Felicity groaned, dropping her head into her hands for a moment of totally self-pitying aggravation as both of the programs she'd been waiting on failed.
The search for Floyd Lawton (A.K.A Deadshot) coming up empty for the moment, again, wasn't all the surprising. The assassin was apparently laying too low for technology to find right now. If he was paid anything even close to the price promised the arrowed Guillermo Barrera (A.K.A Brutale), he shouldn't need to take another job all that soon. If need was a driving factor in his career choice; but judging by what she'd found of said criminal career it really wasn't.
So he might surface soon. Or not. Or not.
At the moment she could only hope for the best—and try not to think that her hoping to hear about someone being assassinated by a professional sniper was a bad thing. People dying before their time wasn't at all a new thing in the world, and to find Deadshot she needed more information. More assassinations and the like would be something she could use to try and figure out what his real drives were, and therefore where he might be next. For John Diggle's sake.
The careful codes she had surfing Merlyn Global also coming up empty though, again, was very much like those times she'd been looking forward to some delicious baked delight or another, but let herself get distracted too long and ended up with charcoal instead. Except she hadn't been distracted—by another Immortal nearby, memories best left forgotten, other computer codes or anything else—she hadn't even stepped away. She'd been sitting right here for hours, monitoring and intermittently tweaking. So it didn't seemed fair that she could almost smell the burnt would-be dessert's remains in her nostrils.
It almost made her want to be at least a little less careful; try a brute force attack out of sheer frustration. But she knew better. She would even if the man she was trying to look into wasn't maybe a member of the League of Assassins who happened to have another Immortal employed on his cyber security staff. Another Immortal who might be looking for her as it was, whether the C.E.O of his current career's company wasn't some sort of sleeper agent for a former student of hers or not. Though said former student having possibly been driven made by the power of too many Dark Quickenings while she wasn't paying close enough attention from afar wasn't something she wanted to think about at all.
If she had to pick any one thing she truly hated about Immortality, it'd have to be a pretty close call between all the loved ones she'd lost and the Quickenings.
That a powerful light Quickening could turn even the most evil of Immortals into decent individuals might be seen as a good thing by some, but she'd been friends with the pacifist who's beheading had turned a vicious Roman conqueror into a pacifistic priest.
Felicity couldn't help but flinch at the memories—it'd been hard enough to accept Darius's sincere apologies when murdering Haraonos Emrys had both made him realize the error of his ways and made her brother the world's oldest Immortal. It was confusing to consider how much of Darius was the warrior general he'd been before that day, and how much was the gentle healer he'd murdered. Her friend. Methos had had an easier time accepting Haraonos's choice and thus Darius' apologies; with his history, perhaps he felt he had to. Felicity had had to force a lot of smiles for a long time, at least until the former Roman general had continued Haraonos's work long enough for her to see some of the friend she'd lost was still in his killer. That the ancient that asked her how best to approach the mortal warrior queen who'd rebelled against Rome—what advice would make her want peace even if it was with the Romans—wasn't completely gone. That Haraonos Emry's killer had become more Haraonos than the man he'd been before he swung his sword for the last time.
Yes, after she and Methos had both seen signs of their lost friend in Darius had eventually led to both of them forgiving him. Mostly because it's what Haraonos would've wanted, as he had essentially offered his head and Quickening up to the younger Immortal for the exact purpose his death had ultimately served. But it'd taken Felicity a lot longer to visit that church than her somewhat more forgiving teacher.
Even worse than Light Quickenings, however, were Dark ones. Felicity hated to think how much harder it would be if the opposite had really happened—if someone she called a friend was now her enemy because he'd ended one evil existence too many. It was truthfully a fate she'd feared from the moment the possibility it'd happening had occurred to her. More from the thought of having to kill a friend because of it than out of any real fear for herself.
Then again, if it came down to it she might well make the same choice Haraonos had made almost two-thousand years ago. Which was undoubtedly exactly why the few Dark Quickening situations that'd arisen over the years Methos had dealt with without ever considering asking for her help.
But he wasn't the one that'd realized the potential problem this time, and Mazin was never his student...
"Anything?" Oliver's query from up by the ceiling made her pity party end, her focus narrowing in on his fit form instead of her past with no small amount of relief.
Though Felicity didn't particularly like the pull-ups on the pipes. The old steel factory's plumbing, while at one time cutting edge and now impressively enduring, wasn't built with safety standards for exercise enthusiasts in mind. And the view, though not capable of being called unattractive, was a lot harder to watch when that involved craning her neck at an awkward angle it didn't like for just a few seconds, let alone actively watching.
"What? Oh, no, sorry," the Immortal sighed, trying to turn the unhappy tenseness out of her neck before she looked back at her computers. The messages on the monitors sadly hadn't changed to more happy, or at least helpful, tidings. "Lawton's laying low. He's not showing up anywhere yet. There's still a lot to go through at Merlyn Global—I can't really rush it anymore than I have without attracting attention. And I haven't completely cracked the Starling Triad's firewalls yet."
The thump of the vigilante suddenly dropping down from the ceiling made her wince, even though she knew from the sound that he'd landed it right and was fine. It wasn't even that she didn't think it could be done. What she hadn't learned from Methos or some of her other mentors when it came to physical fitness she'd had to learn as an Amazon. But she'd broken enough bones to know how much it hurt—and those without either a Quickening immortalizing them from inside or even the magic that most of the world's remaining Amazons relied on took such a long time to heal.
His hands on her shoulders were less surprising; she'd heard him coming, of course, but she hadn't expected him to start kneading the knots in and around her neck.
For a moment, Felicity could only melt. Being an Immortal, with the Quickening keeping her healthy and ensuring her metabolism never stopped burning at full power actually meant it was harder for to not stay fighting trim. Especially since that fitness could be the difference between life and death any day of every year. That didn't mean she didn't feel pain though. She could ignore it, of course, it'd been millennia since Methos had taught her the necessity of mental fortitude, and her endurance had only grown with each moment it'd needed to. But sometimes her body still complained, and those complaints didn't merit meditation or rest or the any sort of medical attention. However, Strong, skilled hands massaging aching muscles—any muscles, really—had always been a weakness of hers.
"Why are you hacking the Triad?" Oliver wanted to know, not at all distracted from the task his hands were so easily performing.
Felicity released a sigh before she answered. "They hired him," she leaned back even more as the archer's fingers found that one particularly pained spot, biting back a groan as he zeroed in on it. Then she made herself go on. "They paid him. The money might leave a trail for me to follow."
"He didn't finish the job, he might not have been paid for it. And they're not going to keep records of—"
"Maybe not. But once I know more of their banking info I can find patterns. Maybe track them to Deadshot or..." she trailed off, not wanting to remind him again of the legitimate suspicions Diggle had raised till she actually found the proof.
Oliver's fingers paused for just a second, before resuming their delightful assault while he asked. "Don't we already know the account? From Barrera's phone? He was paid when he arrived in Starling City."
"Yeah, half a million up front, the rest after," Felicity confirmed, then shook her head the tiny distance she could with his hands working magic via the pressure points and loosening tension knots along the back of her neck.
She didn't care at all that he was essentially using his masseuse skills to make her more pliable than she might otherwise be to his interrogation because she'd have told him all of this anyway. And she could finally ignore the fact that he was likely trying to sneakily check on her shoulder again because even a mortal should be mostly healed of the slight cut she let him see—both the first, real one that'd had a few hours to mend itself and the second one she'd made herself and partially healed in the shower after that, just so he could feel better after checking on it 'again' had hopefully made him think it wasn't as bad as he thought. Yup—there was the slightly more hesitant prodding closer to the 'injury'—she shifted slightly away from it without even really thinking about it, not a flinch but an awareness that was entirely tied to what he was doing rather than any actual pain at all.
"I still don't get that," Felicity admitted, leaning slightly to shift his touch back to where the last tight knot of tension was shallowly entrenched. "I mean, Chien Na Wei's an assassin, and a knife fighter, herself. Why would she hire Barrera? He'd have used knives—would've had to get a lot closer than a sniper like Deadshot to throw one of his knives at a target. Just like she would."
"He would have been inside the party," Oliver agreed. "Just like all of the Triad soldiers were," he shook his head. "He would've had a harder time than he was expecting. The Triad, too. They never would've agreed to try and take out someone of Mister Merlyn's skill set at a public event like that, not without a lot more muscle. Not with a close-quarters fighter like Barrera, either, rather than Lawton. Not if they had any idea he could fight back effectively."
Felicity considered not saying anything more pointed about it, but it wasn't really a conversation that could be avoid too long, so she went with it. "So that rules out the Chinese mafia knowing he could fight, right?" She tilted her head to look at him, "And whoever hired them."
"My mom, you mean," Oliver was frowning as he shook his head. "You don't have to avoid it for me, Felicity. I can't pretend anymore."
Felicity swallowed, but nodded. "Yeah. Okay. Your Mom. Maybe." That got a slight upward quirk to one side of his mouth, then she closed her eyes as he started rubbing harder again.
"The Triad didn't know. Maybe they still don't. You said the tapes of that part of the security system were overwritten, right?"
"Yeah. He must've called someone from the hospital."
"Or someone at Merlyn Global knew to check for that sort of thing before handing anything over to the police."
"Maybe," Felicity agreed, not letting herself frown as she wondered whether or not the man she'd met, who'd adapted to modern times much like she had, might've been the one to do that for Malcolm Merlyn or not.
If so, it did make some sense to her. His name was Polish, and so was the accent he hadn't completely lost and didn't work at hiding. So he wasn't old enough to realize the value of such minute alterations—even though changing his name entirely would've made more sense. But maybe his teacher just hadn't been as thorough as Methos. Actually, it'd surprise her if anyone else was as thorough as the man that'd been seeking redemption from his Age as Death. Starek's Quickening wasn't that strong, either—enough for a few centuries and a few random duels won. And mixed in with the slightly uncomfortable degree of interest that made her think he might not have met a female Immortal before were more than a few of the characteristics that reminded her of the Szlachta. If he was raised in their times of privilege and suffered their losses thereafter, he probably still felt cheated by what he'd lost from his childhood. Such things didn't diminish quickly for Immortals, so even a few lifetimes, or centuries, sometimes didn't lessen them all that much. Coming to America, where education would allow him to prosper if he worked at it, a former courtier of that diminished regime might find nothing wrong with working for a man like Malcolm Merlyn—whether he was a somewhat free agent of the League of Assassins or a renegade. Though if it was the latter, as Felicity hoped, Starek would be wiser to distance himself as far from Tommy's father as he could. And if it was the former, well Starek likely wasn't nearly old enough to know how badly that could go for everyone involved.
Even under Oliver's masterful manipulations, thinking about whether or not her student might now be a demon not just in name but in fact made her tense again. Just for the moment it took her to realize she was doing it and it, but it was more than enough time for the observant man to notice since he was trying working the tension out of those same muscles.
Oliver waited a long moment, his fingers kneading at that new tension; only asking as she managed to make herself calm down again. "Felicity?"
She thought of pretending it was nothing. That she'd forgotten she had to do something and she had to go, something like that. She was a good enough actress to fool most people, mortals especially. But lying to someone she cared about had never come easily to her, and it already felt like she was lying too much by omission. The arrow in her ear was only a symbol of the place the hero himself had somehow already taken in her heart, and she couldn't bring herself to lie to him.
So, instead, she evaded just a little with a question. "Have you thought about where he might've trained? Learned... how to kill like that?"
All the while, Oliver's hands never stopped massaging. The subject obviously wasn't so touchy for him—maybe because it was Tommy who was his friend, after all, and Malcolm Merlyn hadn't been a good father to that friend in far too long. For most of both their childhoods. Abandonment wasn't something children forgot easily, especially once they were grown—when all the years in between would only make forgiveness seem more and more impossible.
Felicity could understand it; why Malcolm Merlyn might've gone looking for something after his wife's murder. Why not being there for his wife when she needed him might've made it hard to be there for his son, thereby making it hard for him to recognize that he should be going on for their son. And if needing to find answers, to find strength was what'd led him to Nanda Parbat, he would have been welcomed there. Where broken people were supposedly made new again. If they were worthy.
But she couldn't explain it to her vigilante.
He'd be interested if she did, but to do that she'd have to explain how she knew enough to explain it. More than enough. Because Oliver hadn't reacted at all to the mention of Nanda Parbat, so wherever he'd been over the last five years he hadn't heard those sort of specifics regarding the League of Assassins. If he'd ever heard anything at all about them.
That mysterious, hard half decade of Oliver's life made it a little easier to justify her continuing secrecy and reliance on assumptions to protect her own past. It also made precisely predicting his reactions somewhat difficult. Even he considered those the defining years of his adult life; having led up to who he was today, despite his unwillingness to talk much about it.
It made it very tempting to just keep mum. Enjoy a few years of his company (massages and all), help where she could, and then just stage her death and move on when her eternal youth became too noticed. She'd done it before. What seemed like many, many times in fact. A tiring number of times really. She didn't remember the very thought of doing it ever feeling quite so very painful from the very start though.
"...city? Felicity? Hey," Oliver's voice broke into her musings just as she realized her massage had halted. And because he was turning her chair away from her computers with one hand now, while the other caught her chin and turned her face towards his. "Hey, stop worrying so much, okay? Tommy's dad being able to defend himself, and Tommy, doesn't have to be a bad thing."
"Even if Digg is right about your mom?" Felicity forced herself to say it because it had to be said, but she bit her lip as soon as she finished to keep an automatic apology from slipping out when he winced.
It couldn't be denied that Oliver was a strong fighter and a driven man who was smarter than he pretended to be, but he was also a loving son despite the careless image he sometimes had to play. So the idea that his mother had caused everything they'd fought to prevent a few nights ago had to hurt.
Oliver shook his head, big hands shifting to frame her face so his thumb could pry her lower lip free from her teeth as he answered. "Maybe he is right. Maybe Mister Merlyn is dangerous to more than just hitmen. And maybe my mom has a good reason for wanting Tommy's dad dead." His hand moved slowly back into her hair, finding that spot behind her ear with the same accuracy he fired arrows with. "We don't know. Don't waste energy worrying about it until we know we have to. All right?"
Felicity was torn. Wanting to agree because he was asking it of her and it already felt wrong that she hadn't told him he didn't have to worry about anyone hurting her in any way that didn't involve decapitation—and that she could take care of herself anyway. That she'd been around, taking care of herself and others, for a very long time.
It might be nice to pretend she hadn't heart Malcolm Merlyn talk about meeting a man at a place called Nanda Parbat. To pretend that she didn't know the only man he could mean. But it wasn't something that could be let go.
Not when Tommy's father spoke of making Starling City a better place and that he'd learned how to do so from the League of Assassins. After all, he wasn't trying to save the city the way Oliver was: by taking justice into his own hands, under orders or not. That ruled out the more direct application of the skills he could've learned in the Hindu Kush. Leaving a much longer end-game at play here... and possible a broken promise that also couldn't be let go.
Her head turned and tilted automatically as the archer's hands directed it to, but the soft pressure on her lips a moment later made every single thought in her head halt. Because she hadn't been biting her lip again and both his hands were still framing her face, holding her unnecessarily in place, as his warm, slightly chapped lips molded with hers.
It was careful and chaste; sweet, and as confusing as it was surprising...
Oliver had been increasingly tactile since they'd watched a parody of fairytales and then fallen asleep on her couch only a few minutes into the subsequent movie he'd eventually picked at random by making her close her eyes and then doing the same before scrolling and pushing play without looking at whatever it was he'd landed on. Which was actually a movie she'd never seen, but she also hadn't recognized anyone in those few minutes she kept trying to pry her eyelids apart so she probably wouldn't re-watch it anytime soon anyway. Since then, Oliver's hands had found her shoulders, her hair, her neck very often.
Mostly her shoulders at first; particularly the injured one she hadn't let him check again because she really didn't want to cut it open yet again to make it look like she didn't heal any faster than a normal human being. The frequency of those touches didn't seem to be diminishing with all the times she hadn't faked flinches as he checked her shoulder, though; if anything they were still steadily increasing.
Felicity hadn't minded. It'd been a lot longer than five years since she'd been in a really meaningful relationship, so she didn't mind it where this was going at all. Actually, the former playboy was going slower than she probably would if she'd decided to set the tempo—carefully, methodically, in a way she doubted he'd ever been before the boat wreck that claimed his father's life and changed his irrevocably.
But she wasn't sure where the kiss had come from.
A moment later Oliver was pulling away, eyes opening to hold her blinking, bewildered gaze as steadily as he still held her face between his palms.
"What was that?" the Immortal blinked at him.
"Something else to think about," Oliver told her with his small smile, which was really just the very edges of his mouth quirking up. Then he shook his head. "I mean it, Felicity. Stop worrying so much. It won't help."
For a second the Immortal woman could only keep blinking at him, but then her tongue was moving any prior permission from her. "I might, if it means we keep doing that."
Oliver's face softened even more than the gently earnest look he'd already been hitting her with, but instead of kissing her again he shook his head. "No," he told her, mercifully going on before her heart could start to die another hundred times. "You deserve better than that, Felicity."
He didn't actually say it, but she had the distinct idea that what he really meant was: 'you deserve better than me.' That she couldn't agree with. No matter what Oliver had done in his twenty-eight years on this Earth, she'd surely done worse.
And the fact that he cared so much about whatever he had done told her that he wasn't irredeemable. Just the opposite. If only she could make him see that... Such things took time though, and baby step by baby step.
Still, there was something she could say right now. With her face still held in place, somewhat surprisingly very comfortable in his hands, Felicity couldn't shake her head, but her mouth still worked. "My life, my choice, Oliver. And I'm sure I know what I deserved better than—"
His index and pointer finger on her lips were half of what made her trail off, but it was mostly his intent eyes—and that small start of a smile that made more appearances than any full smile could on his serious face—that made her stay silent long enough for him to talk instead. How was it that the firm press of his fingertips on her lips could feel just as intimate as his lips had?
"A real date first," Oliver insisted softly. "I'm trying to be a better man than I was," he reminded her.
That made Felicity frown and jerk her head free, trying not to miss his hands as he let them drop while their gazes stayed locked. "You weren't a man then, Oliver," she told him carefully. "In many ways you were still a boy. A boy who didn't deserve what hap—"
"Maybe I did, maybe I didn't," he interrupted firmly, hands curling slightly at his side as he did so. Curling—but not in that way that looked like he was subconsciously wondering where his bow was, so he was just as calm as he appeared. "You still deserve better."
"Fine." Felicity allowed, arching an eyebrow at him. "How about tomorrow night then?"
Oliver blinked, but then surprised her with a smile. Still a relatively small smile, but it was sincere—and as devastating as all his smiles probably were. "All right. When and where?"
"I get off work at five-thirty."
He considered that, then offered, "So, eight?"
Felicity laughed, pleased to see her own enjoyment shining back at her in his eyes. "Depends on where we're going? You know Starling City better than I ever will."
There was still a lot to worry about, of course, but that didn't mean they should stop living. It was a relief to see that Oliver, despite everything he didn't talk about suffering through in the last five years, was still able to see that. Even if worrying about her 'mysterious injury' and stress levels was what brought it out.
What's more, the world was only so big. For Deadshot it would keep getting smaller now that she was looking for him.
If Malcolm Merlyn was here doing something the League didn't approve of, they'd handle him. If not... well, she needed to start building that bridge just in case, but she'd had the plans and framework in places for decades now, just in case. The only real questions there were just how many steps she could take before Mazin realized what she was doing. Or Methos noticed there might be a problem.
It helped, however, that even while looking for them over the last several days, Felicity hadn't found any signs at all that a significantly dangerous Dark Immortal had risen in recent years. Yes, that was exactly one of things her student's organization was primarily designed to fight, so if he'd turned they'd know how to hide most of the indications, but no one was perfect. Yet what few signs she'd found of what might be League of Assassins actions were all within the acceptable parameters her student had agreed to early on. So hopefully whatever was happening in Starling City, her home, wouldn't be a problem in that regard.
"Do you like Italian?" Oliver's question drew her out of her now only semi-darkening thoughts again, and she immediately flashed him a smile, both in gratitude and to hopeful hide her return to worrying.
"I love Italian."
"Great, me too," he nodded slowly.
She could see the questions he wasn't asking behind his eyes, just like she was sure he could see that he was still worrying. Nonetheless, they were making progress. Little by little.