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Bloody Secrets

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Oliver Queen's P.O.V.


Oliver knew that the terse words he'd had for the guard at the gate were over the top for the feckless playboy he still kind of wanted everyone to believe he was, but after a quick glance through the mansion's security cameras had confirmed that Helena had, in fact, left the grounds mere minutes before he'd gotten home, he'd had no one else to yell that.


Not that yelling at that kid was even remotely satisfying anyway. Oliver had never really paid all that much attention to who was manning the mansion's gate before, but that guy really didn't look much older than Thea. Even if "Jeff" just looked young, the vigilante could tell the younger man had absolutely no martial training in his background whatsoever, military or otherwise. Of course, Oliver wouldn't have expected anyone working for his family to actually attack him or even try to stand up to him when he was pissed off--other than Diggle, obviously--but just how much the kid had been sweating even before the billionaire had said anything to him hadn't been at all reassuring. It had, however, helped Oliver reign his temper in just enough to only be considered unusually terse: easily explained by one of his more unwelcome ex's being allowed anywhere near his little sister. But it wasn't what he required for protection around his family. Here in Starling, at least, guard duty meant more than just opening a gate sometimes and telling most nosy people to take a hike. Something he should've had Diggle look into long before now.


And Digg would have to be the one that followed up, too. Even if the real security team wasn't overly inclined to take the billionaire that didn't directly control their paychecks all that seriously, with or without the nervous gate guard that was probably still in college saying anything, they'd respect the former Special Forces bodyguard much more. Especially since Oliver highly doubted his mother had let it get around that Digg didn't report directly to her anymore.


But before he called the ex-soldier, Oliver had another number he should try calling. He did so once he was off the grounds, stopping his bike barely beyond the corner of that first turn after exiting the front gate. Atop the hillside that offered an almost picturesque view: because everything looked small in the distance, even the tall towers of metal and glass scraping the skylines of Starling City itself. It was a place he liked to come sometimes even before he had any idea of how corrupt the place he called home was, and he almost didn't want to spoil the peaceful feeling that hung over the familiar spot by making the call here, but he needed something right now to help keep him calm and heading back to the Foundry for hours on the salmon ladder before making this call wasn't a feasible option.


"Hello Oliver," that familiar voice greeted, as sultry as ever.


Whatever attraction her voice might've had for him, however, was long gone in the wake of the realization that she'd dared to go anywhere near his family, knowing what he'd take that to mean. Even if he'd never told her that he was a Bratva Captain and thus knew how their types of tactics worked, the disloyal daughter that brought down nearly the entire Starling branch of the Italian mob probably thought intimidation and leverage were part of everyday life. After all, unlike most mobsters, she didn't differentiate between mobsters and civilians enough to not shoot gunfire onto a public sidewalk to hit one mobster walking among many non-mobsters. And that was just the time Oliver's mother was nearly shot; according to the S.C.P.D some of Helena's earlier hits were even more careless. It was why her case was one of the one's that the major case squad was handling even while they'd rather be hunting the vigilante: she'd been breaking the unspoken rule of not hurting innocents, and that meant the police had to intervene more so than they generally would if it was just mobsters killing mobsters. Their detectives researched mob deaths, sure, but when a mobster became a murderer on a much more indiscriminate killing spree, a whole taskforce quickly got involved. He supposed he should feel somewhat reassured that the vigilante task force did consider the Huntress more of a priority than the Hood, at least from the reports Felicity had shown him. But those same reports made it harder to talk to this woman when he had a personal reason to be angry with her now.


"Helena," he finally made himself say after several moments with his lips forcibly locked together, managing to keep his anger out of his tone. "Where you been?"


Well, most of it anyway.


And either Helena heard that anger, or she just heard the edge of that growl he didn't usually let himself use when he wasn't wearing the Hood on the end there, because she hesitated for a second before answering. "Um... Barcelona. Monaco. Budapest..." she paused another second, then added in a broken tone that made him remember how sad her eyes were when he'd found her at her fiancé's grave. "I just needed to forget who I was. And how much I missed you."


Oliver's temper was too tightly wound to fall for that though. "Like you missed Gus Sabatoni?" he demanded harshly, continuing after a moment when all he received in return was sullen silence. "I thought you were done with your father's organization, Helena. Because he was sentenced to consecutive life sentences in Iron Heights prison. You got your revenge." He finished firmly, still hoping he could convince her of that, despite knowing why she was most likely back. And remembering all too well when she'd said she wanted vengeance, not justice, and that she wasn't going to stop seeking it.


Her acidic response confirmed what he'd already been forewarned of by Felicity's computers back in the Foundry. "He just cut a deal with the Justice Department to testify against the East Coast family," she snapped back, all the hurtful hatred she held towards the man slicing through the phone. "In forty-eight hours, Witness Protection will give him a new name, a new life, and he'll be off the grid forever! Untraceable!"


"I'm sorry, Helena," Oliver told her, not really knowing what else to say in response to that.


Not when he truly believed her vendetta against her father wasn't without merit, just not enough of it to ever justify all the people she was willing to hurt to hurt him. And still not wanting her to find out, if she did finally manage to kill her father, that having his blood on her hands wouldn't make her hurt go away. That it'd only make it that much worse.


"I'm sorry," he said it again more softly, shaking his head from side to side as he looked out at his city on the horizon.


Helena didn't reply for a long moment, but he didn't bother checking to see if the call was still active, knowing she hadn't said what she'd wanted him to call her for. After a very, very long moment she continued, her tone still harsh and hateful, "My father doesn't deserve a second chance—a second life. And I can't..." this time when she hesitated he heard her take a deep breath, and could picture the big blue eyes she'd have aimed at him if they were face-to-face again. "I can't take on a phalanx of U.S marshals... Not without help."


But he could also picture Felicity's eyes. Calm and bright with laughter and life that so rarely darkened because she wanted to see the world in the best way it could be, regardless of whether or not that was a standard life ever let it meet.


Oliver would've shaken his head even if he wasn't able to imagine how far from that better world helping Helena murder her own father would make him fall. "No." He told her firmly. "It's murder. It's not justice."


The silence stretched so long this time that he did almost check to make sure the call was still active, but he knew she'd want the last word whether she got him to agree with her or not. "Oliver, my father is a mobster and a murderer." She bit the words out. "It's not like you haven't killed men like that before!"


Oliver didn't let himself close his eyes, he kept them locked on his city. "And I tried to teach you to obtain your objective without killing," he reminded her. The words almost hurt to say because he knew, deep down, that each one was a waste of breath. "Without—"


"By using leverage," she cut in coldly. "By exploiting someone's weakness."


That wasn't what he'd taught her. That was what her father, what life among mobsters, had taught her.


But she went on before he could muster a response, words as cold as ice dripping down his spine as she finished, "I guess I'll just have to be a bit more persuasive. Fortunately? You have a family too."


"No! Helena!" Oliver snarled, but the beep he heard halfway through her name told him she was done with him.


At least with this phone call.


"Damn it!" he snapped with feeling, but didn't give himself anymore of an outlet than that, quickly hitting the speed dial for Digg's mobile. He transferred the call to his bluetooth before the first ring, and barely heard his friend answer over the roar of his motorcycle's engine firing up again.


"—having lunch with Felicity right about now?"


Despite having caught only the tail end of the question, it wasn't hard to guess what he'd been asked, and it was enough to calm him down a little bit, but only a little.


"On my way there," Oliver told him, not even trying to hide his anger now. "But Helena just paid a visit to the mansion."


Diggle didn't answer right away, but he probably wasn't wrong as he let partner stew for that moment of self-recrimination before he said, "Don't supposed you at least knocked her out." A statement edged with sarcasm instead of a question, because he knew a positive answer was unlikely even if the possibility had presented itself. Which it hadn't.


"She left before I got there," Oliver answered, ignoring the unstated implications. He probably would've had a hard time handling her there even if she had been that bold. It wasn't like Oliver Queen, partying playboy billionaire could just knock his ex-girlfriend out in the middle of Queen Mansion and not expect any questions to be asked. Not if his mother, Thea, Raisa, or really anyone at all, was around to ask those questions that they'd expect answers to.


"Uh-huh," was Diggle's unimpressed response.


"She was in my house, Digg," Oliver snapped at him. "With Thea. And my mother."


"What just making small talk?"


"No," he admitted with some relief as he sped around a wide corner that turned him almost completely away from the city even though it was the most 'direct' way into town, further down the road he'd get on the interstate, which cut straight through the city. "Thea thought she was a fangirl or something, I guess. Said she was creepy."


And Oliver would really like to know if that was just his little sister being protective of his new relationship, as her later questions had indicated, or if Helena really had become that much more unhinged. He had never been blind to her vengeful fury. Whatever Digg thought, sympathy wasn't the same thing as blindness. And considering the ex-soldier's own justifiable hatred for his brother's killer, Oliver didn't entirely understand why it was so hard for the man to show Helena at least some compassion.


Then again, he didn't understand how Helena could be so reckless regarding people who'd never hurt her, either. Even now, when she said 'take on a phalanx of U.S marshals,' she'd meant kill them all. Like they deserved that because they were doing their jobs: because they were assigned to protect her father. Sometimes killing guards was necessary, when Oliver went after someone on The List, but a bodyguard who knowingly worked for a criminal wasn't the same thing as cops many others like them.


Even Digg agreed with that (and they were both aware of the irony there). But when Oliver had needed backup to take on Cyrus Vanch and save Laurel, the bodyguard had been standing by: if Lance hadn't charged in when he did, then Digg would have. That, of course, would've meant Lance and the rest of the Vigilante Taskforce finding out there was more than one vigilante, that someone other than Helena Bertinelli knew who he was. (And that was really why they were so interested in the Huntress, when it came down to it.) But that was worth risking if it meant saving Laurel's life.


"Smart girl," Digg commented dryly. "She's not wrong."


Oliver ignored him. "Helena left her phone number. When I called her, she made a not so veiled threat. I want extra security around my mother and sister," he finished firmly.


"Way ahead of you, man," his friend reassured him, just as firm.


"Thank you," Oliver replied with a breath that actually felt like relief.


"It's my job," the older man reminded him.


And Oliver shook his head, "For not saying, 'I told you so.'"


"Day's still young," Diggle replied easily. "I got a couple calls to make." He hesitated a second, and Oliver heard it, so he waited for whatever it was his friend was going to say next. "Tommy's upstairs working now. Want me to talk to him about tomorrow night?"


Oliver grimaced, easily able to imagine how badly that might go over with his childhood friend. But, at the same time, Digg was  in charge of security at the club, something that Tommy hadn't tried to change. "Fine. Just don't—"


"Bring up arrows and wanted posters?" Digg interrupted. "I'll try not to. But you should talk to him about that soon. You're lucky he didn't turn you in that night."


"He wouldn't," Oliver answered with only a little uncertainty in his voice. "He won't. He's just... mad. But I'll talk to him this afternoon."


"He might not stick around for that," the former soldier reminded him calmly.


"Yeah, well, that's what cell phones are for," Oliver sighed even as he hit his signal then turned onto the highway, speeding up the ramp and then onto the concourse with quick glances. "I'm headed to Q.C now, but I could skip lunch."


Saying that made the sky look grayer, darkened by more than his helmet's visor and the few fluffy clouds overhead.


Diggle snorted, "When you know Felicity already knows Helena's here? And she's probably wondering what you're going to do about it?"


Oliver shook his head, but his friend went on before he could answer.


"I got this, Oliver. Enjoy your lunch."


He thought about arguing, but he really didn't want to skip surprising Felicity for her lunch break just to go back to the Foundry to focus on Helena with Diggle. Especially since the only thing that should then interrupt their ongoing disagreement regarding the Huntress was what'd probably become an argument with Tommy. "Thanks, Digg."


"Tell Felicity I can't wait to watch her fencing lessons tonight."


Oliver snorted, "Trying to scare her off now?"


"Don't think she scares that easily," the bodyguard replied. "You haven't scared her off yet."


"Thanks," he replied with equal humorous sarcasm.


The likeness of which had really only become common around the Foundry, and then more so between the two men, when Felicity started working with them. Not because they hadn't gotten along fine before, for the most part, but because the serious atmosphere in the dark basement wasn't something Felicity seemed to be willing to tolerate for long before her mouth started saying things; with or without her permission. Sometimes he wondered if her slips of the tongue were more intentional than she led them to believe, other times he knew it, but it was just one of the many ways Felicity had managed to lighten the overall mood in the basement of what'd soon be his nightclub.


"Just don't do something stupid," Digg advised, "Like not tell her about the Huntress."


Oliver sighed.


Because Diggle wasn't wrong in his reading of the situation, and he knew it. That was why he kept pressing the point.


It was tempting for Oliver to just tell Felicity she needed to keep her distance for a while, safe from Helena noticing her. If he hadn't already taken her on a high-profile date, if that wasn't something that might've already made the tabloids he didn't read, he'd probably want to try it. But if tried to hide her now and Helena heard gossip related to her, that'd only spark her interest more. And he couldn't be sure she wouldn't decide that Felicity might make better leverage than threats towards his mother and sister.


Not when Helena would recognize that the appeal of where he'd taken Felicity was the security. If she realized he wanted to protect Felicity... that could be almost as bad as Helena realizing Felicity knew who he was. That Oliver trusted Felicity more than he ever had, ever could, trust Helena herself.


"Oliver?" Digg's voice forced him from his unhappy thoughts.


"Yeah, I'm still here," Oliver answered immediately. After a glance at a sign ahead on the road he added, "I'm almost to Q.C. Give me a call if anything comes up."


"Felicity will probably know before I will." Digg reminded him again. As if he could've forgotten that she probably already knew about Helena even without all his prompts.


"Yeah," Oliver acknowledged. Knowing he couldn't let himself avoid this conversation, so it wasn't worth arguing about. "I'll be back soon."


"Okay. Diggle out," the ex-soldier said, before the call beeped close again, the soft sound just barely audible over the roar of his engine. If the helmet wasn't specifically designed for it, it wouldn't be.


All the same, it suddenly felt too quiet.


But maybe that was just because of all the thoughts circling inside his head.


Thoughts of Helena, hurt and broken by the loss of her man she'd meant to marry. All that pain twisted around again and again by the fact that her father was the one who had him killed. For something she'd done.


Oliver had wondered, more than once, if the fact that her fiancé had taken the fall for her, unintentionally or not, might not be any even bigger factor in her desire for revenge than the murder itself. If the fact that her father had betrayed her by murdering her fiancé before she could betray him by turning damning evidence again him into the F.B.I might have more to do with how twisted and dark her feelings for the man had become.


It couldn't have been easy, after all, deciding to turn away from the benefits of that life. Deciding to betray her father in the first place, because it was the right thing to do. The Italian mob wasn't too different from the Bratva in their treatment towards traitors. Whether or not Helena, as a mob boss's obviously cherished daughter, was shielded from most of that and therefore most of her courage might be born more from ignorance than strength of character didn't change the fact that she had decided to turn away from that life and bring down the criminal operations in the process. Before she slipped up somewhere, and her 'crimes' were pinned on her fiancé; probably because nothing but concrete evidence would've convinced Frank Bertinelli that his daughter had betrayed him.


Whatever Helena thought of her father, it'd been obvious that the Frank Bertinelli did love her very much. Maybe what Oliver had seen of the mob boss's gentle handling of her had more to do with her grieving than how he'd been with her before, but he didn't think so. If Bertinelli didn't love his daughter every bit as much as it'd seemed, Nick Salvati wouldn't have been so viciously satisfied when he found her ill-hidden 'lair' that'd marked her as the one killing her father's men. Maybe Salvati had even suspected she might be the one talking to the feds initially, but hadn't dared make the accusation without being able to prove it. The complete shock on Bertinelli's face when he saw Helena aiming her crossbow at him that night months ago had been real. But, considering who he was and how his daughter had reacted to her fiancé's murder—switching from wanting her father sent to prison to dead by her hand—it really shouldn't have surprised Oliver when the man turned her crossbow on her that night.


Helena, however she'd happened to become someone who could turn away from all the luxuries the mob offered, maybe without really realizing the real risk involved in doing so, had come from that world. However much her father protected her from it, it was where she'd grown up and lived until just a few months ago. It was what she knew.


Oliver had hoped that once her father was taken into custody, with most of what was left of his operation destroyed by the Triad, she'd let it go...


'The police have him in custody,' he'd told her. 'He's going to jail and then on to prison.'


But she'd told him; 'I'm not going to stop.'


So he couldn't be surprised she was back.


'Oliver, you're not falling for this girl, are you? 'Cause I know you can't be that crazy.' Digg had been quick to reprimand him after that first date and the fight that'd revealed her to be the shooter that nearly killed his mother while she was taking out one of her father underlings. And the ex-soldier hadn't been wrong.


But Oliver had been Bratva. Still was, technically.


And he was born a Queen: the closest thing Starling City had to royalty. Unaware all his life that all that wealth and privilege had been built upon the suffering of others, because he didn't want to know that. If he'd grown up in that world, like Helena, he wasn't sure he would've ever grown the spine to turn his back on it like she had, his father's dying wish or not.


'I'm so sorry, I thought I'd have more time. I'm not the man you think I am. I didn't build our city. I failed it. And I wasn't the only one.'


Robert Queen and Frank Bertinelli weren't the same, of course, but they were similar. The main differences between them though were that Oliver's father had recognized his failings, and as far as Oliver had been able to figure out, Queen Consolidated was a legitimate business: not involved in any criminal operations at all since the Triad's Peter Kang hadn't fared so well after giving up the Omega virus without making them cut off his hand to get it. (At the time, Oliver really had thought he was showing the man mercy, but looking back he hadn't been surprised to find Chien Na Wei hadn't been so merciful while weighting the man's apparently limited worth.)


Almost everything Helena's father had built, on the other hand, was made up of criminals leaning on legitimate business owners at best, but mostly completely criminal enterprises. The likes of which Oliver would have targeted Bertinelli for eventually; his name was after all on The List, but he never would've considered what Helena had done. Killing so many to punish one man, starting a gang war to punish him, uncaring of the consequences...


'You can survive this. Make it home. Make it better, right my wrongs... But you gotta live through this first.'


Whether or not Frank Bertinelli would've died to protect his daughter before he found out she'd betrayed him and wanted him dead, Oliver doubted the mobster could have sacrificed himself for her. It wasn't the sort of honor that was expected of mobsters, and if he was at all inclined towards it he and Salvati would've attempted to intimidate Michael Staton instead of just killing him at the first sign that he may've betrayed them.


Then again, maybe Bertinelli didn't want to risk the evidence pointing to his only child instead. The rumor of that possibility alone could be devastating to a crime family. So, in ordering the hit on her fiancé instead of waiting for further proof of who the traitor was, Bertinelli was protecting his daughter, in his own way.


Oliver wasn't sure if Helena had ever—or would ever—realize that. She would undoubtedly say her father was just protecting himself. That he never gave any thought to her... but that was exactly what made Oliver sure she'd never been all that close to the uglier sides of mob politics.


Oliver had. He was a Bratva Captain after all. And though Anatoli had shielded him from some of those aspects of the Russian mob that the leader of the Solntsevskaya Bratva had kept his 'favorite' (and only) American friend away from, he'd still undoubtedly seen more than Helena. More than that, though, he'd never forget some of the things his friend had told him.


It wasn't very similar to the Bertinelli situation, but all of it had made Oliver think of the bookmaker's family in Moscow...







Anatoli had warned Oliver that he might not want to go with him when they went to confront Kozlov, 'This business will not be pretty, my friend,' he'd said.


But they'd known that the man who'd made the grave mistake of stealing from the Bratva had to know that someone would soon be coming for him. And one could hire any number of guards and guns in Russia for much less money than the man had stolen. So letting Anatoli walk into that without backup wasn't something Oliver could do. Both because he really was his friend and because Anatoli was the only reason he was welcome among the Bratva in the first place in those early days.


In hindsight, Oliver also knew he'd passed another test by insisting on going. That that choice had moved him in the minds of many from a particularly dangerous foreign fighter given too much influence by Anatol's friendship, to a recognized asset in Moscow. After that, Oliver could've decided to be Bratva for life if it was what he'd wanted. Had he made that choice, he'd likely be a Councilor by now: officially one of Anatoli's most trusted advisors. Or at least as 'officially' as those sort of things were within the Bratva.


That wasn't at all the life he'd wanted though, and his Russian friend had known that. That the former K.G.B officer had both made sure Oliver himself recognized that fact, and still gone out of his way to facilitate his friend's future in whatever capacity he could was something Oliver would probably never really be able to repay. Not that Anatoli would ever let him say he owed him anything. Apparently saving him from Ivo meant their friendship was far above the favors and duties of the Bratva, something he'd been a bit surprised to learn early on...


But that night at the Kozlov house was still something Oliver would never forget. He'd been trying to prepare himself; steel his spine and his face into the indifferent mask that Anatoli had made sure he knew to wear while completing Bratva business. He knew that Kozlov was going to die that night, but that he was probably going to be tortured first because the Bratva both wanted their money back and to make an example of the man made fatally stupid by greed. In any criminal organization some criminal activity even amongst themselves was to be expected, the concept of 'honor amongst thieves' was more unifying principle than practice, but only fools let themselves be caught. Kozlov did get caught. He took too much for anyone to mistake as any mere bookkeeping error, so an example had to be made of him.


Oliver had known this, but he'd also known that wasn't the same still somewhat naive boy that'd kept his promise to come back to rescue Ivo's other prisoners and thereby earned Anatoli's lifelong gratitude. Waller had seen to that.


The night hadn't turned out at all like he'd expected though. It'd been over before it began. Not because Kozlov had hired more protectors than Anatoli's select group could handle. He hadn't. What he had done was finish dinner with his family, tuck his children into bed, and then shoot each and every one of them in the head.


Oliver hadn't seen the children. Anatoli hadn't let him go further into the house once they'd found Mister and Missus Kozlov both dead in their living room, the fire they'd had burning in the fireplace just smoky embers by the time the Bratva party arrived. He had seen that Kozlov had obviously shot himself in the head after shooting his wife. Had seen that Missus Kozlov hadn't put up a fight. Had seen the cold tear tracks on their faces and the blood all over Kozlov that could've only come from holding his wife after he'd shot her, while she'd bled out, before he'd shot himself. Had seen the silencer on the gun still clenched in Kozlov's hand. Had later read in the papers about a crazy man that'd murdered his whole family—two sons, two daughters, and his wife—then taken his own life all with the same gun.


Anatoli had said these things were sometimes to be expected. That once Kozlov knew he'd been found out, he also knew what would happen to him. And his family. That to one who wasn't a fighter and couldn't bear to see his family suffer—as they might have if he wasn't as easy to break as had been expected—death by a silenced gun was certainly preferable to torture eventually followed by death.


If he could've run, of course, Kozlov undoubtedly would have. But his attempt to leave Moscow without the Bratva knowing was what'd turned Anatoli's attention to him in the first place—and once that route was blocked by the fact that none of the Bratva would help him escape the Bratva, Kozlov's fate was all but sealed.


What'd bothered Oliver the most about it was the kids he never saw.


And that Kozlov had shot himself in the head, just like Oliver's own father.







That, though, was undoubtedly much like the brutal world Helena was born into. And unlike Oliver it wasn't a world she could simply walk away from. Officially, Anatoli still expected Oliver's allegiance on the other side of the world in return for his Captaincy, which forced Alexi Leonov to work with him when needed. In reality, however, Oliver knew it was highly unlikely Anatoli would ever actually summon him back to Moscow. Even if he were to fall from power at some point, the message Oliver would receive would be a warning, not a summons or any sort of cry for help.


Helena, however, was Frank Bertinelli's daughter. The mob boss's only family. Maybe he had been content to let her lead her life mostly sheltered from what he did, but that didn't mean he would let her leave his life entirely. Nor that he necessarily could. As his daughter, Helena could've been used against him all too easily: an obvious weakness for any enemy to exploit no matter how well she was trained in self-defense. She'd clearly had some training before he met her. Oliver had taught her how to shoot a crossbow because it made her slow down and aim more than an automatic gun ever could. But Bertinelli must've made sure she was taught some self-defense, though he'd still been unwilling to let her go off into the city on her own that night Oliver had met her. Not that that was surprising, since 'someone' was going around shooting his men and the thought that it'd been his own daughter hadn't crossed Bertinelli's mind until he saw her standing over him with a crossbow aimed at his heart.


Remembering the Kozlovs, though, and remembering what Anatoli had said—about death being the only real escape from the Bratva—had made it hard for Oliver to even consider giving up on Helena. He had to think about it now, with her threatening his family rather than just his identity as the vigilante, but he still didn't like it. And he still didn't want to see her face after she realized her father was dead. After she realized she had her vengeance, and that it didn't help. That having her father's blood on her hands couldn't help her heal, it'd only hurt her more...


Oliver shook his head as he signaled for the turnoff that led directly to Q.C.


Helena wasn't just threatening him now, though she probably didn't realize her earlier threat to expose him would've put everyone he loved in much more danger than she herself ever could. Instead, she'd scared Thea and Raisa. And him, by her being anywhere near his family. Though he still had to wonder why she'd scared his sister instead of charming her.


Helena could act. She'd pasted on a pleasant smile for her father and every member of his organization for however long it'd taken her to gather the information that led to her fiancé's death and for months after that while she working against them. Killing them. She'd been charming even when she'd just thought Oliver Queen was 'the rich man's Lindsay Lohan' and the last thing she'd wanted to do was help her father close a business deal that might undo all her efforts thus far to destroy him. So why hadn't she tried to charm Thea instead of scaring her so that Raisa had sent her off?


It took Oliver what felt like a very long minute waiting for a red light to turn before he figured it out, his thoughts finally circling back to the obvious answer just as the light turned green.


'So she's not... I mean, you're not...'


The accusation had hurt. It still did just thinking about it. Not because she didn't have faith in him, per say, but because he deserved that. Like Felicity had said, Oliver wasn't the boy he'd once been. But he had been that boy. Had been Ollie. And that was who Thea had to remember, not just from her own memories, but from all the tabloid articles he'd deliberately just ignored as he'd acted out in any way he wanted. He could imagine her actually looking for them, after The Gambit sank, and being shocked at first. But less and less with each and every one. Until it eventually led to the accusation that her big brother was judging her for being just like him.


Thea had loved Laurel back before The Gambit. And Laurel was used to being a big sister, plus Thea had always been easy to love back then. But it was highly unlikely that Thea and Laurel's warm relationship had survived The Gambit. Not when Ollie had 'died' while cheating on his girlfriend with her little sister. Not when Sara had died as a result. While Laurel wouldn't have taken it out on Thea directly, she probably wouldn't have gone out of her way to ever see the little girl again.


It was all too easy to imagine how much that must've hurt his sister, too, thank to him. Especially if their mother reacted as badly as Thea said; shutting herself away from the world, her daughter included, while she was in mourning until Walter finally pulled her out of her shell...


So Oliver couldn't really blame his sister for being worried he'd screw up again. Not when she'd seemed so happy to hear that he had a girlfriend that she hadn't even met yet.


...Though it should probably seem strange to apply any sort of official status to their relationship already. Right after their first—or maybe technically their second—date. It didn't surprise him that his mother and sister wanted that: wanted him happily dating someone. But it did surprise him that it didn't bother him at all. With how much commitment of any kind had scared him back before he knew what real fear was, their thinking of Felicity as his girlfriend already should probably bother him. But it didn't.


Maybe it was because Felicity wasn't rushing him. Sure she'd teased him about wanting to take it slow with her, wanting to do things right when she was perfectly willing to jump straight into bed with him, trusting that the weeks they'd spent working together counted as something on the dating scale just as much as their two dates did. Still she was willing to talk, and willing to wait for answers. That calm patience was almost as addictive as her bright smiles and laughter: because he didn't know how long he'd be wearing the Hood, and yet somehow he was sure she wouldn't mind waiting for him... Then again, she'd probably tell him that they didn't have to wait, but that wasn't what he should be thinking about now.


Any future with Felicity was complicated by all the problems of the present. Namely, now, Helena. Not because Diggle kept referring to her as his 'psycho ex-girlfriend.' (Despite both knowing that they'd barely dated for a whole week before she'd blown town in the aftermath of Oliver's intervention.) Had Oliver ever thought of Helena has his girlfriend? No. But he had cared about her. Still did, even if she couldn't say the same until she needed his help.


'...I guess you were right. I'm more interested in revenge,' Helena had admitted that night, among other more hurtful things that what he'd already suspected deep down.


That was also the same night that Digg had sought him out at Big Belly Burger after Carly had turned him in, as he'd known she would the moment she'd taken his order. Probably making that phone call before she'd even placed his order.


Oliver hadn't been able to stay at the Foundry that night, after he'd had to watch Helena limp up the stairs as quickly as she could while favoring her injured side. He'd followed her out at a distance, just to make sure she didn't collapse on his doorstep, but he'd known better than to climb on his own bike as he'd watched her speed off. He'd had to go back inside to get rid of the Hood and his gear after that, but exercise had held no appeal to him that night.


Back then, after all, if Diggle wasn't there Oliver was completely alone, most of the time without even the sound of the computers that Felicity never let them turn off. And that silence hadn't helped him then.


Digg had though. For all the disapproval his partner-in-crime had for the Huntress, he'd still been there when needed, showing up to shake his head at the spiciest side dish that Big Belly Burger offered and the half empty large water that Oliver had managed to wash almost half the basket down with.


Oliver knew his heart hadn't been broken by Helena. Not when he'd known, before he even started trying to help her, that it probably wouldn't end well. But he'd still tried, and being with her had been nice when she wasn't focused on murdering her father, so he had been hurt. His heart wasn't broken, but it was definitely bruised.


Digg's words had still wrung true to him though: 'You know, Oliver, I don't think love is about saving or changing a person. I think it's about finding the person that's already the right fit. One day you will... You opened up, took a risk with your heart. The Oliver I met a few months ago would not have been able to do that. And when you meet the right person, you'll be ready for her.'


As he finally turned into the main entrance for Q.C's garage—going in that way instead of parking outside on the street and walking in through the lobby because it drew less attention—Oliver couldn't help but think that Digg's words fit Felicity surprisingly well. Sure he'd already met her; both that first time he'd listened to her talking to herself while on a mission for ARGUS and when he'd finally been able to speak to her and found her chewing on a red pen. But even when she'd known he was lying to her, she'd helped him. Then, when he'd needed her help most, she hadn't let him down.


Felicity didn't expect him to change. At least that wasn't what Oliver felt when he was around her. She didn't think he could or should be better, like Laurel always had. Felicity thought he was better. And while the archer wasn't sure she was right, he wanted her to be. He'd like to be the man her eyes saw.


It wasn't like those last few years with Laurel, when he'd kept repeating the same mistakes and she kept taking him back but clearly wanted more from him. Wanted Ollie to commit. Wanted Ollie to grow up with her, when he wasn't sure if or how he could. When every way forward, towards Laurel's and his parents' expectations always seemed impossible to reach. When his mistakes and failures always seemed to make up the shadows of disappointment in their eyes if he was sober enough to see it.


Oliver had seen shadows in Felicity's eyes, but not aimed at him. She didn't see him as a failure. She saw him as a hero.


The thought made him shake his head again as he parked his bike in the V.I.P area, right next to the elevator banks. Which he headed into after a nod at the parking garage guard, who'd already called the V.I.P elevator for him.


Oliver knew he wasn't a hero. Didn't think he could ever really be one with what he'd been before. With all the mistakes, and decisions, he'd made. All the things he'd done. And hadn't done.


Oliver knew he wasn't a hero. But that didn't mean he couldn't try to live up to the image of the man he saw in Felicity's eyes. With or without the glasses she didn't really need.


Now wasn't the time for thoughts like that though.


Now, as he stepped off the elevator onto the I.T department's floor, Oliver had to start working towards keeping everyone he cared about safe. Digg was taking care of Oliver's mother and sister. Oliver, meanwhile, had to make sure Felicity Smoak stayed safe.