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Bloody Secrets

Chapter Text

Felicity's P.O.V.

 

Felicity knew why she'd let herself be talked into this. Her new boyfriend would probably only get more protective as time went on if she let him get away with it. And without proving to him that she could defend herself, at least a little, she couldn't very well make any sort of argument about it that he'd accept. Putting it off wouldn't help. The problem with revealing anything at all, though, was simply how much—or how little—she should reveal...

 

She obviously didn't need self-defense training of any kind. Not really. Regular practice was a must for anyone who didn't want to let their edge dull, as it were, but any lessons she'd taken in longer than the last thousand years had been about learning a new move or style, nothing more or less. And, well, outside of The bedamned Game, she didn't have to worry most of the time. So long as her head stayed attached to her shoulders via her neck, she'd recover from anything, and these days guns were the weapons of choice, followed by knives. Not swords.

 

Nowadays swords were a rarity, and even mortals who wielded larger bladed weapons weren't likely to attempt beheading before stabbing. Granted, mortal swordsmen weren't entirely unheard of even these days: the League of Assassins being a major example. A potential problem if someone managed to overthrow Mazin for that horrible title he'd chosen for his position as "The Head of the Demon." But even if that happened and his "successor" started sending out assassins after known Immortals, the odds would most likely still be in her favor most of the time. That was only assuming someone, somehow was able to defeat Mazin, which was so unlikely only Methos might waste time contemplating it. Mazin, of course wouldn't send anyone after her—or any Immortal, unless he was hunting them personally. He didn't believe in the Game any more than she did, he just had his own code of honor that sometimes came into play around other Immortals who were stupid enough to cross him. So, as long as she avoided the Middle East and anyone that might be a terrorist linked to that area, she should be safe.

 

None of that was 'obvious' to Oliver and Diggle though. And Felicity couldn't tell them. Not unless she wanted to try telling them everything. Something she simply wasn't ready for. Time wouldn't help her in that regard: not when the last lover she'd told the truth to had turned on her so inhumanely.

 

It didn't really matter that Methos was likely right. That while Felicidad (as she'd been known then) had been inclined to believe herself in love with  José, she was more in love with the idea of marry for love. Meanwhile the Spaniard was in love with wealth and influence she could bring to the match in that lifetime...

 

In the almost two centuries since that terrible death, Felicitas had told a few mortals the truth. Donna, as the girl she'd raised from the role of goddaughter to the portrayal of actual daughter, sister, and eventually her current identity's mother, was of course the most recent. The vibrant, lively girl that'd lost her father to the Game hadn't taken the revelation exactly well, but what she had been afraid of was losing the only family she had left. She hadn't been afraid of Felicitas, and she never would be.

 

Anymore than Oliver or Digg would probably be...

 

Somehow, however, Felicity still couldn't shake that vice grip holding her heart hostage at the thought of revealing her secret again now....

 

It wasn't because she expected Oliver Queen's reaction to be anything like the man she'd meant to marry in Spain during the aptly named Ominous Decade... No. Her mistake in Spain hadn't made her doubt herself that much, it's only made her more cautious. Much more cautious.

 

Felicitas had read the character of enough men to form a fairly educated guess on how exactly Oliver, and Diggle too, would react to the idea of Immortals. To her being an Immortal. Her hero and their friend wouldn't hurt her, wouldn't ever try to. Yes, the idea might boggle their minds. Neither of them would react well at all to however she might choose to physically prove she was telling the truth and spinning some strange tale, a bad joke, or losing her mind. And she was quite certain both the former soldier and her archer would despise The Game in theory alone, never mind when they first found out she'd accepted a challenge from another Immortal at some point in the future...

 

The many protective men Felicitas had known, as friends, teachers and sometimes lovers had never liked the idea of her fighting. Let alone dying. Every one of them would've sooner risked their own neck than hers, just like Oliver—and probably Diggle, too—would, and it'd sometimes taken a lot of time and a lot of arguing to make them see that they couldn't fight her battles for her. That she couldn't bear to watch them go off to a fight they might not win—a fight that she most often knew she would win—and simply sit there wondering if she'd ever see their much loved smile again. If she'd ever hear them laugh or... do anything. If they'd still be alive the next day...

 

Felicitas had decided long ago that she'd sooner risk her own head in any fight than let another loved one die for her ever again. Win or lose: by fate's whims or sheer skill, she could accept either outcome so long as it was only her life on the line.

 

Perhaps it was somewhat selfish of her. Most of the friends and lovers she'd argued the matter with certainly seemed to think so... but she'd suffered enough loss, more than enough sacrifice, in her first lifetime to last her all eternity. Watching her mother burn from her would undoubtedly always haunt her nights, just like those last memories she had of Eligius, Izeb' and Didas... when only Anaruz had escaped Cassandra's merciless vengeance and she still had to leave him, too...

 

Felicity flinched, quickly shaking the memories of that long gone, dark day away.

 

Telling Oliver about Immortality wasn't something she could do yet if she didn't have to, and she'd yet to see any reason to necessitate it. Yet.

 

Once she did... well, she wasn't sure how much it'd actually help her with his protectiveness. Oliver was stubborn, so Felicity was sure nothing less than the complete truth would dissuade him. And even that might not convince him.

 

All the same, Methos wasn't the only one to train her in the millennia past. More than a few mortals had made their marks, too.

 

Some of them never knew the truth about her. Immortality was such an immense, overwhelming thing after all. Even in ancient times, when the world believed in gods who walked among them, it astounded. Today—or even in the last several centuries—mankind had become more skeptical.

 

And Oliver Queen was probably a skeptic before the Island, despite his carefree reputation. Lian Yu—Mandarin for Purgatory. An apt name according to the scars on Oliver's body and psyche.

 

"Ready?" Oliver asked her as he landed in front of her, having dropped down from the salmon ladder he'd just completed her now favorite exercise-for-viewing on.

 

'Not really,' Felicity thought, but of course didn't say. She still wasn't sure of which way she should play her skills here and now, let alone later. A natural affinity from childhood left a little too long to rust, or a hobby only occasionally revisited with some contrived clumsiness thrown in? One ran the real risk of raising suspicions that she was hiding far more than any mortal could imagine—which she was, of course. But the other may be beyond her none-too-shabby acting skills. Those thoughts had Felicity frowning as she answered with a headshake, "I thought Digg was going to be teaching me?"

 

"He will," Oliver assured her, not looking like the question bothered him at all, though after only a second's thought she'd realized it very well could. "But he doesn't know much about swords."

 

"The pointy end goes into the other guy, right?" the former soldier threw out with a teasing grin that was probably meant to be reassuring.

  

Except it was exactly what the Immortal had expected of the two men, and thus why she'd bothered to clarify when she agreed that she wanted Digg to train her. She hadn't phrased it like that, specifically: she'd seized onto the fact that the former soldier was the one pressuring her to start with and acted like Oliver hadn't even offered when he'd put his own opinion about the issue forward.

 

Neither Oliver nor Digg professed any particular partiality to the sword, but after watching them spar with sticks, Felicity didn't doubt that Oliver had at least some training. While she'd watched them spar she'd seem Oliver incorporate a few too many maneuvers that anyone who knew how to wield a sword should recognize. Perhaps he was taught to stick-fight by a swordsman? That begged the question of where he'd run into one in the last five years, but wasn't relevant now. Ultimately, she'd wanted Digg to be her teacher because him being a novice with a blade or completely ignorant of it could work in her favor in so far as she wished to continue hiding her skills. At the back of her mind, she'd always have the knowledge that he didn't know the weapon well and that awareness should help her hold herself back a bit more than her conflicted wishes not reveal too much...

 

Even if his actual sword training was only very minimal, just barely enough to impact how he wielded other weapons, the movements were something Oliver's body and eyes knew well. Digg did, too, of course, but Oliver was the one that was more likely to recognize the fact that her body did in fact know what it was doing when she had a sword in her hands. Because after millennia of wielding the weapon in practice, in sparring, and in combat—far too many duels and too many wars, too—Felicitas wasn't entirely certain she could feign the clumsy uncertainty of a novice...

 

"That was a joke, Felicity," Diggle spoke up, frowning just a little at her—clearly concerned for her. After a moment, though, he undoubtedly rationalized that she was just nervous for what'd be the obvious reason if she had little experience in combat. She was about to start sparring with their vigilante team leader, after all, and if she wasn't both a lot more experienced than him and considerably more durable the idea alone would probably intimidate even knowing he wouldn't want to actually hurt her.

 

"Ready?" Oliver asked again.

 

"As I'll ever be," Felicity agreed with a sigh, still not sure she wanted to play this as she glanced between him and Digg, who was meandering over from the training dummy he'd been beating.

 

"So where did you start learning about swords?" the former soldier asked her. "In high school? Fencing or something like that?"

 

Felicity almost shrugged noncommittally, not wanting to talk about her past, because she really couldn't. Her cover story was fool-proof online and on paper, but her babbling tongue could make more than a few holes in it all on its own. It already had—though fortunately Oliver had let his discovery of her 'brother' go with surprising ease so far. "It wasn't in school, no," she replied carefully, spurred on by the looks uncertain speculation the two men were trying to subtly exchange. "It was, well... have either of you ever heard of the S.C.A? The Society of Creative Anachronism?"

 

It was a cover she'd used a few times in the past, since the society's conception. After all, a relatively large and widespread community where it was commonplace for someone to carry swords and answer to assumed names was an opportunity any Immortal would be a fool to pass up even if curiosity or nostalgia alone didn't draw them to explore it. Outside of that 'world,' however, most of the mortals who played in it weren't master swordsmen who had to worry about other swordsmen trying to cut off their heads from time to time, so it was still a relatively safe place to hide in general. Sort of a step back before the time when explosions started to become commonplace on battlefields and thereby made an Immortal's supposed safety there not so certain even. It was easier when weapons weren't actually strong or sharp enough to cut through someone's neck with ease. Because when one was fighting mortal swordsmen with swords that couldn't decapitate so quickly, it was unwise for those mortals to waste time trying to chop an opponent's head off in the heat of battle. So even if they got lucky and stabbed you, they were more likely to assume you'd die from the fatal injury and move on, not realizing you'd get back up again sometime later. How long later, of course, depended upon the raw power of the Immortal's Quickening—augmented by age or other Immortals' final deaths—and any adrenaline that might be fueling it at the time. When one ran into another Immortal on the battlefield, of course, that safety was nonexistent. With their Quickening backing up their blows, an Immortal could behead their enemy with the right strike... which wasn't at all what the ancient should be thinking about right now, as both men blinked at her.

 

Diggle looked thoughtful a moment later. "Don't they dress up like knights or something like that?"

 

"That's right," the Immortal nodded, not even trying to keep her lips from quirking a little in her honest amusement at the idea in general—never mind how useless the armor they typically wore would be if someone came at them with a real sword. "Knights and ladies, lady-knights, kings, queens, tournaments, mock-battles... The Middle Ages 'as they ought to have been,' supposedly," she finished with a light shrug.

 

"What, like those fairs you're supposed to dress up for?" Oliver blinked again, shrugging when they both looked at him. "Thea used to like the one that opened in Castlefall in October."

 

"They still do," Digg told him. "Every year. A.J wanted to go last year."

 

"Armor and all?" Felicity asked curiously, not sure she could see the former soldier willing strapping on fake armor, but she also couldn't imagine him renting or buying real armor to make a more realistic statement.

 

"Nah, he thought that was 'silly,'" Digg smirked approvingly. As though what was now approval hadn't just been relief at the time—she could honestly picture John Diggle having fun with his nephew, both of them decked up in the modern make-belief equivalent of a knight's armor, but it was both an expense and a hassle that one could dodge with some relief if there wasn't a real drive to actually do it.

 

Though now she kind of wanted to make both men try on the shining armor that neither one of them probably thought suited them, but then again no real knight's armor had actually shown when it was worn for real warfare. And both of the men in front of her were more heroes in truth than most of those so-called 'valiant' knights ever were.

 

The Immortal smiled softly, but forced herself to go on. "The Renaissance Fairs are similar in some ways," she acknowledged, though it had been a number of years since she'd attended either one, and she hadn't been take either all that seriously. "But the S.C.A's more organized. You can train and compete to actually move up in the society: all for fun, of course..."

 

And really not very much like the timeframes they wished to commemorate at all. The idealized ages had very little to do with the ideals of fair play and chivalry that modern mortals would like to cling to: it's inclusiveness of all alone went against the very basic nature of the time periods. Equality as a real and practiced standard was a still very new thing. True, democracy could trace its routes back to ancient Greece, but even in Athens equality was only among all Athenian men. Not women. Not men who weren't citizens of the city-state by birth. And it as more unusual for a freeman not to own slaves back then than the reverse.

 

"So, what?" the vigilante asked then, looking torn between bemusement and bewilderment. "They handed you a sword and green shirt and then told you to attack the guys in red, like capture the flag or something?"

 

"Hardly," Felicity snorted, shaking her head again. "That wouldn't exactly be safe, would it?" she asked rhetorically, continuing without waiting for even another blink. "A certain amount of safety gear's required, of course. And the weapons aren't entirely real. Even the metal blades have pads on the tips and blunt edges... Safety first."

 

'Safety.' Saying that in relation to swords seemed strange. Undoubtedly it always would. Almost as strange as the term 'swordplay.' Laughable, even.

 

In times not all that long past, safety meant making sure the threat was no longer a threat. And the accepted way one did that would these days be called murder outside of war zones: ideally accepted as self-defense most of the time—as it should be if that's what it was. Even in war zones, though, one could sometimes be charged with murder or manslaughter just for defending themselves or their loved ones. But the act of drawing one's sword and not intending harm, or even just being surprised by anyone being hurt while sparring with naked blades, boggled the mind a bit.

 

"Uh-huh," Oliver mustered in answer, and she could almost see his uncertain expectation regarding her potential skill diminishing—it was almost as plain to see in his eyes as the lingering images of children playing dress-up and hitting each other with toy swords were in her own mind, even though some memories of children actually fighting danced through there, too.

 

Considering all of the scars on the archer's skin, covering him nearly from head to toe, his opinion of 'play' in relation to weaponry might actually be similar to her own. Then again, Digg had seen war, too, so playing with weapons, rather than fighting or training with them, likely held some lack of appeal to him, too. No matter how much their enjoyment in sparring occasionally looked a little childlike, carefree in the general expectation that they could trust the friend they were trading blows with not to aim for a real injury or worse. Neither of her boys were children, of course—they certainly didn't look like it—but from time to time their training took on a somewhat playful air: as it did for anyone who spent a significant amount of time perfecting their technique with the help of someone trustworthy. But jokes, laughs and infrequent smiles aside, they were always seriously training, which didn't make it easier to stomach the idea of either of their opinions of her probably skills shrinking...

 

"It's not just mock-battles, though," the Immortal went on quickly. "The really skilled are in tournaments and fencing bouts, but they're the instructors for a lot of classes, too..." she allowed another small shrug. "It's more realistic than modern fencing, I think."

 

Which was why Felicity had specifically decided on this explanation, even though she couldn't quite craft every sentence to be entirely true, it was the closest she could get without needing to actually tell the truth her tongue wasn't ready to tell. And she had been to some S.C.A events in the past, though unlike some of her friends she'd never officially joined or attempted to advance in the simulated society. It wasn't like she didn't know enough about the modern idealized version of 'history' as it hadn't really happened. If need be she could feign ignorance, or the offended non-ignorance that was typical of mortals that hadn't lived it but believed they knew everything about the past. Such conversations could occasionally be quite comical.

 

The Society of Creative Anachronism, commonly called the S.C.A, was an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts, skills, and traditions of pre-seventeenth century Europe. And, to some extent, elsewhere as well.  It was not about history, even less so than many history books were. It wasn't about violence or death. It was about holding onto the imagined ideals of the times that none of the mortals could remember, so they clung to tales past down by tongue and text and let their imagination take flight.

 

Felicity had never stayed long amongst any of the fantasy groups, always needing to be mindful of the time period in between her forays into creative reconstruction. Still, it wasn't unpleasant to pass the time in settings that were similar enough to some those ages gone to kindle fond memories, but only rarely quite close enough to inspire more unpleasant memories. She knew more than a few fellow Immortals that liked to use such affairs for just that purpose, and had known more.

 

The last time she saw Rebecca alive, in fact, had been at just such an event at the Shire of Thamesreach, the group most local to London. Felicity and Donna had met Rebecca there with her husband, John Bower. Amanda and her mortal friend, Lucy, had joined them for their third day there. As far as Felicity knew, that'd been the last adventure Amanda had had with her teacher, too, so she was glad she could be sure it was well worth remembering on its own, no matter how exasperated she'd been with that knight that'd been attempting to court her throughout that whole week they spent enjoying that popular Shire in the S.C.A Kingdom of Drachenwald.

 

Barely a month later Felicitas was flying to France after Rebecca's funeral. Donna had been in tears because of the friend they'd lost and upset that they'd missed the funeral. Those kind of tears were sometimes beyond Felicitas, though: especially when it came to the damn Game. Sometimes she was just too tired of it all to cry, though those unshed tears didn't make the loss hurt any less. She'd been irritated at not being able to attend the funeral itself, though. John had invited her, of course. She was his second call after Amanda. But Amanda's invitation of the younger Highlander had been a calculated move.

 

Methos hadn't met the young Scotsman yet, not back then, but his position in the Watchers meant they were aware of Duncan MacLeod's ties to the Witch. They'd never found out exactly how the Watchers had learned of the prophecy regarding the young Immortal that'd "challenge the voice of death" and thus save Cassandra from the only student she ever taught the skill she was most infamous for these days. But the younger Highlander was proven to be her chosen one when he stumbled upon her hut in the Donan Woods in his youth. That was a connection Felicity, perhaps unfairly, wasn't inclined to forgive easily. Macleod's defense of Amanda and victory over Rebecca's killer likely had a lot to do with why Methos allowed the Scotsman to find him almost a year after that. When Luthor was still alive, however, Amanda had used the Highlander's presence for more than just the comfort of a friend and sometimes lover. The Immortal thief knew Felicitas' wariness of the anyone who'd associated with Cassandra at all would make her at least hesitate before interfering, and it'd worked.

 

Felicitas would've liked to be at the funeral, for John and Amanda both. But she was also irritated then because she knew that Amanda's decision to tell MacLeod of Rebecca's murder had been a calculated one. She wanted to be the one to avenge her teacher by taking Luthor's head, and she could be much more sure of her ability to control a chivalrous swordsman who'd only been around a few hundred years than she could ever hope to control Felicitas. Or Methos. It was absurdly foolish, and it'd nearly cost Amanda her head—if not for the Highlander's timely intervention. So flying to France after all that'd died down had grated, but what else could she do?

 

Even after Methos had been surprised to find a man that might make a good friend in Amanda's sometimes lover, Felicity hadn't wanted to meet Connor MacLeod's kinsman. And her wariness of him had been proven right as soon as Cassandra wandered into the Highlander's modern life. He'd defended her against Kantos—which Felicity could actually forgive. But not long after that he'd turned on Methos, as though their friendship hadn't merited the slightest defense. Felicitas knew that that betrayal had hurt her brother, she would've been able to see that even if she hadn't already known the world's oldest Immortal had come to see the Highlander as a true friend: one he would've defended with his life. One he had risked his neck for more than once before that. One he had gone out of his way to save several times...

 

So Felicitas was glad she hadn't made the mistake of meeting the Highlander back then. It didn't matter that Methos had forgiven Duncan MacLeod in the slightest. Her brother would always accept the blame of the Witch's every misdeed as his own, due to his guilt towards his own ancient crimes against her. As though those crimes weren't the way most of the world worked back then. As though the murders and all out wars the Witch had planned and carried out—for her vengeance or sometimes just to further her own ends—were tied to the woman's First Death and early Immortality in any way other than the Witch herself. As though his decision to change after that, to bring down the so-called brother's he'd felt mostly safe with and start anew, to try to better both himself and the world—successfully for thousands of years thereafter—meant nothing.

 

The world was not simple. Not entirely. It never really had been. There were usually more reasons for why someone did something wrong than when they did something right. Doing right didn't need to be explained, after all, but wrongs could sometimes be justified. Excused by circumstances, or sometimes just compassion. But mercy wasn't something the Witch would ever understand...

 

Those were the shades of gray between all the black and white. Another massive piece of reality that was missing from many history books, as well as the historical reenactments and the viewpoints of people like Duncan MacLeod and Cassandra.

 

It was the sort of thing that Amanda was easily able to forgive. Like Methos, she saw herself more selfish than not and therefore more bad than good. So she could forgive her sometimes lover his strict ethics as long as he was willing to bend a bit for her. And maybe she'd figured she was helping him grow up a little along the way, too.

 

It'd be hard to tell. Short of forcing Duncan to chose between Amanda and Cassandra... One lover or another. A woman that would sooner spit on a mugger than give them an inch or a supposed lady that had no trouble laughing with mass murderers. The careful thief that oft got in over head but would do so for a friend without a second's thought, or the merciless manipulator that would set a city on fire to save herself from the start of a duel she might not win. Perhaps if Duncan MacLeod made the correct choice there, then Felicitas would be willing to meet him.

 

Regardless, she couldn't find any real regret in herself for not having received Duncan MacLeod's vaunted friendship back then. Mistakes could be made, and those she could forgive, but betrayal wasn't a mistake. It was a decision. A wrong decision. And when that wrong decision hurt someone she loved, Felicitas didn't have any trouble admitted she could hold a grudge.

 

Better to have her memories of Rebecca as unspoiled as they could be.

 

Yes, losing Rebecca added a shade of sadness to her memories of that foray into Thamesreach. Just like the deaths of everyone else would. But Amanda was the only other Immortal there that week, so such sadness wasn't surprising.

 

Lucy was dead now, too. From Kahler's disease, or multiple myeloma as it was better known. She wasn't sure why the eponym that honored the Austrian physician wasn't universal—usually the discoverer was thus honored and it had at least something to do with why so many mortals worked so hard to make such discoveries. So that they might be remembered: immortalized in a way that they physically couldn't be. To Felicitas, who'd known a number of mortals who's real fear of death was more linked to the idea of not being remember and being gone than death itself by the time it came, not honoring the good doctor thus seemed unjust. All the same, it was the disease that Doctor Otto Kahler was best known for that eventually claimed the lovely actress's life despite the fortune her friends were willing to throw at it so that she might make seventy. Lucy, herself, had seemed more content with the idea of dying, pleased to finally be joining her Marco after living a long, eventful life her murdered Immortal husband could be content with. Even if she had only made it to 69. A respectable age historically, but with modern medicine it still had been something of a shock—then again, losing a loved one, or anyone, always was to some extent.

 

Rebecca's widower was still around. John Bower hadn't been happy to outlive his Immortal wife when The Game stole her away from him, anymore than Lucy had when her husband's head was taken. But he, too, had lived a long and fruitful life... though from the sounds of her last few email correspondence with him, she might have to attend another funeral all too soon...

 

"Felicity?" Oliver's concerned voice brought her out of her thoughts, and she had to wince when she saw that same concern clear on his face and Digg's.

 

How long had she been lost in thought? Again?

 

"Sorry," the Immortal said quickly, shaking her head. "Mind wandered off for a minute there." She blinked at him as innocently as she could manage with the idea of dead and maybe soon-to-be dead mortal friends in her head. "What were we talking about? The S.C.A, right?"

 

"Specifically how you learned to fence there," Digg interjected.

 

Felicity immediately shook her head again. "Not fence," she corrected mildly, going on quickly. "Not in the way you're thinking, if you're picturing me in all white padding with a weird helmet. Well, weirder helmet, I suppose, but I've always thought the modern epee masks look strange. And not very historical." She shook her head, hurrying on before they could decided on anything to ask to that. "Like I told you," she nodded to Oliver, "I didn't compete, but I did train for some of the mock-battles. And no, they didn't just hand out weapons and team jerseys for that."

 

Actually the real distinction in her mind was that fencing was a sport. A competition where you used flimsy blades and struck for points with no intention of harming your opponent anymore than they usually wished to harm you.

 

In a real sword fight, the intentions couldn't be more opposed. The warriors that once fought for the diversion of the masses were more similar to real combat, of course. Though how such 'entertainment'—as Rome had aggrandized it—had become the gentlemanly duels of honor that'd covered for the Game over the last few centuries, she really couldn't imagine. Never mind how duels to the death became hitting each other with sticks for points.

 

"Safety first," Diggle recalled the catch phrase from earlier, though he looked just as skeptical of the idea as Oliver did. Neither of them were even trying to hide it. Well, at least that told her they'd never been to any of the bigger S.C.A events, or at least hadn't participated in any of the quote-unquote-combat. Whether or not that helped her here was anyone's guess... though their concern for how much her mind was wondering today might be even more helpful, no matter how much it surprised her.

 

"Right," Felicity shrugged. "The marshals in the S.C.A—they sort of act like referees. But not for judgment, per say. Their job is to keep everything as safe as possible."

 

And if that sounded absurd in her head, it was even worse out loud. That was how Rebecca had explained it all though, to John that last time they were all together, and to Felicitas the first time she'd managed to convince the other ancient that they should attend one of the early S.C.A events for nostalgia's sake. Felicitas had barely been listening with half an ear each time, but she remembered enough for a few Google searches to make it fairly fresh in her mind.

 

"And they let you fight?" Oliver asked her with a frown. "Isn't that when chivalry's supposed to be from?"

 

That frown on his face irked her because she knew it had more to do with the idea of her fighting in general than play-fighting. But that was what was supposed be fixed a little here.

 

Still, Felicity had to force a shrug, "I'm not exactly sure when chivalry was popularly tied to romance, but it was really more about religion." Her second shrug came easier. "The S.C.A's all about protection, but not between genders. There's no gender barriers in the S.C.A. Armor and swords and sheaths—and not at all what I was actually talking about," she winced when her mind (more specifically the gutter that'd taken up residence in it) caught up with what she was saying on cue with Oliver and Digg's not so well hidden amusement.

 

"I'm with Oliver there though," Digg spoke up, not even trying to lose his grin. "Thought chivalry was about protecting your lady."

 

"It is—or was. Sort of," Felicity sighed, hurrying to respond in the hope that it might chase the blush back out of her face at some point tonight. "But it was first and foremost a code of conduct," she shrugged again. "It started off with the cavalries. That's what knights really were, you know: the men that could afford horses and armor. The armor got heavier as time went on, for those that could afford it, usually by accident of birth." Not sure this was really something she wanted to debate with them either, especially given what she'd seen of Oliver's own belief in self-worth, which was abominably low, especially considering all he was trying to do for his city. He was slowly but surely fighting to become like the champions of old, exceedingly few and rare though the real ones were. So she tried to summarize it more, "The nobility owed their loyalty to their sovereign first and foremost, but as the influence of the church grew it's debatable which they were supposed to value more. Both came before their family though, and long before any love interest." She was a little out of breath by the time she babbled to that finish, but she knew there was still more she had to say.

 

Oliver and Diggle both looked a little conflicted by what she'd said already—probably for varying reasons each their own—but she didn't wait to see what they might say in response. Admittedly, she knew that she was over simplifying, extremely so, but they were talking about etiquette as it applied to a societies, and specifically how that fit to every individual in that society was as complicated back then as it was now. And if they kept talking about what'd been and what hadn't (or not really talking about one or the other), they'd be here all night without ever managing to get around to the swords actually coming out. As tempting as that process was, she'd already decided that trying to beg off or postpone this would be more trouble, and cause more problems, than it was worth.

 

So she hurried on, "In the S.C.A, lots of women dress up like men for the actual battles, too, but some don't. Early on some women may've had two separate S.C.A identities, I think. A male one for combat, so it wasn't an issue for debate, and a lady off the field. Not sure when that became less popular than just tying your identity to a medieval culture where women did fight, cause there more than a few of those. It was probably pretty quickly though: getting into a gown with a corset was torturous enough without having to change out of armor first... though I could see wanting to get into the armor instead of the gown. Why anyone would want to hold onto those things I don't understand, anymore than why they were created in the first place. I mean, the name's a derivative from the same Latin word as corpse for a reason: you probably get about as much air when you're wearing a real one."

 

"Why'd you wear it then?" Digg asked. "When you could've just stuck to one of the cultures where women could fight? Doubt they were wearing corsets."

 

"I prefer to be authentic," Felicity sighed, honestly wishing she could look back on her own past and not remembering needing to fight with a corset tied tight to the standard's of the time. When she saw Oliver was frowning, too, and tried to reassure them again. "But I'm exaggerating. A little." When that attempt at reassurance didn't seem to help much either, the Immortal shook her head again. "There's not really any specific loyalty to any nation for the attire: it just has to be from between the fifteens to seventeenth centuries, I think, and it has to offer enough protection." Felicity paused, then added thoughtfully, "Which is probably why you don't see any Amazons at those things, even when Xena was going strong."

 

Anyone trying to model themselves after the costumes on that show wouldn't have been all that authentic to true Amazons, of course, especially if they were modeling themselves after the actresses wearing next to nothing rather than the few that were in what at least looked like actual armor.

 

But accuracy and realism weren't major selling points of the S.C.A from what she'd seen, so it still could've become pretty popular if not for the all-embracing safety standards that'd likely always amuse and mystify her just because of how parallel they were to what one commonly saw historically... Then again, this was the twenty-first century, not the sixteenth, and safety should've been important all along.

 

"So you were wearing a big suit of armor then?" Digg asked, looking skeptical again.

 

Oliver did, too. Both of them visibly doubtful of how much armor her small form could bear.

 

This, at least, didn't offend her because the heavy plate armor they were talking about never had been of any use to her. Her strengths were her size and speed, and big bulky armor wasn't at all good for either one. Which might have just as much to do with her age as her size, since she was an Amazon of ancient times, but she had to agree that the idea of her ever trying to build up her strength to the point where plate armor might be useful to her was entirely insane.

 

"No," Felicity shot that down with a small laugh. "Leathers are all right, too." She nodded to Oliver. "Your outfit would probably be accepted, but they'd make you wear a mask. After telling you that you couldn't call yourself Robin Hood and advising against The Hood, too."

 

Oliver only rolled his eyes, but the edges of his mouth were turning up a little again as he asked, "So you said you'd bring the swords you were comfortable with?"

 

Yet another conundrum she'd had to fret over before tonight. While some of the swords around her house were hidden, not all of them were. Her new love interest would've had to be blind to miss the ones that were displayed like decorations—hidden in plain sight, but not at all the kind of thing he'd miss—so she was sure he'd made note of them. And that that was why he'd agreed to her bringing the swords without argument. Still, accidents could happen all too easily with real swords if you weren't vigilant, and she didn't know for certain that her vigilante knew how to handle one. That being the case, it hadn't been that hard to convince herself to follow the S.C.A's lead on this.

 

"I hope you're not disappointed," Felicity answered as she gestured to the box she'd carried in while the two men were still sparring. Though the archer had started jumping up his ladder before she'd walked into sight to see him up there and Diggle slamming a few hits into one of the dummies, it hadn't disguised what she'd heard when she'd first walked in. The sharp clacks of the eskrima sticks intermixed with the occasional grunt and thud a clear indicator of exactly what they were doing while they waited for her to arrive after she'd told Oliver to go on ahead from Big Belly Burger and that she'd meet them over here after she'd changed clothes. Not that the relatively short amount of time that'd bought her had been good for much of anything other than more doubts she didn't really need to think about. And she hadn't been offended. It was wise of Oliver to work through any aggressive anxieties he might have himself tonight with Digg if he was worried about hurting her. Just like it was a good idea for Digg to be here, too. Actually, she could've watched them go at it for a while longer without being too unhappy—her nerves about what was to come notwithstanding. The shared sweaty shirtlessness was too nice a sight for her not to watch and might've taken her mind off her worries at least a little bit...

 

Instead of saying anything, Oliver moved to open the box, and then he studied the three swords inside it with clear curiosity that didn't fade as he realize they weren't sheathed swords. The blades weren't metal, they were rattan. The durable palm wood that was once the common source for canes used in corporal punishment was still a popular material for creating weapons today. Bastons, staves and swords. They were still wood, not metal, but far less likely to splinter than almost any other wood, and thus safer than true blades could ever be.

 

She could've chosen the lightweight rapiers the S.C.A allowed for fencing—with blunted tips and unsharpened edges—but these felt a little safer and a little bit more sincere. Their resemblance to historical blades was only in their size and somewhat in their weight, but at least they looked like a blade you'd be able to decapitate with, which all of the swords she'd chosen to study had to be. A minor, silent admission, perhaps, but one nonetheless.

 

When she saw some of that tension she'd only been partially aware of in the back of her mind leave Oliver's brow and Digg's shoulders, she was glad she'd chosen thus. The wooden, weighted swords might not be at all what either of the men were expecting, and they probably looked like toys to the former soldier and the vigilante. Both were reassured by the sight of those toys. As though the baby step towards her wielding a weapon around them had been hard to take—even when they were the ones cajoling for it in the first place—and thus these weapons that weren't really weapons were a welcome sight.

 

Not that they couldn't be weapons, of course, with a little effort. But that wasn't what the relieved men were thinking about.

 

"Wood and duct tape?" Oliver questioned, a small smile tugging at his mouth once more.

 

"It's rattan... like your eskrima sticks?" Felicity clarified waiting for his nod of confirmation before continuing. "Big broadswords and longswords, any swords, really, are dangerous even when they're not sharpened. They don't even allow the rattan swords into the field at the S.C.A if they aren't wrapped properly and flexible enough. The hilts are real, though, that's where a lot of the weight's from. I thought—"

 

"They're perfect," Oliver cut in smoothly, his smile a little warmer than it needed to be as he reassured her. "You're right, it's safer if we start out with these."

 

"You brought three," Diggle noted with a wry grin. "One for me?"

 

Felicity shrugged self-deprecatingly. "Didn't want to keep you from having fun, too, Digg."

 

"Oh no, we wouldn't want that," the big man chuckled, then added dryly. "Thanks."

 

"You're welcome," she replied with saccharine smile.

 

"So you are ready?" Oliver clarified again as he walked towards the mats with two of the wooden swords in his hands, holding one of them out to her hilt first in invitation.

 

"As I'll ever be," the Immortal agreed with a sigh, forcing herself to close the distance to him and accept the offered 'sword' while Oliver gave her a more thorough once-over than he had earlier. Undoubtedly checking to be sure that her workout attire she'd changed into at home had been better than the clothing she'd worn to her date. She could fight in anything, of course, even those damn corsets and hoopskirts that couldn't go out of style fast enough in her mind—back when they were worn to strangle the waist into more of an hourglass shape than was natural for any woman. But sneakers and the slightly padded clothing she'd changed into was much better suited to swordplay than the skirt and heels she'd been wearing earlier.

 

"So who taught you?" Diggle asked curiously. "Some tournament champion near Vegas?"

 

Felicity almost shrugged noncommittally, not wanting to talk about her past, because she really couldn't. The more she said, the easier it'd be to slip up at some point later on, especially if she had to drift farther and farther from the truth. Her cover story was fool-proof online and on paper, but her babbling tongue could make more than a few holes in it all on its own. It already had—though fortunately Oliver had let his discovery of her 'brother' go with surprising ease so far. Then again, if he already knew about Doctor Adam Pierson (from whoever he might go to for a digital background check that wasn't her), then it could be that he was just waiting for her to explain her seemingly estranged big brother whenever she was ready.

 

"Do you want to show us some of the forms—or katas—that you know?" Oliver asked her, his tone still more playful than serious. Unexpected, but doubtlessly as much in response to her unhidden nerves as her non-answer.

 

"I guess," Felicity agreed, thinking quickly through the many drills she knew to find something that wouldn't look like it'd been practiced day-and-night for centuries on end because it could be the difference between death and eternity for her.

 

And it showed in the training of the times. Yes, in modern times accidents happened, and they had in the ancient days of her youth, as well as all the time in between. But back when she was still really young, however, training was all about the battles to come, and survival. Not safety, nor even skill for the most part.

 

None of which had been easy for her to learn back then.

 

She was still a child when she'd started wearing her mother's crown, but she'd had to learn to rule then, so she had. She'd learned to temper her anger with wisdom—though at first it wasn't her own. Justice was tempered by mercy and restraint, otherwise it was only vengeance, and it might beget more vengeance all on its own. Knowledge was power, and peace was preferable to war, but some wars weren't to be avoided. So she'd had to learn to send men to their deaths. And she had.

 

And when she became an Immortal, she had to learn to fight with a blade in her hand. Eligius and her other teachers during her mortal life had taught her to block with it, to dodge and dance around an attacker till help arrived, but sometimes there was no help coming and the only safety was in fighting. Killing. Methos had taught her what her First Death had already shown: that a weapon in hand was meant to be wielded, and wielded well. So she did.

 

Of course, the techniques she was most comfortable with—either those taught to her first by her husband and improved by Methos, or all she'd learned among the Amazons—wouldn't work. Everything she'd learned in ancient times had been about ending the fight as quickly as possible, and while that'd included various disarming techniques, they'd be too violent for this. True sword work, after all, wasn't any kind of game; despite the fact that it was The Game. A sword in hand and an opponent opposite you meant a death. Hopefully not her own.

 

All of that was no help here as she followed her boyfriend over to the mats where he was waiting patiently. Not even looking like he noticed how much longer it was taking her to walk over there.

 

Oliver might not favor the sword as a weapon, but he obviously had some experience with it, and what he didn't know about sword fighting—or swordplay, as it was now named—he more than made up for with his sheer skill in unharmed combat and archery. Should she show him the skills she favored, he'd recognize the abrupt uncompromising violence of the techniques. Which wouldn't fit with something she could've learned from a few weekends at Renaissance Fairs or even a few years spent studying under the supervision of some guy in Vegas. It wasn't anything at all like either Oliver or Digg would expect from their I.T girl. No, he was likely assuming that her interest in swords had been kindled by some fantasy series or another—movies, books, or something similar—and that an appreciation for both fitness, discipline and maybe finesse kept her going to whatever classes she'd started as a result.

 

Her claim that her interest was engendered through historical re-enactments might've had some part in shutting down the questions she didn't want to answer, though that could've just been that she clearly didn't want to answer questions. However much referencing the S.C.A worked in her favor, it wasn't perfect. From what she'd seen of them the sword-work most of them did was far from historically accurate. Safety came first, after all.

 

And not much like what her skills played towards, either. Safe, or not.

 

No. Now, she'd have to present this more as an art that came easily to her because it was also a science; a duel—or whatever they called fencing bouts these days—was a systematic study of your opponent that was won by both skill with the sword and simply spotting weakness's faster than the one that you were dancing against—or maybe she should think of it as 'with' in this context?

 

It was a wily line the ancient had to walk here, between portraying enough skill (to make it clear she wasn't defenseless), and not too much skill (because there'd be more questions she couldn't answer).

 

There were many, many reasons she hadn't wanted to admit to martial skills of any kind after she'd agreed to join Oliver Queen and John Diggle's nighttime activities. But the reasons she'd changed her mind had added up quickly too...

 

"Any time now, Felicity," Oliver encouraged her, a glint in his eyes and a small smile at his mouth—visibly all teasing, but the gentle tone of his words clearly meant to be reassuring.

 

Okay.

 

Felicity made herself take a deep breath, then took that last step onto the mat to stand across from the still uncharacteristically patient vigilante. Then, after only a second's thought, she shifted into one of the many resting stances she'd practiced more times than anyone could count.

 

Maybe she should've picked a foil, and fencing instead. The lighter blade might be more of what the watching men was expecting, though not if he thought her interest had been engendered by fantasy movies or novels. But she'd personally never liked the light thrusting weapon. For an Immortal it was more of a hindrance than a help, being unable to decapitate your opponent the second you saw a chance, confining yourself to stabbing at them instead.

 

And Oliver had already accepted that the relatively harmless wooden swords the S.C.A regulated for heavy combat was a wise choice. He was raising his own, now, so she shouldn't be contemplating if maybe she should have brought one of her own swords tonight.

 

True, it wasn't like Felicitas didn't have more than a few to choose from: two of them just upstairs, one just inside the door and the other in her car. Well, actually there were three in car. One was supposed to be there, but the other two should be down here. One under her desk and another spare someplace else nearby. It was her usual modus operandi for any place she spent a lot of her time, but she hadn't had a chance to hide the extra two yet because either Oliver and/or Digg was always here. Mostly Oliver. She'd get around to it eventually though.

 

But that'd have to be something she thought about later. Right now she had to show Oliver something that'd hopefully convince him that no, she didn't need self-defense lessons, thank you very much, without also making him realize that she really didn't need self-defense lessons.