Actions

Work Header

Bits and Pieces

Chapter Text

Oliver has been in town for the entirety of twenty hours, after five years shipwrecked, when everything goes sideways. He remembers standing by Tommy’s Mercedes while he went to visit Laurel (Oliver knows better than to see her after all that happened), and then Tommy walks up to him talking about models and sushi. Then he hears the sound of a gun with a silencer firing, and then a tranquilizer dart in his neck before everything goes dark once again.

At least when he awakens this time, it’s not after dying. He can tell because he pulls out of it as easy as a sleep, instead of feeling like he nearly died in a nightmare. He wasn't able to differentiate in the past, but a whole host of deaths on the island have taught him the difference between unconsciousness and dying.

Three masked men stand around him in an abandoned warehouse, one of them holding a taser. Oliver’s eyes flick over to the collapsed body on the floor behind them, and he sees red when he realizes it’s Tommy. He’s not sure what kind of shape the Merlyn Global heir is in, but he has to believe he’s still alive. After all, if he’s dead, then Oliver isn't sure if he'll ever forgive himself.

Or, more importantly, if he will leave these guys alive.

“Mr. Queen,” the muffled voice of the kidnapper in charge says, “this is what’s going to happen. I ask the questions, you give me the answers.” He fires the taser a couple of times, as if to appear threatening. “Did your father survive that accident?”

Oliver says nothing, sitting defiantly in his chair and looking at them. He’s too focused on getting out of his zip-cuffs to answer, anyway. The kidnapper puts the taser against his chest, and he somehow manages not to give the asshole the satisfaction of groaning. He’s been through worse than this, and it takes a little more than torture and a taser to make him talk.

“I asked you a question, Mr. Queen,” the kidnapper continues. “Did he make it to the island? Did he tell you anything?” He fires the taser again in warning, but Oliver doesn't give in. After all, he’s almost out of his zip-cuffs now, and one more hit with a taser isn't going to kill him.

Even if it did, it’s not like it would be a problem.

He’s about to put the taser to Oliver again when he hears the sound of a knife flying end over end, and then the head kidnapper screams, the sound high-pitched and rather shrill. When he finishes, he examines the knife in his arm, one that’s black from handle to blade—or, at least, what Oliver can see of it that isn't buried in the man’s wrist. Once the criminal is finished screaming incoherently, he says to the other two, “Shit, it’s her. Find her—kill her.”

Oliver’s eyes narrow in confusion at the pronoun usage, and part of him wonders if it’s not the Oracle—the mysterious woman who has ruled Starling City from the shadows since his father was a child. Named accurately, the Oracle is said to see all and know all that happens in her city—and she does whatever it takes to protect it. There’s no way it can be the same woman, of course; it’s most likely a title that’s inherited—Starling’s own Dread Pirate Roberts.

But the most important thought is that Oracle a fighter who has been collecting criminals for the SCPD for generations, and that she’s probably here to help Oliver.

Before he can explore it further, an arrow flies through another man’s arm, the shaft and fletching dark as pitch. It isn't lethal, but it is used to pin him to the wall. A second arrow follows the first, this one crimson, and it catches the leader through the shoulder. The third man has a better sense of self-preservation, and he runs.

The woman that they fear steps out of the darkness, though she still blends with it. Her suit is black leather that clings to her figure, and it appears to be a bodysuit that stretches down the length of her legs, down to her wrists, and up to the collar at her neck. Instead of a mask, a fabric is pulled over her mouth and nose, exposing only a set of brilliant blue eyes. Black gloves are coupled with what appears to be combat boots, and her blonde hair is pulled up in a clamp at the back of her head.

She twists a white, circular device on her belt, just above her hip, before saying, "Arsenal, follow him and drag him back.” Her voice comes out in five different tones at once, and Oliver can’t distinguish her voice from the other tones. Her command is a call to action, and a lanky boy in red leather and a hood over his head darts past her, running with a bow in his hand.

The blonde stands over Oliver, turning toward him. “Sorry about the lousy welcome wagon, Mr. Queen,” she says. “But, on their behalf”—she steps on the leader’s shoulder to stop his escape attempt, and he groans because of her proximity to the arrow—”I’d like to welcome you back to Starling City.” She pulls the knife from his arm and wipes it on the kidnapper’s shirt before sliding it back into its sheath on her belt. Then she pulls another one—a highly illegal butterfly knife—and continues, “Allow me to help you out of those cuffs.”

He pulls his hands from behind his back to show her that he’s already broken them, and her eyes widen a little in surprise. “They were loose,” he explains lamely, and her raised eyebrow informs him that she is so not buying that, even though she doesn't argue. Instead of trying to convince her, he goes over to Tommy, releasing a breath when he finds a pulse under his fingers. Oracle drops her bow and moves to the restraints around Tommy’s wrists, attempting to cut them.

Oliver turns back to the blonde to ask a question, and he sees that the man she shot has pulled the arrow out of his shoulder and is attempting to flee. On instinct, he grabs her bow as he rises to his feet, then pulls an arrow from the quiver at her back. He isn't familiar with her bow or how it shoots, but all he's focusing on is the man who kidnapped his best friend and is now trying to get away. Despite the lack of familiarity with her weaponry, he manages to send a black arrow into the man's calf, dropping him instantly.

Oracle studies him with wide eyes, then nods several times. "Yeah, okay," she says finally. "That was... impressive, Mr. Queen." She studies him a moment with intelligent eyes. "I'd bet you didn't spend the last five years of your life drinking from coconuts on a deserted island. If being a billionaire doesn't pan out for you, I guess you could always become a vigilante."

He studies her for a moment, unsure about how serious she is since he can only see her eyes. "Is that a job offer?" he asks finally, and her eyes light up when she chuckles.

"No," she replies, but quickly tacks on, "but it is an interview offer." She pulls his cell phone out of the front pocket of his jeans, and he's surprised by how personal the moment is and how impersonally she makes the exchange. She programs a set of numbers into his contacts list, adding, "Call this number tomorrow night, and we'll arrange a meet and a working interview." She winks at him as sirens start to blare, and Oliver can see the cop car pull up outside the building, just as the boy she called Arsenal comes back into view. He's leading the last criminal back into the room, and he knocks the man unconscious.

"It's Lance," Arsenal says in his own synthesized voice, this one more robotic, and Oliver stiffens at the mention of the name. The last detective he needs on the scene is one Quentin Lance, who would want to see Oliver in jail, anyway. "Line 'em up?" he asks now, to which Oracle nods.

Arsenal starts dragging the unconscious—or wishing-they-were-unconscious—men across the floor, and he notices the black arrow that Oliver placed in a man's calf. "Not like you to aim for the legs," he comments. "Did you drop a runner?"

"Actually," she answers as she cuts through the bindings on Tommy's wrists, "Oliver managed that shot." Arsenal doesn't look like he believes her, and she continues, "It wasn't bad for a guy using a foreign bow. He's earned himself an interview."

Arsenal opens his mouth to argue, but closes it when he sees Detective Lance charging toward them, gun drawn. He holsters it when he sees Oracle, and she says casually to him, "Three kidnappers for you, Detective—they went after Mr. Queen and Mr. Merlyn." She shrugs. “That should give you enough to find out who hired them, which man they were after, and why they were paid to do the job.”

Lance snorts. "Well, can't hold that against them," he answers dryly, just as Tommy starts to come to. Then Lance tilts his head to the side. "How did you know about this?"

Her eyes look like she's smiling, a slight twinkle in them as she answers, "I'm the Oracle, Detective—I see all, I know all." It’s the last thing she says, and she turns to Oliver, offering him a discrete wink before she leaves. “Come on, Arsenal—let’s take our leave before the bad cops get here.” Oliver watches them walk out of the building together, the blonde wrapping her arm through the kid’s. It has to be one of the strangest sights he’s ever seen—two vigilantes, side by side and arm in arm—but then he chuckles because Oracle is the last thing he expects.

It’s not five minutes later that she sends him a text message: “61st and Franklin tomorrow night, 8PM. Bring your gear and be prepared to get your hands dirty.” A second one follows the first that states, “Oh, and you’re in charge of an escape plan. 252 North Adams Street. Extra points for creativity.” He shakes his head, fighting a smile.

Damned if she didn't end that second one with a winking smiley face.

 


 

Oliver shows up in his gear at their specified meeting location, as directed. Oracle is already there when he arrives, and he suspects that Arsenal is waiting in the wings with an arrow nocked, just in case there's any trouble. It's what Oliver would do, so he supposes it's what Oracle would do, too.

The old, abandoned warehouse is set up with a table in the middle, where a tablet sits, waiting for instructions. The lighting isn't wonderful, but the glow of the screen informs him that it probably won't matter. After all, if her information is stored on the tablet, low lighting only reduces the likelihood that anyone will be able to fire off an effective shot. Another smart plan, also probably conceived by Oracle.

"Did you take care of arrangements?" she asks as soon as she sees him walk in, and Oliver nods in the affirmative. She tasked him with setting up a clean getaway, and he figures the zipline and his "resurrection party" (as Tommy keeps calling it) will make for easy cover. He told them to prepare, and he's already checked in to find two duffle bags in the hiding place, nestled next to his own.

"Good," she answers. She motions him over, and he stands next to her, laying his bow on the desk next to hers. Her eyes narrow slightly, and she picks it up, pulling on the draw experimentally. He's surprised she can even pull it back; he has a strong draw, but she pulls it as easily as her own. "This antique?" she questions, sounding surprised. "This is what you're using?" She shakes her head. "If you join up, we are definitely replacing that—it hurts my soul." He chuckles as she sets it back on the table, and then watches her carefully to see what she'll do next. Thus far, Oracle has proven somewhat unpredictable.

He's surprised when her fingers rest on his biceps, and he thinks she almost has an admiring look playing across her features. "Wow, this fits really well," she comments casually. "I mean, I'm not going to be the only girl to dream about you in this suit, I'll tell you that." Her eyes widen as her mouth catches up to her brain, and he can see the telltale signs of a blush peeking out from under her face mask. He tries to fight back a smile, but it doesn't quite work. “My mouth runs away with me sometimes,” she admits then, as if he hasn't already realized that and found it intriguing.

She studies him for a moment longer before leaning so that she can look up under the hood. She reaches both hands up slowly to pull it back, and then studies the grease paint around his eyes for a moment. She touches it with two fingers before pulling her hand back, and then she rubs her fingers against her thumb when it comes off on her hand. "I thought you wouldn't have a mask," she says finally, and then she pulls a black one from her belt. She pats his shoulder and winks. "You can't be a vigilante without a mask." She waves a hand, and he notices for the first time that her fingernails are painted turquoise. "It's, like, part of the code or something."

He slides the mask over his head, pulling it into place before drawing his hood over his head again. "Does that look better?" he asks, surprising himself by smiling.

She nods once. "Now you look like a hero," she answers, and he thinks she might be smiling, judging by her eyes. She shakes her head once, then turns to the tablet, swiping her fingers across it to reveal blueprints of a building. "So, this is the Hunt Multinational building. Best way in seems to be from the ground floor—if we go through the windows with wire, it's going to set off alarms. I can hack those, but we'll have to fight mercenaries on both fronts." She looks at him instead of the tablet for a moment. "Better to keep the enemy in front of you."

She pulls up a single floor in the plan, and Oliver realizes it's the top floor. "We've issued a warning to Mr. Hunt, but he didn't pay his forty million by the deadline, surprise surprise." She rolls her eyes. "So, he knows we're coming and he's prepared—holed up in his office on the top floor." She looks at Oliver. "That's where we split duties." She points to a section on the tablet. "Arsenal is going to guard the doorway, block off some of the guards. My job is at the computer—I'm hacking his accounts on his servers that don't have Internet access. I'm going to send part of that information to the police, so they can arrest him for his shady business dealings." She pokes a finger in his chest. "Since I'm going to be occupied, your job is going to be covering me. There are always a few men that manage to get past Arsenal, and they're your responsibility."

She points to a set of arrows she has waiting, with green shafts and fletching like his. However, hers are a different composite, one that will probably fly straighter than the crude ones he makes. He notices that her arrowheads aren't as well-crafted as his, though; maybe they have a trade-off on skill set. "These are tipped in a tranquilizer," she says to him, "which will make your job a little easier. We don't fire kill shots, so the tranquilizers will keep the goons down for a few hours at a time."

"Your shafts are better," he says finally, through his own synthesizer, his voice sounding unnaturally deep to his own ears, "but your arrowheads could use some work."

She takes an arrow from his quiver, studying it for a moment. "We'll trade arrow-making tips if this all goes well," she replies finally, and there's a smile to her voice. "But right now, Adam Hunt has a debt to pay, and it's our job to collect in all our mysterious-vigilante glory. The mask and the hood will let everyone know you're with us." She shrugs. "It will make you a target, but at least there's some solidarity there."

"Are the cops on our side?" he asks, eyebrows narrowing in confusion. Lance was friendly enough, but he needs to make sure before anything happens that the police force won't turn on them. And, if they will, he also needs to make sure he counts them among his enemies.

She sighs. "Detective Lance and I manage to get along because we've never killed and we toss the bad guys his way when we round them up," she starts slowly, "but most of his colleagues don't share his appreciation for our work. The SCPD sees us as 'violent criminals'"—she actually uses air quotes—"and they don't tolerate vigilantism in any of its forms." Her voice goes flat and monotonous toward the end, as if she's reciting a speech that someone in the police department made. "So we're out in the cold with only each other to depend on." She grabs his shoulder with a wink. "Here's hoping you have something warm on under that green leather."

In a moment, she's changing tacks, waving a hand over her head in a come-here motion, and Arsenal drops to the ground as though he does it every day. She hesitates before finally saying, "Since we know your name, we thought it was only fair that you know ours." She looks at Arsenal for confirmation, and he nods once, though he isn't smiling. "Consider it a counter-blackmail offer—this way, if we give you up, you have our names, too." Her eyes turn dark as she adds, "And vice versa, of course."

The message is loud and clear: Rat on us, and we'll make sure your sorry ass is sitting in the cell next to ours. She pulls back the boy's hood, and he lowers his red mask. His eyes are blue, his hair dark. Sharp cheekbones are his most prominent feature, and Oliver realizes that the kid is probably still a teenager—younger than he expects. The boy extends his hand though he doesn't seem thrilled about it, the other one reaching to turn off the synthesizer. "Roy Harper," he says in a soft and deep voice that Oliver doesn't expect. "My handle is Arsenal, and that’s what we'll be using tonight." Oliver shakes his hand, and the boy hands him an earpiece. "This is so you can communicate with us, should we all get split up."

The blonde pulls down the covering over her mouth and nose as Roy pulls his gear back on, exposing lips painted fuchsia that are curled into a smile. She's pretty, Oliver can't help but notice, though he thinks now is neither the time or place to be noticing. "Felicity Smoak," she says as she extends a hand, shaking Oliver's before pulling on her gloves and the mask over her face. It surprises him that she sounds all the world like any woman off the street; high, soft voice with an almost lyrical edge to it. "I think you already know me as Oracle." She laughs. "And, despite being part-time vigilantes, we're really not very creative, so your handle tonight is going to be Green."

Oliver slides the earpiece into place, nodding when he can hear all of them across the comms. Felicity is the one who hands him his bow, and she winks at him before trading out the set of arrows in his quiver for her tranquilizer ones. He can practically feel her buzzing with excitement as she leads the charge out of the building, and Oliver throws Roy a questioning look before letting his eyes flick back to Felicity again.

The teenager shrugs. "Blondie gets a high from this," he answers after a long moment. Then he shakes his head. "It's kind of like sending a crack addict to a cocaine convention."

Felicity turns back, her eyes surprisingly serious. "Once you start in on this life, Oliver, it either destroys you or consumes you. But, either way, once you've done this, there's no going back." She says it as a warning, a careful indication of what is to come.

Oliver's response is quiet but firm: "There's nothing in my past I'd ever want back."

 


 

Even as he fires another shot off into a hired mercenary, Oliver can't help but think the entire process seems to be going well. Adam Hunt is well-guarded, but Felicity puts him down herself with a swift kick after they manage to make it to the top floor, and she slides into the chair at Hunt's desk as if she owns the place. "You're up, Green," she warns him lowly, and he offers her a nod while standing sentry at her side.

For the most part, it's easy work. Roy is better than Oliver thought he'd be; he has a tendency to drift to the left, but he knows it and compensates for it beautifully. A few attempt to brush past the teenager, but Oliver stops them with an arrow before they have the chance to get too close to the boy. Begrudgingly, Oliver offers to Felicity, "The kid's a good shot with that bow."

Felicity's eyes light up as though she's smiling. "Of course he is," she answers, pride coating her words like she's a proud mother whose child has just taken their first steps. "He learned from the best, after all."

"Is that who you learned from?" Oliver can't help but ask as he fires off an arrow toward another mercenary. Roy manages to keep his distance, but he's starting to give ground, making Oliver's job much more difficult as more men close in on them. There's nothing Roy can do about it, of course, but the problem is still there.

"Roy and I learned how to shoot from the same instructor, but she was a lot more skilled by the time Roy started learning the trade from her." She looks up at him and winks playfully before turning immediately back to her computer. "Teaching yourself how to use a bow is an absolute bitch," is her final answer, and Oliver shakes his head because he should have known. She's full of false arrogance, but he rather likes this unpredictable Felicity Smoak—hard and soft at the same time, full of confidence and exuberance.

From a distance, Oliver helps Roy pick off some of the mercenaries hired to stop them, watching as Roy steadily takes steps backward, slowly giving ground even though he has no desire to do so. They both use fire arrows as quickly as possible, but twenty-four arrows in his quiver go fairly quick, and Roy is out before he is.

"Time to earn your paychecks, boys," Felicity calls through her synthesizer. "I can't do my job if you won't do yours." Oliver takes the hint, moving closer into position near Felicity's desk. One man takes it as a challenge, and Oliver takes the gun from his hand before he can fire it, then drops him with a swift punch. A second joins him on the floor only moments later, this one managing to send a bullet searing into Oliver's bicep before he can be stopped.

Then he sees Roy overwhelmed in the corner, and he knows he needs to do something. Using a break in the violence on his side of the room, he moves closer to Felicity, sliding his hand down her side to find one of her knives. She's in mid-reach for the mouse, and her hand misses it by a mile, slamming down against the desk and missing the mark completely. "There's a time and a place, Green. This—" She stops abruptly when Oliver pulls the knife loose, throwing it into one of the mercenaries just before he can take a swing at Roy.

Male pride makes Oliver note that Felicity doesn't seem opposed to the idea of his hands lingering in inappropriate places, but instead his timing.

Thinking about that is a bad idea, so he turns back toward Roy, taking out a few mercenaries who think it's fun to pick on a kid not much older than his sister. He manages to help Roy out for a turn, and then he hears the movement of a gun behind him. Turning, he finds one of the gunmen with a pistol pointed at Oliver's head.

If the man expects Oliver to flinch, he's wrong. He hasn't survived five years of hell without taking a few risks, and he's no longer the scared kid who got in over his head; now, he's not afraid of death. Oliver charges him without a second thought, but a black-shafted arrow blossoms through the gunman's chest before he can. Oliver turns back to Felicity, offering her a sharp nod as she rises from the computer, and she gives him an awkward salute in response.

"I think we've outstayed our welcome, boys," she comments to them through the comms. "Mr. Hunt has made a nice little donation to charity and turned himself in, so I see no reason why we should hang around." She fires off another arrow. "Green, you're up with the exit."

Oliver pulls a one of the two remaining trick arrows from his quiver, nocking it until the light turns green, releasing it to blow out one of the windows. "Oh, I have got to get me some of those," he hears Felicity mutter behind him, and he fights a smile. The second one is pulled out of the quiver next, and he fires it into the building across the street. The high-polymer cable catches at the end, and he attaches it to one of the pillars close to the window.

"Hook your bow over that," he tells them, "and slide down. Our bags are there—we can slide out through the party." He turns back to them, his attention following theirs toward the swarm of cops coming up the stairs. "I'll stay behind and hold the line. First one through will have to break the window on the other end—dive feet first and you'll be fine."

Roy—obviously the thrill seeker of the two—needs no further invitation; he walks over, slides his bow over the top, and pushes off into the night. Felicity follows only to the window, then looks over the edge. "I'm afraid of heights," she informs him suddenly.

Oliver can't hide his exasperation from her, heaving a sigh. "You could have told me that before I set this up," he answers dryly. He has to admit, it's not a reaction he was expecting from her; Felicity seems fearless in her role as Oracle.

"Actually," she answers, her voice a little high-pitched, "it's a recent discovery. I didn't know it either until about five seconds ago." She sighs as she looks down at the ground, then frowns at it. "Damn irrational fears," Felicity grumbles under her breath, and Oliver can't hold back another chuckle.

One of the police officers calls out to them, "SCPD! You're under arrest—drop your weapons immediately!" Oliver has to admit that he's impressed; apparently any mention of Oracle brings a full SWAT team crawling after her. An odd response for a vigilante who has never killed before, but Oliver decides he's not the best judge of what's normal. After all, he's a vigilante archer who has died seven times, which doesn't exactly constitute normal, either.

A plan comes to Oliver, and he takes the opportunity granted to him. "Hold on to me tight," he warns her quietly He reaches down to Felicity's thigh for another throwing knife, flicking it over the officers' heads close enough to make it look like an accidental miss. A yell comes from the group, but only one officer manages to get off a few shots before Felicity's arms are around his neck and they're on the zipline down toward the building.

Both of them manage to land on their feet, Felicity looking very pale as she pulls down the face mask. Roy is already leaning against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest in wait, hood pulled down and mask around his neck, like they're wasting his time. "Oliver Queen," she accuses him breathily, "you are absolutely batshit crazy." Then she holds out her hand for him to shake. "Which is why I'd be an idiot not to offer you a place on the team. Welcome aboard."

A smile turns his mouth upward, and he doesn't bother to hide it. "Thank you, Felicity," he answers, shaking her hand briefly before turning back toward a frowning, silent Roy who is clearly less than pleased by the idea. Oliver walks up to him. "If you want me to leave," he starts slowly, "I'll leave. I'm not going to destroy a good team because I'm not wanted."

Roy's eyebrows shoot up, then he looks behind Oliver to Felicity. "Well, you're not completely useless," Roy offers, and Oliver takes it as the best compliment he's ever going to get. "And you had my back in there." He crosses his arms. "I'm not going to be the asshole who says you can't stay."

Oliver offers his hand to shake, and, to his surprise, the kid takes it. "Thank you, Roy," he states sincerely.

The kid scoffs as he crosses his arms over his chest again. “Just don’t take this as an invitation to start discussing feelings, Queen,” he quips, but there’s no bite in his words. Maybe this is just how Roy Harper chooses to communicate. “That’s more Blondie’s speed—guys always want to discuss feelings with her. Especially Ray.” The look on his face is suggestive, indicating that perhaps feelings aren’t all this Ray chooses to discuss with her.

Felicity, though, is more than willing to clarify. “Ray doesn’t want to discuss feelings, Roy,” she corrects as she starts pulling their bags from the corner, ones containing their street clothes. Oliver takes his from her at the same time she decides to add decisively, “Not really. Ray wants to discuss getting back into my pants.” Somehow Oliver manages not to choke on his tongue at her flippant declaration. “He’s looking for the dream—a woman to marry for love, two-story house complete with white picket fence, his two-point-six children, and ‘til death do us part.” Something dark flickers across her face, maybe even something a little disappointed. “While the sex was amazing and I loved that he knew the plot of every episode of Doctor Who, I’m never going to be that kind of girl.”

Whatever seems to have dampened her mood, Roy seems to understand. Instead of trying to comfort her, he simply takes his bag from her hand, stopping to knock his shoulder against hers. “Don’t get me wrong, Blondie—I don’t want to pick out curtains with you or anything,” the kid starts slowly, and against Oliver’s better judgment, he thinks he’s developing a soft spot for the kid. Still, when Felicity’s mouth starts to pull upward, he can’t help it. “But you’ve always got me. Forever.” It’s a promise, one filled with meaning that Oliver can’t even begin to understand. God only knows what these two have faced together, creating some sort of bond between them stronger than siblings.

Felicity drapes her free arm around his shoulders. “Most days, Roy, that’s enough.”

Chapter Text

"The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

—Albert Einstein

 


 

Oliver thinks that, for his first mission in Starling City, things have gone quite well. There were a few minor glitches with Detective Lance and Hunt's security, but he's confident that his trick arrow will help transfer the money in the way he wants. After all, he told Adam Hunt he'd take forty million dollars, and he most certainly wouldn't like it. Oliver doesn't like it, either, as his shoulders are rather stiff from rappelling back to the party he was supposed to be at in the first place.

He knows it's going to get worse when he sees Detective Lance comes charging in. It leads to a nasty encounter, and then, in spite, Lance keeps Oliver sitting there for hours as he asks mindless questions. It's tedious and boring—and Oliver has some funds to transfer around when he gets back to base. For some reason Oliver doesn't understand, though, John Diggle, the bodyguard Moira hired, sticks up for him.

"I was with Mr. Queen for the entire night," Diggle tells Detective Lance calmly, with no hint of lying on his face. The man is a convincing liar, and Oliver decides he should remember that for later. "Mrs. Queen hired me to be his bodyguard after the kidnapping a few days ago, and so I've been keeping close watch. I've seen a few girls in here that could be drinking underage, maybe a few drug deals, but what I haven't seen is a guy in a green hood. He'd stick out in a place like this."

It's something that will stick with Oliver. In his world, the phrase "blind loyalty" is a fantasy that would be nice to believe in, much like a utopian society or a world without illness. Loyalty is a commodity in his world, one that can easily be bought and sold for the right price. Sometimes it's money and wealth, sometimes it's power and influence, but, in his experience, everyone has a price and a cost. He doesn't even take it personally anymore—it's all just business. But Diggle reminds him that maybe all people aren't that way—that maybe, just maybe, there are a few good, honest people left in the world.

Against his better judgment, Oliver likes this John Diggle.

When Lance finally admits defeat, Oliver allows Diggle to drive him home. It's a formality that isn't necessary—and that Oliver would never allow—but this new player is interesting. So he allows himself to study this man mostly out of curiosity.

"So, Diggle," Oliver says in his best fake billionaire voice, "do bodyguarding duties typically include lying to the police? Or is that something you just do for fun?' His expression turns into something more serious. "We both know you weren't with me the whole night."

"Because you got the jump on me," Diggle replies without missing a beat, his expression solemn and stoic in the rearview mirror. "It's hard to do my job when I'm unconscious, Oliver." He thinks about it a moment before saying, "But that doesn't mean I should let you spend the night in jail because a rogue cop has a vendetta against you. You wanna run around without a bodyguard, that's your business, but that doesn't mean you spend your night putting arrows in people."

Oliver means for the conversation to continue, but their attention is pulled elsewhere as a moped zooms past them, moving way too fast while wedged between full lanes of traffic. Diggle has to swerves to avoid hitting it, and Oliver notices for the first time that the moped has wings sticking out of it—white plastic, anime-style wings—and fuchsia-colored flames over the front wheel well. Then he notices that the moped is a dark, plum-colored shade. The girl on it is indistinguishable from anyone else, wearing a black, full-visor helmet, similar to the one Oliver wears when he uses his motorcycle as transport. Her hair is tucked up under her helmet—or too short to hang loose; Oliver can't quite tell—and her jeans are dark. She also wears an easily identifiable purple leather jacket, a few shades more red than her moped.

Diggle honks the horn at her, but she doesn't even flinch; she just holds up a middle finger with a lime green nail behind her as she speeds onward. Oliver frowns, thinking she's just another party girl with daddy's pocketbook and her trust fund paying for all the customizations to her little vintage Vespa. But then he remembers that he was one of those spoiled rich kids five years ago—and still is to everyone around him. And, he admits that he probably partied with a girl like that at one point.

It gives Oliver something to think about as they pull into the cul-de-sac in front of the Queen mansion, and he bides a few hours' time talking to his mother. She's worried, not surprisingly, and he can't remember the last time someone was actually concerned about his well-being. The past five years play out in his mind, and he reminds himself that it's not always so horrible—that people actually want him home at night, but he has other obligations. After all, that hacker arrow on Hunt isn't going to drain the money by itself.

He waits until everyone is safely asleep before sneaking down at two in the morning to get his motorcycle. The ride into the Glades is filled with quiet contemplation, wondering about his family and the surprising loyalty of John Diggle. No one has been what he's expected. The return hasn't been what he expected. Thea is doing drugs, his mother is married to his father's CEO, and Oliver didn't exactly remember how much time was involved in consoling his family. It's a fine mess, he finally decides as he pulls up to the place he's selected as his base of operations: his father's old steel factory.

He walks into the steel factory, uses the secret way into the basement, and sits down at his computer, ready to use that arrow to return the forty million dollars to Starling City's pensioners. For the first time in his life, he feels like he's doing something worthwhile, so he can't help but feel a little proud of himself. He stopped Adam Hunt—and he did it on his own, with an assist from an arrow capable of hacking Hunt's servers.

But when he sits down to transfer funds out of Hunt's account, he's surprised to find it recently drained—all one hundred sixty million dollars—via his own arrow. It's an impressive trick, since he has been told that the tech in that arrow is untraceable and unhackable. Since it was his arrow and his tech, he's able to trace it back. Forty million of it—the number he had told Hunt—is now in pensioners' accounts, as promised, and the other one hundred twenty million was transferred to several charitable organizations whose goals are to clean up the Glades and to provide shelter and food for the homeless.

It gives him a lot to think about. He could return the money and steal only what he said he would for the pensioners' accounts, or he could allow the money to benefit the city in the way it should. The Glades are certainly in need of refurbishment, and he's seen quite a few homeless persons on the street. At least the money isn't funding corrupt politicians and Hunt's insane spending any longer. So he decides that it serves as a fitting reminder as to what happens to those who cross Starling City's Vigilante. Adam Hunt will remember that Starling City has a savior.

It's just a shame it's not Oliver.

 


 

On the other side of town, a purple Vespa with white wings pulls into the garage of an abandoned office building from the fifties, deep in the heart of the Glades. The sign out front proclaims it the home of the former Starling City Gazette, but it must have been long before her time; the building has been abandoned for as long as she can remember. She takes a moment to look at the red, '90s model sports car with the black ragtop taking up most of the garage, her mouth turning up into a smile automatically. The garage door closes behind her, and she pulls off her helmet to expose a mess of blonde hair that falls just between her shoulder blades, black-and-amber glasses, and ocean blue eyes. Her lipstick is fuchsia, accenting her mouth in a bold, daring way that promises trouble.

Felicity Smoak walks into the office as if she owns it, black heels clacking against the floor. She takes in her... office for the umpteenth time, never truly getting enough of it. It isn't that the building is particularly beautiful; the ceiling tile is stained from water damage and the wooden boards, used to protect the openings where window glass has been broken out, are starting to rot from weather conditions. The walls are made of porous cinderblocks that remind Felicity of giant sponges, and there's no furniture whatsoever.

Except the one room that counts.

The room in question was probably the editor's office in its day, a surprisingly huge space for such a small building. The oak door has a window pane with black wire crisscrossing through it, and the name on the window reads, "J.S. Stanley" in gold, capital letters. The one-way glass coating is something she put in herself, so all she can see for a moment is her own reflection. But, when she slides the key into the doorknob and opens the door, it exposes the tech office of her dreams.

Her desk, in the center of the room, is sleek black steel with dark-tinted glass on its surface, holding three state-of-the-art desktop computers. The walls of the office have been covered in magnetic, whiteboard material for efficiency's sake, and the wall behind her desk shows a list of names, all sorted into alphabetical order. Some of them are crossed off, but some of them are fortunate enough not to have met her. The wall to her left has shooting targets held to it by magnets—each of them a different shape, size, and level of difficulty to hit the bullseye. The one to her right, though, is what she likes to think of as her "Hall of Fame"—a collection of all of the newspaper articles related to her nightly activities. They're held onto the board with brightly-colored magnets of all shapes and sizes, and a long, black leather sofa with white trim that looks like it's been in the office for the last sixty years sits under it.

But it's what's on the couch that makes her frown. He's sleeping peacefully, his red hoodie zipped up in traditional fashion, and one arm is draped over his eyes. He's tall enough that he takes up the whole length of the couch, but at least he's considerate enough to take off his ancient, grimy tennis shoes before draping his feet across the sofa. She knew he'd be there—his car was parked outside, after all—but Roy doesn't sleep here unless things aren't going well at home. She takes a moment to look at him before sighing in frustration. Hopefully he's not too messed up this time.

But her softer side is something that makes him uncomfortable—and something that makes her feel vulnerable—so she kicks her shin into the couch. He comes to with a jolt, his arms flailing in surprise, but he relaxes when he realizes who it is. "Jesus, Blondie," he snaps, his voice breathy, "you scared the hell out of me! Do you mind?"

She takes it in stride because, really, that's how they communicate. They've been in each other's lives for three years, and they've always spent more time sassing each other than actually having conversations. "Newsflash, Harper," she replies, putting her hands on her hips, "I'm not your mother, and I'm not going to coddle you." She frowns. "You know, when I said you could stay here any time you like, I kinda hoped you'd use the space to practice your archery. Your form sucks." She turns away, starting back toward her computer desk.

"Who are we after tonight?" he calls behind her, still lying across the couch. He isn't the kind to be lazy, so it sort of affirms her fears. She fights back a frown, thinking that she was an idiot for practically adopting a little street kid like herself. If she had wanted to test her maternal instincts on something, well, her dog has been less worry and aggravation than this. Yep, she should have just bought another dog. So much for that good samaritan shit.

"Don't know yet," she calls over her shoulder, never faltering a step. "Let's see what my boys have dug up today before we make our decision." It's a thing they do; before she picks a target, she sees who has been particularly active that day, and they go to the top of the list. If not, well, they find some way to pick a name from her list in the back. Sometimes it's based who has a name that sounds particularly evil, sometimes they throw magnetic darts at random, and sometimes they pick a letter and go after the first guy with said letter in his name. It's a scientific approach.

"Your boys?" Roy repeats from the couch as Felicity settles into her chair. He sits up, groaning as he holds his side, and Felicity's eyes narrow immediately. It's good to know that she still has a knack for calling things correctly. Still, she lets him continue, "Let me guess—you're one of those people who names inanimate objects. Why am I not surprised?"

Ignoring his sarcasm, she replies, "It shouldn't surprise you, Red—I name everything I like." She lets a little weight settle on that to remind him that, hey, he has a friend. She may be a hard ass most of the time, but he's pretty much her little brother—perhaps not by blood, but by bond. They're moving dangerously close to mushy territory, so she continues, "And, just for the record, my computers do have names. They're Eragon, Brom, and Murtaugh." She motions to each one in turn, from her left to her right. "Eragon's the youngest—and the one you can always count on to save you when things get rough. Brom's the oldest one, with the most memory usage—but he's tougher than he looks." She glares at the last computer in the line. "And Murtaugh is the one who you can count on to betray you when you least expect it. And steal your sword. He really likes to steal swords."

Roy looks at her as though she's lost it—which, admittedly, she probably has. They're both insane for doing this. "Please tell me you didn't just make that up on the spot," he says solemnly, clearly expecting the worst.

She rolls her eyes. "Do me a favor and go read a book," she mutters before checking her search protocols. To her surprise, a few pop up, and she runs through the details in order of search priority. "Interesting," she says finally, and Roy perks up at the tone in her voice. "Unregistered tech just wormed its way into Adam Hunt's servers about an hour ago." She runs the setup of the device against the database, and is surprised to see the results flash across the screen. "Oh, that's so cute—military grade. It's like they're actually trying to stop me."

Before she can drain Adam Hunt's accounts, though, another color-coded alert pops up on her screen. This one's hot pink, meaning that it has something to do with Nemesis, the nickname she gave herself when she started this crusade of hers. She clicks it, and, to her disappointment, she's only vaguely mentioned. Most of the article talks about how this new hooded vigilante—the one the papers have already started calling "the Arrow"—has just made an attack on Adam Hunt, and they compare his actions to hers over the past three years.

"Un-freaking-believable!" she exclaims, and she doesn't wait for Roy to prompt her. "I can't believe this! I've been going after the Starling City all-stars for three years, and I've never gotten a front-page spread!" She waves a hand at her computer screen. "But this new guy in a hood starts sticking arrows in people like they're pincushions, and suddenly he's smiling up at us from the Starling City Times." She makes a noise of disgust. "I mean, he has all the finesse of a trained monkey with a sledgehammer. I'm doing hacking here that no one can get around. I've tapped into the NSA database, for crying out loud! But he gets the front-page spread." She knows she sounds like a petulant child, but she doesn't exactly care at this point.

Roy must be thinking the same thing because he actually offers her a snort of laughter and a smile in return for her rant. "Maybe he's screwing the editor," he replies dryly. "Sleeping his way up to the top. That's the only way he could get promoted so fast." He points at her as a new idea reaches him. "That could work for you at QC, you know. I mean, you're way too old for me, but you sort of have this Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde thing going for you. But it's not that extreme—it's more like I'm-just-good-enough-not-to-be-a-bad-girl and I'm-just-bad-enough-not-to-be-a-good-girl." He thinks about that a little longer. "And, you know, Oliver Queen isn't that bad. He doesn't do a damn thing for me, but the ladies seem to love him."

She cuts her eyes at him, letting her expression tell him just how funny she thought that was, and he winces. "Do you really think it's smart to taunt me, Harper? Because if there's anything this night should have told you, it's that I'm petty and I'm vindictive. Meaning, I'm exactly the kind of person who would slip you a sleeping pill just so I could shave your eyebrows off in retaliation." She huffs. "Also note that I find the idea of making my way on my back disgusting and degrading, so never mention that to me again. And, finally, Oliver Queen should probably have an STD named after him at this point."

She raises a finger and motions for him to wait, and then she turns and moves back to the board on the back wall with a dry-erase marker in her hand. She pokes around in the Q's until she finds the exact place, and she writes "Queen, Oliver" in between "Queen, Moira" and "Queen, Thea." She smiles, satisfied with her work. "We needed him back on the list," she comments to Roy as she moves back to her computer desk.

"But, on another note," Felicity continues, "the Arrow made a mistake tonight when he violated Rule Ten. Never send a trained gorilla to do a hacker's job." She turns back to the computer, taking the time to hijack the piece of tech that's supposed to be so complicated to hack. But she does it in a few minutes, transferring money from Hunt's account to the places it needs to go. "You opened with the Queen's Gambit, hotshot," she says, mostly to herself. She always thinks well in chess metaphors. "It's a strong, aggressive opening, but sometimes it's better to play weak. So even though I see your move, I'm going to accept your gambit and play to your hand—but I'm going to set you up with a bishop in place to take your pawn after you take mine." The transfer completes, and she smiles as she says to her screen, "You may have won this battle, hotshot, but I'm set up to win the war."

"Did I ever tell you how creepy it is when you do that?" Roy says from the couch, and her eyes land on him. "Sorry, Blondie, but it's kinda weird that you relate this to a chess game."

"Maybe," she allows, "but that's how I think." She shrugs, rising from her ergonomic chair and walking back over to him. "Some people do crosswords, I steal from Starling's elite." She's close enough now that she can tell he's favoring one set of ribs, so she asks quietly, "How bad is it this time, Roy?" His first name is reserved for when she's serious, so she already knows it will cut through all the bullshit he usually gives her.

He sucks in a breath. "I don't know," he admits, unzipping his jacket to reveal crusted blood on the light gray shirt underneath. "It feels bad," he says finally. "Worse than usual, I mean."

She doesn't hesitate to lift his shirt, showing a sizeable bruise over his ribcage. Gently, she pokes and prods at it, trying to remember those anatomy classes from college, back when she wanted to be a bone surgeon. She's not surprised to find three of them broken. "God, that's three," she tells him, and she can feel her blood boil. "That asshole you call a father is lucky I don't shoot to kill, or I would have impaled him on an arrow for this three years ago."

He doesn't say anything immediately, taking time to pull his shirt back down and zip up his hoodie. "It's not so bad," he says finally. "Most of the time he's too drunk to give a damn. And I needed to see my mom—she's back on the pills again."

She sighs, knowing how screwed he feels most of the time. The kid is in between a rock and a hard place, and he has nowhere else to go. No one to turn to, except for her. She probably would have gone to the police long ago if he hadn't begged her not to, and God knows she feels her family is her problem. She knows Roy feels the same way, so she doesn't push it, except to gripe and let off steam occasionally.

"Well, as my own mother would say," she says finally, controlling her impulses to strangle people, "you have to know when to hold and when to fold." She doesn't say any more because she can't; family is a very tender subject in her world, and that's not something she shares easily, even with Roy.

He gives her an odd look, but, instead of asking about Felicity's family, he says instead, "You know I have no idea what that means, right? You have to have money to gamble, Blondie."

She rolls her eyes, rising from the sofa. Sometimes she thinks the kid is hopeless. She puts her hand on his shoulder. "I'll teach you how to play Texas Hold 'Em sometime." Then she changes her mind. "I'll teach you tonight, while you're staying with me." She puts her hands on her hips. "Because I am not letting you stay here, and you sure as hell aren't going home. You can get a shower at my place."

He stands with a long groan because those ribs probably hurt like hell. "Sorry to tell you this, Blondie," he deadpans, "but I don't appreciate you coming on to me. You're not my type."

She rolls her eyes as she nudges him out of Stanley's office, locking the door behind her. "You wish, Abercrombie," she replies wryly. "Even in your dreams you're not good enough for me." She points down the hall. "Now go get in the damn car, and I'll drive you back."

He starts to do as she says, then turns back to her. "Thank you for being such an overbearing mother hen, Felicity," he says finally with a sarcastic edge, a wry smile on his face. But the fact that he uses her name—a rarity—lets her know that he means it. She watches him walk away, and her smile fades as she decides that being a vigilante is a pain in the ass.

She helped a lot of people tonight, but it's never the one she needs to save.

Chapter Text

 


 

Two months. That's what it takes for her to come to the inevitable conclusion, one that she's been trying to deny for weeks now. Felicity has known it for a while, but two months is the breaking point for Felicity. Two months ago was when Oliver kissed her goodbye for the last time, charging to Nanda Parbat with a mission to save his sister from a fate she didn't even know faced her.

And now he's gone, and there's nothing she can do but sit in the lair and know. He's gone, and they'll never have any closure to it. Not really. There won't be a funeral, a body to put in a casket or lay to rest. Instead, his sister will never understand what happened—not fully; Felicity wouldn't betray Oliver like that, not after he spent so much time trying to protect her from the truth. The thought of him lying in the snow somewhere, in a place where they'll never find him, makes her want to fall apart, but she can't. Not now.

All she has left of Oliver now is a few pictures and his mission—his legacy—as the Arrow. In his absence, somehow the team has turned to her, and finally Felicity understands what he said at his mother's funeral: if I mourn her death, no one else gets to. So she doesn't cry, she doesn't break down, she doesn't let the grief strangle her until it threatens to destroy her. Instead, Felicity Smoak somehow becomes the one they look to in Oliver's absence.

So, two months after his departure, only then does she accept what the world is telling her. Though it nearly breaks her, she stops long enough to buy a green storage container, carrying it down to the lair with her. And then, systematically, she starts packing away all the evidence that Oliver Queen was ever a part of this mission. Thea doesn't know yet—she's not sure when they'll tell her he's gone—but the least Felicity can do is pack away his things for her, when she's ready to take them.

It starts in the bathroom, with the pairs of sweatpants and gray t-shirts packed neatly in a cabinet near the shower. When she comes out to see the fern on the table, it nearly becomes her undoing, but Diggle's sudden presence is the reason she keeps it together. "I was trying to pack up Oliver's things," she informs him. Her voice is a little shaky, but God bless John Diggle; he doesn't say a word about it. "For Thea," she adds when he doesn't speak.

"Okay," is his simple answer, and then suddenly he's in the corner, opening up the Box of Island Things. Felicity starts to snarl at him, to remind him that no one touches the Box except for Oliver when she remembers the truth again. This time, her armor cracks for a brief moment before she puts it back in place.

Trying to keep whatever is left of her sanity, Felicity turns back to the table, picking up the green-handled switchblade. Thea can have everything else, she decides as she tucks it into her pocket, but this one thing is hers. She wouldn't appreciate it, wouldn't understand how much of their story was written into a damn pocket knife. For the most part, Felicity doesn't want any keepsakes. The only thing Felicity ever wanted from Oliver was his heart, and she still holds that, even after he was ripped away from her. Other than the photos and a few hoodies and t-shirts at her house, she plans on giving it all to the woman he died to save.

"Felicity?" Diggle's voice calls from across the room. She turns to him, noting the various things in his arm: a broken bow, a bottle of vodka she'd seen the two men share on a couple of occasions, and a various assortment of things she doesn't understand the meaning behind. He walks over to her, placing them all in the tub before turning to her with a grim expression that makes her shoulders tense. He extends a small, black velvet box that makes her stomach drop. The look on the soldier's face adds exactly what she fears, before he finally says, "I think this was meant for you." There's so much and so little in that sentence, telling her exactly what she fears to be the truth.

Felicity isn't an idiot; she knows she should store it away, should never look at it because it's only going to tear her apart. But she hates mysteries and the temptation is too great, so of course she opens it. The rings are gorgeous, of course; they probably cost him more than he's able to afford these days. The one on top isn't new, judging by the small scratches in the band that weren't removed after a thorough cleaning. The five teardrop diamonds across the silver band are too gaudy for her—or Oliver's taste—but she knows them from the pictures of Moira and Robert Queen, settled around her finger in an opulent display, under an even bigger wedding ring. Then she remembers Oliver saying something about it being a Queen family tradition to propose with that ring; three generations of the Queen family had come together because that ring had linked them.

Alone, that would have been enough to break her, enough to make her sob into the night. But the other two rings sitting underneath, new and elegant, are what destroy her until there's nothing left. The silver band on the first is thin and simple, widening to allow room for a large, oval emerald to sit, flanked on either side for two teardrop diamonds. It makes her heart clench; the double-meaning in that stone is not lost on her, reminding her that he gave her every facet of himself, even in this. But it's the third one that breaks her, the one that makes her choke.

It's plain and simple silver band, sized much too large for her fingers.

All the pain she's been swallowing hits her with a force more violent than any battering ram, making her choke back a sob, because she can see it now. She can see the future he had meant for them to have, the one where they shared a home together, not just him living in her leased apartment. One where they spent their days attending board meetings as equals and their nights saving a city he loved enough to risk his life for. One where they attended galas as Mr. and Mrs. Queen, and, maybe, if they decided to, one that involved children with his quiet confidence or her babbling mouth. Either way, it was one that involved them growing old together. One that they can never have now.

Suddenly the armor is too heavy and she can't hold onto it anymore. When the tears start falling down her face, John takes the ring box from her hand and places it on the desk before pulling her into his arms. She latches onto him as though her life depends upon it, sobbing into his shoulder with all the agony and loss she's been fighting for so long.

He understands it without saying a word, letting her cry into his shoulder until she can't anymore, and Felicity knows they'll never talk about it again. He'll forgive her this one moment of weakness, and then he'll follow her plans into battle again without an ounce of hesitation. Because John Diggle understands loss just as much as she does in this moment. He understands what Felicity can't say—that she's not just crying for Oliver anymore. She lost so much more in this fight than she ever realized was possible; Ra's al Ghul not only stole the man she loved, but also their hope, their team, and the future Oliver was trying so hard to build. He even stole their safe haven; Felicity can't be in the lair anymore without being reminded that it was Oliver that made the space so inviting.

And now, more than ever, Felicity thinks he might have stolen her life, too.

Diggle and she stay like that for what feels like hours, and she knows she's probably a mess when she pulls out of his arms. She can't face the team like this; they'll be too preoccupied with her sadness to focus on anything—and the city still needs saving. "I really need to be anywhere but here right now," she admits to him in a voice raspy with tears.

He pulls her in for one last hug. "Go home, Felicity," he insists, his voice just above her ear. "Get some rest. I'll make sure they don't go after anything too dangerous tonight." He hands her the ring box back, and this time she shoves it into her pocket without looking at it. Once was enough for tonight. "I'll pack the rest of this up tonight—Tommy will help me." He pulls away from her then, and Felicity whispers a quiet thank-you in return. He just nods and smiles, and the blonde can't find it in her to smile back at Digg.

There really aren't any smiles for her. Not anymore.

All she has to look forward to now is her very empty apartment—which reminds her that the lease is almost out. Part of her wants to find somewhere else to live because the space only reminds her of her losses, but at the same time, finding a new place would be severing ties that she isn't quite ready to cut just yet.

But that's another dilemma for a day that doesn't involve finding out that she was two steps away from her version of a happily ever after when everything went to hell. So she opens her door and drops the ring box on her bar to deal with later—much later, when she can put it in the safe in her closet hidey-hole without being overcome with emotion. (So probably never.) Then she kicks off her shoes, throws her clothes around the apartment as she gets out of them, and lies down on the bed with Saphira snuggled between her arms, trying to pretend the world is normal for at least one more moment.

Unfortunately, though, karma has decided to toy with her life once more out of spite—even though, in Felicity's opinion, karma owes her so many points she can't keep track—so it isn't that simple. Halfway into her night of dreamless, restless sleep, she gets a call from Barry. And, of course, the news he gives her shatters her world again one more time. But at least this time it isn't in a bad way. Not really—at least not for her.

This time, though, she can do something about it.

 


 

It's after three in the morning by the time she arrives in Central City, but Felicity is the opposite of tired as she walks into the police station. The usual day-shift guys aren't there, and the place looks a little more ominous at night, but then she meets Barry's eyes across the room. She probably looks like shit after crying jag earlier, with no mascara, swollen eyes with red rims, and no doubt dark circles proclaiming her sleep-deprivation. Another time, it would have bothered her. But right now, Felicity doesn't have it in her to give a damn.

When Barry reaches her, he hugs her because he can probably sense she needs it. "No offense," he mutters into her hair, "but I was kind of expecting Oliver to be here for this one. I only called you because he wasn't answering his phone." He pulls back, placing his hands on her shoulders. "I'm sorry to drag you into the middle of this." He swallows. "It has to be more than a little uncomfortable."

Only then does she realize that she hasn't told Barry any of the drama going on in the last two months, that he doesn't know about Oliver's sudden departure—in more ways than one. "Oliver left two months ago to fight the head of the League of Assassins," she blurts, and Barry's eyes shoot up in a familiar how-is-this-your-life expression. "It's a long story, but the short version is that he did it to protect Thea." Then she chokes on her next sentence before finally spitting it out. "We haven't heard from him since—I think it's time to give up hope." She dry-sobs on the word because she's giving up so much more than something as fickle as hope.

Barry tries to hug her again, but she won't let him; if he does, it will be her undoing and she's already met her quota of crying jags for the year. "I'm so sorry, Felicity," he whispers to her, squeezing her hand. "I shouldn't have hit you with this today. It was too much."

When she laughs, there's no humor in it. Felicity can say this was easily the least emotional thing she's dealt with in the last twenty-four hours. Suddenly she feels the need to share everything with her best friend because she can't break down in front of Tommy, Sara, Thea, or Roy—or worse, Laurel, who does not need to hear the story of her philandering ex finally attempting to pop the question to someone, instead of hopping on a boat with another woman to avoid a very minor display of commitment.

Unfortunately for Barry, he's all she has right now. "I was packing up Oliver's things in the lair when I found the Queen family engagement ring and a set of wedding bands," Felicity informs him in a sad, defeated tone, watching as the implications of that wash over his face. "Proof of the man he was eight years ago is not going to be the thing to break me tonight."

Felicity is fairly certain he didn't look this heartbroken when he told her Iris had started dating one of the cops he works with. Honestly, she doesn't know how; there's nothing more hearbreaking than watching the person that you love fall in love with someone else. Despite everything, at least she knows that the only reason Oliver isn't waiting for her in Starling City is because of forces outside of their control.

This time, she does let him hug her. He doesn't say anything because he doesn't have to, and she appreciates that Barry Allen isn't trying to make this any harder than it already is. "We can do this in the morning, if you want," he offers as he pulls away. "You know I always have space for you in my guest room."

"Thanks," she answers tiredly, "but I'd rather just do this tonight. I'd like to meet Connor before I just force my company on him. I don't want to see him go into foster care, but I'm not going to make him come back to Starling with me if he hates me."

The lift at the corner of Barry's mouth confuses her. "I'm pretty sure that no one has ever hated you," he admits slowly. "Especially not a Queen."

"I can think of a few people," Felicity corrects. "I'm pretty sure that Malcolm Merlyn would like to use me for target practice." She shrugs to punctuate that thought. "But he can go to Hell and take a toothbrush as far as I'm concerned. Slade Wilson is probably cursing my name from a secret ARGUS prison on Lian Yu right now. And don't forget William Tockman—he's still pissed that I outsmarted him." She tilts her head to the side. "Oh, and Suzie Jordan in the second grade." She points at him. "And as far as the Queens go, you forgot about Moira. She was probably rolling over in her grave at the idea of her son using her engagement ring to propose to me."

Saying the words aloud gives them new life, and despite the chuckle Barry offers that is totally worth it, Felicity decides she didn't want that particular truth to exist at all. She pats him on the shoulder before walking toward Joe, where he sits with a kid too young to be going through all of this pain and agony. At first all she can recognize is brown hair since he's turned away from her, but the sound of her heels clicking on the tile finally draws his attention. When he turns to her, it takes everything she has not to stop in her tracks because her first thought is, How the hell did no one realize this was Oliver Queen's son?

All it takes is one look, and it hits her too violently for any metaphor she knows. Granted Felicity didn't know Sandra Hawke, but she thinks most of Connor's features are purely Oliver. Those blue eyes are a perfect match for his, especially filled with all of that pain and sadness. And the shape of his face and the line of his jaw, even full with the softness of childhood, are impossible not to recognize. The full cheeks have to be Sandra's genetic influence, and maybe the set of his mouth, but the rest of him is purely Oliver.

And it's both the most beautiful and most cruel thing she's ever seen: beautiful because it reminds her of Oliver, but cruel because it also reminds her of all she's lost—and of things she never even realized she wanted. Because she's suddenly overwhelmed with the idea of what children would look like with a mix of both her features and Oliver's, and suddenly she wants that possibility to exist with every fiber of her being. Felicity has never really been a kid person, but then again, people usually want what they know they can't ever have.

The door to that possibility is firmly shut now.

Slowly, Felicity drops into one of the chairs next to Joe. "Thanks for coming, Felicity," he says to her, looking just as tired as she feels. God knows he's been through this before; they wouldn't let him keep Barry, but not for lack of trying. He pats her shoulder as she throws him a weary smile. "I'll let you two get acquainted."

Staring at Connor now, she's reminded of how tongue-tied she was when she met Oliver, back before she knew he was the Arrow or anything about him. She feels much the same way now, but this time, Felicity knows she has to be the one to speak first. "Hey," she says in a soft voice, "I'm Felicity Smoak."

"I'm Connor Hawke," he answers in a quiet voice, barely looking at her. "I guess you're here to take me to a foster home or something?" Only then does he look at her. "I don't have any other family."

That's such a loaded statement that Felicity isn't sure how to answer it. While it's mostly true, she reminds herself that Thea is his aunt—an altogether terrifying thought. Thea would have no idea how to respond to this, let alone raise a heartbroken kid. Quite honestly, Felicity isn't sure how to do it, either. "Not exactly," Felicity answers as truthfully as she can. It must be the right answer because Connor slowly exhales in a sigh of relief that is just as much Oliver as his eyes. "I came because I…" She has no idea how to tell him that his father never knew he was alive—of that much she's certain—and that she was kind of his father's girlfriend. "I was a friend of your father's. And I grew up in foster care, so I remember how bad it was. I didn't want that for you."

The doubt is etched all over his face, yet another expression she's seen on Oliver's face so many times—exactly like that. Maybe she shouldn't think about doing this because it's probably going to kill her. At the very least, it's just going to remind her of losing Oliver over and over again. That alone could mean the end of her sanity. "I don't have a father," Connor states defiantly, crossing his arms.

When Felicity crosses her arms to mirror his stance, it's purely out of habit, until she realizes that she's about to start arguing with an eight-year-old the same way she argued with the Starling City Vigilante. Not exactly a good start to their relationship. "Everyone has a father," she tries instead, trying to think how to delicately explain this to a child. "My dad left me and my mom when I was six. He's not my dad—not really—but I still have one. And so do you. But my dad chose to leave me. I can tell you that yours didn't know you were born." She bites the inside of her cheek to keep herself together. "He… he died two months ago, and I know you don't have anyone else. So, if you want, you can come with me back to Starling City."

He looks at her dubiously, and she blurts, "I'm going to be completely honest with you, Connor. My life is a wreck. I'm an emotional mess right now, and I probably shouldn't even be taking care of my dog, much less trying to take care of someone who just lost the only family he ever knew. But I want to." She takes a breath. "And while Oliver is a part of that reason, he's not all of it. Your dad didn't have a very good relationship with his blood family, so he kind of made one of his own. We were a family, and we take care of each other. I'm not sure if I can take care of you or not, but I'm willing to try if you are." Then she folds her hands on her lap. "If you don't want to go with me, I'm not going to make you, but no matter what, I'm going to be there if you need me."

"Because you feel like you owe my dad?" Connor asks, the question surprisingly wise coming from the mouth of an eight-year-old.

Felicity shakes her head. "No," she answers flatly. "I didn't owe him anything—just like you don't owe me anything because I knew your dad. Oliver and I, we…" Were partners, flits through her mind, but something tells her he won't understand the significance of that. "We helped each other because we wanted to, not because we had to." Knowing that even if he's half Oliver he'll want to think about this first, she reaches over to pat his shoulder. "If you say yes and decide that this isn't working, I'll help you find somewhere else. But I'll give you some time to think about it." Then she picks up a business card from Joe's desk, writing her name and number on the back of it before offering it to him. "But, no matter what you decide, Connor, if you ever need me for anything, all you have to do is call." With that, she turns toward the hallway to leave.

She makes it about five steps before a small voice calls out to her, "Felicity, wait." Connor tugs on the sleeve of her peacoat, the card still in his other hand. He looks as though he's making a decision, his mouth set into a firm, grim line that screams Oliver in so many ways. "I have a few rules," he states, crossing his arms as he says so.

Her mouth turns up of its own accord, in the first real smile of two months. "You wouldn't be Oliver's son if you didn't," she admits truthfully. He looks surprised by the declaration, as though he couldn't possibly imagine having anything in common with the man. "Tell me what they are, and I'll see if I can agree to them."

Connor starts ticking them off on his fingers. "I don't want you to try and be my mom," he declares. "My mom is gone, but I don't want to replace her." Another finger goes up. "I get to ask questions about my dad. I know you're sad that he's dead, but I want to know about him." His ring finger goes up next. "I get to watch all the TV I want and you don't try to make me do my homework. You won't try to make me eat brussel sprouts or give me toys to make me like you. You won't lie to me, and I promise not to lie to you, too." He focuses with a serious expression, and Felicity can't bite back the smile that follows. "If you're okay with that, I'll come with you to Starling City." Then he does the damnedest thing, something that makes her heart hurt and feel like it's being patched together at the same time: he sticks out his hand for her to shake.

Felicity doesn't even hesitate to shake it. "You have yourself a deal, Mr. Hawke."

 


 

Connor studies the apartment with wide eyes as he walks in, carrying one of his bags. Felicity carries a couple of the others, standing behind him and watching him survey the place. He notices the computer parts first, of course, but they talked on the train and he already knows about her love of technology. Instead, he stares in wonder at her collection of movies and TV shows, content to let his bag drop at his side.

"I'm going to carry your bags into your room," Felicity says to him, knowing he probably needs some time to get the lay of the place. "And I'm going to let Saphira out, too, but I'll let you meet her before I turn her loose on you." She goes into the room, swapping the bag for the little dog and carrying her back out to the main room.

When she arrives, she stops short as she finds Connor studying the row of pictures in one of the shelves of the bookcase. She'd forgotten about them, mainly because it's been impossible to look at them without turning into a sobbing heap in the past two months. He's pulled one of them down from the shelf—the one of her in the middle of Digg, Barry, Oliver, Roy, and Tommy that was taken at their holiday get-together just before Oliver left. She remembers too much wine and loudly demanding photos, but it had turned out well.

"Those are my boys," Felicity tells him, and Connor jumps as though he's been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Fortunately, though, he doesn't drop the picture. Ignoring Saphira as she curiously sniffs the air, Felicity moves to stand behind him, pointing to each person in the photo in turn. "You'll meet most of them later. You already know that's Barry—he's my best friend. We grew up together. And that's Roy—he grew up with us, too. That's John Diggle in the back—he's like the brother I never had. We usually call him Diggle or Digg. This one is Tommy—he's practically family, too. He's been Oliver's best friend through all of time." She points to the last one with a shaking finger. "And this is Oliver."

Connor studies his father through the photo for a long moment. "Do you think I look like him?" he asks suddenly. She knows what he's searching for; he's trying to find some part of this man he never knew to latch onto, to discover within himself as some sort of compensation for what he's lost.

Though she tries not to, Felicity laughs at that, causing Connor to turn and stare at her. Because the truth might scare him a little—that he's practically a mini-Oliver in so many ways—she settles on, "Your eyes are exactly the same. And a lot of the expressions you make are the same." She studies him for a moment, not sure what he thinks about that. "There's a lot of you that must be your mom, but there's a lot of Oliver in you, too."

He seems at a loss for words, but Felicity won't force him to dwell on that right now. Instead she pulls Saphira away from her chest. "This is Saphira. She's small and typically very nice." She places the little dog on the ground, who sniffs Connor with a wagging tail before licking his hand. Connor laughs at that, reaching down to pet her, obviously deciding that he likes her. He places the picture back on the shelf so that he can pet her with both hands, and for a moment, Felicity thinks she can do this.

Slowly his expression fades, though, and Felicity knows that look from Oliver. And it's not a good look—ever. "Felicity," he says slowly, and, God, he even draws out his name like Oliver used to. Then he points to the counter and her stomach drops at the little black velvet box on her bar. She'd forgotten about that in her hurry to get to Central City. "What's that?" Connor asks her with the level of innocence only a child can manage. Before she can devise an answer, he walks over to it, opening the box and failing to understand the significance of what he just opened. "You have pretty rings," he tells her in a polite voice as he closes the lid and places them back exactly as he found them. "You should wear them."

Felicity isn't ready to talk about this—and if she was, it wouldn't be with Connor. "Thank you," she answers quietly, biting the inside of her cheek to prevent the tears from falling. "But I don't think I'm ready to wear them just yet, Connor."

The look he throws her is far too understanding for an eight-year old, but he doesn't ask more. Instead, he points over to the Robin Hood poster over her wall, switching topics the way only a child can. "He kind of looks like the Arrow," he informs her with a level of innocence that actually hurts. Then he continues with a nod of his head and a very serious expression, "Mom thought the Arrow was scary, but he stops bad guys in Starling City. Like the Flash does in Central City." Something in his expression clicks, and then he checks the back of the card she gave him—the one in his pocket—and then reaches into his backpack for a binder.

At first she doesn't know what it holds, but as he goes through the newspaper clippings, Felicity makes a strangled sound. She knows those articles—she has them plastered all over one of the walls in the lair as a reminder of the good they do in the city. Finally he flips to the page he's looking for, and her stomach drops as she reads the title upside down: "Arrow Stops Drug Pusher, Saves Hostage."

Connor points a pudgy finger at the name of the hostage—not that Felicity needs to be reminded of that. "That's you," he decides, a curious look on his face. "The Arrow saved you from a bad guy." In that moment, she hears what he isn't saying, and damn it if Connor hasn't gotten that from his father, too. Oliver always could say a whole hell of a lot with just a few words. "He always puts them in jail," he adds for good measure, "but not this time." He steps forward, toward her. "Do you know the Arrow?" he finally asks her, though the question has been in the subtext the entire time.

She swore she wasn't going to lie to the kid, and she's not going to start now. But she also doesn't want to tell him that one of his heroes is dead. She might be in misery, but that doesn't make her cruel. "That's a complicated question," she answers finally. Then she studies him for a long moment. "I bet you have secrets—things that you don't want to tell me right now. We barely know each other. I have secrets, too, and some of them hurt." She points to the police sketch that accompanies the article. "This one hurts." He nods in a way too understanding for an eight-year-old, but at the moment she's glad of it.

Then he tucks the binder back in his backpack and changes the subject with a wide, toothy smile devoid of two front teeth. "I like your dog."

 


 

It's the middle of the day when the doorbell rings, and Felicity can say she's had the night from Hell as she goes to answer it. Even now, she has a sleeping eight-year-old over her hip, heavy and awkward but finally settled. It was after six when he finally settled in enough to fall asleep, and then it was eight when he shook her awake. He'd been teary-eyed, having nightmares about his mother's car accident. He couldn't sleep, so they watched one of her many cartoon collections until he had crawled over on her lap, only to fall asleep there.

She'd gone into a peaceful sleep just a few moments later, waking up with a pain in her hip and her collarbone. And, because she needed to tell the team about their newest development, she'd called a team meeting. They might not be the same team they were, but they deserve to know about this. Digg would be furious if she didn't tell him, and Laurel deserves to know about this, because, at the time, she was the one mourning Oliver's departure from her life—while another woman was having his child.

She's two steps from the door when she remembers that damn ring box like a weight on her counter. With a frustrated huff, she grabs it, sticking it behind the picture of her and Oliver in the foundry. It's a ridiculous picture that Roy snapped candidly one night, with Felicity in her chair in front of her computers and Oliver standing behind her, looking down at her as she looks up at him. She can't help but smile even now as she looks at it—they look like they're in their own little world, and that look of pure adoration on Oliver's face makes her heart hurt in the most wonderful way possible, even now. It hits her like a new wave: she loves him, she will always love him, and he's gone.

And he's not coming back.

Because it's not the time or the place, Felicity instead moves to the door, finding herself face-to-face with John Diggle. There's a cut over his forehead that wasn't stitched properly, but he's in one piece, staring at the sleeping kid over her hip with a question in his eyes. "Come in," she says quietly, motioning to the couch. "Try not to wake him, though—it's been a rough night."

He files in, and slowly Roy, Tommy, and Laurel file in behind him. Laurel is the only one who stops to look at Connor's face. "He's a cutie," she says in a warm tone, not asking any questions. Laurel is the only one who typically doesn't, and Felicity has never been more grateful for that than now.

"You may change your mind about that in a minute," Felicity warns her honestly. God knows that it's going to make all the pain from Oliver's infidelity in that relationship so much worse. Before Laurel can ask, the blonde settles back into one of the armchairs, watching as Saphira curls herself at her feet. She hasn't left Connor since they met, and Felicity wonders if the little dog knows just how special the boy is.

"What's with the kid, Smoaky?" Tommy is the first to ask, motioning toward the person in question. "I didn't think you liked kids." He chuckles. "Did you decide that you wanted to raise more than a dog? Because I'm not sure the same rules apply."

She levels a look at him, and his smile fades almost immediately. "I got a call from Barry last night," Felicity starts slowly, wondering how the hell she's going to break this to him. "There was a car accident—drunk driver took out a car with a single mom." Several sets of eyes narrow, probably wondering what this has to do with them. "Her name was Sandra Hawke—she died instantaneously. Joe got the call, and the first thing he tried to do was find a place for her son, Connor, to go." She can't help but pull him further into her at the mention of the name. "There wasn't a father's name on the birth certificate and she didn't have any other living relatives, so he had Barry a DNA sample through the system to look into the father's side of the family. They got a match." Felicity stops because she can't do this anymore, but she doesn't really have a choice. Finally she chokes on the name: "Oliver."

The air leaves the room at once, and Laurel looks turns pale in a way that makes Felicity hurt. This isn't her favorite revelation, either, but at least she knows that Oliver would never have even thought of cheating on her. Laurel doesn't have that luxury. "You're sure?" she asks quietly. Tommy threads his fingers through hers almost immediately, in a show of solidarity that would make the blond smile in another life. Right now, she can't bring herself to force one out.

The laugh that leaves Felicity has no humor in it. "There's no question about it, Laurel," she assures her. "Barry ran the sample twice before he called me." She hesitates, staring down at the boy in her lap, at the way his hand has curled around the collar of her pajama top in sleep like he's clinging to a lifeline. "Not to mention that Connor looks just like him."

Diggle is the first one to accept it, studying the kid with a new kind of appraisal. "He looks a little like him," he agrees finally, "in the right light." His lips press together into a thin line. "He didn't talk to me about this, but he wouldn't have." His eyes flick up to Felicity. "But he would tell you. Did Oliver know he had a son?"

"He never did," the blonde says finally. "But I don't think he knew." Slowly she goes through the theory she's been working on all night—and most of the day. "I saw a picture of Sandra—we ran into her in Central City, and she and Oliver were…" She fishes for the right word. "Weird. He said something to her about not keeping in touch after their loss."

Shaking her head, Felicity continues, "He wouldn't say much about it, but I think he knew she had been pregnant, but I don't think he realized she gave birth to his child." She points to Diggle with her left hand. "Do you remember when I was going through Moira's trash when she ran for mayor?" He nods once, and she addresses the rest of the group. "That's when I found out she paid off the doctor that delivered Thea, and I connected the dots." Tommy just shakes his head sadly, but the group stays quiet. "I found something else suspicious," she continues. "There was a check written out for one million dollars cash—signed by Moira. It wouldn't have been long after Connor was conceived."

"I can't believe that Moira would—" Laurel starts, but Felicity doesn't let that thought continue.

"Would what?" Felicity cuts in, tired in so many new ways that she really doesn't care anymore. "Pay off a pregnant mother to protect Oliver from a scandal? Would make her tell him she lost the baby for that money?" She starts to cross her arms, but she can't with Connor there, so she settles on draping her arms around him. "Because I remember the woman who tried to pay me off when I confronted her about Thea, and who threatened my life when I told Oliver about it. God help me for saying this about a dead woman, but she was Maleficent with maternal instincts. And she absolutely would have paid off Sandra Hawke because Oliver was a drunken asshole through most of his pre-island years, and I honestly still haven't figured out how you put up with him for a long-term relationship. I would have taken one look at that and ran the other way—and nothing could have convinced me to stay for what he put you through."

Laurel looks kind of torn between emotions at that, but Tommy levels a look at her, the familiar Felicity-I-love-you-but-please-stop-talking look. She cringes—of all the times for her mouth to run away from her. "But that's not the point," she blurts a little loudly. "The point is that Connor has nowhere else to go and he's agreed to stay with me instead of being dropped into the system." She looks at Roy. "Like we were. He knows that Oliver is his dad, but that's all I've told him." Then she turns to Diggle as a previous thought occurs to her. "And he doesn't just look like Oliver in the right light—the resemblance is kind of surreal at times."

He stirs in her arms, and then suddenly two very blue eyes pull open as he stares at her. "Felicity?" he murmurs in a quiet tone.

"Hey, Connor," she answers, trying to muster some cheer in her own voice. She mostly fails, but he doesn't seem to care. They're both a little broken, but neither one really seems to mind. "I have some friends here who I think you'll want to meet." He rubs his eyes a little, blinking several times, and she adds, "If you feel like it. If you don't, we can always do it another time."

He sits up, staring at all of them in turn, eyes widening a little as he recognizes all of them from the photos on her bookshelf. Roy, on the other hand, doesn't wait for him to speak or adjust, turning to Felicity with a little concern across his face. "You sure you want to do this, Blondie?" he asks her, not seeming to care that Connor is right there. "Because you kind of suck with kids, and something tells me he's not going to be easy to handle."

Felicity opens her mouth to tear into him, but Connor is faster. "You're rude," he declares with narrowed eyes, fixing on Roy with an expression that Felicity definitely remembers. It's not Roy's first rodeo being hit with that one, either. "I don't think I like you," he decides after a moment.

Roy snorts, rolling his eyes with a long-suffering look before turning toward Laurel. "Now do you believe he's Oliver's kid?" he asks her around Tommy.

Trying to distract Connor from the statement, Felicity assures him, "Give him some time. Roy kind of grows on you. Like a fungus." It earns her a soft smile for her trouble—and an indignant huff from Roy—but she turns back to the rest of the group. "This is—" She attempts to point at each, but Connor apparently isn't interested in that.

He crawls out of her lap, going straight over to Digg, which Felicity thinks shows that the kid is an excellent judge of character. Saphira's head lifts from her paws as he does, swiveling to watch him. "You're Diggle," he decides after a moment. Then, as if it clarifies everything, he adds, "You're one of Felicity's boys." The corner of Diggle's mouth turns up after a moment as his eyes flick over to her, and Connor suddenly looks a little self-conscious.

Then he goes over to the bookshelf, looking at the picture and asking her for permission. Felicity nods once. He takes off the shelf, bringing it back to John with a satisfied look. "That's what Felicity said," he adds for good measure. "She said these are her boys."

"I think that's probably true," Diggle agrees after a moment. "She's good at getting us out of trouble and keeping us that way." It's meant to be a compliment, Felicity knows, but it feels like he's just twisted the knife in her chest. Usually, she does keep her boys safe in the field, but right now she is feeling the loss of the one she couldn't keep out of trouble. But Diggle turns back to her before saying conspiratorially to Connor, "And she'll be good at keeping you out of trouble, too."

Connor thinks about that for a moment, looking understandably skeptical. "Felicity is nice and she has good cartoons," he allows after a moment. Probably not the best glowing recommendation Felicity has ever received, but it's only been a few hours since they met, so she takes it for a win.

Tommy groans at that statement. "You've been mothering me for the past two years, and now that you have an actual kid, you're not going to take advantage of that?" he asks her with a playful grin, trying to ease the tension out of the room.

She rolls her eyes. "Connor doesn't need me to lead him by the hand, Merlyn," she retorts. "I can't say the same for you." Felicity tilts her head to the side with part of a smile. Tommy is generally the only one to make her smile these days; she's not generally as quick with a grin anymore. "Every once in a while, you need someone to tell you when you're being an idiot, and Laurel is too nice to point it out to you."

Connor stares back and forth between them, watching them go back and forth as if he's watching a tennis match. Then he decides to study Tommy with wide eyes, walking toward his place on the couch. Felicity can see the moment it dawns on the quick-witted billionaire, when he realizes that this is definitely Oliver's son standing in front of him.

Oblivious to the sudden wave of emotions that falls over Tommy's face, Connor says slowly, "You're one of her boys, too. Your name is Tommy, and you're Oliver's best friend."

The sadness washes over Merlyn so fast that Felicity feels sorry for him. Sometimes she thinks he's taken Oliver's departure from their lives harder than she has. "Actually," she calls to Connor slowly, "he belongs to Laurel first. She's his girlfriend. I just keep him out of trouble."

A very long-term girlfriend, and now more than ever, Felicity makes a mental note to tell Tommy to pull his head out of his ass and just propose already. Tommy and Laurel were a thing long before Felicity and Oliver ever took that leap, and they're completely ready for more serious commitment. Not to mention that, with Laurel's work as the Black Canary, she doesn't want Tommy to be in the same situation Felicity finds herself in now: in possession of a ring box and a future that will never come.

Because, while it would have hurt to lose Oliver as her husband, at least there wouldn't be any unfinished business hanging in the air.

The statement draws Connor's attention to Laurel, studying her for a long moment, before his eyes go to her hands. "You wear pretty rings, too," he notes aloud, and Felicity gets the feeling that a shoe is about to drop. It does. "Felicity has rings, but she doesn't wear them. They have bigger stones and she keeps them in a box."

The blonde can practically feel the color drain out of her face at the casual statement, and it reminds her that they need to have a conversation about boundaries very soon. Diggle is the only one who seems to understand, and he keeps his expression neutral. Felicity kind of loves him for that, for knowing that this is so not something she wants to talk about—definitely not now, and she thinks 'never' seems like a good time to discuss this.

"Maybe we should all get lunch or something," the blonde suggests suddenly, hoping to change the subject, "so you can all get to know one another." She catches the look on Connor's face, so she adds, "I mean sometime next weekend. We've been through a lot in the last few hours." God knows he has a lot to adjust to, and she's not going to overwhelm him right now. "I just wanted you to meet each other."

Diggle takes the hint, as always, rising from his seat. "I should probably go home—Lyla is going to be in the field for a few days, and I'm spending the day with Hope." The mention of his daughter's name pulls a smile to his lips. "It was nice meeting you, Connor." When Felicity rises to show him to the door, he stops to put a hand on her upper arm. "If you need anything—"

"You're only a phone call away," she finishes for him. "I know, John. Thank you."

 


 

He's been with her all of two weeks when the first unavoidable crisis pops up. Since Connor moved in, she doesn't have the luxury of spending her nights and early mornings in the lair while leaving him at home, and she remembers Oliver's reaction to Diggle dragging his daughter down there. It may be silly—Oliver has been gone for two and a half months now—but she doesn't want to break his rules. It's her way of holding onto him, however she can, and she can't let go.

That Danny Brickwell has been causing trouble in the Glades again isn't even a surprise. Ever since the police pulled out of the Glades last week, it's been all of Team Arrow's hands on deck to restore what they can of the situation. Thus far, they've been making gradual steps in the right direction, but when she has to put over a hundred stitches in Roy's leg in her living room one night, she knows she can't avoid it any longer.

Tommy might be doing an amazing job on comms, but the team needs her to navigate satellites from her Cobalt-encrypted computers, not the high-powered laptop that just doesn't compare to the setup in the lair. But Felicity's breaking point comes when Sara—arguably the best fighter among them—takes a bullet to the shoulder that could have been prevented if someone had been watching the satellite feed.

And that's when she understands. They're already doing this with a hole in the team—one shaped suspiciously like a green-hooded archer. Even though she has added other responsibilities by taking on Connor, her team needs her. Which is why, when Roy calls her that Friday night (against protests from practically everyone in the background), she assures him she's coming in. After assuring all of them in turn that she won't change her mind and that she can get to Verdant safely, Felicity quietly grabs her purse and keys, pulls on her coat, and knocks on the door to the guest bedroom that Connor is occupying.

"Hey," she calls to him in a soft tone. He's already sitting up, rubbing at his eyes as if trying to focus. "I'm sorry to wake you, but I have to do something right now." He looks at her blankly, his face falling. Felicity realizes he thinks she's going to leave him. "I'm not leaving you here alone at night," she adds, "so you'll have to come with me. But you can sleep when we get there. Get dressed—I'll wait for you by the door."

"Where are we going?" he asks her, scrambling out of bed and toward the dresser as she closes the door for him. Suddenly he seems wide awake, and Felicity doesn't blame him. The excitement, however, concerns her; he shouldn't be this eager to run somewhere in the middle of the night—especially not to the Glades.

She's not quite sure how to answer that question, so she offers one of her own instead. "Remember how I said I had secrets?" she reminds him, not really needing an answer. "I'm going to show you one tonight. My friends need my help with their…" She trails off, not sure what to call it. "Night job."

Connor opens the door then, staring at her with wide eyes as she points to him. "But you have to promise not to tell anyone about it. Because, if you do, a lot of bad things will happen to them, okay?" He nods once, slowly and firmly. Only then does she usher him forward. "Come on. We're going into a bad part of town, so I need you to stay with me."

They make it down to her car without incident, and she fastens his seatbelt before taking off into the Glades. Connor stares out the window with a growing frown, and Felicity regrets exposing him to this so young. Childhood is supposed to be happy, but she figures his was turned upside-down before she walked into his life.

"They need the Arrow," he declares after a long moment. "This was better when the Arrow protected it." He looks at her. "He hasn't helped the city this year. Arsenal and the two Canaries are cool, but it's not the same without the Arrow." She blinks twice at the casual mention of two Canaries; not even the police know about that—with the exception of one Quentin Lance. Apparently he's been paying attention.

"I know," Felicity answers quietly. And does she ever. "And it's harder now—the police stopped helping people here, so there's nothing but crime." Still, it's worse than it was two weeks ago, back when she was sitting at her computers in the lair every night. She swallows. "It was better then, too. But now there are just three people trying to keep this part of the town safe. That's not enough to stop this much crime."

When they finally pull into the half-trashed Verdant lot, she parks as close to the building as she can. "Don't open your door until I'm on the other side of the car," she warns him, and he does as she asks. He even slips his hand into hers as they walk into the deserted club, and she's never been more thankful for it. Somehow, it gives her the strength to go back down.

Once the door is locked behind them, Felicity turns to him. "You asked me if I knew the Arrow," she starts, working up to what she knows is going to be her hardest admission. Of course Connor's eyes latch onto her, staring through Felicity with an uncanny level of perception. "I did," she affirms for him as she starts entering the keycode for the lair. "I'd like to think I knew him better than anyone."

She sighs as the boy listens, still holding onto her hand like a lifeline. "I didn't want to tell you because I didn't want to believe it, but he died, Connor. His sister was in trouble, and he did what he had to do to save her. He knew that he probably wasn't going to come back, but he didn't care because someone he loved was in danger. She'll probably never understand how much he sacrificed for her."

Felicity isn't sure if the sound that leaves her mouth is a sob or a laugh. "He didn't like being called a hero, but he was. He wasn't perfect. He made mistakes. He did horrible things—and he hated himself for them. But every choice he made after he returned to Starling was for the good of this city." She takes a breath, fighting back tears. "And it wasn't kind to him. They called him a monster, a murderer, a criminal, but still he went out every night to fight for it. And he never came back without an injury. Sometimes he could hardly walk, but he still came back here every night. We've nearly lost him so many times down here that I lost count. No matter how long it took him to recover, though, he always came back to put on the hood because he couldn't stand the thought of living in this city for one minute without trying to fix it."

The door flies open when she twists the knob. "But he's gone now, and we're all that's left."

Releasing his hand, Felicity charges down the stairs, suddenly feeling like she's in her element. This is her place, this is where everything makes sense—except for the green suit to her left that's been in its case for the last two and a half months. Sara is sitting on the gurney with a piece of suture, weaving it back and forth through the hole in her shoulder. Diggle leans against her desk with his head bowed, looking more weary than ever. It takes her a minute to find Roy, but then she sees him studying the wound in Laurel's arm, tongue sticking out from between his teeth in concentration. Tommy's eyes follow the scene from his place in Felicity's chair.

They all look up when she walks in, Connor following on her heels even as he stares at the green suit on display. Finally his eyes go to the team, accepting what he sees with just the barest hint of surprise. If they're surprised by Connor's presence, no one says a word. "Tell me where we're at," Felicity starts, surveying the scene. "And Merlyn, get out of my chair. I have work to do."

Tommy does as he asks with a smile on his face, stopping to kiss her cheek. "Glad to have you back, Smoaky," he says with a breath of relief. "I don't know how you deal with these guys yelling 'sit rep' in your ear every five minutes." He looks a little weary, too, if the circles under his eyes are anything to go by. "I'm not even sure I know what the hell a 'sit rep' is."

"Situation report," Felicity clarifies. "It means you're supposed to tell them where the rest of the team is—and any other GPS locators." She pats his shoulder. "And it's good to be back." She turns on her heel to face the other blonde in the room. "I'm glad you made it back to town, Sara—we miss you around here. How is Nyssa?"

The briefest moment of hesitation passes through her features, and then Felicity is gathered in the biggest hug she's ever received from a kickass, blonde vigilante. Her arms go around the other woman immediately in response. "Nyssa and I did everything we could, Felicity," she whispers to her. "But he confessed to it and Ra's wanted to make an example. I'm sorry it wasn't enough."

Felicity pulls away, staring at the other woman. "This wasn't your fault, Sara," she assures her. "I know the island gave you both some sort of mystical superpower for blaming yourself, but this mess isn't yours to apologize for. Malcolm did this to our team." She blows out a frustrated huff that's only partially for effect. "I kind of wish he was alive so I could max out his credit cards, trash his credit, and insult the local Bratva in his name." She waves a hand. "I know he doesn't use credit cards, but it's the principle of the thing."

Sara actually laughs, and Felicity has the feeling she doesn't do that often enough. It's a win. Then she leans around the IT expert to study Connor, who is staring at her with wide eyes and a look of pure awe. "Who's your shadow?" she asks with a smile, and, while her question is directed at Felicity, she seems to want Connor to answer.

For a moment, Felicity thinks he might be incapable of answering, but then he finally blurts, "You're one of the Canaries." He looks like, well, Felicity would say a kid in a candy store, but maybe more like a kid in a lair of the city's best heroes. "Will you sign my book?"

Sara, on the other hand, looks completely overwhelmed by the turn of events. Felicity understands; the assassin doesn't see herself as a hero, even though the rest of the city does. Determined to help her friend out, she only offers, "This is Connor." When the name means nothing, she releases a long-suffering sigh. "Can't you at least check your messages when you're gallivanting across the globe with your assassin girlfriend?" she demands. "He's Oliver's son. He's been with me for the past two weeks." Then she motions from Connor to Sara. "This is my friend. Most of the city knows her as the Black Canary, but to us, she's just Sara."

The blonde assassin offers him a timid smile, and Felicity thinks it's interesting how Sara—big, bad, kick-your-ass-with-a-stick Sara—always gets tongue-tied around children. "Ollie could have used this in his life." She turns to Felicity knowingly. "Someone who doesn't immediately see the worst in us."

Perceptive eight-year-old that he is, Connor picks right up on it. "You knew my dad," he decides, and there isn't a question in his tone. He's confident and assured, and the confirmation of his statement would really just be a formality. Felicity has seen this time and time again over the last few weeks; when Connor decides something, there isn't a force in the world powerful enough to make him doubt himself.

Though she didn't think it was possible, she's finally met someone more stubborn than Oliver.

Deciding that there's no reason to shelter him from the truth. Connor Hawke has faced much more challenging trials without breaking. "Oliver is the one who started this team," Felicity tells him quietly. "None of us would be here if he hadn't been a part of our lives." Biting her lip to keep the tears back again, she continues, "He and Sara kept each other alive in a nightmare for a year. He saved John's life." She laughs at the memory that assaults her. "He broke into my office to fix a computer and made the mistake of sitting in my chair. Then he brought a court case to Laurel and saved Tommy's dad from being poisoned.

Though it might kill her, she needs to. With measured steps, she walks over to the glass case holding that green suit and presses her hand against it. And then she longs to see him in it again, but some things can never happen again. "And this was his." She fights back the words at the tip of her tongue, the ones that mean so much and are never quite enough—because they have to be past tense now, and that's completely unacceptable. Still, she says them in her head.

And he was mine.

Save

Chapter Text

 


 

John Diggle likes to think of himself as a patient man, but he also thinks Oliver Queen is trying to test that seemingly infinite pool of patience. For eight months now, he's been hired as the man's bodyguard, and for eight months, Queen has been slipping his leash, each way more creative and cunning than the last. The first time, he jumped out of a damn car, but it's been followed by trips to the bathroom that he's never returned from, slipping into crowds so well Diggle wonders if he had been trained by ARGUS, and—in one particularly memorable incident—getting into the car and driving away without anyone who accompanied him.

But the last straw was when Queen got the slip on him by choking him into unconsciousness—a particularly impressive feat in itself.

It's clear that Queen isn't interested in having a bodyguard, but John Diggle will be damned if he lets a partying billionaire put a blemish on his spotless protection record. So he resorts to more subtle methods of protecting Queen. Slipping a GPS tracker into his brown leather jacket and his multiple suit jackets had been easy enough, with Queen none the wiser.

The first time tracking him, Diggle had found the location odd; a shack in the middle of the Glades seemed like a place for a crack addict, not a billionaire. But after two months of this nonsense, he's accustomed to following Queen into the heart of the Glades to Ocean Avenue with regularity. Sometimes it's only twice a week, but most of the time, it's at least four.

When Diggle saw the petite blonde open the door that first time, he'd figured it as just another of Oliver Queen's revolving door of women. He'd told his mother earlier that same day that he was ditching his bodyguard to meet a woman, so he'd thought nothing of it originally. But then Queen kept coming back, sometimes with a computer that he'd hand to her.

This time it's earlier than usual when Queen's motorcycle pulls in at Ocean Avenue, an hour of the morning that Diggle wouldn't expect to find the billionaire awake. The blonde is already at the door with a handbag draped over her shoulder, turning around to call to someone in the house before bounding down the steps, simultaneously pushing her glasses up on her nose. The boy she must have been speaking to appears in the doorway, clearly several years her junior and wearing a red hoodie.

Queen hops off the motorcycle long enough for her to stash her bag in the storage compartment and to offer her a helmet from the compartment. She takes it, and Queen's hands fix over hers in an attempt to help her center it. She situates herself behind him after he climbs back on, her movements a little slower with what Diggle can only assume is unfamiliarity. Her hands—with turquoise nail polish, Digg notes—grip the Queen scion's waist, but he places his hands over hers, pulling her forward by locking her hands together around his middle.

Without any warning, he peels away from the curb, flying down the residential street like a bat out of Hell. Sighing, Digg starts the car, pulling up the GPS locator app on his phone. The boy is long gone, especially with the heavy morning traffic. Fortunately, though, Diggle manages to find a shortcut in Oliver's path, pulling across from Queen's location long enough to watch him drop the girl at an ancient building advertising computer repairs with a flickering neon sign.

Her hand lingers on Queen's bicep as she presumably says her goodbyes, turning toward the building with an awkward wave and a swing of her blonde ponytail. Queen, on the other hand, lingers for a moment, staring after her. Though Diggle can't see his expression because of the helmet, he thinks that the boy seems a little longing.

After Queen has already picked up the girl after her shift from work, Diggle decides it's time for a side venture. He walks into the repair shop with a smile, leaning over the counter to talk to the boy running the desk, probably not yet out of high school. "Hey, you guys put in a new hard drive for me a few weeks ago," he lies with a smile and a lightness to his voice he doesn't feel. "My buddy has having some trouble, and I wanted to tell him the name of the tech that fixed it for me—send some business your way, you know." He shrugs, offering a self-deprecating smile. "The only thing is, I can't remember her name—she was blonde, wore glasses?" He lets himself trail off into a question.

"Oh, that's Felicity," he answers immediately, "and I know she appreciates the referrals—the techs are paid a commission." He smiles, looking about as enamored with the girl as Queen had earlier, then hands Diggle a business card for the shop, writing the name on the back of it in a haphazard print: Felicity Smoak. Then he bites his lip. "She doesn't like us handing around her name, though."

Diggle throws his best smile. "I didn't stop by, then," he agrees easily. "Thank you so much—you've been a big help."

 


 

"I should take him some cookies," Felicity declares out of nowhere one Saturday morning, her tone surprisingly cheerful as she shoves a spoonful of mint chocolate chip ice cream into her mouth. Oliver thought her moods were limited to dark and brooding that first night, but over the course of the past two months, he's learned that she's rarely either of those things when she's not wearing her vigilante gear. Some days, she makes it easy to forget that he's watched her slice limbs from some of her victims, but other days, he's reminded quite clearly of it. "I wonder what he'd do if I walked up and introduced myself."

In the past two months he's known Felicity, she's been prone to jumping trains of thought without warning, and he's used to having her clarify. Still his eyebrows knit together in confusion; this is different, even for her. "Who are you talking about?" he asks, turning away from the building plans laid out in front of him, hoping he can convince her to work with him again. They've worked together a few times, but she seems perfectly content to pick her own targets and being some unlikely mix of friends and consultants.

"Your tail," she replies simply, throwing her head toward the window in a way that makes it look like she's rolling her neck. "I spotted him last week when my car broke down and you took me to work." She lifts a shoulder, as though this happens to both of them every day. "At first I thought he was on me, but I've only seen him when you're around."

Knowing it would be suspicious for him to look in the direction he pointed, Oliver asks, "What does he look like? Do you know him?" His eyes flick in the direction without tilting his head away from the blueprints, but all he can make out is a late-model Ford sedan—one that looks like every other car in the Glades.

Felicity's description is cold and impersonal, completely professional. "Mid-thirties, African-American," she says immediately, as though she's giving a police description. "Brown eyes, short-cropped black hair, arms twice the size of yours. Definitely ex-military." She pauses for a minute before adding as an afterthought, "Oh, and he wears really nice suits. Not as nice as yours, of course, but he didn't buy them from a K-Mart."

It causes him to sigh deeply. "That would be my bodyguard, John Diggle," he answers with a frown. "It sounds like he's upset that I keep disappearing on him." Though he admires the man's work ethic, he's less than pleased about the idea of having a babysitter follow him wherever he goes. "My mother thought that, after those men tried to attack Tommy and I, some extra protection was necessary." He doesn't state that it wasn't, but Felicity knows that better than anyone.

For some reason, it causes Felicity to break into a smile. "That is so cute—you have a babysitter," she teases. He doesn't find the humor in it, but a smile from her is rare, so he'll take one whenever he can get one. "I'm so glad you have someone to protect you from the bogeyman in your closet—especially because you're so defenseless." His frown deepens, and she chokes back part of a laugh. Admittedly, he can see the humor in the situation, since he could probably take the man down himself (and has before), but he doesn't want to encourage her. Even if her laughter is rare and infectious.

Throwing her a less-than-amused expression over his shoulder, he turns back to the blueprints. "The museum—" he starts, but she cuts through his sentence as though he wasn't speaking. It should frustrate him, but, truthfully, Oliver isn't used to people ignoring his attempts to change the subject and he finds it amusing.

"We can talk about that in a minute," she assures him, "but your shadow out there is of more importance." Her expression is all business now, not teasing any longer. "Last week, he showed up at my job just minutes after we did—and he didn't weave in and out of traffic like you did." Something about her expression is thoughtful. "He couldn't have done that in his little Ford." With no warning, she rises from the sofa, and Oliver watches her march toward the coat rack in the corner.

Instead of grabbing her own, she reaches for his gray zipup hoodie, pulling it on. The sight of her before him is absurd, even before that: her t-shirt with a green alien holding a pig that reads, "Tell me a story about giant pigs." It's nearly unnoticeable now under his hoodie, but her pajama pants—pigs in scarves and glasses—are colorful and stand out across the room. For the first time, though, he notices her feet are bare.

Without permission, she starts patting the pockets, feeling of the lining. Finally, she holds up a small, black disc in triumph, biting her lip as though she's trying not to laugh. "It looks like you're being stalked by your bodyguard," she says in a strangled voice. Then she holds up her hands. "That was the last one, I swear—I couldn't resist." Then she tilts her head to the side. "Does it ever occur to you how ridiculous your life is?" Finally she sobers. "Maybe you should leave it so he doesn't suspect anything."

Because he spends most of his time with Deathstroke (who likes to wear pig pajamas, apparently), his bodyguard slipped a GPS tracker on him, and wears a green hood at night, Oliver can honestly say he's given the absurdity of his life some thought. But that isn't important right now, not with a jewel thief on the loose. "It occurs to me," he starts pointedly, "that there's a jewel thief loose in this city who likes to use bomb collars, Felicity." She rolls her eyes and grumbles something under her breath about a one-track mind, but leans over the back of the couch to stare at the blueprint. "The museum has skylights and access tunnels that he could easily reach from the garage, where security is a lot easier to bypass," he tells her, pointing to each one. "One of these is how the Dodger got in. Then he would go to the museum floor, where the ruby was on display in here."

"If he decided to actually bypass security," she counters. When he turns to look at her in question, it's to find Felicity hopping over the back of the couch. She drops next to him so close that she's nearly in his lap, picking up another spoonful of ice cream and shoving it into her mouth. Her foot brushes against his leg, and, when he looks down, Oliver notices for the first time that her toes are painted the same color as her fingernails—except for her first toe, which is a sunny yellow smiley face. He shouldn't find that alluring or charming, but he finds himself fighting a smile.

"But you're thinking like a vigilante, Oliver—not a thief," she continues, and it takes him a moment to remember the thread of their conversation. Felicity pulls the spoon out of her mouth, leaning toward the coffee table and using the spoon to point to another doorway. "Thieves don't typically force their way in—even when they put bomb collars around people's necks. They sneak. It would be easy enough for him to fake a credential and slip past a guard with no one the wiser."

Abruptly, she turns back to Oliver, her face only inches from his. The phrase flirting with danger comes to mind; he could easily kiss her again if he wanted to—and he very much does. She's silent for a moment as if she doesn't notice, and her voice is slightly breathless when she continues, "But that doesn't matter." For a moment, he thinks Felicity is going to be the one to close the gap, but she rushes on an octave higher than normal, "You're not going to find the Dodger by his entrance strategy. It's more about the bait. You should find out what he goes after—what makes him tick. Then you won't have to go after him—he can come to you." She shrugs. "There has to be a veritable treasure trove in the Queen family vault. You could use something from it to trap him."

Oliver frowns when he hears the way she uses you instead of we. "You're sitting this one out, then?" he asks, and he can't say he isn't disappointed. Felicity is one of the few people in his life keeping him sane, and, though he's loath to admit it, he's barely slept since the night she let him into her bed.

Nodding, Felicity answers, "The Bratva is gearing up for something, and they've ordered several shipments of guns from my old bosses. I think I need to remind them that Starling City is off-limits." She sinks back against the couch as she looks at him. "But when you make your move for this guy, let me know and I'll try to back you up. I'd hate for this guy to run off with your family jewels." Oliver can't stop his eyebrows from rising at that one, and she cringes. "I was referring to actual jewels in the Queen family vault," she rushes to say, "not making a reference to your—" She breaks off, motioning to the area in question again before cringing again. "Making innuendos worse is my superpower, apparently."

He decides it's better to ignore it this once, for the sake of his own sanity. "I'll call you," he assures her, finding the thread of the conversation again. With one final indulgence, he presses his lips to her temple again before rising to his feet and gathering the blueprints. "And let me know if I can be of any use on your Bratva mission." Though he knows she doesn't need him, Oliver also knows that sometimes it's better with two.

"Roger that," Felicity answers with cheer and a smile. "You'll be my first call." She licks her bottom lip then, hesitating for a moment as the smile vanishes without warning. "Oliver, you know you can always stay with me whenever you want, right?" she asks, as though she can read his mind. If it were anyone else, it would be unnerving, but Oliver has since come to terms with the fact that Felicity has the uncanny ability to understand him. "Just like after Tommy found out, I mean," she clarifies, alluding to the fact that he's welcome in her bed anytime. She confirms it with a quiet continuation of the thought, biting her lip hesitantly. "With me," she repeats with emphasis. Then she rises to her feet, pacing for a moment before uttering the next quiet thought. "I get lonely sometimes, too—the dark kind of lonely that eats away at me at night, the kind that most people don't understand. But I think you know what I mean."

He does, all too well. Oliver stops her mid-pace, pulling her into his arms before he realizes that they don't do this. In truth, he surprises himself; it's been a long time since he's wanted to initiate contact with anyone, but Felicity is always the exception. Sometimes when she does this—when her mood changes this abruptly—he realizes that the tough exterior protects something far softer on the inside. Most of the time she manages to make him think she's unbreakable, but every once in a while, he's reminded that she still has vulnerabilities, doubts, and fears. He's sure they share many of the same ones.

Though he fully expects her to recoil, Felicity wraps her arms around his waist as though her life depends upon it. After taking a moment to savor the feeling, Oliver assures her quietly, "That offer goes both ways, Felicity—you can always call me. It doesn't matter what time. I'll always answer, and, if you want me to, I'll always come over." With reluctance, he manages to pull away before adding hesitantly, "I'll see you tonight."

He manages to take several steps toward the door before Felicity calls, "Oh, you forgot your jacket." Oliver notices, however, that she makes no unzip it or take it off, just standing in front of the couch in the too-large hoodie.

He only winks at her. "It looks better on you, anyway," he replies before ducking out the door.

Save

Chapter Text

 


 

Watching Laurel stand in the corner makes it a little weird, sure, but Felicity tries to keep things going as best she can. After all, Laurel or no Laurel, they still have to catch Helena. Still, it's uncomfortable having to be on guard; she's never had to hide the supernatural aspect of their team to anyone who has access to the lair before. And, in her opinion, it makes it all the more confusing that Laurel knows about Sara and not the other two neck-biters on the team.

Felicity can only type across the screen, trying to pull up all of the information. "I've got feeds into the courthouse and the Anti-Vigilante Task Force, so I see and hear everything they do." She frowns, biting at her lip, but Oliver clears his throat and she remembers that he's bleeding. Not a good idea to tempt the hungry vampire in the room. "They're better protected this time, so I can't feed them fake surveillance—"

"That was you?" Laurel cuts in.

With an entire hostage situation depending on her, Felicity presses on. "—but I can warn you of what they're seeing." She pulls away from the computer, moving to the toolbox doubling as a freezer. "But, more importantly, is anyone hungry? If so, any preferences in type? We have a pretty good store of blood built up here."

Roy is already suiting up, pulling on the red leather jacket over his black t-shirt. "I'm good," he answers. "I haven't been out in the field since you went after that last Markov device." He shrugs. "It's about damn time you put me out there." Then he flexes his hands in the gloves, as though trying to get used to the sensation.

Felicity jumps several feet in the air when Sara says from beside her, "I could use a bite." Her tone is suggestive, and, though she's probably flattering herself, maybe just a bit flirty, too. When Felicity turns to the Canary, she's smiling, flashing her canines. In the black leather, she looks more supernatural than even Oliver. Maybe it's because she embraces her fate, enjoys being a little different from the rest of them.

"She meant a bag, Sara," Oliver's voice growls from behind them. It's a note of warning, that if-you-try-to-bite-Felicity-I-will-kill-you voice that she's gotten to know so well in the past eighteen months of working with him. And, to think, she used to believe that his you-have-failed-this-city voice was the darkest tone he had. But then three more vampires showed up in Starling City and she discovered he does not like to share. "That wasn't an invitation."

"Sara," Laurel gasps, sounding scandalized. "You actually… bite people?"

The blonde vampire only laughs. "Only one," she assures her sister. "Biting leaves a scent that only we can smell in the blood, and we don't really like to share. Sin is my donor." She turns toward Oliver. "And you're no fun, Ollie," she chastises, her tone as teasing as always. "I was just teasing—Felicity knows that." She shrugs. "And besides, you know I don't steal donors—it's bad form." She pats Felicity's shoulder as Laurel asks a question Felicity doesn't hear in the background. "Whatever you've got is fine." She throws a glance at Oliver. "I'm not as picky as some people." Taking the bag Felicity passes her, Sara moves over to the corner to drain it while speaking in hushed tones to her sister.

Maybe ten seconds pass before Felicity feels that familiar presence at her back, the one she's almost always aware of. "What about you, Oliver?" she murmurs, surprised when her voice comes out low and flirty. "What will you be having? And don't say nothing—I saw that bloodstain on your suit."

His hands drift down her sides to her waist in an almost intimate gesture, even if the touch itself is clinical and guarded. "How about B-negative?" he asks, his voice taking on an almost playful turn at the end. It's almost as if he's flirting back, as impossible as that seems.

Still, she plays along because who knows when the next opportunity will strike. A thrill rushes up her spine as he brushes her hair back from her neck. "Fresh out," she answers cheerfully. "That's a rare blood type, you know—only two percent of the world's population has B-negative blood. We don't take rare blood types around here, Oliver."

He hums against her neck, and Felicity immediately moves her hand to the top of the toolbox, bracing herself for the bite that will follow soon enough. "It's a good thing I have a source, then," he retorts, the words vibrating against her neck.

It's the last thing said before he licks along the line of her artery. Her grip on the toolbox tightens, and she arches her neck to allow him better access. At the same time, she spreads her legs apart slightly to brace against the feeling that will soon follow. Oliver's arms wrap around her middle for support, and she vaguely hears Laurel ask what's happening. Felicity starts to answer when fangs push into her throat, cutting her off in a startled cry.

The rest of her surroundings are lost as the haze of arousal sets in. Something about it is darker and heavier since he decided to take her from behind—and she's glad she didn't utter that sentence aloud for everyone to hear. It's all she can do to keep from moaning, clamping down on her lip. As soon as she does it, Oliver's thumb pulls it out of her mouth as he drinks from her.

It takes a moment, but finally his tongue darts into the punctures, sealing them methodically as always. When he releases her, Felicity's legs threaten to collapse, but Oliver holds her steady as he walks her over to her chair and deposits her into it. "You haven't eaten today," he accuses her with a weary sigh. Just by his tone, she knows to gear up for a fight.

Felicity rolls her eyes. "Oliver, I haven't exactly had the time," she points out. "We've been knee-deep in this hostage situation all day, and I didn't want to leave you without someone who could look up information at a moment's notice."

There it is, the sign she's been waiting for: he paces away from her for a slow few steps, but then he turns abruptly and points a finger toward her. "You promised me," he starts quietly, and Felicity knows he's building up to start shouting. "You promised me that when we agreed to this, you'd make your health a priority. That was the only reason I agreed to leave the blood bags for the other two." Something in his tone breaks, and she knows he's thinking about Christmas and Cyrus Gold. "The last thing I ever want to happen to you is a repeat of December. Or worse, what happened after Merlyn."

Finally, the dam bursts, and Felicity finds it interesting that Laurel flinches at the sound of his voice. "Your blood sugar has been low since we started this, Felicity! Skipping lunch is only going to make things worse! It was bad enough when just your potassium was low, but you're borderline anemic, too!"

Though she usually sees herself as a non-confrontational person, something about Oliver yelling at her brings out her inner fighter. Because she's not sure she can stand in heels, she kicks them off before standing. She wobbles as another dizzy spell hits her, and, despite his anger, he reaches out to steady her.

Felicity slaps his hands away when he tries to guide her back to the chair. Instead, she stands inches away from him, not allowing the height difference and the growly vampire vigilante to intimidate her. "My health hasn't been a priority, Oliver," she snaps. "I can't help it that your psycho ex-girlfriend decided to go after her father again by taking hostages. You've been out there all day trying to stop her, and I am not going to leave you without some sort of technical support while you're out there in the cold." She pokes him in the chest. "I told you before that if I have to choose between your well-being and mine, there's no choice to make."

Oliver opens his mouth to argue, but she isn't interested in hearing it. "And don't tell me that I'm being reckless. If our situations were reversed and I was the one out in the field, you would be right there behind me, no matter what." The fight seems to leave him at that, and Felicity knows they're both thinking about the Dollmaker fiasco. "You've already proven that."

Turning with a frustrated frown and a hand to his forehead, Oliver's attention goes to Diggle. Even in a state of absolute frustration, the vigilante hovers next to her, reaching out to place a hand on the small of her back. "Digg, could you get her something to eat?" he asks, his voice sounding like someone just drained the life out of him. All the while, his thumb rubs circles against her back in a comforting gesture. It's one of those questions that aren't really questions; they both know Diggle will do it without a second thought. "Please."

"I'll do it," another voice cuts in, and Felicity is surprised to find Laurel stepping forward. Everyone turns to her at once, the flurry of action in the lair stopping. The lawyer shifts her weight self-consciously, waving a hand at her side. "I'm the only one with nothing to do and you're going to need all the help out there you can get. I might as well make myself useful."

Before he can answer her statement, Felicity's world tilts sideways and she goes along with it. Oliver pulls her into his side before she can fall, and one of her hands automatically claws at his jacket. He marches her back toward the chair, even as she attempts to stay upright. After all, the blonde isn't quite sure she's won the fight yet.

Heaving a long-suffering sigh at her antics, Oliver assures her, "You've made your point." It's the closest she'll ever get to a you were right, so she takes it. Once he's assured she's in place—which is accompanied by an unnecessary amount of hovering—he drops his hand to her shoulder again. "Close your eyes—that will help." She does as he asks without much of a fight, and then something is pressed into her hand. A bottle of water.

Felicity didn't even know her own mouth was dry. How the hell did he?

As she drinks from the bottle, Oliver turns back to Laurel. "There's a small deli a few blocks away that will still be open," he suggests. Felicity opens her mouth to mention her nut allergy, but apparently it's not necessary. "Make sure there are no nuts—and no pork." Then he places a hand on Felicity's shoulder again, before checking the bite on her neck. Some things never change; he's paranoid about ensuring the seal on her neck is in place. "Don't do anything too strenuous," he insists, his voice turning gentle in a way that makes her smile. "I want you in one piece."

She actually opens her eyes for that one. "I could say the same to you."

Save

Chapter Text

Sometimes Oliver wishes the world was as simple as it once was, the way it was before the Gates appeared in the stories his father often told him. In those days, there had been no Contracted with extraordinary abilities, no passive mediums who could see through walls and impossibly long distances with senses he can't even begin to understand. In those days, the sky had been filled with real stars, not the artificial lights that Pandora had set up. In those days, Starling City hadn't been cut in half by Hell's Gate, the mysterious rift that no one had ever exited alive.

If the world was that simple, he would have never been stranded in the ironically named Heaven's Gate for five years.

And, whatever his path would have been without the Gates, Oliver is certain it wouldn't have involved his work for the Russians. But being Contracted leaves him with few options; they at least are able to hide his identity away from the star that fires every damn time he uses his abilities. Without them, he'd be found in an instant, pulled away from his family to become some sort of science experiment.

Still, it doesn't mean he likes the reality in front of him. Even as he enters the building, he has to rearrange his features out of a frown; after all, Contracted are emotionless and cold, while passive mediums are empty and lifeless. If anyone ever realized he was different, even the Russians would want to throw him into a makeshift laboratory and take him apart until they found what made him tick. And that can never be allowed to happen.

The first man Oliver sees in the lair he designed is large and obviously disgruntled, his massive arms crossed over his chest and perpetual frown on his face. It's clear that he's military—and also displeased with the idea of working with the Contracted. Oliver can't really blame him for that; he doesn't really like the Contracted himself.

Because he can't very well start asking questions—Contracted aren't curious—he lets the older man fill the silence. Sure enough, he does. "I'm John Diggle," he says sharply, arms crossed over his chest in a distancing manner, "and I'm the liaison for your team." He doesn't say anything else, and Oliver turns to the younger man not much older than his sister, dressed in a red hoodie.

And, of all things, he seems to have a cat in a carrier with him.

"Roy Harper," the kid says, his expression neutral in true Contracted fashion. "My job is intelligence gathering." His voice is a flat monotone that Oliver thinks he'll never get used to. He forgets sometimes that, because he's an atypical Contracted, the standard is emotionless, devoid speech and empty eyes. Maybe that's why he can empathize with the humans a little; there's something truly unnatural about the Contracted. Even if Oliver is supposed to be one.

"That's why the cat," Diggle adds unhelpfully. "The kid has some weird body-swap thing going on." His scowl deepens. "So, not only do I have to work with two Contracted, I also have to work with one of the world's most deranged ones." He looks at Oliver. "The Russians don't keep secrets well."

"Demonstrate," Oliver says to Roy, ignoring the other man.

He expects that the kid won't respond well to the command, but he responds in true Contracted fashion by doing what is asked of him. He opens the cat's cage, and then sits down on one of the benches. Suddenly he slumps, and then the cat leaps down from his lap, wandering over to sit in front of Oliver, watching expectantly with its tail flicking back and forth. He nods, convinced, and suddenly Roy awakens and the cat's tail puffs out violently in nervousness. "That's what I can do," the boy in the red hoodie answers, scooping up the cat. "I can monitor persons of interest."

"And your price?" Oliver asks. The Contract is… useful, he supposes, but that does nothing for the actual price. It's been his experience that sometimes the price outweighs the Contract.

Roy's answer is to dislocate his index finger, then to throw it back in place. He doesn't even flinch; it's as if, by doing it so often, he doesn't even feel it any longer. To Oliver, that might be the most disturbing part of working with a Contracted—well, a fellow Contracted, he reminds himself. Never mind the devoid emptiness that seems to fill them, they seem so devoted to fulfilling their payment that they don't even notice anything else. He's only ever met one who managed to seem human, but even Slade seemed completely other when fulfilling his payment. And despite the great power the Contract gave him, Oliver still thinks there's absolutely nothing worth the price he paid for it.

Sometimes Oliver thinks that it was the payment—and maybe the power—that drove Slade insane.

To say Oliver isn't pleased with the selection he'll have to work with is an understatement. The boy is little more than a child who decided to play superhero, and it’s obvious that the older man despises them both immensely. But he’s hired to do a job and he’s going to do it because some things are bigger than Oliver Queen. Like justice for his father’s murder—and for the five years spent in Heaven’s Gate that showed up in the North China Sea after the boat went down. It’s five years and several varieties of Hell that Oliver can’t get back, and, even though the desire for justice goes against all the rationality of being Contracted, he’s never been particularly good at being a Contracted, anyway.

He’s halfway to telling them both that he’s walking away from the Bratva—even after all he owes his Russian counterparts—when he sees her in the background, her hands falling over his state-of-the-art computer systems.

One glance should bore him—whatever part of him feels the attraction to a beautiful girl died in the Gate with Shado and his humanity—but instead it causes him to look more closely. Long, straight blonde hair hangs past her shoulders, and blue eyes stare off into the distance, unfocused and unseeing. He knows by the fact that they retain their coloration that she isn't truly blind, but he figures she’s close enough because her eyes are simply open—she isn't seeing. Still, a small smile plays at her lips when she runs her fingers over the keyboard, but sadness lingers in her eyes. Her other hand falls on the glass surface of the desk, and she closes her eyes. Only seconds later, a glowing, blue, ethereal Specter appears out of the glass casing that houses his suit. Oliver blinks twice because he’s never seen a passive medium smile like that before. In fact, he’s rarely seen a passive medium do anything except breathe and throw Specters around before.

“That’s Felicity Smoak,” the older man offers when he realizes the younger Contracted won't. “She’s the Doll assigned to our team.” He starts to say something else, but Oliver walks away, barely even focusing on the words, tuning them out the moment Diggle uses the word Doll. To Oliver, it’s a derogatory word, aimed at those given powers by the Gates beyond those of an average human. Like the Contracted, she can do something they don’t understand, and she has to give up a part of herself to do it. The Contracted have to perform a task, but she has to sacrifice part of her personality—a far higher price to pay for the task she can perform. But yet they're the ones the general public knows about, the ones that take the brunt of society's hatred toward the unknown.

But what they don't know is that something much worse lurks out there in the world: Contracted men and women like Oliver and the child they've thrown on his team.

Without warning, a blue, ethereal, shapeless wisp appears out of the glass of the desk, with clear spaces that resemble a face in a child's drawing. The aptly named Specter swivels, its ghost-like face meeting Oliver's eyes as the blonde turns to face him with wide, unseeing eyes. Her mouth is slightly agape in her surprise, and he marvels that she's a passive at all. She's too… alive for that. "You're Oliver Queen," she breathes, but there's fluctuation in her tone that resembles a human. It takes him so much by surprise that he finds his eyebrows furrowing, even as he tries to fight the display of emotion.

Further serving to fascinate him, her cheeks turn a delicate shade of pink in her following embarrassment. "Well," she continues, waving her hand in dismissal of her previous statement, "you probably already know that. It's just that I didn't expect Oliver Queen to be working with the Bratva—especially not as a Contracted. I mean, even before the whole Heaven's Gate incident, you're, you know, heir to a billion-dollar industry. That's not the kind of person who works for the Russian mob. Not that I'm not looking forward to working with you."

She winces, frowning suddenly. "God, not that I mean that I'm—" She stops abruptly as Oliver realizes he's smiling, his expression again changing without his permission. She bites her lip for a moment before sighing. "And I'm pretty sure you didn't come over here to listen to me babble. Which will end. In three, two, one." She closes her eyes, shakes her head, then smiles back at him, that Specter in the glass always on Oliver. "I'm Felicity. Nice to meet you, Oliver."

He studies the hand that has fallen back on the keyboard after all of her hand-waving, and as soon as he can think them, the words are out of his mouth: "Are you any good with computers?"

If she seems surprised by the inquiry, she doesn't show it. Instead, the smile on her face turns forced, and her eyes take on that sad set again. "I used to be," she answers slowly, her tone almost forlorn. "But then this"—she waves a hand in front of her face, and her eyes don't track the motion—"happened, and, well, no one wants to hire an IT girl with retinitis pigmentosa." She shrugs. "Sure, there's equipment I can use to compensate for my blindness, but it's expensive. I can't pay for it, and the companies don't want to. And my Specters can't relay the screens. Vibrating displays get distorted by the relay of information from my Specters to my brain."

Oliver thinks about it a moment, and he decides that maybe it would be worth it to have a cyber-intelligence network. Some of the Contracted they'll be going after will have a similar advantage in the field, and Oliver sees no reason to cripple himself against the enemy. Not when so much depends upon it. "If you make a list and I get what you need," he starts slowly, and her eyes light up, "can you start a network for us?"

Her eyes narrow, but her mouth turns up slowly into a smile. “You'll set up a computer network for me?” she asks, her voice suddenly high, and the smile on her face turns blinding. Before he even knows what’s happening, her arms are around his neck. It only lasts a few seconds—too fast for Oliver to react, even if he knew how—and then she’s pulling away, blushing furiously. “Sorry,” she mutters then. “It’s just…” She doesn't finish the statement, and her eyes look almost watery.

He decides it’s a good time to change the subject. He’s never been particularly good with emotional situations, even as a human. “How long would it take you to set up?” he asks finally. She hesitates a few moments, and he watches those eyes turn from emotional to calculating in a matter of seconds.

"Give me about five hours," she answers after a relatively short pause, "and I'll have every database you know about—and some you don't—ready to work its magic for me." She frowns. "Astronomics will take special work, though. I can't break the Messier numbers corresponding to the Contracted yet, but I haven't worked on it since my eyes finally stopped being useful." She smiles with sparkle in her eyes, and Oliver finds it interesting eyes that express so much see so little.

"You can hack Astronomics?" he asks, surprised. Since the rise of the Gates and the birth of Contracted and passive mediums, the now-starless sky is replaced with a monitoring system for Contracted. Every star in the sky has a Contracted counterpart, and the secrets is guarded closely by the UN’s organization devoted to studying the new phenomena, known to the locals as PANDORA. Oliver sometimes wonders which star in the artificial sky is his, and how they've named it.

"Maybe," is her answer. "But, either way, I have access to their reports—a mole for the Bratva has infiltrated the department, and I can tell you the corresponding Messier codes for most of the Contracted they know. Sometimes it's nothing, sometimes it's a full profile. But the fact is that I can use it to find any Contracted we'll ever encounter." She winks. "Including you, BK-201." He starts at the new information, and she waves a hand. "They don't know anything about it, really—it winked out about three years ago, and they're trying to find out why it reappeared. Guess it's because you're not dead."

A throat clears behind them, and Diggle steps forward, attempting to take command of the situation. "We have a target tonight," he states firmly. "His name is Dominic Alonzo, and he's wanted for the kidnapping of a research scientist named Walter Steele. Steele has intel on the Gate, and the Russians want it."

"Then they'll get it," Oliver answers sharply, moving toward the other side of the room for his gear. Doing this for the Bratva is the only way for him to get answers, and so he's going to do all he can to get them. Even if he has to sell what little is left of his soul to do it. The Bratva isn't known for their kindness, and Oliver isn't exactly merciful anymore, either. Not since he had to learn how to survive in the Gates as the only human among the three other Contracted. Not since he picked up his first knife, since he learned how to handle his inherited power. If the Bratva wants violence, wants carnage, Oliver is their man. “Roy, I want you to get over to Alonzo’s apartment—follow him. Diggle, keep an eye on the kid. Felicity, you’re coming with me to help keep watch on Alonzo’s men and their movements. I want Steele alive.”

While Diggle and Roy hesitate, Felicity immediately turns toward his voice. Her steps are slow and careful, with her fingers curled into a ball with some show of respect for his privacy while he dresses.

“I need you to be my eyes,” she says quietly, her words slow and methodical. “I can’t run after you at high speeds and keep my bearings—I've only been in Starling for a few days now, and I can barely get from the grocery store to my apartment without getting lost.” She crosses her arms, frowning uncertainly. “So, you be my eyes on the street, and I'll be yours when we get to our destination.” Then she bites her lip, fidgeting with one of the curls in her ponytail.

Oliver hesitates, not wanting to startle her, but ends up pulling her hand away from her hair, gripping it tight in his own. “Follow me,” is the only answer he gives before pulling her forward with him.

 


 

Felicity's world has been darkness for so long that she would easily forget the light if not for her Specters. In a way, they are her gift, her salvation. Without them, Felicity would be perfectly helpless. Now, she decides she has a marketable skill—one in high demand. And it's far better than sitting around listening to soap operas all damn day.

She's not going back to that life—no matter what.

Still, she's never so grateful for her Specters as when she drops down into the lair every night, into the darkness that renders what little is left of her vision useless. She doesn't have to use a cane to fight her horrible depth perception; she simply lets her hands and her brain see for her. One hand against a reflective surface, one finger in a glass of water, and suddenly her eyesight is returned to her. It's a poor substitute for the original, of course—almost like trying to fix her hair in a mirror, only it's every motion, every gesture. But it's far more than the pinpoint-sized tunnel vision that she’s only granted in the the sunlight. A Specter is far better than trying to live her life without any substitute at all.

And she's never so grateful for them as she is now. Though the lair has become her second home in the past few months working with Oliver, the darkness makes her completely dependent on the Specters. Still, she thinks it might be a fair trade; she likes the freedom that comes from being Oliver’s eyes, running and weaving through the streets and across the rooftops without an inkling of where she is. It’s a beautiful kind of being lost that reminds her how alive she is, despite what they say she should be. Despite the statement that Dolls like herself have no spark of life, Felicity has never felt so alive as she is now that she's a passive medium.

Her heightened senses, compensating for the loss of one, draw her attention to the rustle of fabric, and her hand falls on the glass desk of its own accord to see what it is. She darts quickly through locations for a sign of anything, and she finally receives a hit on the chrome of the table behind her. God bless reflective surfaces, she decides when she's immediately given a quite lovely look at Oliver's build—muscles, tattoos, scars, and all—as he pulls a black turtleneck over his head. His jeans hang low enough on his waist to make her mouth run dry, but even more ominous are the sheaths strapped to his thighs, holding two knives at his sides that she would not want pointed at her general direction.

His head tilts up to stare at her Specter, a well-concealed smile forming on his lips in amusement. Too late, she severs contact with it and her cheeks heat. It's easy for her to forget he's a Contracted, she decides; he moves and acts like a human most of the time. Clearly he's developed the charade well enough to fool his family, even seeming to adopt it even when he doesn't have to. He's a mystery, a very human-like Contracted in a very dull, structured world.

A hand falls on her shoulder, large and strong, but gentle when she has no doubt that those hands can be violent, too. Something presses against her shoulder—hard plastic, she guesses by the feel of it, and she realizes he has something in his hand.

Felicity expects him to say something about the Specter, but instead fingers trail up her shoulder to her neck, his thumb brushing her ear with just the right amount of hesitance so that she can predict his trail upward. He slips the device out of his hand, carefully dropping it over the curve of her ear. Her fingers go to it in curiosity, and they brush his as she feels the smooth plastic of the device. She can discern a single button on its outer face, a porous speaker on the inside face of one end.

"This will keep you in touch with me," Oliver explains before she can ask. "The hostage situation with the Dark Archer could be dangerous, and I want you to know if you should run. I think you have a wide variety of surfaces you can use Specters on—if I’m incapacitated, use them to get away." The part about the Specters sounds like a question, but that doesn't make any sense; if a Contracted wants information, he simply demands it. They don't feel the need to play by the complex rules of social interaction.

"Not that wide, when you think about it," she answers slowly. In the past few months, he hasn't asked her about any of this, and now she feels almost like a freak to talk about it. "My Specters travel through reflective surfaces—including but not limited to water, chrome, glass, and shiny metal surfaces." She shrugs. "So most vehicles, any standing water, windows, and most flashy rims on cars." He doesn't answer immediately, so she feels the need to add, "I don't have a huge radius I can see in, comparatively—about half of Starling City—but I can track your guy about as fast as he can move."

He still doesn't answer, and her hand automatically lands on the glass desk, sending up a Specter through it. She feels like a child peeking through her fingertips to see, and a low, gravelly sound comes from Oliver's throat. It takes her a moment to realize what it is, but then it dawns on her that he's laughing at her. Shaking his head with that soft almost-smile again, Felicity thinks he might be coming to a similar conclusion about her behavior. Part of her wants to question the human-like display of emotion, but she’s quickly learning that Oliver Queen is not the Contracted soul that was warned about by Diggle when they started this venture. "It's frustrating not being able to see you," she defends herself against the inquiry before it comes. “I have to use all I have, which is the Specter thing.”

He studies her a moment—her, not the Specter itself, which she appreciates—before finally saying slowly, “You’re different from other passives.” He hesitates. “The only ones I've ever known are…” He seems to flounder for a word, but she already knows what he means—she’s met some other Dolls, too. “Empty,” he finishes finally.

Felicity agrees, but she can’t give him answers she doesn't know herself. “Before everything happened,” she responds slowly, “I was alone. I only had my computers, and then that was taken from me when my eyesight finally fizzled out.” She looks away, thinking of very dark days alone in her apartment, listening to soap operas and reading books in Braille because the one thing she was passionate about was stolen from her. “I was already empty—there was nothing more to take from me.”

She terminates contact with the Specter before she can see his expression, and for once she’s grateful for her lack of vision. She doesn't want to see his blank expression—or worse, his pity. Even though those are human emotions she wouldn't worry about with Roy, she’s come to expect the more human interactions with Oliver. One day she'll solve the riddle that is Oliver Queen, but she'll wait until the opportune moment.

The next thing she feels is his hands taking her arm, and then something cold wraps around her left wrist. Her right hand goes to it immediately, and then she realizes it’s some sort of cold metal. She frowns for a moment, not able to understand the reasoning, and then it dawns on her: reflective metal. Curious, she lifts her hand away from the table’s surface, pressing the fingers of her right hand against it. Sure enough, she’s able to use the bracelet to send a Specter into the table’s glass.

She uses it to help her guide her gaze up to Oliver’s blank face, questioning him with her expression. “Hopefully this will help you get back, if something happens tonight,” he answers the unspoken question quietly. It takes her breath away—no one has ever been this thoughtful before. Not only did Oliver help get her a job at Queen Consolidated doing IT work (with the help of her new equipment, of course), but now he’s helping her manage a little better in ways she hadn't thought of before.

Before she can speak or thank him, he takes her hand, helping her up from her seat and pulling her toward the back entrance. She’s starting to learn this section of the city, and especially the basement under Verdant. Felicity manages not to stumble over the first step toward the exit this time, and she remembers their spacing now. "Thank you," she whispers quietly when they reach the top of the stairs. She has nothing to see with now, but she doesn't need it.

His answer is a promise for so many things, the weight of it clinging to his tone. "Always."

Chapter Text

The moment he walks upstairs to meet Tommy and Thea in the top level of Verdant, Oliver knows something has gone wrong. His sister is trying desperately to wipe tears from her eyes, Tommy holding her against him with all the understanding of an older brother. The two of them have gotten close in the last few months, and he thinks Tommy has accepted it better than him in some ways. He and Thea often struggle at times, but his best friend never wavers.

Though she's only been a part of their lives for the past few months, Thea doesn't strike Oliver as the type of woman to cry easily. Through it all, she somehow manages to keep herself pulled together, and, truthfully, it's that alone that made him believe her story the first time they met. She had been so much like their mother in that regard, so much that he couldn't deny their relation any longer. Though it brought him a sister, it also leaves him in a complicated place with his dead mother. She might have had secrets, but Oliver chose to believe that she didn't lie about the important things.

Apparently she did.

Pushing that increasing anger aside, Oliver focuses instead on his sister—the one he can never truly be there for because of the part of himself he locks away from both her and Tommy as the Arrow. "What happened?" he demands immediately.

Thea tries to choke out an answer, but she's crying too hard to manage anything. "It's Walter," Tommy answers for her instead, and the name of her adopted father makes Oliver's brow furrow. "Something happened at work and he's missing—abducted while Thea was talking to him." He shakes his head as he pulls Thea further into him. "I tried to talk to Laurel about it, but she says that abductions are local PD first. She put a word in with her dad, but they can't do anything until he's been gone for forty-eight hours." He studies his best friend for a moment. "Do you happen to know a good private detective?"

Of course one name immediately springs to mind, but still he's tentative. Somehow he thinks that it won't be good if both of his worlds collide. "Tommy," Oliver starts with a sigh, "you call a private eye when you think your spouse is cheating on you. They just take your money and feed you lines about research and searching for clues." He hesitates for a moment before adding, "But I do know someone better."

Thea dries her tears long enough to look up at him in confusion. "What's better than a private detective, Ollie?" she asks in a raspy voice, raw with tears. "Do you think they can find him?" She bites her lip. "I know you and Tommy are family, but Walter was my family first. And if something happens to him—" She shakes her head, refusing to finish the thought.

Slowly, he reaches over and squeezes her hand in his. "I think it's time to pay a visit to the Finder."

 


 

Because it's dark and raining, Oliver nearly misses the turn down Looking Glass Lane in the Mercedes SUV. No matter how many times he drives here, the road isn't any easier to pinpoint; the street sign was broken off ages ago and no one remembers it's an actual road to replace it. It's probably the way its inhabitants prefer it, but it makes the journey that much more difficult.

About fifty feet down, it turns into a dirt path, the street sign on the right declaring it a dead end in large letters. It still surprises him that there are unpaved roads in a town as large as Starling City—as if the city itself even forgot that Looking Glass Lane was more than just a dead-end alleyway. While it certainly doesn't have any thoroughfare, the street itself is anything but a dead end.

Like many things, Oliver has discovered, the innocuous dirt road is so much more than it appears.

"Are you sure this is where we need to go, Ollie?" Thea asks from the back, sounding skeptical. Oliver understands completely; if he hadn't been here himself, he'd probably think it was a wrong turn, too. Only because he's been there before does he realize it's the best place in Starling City.

"Of course I do, Speedy," he assures her, using the nickname Tommy gave her not long after the three of them met. Oliver thins it fits rather well; it's been a challenge for the two of them to keep up with their half-sister. "We're just going to the Ends of the Earth." When she throws him a look of confusion, he chuckles and explains, "It's a bar a few miles down the road. Technically, I'm the silent owner, but the bar basically runs itself." Even if he does have a good manager. "Low upkeep, low buying price, and it makes a grand a month. I made my money back in the first year."

"You own a dive bar in the middle of nowhere," Tommy realizes with a scoff. "Of course you do. When did you buy this? You didn't tell me about it." Just as he says it, the exterior lights start to come into view, and Oliver feels like he's coming home. There's something about the place that feels safe, something that Tommy and Thea probably won't understand.

Still, the dive comment rankles him a little. "It's not a dive, Tommy," Oliver insists. "It's actually a more stable investment than Verdant, if you look at the numbers." He frowns slightly, thinking about his best friend's question. "I bought it about six months after the Undertaking." He doesn't tell him why; the scars from Malcolm Merlyn's attempt to destroy the city run too deep for Tommy. And, really, Oliver had ulterior motives in the purchase.

It was never about the bar; it was about the people that called it home.

Finally the lights of the little city within a city illuminate the road, the wide beams of the security lights glinting off the raindrops on the windows. Even with the glare, he's able to pull the SUV up to the steps of the wooden building without incident. Tommy scoffs at the bar again, and Oliver can understand why; it's more of a wooden shack than anything, with a small porch off the side. The sign atop the awning reads "Ends of the Earth" in peeling paint, but Oliver has never had the heart to change it. In a way, it tells a story about the establishment and its customers, and he never wanted this to be a popular stop. This is a respite, only used by those who already know where it is.

Again it strikes him how he made it here the first time. Felicity had driven him here, shot and bleeding, half-dragging him into the small house beside the bar and draping him on a cot on the floor. She saved his life, gave him a place to stay, and yet she still insists that she owes him. To this day, she blames herself for the trouble he was in, but yet Oliver thinks it's the best thing that ever happened to him. Because he needed to be lost in order to find himself again, and the blonde had a lot to do with that.

It's true he might have been lost on the island long before he met Felicity Smoak, but that was the kind of lost that you can't come back from. The island was hell—and it would have been, even if he hadn't been a stupid, seventeen-year-old kid at the time. It took him three years after his return to Starling City to finally put the pieces of his life back together—after adding a new one as the Arrow—and only then had he found friends in John Diggle and Felicity. Well, more accurately, he found Digg. Felicity... well, she found him instead.

That's how it usually works with her.

Pushing those thoughts aside, he points everyone toward the covered deck and the front door. Even in the short walk, rain pelts all three of them, and by the time Oliver enters the door, his shoes squeak slightly against the floor. He throws his wet coat on the rickety old coat rack, and Tommy and Thea follow suit, following him as he walks out of the entranceway and onto the floor.

It's quiet, as always, but that's the way he likes it. No one drives out to the Ends of the Earth on a night like this, so the only people on the floor are its fixtures. Roy sits at a booth in the back, red hoodie pulled up over his head as he reads a car repair manual with headphones in his ears. Diggle is working the bar, of course—or standing behind it, at least—with his elbows on the counter, leaning across to talk to one of his favorite patrons. Felicity leans against the back of her stool at the bar with her feet propped on the stool next to her, using animated gestures and shaking her head so wildly that her blonde ponytail swings behind her.

When her hair is up like this, it exposes the long, vertical scar on the back of her neck that curves up into her hairline. It sends another pang of guilt through Oliver, one that hits him so often that he should really be familiar with it by now. He didn't even know her when it happened, but it's still a constant reminder of his failure to stop the destruction that night, almost five years ago now.

Five hundred and three people died because he failed, but it doesn't ache the way one simple scar does.

After his eyes scan the patrons and the exits the way they always do, Oliver focuses on the chalkboard hanging up on the far wall, the one that Felicity is facing. In blocky print, the words "morality vs. love" are written in three lines, and he wonders who's winning this round—and also what happened to the last. When he was here the last time, the board had said instead "designated hitter vs. Al Queda."

"...moral standpoint," Diggle is saying, "acting out of love has no value." Unlike Felicity, he's reserved in his debate, barely motioning with his hands every now and again, his expression serious. "In moralistic debate, philosophers have argued that acting out of a sense of love has no moral relevance. There's no study of a person's character because they simply feel compelled. You can't depend on that response to determine anything about their depth of character."

"But you can," Felicity argues. "Accuse me of being sappy if you want, but love is the only thing that determines a person's character. While morality might be important, someone who can't act out of love is useless. It's motivation, Digg. I've seen people throw away everything they believe in to save someone they love. It may be more volatile than morality, but if you make people choose between their morals and their loved ones, there's never going to be a choice. Humanity always triumphs." She pauses for a long moment before asking without even looking back, "What do you think, Oliver?"

The question startles him because he doesn't expect her to acknowledge his presence, but then he remembers how she'd said something to him before about smelling his cologne a mile away. "Am I wearing too much cologne?" he counters her question with his own.

As always, she's more than willing to oblige his curiosity—and this time, she gives him an answer that he actually understands. "Breathing too sternly," Felicity answers in a breezy, relaxed tone as she swivels on the barstool to face him. Her eyes sparkle with mischief as the corners of her mouth tilt upward. "But don't think you can distract me with a question. What do you think about the debate, Oliver?"

Sighing because he knows she won't give up until he gives her an answer, he finally responds, "I think I have to agree with Felicity on this one, Diggle," he answers with a bit of sympathy. It's rare when Felicity doesn't win a debate—either against Diggle or Oliver. It doesn't stop them from trying, though, and, for some reason, the hobby has become an important fixture to all of them. "I've seen people do a lot of terrible things for love that they normally wouldn't do." Then he can't resist asking, "Who won the last one?"

Diggle shakes his head with a frown as Roy gets up, brushing past Tommy on his way to get something from the kitchen. "Who do you think?" the older man answers with a slight smile. "I still don't know how I lost that argument—there's nothing more anti-American than Al Queda."

Felicity rises to her feet then, walking toward Oliver as she calls over her shoulder, "I told you, Digg. The designated hitter puts the collective success of a baseball team above the skills of the individual players. There's another name for that, and it's communism." Then her attention focuses on Oliver before darting to Tommy and Thea. "They may be your friends, Oliver, but the same basic rules apply," she warns him.

With a nod, he says to his friend and his sister, "Get out your IDs—but don't hand them to her." Though they both look a little baffled, both Tommy and Thea start to do as he says. Thea finds hers faster, holding it up for Felicity to look at. She studies it a moment before reaching to grab it, but Oliver grabs her wrist. "No touching, Felicity." The last thing he needs is a scene, and she'd be sure to cause one if he let her.

The blonde frowns at him, slowly pulling her hand away. "Sometimes I wish you had a little more of that guy who peed on cops left in you, Oliver. You've lost all sense of fun." Tommy snorts as he continues to search his pockets for his wallet, and Thea studies him in an entirely new way. "Fortunately for you, though, I'm a sucker for a sad face."

"You peed on a cop?" Thea leans in to ask him, but he points at her with a not-now look.

"Having trouble finding your ID?" Felicity asks Tommy at the same time. The billionaire attempts to stutter through some sort of response, but Oliver can already tell that Felicity isn't buying it. She fixes her hands on her hips for a moment, but then her eyes dart to Roy when he comes out of the kitchen with a sandwich and a drink, and she holds out a hand. "Roy, since you stole our guest's wallet, could you pass me his driver's license, please?"

While Roy Harper is varying kinds of trouble, Oliver also has some modicum of fondness for the kid and also doesn't want to see him go to jail again. He starts to warn him of his friend's police affiliations, but Thea is faster on the draw. "Tommy might have money, but his girlfriend is from a long line of cops," she points out in a sharp voice. "So, if you... found my brother's wallet, I'd suggest you give it back."

Despite his many flaws Roy is anything but stupid. He holds out the wallet to Tommy almost immediately, only taking time to pull out the ID and pass it to Felicity. "You should be more careful how you put your wallet in your pocket," the kid points out in a dry tone. "Some people aren't so nice about giving things back." Then he studies Thea with a long glance—uncomfortably long for Oliver—before walking back to the table.

"I thought you said there was nothing sadder than a gypsy falling for a gaje," Felicity calls after him, a knowing smirk on her face as she stops examining the ID. "It's star-crossed." She pauses for effect, clearly goading him with words the boy once said to her before. "Are you familiar with the term? It comes from Romeo and Juliet, a play about—"

"Bite me, Blondie," Roy interrupts through a mouthful of sandwich. "You're only half Romani—you don't get to lecture me about my people." There's a bite to his voice, but Felicity doesn't seem to mind his attitude—she's long since familiar with the way he has a tendency to treat people when they're right.

She shrugs, and Oliver tries to take the opportunity of her distraction to take the ID away from her, but she's faster. Felicity studies it, then scratches the surface with her fingernail as though she's looking for another layer. Finally she does precisely what he fears she would, biting one corner of the plastic card.

Tommy actually leans in to whisper, "What the hell is wrong with this girl, Ollie?"

It isn't as quiet as he attempted because Felicity is the one to answer. "No one really knows for sure," she answers idly, handing his driver's license back to him. "The neurologists and the shrinks couldn't figure it out. But that doesn't matter—not really. What matters is that you and Thea are here because you lost something, Tommy. And you want me to find it for you." She motions to a table in the middle of the room. "Sit down and tell me the story."

"This is your finder, Ollie?" Thea asks in an incredulous voice. He understands her hesitance; hell, he wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't seen her do it firsthand for the last three years. But he has, and he knows that she's a genius with an incredible ability.

Someone once compared her to a bloodhound, but that's much too crude for her capabilities; there's something almost supernatural about what Felicity is able to do. It's too effortless for her to be a science, but yet calling it an art seems like an understatement of her capabilities. If he had any faith left in a higher power, he'd call it spiritual. The first time he watched her find something, he'd thought she was insane, but there's a beautiful, twisted logic to what she does.

Felicity is just the only one who can see it.

"Felicity never failed to find anything before, Speedy," he answers with an edge to his voice. When she still looks skeptical, he motions toward the table. "Just... trust me on this one." Reluctantly, she takes a seat, and Oliver can't help his frown. It would be nice if people would trust him every now and again.

"It's okay, Oliver," Felicity offers with a smile as he takes a seat next to her. "She is yet to be convinced—just the way I like it." Then she turns to flash Thea a smile. "The skeptics make me work harder. What do you want me to find?"

"My father is missing—" Thea starts, but Felicity barrels over the top of her.

"If you're talking about Malcolm Merlyn," the blonde interjects, "even I can't help you with that one. He's dead." She actually winces at her words. "I mean, he was killed. By the Arrow. And while I'm not usually a fan of violence, I'm glad he's gone, since he kind of blew me up." She winces again. "And you did not come here to listen to me babble. Which will end in three... two... one." After closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, she opens her eyes to Thea's confused expression. "Oliver spends a lot of time here," she answers the unspoken question. "We talk about a lot of things." She shrugs. "After all, everything becomes my business eventually."

Thea looks at Oliver for permission to continue, and he nods once. To most people, her propensity to talk is disconcerting, but she tends to work through her thoughts aloud. For the most part, Oliver finds it kind of soothing; he never has to wonder what she's thinking about. "My adoptive father," Thea tries again, "is missing. His name is Walter Steele, and he's the CFO of Starling National Bank. He was looking into something shady involving a big account and some mishandled funds, and now he's disappeared." Her voice cracks on the word. "I was talking to him on the phone when they grabbed him."

Tommy, desperate to comfort his sister, adds, "Money is no object. Whatever your services cost, whatever you want, I'll pay it." While the blonde will no doubt be affronted by the bribe, Oliver understands where Tommy is coming from because he used to be the same way himself. In their world, loyalty is only as good as the check it's written on. Both of them are all to familiar with the process of buying people to do what they want.

"Diggle takes care of that," Felicity and Oliver both cut in at the same time, and both Tommy and Thea turn to look at him in confusion.

The blonde flashes the two confused parties a smile. "I just like to find things," she clarifies, as though that explains why she doesn't give a damn about money. Oliver has to admit it baffled him, too, at first, but now it just makes the corners of his mouth turn up. She's happy and doesn't care about money, and he can't help but link those two things together. "If I'm interested," Felicity adds after a moment. "I'm not always interested, but you don't have to worry about that. I'll find Mr. Steele for you or die trying."

A drink suddenly drops onto the table in front of him, and Oliver looks up to find Diggle frowning at him with a look that not only speaks volumes but also manages to fill an entire library. He already knows he's in for an argument the next time they're alone. While Oliver is more than happy to indulge Felicity's compulsion to find things, the former soldier isn't so convinced that it's the best course of action. It's a debate just as common as the ones on the chalkboard in the corner of the room, but this time there seems to be no clear winner.

"Die trying?" Tommy repeats, his eyes flicking over to Oliver in confusion.

Felicity leans across the table, looking at the billionaire with seriousness. "When I choose to look for something, Tommy," she starts slowly, "I find it. Sometimes it takes me hours, sometimes days—maybe even weeks every now and again—but once I start looking, I don't stop until I find it." She steeples her fingers on the table, the lime green fingernail polish drawing Oliver's attention for a moment. "I'll die before I'll fail to find Mr. Steele. You can bet on that."

Not waiting for an answer, the blonde instead turns to Diggle, who is still hovering at the table with a concerned look on his face. Oliver knows she sees the concern on his face, but she elects not to address it; as much as the two men have had this conversation, Diggle and Felicity have discussed her finding compulsion to a level that defines the phrase beating a dead horse. "It's too late and the weather is too bad for them to go home," she declares to him. "Would you care to show them to a couple of the trailers, John?" It's her use of the first name that lets all of them know she acknowledges his concern, emphasizing it by patting his arm. "I have a missing person to find."

Reluctantly, John nods, moving back toward the keys on the pegs behind the bar.

She starts to rise from her seat, but then she seems to think better of it, turning to Oliver. "Dry clothes," Felicity blurts suddenly, as is her wont. "You'll probably want something dry since you look like you half-drowned in that storm." She winces. "Probably not the best analogy, since your whole shipwreck thing." Then she waves a hand, knowing that she's already forgiven. "You should still have a couple sets of spare clothes in the back of my closet, and Thea can borrow some of mine." She throws him a teasing smile. "I trust you can let yourself in—after all, you have a key." She rises to her feet at the same time Tommy's eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. "I'd usually be more hospitable, but duty calls." Her hand drops onto his shoulder. "See you in the morning." Then her lips are on his cheek for a brief second before she totters off toward the staircase at the back of the bar.

"You didn't tell me you had a girlfriend," Thea accuses when she leaves, giving voice to the expression on Tommy's face at the same time. "Or anything about this place." She crosses her arms. "Suddenly I feel like you have a secret life I never knew about."

Oliver doesn't say anything because she doesn't know the half of it, doesn't know that most nights, he's not at Verdant but somewhere else in the Glades, putting arrows into people who threaten the safety of his city. She doesn't know that, when Felicity isn't finding things, she's in the basement surrounded by her computers and providing a steady monologue about the situation. She doesn't know that Diggle can communicate with him in glances because, after going into battle together so many times, they're more like brothers than friends.

Because he has so many lies in his life, though, Oliver chooses to spare himself from the guilt of one more by electing to comment on the truth. "Felicity isn't my girlfriend," he insists at the both of them, though Thea was the one to ask the question. They both know the same accusation was going to be on Tommy's lips, too. "She's just a friend who has helped me out a few times." A friend that he sometimes has the overwhelming urge to kiss senseless, but a friend nonetheless.

Diggle snorts from his place at the bar. "I don't know what's worse: the fact that you believe that or the fact that it's mostly true."

 


 

He hears her before he sees her, jolting awake in alarm. Out of habit, he glances over at the clock on the side table, the digital display informing him that it's 2:57 in a faint blue glow. Oliver resists the urge to groan; it was after midnight the last time he looked at the clock, which means he's had roughly three hours of sleep in the past thirty-six.

"Oliver?" Felicity calls out in a whisper. Her tone is low enough that, if he hadn't been awake already, he most likely would not have heard her. It would be all too easy to pretend he was asleep, but she knows he's awake, too, and Felicity is one of the few people he doesn't lie to. Instead, he hums an answer that's met by the shuffle of her feet across the floor. "Good, you're awake. I thought you would be."

With a groan he can't contain this time, Oliver rolls from lying on his stomach to lying on his back. He tries not to scowl at her; something about Felicity's cheerfulness seems completely wrong for the middle of the night—especially when neither one of them have really slept. At least she seems to be in pajamas now, wearing a pair of colorful pants and a too-large shirt that looks suspiciously like one of his, judging by the way it hangs off her shoulder.

Undeterred by his attitude, Felicity responds by draping herself across the space he just vacated, lying on her side so she can look at him. Once she's done staring at his chest, her eyes finally meet his without a hint of remorse. "Is Laurel still part of the Marshal service?" she asks without preamble, not bothering to explain her line of questioning—or why she finds it necessary to so at three in the morning. "If so, do you think she would do us a favor?"

Though he tries not to, Oliver can't help but make a face. "I'm not her favorite person right now," he reminds her. After the island, they had tried to return to their relationship, but it was tulmultuous at best. She kept asking for things he couldn't give, from questions about the island to where he spent his nights to moving in together. So of course when Sara, her sister, had expressed interest, he'd leapt at the chance to completely destroy his relationship with both of them. "But if you do her a favor, she'll return it—just as long as it doesn't require her to break any laws."

Felicity nods twice, thinking about that. "Good. Because the Marshal service took their servers offline to prevent hacking into the Witness Protection database last year, and I need the file on Dominic Alonzo, which they happen to have, judging by the list I was able to scavenge online." She starts to get up. "I'll ask Tommy if we can use his girlfriend for a favor."

Oliver grabs her wrist before she can leave. "Felicity, it's three in the morning," he informs her since she clearly has no awareness of this fact. He's used to it, though; when Felicity is after something, she usually loses track of everything else, including time. It wouldn't surprise him if she hasn't been awake researching this from her computers in the bar since she left them at six this evening. "We'll talk to Tommy in the morning. Get some sleep."

He starts to roll over after releasing her hand, but he looks over to watch her slip off her house shoes, letting them drop on the floor. (He can't bite back a smile at the ridiculousness of them—shaped like a pod of peas with a cartoon face at the top.) As though she does it every night of her life, she slips under the blankets next to him.

Oliver expects that she'll just lie down on one side of the bed, but instead she crosses over to his side of the bed, curling just as close as she can. "You are incredibly warm," Felicity declares as she snuggles into his shoulder. Against his better judgment, Oliver rolls over to face her, pulling her into his arms. While he shouldn't—she deserves so much better than him—he rather enjoys the feeling of her wrapped around him. "I'm suddenly too tired to walk back to my room," she explains without waiting for him to ask, the words muffled by his shoulder. "If you're opposed to me being here, you can carry me back."

Because that's a loaded statement if ever he heard one, Oliver only responds, "Goodnight, Felicity."

 


 

Of all the horrible ideas he's been part of in his time, Oliver thinks this might yet be the worst. Agreeing to tag along with Felicity while she meets his very disgruntled ex seems like a bad idea by itself, but when Tommy called her, the blonde may or may not have pinged her cell phone for a location so they could interrupt her at work. When Tommy asked to come along, Oliver jumped to include him, too.

And of course, where Felicity goes, Diggle usually follows; she has an unnatural penchant for getting herself into trouble while out finding, and she has no self-defense training.

Which is how the four of them managed to end up at a suspicious black SUV parked behind an abandoned warehouse, with Tommy knocking on the deeply tinted window. To no one's surprise, it rolls down to reveal Laurel, staring at all of them with a frown. Tommy, of course, doesn't let this deter him; that's one of the things Oliver has always liked about his best friend. "Did you miss me, Laurel?" he asks her with a smile so dopey it makes the corners of Oliver's mouth turn up. It's good to see the two of them happy.

"I'm working," Laurel replies in a dry tone, though her mouth does turn up ever so slightly. "I want to know what you're doing here, but we can discuss this in the car. If I get made because of you guys, I will shoot you." The look she throws Oliver clearly says that she intends on starting with him, and he's quite sure he deserves that for all the misery he's put her through.

Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity pile into the back seat of the SUV while Tommy goes for the front. Oliver knows his place is to stay silent for right now, but the blonde accidentally blurts, "Wouldn't that interfere with your career trajectory?" Coming from anyone else, it would be sarcastic and scathing, but when Felicity asks, it's because she's genuinely curious.

Laurel turns to look at her, studying her for a long moment as Oliver settles in beside her. "Are you mocking me?" she asks, but then she must decide that it isn't the question she most wants to ask. "And who are you?"

Tommy places a hand on her shoulder. "She's Felicity, he's Diggle," he explains in a calm tone. "They're helping us track down Walter for Thea. Which is why Oliver is here." He looks between the two of them. "I know you two have issues, but if you could refrain from killing each other to help save a man's life, I'd appreciate it."

Laurel immediately softens, and Felicity chooses that moment to speak again. "I'm not mocking you," she assures the other woman. "I'm told you have a very serious career path. Using the Marshal service for experience while going to law school so that you can be Attorney General someday, right?" She nods in approval. "Very ambitious." The blonde waves a hand. "In the good way, not the bad way that people usually mean it." Before Laurel can answer, Felicity points to the warehouse. "What are you staking out?"

There's a long pause before Laurel decides to answer the statement. "An incarcerated armed robber faked appendicitis two days ago," she admits slowly. "Right now, he's in there betting on cockfights." She throws a frustrated glance at the warehouse, as though it's the building's fault that she doesn't have him.

Not following the conversation, Oliver makes the mistake of asking, "Why don't you just go in and get him?" When Laurel throws him another glare, he decides to be less confrontational about it. "I don't understand how the Marshal thing goes, but I bet the other guys would scramble after you identified yourself."

"In case you haven't noticed," Laurel responds in a biting tone, "I'm in a suit and I have a gun at my hip. I look like a cop. He's going to see me way before I see him." She crosses her arms, sinking further into the seat. "So my only option is to wait until he walks out and then approach him."

Felicity is already moving; after all, Laurel does need something found. Her hand drops onto Oliver's knee as she rises from the middle of the bench seat. "I'll go flush him out for you," she offers. When the vigilante opens his mouth to protest, Felicity stops to press her finger to his lips. "Alone," she interjects, her voice telling him it would be unwise to try and argue. "Everyone is going to be on edge the moment Digg walks in—no offense—and a billionaire would not be caught dead in there." She pulls her finger away from his mouth. "So unless you have a shady Russian friend nearby to escort me, I'm going in alone."

It's the closest she's ever been to admitting she knows about his Bratva connections. Of course she knows about it, but they simply choose to pretend it doesn't exist, much like the way they woke up this morning tangled in each other's arms and legs. He says nothing in response, and she pats his cheek as she slides the door open. "Don't worry, Oliver. If I need help, I'll scream."

"That's not funny, Felicity," he calls behind her, but she only winks at him in response.

It has to be one of the strangest sights he's ever seen, watching Felicity in her red dress and yellow heels start toward an abandoned building used for cockfighting. Before she can get too far, though, Laurel calls out the window behind her, "Wait. There are at least sixty guys in there. You're going to need a photo of him."

Though it goes against his best interests, Oliver can't help but huff a breath a laughter at that statement. Fortunately though, Felicity is able to save him from an icy glare by responding with a shrug, "I'll just look for the guy who looks like he escaped prison two days ago." At Laurel's baffled look, she adds, "Don't worry—this is nothing. I once found a white cat in a snowstorm." She pauses for a moment, and when she starts back, she starts making exaggerated hand motions. "What you do is look for eyes and a butt. Once you do that, it's child's play."

This time it takes Laurel a few moments to recover, and Oliver doesn't really blame her; Felicity is known to have that effect on people. "How will I know which one is our guy?" Laurel calls behind her, leaning out of the window slightly to call after her.

The smile that Felicity flashes would worry Oliver if he didn't know her. "Trust me, you'll know," is her cryptic answer before walking away.

Laurel sighs before turning to Tommy. "What do you want in return for handing over my cock-fighting fugitive?" she asks in a flat, defeated tone. "I don't think she'd be so eager to help if you didn't want something in return."

"Anything you can give us on a protected witness named Dominic Alonzo would be helpful," Diggle interjects from the back seat. "Felicity thinks he has something to do with Walter's abduction." Then he turns to Oliver, his expression betraying his words before he says them. "She's getting worse, Oliver."

Tommy turns around at that, clearly interested in the turn of the conversation. "Felicity is fine," Oliver insists, and if his tone is a little weary, it's because they've had this conversation so many times that he could practically recite it by now. There are many things wrong with all of them, but Felicity's problems have nothing to do with the finding. They have to do with what she's survived.

As always, though, Diggle isn't so quick to let the subject drop. "And you're finally going to go to a shrink about your PTSD that's gone undiagnosed for years," he deadpans. Then he crosses his arms. "Just because we want to believe it doesn't make it true." His voice drops. "She quit going to her shrink, Oliver. She said she didn't need one anymore."

Oliver isn't so quick to back down, either. "That's because she doesn't, John," he tries again, with more intensity this time. "There is nothing mentally wrong with Felicity." He fires the words slowly, with greater emphasis to help drive his point home. "She's the most sane of all of us. You know that."

John snorts. "So she's the one-eyed woman leading the blind," he answers. "That doesn't make her okay. That just means she's handling this a lot better than either of us—which isn't really a surprise. It still doesn't change the fact that she has brain damage, Oliver." When he starts to protest, the former soldier holds up his hands. "I care about Felicity, too, which is why I keep trying to talk to you about this. You know I'd follow that girl to the end of the world with no hesitation, but it still doesn't mean she's mentally healthy.

"She's a time bomb, Oliver," Diggle continues. "Right now, she's functioning fine and she's driven. Felicity has a purpose so clear that a lot of us would be jealous of that." He pauses for a moment to let that sink in. "But what happens when she doesn't find something?"

"That will never happen," the vigilante replies evenly.

Unsurprisingly, the other man ignores him. "I think she'll run herself to death like a bloodhound, always hunting for something that doesn't exist. She's like a sister to me, man. I don't want to watch her go through that downward spiral because I care about her—just as much as you do." He shakes his head. "I've tried to talk to her before, but she doesn't listen to me." A chuckle escapes him. "Felicity has to be the only person on the planet more stubborn than you are. I can't get through to her, but if she'll listen to anyone, it's you. Which is why you'll have to be the one to explain to her that her compulsion to find things is not natural."

"You're right," Oliver agrees. "It's more than that. Felicity has a gift, Digg—it's supernatural." He shakes his head, frustrated with his friend. Maybe if he knew the story, he'd understand better, but that's Felicity's story to tell, not his. But something terrible happened to her, and she was able to turn it into something beautiful. The most Oliver was able to do is turn his tragedy into destruction.

He's so wrapped up in the argument that when Laurel breaks into the conversation, it surprises him that she's there. "You didn't tell me that she's Felicity Smoak," she states in an accusatory tone. "I'm not allowed to work with her—she didn't pass the mental status exam." She drums her fingers on the steering wheel. "Dad was really upset when they took her off the authorized consultant list."

Tommy breaks in, leveling a confused look at his girlfriend. "You know her?" he asks.

Laurel nods, and Oliver can't do much more than listen. "I know of her," she admits. "She did some computer forensics and some computer consulting for the SCPD." Then the brunette hesitates, knowing that what comes next is going to upset Tommy; Oliver can feel the direction this is heading. "When the Undertaking happened five years ago, my dad called her after the Arrow tipped them off about the earthquake device. Felicity helped him find it and diffuse it."

Then she hesitates. "She was near the epicenter of the other device, and it caused a gas leak when it went off." Her voice turns quiet. "The explosion blew her several hundred feet away. Dad said that if the Arrow hadn't found her in the wreckage when he was trying to help survivors, she would have died." Oliver can easily say that it was the best thing that ever happened to him; she didn't walk into his life until months later, but if he hadn't been there, Felicity Smoak never would have walked into his life. "She woke up with brain trauma that gave her a crazy obsession with finding things," Laurel continues. "Any time he was trying to find something when he was a detective, Dad called her to speed things up."

The picture Laurel paints shows Felicity as an eccentric, and something about it rankles Oliver in all the wrong ways. "They learned about the second earthquake device minutes before it went off," he adds quietly, trying to restore the balance. "It was her job to find it so Lance could deactivate it, too." The implications of that linger in the air, but he doesn't want any part of this left in doubt. "But she feels responsible because she couldn't find it—the whole network was locked down and she couldn't get a satellite fix." Much like him, Felicity carries the weight of those deaths on her conscience. "So now when Felicity sets out after something, she finds it."

As if to emphasize his point, an explosion suddenly sounds from the warehouse. Laurel pulls her gun from her holster, holding up a hand for all of them to be quiet. Everything is eerily quiet for a moment, the silence weighted and tense, and then all hell breaks loose.

Though Oliver can't help but think it's a little mild for a Felicity situation, it's certainly not by any other comparison. Suddenly there's a mass exodus from the building, men scurrying as fast as they can. They're hard to see, though, between the flurry of roosters and chicken feathers flying through the air. He vaguely hears Diggle ask what she's done this time, but it's obscured by Laurel's loud, "Which one is my guy?"

The question answers itself really, but Oliver can't bite back the laugh that leaves his mouth when he sees it. "I'm guessing the one covered in fluorescent orange paint," he offers, trying to bite back the smile on his face. The man is covered from head to toe, his clothes soaked as though he was pushed into a vat of the stuff.

And then there's Felicity, trailing behind the scuffle looking completely unruffled with a wide smile on her face and a streak of fluorescent paint across her forehead.

Exiting the car at the same time as Laurel, Oliver runs to her, placing a hand on her shoulder when he reaches her. "You okay?" he asks seriously. It's probably overprotective and ridiculous, but he does a once-over of her exposed skin to check for injuries. But, then again, the last time she went into a situation like this, it ended with a phone call from the Count and an overdose of Vertigo poised at her neck.

Instead of answering, she gives him a thumbs-up, the pad of her thumb as brightly orange as the escaped convict. "Fine," she assures him after a moment, watching as Laurel arrests the man. She doesn't say anything more, and, against, his better judgment, Oliver reaches up to rub the streak of orange away from her forehead. Then she flashes a smile at him. "All in one piece, as you can see. No arrowing required."

"Thank you," he tells her suddenly, his gratitude overwhelming at the moment. It seems to surprise her, so he clarifies, "For doing this for my sister."

Felicity shakes her head firmly. "I'm not doing this for Thea, Oliver," she states instead. "I don't even know Thea. I'm sure she's wonderful, but I haven't had the chance to really meet her yet. You're doing this for her, but I'm doing this for you. Because you're important to me." She pushes her glasses up on her nose. "Surely by now you've realized that I'd do just about anything for you. As long as it doesn't involve kangaroos, of course."

He's so shaken by her honesty that there's nothing Oliver can do but respond in kind. "I'm not sure I deserve that," he replies in a low voice. It's a little overwhelming sometimes how well she knows him and still manages to think so highly of him. "That's a lot of faith to place in me. Especially after all I've done."

Her fingers suddenly weave through his in a moment of comfort. "That's because I think that, deep down, you're one of the finest men I've ever known," she replies almost immediately, stating it as though it's obvious and straightforward. "You might have regrets, you might have done things you're not proud of, that doesn't change the fact that you're a good person." She punctuates the thought with another kiss to his cheek.

Before he can even respond, she's marching over to Laurel. "I need the Marshal service's file on one Dominic Alonzo," she declares while offering a fluttery wave at orange man. "Bring it by Ends of the Earth—that's a bar on Looking Glass Lane—as soon as you can." Then she smiles at a very baffled Laurel. "It was very nice meeting you, Laurel. Tell the Captain I said hello." Felicity starts to leave then, but suddenly she turns on her heel to face the Marshal again. "And, if you could, please remind him that if he wants to stop by the Ends of the Earth, meals are on me. I still owe him one for stopping by the hospital every day. I would have been bored to death if he hadn't." With that, Felicity marches back toward the car, looping her arm through Oliver's as she goes.

As always, he just falls into step beside her.

Chapter Text

Felicity Smoak feels like a stranger in her own world, despite all the people who convinced her than a summer position with Queen Consolidated would open doors for her later. The IT Department apparently doesn't take well to strangers—especially female ones in that boys' club—judging by the way the men either try to hit on her, treat her like a child, or insult her intelligence. But, despite only completing her junior year at MIT, she can code circles around these guys.

It just doesn't change the fact that she's absolutely miserable here.

Cooper, however, has been her voice of reason in the madness, the reason she hasn't given up yet. "It's just one summer," her best friend had said to her on the phone. "If you can make it through, Felicity, it will open doors for you, and you'll never have to go back. It's a good opportunity."

Sighing, Felicity walks into the break room, hating the way some of the employees make a concerted effort to stay away from her. It’s as if her dark eye makeup, purple highlights in her black hair, and black wardrobe is a deadly and contagious disease. At first, she considered cleaning up her look, but she decided that it was actually a nice shield against the rest of the world; she doesn't have to worry about the people who judge her solely based on appearance.

She walks into the break room thirty minutes before lunch starts to take her sandwich out of the fridge before the lunch rush starts. Eating lunch in her cubicle while coding has been her reality for the last two months, and, while she doesn't enjoy the solitude as much as she'd like, the challenge has helped her cope.

A heavy sigh sounds from one side of the room, and she looks up to find a man at a computer, frowning at it. Though his perfectly cut brown hair (a little on the long side, but clearly kept that way on purpose) and clean-shaven face would fit any executives around the building, his jeans and blue sweater aren't exactly office attire. She doesn't remember his face, either, and she thought she knew most of the executives on sight because of her pre-interview research.

Minding her own business, Felicity turns back to the fridge and pulls her plastic container and soda out of the fridge. She fully intends to leave him to his problems, but when she hears him grumble under his breath, she asks, "Computer trouble?"

His head snaps up immediately, fixing on her with a set of appraising blue eyes. Looking at him full-on now, Felicity realizes he's younger than she originally though, too young to be an executive, even if he was wearing the right attire. "It doesn't seem to be able to connect to the Internet here—stupid wi-fi connection." He studies her for a moment longer, though he doesn't seem to be judging her appearance (or her figure, like he was earlier), but her competence. "Do you think you could help me?"

Against her better judgment, Felicity walks over to him. "Well, I hope I can," she answers in a dry tone. "I haven't spent all this time working on a computer science degree so that I can be baffled by an Internet connection."

He turns the laptop to face her immediately. "By all means," he answers, with a wave of his hand. Then he ducks his head a little before admitting, "I'm actually kind of hopeless with computers." This time when he looks at her, it's almost like he's waiting for something. Apparently it doesn't come because he finally asks, "Do you work here?"

"Kind of," Felicity answers vaguely, most of her thoughts wrapped up in the computer screen. "Well, I mean, I work here, but at the same time, I'm not really an employee." For the first time in ages, she finds herself flustered by the way he focuses on her so intently, the way he speaks to her. She thought she'd rid herself of that babbling penchant years ago, but, then again, the guy in front of her is kind of handsome and the smile he's throwing her looks like it could make flowers start growing at any moment. "I'm an intern in IT," she manages to answer finally, after collecting her thoughts. "I'm here for the summer, and then I go back to college—thank God." Then she realizes what she's said. "No offense, since you probably work here."

He seems to find something about that funny, smiling as though she made some sort of joke. "The last thing I want to do is spend the rest of my life in this place," he assures her flatly, the smile dropping for a moment as he answers her seriously. "I'm here to meet my dad for lunch in a few minutes. He's the one who works here, not me."

After making a few clicks to diagnose the problem, she nods once before remembering that she doesn't even know his name. "I'm Felicity, by the way," she offers, somewhat distracted. "Felicity Smoak. I'm in IT—eighteenth floor."

"Nice to meet you, Felicity," he answers, his tone oozing with so much charm it should be illegal. But under that, there's sincerity—the kind she hasn't heard since arriving in Starling City. "I'm Oliver." He doesn't offer a last name, and, before she can ask, he counters with a question of his own. "So, where are you from?"

The question throws her, and she answers with one of her own. "Is it that obvious that I'm not from Starling?" Felicity frowns; she'd hoped she didn't stick out so much. Most of the people she works with are Starling City residents, born and bred, and the last thing she wants is to be alienated any more than she already is. Being a foreigner in the city doesn't help.

Apparently she's said something funny again because Oliver flashes her another one of those sunny smiles. "I'm not sure anyone else would notice," he assures her, and Felicity can't decide if he's trying to be nice or telling the truth.

Because he doesn't say anything more, she presses her lips into a firm line before admitting abruptly, "I'm from Vegas." His eyebrows shoot up, and she points a finger at him. "Which isn't as much fun as it sounds. It's part of the reason why I ended up across country at MIT." She rolls her eyes. "Which made my mother sick." She does her best impression of Donna Smoak. "'Felicity, you're sixteen—you should be worrying about what boy to take to prom, not a final in computation theory.' Mothers." With another roll of her eyes, she adds, "If it wasn't for Cooper—my best friend—convincing me that this would be awesome for my resume, I'd be back in Cambridge right now."

Oliver doesn't say anything for a long moment, and when she looks over at him, it's to find him staring at her with new appraisal. "You're sixteen?" he asks, and suddenly his voice is completely devoid of its earlier charm. So he was flirting with her earlier—apparently when he thought she was of legal age. At least she doesn't have to file his name under the category of 'unhealthy interest in underage girls'—which is more than she can say for some of her co-workers.

She nods once in response to his question, just as the computer connects. She does a short fist pump, which causes Oliver to snicker at her. "I think your Internet problems are solved," she assures him, turning the laptop back to face him.

"Thank you, Felicity," he answers with a warm smile, and somehow he manages to be even more attractive when he's not trying to charm his way into her pants—if that's even possible. Then he motions to her soda and sandwich. "Sorry I interrupted your lunch, though."

Felicity snorts. "Yeah, I'm really anxious to get back to my computer and eat lunch while I reconfigure the firewall," she responds sarcastically. "Trust me when I say it was a welcome interruption." She points to his computer. "If you have any more computer problems, feel free to drop by during lunch. IT Department, eighteenth floor. For the next two months, anyway." She offers him a genuine smile. "Don't be a stranger—you're the first person I could stand since I got here."

"I will," he assures her.

She grabs her lunch and wanders back to the cubicle, ignoring more whispering as people point at her again. (Seriously, what is their problem with black lipstick? She rocks the hell out of it.) It seems like a long elevator ride back to her floor, but finally she's able to duck into her cubicle again and get back to work. Felicity opens her soda, turning back to her work and leaving her sandwich untouched.

Because she's so engrossed in her work, she nearly jumps a foot in the air when someone raps their knuckles against the panel of her cubicle. When she looks up, it's to find a very familiar pair of blue eyes staring into her, a tight smile on Oliver's face. "My dad had a lunch meeting and bailed on me," he states to explain his presence in her office. "I'm going to the diner across the street, and I thought you might want to trade in your sandwich for some real food." There's a question in his voice, even though his statement is confident.

She doesn't even hesitate before answering, "Let me grab my coat."

 


 

Felicity legitimately doesn't understand the whispering that follows her wherever she goes. She didn't mind it because it was bound to happen, but it seems to get worse with every passing week. Every time she walks into the IT Department, she's met with whispering between co-workers, emphasized by gestures and staring in her general direction. Felicity knows most people consider her odd, socially stilted, and are paranoid about her dark fashion sense, but it's getting a little out of hand. But she can't deny that it's been worse, for some reason, after Oliver showed up at her office.

He's somehow managed to become her first friend in Starling, though she still has yet to figure out how it happened. They're nothing alike, to be honest; he's failed out of three colleges, has zero sense of responsibility, and he has a tendency to let his eyes linger over female figures while talking about his girlfriend in the same breath.

Not exactly his most flattering trait.

But, when she thinks about it, they kind of make sense, on a different level: they're both trying to escape from something. (Okay, he hasn't told her what he's running from, but Felicity isn't an idiot and neither is Oliver; she has no doubt he could have made it through any of those three colleges if he'd wanted to.) She's in Starling as a way of escaping a town she never wants to return to, and his penchant for getting himself into trouble seems like he's lashing out. But, when he's not—when he's having lunch with her—he's actually a pretty decent guy. And, as an added bonus, he doesn't treat her like a child and he never tries to make things uncomfortably awkward by flirting with her—which is nice, considering he's apparently just turned twenty-one.

The problem, though, is that Oliver is a mystery. Sure, she might have known him for a couple of weeks and lunch together happens at least three times a week, but he still seems to be guarded around her. Felicity knows that his sister is ten years younger than him, that his parents are married but miserable, that his relationship with his lawyer-to-be girlfriend is rocky at best, and that his best friend is just as wild and reckless as Oliver can be sometimes. But she still doesn't know any names but his—it's always my sister, my best friend, or my girlfriend, and he never mentions his last name. Oliver doesn't really make sense on most levels.

That changes, though, when they're headed down to Big Belly Burger one day—a restaurant she introduced him to last week. It's just as innocuous as ever, the two of them arguing in cheerful tones in the lobby about Shakespeare because he's never read any of the classics. "It's just Romeo and Juliet, though," he counters. "I didn't have to read it—everybody knows that story. Guy meets girl, they fall in love, they die. Not my kind of story."

She rolls her eyes at him, a common occurrence in her world. "Shakespeare wrote more than just the tale of star-crossed lovers, Oliver," she responds dryly, making a face at her own word. "And 'lovers' is such a weird word, even when you use it in Shakespearean context. Ew." He laughs at her before she pushes on with her point. "He wrote all kinds of things. Julius Caesar was a good one—and Hamlet is one of my favorites."

Felicity waves a hand. "But I always loved Macbeth because of Lady Macbeth. Most of the female characters of the time were weak and fragile, but really Lady Macbeth was the one behind it all. She was evil, sure, but still she was the one who came up with the plot to kill the king." She pokes him in the arm. "But I'm detouring from my point: when I quote a famous Shakespeare line, you should recognize it. Seriously, Oliver, how did you manage to miss 'something wicked this way comes'? That's classic Macbeth! I know it's not 'to be or not to be,' but it's still common enough that you should recognize it."

"Maybe I was distracted by the fact that you called me 'wicked,'" he teases with a smile. He opens his mouth to say something more, but his smile turns into a wince abruptly. Before Felicity can ask, a man in an impeccably tailored suit walks up to them. She's seen him before, but it takes her a moment to place him.

"Good afternoon, Oliver," he greets in a cordial tone and an English accent. Finally she remembers him: Walter Steele, the company's CFO. It makes her blink twice because apparently Oliver is on a first-name basis with the CFO and how did she not know this? "If you're meeting your father for lunch today, I can bring these documents by another time."

The smile that Oliver throws out is completely forced. "He's already expecting you, Walter," he assures the man tightly. "Apparently there's a meeting with a few members of the board and he wants to discuss the figures with you beforehand." He shrugs, and Felicity thinks the gesture might be defensive, trying to disassociate himself from the words. "Which is more than he usually shares."

"I think he's trying to pique your interest in the company," Mr. Steele answers carefully. It baffles Felicity for several reasons, the least important of them being that the idea of Oliver involved with Queen Consolidated is laughable. She isn't sure what she sees him doing with his life, but she knows it isn't a life in an executive position of a corporation. "Robert has always seen you taking his place."

To say it hits her like a battering ram all at once wouldn't be enough. It's worse than that, more violent than any metaphor she can think of. She puts the two together quick enough—how could she not? His last name is apparently plastered all over the building, his name bandied about between her co-workers who dismiss him as a womanizing trust fund kid.

Though she should probably be mad at him for not telling her he is Starling City's resident media obsession, all she can do is kick herself because, seriously, how had she not recognized him? For once, she regrets not getting cable and seeking company in books and computers instead of actually turning on her damn TV every now and again.

Her friend is a local celebrity, for God's sake.

But then everything small she'd dismissed starts to make sense. Her colleagues staring when she walks out the building with him. The awkward whispering in the hallways when she passes by the water cooler. Even Oliver's very new Mercedes that he used to drop her at her apartment after work a few days ago when he learned her car was in the shop.

But it still doesn't explain how he's so different than any of the stories she's heard. Yes, he's afraid of responsibility and she knows that, despite how he tries to hide it from her, his idea of commitment is a three-day weekend—despite what his girlfriend might think. (Which, for the first time, she realizes is Laurel Lance, the beautiful girl that everyone thinks will eventually be Mrs. Laurel Queen. Felicity isn't so sure about that.)

But he's also the one who was nice enough to ask her to lunch one day, who listened to her rant and rave about her co-workers as a sympathetic ear with no ulterior motive whatsoever. He's never asked her again for computer help, and they both know that there isn't anything remotely flirty between them. (And won't be—until she's eighteen, at the very least. Despite all his flaws, Oliver has a younger sister he's highly protective of, and she thinks that might influence at least some of his behavior.)

Walter has already walked away before she can think of anything to say to the Queen heir, but finally she manages to blurt out, "Everything about you just became so unbelievably clear." He grimaces, but Felicity thinks she owes him the benefit of the doubt. "I don't know if I'm more upset that you didn't tell me or that I didn't realize my friend is a local celebrity."

Oliver winces at that phrase. "I…" he starts slowly, tentatively, trailing off on the word. "I should have told you," he admits finally. Then he grimaces again. "But you were the first person I've ever met who didn't already know who I was. You didn't have any expectations of me, Felicity. To you, I wasn't Oliver Queen. And I liked that you didn't immediately decide I was a screw-up." He bites his lip. "How mad are you right now?" When she doesn't answer—because she's not even sure she knows the answer herself—he adds in a quiet voice, "I'll walk away and leave you alone, if that's what you want."

If there are two things that Felicity knows, it's that this is too much to handle at one time and that this isn't the time or place for this conversation. So she pulls him toward the exit by the arm, not really looking at him as she proclaims, "I need to process this for a moment." She holds up her other hand. "So here's what we're going to do. You are going to take me to that little ice cream parlor around the corner, and you are paying for my indulgence in some mint chocolate chip. Then you are going to sit across from me and contemplate the meaning of the phrase 'quiet as the grave' while I decide how pissed I am."

Something turns hopeful in Oliver's expression as he laughs. "Does that mean we're still friends, then?" he asks tentatively.

The question surprises her into an honest answer: "Absolutely." When he breaks out into a wide smile, she holds up her other hand. "But that doesn't mean I forgive you yet." It's a lie because they both know he's already forgiven, even if the processing part is true. "You have to work for it."

Then she winks at him. "Ice cream is a very good start."

 


 

Felicity sighs as she dials the number of the satellite phone Oliver gave her again, waiting for someone to pick up. Surely they aren't ignoring her; he assured her that someone would answer and find him if she called. They haven't talked since he left on that boat a few days ago, and, despite how ridiculous it is, she misses him terribly.

While it's been a year since they met and she's had to go back to MIT to finish up her senior year, she's never really missed him before because he always calls. They usually talk every day, and now she can feel the absence in her life where he's somehow managed to fill a space she never knew was there before. When she came back to Starling this summer, she thought they would be able to see each other in person again, but he left the day before she could return, assuring her over the phone that he'd see her in three weeks and bring her back some sort of souvenir.

Two days without talking to her, though, makes Felicity think he's not interested.

It should probably offend her, but it doesn't; he's pretty wrapped up in his new girlfriend. Laurel's five year plan had finally freaked him out enough to run (because if there are two things that terrify him, they are commitment and algebra). Which was fine—except he ran straight to Laurel's younger sister, Sara. The two are definitely in the 'lovebird' stage of their relationship, and Felicity figures he's spending a lot of time with the woman who called her 'cute' over the phone when the IT expert babbled at her for a few minutes.

Sighing and giving up on the call thing, she turns on the TV, settling in for a night of nothingness after her brain is tired from coding all day. Felicity is skimming channels when she finds it, and it makes her stomach plummet in the worst way possible because this cannot be happening.

Even as she tries to convince herself of that, the newscaster continues, "A mayday transmission came in from The Queen's Gambit last night."

 


 

Felicity shouldn't be here, she decides after a long moment of watching everything go on around her.

This isn't a funeral—not really. It's a spectacle, the kind that accompanies money and community status in a grand display. It's obvious by the way that Moira and Thea—twelve-year-old Thea—are impeccably put together despite this ceremony for the two men they loved most. And then Laurel, who Felicity knows has been broken up with Oliver for at least two weeks, is bawling like a devoted wife against Moira's shoulder. Honestly, the one she feels most sorry for is one Tommy Merlyn, who is doing much the same as her: crying quietly as he stands by himself, looking incredibly lost.

Maybe she shouldn't have tried to do this by herself, but Felicity didn't think she had anyone to help her through it. Her mother would have been smack in the middle of the scene, and Cooper gets… weird whenever she talks about guys. Crazy protective weird that she kind of wants to smack him for. And because of that, she hadn't mentioned her casual acquaintance with Oliver Queen; somehow she thinks that being friends with Starling City's most notorious playboy isn't going to make things better on that front.

So she sits under a tree and cries over Oliver Queen—something that she swore she'd never do.

She has no idea how long she stays there. It could be minutes or hours for all she knows, but she takes advantage of it because it's all the time she'll get to mourn him. Tomorrow morning, her friendship with one Oliver Queen will be in the past, and Felicity will be forced to pretend that everything is fine and she didn't just lose one of the only two friends she has.

"He got to you, too, huh?" a voice calls suddenly, and Felicity tilts her head up to look at him. She blinks twice when she sees Tommy Merlyn standing in front of her with puffy, red-rimmed eyes. "He does—did—that." There's no question who he's talking about, even if he hasn't mentioned him by name. Maybe he can't. "No matter what, people always loved Ollie—that's just how it worked."

"I'm sorry about your friend," Felicity blurts with no warning, cringing when Tommy winces. "And I'm sorry you had to sit there in pain while they turned your grief into some sort of media circus."

Tommy slides down the tree to sit next to her—except he's in a suit that probably cost more than her Bachelor's degree. "Me, too," he admits slowly. "But you lost him, too, right?" He studies her for a moment. "The other girls were crying to make a scene. You're not." Then he tilts his head in question. "You actually cared for him, didn't you?" he accuses.

Felicity wipes some of the tears from her face. "He was my friend," she admits, choking on the past tense in her words. "I was in Cambridge when he left, and I didn't get to see him again before…" A sob she's been holding back stumbles out of her mouth, and she swore she wasn't going to do this. At least not here, not in public where people could see her. Especially not Tommy Merlyn, who seems just as upset by the loss as she does.

But she can't get the tears to stop.

Fortunately, she doesn't have to, as Tommy only throws an arm around her, pulling her into his side. It should probably bother her because she's barely met him, but it's kind of nice to have someone to drown in the misery with. They both cry together for a while, until finally she cries herself out. "I'm Tommy, by the way," he says into her hair.

Rolling her eyes, Felicity replies, "I know who you are." In a quieter voice, she adds, "I'm Felicity Smoak."

The name shouldn't mean anything to him, but somehow, it does. "You're the one he ditches me to have lunch with," he realizes in a raspy, teary voice—and somehow, there manages to be a smile in it. "Glad I finally got to meet you, but I'm sorry it had to be like this." He shifts away from her then, rising to his feet and offering her a hand up. "What do you say that we dust this grass off our asses and get to know each other over a drink?"

"How about ice cream?" she tries instead, staring at him for a moment. "I can't legally drink for another four years." She lifts a shoulder. "Not that it stops me most of the time, but I can't exactly walk into a bar where they'll card me."

Tommy's hand doesn't budge, still on offer. "I'm easy," he answers with a tentative smile. Then he looks at her. "Ollie never mentioned you were underage." He offers her a crooked grin that sits wrong with his red eyes. "I promise I'll protect your virtue, milady," he adds, and Felicity has to resist the urge to tell him that he has absolutely nothing to protect. That ship sailed last year when she went home to Vegas for a week and realized the boy next door had gotten pretty damn gorgeous in her absence—and had a fetish for goth girls.

Instead, she takes the offered hand. "Why not?" she agrees casually as he pulls her up. Then she chuckles a little. "After all, 'misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows,' right?" He looks at her, blinking twice, and Felicity groans. "Seriously, what is with you billionaires? You have no appreciation for the classics." She dusts off her dress after releasing his hand, then points him toward her car.

In response, he offers, "I'm sure I would—you know, if I ever read the classics."

 


 

It's not hyperbole when Felicity says she stops breathing the moment he comes into view. She always thought that was a literary device, but when he shows up in her office at lunch time, she legitimately forgets to breathe for a moment. She thought she'd accepted it after all the news reports went absolutely nuts, but it's not until here and now the she realizes this isn't just a huge, wonderful dream.

"Hey," he says as he leans against the doorway in her office. It's so ludicrously casual, as though he does this every day, like he hasn't been presumed dead for five years and it's perfectly normal for him to drop by her office at lunch. When she doesn't immediately answer—because her brain is having trouble processing this—he adds self-consciously, "This is a lot nicer than your last workspace."

He's definitely her Oliver (well not, her Oliver, but her Oliver—they're different in her head), even if he's not at the same time. Her Oliver would have picked up a monologue talking about how boats suck and he's never getting on one again, instead of offering her ten words with a timid smile. He would have filled out that gray sweater from before the island completely, instead of it falling loosely off his shoulders and hinting at newly acquired muscle beneath it. His face would have been softer, he would have been clean-shaven, and his hair would have been longer. His sharp blue eyes would be filled with mirth, not sadness, and his shoulders wouldn't have been so tense. But, then again, she wouldn't have had blonde hair or glasses back then, either.

None of it really matters, though, because he's alive and he's in her office.

Felicity rises from her desk and rounds it in a single movement, taking hurried steps toward him. She wraps her arms around his neck in a hug, pulling him against her with a startled oof. Oliver seems surprised by the turn of events, tensing for a moment before he wraps his arms around her in the best hug she's had in a very long time. Slowly his head drops to the junction between her neck and shoulder, and he exhales a weary sigh against her neck.

She means to say something meaningful, like I'm glad you're alive or I missed you. Instead, it somehow manages to come out, "God, you're hard." He sucks in a sharp breath next to her ear, and Felicity cringes at the way that sounds, pulling back. "No, that's not what I meant at all." She waves her hands wildly. "I meant that you're all muscle-y now." Then she realizes that doesn't help, either, and Oliver's face goes all twitchy. "Not that you weren't before, but it's just that it's really noticeable now. And you finally got a much-needed haircut." Finally she decides, "You look good. Like, really good."

His mouth twitches again and she realizes he's smiling at her—albeit in a very controlled way. At the same time, Felicity realizes that this was the last thing she meant to say or do. She didn't want to make their first meeting after five years awkward, but here she is, doing just that. "And all this is a really weird way of saying that I'm glad you're alive and standing in my office. But I'm pretty sure you didn't come here to listen to me babble."

His response is oddly reserved for Oliver, his mouth turning up at the corners. "Actually, I did," he assures her with just a hint of that familiar playful tone. Then his eyes graze over her, taking in her appearance in a way that makes her feel like he's seeing her for the very first time. "Your new look suits you, too," he answers after a long moment, his compliment much more controlled and subtle. It's as though he's afraid of offending her in some way. His hand twitches toward her but then stops, as though he's trying to hold himself back. Finally he adds, "I thought we might have lunch together." There isn't a question there, but it isn't necessary.

"Of course," Felicity answers simply, reaching over to grab her coat and purse. Because, well, billionaire or not, they're still going dutch. The two of them are quiet for the walk and most of the elevator ride, until she realizes it's the awkward quiet and not the uncomfortable quiet. "It's crazy," she admits, "but I have no idea what to talk to you about. I don't want to just babble at you—again—but I can guess you probably don't want to talk about…" She trails off. "Well, the last five years, I guess."

"You'd be right," Oliver answers in a completely unfamiliar tone, one filled with grief and dark with something she can't quite place.

It makes her falter for a moment, but she continues as though he hadn't spoken. "That had to be a mountain of suck, and I don't want you to feel like you have to relive it for me. But I also want you to know that if you do want to talk, I'll listen to you. I know it's hard to tell sometimes, but I'm a really good listener and—"

"Felicity," he cuts in, silencing her with only a word. This time the smile on his face is obvious and not at all understated as Oliver places a hand on her arm. "Thank you." Something lingers between them for a moment, but it seems to end when the elevator doors open. Using the distraction to change the subject, he comments, "I never thought I'd see you working for the company again—I remember you hating this place."

The fact that he's remembered this after five years of pure misery flatters Felicity a little. "I did that first summer," she admits, "and then I came back because the money was good the last time. But after I went back and earned my Master's, they offered me a managerial position." She shrugs. "I was going to take a position at a software firm in Cambridge instead, but after Cooper…"

Oliver deserves to hear about this, which is the only thing that makes her push on. The last five years haven't been full of good things for her, either, though. "I got into some trouble after you… left," Felicity admits slowly, and those blue eyes focus on her even tighter now. She'd never have described anything about his gaze as piercing before, but today, it's the perfect word. "Cooper and I dated, and I got a little caught up in him. He had a political agenda for my computer skills—which wasn't exactly legal, by the way—and it didn't end well." She bites her lip. "I walked away and he died in prison." She tries to shrug it off, but the smile on her face isn't as bright this time. "It was time for a change."

"I'm sorry about Cooper," Oliver inserts in a sincere tone. "I know you two were close." The smile he offers is soft and tentative, as though he's rusty with the whole smile thing. "But I'm glad you're here. It makes it easier for me to see you. I made a promise to meet you for lunch." His face falls a little. "I'm five years too late, but I like to keep my promises."

Felicity laughs at that, weaving her arm through his in a way that's both familiar and foreign at the same time. He doesn't seem to mind. "You're doing a good job so far," she agrees. Then she nudges him a little. "How are things with your family? Tommy said dinner was a little rocky yesterday."

She nearly falls when Oliver stops walking abruptly, fixing her with a glance she doesn't know how to interpret. "You talked to Tommy?" he surmises, repeating it in a way that makes it sound like it's not really a question. His tone indicates that he's not exactly pleased with that turn of events, especially because he pulls his arm out of hers to study her.

"We talk a lot," Felicity admits truthfully, unsure why this is a thing for him. "Tommy and I kind of met at your non-funeral. We cried together and then he bought me ice cream. I gave him my number so he could call if he ever wanted to reminisce, but then somehow I'm loading his drunk ass into my car one night because the bartender called me to pick him up." She rolls her eyes fondly. "We just kind of became friends after that. There's something about how nursing a hangover in a person's guest bedroom is an unshakable bond of friendship, if you ask him." With a self-conscious shrug, she adds, “You're our friend and you've been through a horrible ordeal. We're bound to talk about you a little."

"He didn't mention that," Oliver answers as a way to explain his surprise. "I'm glad you two are friends, though." The hint of a smile lights his features a little as they start down the street to one of the diners there. "Tommy might have a worse track record with women than I do."

The blonde can't help but snort as they turn down a side road, the one she uses all the time to reach the diner. "He has it in his head that he's some sort of white knight whose sole duty is to protect my virtue," Felicity tells her friend with a laugh, rolling her eyes. "I haven't had the heart to tell him that ship sailed a long time ago." Then she winces. "Probably not the best metaphor to use right now."

Before he can answer, Oliver slows in the alleyway, reaching for his neck. He pulls out a dart of some kind, and, before Felicity can ask, he collapses to the ground. With shaking fingers, she drops to her knees next to him and checks for a pulse, relieved when she finds one. She's about to scream for help when two men drop from nowhere, and one of them clamps a hand over her mouth and nose so tight that her lungs scream for oxygen. She tries to fight, but she can't see with him behind her and he has an excellent hold.

"What do you want me to do with the girl?" the muffled voice behind her asks, seemingly to another man. His grip is too tight and she can't fight his grip on her, even though she tries. He smells like tobacco and a thick smoke that she thinks might be gunpowder. "The instructions were only to take Queen. I could snap her neck," he suggests, and Felicity's blood goes cold.

There's a long pause before the answer comes from the man who must be in charge. "We're supposed to get answers," he reminds her captor. "She might be a useful extraction tool." While Felicity might be oxygen-deprived and it might be affecting her thought, being compared to a dental drill doesn't sound particularly wonderful. "Bring her along," the leader finally decides. "If we can't use her, we can just kill her then."

She isn't sure if it's that thought or the oxygen starvation that makes her vision go black.

 


 

Felicity awakens with a stinging in her cheek, and she realizes after a moment that one of her captors must have slapped her. She tries to scurry away, but the bindings stop her. Only then does she realize she's tied to a chair, right beside the man they were hired to take. The men standing in front of her are wearing red devil masks, and from her TV research, she thinks that might be a good thing.

They're not supposed to kill you if they wear masks, right?

"You son of a bitch," a voice to her right snarls in a wild tone. Felicity turns her head so fast it makes her a little dizzy, though it gives her a nice view of Oliver, seemingly in a tied-up situation similar to her own. The difference, however, is that he has murder in his eyes, his expression dark in ways that are entirely new to the blonde.

It should probably scare her, but instead, it just makes Felicity's mouth go dry. She blames the new rugged look he seems to be sporting because, well, she likes it a lot. Five years ago, he'd been absolutely adorable with his dimples and hair dyed the color of honey, but something about the unshaven jaw and short, dark hair just seem to make her female parts stand up and take notice. Though she's been trying to repress that all day, she can't exactly fight it right now.

Then she remembers the whole hostage situation thing, and suddenly fear pushes through the post-oxygen deprivation fog.

"Let her go," Oliver continues to growl at them. "I'll tell you whatever you want—just let. Her. Go." There's danger in his voice, and Felicity kind of appreciates that her friend is putting on a brave face for her sake, even if they probably aren't going comply with their hostage.

"I will," the kidnapper assures him in a soft voice, "but only after you answer my questions." He walks toward Felicity, and something tells her this isn't going to end well. "Mr. Queen, did your father survive that shipwreck?" Oliver's expression is stony and defiant in response, his back straightening in the chair as though he's mentally preparing himself for something.

The kidnapper moves so fast that Felicity doesn't even see it happen. One moment, she's watching them intently and the next, her face is on fire and her eyes are watering. The asshole must have slapped her again, the blonde realizes after a moment. Her mouth feels like she's swallowed a glass of water at once, so she spits it off to one side. Blood splatters the floor.

"You hurt her again and I'll kill you," Oliver promises. His tone terrifies her because there's no anger in it anymore; it's simply cold, as though he's stating a fact, seemingly undeterred by the idea of homicide. It would probably bother her less if he'd faltered; something about his tone makes her think he's perfectly prepared to make good on his threat.

The kidnapper is dismissive. "You're zip-cuffed to that chair," he offers evenly. "I'll ask again, Mr. Queen: did your father survive that shipwreck? Did he tell you anything?" Again he's met with stony silence, so he turns to one of his associates—the one standing next to her—and nods.

Suddenly there's a crackling sound as something gets jabbed into her stomach, and her whole world explodes into agony. The scream leaves her mouth without permission in a wordless, sustained note, like a plea to beg the pain to stop. Only after he pulls the device away does she realize it's a more intense version of that motherboard she shocked herself on as a kid. Taser, she decides in a haze of consciousness.

She assumes it stops because the kidnapper is gearing up for round two, but the second wave never hits her. When she can finally see straight again, Felicity is met with a scene of two kidnappers down with bullet holes in them and blood seeping out. Then she has to bite back a scream when a third goes flying past her side, this one holding a taser. It's only then that she realizes the chair holding Oliver is gone, the chair lying in smashed pieces around the warehouse.

"You're safe," he says from behind her, panting a little. Then something pulls at her wrists. "The fourth man ran off—I'm going to go after him." As her hands are released, he moves so that he can face her. "I'm going to find," Oliver tells her with a dark glint in his eye, and if ever there's a look that screams violence, it's this one. He's already moving by the time calls over his shoulder, "You'll be safe here—I'll come back for you."

If there's ever anything Felicity refuses to do, it's to sit and wait like a helpless damsel in distress. So instead of heeding his advice, she rises to her feet. It gives her a better view of the bodies, and she's not so sure that's a good thing. While the two lying in their own blood were clearly hit with bullets from each other’s guns, the one with the taser is sprawled across the floor, his head turned at an unnatural angle that makes her think his neck was snapped. She can see what the facts are telling her, but it doesn't make much sense because the only one who could have done that is Oliver.

And Oliver isn't capable of that kind of violence, is he?

It makes bile rise in her throat to think about that, but it's the only explanation she can come up with. It's all she's going to think about if she stays in this room, and because the last thing she wants to do right now is throw up, Felicity starts after Oliver. She mostly hobbles because everything is still a little tingly after the taser, but she moves toward the same exit he did.

It doesn't take her long to catch up. The man apparently didn't get far, which is impressive with the head start that cutting her loose would have afforded the kidnapper. Oliver has the man at an odd angle, one where he clearly can't fight the grip, though he tries. But something tells her that hand around his neck isn't a good thing. Apparently the kidnapper comes to the same conclusion because he tells Oliver in a pleading voice, "You don't have to do this."

Oliver isn't interested in playing nice, it seems. "I told you what would happen if you hurt her again," he answers simply, and the cold logic in his statement sends a chill down her spine. Before she has time to process that, he twists and a horrible cracking sound follows. He tosses the body away from him as though it's a rag doll, in a way far too relaxed for someone who has never done this before. That alone makes her hurt for him, while equally making her go cold.

He turns then, eyes widening when he sees Felicity standing in the middle of the corridor. It quickly turns to something that she'd call shame on anyone else, but Oliver had always been shameless before. When he approaches her, it's as though he's trying to coax a wild animal out—which is ridiculous because, despite her inability to comprehend this right now, she knows that Oliver wouldn't hurt her. After all, the reason he did this at all was because they had hurt her.

Before she can assure him that it doesn't matter, a chill washes over her, followed by a bone-crippling kind of tired that makes her fall to the warehouse floor on her knees. Suddenly that urge to throw up she fought before comes back to her, and she can't really fight it this time. Felicity heaves hard as she empties the contents of her stomach onto the floor, but she is acutely aware of the hands around her as she does so.

Finally she finishes, sighing as she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. "That was incredibly disgusting," she mutters to herself. "I need a toothbrush." A low rumble of a laugh comes from Oliver, and she turns back to see him shaking his head as he kneels on the floor next to her. "It's really cold, too," she notes. "Are you cold?"

"It's shock," Oliver assures her in a quiet, guarded voice. "I'm sorry you had to see that, but they weren't going to stop hurting you and I couldn't send them back to their employers with a very clear idea of what I'm capable of." A shiver works its way down her spine. "I'm going to take a look at your injuries," he warns her, his motions slow and methodical.

Unable to resist, Felicity rolls her eyes. "I'm not going to run, Oliver," she assures him in a dry tone. "Mostly because I'm not sure I can even get off the floor right now, but also because I'm not scared of you at all." She wraps her hand around his wrist, and the action seems to startle him. "I thought the past five years must have been rock bottom for you, but now I'm starting to think you drilled through the rock and dropped through fifty feet of crap." She meets his eyes then, even though it takes most of her strength to do so. "I'm so sorry for what you must have been through. You didn't deserve that."

Instead of answering, he pokes and prods at her cheek gently, examining it in a way that says this isn't his first rodeo. "You didn't deserve this," he answers finally, in a very resolute tone. Then he releases her face, his hands simultaneously reaching for her sweater to lift it up. Though she probably shouldn't stutter out his name in surprise, she does anyway. And, of course, Felicity turns crimson when she realizes that Oliver meant only to check on the burn marks left behind by the taser. That doesn't mean she doesn't take another shaky breath when his callused fingers run across the two circular burns, though.

Finally he pulls her shirt down, rising to his feet before offering her a hand. Felicity takes it without a thought, relying on him to pull her up when her muscles protest the action. Everything is sore at once, and she wonders if that's the adrenaline wearing off or the voltage that coursed through her because of the taser.

Oliver studies her a long moment before he dares to speak again. "We'll have to call the police," he decides, and the way his mouth tilts down makes Felicity think that he considers it a bad thing. Then she tries to imagine what sort of world he lived in for the last five years that made calling the cops a bad thing. His lips press together for a moment. "I won't ask you to lie for me, Felicity, but I would appreciate it if you didn't contradict the story I tell them—no matter how it sounds." He hesitates. "And I promise I'll explain everything tonight, after this is over."

She already knows she's willing to lie for him, but she has a feeling that admission will lead to an argument of some sort. Even after five years, she's well aware of what will cause an argument or not. Instead, she nods, absently starting back toward the van and hoping they can find their cell phones in the van. Her stomach growls, making her remember what got them into this situation in the first place.

He chuckles when she asks, "Do you think this is an acceptable reason for taking a two-hour lunch?"

 


 

To say she's a little intimidated by the mansion is an understatement, but Oliver had insisted it would be a good place for the cops to meet them. Now that she's here sitting on one of the sofas, she thinks she should have argued a little harder against having the cops meet them here. Not only is Moira Queen's stare terrifying as hell, but the place itself seems to scream old money at the top of its lungs.

As a kid who grew up with hand-me-down clothes, old money kind of wigs her out.

Still, Oliver's hand on her arm is rather soothing throughout the whole ordeal, as though it's a display of allegiance. Her bloody lip is starting to feel better, too, so she takes it as a win. For the most part she's doing all right, until two people enter the house.

The second of the two men steals her attention away with a, "Jesus, Smoak, I thought we agreed on no excitement." Then Tommy hugs her before he pulls away and glares at Oliver with mock severity. "Next time you decide to get yourself into trouble, leave my girl out of it."

Before Oliver can respond, Felicity cuts in. "First of all, I'm not property and I don't belong to anyone," she points out, and she thinks it's a fair side note. "And, secondly, even if I did, I'd technically be Oliver's girl because he met me first. Don't be a friend-stealer."

The detective behind him clears his throat. "As much as I'm enjoying this little sidebar," he states in a grumpy tone, as though it's their fault they were kidnapped, "I'd kind of like to conduct my interviews. Merlyn, pipe down or get out." It somehow does the job; Tommy drops next to her without a word, other than an of course, Mr. Lance muttered under his breath.

It takes Felicity half a second to put it together. Detective Lance, as in gorgeous Laurel's dad—as in Sara's dad, the one who hasn't taken Oliver's non-death too well because his daughter is dead and Oliver isn't.

Just like that, she can feel the awkward factor ratchet up about two hundred degrees.

"You've been back in town, what, two days?" Lance asks Oliver in that growly tone. "Good to see you're as popular as ever, Queen." Felicity thinks that might be a little unfair; after all, it's not his fault. "Who did you piss off this time?"

Oliver doesn't rise to the bait, instead relaying his statement and looking much more shaken than he had during the actual ordeal. It takes her a moment to realize it's an act. "Felicity and I were just going to get lunch, and we cut down one of the back alleys to save time." He shrugs, looking utterly confused. "There was a pinch in my neck and then I passed out."

Before Lance can ask anything else, Felicity interjects, "After Oliver went down, one of them clamped a hand over my mouth." She surprises herself with how calm she is, but then again, now it feels like a story, something that happened to someone else. "I think he did it to keep me from screaming. There was another man there, too. They started talking about what they wanted to do with me—said something about their instructions being to abduct Oliver." Only as she realizes her next words does a shiver run along her spine. "They talked about killing me, but one of them said that I could be used as an 'extraction tool,' and, if it didn't work, they could always kill me later."

Before that thought can really penetrate, Oliver's hand wraps around hers in a gesture of comfort. Lance notices it, judging by the frown that sours his expression further, but he chooses not to comment. "So there were two of them at the scene?" he asks instead

"Four," Oliver corrects. "When I woke up, we were in the warehouse. They tried to ask me questions about my father"—everyone in the room freezes at the mention—"but I couldn't answer any of their questions." He swallows tightly, his expression darkening. "They threatened Felicity instead of me. They told me that if I didn't answer, they'd hurt her. When I couldn't answer the first time, they slapped her. Then they used a taser on her the second time."

The hand in hers tightens, but this time it's for Oliver's comfort, not hers. "I was trying to explain that I didn't know anything when this guy swooped in out of nowhere." He releases her hand to hold up his own. "I know it sounds crazy, but he was dressed in a green suit and had a hood over his head." Felicity blinks twice at the lie, but tries to remind herself that she's supposed to know this. "He killed the first three and ran off after the fourth bailed out of there. But he did stop to get us out of our restraints."

Lance looks suitably disbelieving, but Felicity honestly isn't sure he'd buy the truth any more than the lie. "That's what you want to go with?" he demands, looking suitably unimpressed. "Some guy dressed like Robin Hood swooped in and saved you from your kidnappers." Before Oliver can answer, Lance turns to Felicity with narrowed eyes. "Did you see the hood guy, too?"

"I know it sounds ridiculous, Detective, but I saw him," Felicity lies smoothly. "My vision was a little blurry and I was out of it after the whole taser thing, but there was definitely a guy in a green suit." She shrugs a little self-consciously. "I didn't get a good look at him, but I can't think of any other explanation for what I saw."

For her, it isn't about the lie. She doesn't mind lying for Oliver. But, for Felicity, this moment is a display of trust, something to remind him that, before islands and superviruses, they were friends and that's all that really matters to her. It even earns her a nod of thanks from across the room.

Felicity returns it with a half-smile, and just like that, everything that's been wrong in her world for the last five years feels completely right.

Chapter Text

 


 

Time seems to slow down. She watches as Helena squeezes the trigger, but Laurel can't manage to get her feet to move, to get out of the way of the bullet. Instead she closes her eyes, waiting for the impact to strike home. A shot fires, followed quickly by a second and a third, but they never hit. When she's brave enough to open her eyes, she can't help but let out a quiet gasp.

Deathstroke.

All the times Laurel has worked with her, she's never seen the Vengeance of Starling fall, but tonight she crumples almost immediately, limbs tangling in a heap. All she can do for a moment is stare, but then Helena drops, too, and draws her attention, to reveal Sara standing behind her with the bo staff. For a moment, she must not notice her fallen friend either, but then after sharing a look with Laurel, she stares at the body of her fallen friend. "Shit," she decides, in a nice summation of the situation.

Sara makes a run for the crumpled woman, her hands working to find exposed skin. "No need to check for a pulse," Deathstroke tells her, causing both sisters to exhale in relief. "I'm alive." Then she makes a sound somewhere between a cough and a laugh. "Probably not for long, though. The Arrow knows what to do—we've talked about it." When she tries to get up, she falls. Laurel doesn't think that makes for a good prognosis. "Remind him that he made a promise to me."

Something seems to harden on Sara's face, and then she turns to her sister. "Laurel, I need you to help me carry her—the task force is going to be on us soon." Then she presses on the comm in her ear before turning back to Laurel, motioning for her to lift her by the legs. "Digg, I'm in southeast of the courthouse and I need an extraction now. Deathstroke is down—she took three to the chest. Laurel is with me—I need her to help me carry her." There's a short pause. "I think my arm is broken, but I'm fine." The two of them shuffle awkwardly with her weight for a while, but then Sara sighs at something in her earpiece. "You can't come back in here—the task force is hot on our heels. You just be at the van."

Something drops down in the alleyway next to them, and Laurel bites back a scream before she realizes who it is. Sara, however, is less impressed; she just rolls her eyes. "I'm already here," the Arrow answers tersely, “and I can carry her back faster than the two of you." Instead of arguing, he cradles her body against his chest with a tenderness that makes the first flashes of guilt come to Laurel. If she hadn't insisted on being there, Deathstroke would be fine. "Hey, how are you?" he asks the vigilante in his arms.

"The phrase 'death warmed over' comes to mind," she answers, her voice weaker than before as he cradles her close. "I know you probably already know this, but just so we're clear, I want you to know that I—"

"Tell me after I get you patched up," he answers sharply. She laughs at that, the sound ironic. Even Laurel, as limited as her medical knowledge is, knows how slim those odds are. But before Deathstroke can speak, the Arrow cradles her further into his arms, squeezing her leg to get her attention. "I know how bad it is, but I need you to get angry for me—just one more time. Because I need you to fight. If not for you, do it for Roy." In a very quiet, broken voice, he adds, "Do it for me."

Deathstroke only laughs in response. "Of course," she answers, as though he's asked her to do something as mundane as have lunch with him. "You have a habit of asking for the impossible, though. It's a good thing you're so unfairly gorgeous or I might say no every now and again." Her words fade off as her head lulls against his shoulder.

The Arrow chuckles despite the frown on his face before turning to Laurel. "Thank you for your help. You should get back before they realize you're gone."

He starts to sprint off, but she doesn't let him, catching his arm. It's a stupid move, but she isn't going to let this happen. "No," she declares. "Helena shot at me, not her. She took those bullets for me. If I can help in any way, I want to."

The look the Arrow throws her is tired, as though the shooting alone has aged him. "Fine," he snaps in exasperation. "Keep up." Then into his earpiece, he adds, "Laurel's coming with us." There's a slight pause as he picks up in a run. "I don't like it either," he growls at the response he receives from the comm, "but every minute I spend arguing is one more away from saving her." The brunette thinks she hears his voice break somewhere in that, and she swallows hard.  It must be worse than she thought.

The line either goes silent or he refuses to answer because no one speaks again until they reach the black van waiting for them. The Arrow immediately goes to a cabinet against the wall, pulling out a towel and throwing it over Deathstroke's wounds. When he drapes her across the floor, she stays limp, and Laurel realizes slowly that she's unconscious. "Press down hard," the Arrow instructs her, and she does as he asks, watching as Sara closes the doors. All of them tilt slightly as the van takes off, but no one else seems to even notice.

Instead, Sara comes to her side with more towels, inspecting the blonde's shoulder wound before applying pressure to it and the third bullet hole in the middle of her chest. "Oh, that doesn't look good," she admits in a quiet voice. Then she clears her throat, addressing the Arrow. "She said to remind you that you made her a promise—whatever that means."

The sigh that answers makes Laurel think that the Arrow knows precisely what she meant. "I wish she hadn't," he snaps, pulling over a very large first aid kit. "She needs an ICU, not whatever triage medicine we can pull out in the next five minutes." Despite that, he still keeps trying, pulling a bullet out of her and throwing it into some sort of container, his gloves absent now. Then he calls to the driver, "Digg, I need you to run downstairs and clear the gurney when we get there. We're going to need monitors and the defibrillator." His hand goes to Deathstroke's wrist. "And all the atropine we've got. Her heart is slowing down."

The answer that comes from the front seat is slow and careful. "Man, I don't think I need to tell you—"

"No, you don't," the Arrow agrees, lashing out in such a dark tone that it makes Laurel flinch. "I know what we're facing here, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. She might have accepted it, but I haven't." The brunette notices that when he pulls away this time, his hands are shaking. "Sara, watch her. I need to call Roy."

He unzips his jacket then, moving forward into the front passenger seat for what privacy he can manage, and Laurel stares after him. She can't help but notice that he's holding it together surprisingly well; while he might not be pleasant to work with right now, she knows that if it had been Tommy, she'd be a sobbing mess.

Something in her expression must give rise to her thoughts because Sara notes quietly, "I don't ever think I've seen him this scared before." Then she shakes her head, looking down at Deathstroke as though she's talking to her. "You've always been good at fighting—more than the rest of us. So you better fight, gorgeous. I'm not done with you just yet—and neither is he."

Before Laurel can ask, the van peels to a halt in an unfamiliar alleyway. The driver makes a run for the building, and the Arrow gathers up Deathstroke's unconscious body in his arms. Before Sara can ask, he explains to her tersely, "Roy is on his way. He knows what to expect." Then he says to Laurel, "Tommy is waiting downstairs—I thought you might need someone to stay with you."

She starts to ask how Tommy and he know each other, but then she decides this isn't the time. Instead, she follows them into the basement. Sure enough, Tommy is there, and he gathers her into his arms immediately. "You okay?" he asks her, and all Laurel can do is nod. Okay is a relative term at this point; while it might have been a traumatic night, in comparison to Deathstroke, she's doing quite well.

"Better than them," she admits finally, nodding toward Deathstroke and the Arrow.

 


 

Somewhere behind him, he can hear Tommy mutter, "Jesus," and Oliver doesn't really disagree with that assessment. Everyone seems determined to tell him she's already dead, but as long as the woman in his arms is still alive, he's going to fight to keep her breathing. Felicity isn't just a friend or a confidant or a partner—she's one of the more important people in his universe. If she dies tonight, what little of him is still alive after the island is going to die, too.

As much as every fiber of his being is begging to fall apart, he can't allow that. Not now, not when she needs him. Instead, he pushes it all back from his mind and focuses on what he needs to do for her, unbuckling his quiver as soon as his feet leave the stairs. It crashes to the ground, arrows falling everywhere, but he doesn't give a damn about them. Right now, he's focused only on Felicity, placing her on the gurney as Diggle pulls their makeshift crash cart over.

His next thought is for the monitor, reaching for the electrodes. "Digg, you give her the atropine and get started—I'll hook her to the monitor." Oliver knows his orders are coming out sharp and hateful, but he doesn't have anything else in him. The only way to keep going is to keep himself fighting—if not with actions, then with words. "Sara, I need you to hold pressure for now," he commands as he unbuckles Felicity's swords with shaking hands. He slides them away, placing them on the shelf under the gurney.

Then he moves to the zipper of her jacket, pulling it down to place electrodes on her chest. The third on her abdomen forces him to expose that tattoo of the phoenix, and he can't help but think of how perfectly that describes her: Felicity is an expert of rising from the ashes. She's going to again—at least one more time. Oliver is going to make damn sure of that.

Almost prepared to find the worst, he pulls the mask from her face. Fortunately, though, he doesn't see any lines of blood around her mouth, meaning her lungs are at least intact. It might not be the best news under the circumstances, but it reminds him that it could be worse. Still, it looks wrong to see her eyes closed and that usually talkative mouth silent and unsmiling.

Next he motions to Sara. "Hold pressure on the left," he barks. "I'm going to pull her right side out of the jacket first." The moment he pulls the jacket back, Sara covers the wound in her shoulder with the towel again, allowing Oliver to manipulate her arm out of it. They switch sides and do it all over again, and Oliver is pleased to find that Diggle is already starting to work on the worst of the wounds.

"What do you need me to do now?" Sara asks him, being more generous than he deserves under the circumstances. Her arm is hanging limp at her side, but apparently she's electing not to care about that at the moment. It really shouldn't surprise him; the younger Lance sister is an expert at putting herself last, and she's almost as fond of Felicity as he is.

He touches her good shoulder as he slides past her, turning the monitor on as he passes it. Oliver takes time to note that it's holding steady and in range, which means the atropine is doing its job. "Hold on just a minute longer," he tells her. "I need to get out of this gear if I'm going to do anything." The hood is a hindrance, blocking his light. Though it means revealing his identity to Laurel, he knows that she'll keep quiet, if only for her sister's sake.

Without a second thought, he yanks the hood down, ripping off the mask and tossing it across the room, not caring where it lands. The jacket follows by dropping to the ground at his feet, leaving him in a black t-shirt. Somewhere in the back, he hears Laurel's gasp of acknowledgment, but he has other things to focus on.

Placing his hand on Sara's, Oliver orders her, "I've got it from here. Go get a sling from the box and rest that arm." He nods to her. "You can say you were in a motorcycle accident and get x-rays tomorrow." He doesn't like the knowing pity that she answers with, but she squeezes his arm anyway. Instead of focusing on that, he turns his attention to Diggle. "What does it look like?"

The other man levels a look at him, the kind that make Oliver feel like he's seeing into his soul. "This one nicked an artery," he answers finally. "She's bleeding pretty bad, but I've tied off the artery and it's probably going to be fine. The one in the other shoulder is a through-and-through—no permanent damage." He uses his hemostat to point toward the one Oliver is holding pressure on, in the middle of her chest. "That one is going to be trouble. It must have hit her while she was moving because it missed her heart—barely. If she was standing still, there wouldn't have been any question about it. Looks like it didn't penetrate too deep because her vitals are good considering, but it could be tricky to pull out. And if it hit any of the major vessels in there, it's game over."

Diggle sighs when the vigilante doesn't even flinch at the news. "Look, Oliver, we made good time getting here and you know I'm going to do everything I can to save her. She might be a fighter, but there are some things—"

Oliver has heard enough for one night, and suddenly he can't hold it back any longer. "You think I don't know that she's probably going to die on this table tonight, John?!" he explodes without warning, slamming his hand into the gurney. Diggle doesn't even flinch. "I think we've established that between the three of us! I know it's bad, but we stop when even the defibrillator won't bring her back! I need you to—"

"Maybe the reason we keep trying to break it to you gently is because you're so in love with the girl that you can't see straight," John cuts through him, never raising his voice. Instead, his attention goes back to the hole in Felicity's shoulder. Oliver blinks twice at the admission, which earns him an eye roll. "Please. The only person who doesn't know that is currently lying on this table." That's not exactly true at this point, but it also isn't any of Digg's business. "I haven’t always been Felicity's biggest fan, but I'm going to do everything I can to save her. Because, honestly? I don't really want to know what kind of person you'd be if you lost her." He shakes his head. "I can't even imagine what's going through your head right now. If yelling at me makes you feel better, do it, but it's not gonna help her. Getting your head in this will."

Deflating instantly, Oliver nods once. Diggle is right—as per usual—and the only thing the vigilante's anger is doing is making everyone miserable. Still, applying pressure to her wounds means he can't stitch up the more minor injury, and he's itching to do something.

As if in answer to his question, Laurel appears at his shoulder. "What can I do to help, Ollie?" she asks him, her voice almost a whisper. Then she points to the two spots in Felicity's leg and hip—two bullets she took earlier in the night from the Anti-Vigilante Task Force. "Do you want me to pull those out?" They clearly aren't deep, thanks to the kevlar in her suit—and the fact they weren't using armor-piercing rounds—but they're both in very delicate places for other reasons. If they were life-threatening, his concern for her life would come before his concern for her modesty, but they seem to be minor.

He shakes his head. "I can help her with those later," he decides, an admission that makes Laurel's eyebrows rise for a moment. "If you can put pressure on this one, I can start stitching up this through-and-through." She places her hands over his almost immediately, and he pulls his out from under them before turning to the medical kit for more suture and supplies.

"It's a little hard for me to believe that Felicity is Deathstroke," Laurel starts conversationally. He knows it's just a tactic to keep his mind away from this, but he still appreciates it nonetheless. "She's just so… bubbly. I didn't think those two things really fit together."

Oliver can't help but chuckle at that. "That's one side of her," he agrees slowly, weaving suture through the wound with practiced ease. "I think you saw the person she was before Japan because that's what she wants the world to see. In her Deathstroke gear, she's… darker." It's the only way he can think to describe her. "You have different sides to your personality, too. She just separates hers and it a name." He nods to where Sara sits against the wall. "All of us do—it's how we do this."

Laurel nods several times at that. He knows her well enough to see that she has something on her mind, something rolling around in her head, but he waits for her to address it. After all, he has more important things to worry about—like the woman who probably won't survive the night, who he's trying so hard to save from that fate. It makes his fingers shake to even think about it, but crying isn't going to help Felicity.

Finally the brunette seems to find her voice, and Oliver cringes at her tone the moment it comes out. "You two seem…" she starts, trailing off as she motions to Felicity's unconscious body with one hand. Usually when he heard her use that tone, there was accusation, but curiosity seems to fill most of it. She seems to struggle for words, and the vigilante understands the feeling. Whatever he and Felicity are, they're beyond words. "Close," she finishes finally, her voice laced with suggestion.

"Felicity was the first person I learned to trust after I came home," he answers, still sewing on the huge bullet wound. Several things flicker through the lawyer's expression: hurt, anger, confusion, sorrow, and perhaps a bit of sympathy. "She was just surviving, but I reminded her what it was like to live." Releasing the suture for a moment, he turns to look at Laurel. "We save each other."

"And you love her," Laurel decides.

Though it isn't necessary, Oliver nods once as he goes back to the suture. "I have for a long time now," the vigilante answers. "And this is my fault. I left her, but I shouldn't have. If I had stayed, I could have saved her from this." Though he knows that kind of thinking won't help him, he can't stop himself. He always thought that Waller stole pieces of his soul in Hong Kong, but this feels like someone ripped it in half; to see her like this is a new form of agony.

"You can't blame yourself for this, Ollie," Laurel disagrees. "She made the choice to save me. That doesn't make it my fault, either." She sighs when it's clear that Oliver isn't interested in listening. "She chose to save me because that's who she is. She's a hero. And by saying this is your fault, you've taken that from her." Only then does he realize how right she is, watching as she shakes her head. "You and Tommy seem determined to blame yourselves." He looks at her, eyes narrowing in confusion, and she explains, "He told her to bring me back in one piece, that she threw herself in front of me to honor that promise." She smiles. "Apparently Felicity always keeps her promises."

"She usually does," Oliver agrees honestly. "But Felicity would have saved you, no matter what. Even if he hadn't asked." Of that, he's certain. "She likes you, and that would have been enough of a reason to save you, but she would have done it because she knows you're an important part of my life." After all, while they haven't been in love with each other for a very long time, Oliver and Laurel will always be friends and have some sort of connection to one another. "I don't think that promise changed anything."

The brunette lapses into silence as he finishes tying off the suture. She opens her mouth to speak again, but the door flies open, breaking everyone's concentration for a moment. Roy tries to run for Felicity, to see the damage, but Oliver stops him, holding the kid back. It's only then that he notices the blood on his hands, the red on his fingertips blending into the red of Roy's hoodie. "You need to stay back," Oliver tells him quietly, nodding to Tommy as he shuts the door. "She still has a bullet in her chest."

"You said it was bad," Roy says, staring around the vigilante at the woman who has been both his best friend and the sister he never had. Then his eyes go back to Oliver's. "How bad is bad? Because she's been through a lot. You remember the first time we met? She was—"

"It's worse," Oliver tells him truthfully, releasing Roy. "She took three to the chest and another two in the upper thigh. The two in her leg are minor, but the three in the chest are serious. They went through her kevlar, so they were probably armor-piercing. Left shoulder went clean through and Digg's working on the one in her right." He sighs, running a hand over his face. "The one in her chest could be difficult, and she's lost a lot of blood." Even though he hates to admit it aloud, he tells the kid the truth he doesn't want to admit to himself: "She's probably not going to make it through the night, Roy. You should be prepared for that."

He's already shaking his head by the time Oliver finishes. "No," Roy says with a clenched jaw, eyes starting to turn glassy even as he tries to refute it. "She's tougher than that." When the vigilante's expression doesn't change, he looks around to her again. "If you can't save her here, we have to get her to a hospital."

It's the billionaire's turn to be adamant. "Absolutely not," he growls, trying to fight back the emotion in his voice. If Oliver falls apart, he'll take that opportunity from Roy. If he grieves tonight, no one else gets to, and Roy deserves that right. She's been a part of his life for far too long. "If we take her to a hospital, they'll figure out they're bullet wounds. They have to report those to the police. She'll be in custody within the hour."

Even though he fights against them, tears still spill over onto Roy's face. Oliver knows the feeling entirely too well. "But she'll be alive," the teenager tries, desperation written all over his features.

The vigilante understands that sentiment, but tonight isn't about him—and it never was. "She'll go to prison, Roy," he answers quietly. "Probably for the rest of her life—however long that might be." It's the hardest decision he's ever had to make, but he made a promise to Felicity, and it's time to honor it. She'd never forgive him for it if he didn't, and Oliver knows all too well that there are worse things than death. For her, this is one of them.  The fact that they’d probably give her the death penalty helps ease his conscience, though; there would be no point in saving her if she’d only die in the end.

"Moving on to the last bullet," Diggle calls behind him, but neither of the other two men acknowledge that.

"It shouldn't matter to you," Roy growls through his tears, poking a finger in Oliver's chest. The vigilante knows what he's trying to do; after all, being furious might not be wonderful, but it beats the hell out of being terrified to lose someone they love. "If you wanted to save her, if you cared about her, it wouldn't matter what you had to do. You'd save her, you'd fight—"

While the billionaire understands his friend's grief, that doesn't mean he's going to stand there and take this kind of abuse. "Felicity has already spent seven months in a cell, Roy," he snaps, letting his temper get the better of him for the second time tonight. This time, though, he doesn't fight it. "She doesn't deserve to be put back in another one. I'd rather let her die down here than be the reason she has to live out the rest of her life in a goddamn cage."

He runs a hand over his face again, fighting desperately against the urge to cry himself. "If I had it my way, we'd be having this conversation in the ER. But this isn't about me—and it isn't about you. This is about what Felicity would want. And she made me promise her that if it came to this, I'd make this choice, no matter how unthinkable losing her is to me. If I have to learn to live without her to honor her wishes, I'll do it." This time he's the one poking his finger into Roy's shoulder. "So don't you ever think that you're the only one here who loves her. You aren't."

The fight seems to drain out of the kid at once, and Oliver pulls over the computer chair, motioning for Roy to sit. He does as instructed, almost as if on autopilot. "For now," Oliver adds quietly, "she's not dead yet, and I'm going to fight to keep her that way. Diggle is the best at field medicine we have, and he's taking care of her."

A shrill, sustained note cuts through the air, and Oliver turns his attention back to Felicity, running for their toolbox with the defibrillator on top. "Try the epinephrine first!" Oliver calls to Diggle, even as he readies defibrillator to charge. He watches as he pushes the syringe into her leg, only to no avail. When she's still out, he pushes the paddles down on her. Her body comes off the table, but that shrill sound continues all the same. Swearing, he sets the charge higher before trying again. Again, nothing happens, and his desperation grows, his colorful, multilingual swearing turning into a mantra of the word no.

He's about to set the third charge when her heartbeat starts up again, the monitor clicking in time to an almost perfect rhythm and rate, as though nothing ever happened.

By the time it's over, Roy is in pieces, quiet sobs raking over him. At some point, he must have risen from his chair because when Oliver turns, he's standing, staring at the unconscious woman with a hand over his mouth as if to stifle a silent scream. "I don't know what to do," he whispers to Oliver in a broken voice. "If it was reversed and it was me, Felicity—" His voice breaks on her name, and he has to stop to gather himself for a moment. "She'd know what to do. She always knows what to do." His gaze turns to the archer. "I don't know what I'm going to do without her, Oliver. She's all I have."

Though he isn't one for physical contact, he knows Roy needs it more than anything. In a slow motion, he wraps an arm around Roy, pulling the kid against his chest. He sobs into Oliver's shirt, and, if anyone notices Oliver's own watery eyes, no one is rude enough to say anything. "She's still alive, Roy," he reminds him. For the most part, the boy in the red hoodie seems far more worldly than any twenty-year-old should be, but tonight he seems so young in his sadness. "I'm not giving up on her, and neither should you." He sighs. "She promised me to call you if it ever came to this point, but if you needed to leave, I think she'd understand."

"I don't know where else to go," he admits in a small voice. Then he pushes away from Oliver's side, wiping at his face with renewed vigor. "But this isn't helping. She always keeps it together through stuff like this, and it helps."

Oliver laughs at the irony in Roy's words. "I've never seen anyone go off the rails the way Felicity does," he disagrees, causing the kid in the hoodie to blink several times. "She usually stays collected, but I'll never forget the night she came into the club after that vigilante took you from her." Roy stares at him with wide eyes as the archer gets lost in the memory. "I've never seen her so scared of anything before."

"I remember that," Tommy pipes up from the corner, taking a few steps forward. "That was the night I figured out she was Deathstroke." He shivers. "Ollie might have called her scared, but I thought she was going to tear through the city like Godzilla or something just to find you." He puts a hand on Roy's shoulder, patting it twice before settling there. "Felicity's a tough cookie, no doubt, but that doesn't make her unbreakable. And she fell apart that night. Because she loves you and the possibility of something happening to you was too much for her to bear." He drops his hand. "If things were reversed, she'd be the one sitting here crying over you with no idea what to do. Everybody in this room is freaking the hell out. We would be worried if you weren't."

With a makeshift cast on her arm and a set of civilian clothes, Sara loops her good arm through Roy's. "I think we need to take five," she says to him with a small smile, urging him away from the group. "Come on—let's go outside and get some air." He starts to protest but she won't have it, turning to wink at Oliver as she ushers Roy away. "We'll stay close to the door, and you can tell me about her. I haven’t had a chance to know Felicity that well, and I'd like to." She continues talking, her voice fading into the background as they leave.

Suddenly it's too much for Oliver. He moves to the couch in one corner of the lair, dropping onto it with a weary sigh. He rests his elbows on his knees, running his hands over his face. While he's been tortured in many ways over the last seven years, it's never been as excruciating as this. But, unfortunately, this is the one time he can't confess information to make it end.

A hand falls on his shoulder, and he knows whose it is before he even looks over. Tommy doesn't say anything, but he doesn't have to. Finally, it's Oliver who can't let the silence continue. "You're uncharacteristically quiet," he notes aloud, glancing over at his friend.

Tommy shrugs in response. "I can't say anything to make it better, Ollie," he answers simply. "She's our friend. Not to mention she has an uncanny ability to tangle you up in knots." He stares over at the table before nudging his shoulder. "I admire the two of you trying to stay apart, but I think it's going to destroy both of you if one of you doesn't take a chance. You love her—she needs to know that."

Oliver laughs because his best friend knows everything yet misses so much at the same time. "She already does, Tommy," he answers. His best friend seems taken back by the admission, but Oliver just looks at him. "And I know she feels the same about me. Neither of us want anyone else, but we're broken. She's in better shape than me, but I'm not ready for that yet." He looks at his best friend. "And the only thing worse than never having her would be to have her and lose her because I'm not ready to give that kind of commitment to anyone."

His voice is so soft that he can barely hear himself as he adds, "Not even her."

 


 

Felicity feels like fire and death. That's the only way to explain it, though she knows that description probably has something to do with the kickass painkillers they must have maxed her out on. Still, it isn't enough; the pain aches through her chest with every breath. She's never taken three shots to the chest before. Usually the blonde is up for a new experience, but she marks this one up with having to watch Oliver hit on a woman for information even though she knew he was dying inside over it.

This hurts slightly less than that.

Opening her mouth, she wants to start talking, but it turns into a dry cough that makes her see stars, even though she hasn't opened her eyes yet. Once she finally catches her breath, she manages to make her original thought as clear as possible. "I hate breathing," she declares. Her voice comes out in a raspy whisper, her mouth dry and voice gravelly from disuse.

The grip on her hand tightens for a moment, and a soft breath of laughter answers. "I personally like it when you do," Oliver answers, his tone going a little south of light. Actually, it's more like two taxi cabs, a cross-country bus ride, and a really long walk away from light. She doubts anyone else noticed, but Felicity has long since learned how to read her wrapped-up-tighter-than-a-mummy-in-a-sarcophagus Oliver.

Her Oliver. That has a nice ring to it. Maybe if she could get her shit together, that thought could exist in the real world.

It takes her a long moment to open her eyes, but she likes the sight before her very much. Oliver's smiles make even angels cry tears of joy. This one is a little watery—his cheeks are wet and his eyelids are rimmed with red—but it's still a good one. Slowly she realizes that the room around her is the foundry, and she breathes a sigh of relief. She isn't handcuffed to a hospital bed. "You kept your promise," Felicity notes in a cautious voice.

"If your heart stopped one more time," he answers slowly, "I wouldn't have. Digg had to resuscitate you four times." Oliver sniffs, and it makes her feel like a prize ass even though she didn't mean to be shot and nearly dead and make him cry. "I was trying to get you into the van when Digg reminded me why I brought you here in the first place."

Though it hurts like hell, Felicity drags her other arm—the one that Oliver isn't attached to—across her body to touch his hair lazily. It isn't what she wanted, but it's enough for the moment. "I know it was hard," she tells him quietly, switching to Mandarin so no one else will overhear, "but that's why I asked you. That's why you asked me the same thing. Because you're the person I trust to make the hard decisions."

"You asked a lot of me this time," is all he answers, his tone turning quiet.

Suddenly aware of the chill in the air, Felicity tries to sit up, only to feel more like fire and death than she already did. She lets out a cry of pain, wincing against the sensation. "Help me up?" she asks her partner—one both in vigilantism and in life. In all the ways that matter, anyway. They might not be bumping uglies in the night, but that's just sex. For all intents and purposes, Oliver is hers and she is his; everything else is just details.

And wow, those painkillers must be fantastic for an epiphany of this magnitude.

Oliver shifts her into a sitting position, and while it still feels like someone is drilling holes through her chest, at least it's a little less excruciating this time around. Before she can even ask, he throws her a shirt—one of his, judging by the size, but that's the way she prefers it, sliding it on and burying down in the excess fabric. The words are already out of her mouth before she realizes she's said them aloud: "You know, usually guys have to work harder to get me out of my clothes."

Only then does she realize she isn't the only one in the room—the sharp intakes of breath give that away for her fairly quickly. Tommy laughs at the statement and Digg just ignores it, but Laurel, Sara, and Roy seem a little surprised by the statement. Oliver, however, doesn't miss a beat; they've been doing this for over a year now—except usually the innuendos are on purpose then. With a lopsided smile, he retorts, "The next time you want me to take your clothes off, I'd appreciate it if you just ask."

"Duly noted," Felicity answers with a smile of her own. And, well, if her tone turns flirty, it's not her fault she's high on painkillers. She shifts on the gurney, and a sharp pain shoots through her thigh. "Oh, yeah—and the Anti-Vigilante Task Force tagged me. I'll need those out eventually." Before he can respond, she slides off the table, planting her feet on the ground before motioning to Roy. "You. Hoodlum. Come here—I demand affection."

Even from the distance she can tell he's a wreck—more so than Oliver. While Oliver probably contained himself and broke down in private, it's clear by his puffy eyes that the teenager has been openly crying through most of the night. She hates that she put him through it, but other lives were at stake. Hers is a small sacrifice compared to what could have happened.

His arms wrap around her immediately, nearly toppling the already unsteady blonde with the force of his hug. Felicity holds him as he sobs quietly into her shoulder a few times—now in relief, instead of fear. It hurts her wounds, but she owes him this. It's her fault—she told Oliver that if anything ever happened to her, he needed to call Roy immediately. It's not her ideal situation, but she knows that the teenager would never forgive her if he didn't get the chance to say goodbye to something other than a corpse. Her mother, however, would get the modulated phone call from the Arrow and a body on her doorstep. Almost seems fitting somehow.

"It was bad this time, Felicity," he states into her shoulder, his voice muffled by her shirt. "Really bad. Even Digg was freaking out. Tommy just went quiet and Oliver was yelling at everyone and throwing shit." Over his shoulder, the blonde notes that his table for making arrowheads is overturned, most of its contents in the floor as if he'd pushed everything off first. She raises an eyebrow at him in question, and he only finds something interesting about the floor to examine. Roy pulls back to look at her, sniffing a few times. "You scared the hell out of me."

"You're still angling for my swords, aren't you?" she asks him with a lopsided, tired smile, returning to a conversation they had so long ago. The corner of his mouth turns up immediately, and Felicity kisses his cheek. "I am always—always—going to fight to stay alive for you. I died once and that didn't turn out too well for you. I'm not leaving you again unless I have no say in it." She points at Oliver. "And if anything does happen to me, you better take care of him. He's my… Roy and I want him in one piece." The blonde waves a hand as she amends, "Not that I want to pick out curtains with you or anything, but I have no idea what you are. You're not exactly my brother and you're not exactly my best friend. But you're also both. You're just my Roy."

From there, she walks over to Laurel, extending a hand for her to shake. The brunette seems surprised by the gesture, but they've been friends for a long time now. Well, as friendly as you can be when one of you is a serial-killing vigilante. "I'm glad you're okay," is all Felicity says to her. "I've done a lot of things to keep you alive—I couldn't let Helena be the one to ruin that." The lawyer seems at a loss for words, but Felicity doesn't let her try anyway, turning instead to Tommy.

Before she can say a word, he wraps his arms around her, albeit careful to avoid reinjuring her wounds. "You missed Monday night cocktails," he accuses her as Felicity pats his back.

The blonde laughs in response. "Well, to be fair, Tommy, I didn't exactly plan to take three bullets to the chest," she quips in a dry tone. "It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing." She pulls away, patting his cheek. "Thanks for giving a damn."

Then she turns to one John Diggle, who stands quietly off to one side. He studies her with a raised eyebrow, and she extends a hand. "I know we've had our differences in the past, John," she tells him, "but thank you for patching me up." He shakes her hand without a word, just a simple, firm handshake and a slow, small smile.

With a deep breath, Felicity turns away from him and back to Oliver. She wipes away the tear stains on his cheeks without a word—because the two of them don't really need words at this point in their friendship. She strokes his face with her thumb for a moment, and then she finds herself in another bone-crushing hug. He buries his face between her neck and her shoulder, and somehow her fingers end up running through his hairline at the nape of his neck. "I thought I was going to lose you," he admits to her in Russian, his strangled voice making the rough language sound more sinister than his declaration.

"I'm sorry," she whispers back in kind, though her Russian accent isn't as flawless as his. The agony he was in must have been unreal; she can't imagine how she'd have felt if their situations had been reversed. "I tried to tell you again that I love you, but you wouldn't let me. I didn't want to die without saying it again—without assuring you that nothing has changed."

As he cups her face in his hands, he whispers as he kisses her forehead, “It sounds better now.”

Save