get better?”

Skye hadn’t thought of it like that. It had been easy for her to dismiss Oliver Queen as a pretty playboy because that’s exactly what he was before his yacht went down. She knew that Felicity wouldn’t care about him so much if that’s all he was, but hearing a simple recitation of his losses painted another picture of the man with whom her friend had grown so close.

“We probably won’t even be able to hang onto his father’s company. We’re just postponing the inevitable at this point. After the new year, I have a feeling Palmer will have successfully taken over Queen Consolidated, which means I’ll be out of a job and Oliver will lose one more piece of his former life.”

It was the first time Skye realized how much Felicity had been struggling and how much she probably needed support, too. “What are you going to do?”

“I mean, I have a Master’s in Cyber Security from MIT. I was always over-qualified for what I was doing.”

Skye suspected Felicity had taken the grunt work job at Queen Consolidated as a form of self-punishment over Cooper, but she’d never said it aloud. “Palmer could probably use someone with your skills. If he’s smart, he’ll offer you a job.”

“We’ll see. If you stay, I think you could be hired in IT at any of the companies in the area. Your alias has records in place, and I’ve added layers to it over the years. If you started at QC before the takeover, I doubt you’d lose your job since he doesn’t seem to be interested in downsizing.”

“I’ll think about it,” Skye told her.

“Promise?”

“I promise.” And she was seriously thinking about staying now. For one thing, she didn’t like leaving Felicity here when the city had been in such turmoil for the last couple of years. She had more people supporting her than Skye had known about, but she was still worried about Felicity’s safety. For another, it felt really good to be with her again – to know that no matter how badly she screwed up, no matter what she found out about her family history and her hybrid status, she had Felicity’s unwavering support.

***

Skye looked up from her computer when Felicity came in, tossing her bag on the sofa and removing her jacket. “Everything okay?”

There had been another power surge the night before, which had knocked the servers offline at Queen Consolidated. While it wasn’t Felicity’s job anymore, she’d gone in to help out as a favor to her former manager.

Felicity rolled her neck from side to side as she sat beside Skye. “Something is weird about these power surges.”

Skye had been wondering about that, too. “You think Cooper’s blackouts gave someone else an idea about how to manipulate the system?”

“Maybe. These little small scale surges aren’t a big deal, really, and they’ve been easily fixed. If someone is behind it, I’m a little more worried about what happens if the blackouts are on a larger scale. Starling City is kind of a ticking time bomb. Since last year there’s been a spike in robberies, petty crimes, vandalism, and assaults, and it’s not just in the Glades anymore. It wouldn’t take much to set off a major crime spree.”

“For what purpose, though?”

“I have no idea, and I don’t even have any proof. Maybe I’m just nervous because of what happened before with Cooper. Or maybe a crime lord is plotting to take over the city.” When Skye raised her brows, Felicity said, “Hey, it only sounds crazy to you because you just got here. Give it a month.”

“Wow, way to sell this place,” Skye told her, laughing.

Felicity drew her knees up to her chest, a thoughtful expression on her face. “We could check it out.”

“Well, I’ve already started looking into it online, but I’ve got nothing so far. I can tell you that the local hacker community is also poking around.”

“I was thinking more like going to some of the underground cyber clubs I know about.”

“There’s more than one?”

“Three – there used to be more before all the chaos. Think about all the companies that are or were here – Merlyn Global, Queen Consolidated, Kord Industries, just to name a few. I’ve engaged with some of these guys online before. Some of them probably work for companies, like me. Some are involved in hacktivism, and some just like challenging each other.”

Skye set her laptop aside. “Are you still involved with hacktivists?”

Felicity cleared her throat. “Involved makes it sound like a relationship, or a partnership. And hacktivist sounds sketchy, when it’s really more like a hobby.”

Trying not to laugh at Felicity’s suddenly guilty expression, Skye nodded. “Uh-huh. You wouldn’t be using your hobby to out dirty business practices or to tip off the police about local crime, right?” She thought about Barry and his team, and how Barry let it slip that he knew the Arrow. “If you’re helping Barry, and he knows the Arrow…”

“Honestly, Barry is the worst at keeping secrets,” Felicity said.

“I hope you’re wrong about that since we dropped a big one on him. And he didn’t exactly tell me anything – it’s more like I guessed because of something he said. Just be careful because Coulson has been keeping an eye on the vigilantes here and in Central City, and he suspects that they’ve been getting help from someone with a background in technology. Maybe limit your help to calling into their superhero tip line.”

“Superhero tip line – funny.”

Skye watched Felicity as she changed the subject and started babbling about dinner options. She had a feeling that Felicity knew exactly who the Starling City vigilantes were. She considered pushing for more information – Felicity had never been able to lie well, and Skye knew she would probably crack under the pressure of the right questions. Still, it wasn’t fair to ask her to reveal their secrets, so she decided to keep her suspicions to herself. For now, anyway.

They ordered in Chinese food. As they were eating, Skye thought about going into the hacker clubs. “You’re not going to pass for any kind of underground hacker anymore. Not looking like that.”

Felicity ran her hand over her blonde ponytail and adjusted her glasses. “You know what’s great about the Jan Brady look? People underestimate you.”

She had a point. “True, but they’re never going to talk to us if they’re busy underestimating you. Plus you’re all over the news with Oliver Queen now, so it’s possible someone might recognize you.”

Felicity stood up and went to her bedroom. When she returned, she was carrying a small bag. “I picked this up at the hair salon the other day. It was just a whim, but you being here made me think visiting the cyber clubs might be fun.”

Skye smiled when she saw Felicity pull the inky black wig from the bag, along with a few dark purple extension pieces. “Will the real Felicity please stand up?”

“I wouldn’t go that far, but I’m kind of looking forward to trying it out again,” Felicity said with a grin. “I picked up some darker makeup at the drugstore earlier, too.”

Skye took the last bite of her egg roll and stood up. “Let’s do it.”

***

Felicity experienced a weird sense of déjà vu as she stood in front of her bedroom mirror. “Holy wow, I forgot I could look like this.”

The wig was a good one, and her hair fell straight past her shoulders. The deep purple extensions blended into the inky strands and gave just the right touch of color against her dark makeup – black brows, dark rimmed eyes, and deep maroon lips contrasted starkly with her pale skin. She’d even painted her fingernails black.

Skye had taken a pair of her jeans and given them a distressed look which paired well with her black tank top, black boots and the black leather jacket she’d bought last year after being inspired by Sara’s Canary costume. One trip to the leather shop and you could barely see where the bullet hole had been.

“Too bad you don’t still have the silver ankh necklace.”

Felicity walked over to her jewelry box and opened the bottom drawer. “Actually…” She held up the necklace with a smile. “You gave it to me, so I kept it. I also have that fake nose ring.”

She put both pieces on and gave Skye an appraising look. She was wearing a low cut red top with jeans, her new black boots and the leather jacket. She’d fluffed her hair up and used some wax to give it an edgy look, and she’d played up her eyes and her cleavage in a way that would probably have every guy there itching to impress her, which was the point.

They were headed to the first club when Felicity’s phone beeped. Skye picked it up and checked the message. “It’s Thea. She says the system is down again and wants to know if you can stop by.”

“Crap.” The last thing she wanted was for anyone to see her dressed up like this and wonder what she was doing. It wasn’t dangerous, but she wasn’t sure Oliver or Diggle would agree.

Based on the time, she knew Diggle and Oliver would likely not be at the club yet, Roy would be busy setting up the bar, and Thea would hopefully be preoccupied with overseeing everything. She changed direction and drove to Verdant, parking up front and on the other side of a vendor truck that hid her from view.

They slipped in with a vendor who was unloading boxes at the bar. Felicity made a mental note to address that particular security concern as she hurried up the stairs to the office and the main computers. Unfortunately, her luck ran out there when she saw Thea going over the bar accounts with Roy.

Thea looked up, no hint of recognition on her face. “Can I help you?” When Skye walked in behind Felicity, her brows drew together. Looking more closely at Felicity, her eyes widened in disbelief. “Felicity?”

Felicity waved. “Hi. We were just on our way out, obviously. But I can get you back online pretty fast, I think.”

“You’re on your way out,” Thea repeated. Suddenly she looked amused. “Where exactly are you going? And did you pierce your nose?”

“It’s fake,” Felicity assured her, touching it briefly. When Thea and Roy turned their attention to her hair, she added, “And this is a wig. Black is not a hair color you play around with unless you’re serious about it. It took multiple dye jobs for me to go blonde afterwards.”

Roy looked floored and Thea’s lips twitched. “So what I’m hearing is that you were a Goth chick at some point in your checkered past. Didn’t you go to MIT?”

Felicity decided she’d shared enough. “You know, I should get started on the system so we can get out of here.” She waited for Thea to move before sitting down at the computer.

She expected Thea and Roy to head back downstairs, but they didn’t. Instead Thea was chatting with Skye, mostly about her new haircut, and Skye told her about their shopping and salon day. Felicity tuned them out and worked quickly. When she was finished, she stood up. “Security should be online now.”

“Thanks. So, has Ollie seen this makeover?” Thea asked, leaning her hip against the desk and crossing her arms.

“It’s just for tonight, so no.” She looked at Skye and nodded towards the door.

Thea and Roy followed them down the stairs.

“Maybe Roy should tag along,” Thea was saying as they reached the bar.

“Yeah, he’s a little GQ for where we’re going,” Skye said, pulling her arm away when Felicity slapped it. “Ow.”

“We’re just going to hang out with some other hackers. It’s a subculture thing, but it’s not dangerous,” Felicity said. “And we can take care of ourselves.”

Roy looked at her incredulously. “You freaked out over a spider last month. When I walked in, you were screaming and swinging your shoe at it.”

Skye snorted with laughter and Felicity shot her a dirty look. “It was a big spider. Huge.”

“Look, I have some self-defense skills,” Skye told Roy. “We’ll be fine.”

“You failed gym class,” Felicity reminded her. She knew Skye said she’d been training, but she really couldn’t picture it. Skye liked junk food and sleeping in, and she’d never been disciplined enough to follow a diet or exercise program.

Skye raised a brow. “You say that like you didn’t fail right along with me. And we failed mostly because we were skipping classes, and we both had the same number of detention classes that month.”

“And we hated pullups, and running, and anything that involved sweating,” Felicity said. “But I’ve started working out every morning.” She didn’t mention that it was just a few sit-ups. Five, to be exact. Based on the knowing look Skye sent her, she didn’t think she was fooling her.

Roy looked at Skye. “Who are you and what have you done with Felicity Smoak?”

Skye laughed and shook her head. “Seriously, we’ll be fine.” She grabbed Felicity’s hand and they hurried out.

***

Several hours later, they left the last cyber club.

“Well, that was a bust,” Skye said. “Maybe the power surges are random or a result of a bug in the system.”

“Maybe,” Felicity replied, though she was still suspicious. Nodding at a nearby bar, she said, “Let’s get a drink while I tap into the cyber club’s signal again.”

Skye shrugged and followed her into the bar where she claimed a table while Felicity ordered. A young woman with short, black hair bumped into her, and Felicity was surprised to see Sin, a friend of Thea and Roy’s. “Hey Sin.”

Sin glanced at her. “Do I know you?”

Felicity remembered what she was wearing. “It’s Felicity.” When she continued to look at her with no sign of recognition, she added, “Felicity Smoak. Oliver’s assistant? I help out with computer security at Verdant?”

“Damn.” Sin looked her up and down and whistled. “Respect. I like it.”

“Thanks, I think.”

“Hey, anybody ever tell you that you look like that comic book character, Death? Pretty badass,” the bartender said as he returned with her order. A blonde woman sitting on a nearby stool rolled her eyes and glared at Felicity.

She smiled in acknowledgement, grabbed the beers from the bartender and passed him some money before looking at Sin and nodding at their table. “I’m here with my friend Skye if you want to join us.”

After performing the introductions, Felicity piggybacked onto the signals of two people she wanted to monitor at the club.

“I really don’t think they’re behind the power surges,” Skye said, looking over her shoulder. “But they are shady.”

“You think some hacker is causing those power surges?” Sin asked.

Felicity shrugged, eyes on her tablet. She didn’t want to say too much that Sin might repeat to Thea and Roy, especially when she wasn’t sure. She barely noticed when Skye went to the bathroom, and Sin walked outside to answer a call.

Then the lights went out, the room illuminated only by the soft glow of the Exit signs. Felicity immediately logged back into the power grid, searching for the problem. A couple of minutes later the lights came back on, and she heard the emergency broadcast signal coming from the TV before it switched back to the college football game that had been playing.

She looked up when Skye came back to the table. “I don’t know how or why, but someone is definitely causing the power surges.”

Before Skye could respond, they heard a crash coming from across the bar. Felicity looked over to see that two of the men who had been playing pool were now arguing loudly with one another.

Skye grabbed Felicity’s hand and pulled her up. “I think that’s our cue to get out of here.”

They ran into Sin at the bar, and she was looking around in confusion at the chaos now erupting at half the tables – what had begun as shouting had quickly turned into physical altercations. “What the hell is going on?”

“No idea,” Felicity replied, pushing her ahead. A hand on her shoulder stopped her, and she turned to see the blonde woman who had glared at her earlier.

“Bitch, I saw you flirting with my boyfriend,” she shouted, her face red with anger.

Felicity backed up, her mouth falling open. “What?”

The woman lunged at her, and Felicity shrieked as she spun sideways to avoid her. Spying an abandoned pool stick on a table, she grabbed it in both hands and swung it at the woman’s legs when she came after her again. The woman crashed heavily to the ground, and Felicity wasted no time leaping over her and running for the door.

Skye had turned back for her, and now she had two men shouting at her. Skye pulled Felicity behind her as they started backing out of the bar. “Look, we don’t know you and we don’t want any trouble.”

Outside she saw Sin had pulled a knife and was squaring off with another wild-eyed man while more people stumbled out of the area clubs and bars. Some looked confused, but others were fighting. The two guys who had followed them chose that moment to attack – one went after Skye while the other rushed Felicity.

Felicity started swinging the pool stick, and she got a few good shots in before he managed to pull it from her grasp. She squeezed her eyes shut and punched, only to find he was gone. Opening her eyes, she saw him lying at her feet, and Skye and Sin were behind him.

Skye grabbed her arm. “Come on.” She could see three police cars pulling up at the end of the block, so they started running in that direction.

They were cut off by two men at the intersection. This time Skye didn’t slow down; she was a blur of movement as she efficiently took down first one assailant and then the other.

The blare of police sirens cut through the panicked buzzing in Felicity’s ears, and then there were cops everywhere. She, Sin and Skye were herded behind a police barrier that had been hastily set up as more police officers showed up to contain the situation.

Felicity became aware that Skye was talking to her. “What?”

“Are you okay?” Skye asked, her expression concerned.

Felicity swallowed hard and held out her hands to see that they were still shaking.

“Jesus, what the hell was that?” Sin asked in amazement.

Skye shook her head. “Whatever it was, it wasn’t normal.”

Felicity stared at Skye as she began playing back the last five minutes in her head. “Oh my God, when did you become a ninja?”

Skye rolled her eyes. “I’m not a ninja, and I told you I’ve been training.”

“For what? The zombie apocalypse? You just took those guys down like they were training dummies. And what about the two guys who followed us out of the bar?” She didn’t actually see Skye fight them, but she must have. “You’re not even sweating.”

“And don’t forget the guy who attacked me,” Sin added, sounding impressed.

“Before you make too big a deal out of this, I don’t think any of those guys were trained. They were just lunging, not attacking with any kind of plan or skill set.”

That might be true, but she’d been around Diggle, Oliver and Sara long enough to know that Skye’s technique had been pretty damn good. More than the blood tests and Coulson’s file, it showed her that Skye wasn’t the same girl she’d been before joining SHIELD.

Since she could tell that Skye didn’t want to talk about it, she dropped it. They were taken to the police department to give their statement on what they’d seen. Despite the late hour the station was packed, and they learned that the sudden mob violence had broken out in several neighborhoods.

Felicity was seated at a table with Skye and Sin, waiting for the detective to finish making notes on his report, when she heard Captain Lance’s voice. “I’m looking for Felicity Smoak. Halston said she was in here, but I don’t see her.”

Felicity sighed and raised her hand. “Here.”

Lance did a double take that would have been funny under different circumstances. “What the hell happened to you?”

“Dad, Oliver is on his way down here, but I’m starting to think she might have left already,” Laurel said as she walked over, glancing at them briefly. She paused when she spotted Skye, and then her gaze settled back on Felicity, shocked. “Felicity?”

Felicity put her head down on her arm and kicked Skye under the table when she started laughing. It was going to be a long night.

***

Oliver strode into the police station grimly. The station was usually moderately active, but tonight it was barely organized pandemonium. Some people were giving statements, others were crying, and he could hear someone shouting in one of the back interview rooms.

“I’m telling you, I don’t remember!” A blonde woman sobbed as she was led away in handcuffs.

Diggle touched his arm and nodded across the room where Laurel and Captain Lance were reviewing video footage on a computer.

Captain Lance looked up as they approached. “Queen. I think your girl is finishing up now. Gimme a minute.”

He walked away and Laurel motioned them around the desk. “I want to show you something. This is dash cam footage from earlier.”

Oliver and Diggle watched the video of three women running towards the police car. When they were cut off by two men preparing to attack, the woman in front executed a series of precise moves that laid them both out in less than a minute. Police officers moved into the frame and ushered the women behind the barrier.

Oliver’s brows drew together when he recognized Sin. “That’s Sin.”

Diggle backed the video up and watched it again. “Isn’t that Skye?”

He was right. The woman who defended the other two was Skye, which meant the third woman had to be Felicity, as unlikely as that seemed. The hair, makeup and clothes were all wrong, but the way she moved, her mannerisms – it was Felicity.

“According to Felicity, they were visiting some cyber clubs in the area and ran into Sin when they stopped at a bar for a drink,” Laurel told them. “Their statement matches up with other witnesses – one minute things are fine, the next all hell is breaking loose for no apparent reason. The ones brought in on assault charges don’t even remember what happened.”

“And they’re not hurt?” Oliver asked.

She shook her head. “Thanks to Skye, no.”

“She’s been trained,” Diggle commented. “Professionally.”

Laurel hesitated for a minute but then said, “She told me that she was attacked almost a year ago. Speaking from experience, my guess is she decided she didn’t want to be a victim again.”

Diggle looked at the footage again. “She’s good. For her to achieve this level of experience in less than a year, she had to be training full time. The men were sloppy, but she went in confident before she even knew that. She never slowed down, and those were offensive hand-to-hand combat moves.”

Oliver ran a hand over his jaw as he considered that. “Felicity said she was shot, and she almost died. Then she fell out of contact until she showed up here. If she’s running from something or someone, it would help for us to know what we’re up against.”

“Does it really matter?” Laurel asked. “I like Skye and she’s important to Felicity. That makes her important to all of us.”

“Agreed,” Oliver said. “I just don’t like flying blind.”

When Felicity, Skye and Sin emerged from one of the interview rooms, Oliver took a moment to check for any signs of injury. Other than Skye, who was probably still feeling her bruised ribs a little, they all appeared to be fine. He noted that Felicity and Skye were holding hands, as if presenting a united front.

Diggle shook his head as they approached, though he was smiling. “Let me guess. Death of the Endless?” When Skye laughed, he added, “Like I said – trouble.”

Skye and Felicity glanced at each other, a form of silent communication passing between them.

Skye looked back at Diggle. “I still have stories, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy so…”

They dropped Sin off at a friend’s house before driving to Felicity’s apartment. Diggle turned the motor off but remained in the car as Oliver walked Skye and Felicity to the door.

After an assessing look, Skye said, “I’ll just give you two a minute.” She unlocked the door and shut it behind her.

Felicity nibbled her bottom lip as she eyed Oliver warily. “So, scale of one to ten, how upset are you?”

“I’m not upset,” he told her. When she raised a disbelieving brow, he amended that. “I’m a little upset. Four, maybe five. But only because I was worried. What happened tonight?”

He listened as Felicity outlined what she remembered before the fights broke out. “I thought something was weird about the power surges before, but now I’m sure of it. The suddenness of it all wasn’t normal.”

“And the people affected can’t remember what happened or why they got violent.” She was right – it wasn’t normal. “Start looking into it. Skye can help, but maybe let me know if you plan to go cyber clubbing again.”

Felicity nodded. “We’re on it.”

Oliver found himself staring at her, fascinated by the very different Felicity standing before him. If anyone had told him that Felicity could pull off Goth, he would have laughed at such an absurd idea. But she was pulling it off, and she didn’t seem all that uncomfortable.

“What?” she asked.

“This isn’t your first time going Goth, is it?”

She wrinkled her nose and then reached up to remove the clip-on nose ring. “I was sixteen when I went to MIT, and I was picked on a lot in high school. It was Skye’s idea to reinvent myself, but surprisingly? I ended up liking it.”

There were still so many things he didn’t know about Felicity. It was easy to think she was an open book, but she wasn’t and never really had been. She never talked about her father and rarely mentioned her mother until Donna showed up in Starling City. She’d never told anyone about Cooper and what happened at MIT until she had to. And she’d never once said anything about Skye, though it was obvious now that they were closer than sisters.

“I saw a police video of Skye fighting,” he said. “You didn’t mention that she’s been trained.”

“In my defense, I didn’t know. I mean I did – she told me. But I thought it was an exaggeration, kind of like when I say I work out every morning even though I’m happy with five sit-ups. Ten, if it’s a good day. She’s like a freaking ninja now.”

He smiled at that. “I don’t think she’s a ninja. Does this have anything to do with the people you think might come looking for her?”

Felicity was back to nibbling her bottom lip, and it was more than a little distracting. He forced his eyes back up to hers.

“Yes,” she finally said. “I’m sorry but I feel like the Supreme Secret Keeper lately. I can’t tell you about her and I can’t tell her about you. But she’s scared, at least a little, even if she won’t admit it, and I am terrified of losing her.”

“You won’t. I promise.” He reached out and took her hand, squeezing it briefly. “See what you can find out about the power surges and I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”

She nodded and turned to go inside.

Back in the car, Oliver said, “I’m going to call Sara, see if she can come back and hang around for a while.”

“Between what happened tonight and the possibility that someone comes looking for Skye, it’s probably not a bad idea. I called Lyla, and she’s looking into things from her end.”

Oliver glanced at his phone. Maybe he’d talk to Barry too because he had allies now. He needed to learn how to bring them together as a team.

A/N – You can expect another chapter either later tonight or by tomorrow. Basically, it was just way too big to post as one chapter. I think it’s around 13,000 words, maybe more lol. But I promised I’d get back to Ward and Team Bus in this chapter, and I just didn’t realize how big it was going to be. That’s the problem with dealing with so many characters and setting up so many plot threads, I guess. I kept looking at things to cut and finally decided to just post in two parts. So, I’m going to keep tweaking the next part, which brings us back to the alley and then Ward and Team Bus. It’s basically finished, so I won’t make you wait too long for it. Thanks for reading!

Chapter Text

Here's the link to the photoset that Evieoh made to go with this series. It's beautiful - thanks a lot! 

http://poetgirl925.tumblr.com/post/135236785714/evieoh-things-we-lost-in-the-fire-1-and-things 

 

Two days later, Starling City was in a state of chaos, and they were no closer to figuring out who was behind the power surges or how they were affecting certain members of the population. Skye and Felicity were at Verdant, helping to clean up after vandals broke in and stole several good bottles of liquor before destroying some others.

“I’m just going to close for a few days,” Thea said with a sigh. “The last thing I need is a riot breaking out inside this place.”

“It’s weird that it didn’t happen here,” Skye mused as she swept up some broken glass and dumped it in the trash. “You’ve had some big crowds the past few nights, and you’ve been affected by the power surges several times in the past week. But no one here went Hulk smash on anyone.”

“Which is why we need to figure out who’s behind this and how they’re doing it. There must be something different about the power surges and where they’re hitting – if we can figure out what’s different, we’ll be able to tell how they’re turning ordinary citizens into rage monsters.” Felicity grabbed a towel and started wiping down the bar.

“It’s kind of like temporary brainwashing, isn’t it?” Skye thought about what she knew of Hydra’s brainwashing tactics. They’d turned several dedicated SHIELD agents into Hydra agents using Whitehall’s brainwashing technology. Coulson had sent Bobbi into Hydra and through her undercover work they’d rescued a few of those agents. “Could it be visual or auditory?”

Felicity nodded slowly. “I hadn’t thought about it like that, but maybe. I just don’t understand how and I’ve even considered chemically induced altered states – aerosols, for example. I know the police lab is doing tox screens on the people they arrested, but I don’t think they’ve found anything.”

“So we need to find the person behind the power surges. The problem is we haven’t found a single digital footprint to follow.” She’d been confident that between herself and Felicity they’d find something, and the constant dead ends were getting frustrating. “We need to start thinking about people with that kind of skill, especially if they have a connection to the city.”

They were just finishing up when Laurel walked in with a blonde woman.

“Looks like we missed the cleanup,” the blonde commented. “Sorry about that. I wanted to stop off at the station to see Dad.”

Laurel performed the introductions. “Skye is an old friend of Felicity’s. Skye, this is my sister, Sara.”

Sara held out a hand to Skye. “It’s nice to meet you. Laurel tells me that you’re from Vegas.”

Skye nodded. “I grew up there. I’ve known Felicity since we were eight.”

Sara glanced at Felicity, obviously surprised. “Long time.”

“Since it looks like you’re almost done here, could I interest you in takeout at my place?” Laurel asked. “My treat.”

“I’m starving,” Felicity said. She raised a brow at Skye.

“Sounds good to me,” Skye said as she tied off the trash bag she’d filled up.

“I’ll get my bag and lock up,” Thea said.

***

“I like her,” Sara said as she helped Laurel put away containers in the kitchen.

“I thought you would. Any thoughts about the video I showed you?” Laurel asked quietly.

Sara looked out into the living room where Thea was watching a movie while Felicity and Skye worked side by side on their laptops. Skye said something that made Felicity laugh, and Sara smiled in response.

“I agree with Oliver and Diggle about her training. It’s tactical but not military in style. And I agree that she must have been training full time if she’s reached that level in less than a year.” She thought about the video Laurel had shown her. “I guess it could have been private instruction, but I doubt it.”

Laurel leaned against the counter. “I think whatever is going on, or whatever she’s running from, is big. I thought it was a domestic situation at first, but I’m afraid it’s not that simple. How long can you stay?”

“For a while. Ra’s was more agreeable about me coming here than I expected him to be,” Sara replied. She didn’t add that she was a little worried about that, and it was something she planned to discuss with Nyssa later.

“Good. What about Nyssa?”

“She’ll be here tomorrow,” Sara said, her gaze back on Skye and Felicity. “They’re really close, aren’t they?”

Laurel walked over to join her and placed an arm around her shoulders. “Like sisters. It’s good to have you home, Sara.”

***

The next afternoon a power surge caused a blackout and riot at Iron Heights, followed by a prison break and more rioting around the city. The whole situation seemed to be causing Felicity a lot of stress; Skye assumed it might be because she was trying to get information to pass on to either the police or the city’s vigilantes. She kept sneaking out to make calls, which Skye pretended not to notice. She’d seen the news footage showing the Arrow with the woman in black known as the Canary, and there was an archer in a red suit fighting with them. Another man had also been shown fighting in the Glades – dressed in black and wearing a full face mask, he’d stopped several robberies and had incapacitated a few people on a rager.

Now they were on their way back to Verdant to pick up a flash drive that Felicity said she’d left there, and she also wanted to make sure the security system was still online. The streets were deserted as they drove further into the Glades, and the silence was almost eerie when they pulled into the parking lot.

Skye pulled out the ICER she’d put together and checked it, which caught Felicity’s attention.

“Since when do you carry a gun?” she asked incredulously. “You hate guns. You don’t even like the ones you shoot in amusement park games.”

“It’s an ICER,” Skye explained. “The bullets have a nerve agent that knocks you unconscious. It will give you a hell of a headache, but it won’t kill you.”

Despite her distaste for guns, Felicity looked intrigued. “That’s SHIELD tech, I guess?”

Skye nodded. “Look, grab what you need and check the security system fast. I’m going to stay out here and make sure no one surprises us or tries to take the car.”

Felicity hurried into the building while Skye stood next to the car and kept an eye on the surrounding area. The temperature had dropped in the last few days, and she shivered. If she stayed here much longer, she’d have to pick up some heavier clothes, a good coat and some gloves. It was also a reminder that her time was running out and she was going to have to contact Fitz and the team soon since she had no intention of leaving Felicity in the middle of this chaos.

She heard muffled sounds coming from the alley to her left. When she heard glass breaking, she walked cautiously in that direction. With her back to the building, she took a deep breath and peeked around the corner to see two men lying on the ground and a hooded figure standing over them.

Skye watched, hoping the assailant would leave. Instead the hooded figure walked to a door that she assumed was a back entrance into Verdant. Conscious that Felicity was still inside, Skye squared her shoulders and stepped around the corner. “Stop. If you leave now, I won’t shoot.”

The hooded figure whirled towards her, a bow in hand, and fired an arrow which Skye narrowly avoided as her reflexes and muscle memory kicked in. She crouched behind a dumpster and then leaned around it to fire back at the person now advancing towards her position. She cursed silently when she missed and retreated behind the dumpster as she considered her next move. The floodlights on this side of the building weren’t very bright, but she’d gotten a good enough look to tell the hooded person was a woman.

“You’re trespassing. I’m not looking for a fight, but I will shoot if you don’t leave,” Skye said, hoping reason might get through to the woman.

“Come out and meet your end with honor,” the woman countered in a clipped, accented tone.

Seriously? Skye leaned around to fire again but paused when a blonde woman in black dropped from the roof. She recognized the woman – it was the vigilante known as the Canary. She expected her to engage with the hooded woman behind her. Instead she moved forward to attack Skye.

Suddenly she paused and held out a hand as Skye raised her gun again. “Skye?”

Skye hesitated – how did she know her? Before she could answer she felt a sharp pain in her shoulder and fell backwards as everything went black.

***

When Felicity emerged from Verdant and heard the sounds of fighting coming from the alley, she panicked. Skye was gone, which meant she was probably involved. She went back inside and searched frantically for anything that could be used as a weapon, finally settling on the small board used to prop open the doors when vendors made deliveries.

Her heart was pounding so fast she thought she might actually throw up. Pushing her fear aside, she swallowed hard and walked quietly around the side of the building to see a dark figure standing over Skye, who appeared to be unconscious. “Get away from her!”

She raised her board to attack but stopped when she recognized Sara. Sagging in relief, she rushed forward and dropped to her knees beside Skye. “What happened?”

“She attacked me,” Nyssa said. “Who is this woman?”

“She’s my best friend and if she attacked, it’s only because she was trying to protect me!” Felicity said, standing up and stalking towards Nyssa, who backed up in surprise. “What did you do to her?”

Sara put her hand on Felicity’s arm. “Felicity, calm down. It’s only a tranquilizer. I promise she’ll be fine.”

“She’d better be,” Felicity said, glaring at Nyssa one more time before turning and crouching beside Skye again. “We need to get her inside.”

They laid her on one of the medical tables and Felicity grabbed a blanket to cover her with. “What kind of tranquilizer is this?”

“Harmless – short term effects only,” Sara answered. She was busy examining Skye’s gun. “What kind of gun is this? These aren’t bullets.”

“She called it an ICER,” Felicity replied shortly as she pulled a stool over to sit beside Skye. “She wasn’t trying to kill anyone.”

“How was I to know that?” Nyssa asked. “I was attacked half a dozen times trying to get here tonight. The citizens of this city are crazed.”

Felicity ignored her as Sara checked Skye’s vital signs. “This tranquilizer slows everything down – heart rate, breathing - but she should be awake in a few hours.”

Felicity heard the door open, and she turned to see Oliver coming down the stairs followed by Diggle, Lyla, Roy, Thea and Laurel.

“What happened?” Laurel asked with concern. “Is she okay?”

“Nyssa happened,” Felicity grumbled. “Sara said she’ll be fine once she wakes up.”

Laurel crossed her arms and glanced at Nyssa. “Still tranq happy, I see.”

“I thought you’d be happy I didn’t kill anyone,” Nyssa said.

“In Nyssa’s defense, she was armed and by the time I recognized Skye, it was too late.” Sara tossed the gun to Diggle. “Felicity said she called it an ICER.”

Lyla looked startled. “An ICER?”

Diggle looked over at her. “You’ve heard of it?”

Lyla took the weapon and examined it. “It’s a SHIELD design. We’ve been trying to replicate the formula they use for the ICER bullets. It’s a dendrotoxin based nerve agent used to stun the enemy with no lasting effects – incredibly useful, but we haven’t been able to get the delivery system to work with the aerosolized form.”

Felicity cursed herself for dropping the name. Judging by the way Oliver, Diggle and Lyla were looking at her, she knew they were going to have a lot more questions about Skye.

“Felicity, she can’t stay here,” Oliver began, only to be cut off by Felicity.

“Oliver, I am not leaving her alone and unconscious and defenseless. This is the safest place for her right now.” She took Skye’s hand and raised her brows defiantly. “She’s smart enough to figure out I’ve been helping the local vigilantes. And has she asked me any questions or asked for their identities? No. You can trust her.”

“Trust goes both ways,” he told her, his gaze shifting to the unconscious woman.

“Please.”

He sighed. “I guess we can use her help when she wakes up.”

Felicity smiled gratefully. “Thank you.”

Nyssa moved around to stand on Skye’s other side. “You’re very protective of your friend. What exactly was your plan of attack earlier? You were armed only with a piece of wood.”

“My plan was to swing the board and hope I hit something since I had the element of surprise,” Felicity replied. “Coming down here to get a real weapon would have taken too long.”

“Then you’re fortunate it was us. That was a suicide plan.”

“But it was very brave,” Sara added.

“Admirable but still an ill-conceived plan with little chance of success. Perhaps you should start training.” Nyssa picked up her bow. “I am happy to offer my services while I’m here.”

Felicity glanced at her warily, certain that any training plan conceived by Nyssa Al Ghul would involve a lot of pain. “Thanks, but I’ll pass.”

“We need to get back out there,” Oliver said. “We’ve only found two of the convicts who escaped from Iron Heights earlier today.”

Sara nodded. “Felicity, someone was recording us earlier. Just teenagers with cell phones, but you know how fast that ends up on YouTube these days. I thought you might want to know since Skye’s involved.”

Felicity remained by Skye’s side as Oliver, Diggle, Roy, Nyssa, and Sara prepared to go back out. When she realized that she was absentmindedly fingering the tracking bracelet Skye wore, she paused to look at it more closely. She’d been testing the bracelet over the last week, and she had been successful in interfering with the satellite signal. Then she thought about the teenagers Sara had told her about, and an idea began taking shape. She usually took the videos down after they appeared online, but this time she planned to take a different approach.

***

Ward was silent as Coulson briefed the team on the situation and they all watched the video of Skye in the alley.

“This video was trending – that’s how I found it so quickly,” Fitz said. “I can’t be sure of the time it happened, but based on the poster’s comments it was within the last four or five hours. That’s when Skye’s vital signs slowed down, and then the signal disappeared altogether.”

“But you said you were getting signal interference even before that,” Bobbi pointed out. “It doesn’t mean she’s dead.”

Dead. The word seemed to hang in the air, almost an accusation, and Ward squeezed his hands into fists until the pain heightened his other senses. He breathed deeply and let it out slowly. Focus, he told himself.

Coulson stopped the video after the blonde woman jumped down into the alley. “That looks like the vigilante known as the Canary. She has a reputation as a defender of women in the Glades. The question is why would Skye confront them and why would they attack her?”

“Skye wouldn’t attack unless she had a good reason,” May said bluntly. “For Skye, a good reason would be protecting someone.”

After a long pause, Coulson said, “Play the other video.”

Fitz tapped a few keys and brought up the second video he’d found. “This is from a few days ago, after random violence broke out in neighborhoods near the Glades. People have been uploading videos from cell phones and security cameras.”

They watched as people stumbled out of bars and other places of business. Some looked confused or scared and were trying to escape the chaos, but a number of people were fighting. Police cars were pulling up on the street corner, and Fitz paused the video again when three women ran towards the cars. “Watch the woman in front.”

The camera had a high, front angle, and as the women drew closer, Ward could see Skye was leading the other two women. A couple of men came out of nowhere, clearly intent on confronting them, and Skye executed moves she’d learned in training almost flawlessly. Cops rushed forward and guided the women behind a barrier.

Coulson backed the video up again and tried to focus on the other two women. “Any ideas about who these two women are?”

Fitz shook his head. “No sir.”

Ward leaned forward as Coulson played the video again. Skye was favoring the woman on the left and appeared to be shielding her. After she knocked her attackers out, she also grabbed the woman’s hand, keeping her close as the police came to their aid.

Coulson apparently came to the same conclusion since he stopped the video and zoomed in on Skye and the woman. “Skye was protecting her.”

“She cut her hair,” Simmons suddenly said. “Skye mentioned a couple of months ago that she wanted to do that, but I thought she changed her mind. It looks nice.” She sniffed and grabbed a tissue, squeezing Fitz’s hand gratefully when he reached out to her.

Ward took in every detail of Skye’s image, noting the clothes he’d never seen and her significantly shorter hairstyle. She was dressed for a night out, but she and the Goth woman made an odd pair. He turned his attention to her companion. While the video quality was decent enough for facial recognition, the inky black hair, dark makeup and pale skin made identifying the woman difficult. Zooming in didn’t help since the larger the image got, the more pixelated it became, and features became a grainy blur.

“Why wouldn’t Skye just ask if she needed to leave?” Bobbi asked. “I know she’s still wearing the bracelet, but that wouldn’t have prevented her from visiting a friend, and she’s been under house arrest too long as it is.”

“She was going to ask,” Fitz said, looking at Coulson. “But after what she heard you talking about in your office, she was scared.”

Ward looked away from the computer, frowning. “Scared of what?”

Coulson looked resigned as he glanced at May, and Jemma put her hand over her mouth.

“She heard us?” Jemma asked, her expression dismayed.

“Heard what?” Ward asked a little more forcefully.

“You all know why Skye came into SHIELD,” Coulson said. He looked at Ward. “Except you. Long story short, she was looking for information on her parents. She found a redacted SHIELD document that showed agents had left her at St. Agnes. Miles helped her get in, which is one of the reasons she thought she owed it to him to hear his side of the story.”

Ward felt a muscle start twitching in his jaw. “As her supervising officer, I had a right to that information. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because Skye asked us not to interfere,” May told him evenly. “The rest of us heard her out, and she apologized. She thought you would come around. She was wrong.”

“After Garrett was killed and we picked up Raina, we discovered that he was suffering side effects from the GH-325 drug and since taking over as Director, I’ve been able to access the history of human trials with that drug. I asked Simmons to continue doing blood screens. You all know that I’ve met with Raina several times for debriefing. In one of those meetings, she told me the story of a baby girl from China.”

The room was silent as Coulson told them what they knew about the baby taken from a Chinese village in the Hunan Province. “Raina told me the people of that village had powers that Hydra knew about. They came in, rounded up the villagers, including the baby. According to the one surviving agent we’ve found, monsters attacked the village looking for the baby, and he believes the same monsters killed agents tasked with protecting Skye. We thought her family died protecting her, but Raina said the baby’s parents were the monsters and the way she heard the story, they were trying to get her back from Hydra.”

“But Skye doesn’t have powers,” Fitz insisted. “She’s not hiding anything from us anymore.”

Jemma squeezed her hands together nervously and glanced at Coulson, who nodded. “Skye may not have powers, but when I was doing blood tests, I discovered DNA markers that are non-human.”

“But that could be explained by the presence of GH-325 in her system,” Bobbi said reasonably.  “We know now that the drug was derived from an extraterrestrial source.”

Shaking her head, Jemma said, “I thought so too, but then I examined blood samples I took when she first joined the team. They were the same – the DNA markers from the drug were already present in Skye’s DNA before she was shot. I just never noticed before because I wasn’t looking for anything like that, and the non-human DNA has bonded very closely with the human DNA.”

Ward stared at her in disbelief. “What are you saying? That Skye’s not human?”

“She’s saying that Skye is a hybrid,” Bobbi told him quietly.

Lance looked around the table. “What, seriously? You actually believe Skye is an alien-human hybrid because Raina sold you a tall tale of Hydra and monsters and stolen babies? Bloody unlikely.”

“Do you really believe that I would accept the word of that woman?” Jemma asked him fiercely. “I thought it was complete nonsense, and I ran those first tests to prove just that. Then I ran them again, and again. I didn’t sleep for a full day because I thought I had to be missing something, that there was some other explanation. We should have told her about this a long time ago, and now she’s gone. Ward was treating her like a criminal, she was forced to wear that stupid bracelet, and then she found out we were studying her in secret. No wonder she left.”

Jemma grabbed more tissues and glared at Ward in the wake of her outburst. She clearly blamed herself, but she blamed him too.

“She left because she was worried about her friend,” Fitz told Jemma, patting her arm. “She wasn’t afraid of you.”

“She left because she doesn’t trust us anymore,” May said. “She was jumpy and paranoid. She wasn’t eating, and she wasn’t sleeping. Maybe she didn’t admit it to you or even to herself, but she’s afraid of how SHIELD might handle the situation. She’s seen the Index. She knows that we view gifteds as dangerous.”

“Skye isn’t dangerous,” Coulson said. “Even if she had powers, I don’t believe she would ever harm anyone. But she is in danger because Raina admitted that she told Whitehall about Skye. She believes that Skye has powers that haven’t manifested yet because they have to be triggered somehow. If he’s looking for her and he finds her before we do, well. I don’t have to tell any of you how bad that would be for Skye.”

Ward thought of the bodies they’d found in their hunt for Whitehall – victims of his human experiments, discarded like trash after he was done with them. Thinking of Skye being experimented on like that made his stomach roll.

“What else do we know about where she’s been in the last two weeks?” Ward asked.

“Not much,” Fitz admitted. “I think she’s been scrubbing herself from security feeds because I’ve only found these two videos, and the first one isn’t even online anymore. The day she arrived she was arrested for trespassing, first at Queen Consolidated and then later at a nightclub called Verdant, which is owned by Oliver Queen. I know she was at the police station because they ran her prints and I caught it. But then all her records disappeared.”

“Nothing after that?”

Fitz shook his head. “She paid more attention to news footage about Oliver Queen. She’s been watching the news for Starling City for months now. I thought maybe she knows him.”

“Queen spent five years on an island in the South China Sea and only returned two years ago. Skye would only have been about eighteen when he disappeared, and there’s no indication she was in Starling City the year before we met her.” Coulson looked back at the screen. “I think our connection is this woman. Fitz and Jemma, I want you to find out everything you can about Oliver Queen and the people who work for him. Queen Consolidated is a big company – see if you can get access to employee files. Dig around in his sister’s life too. Bobbi and Hunter, I want you to head to Vegas as soon as we land at the base. Take one of the quinjets – you can park it in the hangar we have two hours outside Vegas.”

Bobbi nodded. “What are we looking for?”

“Anything you can find on Mary Sue Poots.” When Hunter raised his brows, he added, “That’s the name the nuns at the orphanage gave her.”

“That’s harsh. No wonder she changed it,” Hunter replied. “So you think this woman might be a childhood friend?”

“It’s possible. Skye left St. Agnes when she was sixteen and erased her identity from the system. After that she moved around a lot. Either this woman was someone she knew before or it’s someone from her days at Rising Tide. Skye promised me that she wasn’t in contact with any Rising Tide members, current or former, and I believe her. That leaves childhood friends.”

“We need to be looking for her in Starling City,” Ward said, frustrated.

“And we will, but we won’t get anywhere unless we can retrace her steps and see who she’s been with over the last couple of weeks. When we land, I’ll check with local law enforcement agencies and see if anyone matching Skye’s description was reported missing or…” he broke off. “I have a file from ARGUS on the city’s vigilantes. As I said before, the Canary has never been a killer in Starling City.”

“And the other woman?” May asked.

He hesitated. “I can’t be sure, but based on the style of dress, I believe she might be a member of the League of Assassins. The good news is that they were allies to the vigilantes when they took down the super soldiers six months ago. Maybe the video isn’t what we think it is. Wheels down in an hour, people.”

They all left the table, and Ward went back to the lounge. But he was restless, and Skye’s ghost was everywhere – they’d played Battleship here, and she’d laughed at silly movies with Fitz and Simmons. He turned abruptly and left the room.

Downstairs in the training area, he sat against the wall and tried to clear his mind. She was here too, of course. They’d spent countless hours here training, and after Ireland their interactions had become a little more personal – hands lingered during sparring sessions, or their eyes met for just a few seconds too long. He’d known they were walking a fine line, but he couldn’t seem to make himself care.

Despite the video he’d seen, he refused to believe she was dead – that he would never get a chance to talk to her again. He’d wasted all these months being angry when he should have at least heard her side of the story. He’d even picked up on the changes in her behavior – she’d lost weight, and she rarely smiled.

He remembered her distraction after May turned training back over to him. She must have been terrified, and maybe if he’d shown a little concern she would have confided in him. Instead he’d treated her like she didn’t exist unless they were training, and even there he’d been harsh – he’d harped on each mistake and her lack of attention. He didn’t want to admit he still had feelings for her, so he ruthlessly squashed any sentimentality that threatened to creep into their daily interactions.

He recognized now that was the real problem and the main reason he’d held onto his anger. He’d allowed his feelings to lead him into a compromising position and for a specialist there was no greater danger than that. With his training he should have known that Skye was hiding something. Instead she’d crept into his blind spot; he’d grown comfortable with having her there, with blindly trusting her, and her deceptions had blindsided him as much as Garrett’s had. Two people he’d trusted, and they’d both lied – and he didn’t see it coming.

It had nothing to do with the scale of the deception. He knew that Skye wasn’t like Garrett and there was no malicious intent behind her hiding the truth of why she joined the team. Now that he’d heard the full story, he could even understand why it was so important to her that she’d lied in the first place. After everything they’d been through, he just wished that she had trusted him enough to tell him before Miles forced her hand.

Now she was gone. Fitz said she’d promised to return, but he wasn’t sure he would come back if he were in her shoes. Coulson, May and Jemma were keeping big secrets and many people at the base steered clear of her because of the bracelet. She’d been isolated, and May had a point in that SHIELD’s record with gifteds was a mixed bag. Learning that she wasn’t fully human and that her people had powers must have been a shock, and it would have been compounded by what she knew about how SHIELD handled those who were different.

He’d never had a problem with SHIELD’s policy on people with powers. As far as he was concerned it was straightforward, and the Index had been useful on numerous occasions. Some gifted people were never a threat, and they lived out their lives without interference from the agency. But others were a different story, and information on their powers was a good thing to have in the field when civilian lives were at stake.

But how would they handle Skye? An alien-human hybrid was a very different thing from the average gifted individual that landed on SHIELD’s radar. He didn’t like the idea of her being studied, placed on the Index, or treated in any way as if she wasn’t human. He was still angry with her for lying, and even angrier with himself for how he handled it, but she didn’t deserve any of that. She was more human and had more empathy for people than anyone he’d ever known.

When the plane landed, he reached a decision. He waited until everyone was busy with the tasks that Coulson had assigned and then gathered his supplies. Coulson and May were checking with local agencies, Fitz and Simmons were busy researching Queen, and Bobbi and Hunter were heading to Vegas. He was going to Starling City.

***

Skye stepped away from the rail when she heard footsteps behind her. “This is a sweet view.”

Thea walked over to the rail and gazed out across the city as she sipped her coffee. “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy great real estate.”

Skye remembered Felicity saying Oliver was close to broke and decided that word must mean something different to rich people. From where she was standing, Oliver and Thea didn’t appear to be hurting for cash.

After she’d woken up in the basement of Verdant and realized it was the secret lair for the Arrow, and that the Arrow was none other than Oliver Queen, she’d felt like pinching herself – first because it was a shock and then because she should have guessed. All of Felicity’s talk about how the island changed Oliver, her protectiveness of him, and her work with the vigilantes – it was so clear now that it was all connected.

A bigger surprise was that Sara Lance was the Canary, and that Thea, Laurel and the head of ARGUS, Diggle’s wife Lyla, were all in on the secret. Based on what she’d heard from Coulson, ARGUS didn’t play well with others, and Laurel was the A.D.A. She wondered briefly if Captain Lance knew too – it must come in handy for the team to have contacts with both the police department and the D.A.’s office.

“What are your plans for today?” Thea asked.

“John’s going to drive me to Felicity’s apartment so I can pack our bags. After that I’m going to keep working on this power surge problem,” Skye said.

Oliver’s temp had the flu, so Felicity had gone into the office. They were both staying with Thea until things calmed down since she had much better security in her building.

“How are you feeling?”

Skye made a face and rubbed her shoulder. “Nyssa’s tranquilizer dart packs a punch, but the headache is gone, at least.”

“Well, make yourself at home. I’m going to be busy with Verdant’s books. I’m not sure how long we’ll be closed, so I want to see how much money we’re losing.”

Skye followed her back inside and refilled her coffee cup. “Hopefully Felicity and I will figure this out sooner rather than later.” She had about an hour before John was scheduled to arrive, so she curled up in the corner of the sofa and got to work.

 ***

Bobbi thought about what Sister Natalie had said as she left the orphanage and met Hunter at the park across the street.

“Any luck?” he asked. He tore some bread from his sandwich and threw it to the pigeons.

“More than I expected,” she replied as she joined him on the park bench. “Most of the nuns didn’t remember Skye, but Sister Natalie made up for that. She took a special interest in her and was upset when Skye ran away. She also told me about Skye’s best friend, Felicity Smoak. They met in elementary school when they were eight years old. Felicity graduated and went to MIT when she was sixteen, and Sister Natalie said she thinks that’s why Skye ran away. She always suspected the girls stayed in touch. She also said that Felicity’s mother still lives here in Vegas. She’s a cocktail waitress.”

“I call interviewing the mother.”

Bobbi arched a brow, amused. “I think it’s more likely she’ll talk to a woman. I’ll take the mother, you take a look through her house and see if there are any ties to Skye.”

Locating Donna Smoak was easy. When she left for work, Bobbi followed her and left Hunter to check out the house. She gave her some time to settle in and serve a few orders before she approached her. “Donna Smoak?”

Donna looked up and smiled, sweeping her long, blonde hair over her shoulder. “Can I help you?”

Bobbi smiled back at her. “I hope so. My name is Breanne, and I’m with the County Social Services Department. I wanted to ask you a few questions about Mary Sue Poots. You’re in the original file on Mary’s disappearance.”

Donna’s smile faded, and her tray shook for a moment before she set it down carefully on the bar. “It’s been a long time since anyone asked me about Mary.”

“I know. Nine years is a long time,” Bobbi said. “But with missing children, the cases are never closed. The police department is checking into a few cold cases, and they contacted our department. My supervisor asked me to follow up. It’s routine.”

“There’s really nothing I can tell you now that I didn’t tell the police nine years ago. Mary was friends with my daughter, Felicity, but they started to drift apart in high school. Felicity was a child prodigy and got a scholarship to MIT when she was sixteen. Mary wasn’t that interested in school – she talked about dropping out, but I never really saw her after Felicity left for school. A couple of months later, two detectives came by and asked me some questions, but there wasn’t much I could tell them.”

She was lying. “So you and you daughter never talked to Mary after she ran away?”

“No. She used to talk about going to New York but after she left, we never heard from her again. I’m sorry I can’t be more help.”

“At least I can update the file. The funny thing is that all of her computer records disappeared from our department and the police department after she left. Her paper records are gone from the orphanage as well. Sister Natalie mentioned that Felicity was good with computers.”

Donna’s gaze sharpened. “Mary was interested in computers after she and Felicity met. If Mary was planning to run away, she wouldn’t have needed my daughter’s help to delete records.”

“Of course. I didn’t mean to imply that your daughter had anything to do with Mary’s disappearance.”

Donna picked up her tray. “If you’ll excuse me, I have customers.”

Bobbi watched her for a moment before leaving and meeting Hunter back at the park. After she sat down on the bench, she said, “Donna Smoak knows more than she’s saying. Did you find anything?”

“I hit the jackpot.” Hunter passed her a tablet. “Have a look.”

Bobbi found pictures on the tablet. Hunter had clearly gotten them from photo albums, and page after page detailed the friendship between Skye and Felicity. The pages were labeled, and the photos started when the girls were eight years old and continued throughout high school. Then there were photos of Donna and Skye visiting Felicity at MIT when she won an award, and later at both of her graduation ceremonies.

The final photos looked like they were taken on a road trip, and there were a few of them back in Vegas at Donna’s house, but there was nothing from the past few years.

“Ten to one odds says Felicity Smoak moved to Starling City and works in IT security for Oliver Queen,” Hunter said. “That would explain why Skye was interested in Queen.”

Bobbi noted the difference in Felicity’s appearance in the final photos. She’d been blonde as a child, brunette as a teen, and had a Goth look at university before dying her hair blonde and giving herself an understated makeover. It was the Goth look that interested her because it matched the woman in the video. “I think it’s time to call Coulson and meet the team in Starling City.”

***

When Ward arrived in Starling City, his first stop was the police station because while Skye might have been able to delete digital files, he thought there might be a paper trail to follow.

He flashed his badge to the desk sergeant. “William Grant – I’m with Homeland. We’re looking into the security issues in Starling City, and we got word that a woman was brought into this precinct two weeks ago. She was arrested for trespassing at Queen Consolidated.”

“Yeah, we get a few of those a month. Let me check with the Captain.”

Ward waited as the woman made a call, explained why he was there and then listened for a moment before hanging up. “Captain Lance said he can see you now. Third floor, office is in the back.”

She buzzed him through and he took the stairs up to the third floor and made his way through the busy room to the office in the back.

Captain Lance looked up when he knocked on the open door. “Agent Grant, is it? Mind if I take a look at your I.D.?”

Ward handed it over without comment.

After examining it carefully, Captain Lance waved him to a chair. “I’m a little surprised that Homeland is taking an interest in Starling City. As I’m sure you’ve heard, this isn’t our first rodeo when it comes to street violence or riots.”

“We received a tip that you arrested a woman for trespassing at Queen Consolidated. The description matched a person of interest in one of our cases,” Ward said smoothly.

“This woman got a name?” Captain Lance asked.

“She would have been using an alias, but her prints were run under the name Skye.”

Captain Lance typed the information into his computer. “Nothing on a woman named Skye. You told the sergeant this was two weeks ago?”

Ward slid a small print of Skye’s SHIELD I.D. photo across the desk. “This is her picture.”

The captain looked at it before handing it back. “Sorry. In the past two months, I have a record of three women brought in on charges of stalking Oliver Queen. Your girl wasn’t one of them.”

“She was picked up at his nightclub, Verdant,” Ward told him.

“So were two of these women, but again – this woman wasn’t one of them.”

“Digital files can be tampered with,” Ward said. “What about hard copies?”

Captain Lance sighed and passed a notepad and pen over to him. “Write down the date you think this happened and I’ll get someone to check.”

Ward wrote down the date and Lance called an officer in to go run down the arrest records.

“You said you received a tip,” Lance said. “You mind telling me what kind of tip you could get when I don’t even have a record of her being here?”

“When you ran her prints, it was flagged in our system.”

“Must not have been much of a flag if it took you two weeks to look into it,” Lance replied sardonically.

Ward chose not to respond to that. He waited patiently as the captain took a few calls. They both looked up when the officer returned.

“There’s no record of this, Captain,” the officer said. “If they handled it like the others, we’d still have the original complaint and record of arrest. She wasn’t here.”

“Thanks, Phillips.” Lance looked back at him. “That answer your question?”

“He said if they handled it like the others. How are these incidents usually handled?”

“First time incidents, Queen’s people keep records. If the woman is persistent enough, his security team detains them, keeps a photo on file, and we pick them up. The D.A. serves them with a restraining order and if they agree to keep their distance, Queen drops the charges.”

Ward stood up and shook Lance’s hand. “Thanks for your time.”

His next stop was the D.A.’s office. After he explained why he was there, the receptionist said, “Those restraining orders are usually handled by Ms. Lance. I’ll let her know you’re here.”

Lance. His suspicions were growing, but he kept his expression impassive when Ms. Lance walked out to meet him. He followed her to her office and asked, “Laurel Lance – any relation to Captain Lance?”

“He’s my father,” she replied. Like her father, she asked to see his identification and looked it over carefully. “If the precinct didn’t have any records of this woman’s arrest, I’m not sure how you think I can help you.”

“Paperwork errors happen. I’m just covering my bases and I was told that you handle the restraining orders.” He gave her the date and watched as she checked her computer records. 

“I don’t have any records from that date. Three women were arrested in the last two months, and two of them were picked up at Verdant, but this woman isn’t in my files.”

He took the photo she handed back to him. “So you’ve never seen this woman before.”

“No, I haven’t. If there’s nothing else, I’m due in court in an hour.” Her tone was a clear dismissal.

She was lying. She was good, but he’d seen the flicker of recognition in her eyes when she looked at Skye’s photo. It was the same recognition he’d seen in her father’s eyes. Now the question was why.

He was frustrated, but he masked it carefully. “Thanks for your time.”

His next stop was Queen Consolidated, but he got nowhere with security even after he showed his badge.

“I’ll put in a request, but Mr. Queen would have to sign off on you viewing our records since you don’t have a warrant.”

The head of security was a burly man in his late forties who was by the book and completely humorless. Ward decided that trying to get him to break protocol was a waste of time.

“Is Mr. Queen in?”

“If you’d like to make an appointment, Reception is that way.” He jerked his thumb towards the atrium and returned to his office.

The receptionist politely told him that Mr. Queen was out, but she’d be happy to leave a message.

Ward’s frustration was mounting. His last stop was Verdant; it was closed, but there were two cars parked in front of the building. He took in every detail of his surroundings, and his heart rate kicked up when he recognized the alley to the left of the building. This was where Skye was attacked.

He got out of the car and walked to the alley, crouching down in the spot where Skye had fallen. He placed his hand on the pavement – she’d been here. Determined to get some answers, he walked to the front door of the club and found it unlocked.

A woman sat at the bar with several books spread out in front of her. Tall and thin with a short brown bob, he recognized her as Thea Queen. She looked up as he walked in. “We’re closed.”

He held up his badge. “I’m not a customer.”

She raised her brows. “Do I need to call my lawyers?”

Tired of the runaround, he placed Skye’s photo on the bar in front of her. “I’m looking for this woman. She was arrested here two weeks ago, and I have reason to believe she was here last night.”

Thea picked up the photo, looked at it and then passed it back to him with a shrug. “If she was arrested here, she’s probably one of Ollie’s fan club. We have a photo wall up front – feel free to have a look.”

Unlike the Lances, he saw no recognition in Thea’s eyes when she looked at the photo. The giveaway was that she didn’t look at it long enough. While it only took milliseconds to see an image, the average person needed at least ten seconds to process features and think about whether or not they recognized a person in a photo. When asked by law enforcement, they often took longer.

“You’re sure?” He was surprised to hear the frustration in his tone, and he reined in his emotions.

“I’m sure we were closed last night,” she replied. “Unless she was hanging out in an empty parking lot, I doubt she was here.”

“What about security footage from the parking lot?” he asked, his jaw twitching. He heard a door opening in the back, and then Oliver Queen walked into the room followed by a large, African-American man wearing a suit. His bearing marked him as former military, so Ward pegged him as Queen’s bodyguard.

“What’s going on, Thea?” Oliver asked. He was smiling, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“One of your stalkers has made it onto Homeland’s Most Wanted,” Thea told him. “Or he thinks it’s one of your stalkers, but I don’t recognize her.”

Oliver raised his brows at Ward. “Homeland?”

Ward opened his badge and wasn’t surprised when the bodyguard took it. The man looked it over and then passed it back to him silently.

“If you have questions about any of the trespassers who have been picked up here or at my company, those records are kept by the police and the A.D.A.”

“I’ve already talked to them. They can’t seem to find any record of the woman I’m looking for even though I know she was picked up here and her fingerprints were run at the station. She was also here last night.”

“The club was closed last night,” Oliver said. He nodded to the photo. “Do you mind?”

Ward watched him carefully as he looked at the photo before passing it to his bodyguard, who shook his head.

“She’s pretty. If I see her around, I’ll get her number for you,” Oliver said.

Both his tone and the careless smile that accompanied his words spoke to years of entitlement when it came to women, and while it fit what he knew of Oliver Queen, something was off about him. Something was off about the whole situation.

“I was told your security department would also have records. I’d also like to see any security footage from the parking lot outside.”

“Our security system has been up and down, and it was down last night,” Thea said.

He could feel his jaw twitching again. “And the security records?”

“Leave your card with Mr. Diggle and he’ll see if we have anything on her.” Oliver’s tone was dismissive.

Ward passed the card to Mr. Diggle. He didn’t know what the hell was going on, but he was certain they were all hiding something. He began to consider that Fitz’s original theory was correct and that Skye had a connection to Queen. It seemed unlikely, but he had no other explanation for why they would all be covering up Skye’s presence in Starling City.

He checked into a hotel and paced the room as he thought about his next move. A knock on the door made him tense up.

“It’s me.”

He opened the door to Coulson, who raised a brow as he entered. “You could have waited for us.”

Ward ignored that. “Skye was attacked at Queen’s nightclub. I don’t know why, but everyone from the police to the D.A. is lying about Skye being here.”

Coulson passed him a tablet. “Bobbi and Hunter found our mysterious woman in black.”

The first photo took him by surprise. It was Skye when she was a little girl, and she was holding hands with a blonde girl at a park. It was a window into a Skye he’d never known, and he drank in each detail as he paged through years of her history with the girl named Felicity.

“Felicity Smoak is Oliver Queen’s personal assistant, and I think we can safely assume there’s an emphasis on personal there. She has a Master’s in Cyber Security from MIT and worked in the IT department before she met him.”

“You think she’s asked everyone to lie because she’s protecting Skye.” The pieces were falling into place now. “Maybe they don’t know what happened to her last night.”

“Either way, I’ve made an appointment with Mr. Queen for tomorrow morning. I think it’s time we laid our cards on the table with Ms. Smoak,” Coulson told him. “Meanwhile, May is going to shake a few trees around town tonight and see if she can catch a Canary.”

Ward felt a little of his earlier tension fading. Part of him wanted to go back to Queen and confront him with this new knowledge immediately, but he knew that wasn’t the rational or tactical approach. But that’s how it always was where Skye was involved; rational thought, logic and tactical training went out the window. If – when – she rejoined the team, it was something the two of them would have to work out.

A/N – Another long chapter! No flashbacks here, but I’ll get back to those in the next chapter. I hope you enjoyed the updates. Next up, May and the Canary meet, Ward and Coulson have a standoff with Oliver and Felicity, Donna arrives in Starling City, and Team Arrow and Team Bus have a bumpy first meeting. Thanks for reading!

Chapter Text

 

Ward stood over Fitz as he worked on the computer. “Nothing?”

Fitz shook his head. “It’s like she’s vanished. I’ve monitored all the video feeds from traffic cameras near Queen Consolidated. She hasn’t been there. I haven’t seen her on any feeds in the Glades either. A lot of the security feeds around town have been knocked offline though. Traffic cameras are still working, but there aren’t as many of those in the Glades.”

“What about Felicity’s house or Verdant?” May asked.

“Nothing near her home, and no traffic cameras are operational near Verdant. I think the club’s security is online but I can’t get through their firewalls,” Fitz said, clearly disgruntled by that fact. “I suspect Felicity is responsible for that.”

Simmons was looking at the photos of Felicity and Skye on her monitor. “Skye was so cute when she was little. It’s obvious that she and Felicity were very close. I wonder why she never mentioned her friend.”

Ward had looked at the photos for hours the previous evening, and he knew she was right. “She never said anything for the same reason that everyone here is lying about Skye. Skye didn’t want SHIELD to know anything about Felicity.”

“You think May is right then?” Simmons asked sadly. “She doesn’t trust us.”

“Not enough.” And maybe they were all a little to blame for that. He didn’t know what to think anymore.

“Maybe I should go with you to Queen Consolidated,” Simmons said.

Coulson had entered the room as Jemma spoke. He shook his head. “No. I need you and Fitz to stay on the trail of the Canary since May didn’t have any luck tracking her last night. She, Bobbi and Hunter are sweeping the city now. We also need to get to the bottom of these blackouts because the less chaos in Starling City, the better our chances of finding Skye. Half the city’s cameras being down doesn’t help.”

Simmons nodded reluctantly and turned her computer back to schematics of the power grid she’d been studying. “The progress is slow without Skye. If you can get Felicity to help us, it would go much faster. I have many skills, and I’ve picked up a little from Skye, but Fitz and I aren’t hackers.”

“She’s brilliant,” Coulson agreed. “SHIELD was interested in recruiting her after she was ranked second in the National Informative Technology Competition at age 19. We have a small file on her. But she was very anti-government and anti-corporation at the time, so Hill never followed through with the recruitment.”

“Something she and Skye had in common,” Ward said. “Do we have a meeting time yet?”

“We have an appointment in thirty minutes, very grudgingly given after I advised them we have a federal warrant.” When Ward raised his brows, Coulson said, “I’m the director of SHIELD. We might be underground, but I still have a few strings I can pull.”

“Are you sure that forcing your way in is the best way to get her to talk?” Fitz asked, looking worried. “I wouldn’t help anyone who forced their way into SHIELD.”

“I’ll worry about that once I’m able to talk to her. We won’t accomplish anything if she keeps evading us.” Coulson looked over at Ward. “Let’s go.”

It was a short drive to Queen Consolidated. When they walked into the atrium downstairs, they were vetted by security before being escorted up to the executive floor and into a small conference room. After a few minutes, Oliver Queen walked in followed by Mr. Diggle, Felicity Smoak, and surprisingly, Laurel Lance.

Ward took a moment to study Felicity. With her sleek, blonde hair pulled into a ponytail and dark rimmed glasses perched on her nose, she bore little resemblance to the Goth girl from the video. Still, he knew a good wig and makeup could have transformed her easily enough. He noted that she was observing them just as carefully.

Ms. Lance spoke first. “Mr. Grant. Before we get started, I’d like to see this warrant.”

When Coulson looked over at Ward, he explained. “She’s Laurel Lance, the A.D.A. I met with yesterday.”  

“I would expect to see general counsel here, not the A.D.A.,” Coulson remarked as he passed her the warrant.

“And I would expect the courtesy of a phone call before delivering a federal warrant in my city,” she replied as she scanned the document. “Judge Watkins signed off on this. He’s being investigated for accepting bribes from the Triad. I can have this thrown out in an hour.”

Ward wasn’t surprised. While SHIELD didn’t concern themselves with dirty politics, they did occasionally benefit from a dirty politician or judge. This was especially true since they’d been forced underground in their fight with Hydra.

“We’re not here to serve a warrant,” Coulson said mildly. “We’re only here to talk, and I’m afraid we won’t be leaving Starling City without the woman we’re looking for.”

“And I told you that I don’t know anyone named Skye,” Oliver said abruptly.

“No, but Ms. Smoak knows Skye very well. Or should I say Mary Sue Poots?”

Ward watched Felicity closely. She looked startled to suddenly be included in the conversation, but she held onto her composure. “I can’t help you. And if that warrant is worthless, then I think this meeting is over.”

She and Oliver stood up, and Coulson and Ward followed them out.

“Ms. Smoak, I think you should hear us out.” Coulson held out a tablet to Felicity, who took it with obvious reluctance.

Ward wasn’t prepared for the complete change in her demeanor when she saw the photos. She was angry and frightened, that much was evident, but she stalked up to Coulson and slammed the tablet into his chest with enough force that Coulson winced.

“You broke into my mother’s house?” she demanded. “If you hurt her…”

“She wasn’t at home,” Coulson assured her. “We know that you’re the friend Skye came here to see, and we know that she was with you a few nights ago. We found video footage of one of the power surges. Skye fought off your attackers.”

“All these photos prove is that I used to know her,” she said. “And even if I knew where she was? I wouldn’t tell you.”

Ward finally spoke up. “You have no idea who you’re dealing with here.” And she didn’t. Hydra had Skye’s photo, courtesy of Raina. If Hydra somehow found her first, they might never see her again.

“Oh I know exactly who I’m dealing with,” she replied angrily. “Director Coulson. Agent Ward. You’re the people responsible for her getting shot. You lied to her. You broke her heart. I don’t know where she is right now, but I will never help you find her. If you think I’m bluffing, then you don’t know who you’re dealing with.”

That boiling anger and frustration bubbled up, too close to the surface for Ward’s comfort. He pushed those feelings aside even as he stepped forward, towering over Felicity. “You’re going to get her killed if you don’t help us. We know that she was attacked in an alley outside Verdant two nights ago. Have you seen her since then?”

Oliver suddenly moved between them, effectively blocking Felicity as he stood eye level with Ward. “Leave. Now.”

Everything about Oliver’s stance belied the playboy vibe he’d given off the day before. He looked dangerous, and Ward didn’t doubt that he was, but he refused to budge. Instead he sized him up as an opponent, ready to engage if necessary.

“Ward,” Coulson said sharply. “Stand down.”

Ward kept his eyes on Oliver for another minute before reluctantly backing up to stand beside Coulson. Oliver maintained his protective stance in front of Felicity until she moved around him and placed a hand on his arm in a calming gesture.

“You obviously know more than you’re telling us,” Coulson finally said. “I know you don’t believe me, but we’re not here to hurt Skye. You need to understand that the next people who come looking for her will do more than hurt her.”

“I think it’s time for you to leave,” Ms. Lance said. “Mr. Diggle can show you out.”

“We’re not your enemy,” Coulson told Felicity. He held out a card. “If you change your mind and want to talk, this is how you can reach me. Like I said, we aren’t leaving until we find her.”

Everything about her posture and expression was hostile, and she ignored the offered card. After glancing over at Felicity, Ms. Lance reached out and took it.

“I’m assuming you’re not actually with Homeland,” Ms. Lance said. “But it doesn’t really matter which agency you’re with. If you have any further questions, they should be addressed to Mr. Queen’s legal counsel. And if you’re planning to serve any more bogus warrants, or if you harass Ms. Smoak or Mr. Queen further? I’ll happily ask Captain Lance to find accommodations for you at the Starling City jail.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Coulson said.

He nodded to Ward, and they followed Mr. Diggle to the elevator. Once inside, Coulson looked over at the large, silent man. “I don’t suppose you’d like to tell us anything?”

Mr. Diggle ignored him until they reached the lobby. “The door is that way. Have a nice stay in Starling City.”

Coulson sighed. “That’s what I thought.”

Outside, Ward turned to Coulson. “She’s been in SHIELD’s servers.”

“Probably. I suppose it’s possible that Skye told her some things, but I think she’s seen our files and photos, which means she could start tracking the team. The only bright side is that half the cameras in the city being offline will hinder her as much as it has us. I hate to say it, but Fitz might have been right about the way we approached her.” Coulson shook his head. “Let’s get back to the hotel.”

Fitz and Simmons weren’t any closer to finding Skye or the vigilantes when they returned, and Fitz grumbled about a lost opportunity under his breath as Coulson admitted the meeting with Felicity didn’t go well.

“It’s possible that Felicity is also looking for Skye,” Coulson said. “When we first found out about her, it occurred to me that she might be the technology expert suspected of assisting the city’s vigilantes. Now I’m not so sure because I don’t think she’d protect anyone who hurt Skye. I hoped she might help us track them since they’re proving difficult to find.”

“They’re a bit all over the place because of the blackouts,” Simmons explained. “Before there were areas they were sighted in more often, but now I can’t find a pattern. I think the best course of action is to follow the violence.”

“We have this.” Fitz held up something that looked like a dart gun. “If you can hit them with a dart, it will implant a subcutaneous tracker. They won’t even know they’ve been tagged.”

Ward knew Fitz had been working on the trackers for a few months, but he didn’t realize he’d finished them. “Good. That might work. I’ll go out with May tonight and concentrate on the neighborhoods near Verdant. Bobbi and Hunter can take the other areas where the vigilantes have been sighted.”

It was still early afternoon, and Ward was too restless to sit and watch FitzSimmons going through data. Unfortunately there was nothing they could do except wait.

***

Felicity paced in the office as Oliver tried to calm her down. “Felicity, we need to talk about this.”

“I know, I’m just… trying to think,” she replied. She took off her glasses and pressed her fingers to her temples.

“You knew who they were when they came in,” Laurel said. She took Felicity’s arm and guided her over to the sofa before sitting beside her. “Felicity, we can’t help if we’re all in the dark, and they’re just going to keep blindsiding us.”

Felicity could feel the tears coming, and she took a deep breath as she tried to get herself under control. “This is my fault. I did something because I thought I could make them think she was dead, and then they’d leave her alone. I even left a false trail at the city morgue – a record of a Jane Doe matching her description, whose body was claimed by people with false identification.”

“You thought that would give them another trail to follow,” Laurel said. “Felicity, who are these people?”

Felicity looked up at Oliver. “They’re with SHIELD. The bracelet she’s wearing is a tracking system. She modified it to bounce the signal after she left, making it look like she was still at their base when she was really here. I disabled it after her run-in with Nyssa in the alley, and I let them find the video that Sara told me about.”

“SHIELD is the agency that Lyla mentioned the other night,” Oliver said. “I thought they chased UFOs. Why are they looking for Skye?”

“That’s something Skye would have to agree to tell you. Please don’t tell her about them being here. Not yet. I need time to talk to her and tell her what I did.” Skye wouldn’t be happy about it. She knew that much, and she was still afraid that Skye might decide to leave with them, if only because she thought it would be safer for Felicity.

“Where is Skye now?” he asked.

“With Thea. We didn’t tell her about Agent Ward coming around looking for her yesterday.” Thea had told Felicity she thought keeping the secret was dangerous, but she’d agreed to stay with Skye and review the club’s books from home while Skye worked on the blackout issues.

“We won’t say anything yet,” Oliver agreed. “But we can’t help if we don’t know what’s going on. What about the other people they said might come looking for Skye?”

“Hydra.”

God, what if she’d led them to Skye? She hadn’t even considered that when she’d spontaneously trended the video. She’d hoped that SHIELD would investigate, find the morgue reports, and follow that trail until it went cold. Then she’d planned to have Skye cut ties with the agency, either via message that Felicity herself could answer, or without any explanation at all when they never came looking for her.

“They’re the terrorist group that was in the news – the ones who attacked the Triskelion in D.C.,” Diggle said, his expression uneasy. “Felicity, this is a hell of a thing to be hiding from us.”

“I know, but you’ll understand if I can convince her to trust you all with the whole story,” Felicity said.

“Fine. Laurel, can you drive Felicity back to the apartment? I’ll finish up some things and meet you there this evening.”

Felicity was quiet as Laurel drove her to Thea’s building. When they pulled up outside the entrance, Laurel turned to her. “Don’t worry too much. I’ll be back around five, and I’ll bring dinner for everyone. How does Chinese sound?”

She smiled. “It sounds good.”

***

Skye sat out on the balcony with Felicity. “I don’t know, Felicity. The more people we tell, the more dangerous it could be for all of you.”

“Skye, you know their secrets now. And I’m worried about the fact that Raina told Hydra about you. They have your file, and they know what you look like. I know you’ve been scrubbing yourself from the Internet, but if they see you, just once, they could come here looking for you.”

Felicity had looked guilty from the moment she walked in earlier. Skye felt her suspicions growing. “Felicity, what did you do?”

“Nothing… much.” She was twisting her fingers together. “I trended the video of you in the alley before I took it offline.”

“You what? Why would you do that?” Skye asked.

“Because I was hoping they’d all think you were dead, okay? I left a false paper trail at the morgue, complete with paper records courtesy of Barry. The body of a Jane Doe matching your description was brought in that night, and it was claimed by agents using false identification. The trail would go cold after they left the city. And I disabled your bracelet.”

“Oh, Felicity,” Skye groaned, glaring at her. “I told you not to interfere.”

“I know, but I really think I showed a lot of restraint. I thought about having Barry break into your secret base, load a data-wiping virus onto their system, and steal the Obelisk and all of your paper records on the way out.”

“You hacked SHIELD? After you promised me that you wouldn’t do that?”

Skye was angry, and she tried to hold onto that anger, but Felicity looked so miserable that it was hard to stay mad at her.

“I could say I’m sorry, but I’m not,” Felicity finally said. “I’m sorry that I broke a promise, but if it were me, what would you do? Would you just ignore a threat and let me face it alone?”

No, she wouldn’t. If it was Felicity in trouble, she’d cheat, lie and steal if she had to in order to protect her friend. She could hardly fault Felicity for doing the same. And no one had come looking yet, so it was possible that no one had seen the video before Felicity took it offline.

Still, she knew Felicity was right. If she was planning to stay in Starling City, she needed to be up front with Oliver and his team about the potential risk. “Okay.”

***

A few hours later, the doorbell rang.

“That’s probably Laurel, Sara and Nyssa,” Felicity explained as she crossed the room to open the door.

Skye stood up as they entered the room. She hadn’t officially met Nyssa, but Felicity had told her what happened in the alley. She remembered hearing Coulson talk about the League of Assassins when the super soldiers attacked the city. After greeting Laurel and Sara, she turned to Nyssa and nodded.

Nyssa stepped forward. “I am Nyssa, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, heir to the demon.”

Well. Okay then. She looked over at Felicity, who said, “She really likes that opening.”

“I’m Skye, no last name, no family,” she said.

“Except me,” Felicity reminded her with a smile.

“Except Felicity,” Skye added.

“Why have we been called here?” Nyssa asked.

Laurel held up the bags of food she carried. “Chinese food, remember?” She began setting the containers out on the coffee table in the living room.

Skye was helping Felicity pass out plates when they heard Oliver and John come in. She was feeling nervous again, her stomach a twisting mass of anxiety that made her heart race. She filled her plate but then began picking over her food, pushing it around with her chopsticks rather than eating it.

“Where’s Thea?” she asked. She didn’t want to start talking until they were all there because she didn’t want to repeat any of it. Telling it once was going to be hard enough.

“She’s still at the club with Roy,” Oliver said. “There was some damage to a few of the windows, so she might be a while.”

“Oh.” Skye kept her eyes on her plate for a minute before setting it aside and facing the group. “This all started with me being dropped off at St. Agnes Orphanage when I was a baby. I never had parents or a home. The closest thing to a home I ever had was with Felicity and Donna.”

Felicity set her plate down and then reached for Skye’s hand. Skye squeezed it gratefully as she told her story, starting with what Raina told Coulson about what happened in the Hunan Province. The room was silent as she recounted how she and Felicity found the redacted SHIELD document that led her to Coulson’s team. She told them about being shot and the GH-325 drug used to save her life before ending with how the team learned of her reasons for being there in the first place.

Her throat was dry, so Skye drank some of her water and braced herself for the next part. “I understood the tracking bracelet at first. I lied and with Hydra being such a threat, they had no reason to trust me. I understood that I had to earn that back, and believe me, I tried. But months passed and I was worried about Felicity, and I just got tired of it – of being isolated from everyone and stuck on the base. So I decided to go talk to Coulson and tell him I wanted to leave, at least for a little while. That’s when I overheard them talking about me.”

Felicity seemed to sense her hesitation. At her questioning glance, Skye nodded, and Felicity picked up the story.

“All those months, they’d been studying Skye in secret,” Felicity told them. “They were taking her blood on a regular basis, mapping her genome, studying her physiological responses. They wanted to know why she didn’t suffer any side effects from the drug.”

“Because this woman Raina told them that the village people had powers. You said SHIELD calls them gifted. Is that what they think you are?” Oliver asked.

“No. After Coulson talked to Raina, he had Simmons check my DNA for alien markers, and they found them. They were studying me because I’m part alien. A hybrid.” Skye looked up and saw the stunned expressions she expected to see. She tried not to tense up, wondering if revulsion would follow.

“How can they be sure that those markers didn’t come from the drug they used?” Sara finally asked.

“Because they were present in the blood samples they took before I was shot. Raina is a lot of things, but I don’t think she’s lying about this. She really believes there is a race of people descended from aliens – people who have powers. And all the evidence points to me being taken from those people, first by Hydra and then by SHIELD. She also told Hydra about me, which means if I stay here, I’m potentially putting you all at risk.”

“We can take care of ourselves,” Laurel said firmly. “We’re worried about you here. What else do you know?”

Felicity explained what they’d learned from Caitlyn and Dr. Wells. “They think that Skye has a dormant alien DNA strand that has the potential to trigger a biological change. In the interview transcript, Raina called it unlocking her potential. She thought it had something to do with the Obelisk that SHIELD found.”

“SHIELD has files on alien races that have been on Earth,” Diggle said. “Like the ones who attacked New York, or like Thor. Do they think you’re Asgardian?”

“No.” Skye sighed and held out her hand for the file Felicity was holding. She pulled out the photo, took a breath and turned it around. “Meet Papa Smurf. Obviously I’m just calling him that because no one has any idea who these blue guys were. This one was recovered from Hydra in the mid-40s.”

If anyone was shocked by the photo, they hid it well, which she appreciated.

“Do you have powers that you’re hiding from this agency?” Nyssa asked. When Skye shook her head, she said, “Then they should have no use for you. Do you want to return to them?”

Skye hesitated. “No. I don’t know. I miss being a part of the team, but I haven’t been part of that in months. I don’t want to go back to what I left, and I’m tired of being monitored like a science experiment.”

“Then you will stay here. We will not allow them to take you against your will.”

“You can be on my team,” Felicity said. “Our team. Please stay.”

Skye was touched as she looked at her new friends. They were serious about wanting her to stay, and she’d be included in their team if she did. No one was treating her like a freak. Despite the longing she felt when she thought about Ward, Jemma, Fitz, May and Coulson, she was beyond tempted in this moment to stay in Starling City.

Before she could respond, they heard Thea coming in the front door. “Uh, Felicity? You have a visitor.”

Skye grinned as she saw the slim, blonde woman follow Thea into the apartment. “Donna?”

Donna shrieked, and Skye barely had time to stand before she was engulfed in a tight hug. She winced.

“Mom! Careful!” Felicity said. “She hurt her ribs a few weeks ago.”

“No, I’m okay,” Skye assured Donna, who backed up in concern. “Really. What are you doing here?”

“Yes, Mom, what are you doing here?” Felicity asked. “And how did you get here? I thought they grounded most of the flights in and out of the city.”

“They did but after that woman came looking for Mary…”

“Skye,” Felicity and Skye reminded her simultaneously.

Donna waved that away. “You’ll always be my little Mary. But I just knew that if you were in trouble that you’d come to Felicity, so I flew to Central City and took the train here. And here you are!”

“She looked for you at the office and your house before coming to the club,” Thea told Felicity.

“Wait, back up a minute. What woman came looking for me?” Skye asked.

“Some woman from social services. She said that the police were looking into cold cases on missing teens and contacted her office because all their digital files were gone, and then she discovered that hers were too. I know you said that might happen someday, but I don’t know. There was something about her that I didn’t like.”

Skye wondered if the team had seen the video after all. “What did she look like?”

“Tall, blonde, pretty, glasses, ugly pantsuit,” Donna ticked each item off on her fingers. “But she didn’t have that look about her that your social worker did.”

“What look?”

“Tired, mostly. Something about her wasn’t right.”

It could be nothing, but Skye was still suspicious. Donna was a little spacey even on a good day, but she was sharper than people gave her credit for, and she had good instincts. The woman obviously wasn’t May, but it could have been Bobbi. She was blonde before her undercover stint with Hydra, and she could have reverted back to that hair color. Skye hadn’t seen her before the team left on their recent mission.

Or it could have been Hydra. Someone at the orphanage could have given them Felicity’s name, and sending a woman was a tactical decision if they were hoping Donna would talk.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize you were having a dinner party,” Donna told Thea as she smoothed her hands over the tight, pink dress she wore. Looking around at the group, she said, “I remember Oliver, of course, and Mr. Diggle, and Thea.”

“I’m Laurel,” Laurel said, smiling at her. “This is my sister, Sara.”

“And I am Nyssa, daught-“

“Daughtry,” Felicity interrupted her. “Nyssa Daughtry. From England. She’s visiting Sara.”

“Thea said you’re staying here because there’s a problem with your apartment,” Donna continued.

Skye exchanged a look with Felicity.

“Pest problem,” Felicity explained.

Based on Donna’s expression, she wasn’t buying pest problems but she let it go. “Maybe you girls could come to the hotel with me.”

“Or you can stay here,” Thea told her. “I’m staying with a friend tonight anyway.”

“And we have plenty of food if you haven’t eaten,” Laurel offered.

Donna joined them as they finished eating, and soon the others left. Felicity walked Oliver out, probably to talk about how they would handle the patrol later with Donna there. Skye would have to run interference.

“I have high hopes for those two,” Donna said with a small smile. She was closing the containers, and Skye helped her take them to the kitchen.

“Skye, what is going on?” Donna asked quietly. “Are you in trouble? Is that why you’re staying here? Or why I haven’t heard from you in eight months?”

“It’s complicated,” Skye said. “I don’t want to drag you into it.”

“Is this because you were looking into your birth family?”

“Something like that,” she admitted.

“Well first of all, you’re not dragging me into anything. I came here because I love you, and I’m staying until I’m sure that you’re okay,” Donna said. “But if you don’t want to talk about it yet, that’s fine. We have a lot more to catch up on, right?”

Skye hugged her. “Thanks for coming. And I really am happy to see you. It’s been too long.”

Donna smoothed her hair back. “It’ll be nice to have both my girls together again. And you cut your hair! I like it.”

Skye kept Donna busy when Felicity excused herself to Thea’s home office, claiming a work emergency. When Felicity emerged from the office later, Skye was working on her laptop in the bedroom. 

“Where’s Mom?” Felicity asked, crawling onto the bed next to Skye and leaning back against the pillows.

“Shower,” Skye told her. “I think I’ve got a theory about what’s making people so angry. The fact that it’s only temporary made me think about what we learned about Hydra this summer, and how they brainwashed a lot of SHIELD agents into following them. They used a combination of video and voice conditioning.”

“Okay.”

“Then I thought about how the city updated their emergency alert system this summer and when I tapped into their office memos, it seems they’ve had some problems with the signal not going out as scheduled. One area of the city gets the emergency alert, and another one doesn’t. They think it’s a glitch.”

“But it’s probably being tampered with,” Felicity said.

Skye nodded. “I’m compiling data now to see if we can connect specific broadcasts to areas that reported more crime, but I think we’re dealing with some form of temporary brainwashing rather than anything biological.”

“There was an EAS broadcast in the bar that night,” Felicity told her. “I heard it before it went back to the game that was playing. Sin was outside on the phone, you were in the bathroom, and I was on my computer. Maybe someone has to be looking at it and listening in order to be affected.”

“How did the patrols go?”

“They’re still out there, but they said they’ll call if they need me,” Felicity said, yawning.

“Donna knows you don’t have pest problems, by the way. She’s not pushing, but you and I both know she’s not stupid.”

Felicity sighed. “I know. I just don’t want her to freak out, and news that you’re being hunted by the real Men in Black would definitely prompt a freak out. But it’s up to you if you want to tell her.”

“Not tonight. I’m beat. Movie?”

Thirty minutes later Donna crawled onto the bed, and Skye wiggled over to make room for her between them.

Felicity wrinkled her nose. “Mom, I think we’re too big to snuggle like we did when we were nine.”

“And ten,” Donna said. “It was only when you hit twelve that your inner brat came out. Besides, I haven’t had you two together in one place in nearly four years. And I was thinking that if I’m staying for the holidays, we should do something to decorate.”

“This isn’t my apartment,” Felicity reminded her.

Donna raised a brow. “Well, we can decorate your place when your pest problems are taken care of.”

“You know what I wish we had right now?” Skye said. “Hot chocolate with peppermint sticks.”

“I think Thea has hot chocolate, but I didn’t see any peppermint sticks in the kitchen,” Felicity said.

Donna sat up and wiggled to the end of the bed. “Wait.”

They heard her rummaging in a bag in the other room. She returned less than a minute later and held up three peppermint sticks.

“Like I said earlier, I had a feeling you’d be here,” she told Skye with a smile.

***

Ward stood with May on the rooftop, frustrated. They’d been one step behind the vigilantes all evening, and he’d never wanted to hit something as badly as he did at that moment.

“You need to focus,” May told him. “You’re letting your emotions rule your head. That won’t help Skye.”

“There has to be a better way to track the Canary,” he told her. “We’ve been looking for two days now.”

May ignored him, which only pissed him off even though he knew she was right.

“There,” May said.

But Ward had already seen the shadowy movement. They moved quietly, in sync, and rappelled down the side of the building into an alley before rounding the corner. The vigilante known as the Arrow was fighting alongside a hooded figure, and Ward felt his adrenaline surge when he recognized her as the woman from the alley. She was the one who had shot Skye.

May signaled, and they stepped out of the shadows in unison, icing the three men they’d been fighting.

The Arrow and the hooded woman both drew their bows.

“We have no quarrel with you,” the woman said. 

“You shot a woman in an alley outside the nightclub Verdant,” May replied. “Where is she?”

“I’ve shot many people since I arrived. Your description lacks detail.”

Ward’s finger twitched on the trigger, and the slight movement caught the eye of the Arrow.

“Lower your weapon,” he demanded in a gravelly voice.

“Not until you give us an answer,” he ground out. “Where is the woman you shot?”

“Likely dead,” the woman told him.

“For your sake, you’d better hope that’s not true,” May said. Then she rushed forward, rolling to avoid the arrow the woman fired before sweeping her legs out from under her.

Ward fired at the Arrow as he advanced, and then they were trading blows so fast it was a blur. He was surprised by how evenly matched they were, and he lost track of May as the fight took every bit of his concentration.

The Arrow was using his bow as a weapon, striking in downward blows, and it hit Ward twice before he was able to grasp the metal and use it for leverage as he landed a solid kick on the other man’s chest.

Suddenly the Canary dropped down from the side of the building. “I heard you were looking for me.”

She threw down a device that looked like a bomb, and Ward and May instinctively rolled away from it. Rather than an explosion, a piercing, high pitched scream emanated from the device, and they both covered their ears. Moments later it stopped, and the vigilantes were gone.

They stayed out for another two hours before concluding they’d lost them for the night. By the time they got back to the hotel, Ward was pissed. He glared at Fitz and Simmons as he stripped off his tac vest in the suite they were using as a command center.

“Why the hell didn’t we know the Canary uses sonic devices?” he asked angrily. “We had them, and they got away.”

“Ward, enough,” Coulson said. “That information was not in the files ARGUS sent us. It’s not their fault.”

“But now we do know, and we’re working on something to counteract that,” Simmons said, eyeing him warily as he paced.

“We heard you on the comms,” Fitz said. “Do you think she’s telling the truth about Skye?”

May looked over at Coulson. “You need to tell them what you found.”

Ward stopped pacing as a feeling of dread began replacing his anger.

Coulson sighed heavily before meeting Ward’s gaze. “There was a report at the city morgue about a Jane Doe brought in early the next morning. She matched Skye’s description, but when I went down there, the body had already been claimed by NSA agents who don’t exist, officially or unofficially.”

Ward stared at him for a moment. “You don’t believe that’s what happened.”

“The medical examiner and morgue attendants had no recollection of the woman, although they did find a file on her in their office. It’s true that with all the chaos in the city, they’ve been busier than usual. Something just doesn’t feel right about any of this. We have to consider the possibility that someone wants us to stop looking for her.” Coulson shook his head before looking over at Fitz and Simmons. “You two, get some rest. We’ll start again in the morning.”

Retiring to his room, Ward took a long shower, leaning his head against the tiles as he let the hot spray soothe his aching muscles. When he got out, he pulled on boxers and sat against the headboard before reaching for the tablet on the nightstand. He’d nearly memorized the photos at this point, but he was fascinated by watching Skye grow from a snaggletooth eight-year-old to the woman he’d met more than a year ago. And Felicity Smoak had been with her every step of the way.

He thought about what Coulson said about Felicity. He’d suspected she might be the one helping the local vigilantes but ruled it out after Skye was attacked. But he was nearly certain that the arrow the hooded woman fired earlier was a tranquilizer arrow, and the Arrow had also not been firing kill shots. So if Coulson was right and the video wasn’t what it seemed, then Skye couldn’t be the Jane Doe from the morgue.

And if someone wanted them to stop looking for Skye, he’d bet money on it being Felicity Smoak. She had the technical knowledge to disable Skye’s tracker. It boiled down to two scenarios. Either Skye was dead, which he refused to believe, or the vigilantes were hiding her.

Ward set the tablet aside and reached under the bed for the case that contained the pieces of his sniper rifle. Fitz had modified the barrel so that ICER bullets could be used. If he could use it shoot the tracker darts, he could tag one of the vigilantes from a distance and track them back to their base.

He picked up the phone. “Fitz, I have an idea.”

***

Skye and Felicity looked up as Diggle and Lyla came down the stairs into Verdant’s basement.

“Your mom is really good with Sara,” Lyla said with a smile.

“Yeah, Mom loves babies. As she keeps reminding me. Sometimes I swear her biological clock is ticking for me,” Felicity said, rolling her eyes. “Are they at your place or Thea’s?”

“Our place,” Diggle confirmed. “But Captain Lance agreed to stay with them, so everything should be fine. How are you coming on the blackouts?”

“I think we’re onto something here,” Skye said. “We’ve definitely got proof the EAS broadcasts were tampered with. When the power surges first started, the signals were going out to certain areas of the city but not others, and places that received the broadcast showed a spike in sudden, angry mob violence, though the effects only seem to last anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour. Then when the blackouts started, the EAS broadcasts were going out before the lights went out – not after. It’s like whoever is controlling it wanted to ensure an angry mob was primed and ready to wreak havoc in the dark. But again, the effects are only temporary.”

“Maybe that’s intentional, or maybe whoever’s behind this just hasn’t perfected their method,” Diggle said. “Any ideas about the who?”

“Not yet, but we’re on it,” Felicity said. “They will not escape both of us, that’s for sure.”

“It’s true,” Skye said, grinning. “We’re that good.”

A few minutes later, Sara, Nyssa, Oliver and Roy came down the stairs. “We just came to regroup,” Oliver told Felicity.

Skye watched Sara as she peeled off her jacket. “You have blood on your arm.”

“Sniper rifle, I think,” Sara said. “But it’s only a scratch. Lousier aim than I’d expect.”

“Who would be shooting at you with a sniper rifle?” Skye asked, puzzled. “The police?”

“Frack,” Felicity said, looking dismayed. “They shot you?”

She looked guilty again, and Skye was suspicious. “Felicity, what is going on?”

“They’re here,” Felicity admitted. “Coulson and Ward, anyway. I don’t know who else.”

Skye’s heart pounded, a mix of elation and anxiety flooding her. “That’s why you wanted us to stay at Thea’s. They’re looking for me.”

“I’m sorry. I was going to tell you last night and then Mom showed up, and I don’t know. I was still trying to think of a way to get them to leave.”

“You and I are going to talk about this,” Skye said, “but right now I’m more concerned about the sniper shot. Because if Ward or May fired that shot, there is no way in hell they’d leave nothing but a scratch. Fitz has been working on tracker darts that could be used to tag and track people. Fired from the dart gun he’d worked up, it would barely be a sting. But if they modified it to fire from a sniper rifle?”

“The force needed to carry the dart would leave more of a mark,” Oliver finished for her. “How do we disable it?”

“Electric current,” Skye said.

Oliver grabbed one of the arrows from his quiver and Sara nodded as she held out her arm. “Do it.”

She didn’t make a sound when Oliver held the tip of the taser arrow to the scratch on her arm and shocked her. Then he grabbed another arrow and tased her again. She gasped and gripped the edge of the table.

Skye winced. “That should do it. But we should probably get out of here.”

Felicity powered down the main computers while Skye gathered their laptops. Oliver, Diggle and Lyla led the way up the stairs, followed by Roy, Nyssa and Sara, with Felicity and Skye bringing up the rear. Suddenly Felicity stopped, and Skye could see Oliver, Roy, and Nyssa had drawn their bows, while Diggle and Lyla were aiming their guns into the shadows of the club.

Then the shadows shifted, and Skye saw Ward, Coulson, May, Bobbi and Hunter had the exits blocked.

“Whoa! Everyone stop!” Skye shouted, pushing her way to the front despite Felicity’s protests.

“Skye?” Coulson lowered his gun. “Are you alright?”

She nodded, and her eyes shifted to look at Ward, who still had his gun trained on Oliver. “Ward stop.”

When he didn’t move, she shot a pleading look at the others. “Please. Everyone just… stop.”

Slowly, they all began lowering their weapons. Then Skye felt a rush of movement, and she was flying. The world around her was little more than a blur, and when it stopped, she gasped and leaned over to put her hands on her knees. “I think I’m going to throw up.”

“Sorry.”

She looked up to see Barry Allen standing over her. He was wearing his Flash uniform but the hood was down, and she realized she was at STAR Labs. “Oh no. Barry, you have to take me back!”

“I promised Felicity I’d keep you safe,” he told her. “I’ll be back soon though.”

“Barry!”

But he was gone, leaving her in the lab with Cisco, Caitlyn and Dr. Wells.

A/N – Cliffie! I’m going to try to post Ch 8 later this week though. It’s mostly ready but I’m playing with the flashback scenes, and one or two other scenes. I decided to hold the flashbacks I was working on until the next chapter because Donna is featured more there, and the next ones include her. Also, I think this story is going to end up being about 10 chapters based on the length. But we’re nearing the end now. I hope you enjoyed the update! Thanks for reading.

Up Next - standoff between Team Arrow and Team SHIELD, and a very tense Skyeward reunion.

 

Chapter Text

Mary lay awake for a while after she and Felicity went to bed. Felicity had cried herself to sleep, disappointed that she wouldn’t be going to Space Camp. She’d been chattering about it for weeks, ever since she’d learned that she qualified for a partial scholarship to help cover expenses. She brought home brochures from the school guidance counselor, and she’d asked for Donna’s help to complete the financial application that night.

Then Donna told her that she thought Felicity was a little too young to spend a whole summer away from home. She said she’d miss her too much, and the discussion escalated into an argument with Felicity throwing bitter, angry words at Donna before stomping into her room and slamming the door.

Donna maintained her cheerful front as Mary helped her clean up after dinner, but Mary could see how upset she was. She wasn’t a child anymore – she was twelve now, nearly thirteen. She knew that things like Space Camp were really expensive. Too expensive for a Vegas cocktail waitress to afford on a single income. Mary knew she probably struggled just to pay for Felicity’s gifted programs at school.

But Donna was always careful not to say or do anything that hinted at how much of a financial burden it was to raise a child alone. Mary knew that she probably added to that burden, at least a little, since she spent so many weekends with them. And every time Donna bought new clothes or shoes for Felicity, she always managed a little something for Mary, too. The same was true at birthdays and holidays.

Mary’s pinky finger was still entwined with Felicity’s, so she carefully pulled away from her friend before getting up. The apartment was quiet. The muffled sounds of a movie coming from Donna’s room told Mary she was probably still awake.

She went into the kitchen and got what she needed to start making hot cocoa. Christmas was still a few weeks away, but they had decorated the apartment on Thanksgiving weekend. It was now a hodgepodge of Hanukkah and Christmas, and the artificial tree in the corner blinked cheerfully. When the cocoa was ready, Mary climbed onto the cabinet to reach the candy canes and added one to each mug. Then she put them on a tray and carried them carefully to Donna’s room.

When she pushed the door open, she saw that Donna was still awake. She held a handful of tissues and sniffed as she watched Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in the end scene of one of her favorite movies. She looked up when Mary walked in, smiling when she saw the hot cocoa on the tray.

Mary slid the tray onto the mattress and hopped up to sit beside Donna before handing her one of the mugs. “It’s still hot.”

“Thank you, baby.” Donna gave her a one armed hug and kissed the side of her head.

“Are you crying because of the movie?” Mary asked, worried that her fight with Felicity had upset her more than she realized.

“It’s been a long week,” Donna told her. “And you know how I am when I’m watching romance movies.”

That was true, but she didn’t usually cry this much. Mary stirred her cocoa. “Felicity will feel better tomorrow. She didn’t mean what she said earlier, you know.”

“Oh, I know. You don’t have to worry about that.” The movie was over now, and Donna handed the remote to Mary. “If you’re going to keep me company, you can pick the next one.”

When Mary found a movie, they settled back against the pillows and pulled the blankets up. Donna put an arm around her. “Thank you for the cocoa. That was sweet of you.”

“You’re welcome.” She leaned up to press a kiss against her cheek. She hesitated, and then added, “I love you.” She’d never said it before, but she’d felt it for a long time now, and she sensed it was something Donna needed to hear.

Donna looked at her, surprised. Then she pulled her into a fierce hug. “I love you too.”

***

The second Skye disappeared, the SHIELD agents once again raised their weapons, and Felicity pushed to the front to stand beside Oliver just as Agent Ward advanced a few steps. She swallowed hard as she took stock of the situation. While the room was big, there wasn’t much cover aside from the bar and if the bullets and arrows started flying, people would get hurt.

“Felicity, get back,” Oliver ground out, his eyes never leaving Agent Ward.

“What the hell was that?” Agent Ward demanded. “What happened to her?”

“She’s safe,” Felicity told him. “Safer than she’d be with you.”

Felicity had to give Agent Ward some credit. Outwardly, he was composed, focused. Still, his dark eyes held that same look Oliver sometimes got when he wanted to shout but was trying to rein it in. Since he was focused on her, she figured she was the person he wanted to shout at – or, given the circumstances, shoot at. A muscle ticked in his jaw as they stared each other down.

Finally, he said, “We’re not here to hurt Skye. If we were, we could have handled tonight very differently since we knew exactly where to find you.”

“You made her a prisoner on your base,” Felicity said, shooting a glare at Coulson. “You took her blood and turned her into one of SHIELD’s alien test subjects.”

“If she was really a prisoner, she would have been in Vault D. She wouldn’t have been free to remain in quarters with the rest of the team,” Coulson said. He lowered his gun and sighed. “But you’re right. I didn’t want her to leave the base because Hydra knows about her.”

A younger woman suddenly stepped out of the shadows behind Coulson. She looked pale and a little tired, and her shoulder length brown hair was tucked behind her ears. Felicity recognized her from the team files – it was Dr. Jemma Simmons, and following right behind her was Leo Fitz. They both seemed nervous, though that didn’t stop them from moving to stand beside Coulson.

“I told both of you to stay outside.” Agent May never looked away from Nyssa and Sara across from her, and Felicity wondered how she even knew they were behind her.

Simmons lifted her chin stubbornly. “I’m hoping there are at least three people here who don’t want to fight.” She looked over at Felicity. “I was the one running the tests. Coulson and May knew, but that’s it. The rest of the team had no knowledge of what was going on. I swear to you that it was never our intention to hurt Skye. We only wanted to help her.”

“Why should I believe anything you say?” Felicity asked. “Director Coulson says she wasn’t a prisoner, but she’s been completely isolated from the team for months. She was a wreck when she got here. She felt like no one wanted her there.”

“That’s not true,” Fitz suddenly spoke up. “We love Skye. We would never hurt her. Even if someone at SHIELD asked me to do something I thought would hurt her, I wouldn’t. I’d leave with her before I let that happen.”

“So would I,” Simmons insisted. “I assume Skye copied and read the entire file I put together, and that she showed it to you. I ran those tests because I didn’t believe what Raina told Coulson. It sounded utterly ridiculous. But then I confirmed it, and we made the decision not to tell Skye until we knew more. I just didn’t see what good it would do to tell her that she was an alien-human hybrid who might or might not develop powers in the future. And I thought perhaps I could find a way to stop that from happening.”

“If you’ve mapped her entire genome, then you know that DNA strand is dormant,” Felicity said. “Making sure it could never trigger a change would require gene therapy – alien gene therapy. Forgive me if I’m not comfortable with SHIELD running their E.T. experiments on my best friend. There’s no guarantee that it would even work.”

“She’s my friend too!” Simmons replied fiercely. “And Fitz’s. And Ward…” she hesitated. “May worked with her, training her all summer. I was disappointed to find out she lied to us about why she joined SHIELD – we all were – but I tried to understand. We’ve all tried to move past that because we all care about her.”

“Not everyone,” Felicity said, crossing her arms and glancing sideways at Agent Ward. His jaw twitched again, but he didn’t respond.

There was a sudden rush of air as a streak of lightning zipped through the room. Barry suddenly appeared next to Felicity, arms full of weapons. “Be right back.”

He zipped off again, and Simmons squeaked. “Bloody hell.”

“That’s the Flash,” Fitz said. “That’s who took Skye.”

Felicity looked around the room again, noting that the SHIELD agents all reached for backup weapons immediately.

Then Barry was back, standing beside her. “Don’t bother. I can take them as fast as you can draw them.”

Coulson nodded. “Everyone, stand down.” He raised a brow at Felicity. “Your turn.”

She hesitated but then looked over at Oliver and nodded.

Oliver lowered his bow, and the rest of the team followed suit. He looked at Barry. “We’re going to have to talk about you enacting plans without running them past me first.”

Barry raised his hands. “Hey, I was just trying to help. And when’s the last time you told Felicity no?”

Oliver looked resigned but let that pass without comment.

“I’ve heard a lot about you and the work you’ve been doing to clean up the metahuman problem in Central City,” Coulson told Barry. “I’d be interested in talking to you.”

“And I’ve heard all about your Index,” Barry replied. “Pass.”

Coulson turned to Felicity. “You really don’t trust us, do you? Is that how Skye feels too? Does she think we’re a danger to her now?”

“She’s afraid she’ll be locked up on your base and put on your Index. Is she wrong?”

“Skye doesn’t have powers, so there’s no reason for her to be on the Index,” Coulson pointed out.

“And if she develops powers later?” Felicity asked. When Coulson didn’t say anything, she added, “That’s what I thought. Is she free to leave or did you come here to take her back whether she wants to go or not?”

“I’m not here to force Skye to do anything she doesn’t want to do. If she wants to leave SHIELD, she can. I just don’t think it’s safe.”

Coulson looked tired, and Felicity remembered something Skye said about him carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders since he took the position of director.

Agent Ward looked at Coulson incredulously. “Are you serious? We can’t leave her here.”

“And if she doesn’t want to come back to the team, what would you have me do? Lock her up? I’m not the one you need to convince, Ward.”

Felicity stared at Ward as he approached her. When she felt Oliver tense up beside her, and Barry move in closer, she shook her head at both of them. She stood her ground as the tall, brooding agent stopped in front of her.

“Hydra has been kidnapping gifteds for months. They dissect them like it’s a high school biology experiment. They’ve left a trail of body parts in every city we’ve tracked them to,” he told her. His dark eyes searched hers. “The Index isn’t just about keeping an eye on gifteds – it’s about protecting them, too. Some of them disappeared, and that’s how we found out what Hydra was up to. And the ones who are a problem? They need to be tracked because their powers make them dangerous to the public. Sometimes what we know about them is all that stands between them and innocent people getting hurt.”

Felicity had never really looked at it from that perspective. She knew that gifted people could pose the same threat that metahumans did in Central City. Some of them had caused Barry and the team a lot of problems, and they didn’t care how many people they hurt to get what they wanted. Slade and his super soldiers were her first introduction into a world of powered people, and now they had so much more to worry about – alien threats, gifteds, metahumans. SHIELD wanted to tag and track them, and Hydra wanted to take them apart for the same reasons she’d always taken electronics apart as a child. To see what made them tick.

Maybe, as Skye had said, the Index was a necessary evil. It still didn’t mean that she wanted her friend to be put on a list and monitored. “What if they want to put Skye on the Index?”

Ward didn’t say anything for a moment. He looked conflicted, and for the first time Felicity saw through the cracks in his composure. He still cared about Skye. Maybe he didn’t want to, and maybe he’d tried to shut it down, but she didn’t believe he was over her any more than Skye was over him.

“There are only a handful of agents who would have access to the Index,” he finally said. “Right now, those files are restricted to this team and certain high level members of the support team.”

“You didn’t answer my question. Would you want them to put her on the Index? Do you think she should be tagged like some kind of alien threat, monitored or subjected to experimental tests?” Felicity stared at him, searching his face for any sign of how he really felt about that. And it was there – the tiniest flicker of revulsion that let her know he hated the idea as much as she did.

“No,” he stated flatly.

Felicity believed him, which meant there were at least three members of this team who were willing to put Skye ahead of any SHIELD agenda.

“Hydra is a real threat,” Ward said. “We’re the only ones who can keep her safe.”

“Not the only ones,” Felicity countered, motioning to the people around her. “Skye told the team about Hydra and why they were after her. We can keep her safe, too.”

“And there’s my team,” Barry added.

Nyssa spoke up next. “They are allied with me as well. Anyone who seeks to harm any one of us will bring the wrath of Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins down on their heads.”

“So Skye has options, and right now I think she wants to stay with us.” When Felicity saw how upset Simmons and Fitz looked, she bit her lip. “You should know that I’m the one who disabled her tracker. She thought she was protecting me that night in the alley – she didn’t know Canary and Nyssa are part of the team. When I realized that a video had been uploaded to the Internet, I gave it a little boost after I disabled the bracelet. Skye didn’t know I did that until I told her yesterday, and she didn’t know that you were here looking for her until about ten minutes before you arrived.”

“But you still think she wants to stay here, in Starling City,” Fitz said. He sounded hurt.  

“I think she feels safe with me. Do you know how we met?” When Fitz shook his head, she said, “We were eight years old, and I was being bullied on the playground by a boy twice my size. Skye didn’t even know me, but she stood between me and that bully, and she took a punch for me. And ever since then, we’ve had each other’s backs no matter what. Now she’s the one in trouble, and it’s my turn to stand between her and the monsters of the world. She knows that I would do whatever is necessary to protect her because that’s how she feels about me. If it means lying or breaking the law? I’m willing.”

“I broke the rules to help her come here,” Fitz said. “I did it because I hated seeing how upset she was all the time.”

“I know. She told me about you. I was worried about her for months, so I’m grateful that you helped her come to me.” That gratitude was also mixed with a little guilt over how worried Fitz had been about Skye. He looked as tired as Skye had when she arrived. “It doesn’t mean I think your team is what’s best for her.”

“No one on this team would hurt her,” Fitz insisted.

“Except they already did,” Felicity said, sighing. “Look, I believe that you believe that. I’m just not sure I believe that an organization like SHIELD would put Skye’s health and safety first. Not like we would.”

“Shouldn’t that be Skye’s decision?” Coulson asked.

“Felicity, he’s right about that,” Barry said. “She wasn’t happy that I scooped her up and left her with my team.”

That didn’t surprise her. Skye was already upset about everything she’d been hiding from her. Felicity could see now that the team had a bond with Skye. It was clear that this was a rescue mission, and she began to consider that she might have overreacted. They weren’t here to hurt Skye or force her hand. Still, she had reservations about how Coulson would handle things in the future, and she didn’t want Skye to go back to the isolation she’d suffered for so many months.

Felicity walked over to Coulson. “Promise me that if Skye chooses to stay here, you’ll respect that. That you won’t force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do.”

He didn’t flinch or blink as he met her gaze steadily. “I promise that will be Skye’s decision.”

She stared at him for another minute before turning and nodding at Barry, who zipped off.

Turning back to Coulson, she said, “If you’re lying, or if you do anything to hurt her in the future, I’ll make it my personal mission to take your organization apart, base by base, brick by brick. And I have the skill set to make that threat a very real one.”

“Felicity…” Oliver began.

Felicity cut him off. “No. I want him to understand how serious I am about this. When I was at MIT, I was part of a group that hacked criminals and made their sins public record. Jeffrey Vartan, CEO of Vartan Global? He used his charities in third world countries as fronts for sex trafficking until I drained his bank accounts and sent the F.B.I. video that led to his conviction. Ericho Oil left entire towns uninhabitable because of their fracking methods and illegal dumping. Walling Pharmaceuticals conducted illegal human trials with homeless people - that one took a while since the trials were conducted overseas. But in the end, I’ve gotten every person I’ve ever gone after.”

Coulson raised his brows. “You couldn’t have been more than eighteen during the Vartan incident.”

“Seventeen,” she corrected him. “And that supervirus that struck Starling City? I wrote the base code when I was twenty and finished it a year later. Obviously I wasn’t the cyber terrorist using it here, but it was my code. So believe me when I say that I could do some serious damage.”

“I believe you,” he said. He looked amused. “You and Skye are more alike than I realized.”

Felicity looked around. Everyone seemed watchful but more relaxed, indicating that they all believed there was no immediate threat. Roy and Oliver had their hoods down when they came upstairs, so their identities were compromised, as were Lyla and Diggle’s. Sara wore her mask and wig, and Nyssa’s face was still veiled.  

Coulson seemed to guess what she was thinking. “We’re not interested in revealing identities here. And I’m afraid I’ve already guessed the Canary as well. Sara Lance came back from the dead not long after the Canary arrived in Starling City, and given her connection to Mr. Queen…”

“We should go back downstairs,” Oliver said abruptly. “The Flash should be back with Skye soon.” 

***

Skye paced angrily around the lab. “I can’t believe he did that. And now Felicity is ignoring my calls.”

“Don’t blame Barry. He has a hard time telling people no. And I’m just guessing here, but Felicity seems like a hard woman to say no to,” Cisco said.

He wasn’t wrong, but she was still pissed that Felicity had not only lied to her, but had been playing quite the chess game behind her back. “They were all in the middle of an armed standoff. I know for sure that Nyssa is the type to shoot first and ask questions later – you get why that’s a problem, right?”

“Barry won’t let that happen,” Caitlin assured her. “And you said that your team would be armed with ICER guns, not real bullets.”

“A fight like that, with that many people, in an enclosed space? There’s no way someone doesn’t get hurt!” Skye glared at her phone, which was still ringing. She stabbed the end button with her thumb and continued pacing. When a gust of wind blew past her, fluttering some papers off the nearby table, she stopped to see Barry standing behind her.

“Are you kidding me with this?” Skye glared at him. “Take me back. Now.”

He held up his hands in an appeasing gesture. “That’s why I’m here. I think they’ve all come to an understanding.”

When he handed her the strange, silver blanket he’d wrapped her in before bringing her to Central City, she shook her head. “I’m not cold.”

“Oh, it’s not for that,” Cisco said. “He sped Felicity here into the lab one time, and her shirt caught fire. I mean, you want to go back fully clothed, right?”

Her brows rose at that, and she looked sideways at Barry. “You’ve seen Felicity naked?” She wondered if Oliver knew about that.

“No! Definitely not. She was wearing a br…” Clearly uncomfortable, Barry stopped and waved his hands over his torso. “And I definitely wasn’t looking.”

“I looked,” Cisco chimed in. When Caitlin crossed her arms and raised a brow at him, he added, “What, not like a creeper or anything. It just happened really fast.”

“Just give me the damn blanket and let’s go,” Skye said. She took it from Barry, wrapped it around herself and nodded to let him know she was ready. He lifted her into his arms, and she barely had time to wave a goodbye to Cisco and Caitlin before the world was nothing but a blur. Light and shadow blended with flashes of color, and she closed her eyes against the queasy feeling in her stomach.

When they stopped, Barry set her down gently but kept his arm around her. “Are you okay?”

Skye kept her eyes closed for a few more seconds, breathing deeply as she regained her center of gravity and sense of balance. She opened them to see Barry looking at her with concern. “That is like the best and the most terrible rollercoaster all at once.”

“Sorry – it’s probably the longer distance that’s affecting you,” he replied apologetically. “Do you feel sick?”

“I’m not going to throw up on your boots if that’s what you’re asking,” Skye said, forcing a smile past the nausea. She finally looked around the room to see that they were back at Verdant, though they were upstairs in the club rather than downstairs. They were also alone. “Where is everyone?”

“Downstairs. I figured you’d want to get your bearings before facing your old team,” Barry told her. He took the blanket from her when she shrugged it off.

“What happened while I was gone?”

“They just talked – Felicity and Director Coulson, mostly. He’s not here to force you to go back. He said it’s your decision.”

She felt a wave of relief because she hadn’t been a hundred percent sure before now how Coulson would react to her leaving the base. It was one of the reasons she hadn’t reached out to the team as soon as Felicity told her about disabling the bracelet. Knowing that the decision was hers corrected the power differential that had existed between her and the team for months. That imbalance had been weighing on her, a lot, and she squared her shoulders as she prepared for what came next. Because the most difficult part of this wasn’t going to be facing Coulson again. The person she really dreaded seeing was Ward.

She’d managed to avoid him while the team was preparing for the mission that took them away from the Playground. Other than the one time he came to check on her while she was still in the medical wing, he’d avoided her as well. It had been over a month since she’d seen him, and yet it wasn’t long enough.

“Are you sure you’re feeling okay? You still look a little green.”

“I used to have a… thing with one of the team members.” She didn’t know why she was telling Barry about it, except that she needed all the moral support she could get at the moment. Every time she thought about Ward, she remembered the detached look on his face when he told her they were done. That look hadn’t changed in the months afterwards – the only exception was after the training accident, which she considered more of an aberration than an indication of current feelings.

“I take it that things didn’t end well?” Barry asked. His tone was sympathetic.

“Define not well. Sometimes I think he’d rather be a one man strike team against another Chitauri invasion than be in the same room with me, and that was before the team found out I’m an alien hybrid.” And she assumed he knew now if he didn’t before. That knowledge heightened the queasiness she felt, and she took another deep breath as May had taught her, calling to mind her training in an attempt to shut down the anxiety threatening to rise up within her.

“Well, you won’t be alone. We’ve all got your back.” Barry pushed his hood back and held out his hand.

Skye took it gratefully. “Are you sure you want to go down there without the hood? Not that I think they’re a threat to you, but you don’t have to do that.” She had a sneaking suspicion he was doing it for her, as a show of support or something. He was different too, after all.

“They already know about my connection to Oliver and Felicity. I’m probably going to be sticking around. I didn’t realize how bad things are here and Central City is quiet. Even if he won’t admit it, Oliver could use my help.”

“You have a job.”

He shrugged. “I can come back and forth, or I can take a couple of personal days.” He held up their joined hands. “Mutant and proud!”

Skye couldn’t help it – she snorted with laughter. “What?”

“Sorry, it’s from a comic book movie. It seemed appropriate.” He grinned at her. “Ready?”

Skye half expected Barry to lead the way down the stairs, but he didn’t. Instead he opened the door and made it clear he was following her lead. He was there for support, but he was acknowledging that this was her stand to make.

She could hear people talking as they walked down the stairs. Felicity was at her computer station with Oliver, and Fitz and Simmons were with them. Lyla and Coulson were talking. The other members of both teams were essentially keeping a wary eye on one another. From the corner of her eye she saw Ward – saw the moment he became aware of her presence and looked at her. She kept her eyes forward even as her pulse sped up in response.

All conversations stopped when she and Barry paused at the bottom of the stairs. Felicity stood up but didn’t approach her, probably because she suspected Skye was angry. Fitz and Simmons weren’t quite so circumspect. They both rushed over but then stopped awkwardly in front of her.

“Hey guys,” Skye said with a small smile. She felt Barry squeeze her hand.

Fitz was looking at Barry curiously, but Simmons was staring a bit more pointedly at their joined hands. When their eyes met, Skye gave a slight head shake to her friend’s silent question. It was the sort of thing they’d become adept at when avoiding girl talk in front of Fitz, and she felt a pang as she realized how much she’d missed that in the last eight months.

“We thought you were…” Fitz broke off and rubbed a hand over his eyes. He looked exhausted. “I didn’t really believe it, but you could have sent me a message, you know.”

She felt a stab of guilt. “I’m sorry. I didn’t find out about the video until yesterday, and I just needed some time.” Her gaze shifted to Coulson as he approached her.

“You thought I would order you back to the Playground,” he said quietly.

She nodded.

“I’ve already promised Felicity that it’s your decision, Skye, but there are things we need to talk about. Namely Hydra.”

“I know,” she replied. Steeling her nerves, she shifted her attention to the other members of the team. May’s expression was impassive as always, so it was hard to tell what she was thinking. Bobbi was blonde again, which meant she was probably the one who’d talked to Donna – one less thing to worry about. Hunter winked at her, which made her smile in spite of the situation.

Then there was Ward. Like May, his expression yielded little. But when their eyes met, she was surprised by how much they revealed – anger, mostly, but there was something else there. Something she hadn’t seen from him in so long she’d convinced herself that it was gone forever. Everyone else in the room faded away in that moment. When Ward glanced away the spell was broken, but his attention only turned to Barry. When Skye realized she was still holding his hand, she let go.

“I know we have to talk. About a lot of things,” Skye told Coulson. “But tonight there’s a more immediate threat, and this city needs help.”

“We can’t stay for more than a few days,” Coulson replied. “But I’ve already offered Lyla our resources while we’re here.”

“Not to interrupt, but there are alarms going off at Starling National Bank,” Felicity said. She was concentrating intently on her screen. “Barry, could you…?”

“On it.” In a flash of red, Barry rushed off.

“He’s even faster than I theorized based on the videos I saw,” Fitz said. “But how did you meet him?”

“Felicity is a superhero magnet,” she joked. “We spent a couple of days in Central City when I first got here. She has friends there who helped me make sense of my medical files.”

“You sat in on a couple of the meetings where we discussed the Starling vigilantes and the possibility that they were receiving help from someone who had a background in computers. You could have told us about Felicity.” Coulson’s tone held no accusation. Rather, he seemed to be working through something in his head. “Did you suspect her involvement?”

Skye bit her lip, wondering if her admission would be considered yet another betrayal. “The truth is that I knew it was a possibility. But they weren’t our mission and I knew that if she was helping them then they weren’t a threat.” Regardless, she’d never have told them about Felicity anyway. She had made mistakes and had a lot to apologize for, but she wasn’t going to apologize for that.

Suddenly Barry was back. He pulled his hood back and looked at Oliver. “Done. Hey, do you have any food down here? I’m starving.” Oliver reached into a bag and tossed him a protein bar, which Barry grimaced at. “I was thinking more carbs, but okay.”

“That’ll have to wait. Felicity’s working on getting the lights back on but the Glades are a powder keg waiting to blow right now. We need to get back out there.” Oliver looked at Coulson. “We could use more people.”

Coulson nodded to May, Ward, Bobbi and Hunter. “We can divide the most affected areas into quadrants.”

“Already done,” Felicity said, her fingers flying over the keyboard.

Skye walked over to see that she was monitoring police activity around the city.

“I have the lights back on in the northern part of the city, and I’m not getting any chatter from that area. But the Glades and the ten block radius surrounding it? That’s a different story. A horror story – the cops have resorted to gassing rioters, but some of them aren’t staying down.”

“You’ll need our comms frequency,” Fitz told her.

“Again – already done. I picked up the frequency once you were down here,” Felicity replied.

“How?” Fitz asked. “We’re using a new system.”

“One that has a weak point,” Felicity explained. “Maybe if Skye hadn’t been electronically neutered, she would have found it. But assuming you’re not here to hurt anyone I care about, I can help with that.”

“Our first play date consisted of Felicity taking apart the cordless phone and showing me how telecommunications worked,” Skye told him, amused. “I’m not surprised by anything she can do at this point. Not when it comes to computers and electronics anyway.”

Over the next couple of hours, Felicity and Skye guided both teams around the city to help the police get things under control. Lyla stayed behind for added protection. Fitz and Simmons helped Skye monitor the city while Felicity worked her hacking magic on the power grid.

“There,” Felicity said. “The power’s back on everywhere and it seems like things are getting quieter now. This rager lasted a little longer than the one yesterday, but the effects have worn off as far as I can tell.”

“So you’ve ruled out anything biological,” Simmons mused. “But you think someone is manipulating the power grid to trip the emergency broadcast signal, which they’re also manipulating in order to induce a temporary sort of brainwashing or psychotic hypnosis.”

Felicity nodded. “Whoever’s hacking the system is good and we haven’t been able to trace them yet. We think they’re in Starling City, but we also can’t be sure. The bigger problem is how they’re manipulating the broadcast signal because we’ve checked it, and there’s nothing wrong with the signal itself. Not with the visual, and not with the audio.”

“So something is happening to the signal at the time it’s being broadcast,” Simmons said. “I can share what we have on Hydra’s methods of brainwashing. Perhaps something there will give us another avenue to explore.”

Felicity looked surprised. “I thought SHIELD kept everything super secret. Why would you share that information?”

“Because we’re not your enemy,” Simmons said quietly. “With what the world is coming to lately, I suspect that we’ll need each other again in the future. I’ll have to request it from Coulson, but I don’t believe he’ll veto it.”

“Thanks,” Felicity told her.

Simmons nodded. “The teams are heading back. I think we’ve done everything we can for tonight.”

Felicity wrinkled her nose and ran a hand over her ponytail, which was now messy. “I need to set some trackers, which will take at least another hour.” Glancing at Skye, she added, “I told Mom she could go to my place instead of Thea’s since there’s no reason for us to hide anymore. Captain Lance said he’d drive her over there after John and Lyla get home, but I think one of us should be there with her. Just in case.”

Skye nodded. “I’ll ask Barry to drop me off.”

“I’ll take you.”

She turned to see Ward behind her and cursed her lack of spatial awareness where he was concerned. She hated it when he snuck up on her like that. “Not necessary, but thanks for the offer.”

“I said I’ll take you.” Each word was carefully enunciated, a thread of irritation coloring his tone.

Skye watched as he walked across the room to take the cotton pad that Simmons handed over wordlessly, and he pressed it to a cut on his forehead. Hunter and Bobbi had entered behind him, and Barry was the next one to zip into the room carrying three extra-large pizzas.

When Skye pulled on her jacket, Barry raised a brow. “You’re not staying?”

“I need to get back to Felicity’s house before her mom does,” she explained, grabbing a slice and taking a bite. “She’s already wondering what’s going on.”

“Need a ride?”

“I have one,” she said. Turning to Felicity, she said, “You and I need to talk later.”

Felicity bit her lip. “I know.” She nodded ever so slightly in Ward’s direction, her eyes troubled as she silently questioned Skye’s decision to go with him. But Skye knew it was long past time for her to have it out with her former S.O., so she reached for Felicity’s hand and linked their pinkies together briefly in reply before following him up the stairs.

The ride to Felicity’s house was silent. Skye kept expecting Ward to say something because if he didn’t want to talk to her, there was no reason for him to insist on driving her home. But the silence stretched and grew until it felt like a separate entity in the car, which only heightened the tension between them. The same nervous anxiety that had become her constant companion since SHIELD fell was back with a vengeance, twisting her stomach into knots.

Felicity’s residential block was quiet, but Ward still entered the house first and swept the rooms before rejoining her in the living room. She switched on the second table lamp. “Thanks for the ride but you don’t have to stay. I can take care of myself.”

Ward removed his jacket and draped it over the arm of the sofa carefully. He’d stripped off most of his tactical gear before leaving Verdant, but he was still wearing the black pants and t-shirt. “That’s really what you think, isn’t it?”

He reminded her of a jungle cat as he stared at her from across the room. His dark eyes appeared a little more golden in the warm lamp light, and they were fixed on her. It made her feel pinned down. Needing the extra space between them, Skye walked into the kitchen and began gathering the ingredients she needed to make Donna’s hot chocolate.

“What I think is that you’re only here because I’m part of the mission,” she said, the bitterness she’d tried hiding now creeping into her words.

“Fuck the mission.”

He didn’t shout but Skye nearly dropped the canister of cocoa she was holding as she turned to look at him, shocked by the vehemence of his statement. Grant Ward was the most mission-oriented agent she’d ever met aside from May. “What?”

“Do I think it’s dangerous for you to stay here with Hydra looking for you? Yes. But that is not the only reason I’m here, Skye. I want to know why you never told me you were looking for your parents.” He was standing in the area that separated the kitchen from the small dining space, effectively closing off any means of escape.

“You’re kidding, right? I lied to all of you to get into SHIELD. And right around the time I started thinking about coming clean, Garrett blew SHIELD wide open. You compartmentalized it like you do with everything, but I knew that telling you the truth then would be a one-way ticket off the Bus.”

“So you went to Miles instead,” he said. This time his anger was unmistakable.

“Only because I thought he’d gotten mixed up in it by accident,” she shot back. “You make it sound like…” she paused, gathering her thoughts as she realized, for the first time, that his animosity towards Miles was jealousy. She’d been so caught up in the sense of betrayal the team felt over her lies that she’d never considered what Ward might think about Miles being her ex-boyfriend. “Miles and I were over before I ever walked onto the Bus. He helped me in the past, and I thought I owed him a chance to explain himself. If I’d known he was in it up to his neck I would have told you. Maybe I still should have, but I’ve had very few people in my life who ever gave a damn about me, and he was one of them. Like I said - I owed him.”

“What about what you owed us?” Ward asked.

“You’re right. I owed you the truth, but then so did Coulson. Do you have any idea what it feels like to know they were taking my blood and studying me while keeping me locked up on the base?” Skye turned back to the stove and pried the metal lid off the container of cocoa before setting it aside and taking a deep breath. “I felt like I was losing my identity and Fitz was the only one I could talk to. I know that Hydra is dangerous and the last thing I want to do is put Felicity in more danger than she’s already in. I just can’t go back to how things were.”

The air shifted as he walked up behind her, and the heat from his body replaced the slight chill she felt. Skye braced herself for whatever was coming next – angry words, accusations.

“I’m sorry.”

Of all the things she expected him to say, that wasn’t one of them. Her heart was pounding furiously, and she remained motionless as his hands settled over hers on the counter. Slowly, carefully, he linked their fingers together and pulled her back against his chest. Her breath hitched and her vision blurred. He was warm and solid. Safe. Being this close to him was even better than she remembered, and it hurt.

“I’m sorry that you couldn’t come to me,” he said. “I was angry, and I’m still angry. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have tried to help you.”

She was trembling now, and she knew he could feel it. “I don’t know who I am anymore.”

“You’re still you, Skye. A blood test doesn’t change that.”

What she was thinking of doing now was probably a mistake. It wouldn’t fix anything. That didn’t stop her from turning in his arms and pulling his head down until their lips met. The first kiss was slow, almost careful – it was an exploration of taste and touch and smell. She’d almost forgotten the hint of spice in his aftershave, and the delicious way his stubble scraped across her skin at night. Then his hands were in her hair and he was tilting her face up, his lips slanting across hers, and she couldn’t think at all as she responded to his sense of urgency.

The sound of someone knocking was like a bucket of cold water. Skye drew back. They were both breathing heavily and the desire in Ward’s eyes as he looked down at her made her want to ignore the knocking, drag him into the other room, and forget about everything else for a while.

“It’s probably Donna,” she finally said. She stepped around him and walked to the front door. When she opened it, Donna was there with Captain Lance.

“Oh, good, you’re here,” Donna said with a smile. “Felicity gave me a key but now I can’t seem to find it.”

Skye moved aside to let them enter.

“When Captain Lance told me that you girls were helping with the blackouts, I was worried because I could hear all the sirens. But he told me that you were safe at the station. Then Laurel and Thea came by, and he left to check in at work, and I told him he didn’t have to come all the way back just to drive me over here, but he insisted.” Donna smiled over her shoulder at Captain Lance before looking back at Skye. Her eyes widened, and Skye realized she was looking behind her. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you have company.”

“Agent Grant. Or is it Agent Ward?” Captain Lance’s tone was suspicious. “I’m surprised to see you here.”

“He gave me a ride,” Skye told him. “It’s fine.” She guessed in all the confusion of the evening, no one had clued Captain Lance into what had happened earlier.

Donna walked up to Ward and held out her hand. “Donna Smoak. I’m Felicity’s mother. And you’re an agent? Are you working on the blackouts too?”

Ward shook her hand. “Something like that.”

When he looked at her, Skye wrapped her arms around herself in a defensive gesture. She felt off balance, and she had no idea where they stood now. With Donna and Captain Lance there, the topic was tabled for the moment.

Ward obviously reached the same conclusion. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Skye. It was nice to meet you, Ms. Smoak.”

“You can call me Donna,” she replied. She watched as Lance walked with Ward to the door and then turned to Skye with a thoughtful expression. “You never said you met someone while you were away.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Skye walked back into the kitchen and took the milk from the fridge. She measured a few cups into a saucepan and placed it on the burner.

“Honey, I know I’m not always the most observant person, but I’d have to be blind not to notice the way he looked at you just now, and the way you looked at him.” Donna leaned against the counter and watched her closely.

Skye lost the battle to hold her tears back, and they began slipping silently down her cheeks. “Everything is such a mess right now.” She wiped her hand across her cheeks. “It’s a long story. I don’t even know where to start.” She and Felicity hadn’t discussed telling Donna, but Skye didn’t see how they could hide it if there was a possibility that Hydra might come around looking for her.

Donna turned Skye around and sat her down at the small table before returning to the stove. Within minutes she had steaming cups of cocoa in front of them, and Skye smiled when she pulled two candy canes from her bag. Skye unwrapped hers and stirred the cocoa with it.

“The best place to start is at the beginning,” Donna told her.

A/N: This update is later than I expected – sorry! But it’s a fairly long one, so I hope you enjoyed it. I wrote and rewrote the Skyeward scene at the end at least a half dozen times. It kept going different ways, but I decided I liked this scene better than the others. I didn’t want unnecessary drama to overshadow their emotional reactions to one another, so I ended up keeping it simple. Hopefully it didn’t disappoint!

Up next we have some resolution to the blackout mystery with a couple of DC/Marvel villains in the mix, the guys training (salmon ladder anyone?) and the ladies training, and a cupcake night with the ladies and Donna, and more Skyeward, Skyelicity, and Olicity. I’m not exactly sure where I’ll break the chapters coming up, but it should be at least two more chapters, possibly three, depending on how I edit and cut. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the update! I’ll get back to answering comments and reviews now too – I’m afraid I’m a bit behind as usual. But I really do appreciate that you take the time to leave comments/reviews, so I promise I'll answer everyone.