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Bloody Secrets

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Oliver Queen's P.O.V.

 

Oliver hadn't expected to feel proud when Verdant finally opened. It was just a cover to him, really: and had Tommy not taken pretty much everything over—throwing himself into his first real job with the same enthusiasm he'd once planned all their parties and pranks with—it wouldn't be half as impressive as it was right now. Still, looking around at the club scene that had to be the hottest in the state right now, gave him an unexpected feeling of accomplishment. Like the first time he'd been able to draw a bow under Shado's tutelage. Or the time a while after that that he'd actually managed to win a sparring bout with the ex-A.S.I.S agent (though a part of him still thought Slade had let him win as a reward for his vast improvement in that timeframe).

 

Tommy was right, of course, on the deejay; Steve Aoki knew exactly what he was doing. Getting him on board for tonight was well worth the good-natured ribbing Oliver had gotten for seemingly waiting till Devon was happily married with kids before he called her brother for the favor. Oliver didn't know half of the songs the award winning musician was playing, but each and every one was electrifying the crowd on the dance floor. A promising start; it always helped the line outside when entrance into the club wasn't disappointing—not that Oliver had ever had to wait, personally, but he knew enough about the business side of the club scene to know that the wide smiles all around was a very good thing.

 

It was while he was gazing down at the dancing masses that he saw her, and found himself doing the same double-take he'd had to do so far every time he'd seen Felicity Smoak all 'fancied up,' as his sister would say.

 

She'd been striking in sparkling gold at the cancer fundraiser. Breathtaking in cobalt the night he'd almost forgotten Tommy's birthday party. And the green dress she'd worn to their first real date... well, Oliver hadn't honestly known he felt any particularly ownership of the color he wore as the vigilante before that night, but he really liked seeing her in his color. The gown she was wearing now wasn't green, but she was still stunningly beautiful in the same bright blue as her eyes when she really smiled.

 

The color and the length weren't what you typically saw in a night club—most party girls preferred erotic red if they could get away with it, or slimming black if they couldn't, and either way they tended to show a lot more skin. Her dress nearly swept the floor, and stretched up to wrap around her torso before it hugged the back of her neck. The only skin she was showing that her day-to-day wardrobe didn't typically display were her bare shoulders and upper back, but that was nearly hidden by the curtain of her golden curls.

 

The shoulder she'd hurt—that some bastard had hurt for her: had cut her—wasn't hidden tonight by her gown or her hair. The soft skin he could see there, exotically shaded by all the club's shadows and bright lights, looked unmarked. Like she'd not only healed far faster than he ever could've hoped, but almost as though she'd never been hurt... Or maybe she was very, very good with make-up, even though she rarely seemed to wear all that much of it? Whether she'd painted over the recently healed scar or not, he was sure she'd left her shoulder bare for him to see deliberately. It made sense, given how many times she'd insisted she was fine and he didn't need to check it to be sure—more sense, anyway, then why she wouldn't let him check her injury after those first two times...

 

The effect overall was very elegant, and it hinted at modesty that one wouldn't expect to find in a woman even half as beautiful as her. Or in someone who said some of the things she did—but then that blush that usually blossomed through the countdowns she stopped some of her babbles with said otherwise. Not the sort of thing anyone would expect to see in a nightclub, but then that was probably why so many people were moving out of her way as they watched her walk by. As she moved through the crowd towards the stairs that led the way up into the V.I.P section with the same sinuous grace he'd observed when she had a sword in her hands, the flowing silk of her skirt swayed to show a split that deliberately cut even higher up than the very short skirts that so many other women were wearing tonight: offering rapid glimpses of her lengthy legs that were as startling as they were sexy.

 

Oliver shook himself and quickly downed the drink he'd been carrying around, not even noticing if he liked the taste or not as he set the empty glass on the tray of the busboy that immediately appeared at his side, before he hurried towards the stairs. He was halfway down when she made it to the velvet rope, and called out before the bouncer could ask her name.

 

"Felicity!" Oliver finished the last half of the staircase in a few quick strides, almost too fast for the bouncer to get the V.I.P rope out of his way. And after a quick thought offered his arm to help her up the stairs like a gentleman, rather than wrapping said arm around her shoulders like he wanted to. It was conspicuous enough, his coming down to meet the eye-catching beauty himself, the higher degree of familiarity that more possessive action would imply would definitely peak Helena's interest if she was here. "You look amazing," he told her as they started climbing the stairs, leaning down to speak right in her ear so he'd be heard over the music.

 

"You too. Not that that's a surprise," Felicity replied when they reached the top of the stairway, even though she didn't need to go up on her tiptoes to answer in his ear—both because he was still leaning down a bit to accommodate her and because the bling-encrusted shoes she was wearing had heels that lent her at least three, maybe even four, more inches of height, that still left her lips closer to his chin than his ear. "And this," she gestured to the club around them, "Is incredible!"

 

While she had been inside the Verdant more than a few times before now, so had he—they didn't spend all their time in the basement. All the same he both understood and appreciated the sentiment.

 

Verdant looked very, very different with all the lights and the music. And the people. The people happy to be here: having a great time and bringing this business to life. Legitimizing what had been only a cover story to him until tonight. To a lesser extent after Tommy came on board, of course, but even more so now that it was real. Despite however much the best friend who'd made it happen had to hate him now...

 

"It is, isn't it?" Oliver smiled back as he pushed that thought off again. He finally gave into the more possessive instinct to wrap an arm around her waist as they moved away from the stairs, reasoning that Helena couldn't enter the V.I.P section and neither could any reporters. He led her over to his table—one of them, anyway, technically he had one for every place in the club: three in the V.I.P section, but he picked the same one he'd been at alone before, along the edge of the balcony overlooking the club. It was a perfect vantage point of the area around them and had an even better view of everything below, but it also meant that any pictures that were taken of them would make most disregard Felicity and focus on the fact that this was his club.

 

Oliver disliked the idea of the brilliant woman he was helping into the spectator seat being thought of as just his 'flavor of the week,' like the thousands of girls he couldn't really remember from before the Island. But it was an important image if it'd keep her safe. For now, at least, it meant that a few glamorous photos with them together in his nightclub wouldn't stand out. He hoped.

 

The high stools were called 'spectator seats,' according to Tommy, back when his friend had still been talking to him about all the work and thought he was putting into making this place come together. Their modern style separated them from the more typical 'bar stools' and made them fit well with the decor they'd chosen for Verdant. Tommy had picked the style because they were just different enough to be memorable; Oliver still liked them now because they were comfortable.

 

"Another scotch, sir?" the head waiter of the V.I.P section was at their table before Oliver had finished sitting down. Sachin was his name, wasn't it?

 

"No, I think we'll have wine now," Oliver decided, both because he knew Felicity liked it, his mother did, too, and he didn't actually want to drink tonight. He looked to his date, "Champagne, or would you prefer a red?" he asked, remembering she liked red wines (and just then recalling that he owed her a bottle from the Queen cellar), but not sure if she like one of the champagne's Tommy had bought in bulk for the grand opening.

 

Fortunately as the owner of the club it would be frowned upon for him to get wasted on Verdant's opening night, so not playing up the image of who he used to be wasn't necessary now. He'd have to throw himself into the partying at some point. Especially since he had no intention of hurting Felicity like he'd thoughtlessly hurt Laurel too many times. Which meant ruling out overtly flirting with party-girls interested in one-night-stands to create the illusion that he hadn't changed at all. He had changed,  and maybe it was for the better that he had to admit that and figure out how to make his cover—and his secret, 'criminal career'—still work.

 

It did help that Felicity knew the truth. That he didn't have to lie to her. Sometimes he still started to: it came so automatically that often it was hard not to. But the bright, brilliant woman somehow didn't hold it against him. Maybe because she knew the truth. Maybe because she seemed to know every time, too.

 

"Hum, Cristal, right?" Felicity confirmed as she considered the offer.

 

Oliver nodded, adding after a quick second's thought, "I think we have Moët & Chandon, and Don Perignon, too." He was pretty sure those were the ones Tommy had talked about...

 

"We do, sir. And miss," the waiter interjected, just loud enough to be heard over the music pounding up from the dance floor and the chatter all around. "As well as Tattinger."

 

"The Cristal sounds good," his date decided, flashing maybe-Sachin a smile that made the younger man blush.

 

"Bring up one of the bottles," Oliver added. "And four glasses."

 

Since his mother and sister should be joining them soon. Legally, Thea was still three more birthdays away from being able to drink, but that hadn't stopped her yet, and even though a picture of her with a champagne flute in hand could cause a stir, the Q.C lawyers would quickly crush it with a statement about sparking water looking a lot like the sparkling wine, or something like that, and no one recently hired here would dare contradict it. And Oliver really didn't feel like causing a scene by trying to serve his sister a soft drink to raise for cheers tonight.

 

"Of course, sir," the waiter agreed with a bow of his head, before making another beeline for the bar.

 

"So?" Felicity cocked her head to the side and gestured toward the bar down below, where Tommy had been keeping an eye on everything (and refusing to come up to the V.I.P lounge where he'd be expected to sit with his 'best' friend) since the club had opened. "How do you think he took Digg's warning?"

 

Oliver groaned a little, the question almost making him wish he'd taken the waiter up on that second scotch along with the wine. "He took it. Digg doesn't think he's taking it seriously, but he did call in extra security from a private force at the last minute."

 

The genius seemed to agree with him that letting Tommy cool down was a good idea, but that hadn't stopped her from asking after Oliver's thoughts and feelings while they waited. Apparent waiting to talk did not mean waiting to think about it in Felicity's mind. What was strange was, while it bugged him a little, it also didn't. Not that that made much sense even in his own head.

 

"Yes, I noticed the army along the rope line," the blonde titled her chin towards the nearest pair of bouncers, who were hovering by the V.I.P bar that was really more of a server's station. "And in here."

 

Oliver shrugged, "No one'll question it. Something happening at our grand opening wouldn't be good, so a little paranoia's considered healthy."

 

The I.T girl snorted, "Something happening, yeah. But I doubt any of your guards are looking for a hot woman, wanted by the S.C.P.D and carrying a crossbow or not."

 

"No, I don't think Tommy told them that," the vigilante admitted with a slight grimace. A safe assumption to make, though he couldn't really know. "But it can only help."

 

While this wasn't something that would've been easy to talk to Tommy about before he'd told him he was the Hood, he still hated the timing of it all. If Helena had come back before his friend's father's life was at stake, Tommy would've teased Ollie for falling into bed with one of the crazy ones. He would've asked if the sex was at least worth it, yeah, because that was the sort of thing they used to say. There would've been no worries over whether or not the security issues would be another problem between them though. Digg had said Tommy just let him take over the security, and looking around his bodyguard had brought in about as many bodies as he could to keep everyone here tonight safe.

 

"Yeah," Felicity sighed, then smiled as she looked around. "Everyone seems to be having a great time."

 

"They do, don't they?" Oliver also smiled a little, mostly because he knew she was trying to turn their talk towards less serious subjects. He hesitated a second, then indicated the floor belong and asked, "Do you want to dance?"

 

It was something he should ask his date, even if it'd been years since he'd actually been on a club dance floor and doubted he'd feel half as comfortable as he used to there.

 

"No thank you," Felicity laughed, flashing him her bright smile as she gestured to her dress. "I'd rather not risk anything happening to this dress—it's one of my favorites. And if I go down to that dance floor with you, a rabid fan girl might attack me."

 

That surprised a laugh out of him yet again. "I'd protect you," he promised, half-serious and half-joking, just like she was. Only a little surprised to find himself smiling, too. At some point his being able to smile again—really smile—shouldn't be a surprise at all, but that hadn't happened yet.

 

"Thanks, but I prefer to avoid conflict," she told him, her smile still in place as their waiter returned carrying the ordered bottle of sparkling wine from France, one of the busboys bought a self-standing ice bucket to setup nearby. Almost half the tables tonight had a smaller bucket of ice on the table, of course, but the sacrifice of standing space was expected for the owner's convenience.

 

"Cristal, sir, and miss, vintage 2006," the waiter presented the gold labeled bottle to Oliver for approval, waiting till he received a nod before he started to remove the foil from the wire cage that enclosed the cork.

 

They watched as he wrapped the cloth napkin he carried for this around the cork, then twisted the tab to loosen the cage, tilting the bottle carefully to let the bubbles inside expand. After a moment he started to gently turn the bottle, letting the pressure inside slowly ease the cork out into the napkin he caught it with, any 'pop' a whisper too soft to be heard over the music. Then he poured the luxury liquid into two of the glasses the busboy had also brought over to their table—everything completely by-the-book. Tommy had trained them very well.

 

"That was well done," Felicity complimented.

 

Making the man's cheeks darken again. "Thank you, miss," he replied professionally.

 

Oliver knew Felicity would always be a favorite of the club staff. She would be, even if she wasn't his girlfriend—or going to be his girlfriend, he wasn't completely sure of the particulars of that. This was their third date, if every time they'd gone out together was counted, and there'd been no discussion of what they were to each other so far. That wouldn't matter to the staff here, though. No reasonable person could possibly dislike this sweet, gentle woman across from him, and most would love her.

 

Oliver knew he didn't deserve her, at all, but she'd already made it clear that that was her choice, so he tried to leave it at that.

 

"Ollie!"

 

Oliver turned towards his sister's voice and smiled as he saw the two Queen women cutting effortlessly through the V.I.P crowd, their entrance to the club having apparently escaped his notice. After pressing the expected kiss on his mother's cheek and nodding to his sister, he helped each of them into their own seats across from him and Felicity. "Mom, Thea, this is Felicity Smoak," he introduced them. "Felicity, this is my mother, Moira Queen, and my sister, Thea."

 

"Pleased to meet you," Felicity's smile was polite, but still sincere as she reached over the table to shake their hands. Seemingly perfectly at ease with meeting them in front of many of Starling City's eyes and cameras... something he probably should've warned her about. Though the genius hadn't asked why he'd wanted four glasses of champagne...

 

"And you," Moira replied smoothly, nodding to the waiter when he indicated the empty glasses.

 

"Same," Thea echoed obligingly, though the interest in her dark eyes was hard to miss: and it wasn't directed at the alcohol or the club at all.

 

"To Verdant," Moira raised her glass as soon as both hers and Thea's were full, and the rest of them followed her example. "I know I haven't always been supportive of this venture, but I have to admit this nightclub is quite an accomplishment," she smiled approvingly at him as she nodded. "I'm proud of you. Your father would be, too."

 

"Yeah, congratulations, Ollie," Thea followed up with a sisterly smirk before he could answer. "Your club doesn't totally suck."

 

"Thanks, Speedy," Oliver returned, smiling as he finished properly. "Thank you very much, all of you, for coming."

 

"Well, we couldn't really be anywhere else tonight, could we?" Thea teased again, smirking at him as she sipped from her flute. "Gotta give Q.C's P.R people credit, they pretty much made sure everywhere else but here would be dead tonight."

 

Oliver only blinked at that. It hadn't occurred to him that their family's company's public relations experts might be why so many media outlets had started advertising the soon-to-open nightclub not long after he'd first decided to open it. And why the news kept circulating, ever positive, afterwards. As the Queen heir, he'd grown up in the public eye. With paparazzi always appearing everywhere he went as far back as elementary school, whether they were supposed to be there or not. He'd been used to it just happening: both when that was convenient and when it wasn't. Because he was a Queen.

 

It made sense though: Queen Consolidated's P.R people being behind all the positive press his club had gotten with seemingly no effort at all. Of course Q.C would want his 'first' business, as his mother kept referring to it, to be a success. The Queen name was attached to it, so it had to be.

 

It also told Oliver that whatever his mother's thoughts on Verdant had been from the start, her husband—his now still missing stepfather—had clearly given it his full support. Yet another reason Walter Steele should be here.

 

Moira shook her head at her daughter's antics, then decided to acknowledge his date again. "So, Felicity, what do you do?"

 

That could be a dangerous question in Moira Queen's typical circles—the heiresses she'd prefer he date didn't necessarily 'do' anything, daddy's money (or sometimes mommy's) ensured they didn't have to. Thus why they were called 'the idle rich.' A category Oliver had happily belonged to years ago, though back before the Island he could usually claim he was a student—college was obstinately expected back then—no matter how many times he dropped out.

 

Felicity's beautiful and flattering dress was not designer though. It had to be tailored to fit her slender curves so perfectly, but his mother and sister knew all the designers' latest catalogs, just like most other rich woman in the world, so to them it was a tell.

 

One that they didn't need because they already knew the answer to the question. They knew that she worked with computers at Queen Consolidated, he'd told them that. So his mother was only making the polite conversation to get it out there. Probably.

 

It wasn't even an expression of disapproval on her part. His mother had adored Laurel, who's drive and idealism she'd hoped would help him find his own well buried ambitions. He could only hope she'd accept Felicity with at least some aplomb.

 

"I work at Q.C, actually," Felicity admitted with a barely discernible wince that made Oliver remember just then there was another problem, too.

 

No matter what relationship she'd had with Walter while she was digging into the List for him, it had to be awkward now. Talking to Walter's wife, who was also Oliver's mother, and now the Acting-C.E.O of Queen Consolidated while Walter was missing and probably presumed dead by now...

 

"In Computer Sciences and Support," Felicity finished.

 

Oliver blinked at her again in real surprise, because he was sure she worked in the I.T Department. That was where they met, after all... but her office had moved soon after that, hadn't it?

 

"Oh, I see," His mother feigned only slight surprise, limiting its revelation to just a blink because it was expected of her. Moira Queen had always been a good actress.

 

Just now, however, Oliver couldn't really say if his mother was mostly hiding her surprise or just faking it. Then again, he hadn't even realized her job had changed to a different department in the company back when he was still going to her for I.T support. At least the other department had something to do with tech support, too. He hadn't known there was another computer department at Queen Consolidated.

 

His mother, however, as acting-C.E.O, probably did.

 

But Oliver wasn't sure, either, of what the different department might mean. Or if it was strictly another department separate from I.T or not. Though the 'Sciences' in the name could explain how she was able to keep getting back to him so quickly with favors that weren't directly computer related. Testing the Vertigo, especially, came to mind...

 

 

"Really?" Thea didn't feign shock at all, and she didn't try to hide her curiosity either. "Like, solving computer problems?" She'd always liked her brother's longtime girlfriend. Always been impressed by her academic record—the opposite of Oliver's—and her ambitions to be a lawyer, which had since been realized. A tech expert who worked at Q.C might not be as impressive to her as a lawyer, at least not until she actually saw Felicity near a computer, but thankfully his sister didn't seem to care about that.

 

"I'm still doing computer support," Felicity nodded, taking a sip of her champagne before adding. "Though I'm not sure I'm supposed to be."

 

Oliver blinked. "What'd you mean?" He really couldn't imagine his I.T girl doing anything else; and the thought that she might want to be bothered him more than a little. Especially since she hadn't ever bothered to tell him about being in a different department now.

 

"Well, um, Mister Steele promoted me, remember? Back in October?"

 

"Yeah, you got a new office," Oliver shook his head, not letting himself wince even when he noticed his mom catch the time reference. (Was that before or after the nameless girl he'd made up to get his mother off his back about losing Digg when he wanted to? After, he hoped.) Thinking that made him hurry on, "Threw me for a bit of a loop when you weren't at your old desk. Think I may have given the new guy that was moving in there a meltdown that day."

 

"Oh, Larry's usually like that," Felicity reassured lightly, laughing a little before she went on to explain. "My new 'office' is right next to the servers, because I'm supposed to be the Database and System Administrator."

 

"'Supposed' to be?" his mother reiterated, clearly more curious than confused right now. The mention of her missing husband hadn't seem to phase her, but then again she was filling in his position at the company; his name had to come up in passing, at least occasionally.

 

"My old supervisor kept sending my job orders for the general I.T department, and I kept filling them," Felicity sighed, shaking her head slowly. "So payroll kept paying me for that, and my new jobs. So, technically, I have three jobs at Q.C right now."

 

"Three?" Oliver repeated, a little horrified to realize that the help she gave him with gradually increasing frequency could only be considered a forth job. Fifth, if he counted accepting her help on making sure Verdant's tech setup was everything it was supposed to be.

 

"You mean part-time?" Thea wondered with a confused frown. Some of her eager curiosity turning into concern as she undoubtedly recognized that this was strange enough to confuse their mother and bother her brother.

 

"No, I don't believe we offer part-time positions outside of intern work," her mother answered with a frown before Felicity could reply. "It's not like Walter," she stumbled only slightly, for just a second, over his name, before going on, "It's not like him to leave anything such a mess, but," she sighed, shaking her head. "He wasn't expecting to go anywhere, either."

 

"I know," Felicity replied, hesitating a moment before going on. "I was talking to him the night he disappeared. I called him about a report he'd been waiting for—but I caught him as he was leaving, so he was going to call me back once he got out of the elevator."

 

Moira looked at the other blonde for a moment. "You contacted security that night," she realized, studying her more closely. "You were the reason they called the mansion then, instead of the next morning."

 

"Guilty," Felicity confessed with a wince. "I'm sorry I didn't look for him sooner. I knew something was wrong when I saw the security feeds were down... I checked when he didn't call me back right away 'cause I figured maybe he got caught in the elevator or—I don't know, something, but maybe if I'd looked sooner—"

 

"No, no. None of that," the Queen matriarch interrupted just as her son was about to. She reached across the table to catch the hand that Felicity had resting on the tabletop: her nails shimmering like emeralds against the white background and sparkled around his mother's gentle grasp, too. "You couldn't have known, dear," his mother went on, patting her hand reassuringly. "And I'm sure there's nothing more you could have done, but thank you for trying to help."

 

Oliver shook his head when Thea glanced his way in askance. He hadn't known about this, either. Their stepfather had been kidnapped months before Felicity came to him with Walter's copy of The List—the copy that'd belonged to his mother. And while Felicity had stipulated that helping him find Walter was why she'd decided to join the team, he hadn't thought about why it would matter so much to her. Why finding her boss should be important to her at all. But clearly it did matter, and it was important...

 

And Oliver wanted to do more than kick himself as he only now realized it. He hadn't put much thought into what'd be driving Felicity to search so hard for Walter. He should have wondered. Should have realized she felt guilty.

 

It wasn't like Oliver Queen didn't know guilt. Not that it'd always stopped him from making the same mistakes again and again. Had it ever stopped him?

 

Oliver forced himself to refocus as he saw his mother squeeze Felicity's hand and give her a reassuring little smile before she let go and sat back again.

 

"What was the project you were working on with Walter, Miss Smoak?"

 

"Figuring out my new position, mostly," Felicity answered after she'd swallowed a slightly too large sip of champagne she'd just taken.

 

Oliver knew that she wasn't entirely telling the truth there. Not entirely anyway. But he couldn't say she was wrong to not bring up The List with his mother, either. Or that he wasn't glad she didn't.

 

"And trying to figure out what changes need to be made for Q.C's systems to be secure from cyber attack. I should be done with that soon, after I analyze—well, I just have to check some, uh, things first, to make sure."

 

No amusing innuendoes snuck in there, so Oliver could only assume her sudden babbling bout was about not admitting she was a hacker to his mother. Though it had to go hand-in-hand with the cyber security angle, didn't it? Just as much as knowing how to fight was a necessary aspect of physical security work. You wouldn't hire a bodyguard who wouldn't be able to protect you from attack, after all.

 

Moira looked thoughtful. "He said something about that," she frowned in remembrance, though her next words made it clear it wasn't anything to do with talking about her missing husband. "I asked Mister Stevenson about our computer security just last week. He didn't mention any problems."

 

"There hasn't been anything I couldn't handle," Felicity hurried to reassure her. "And the three jobs have been kind of fun. I like the bigger problem-solving, and a lot of the extra work was just the bigger problem-solving that no one else in I.T could figure out fast." She took another, smaller sip of champagne. "Then there was a bunch of mini-disasters, and it's kind of part of my new position to make sure those problems are fixed anyway, or you know, they're not supposed to happen. So fixing them is still sort of my job," she shrugged and took another little sip from her now half-empty flute.

 

Oliver was about to reach for the bottle in the ice-bucket when their waiter appeared and refilled her glass for him. He nodded in thanks to the other man, who also received a quiet 'thank you' from Felicity herself before he disappeared again.

 

"You said three jobs?" Thea spoke up again then, looking interested—all of them were more interested in what they were talking about, actually, than the music and dancing going on all around them.

 

Well, Oliver was interested and irritated as he was remembering. Remembering the Keurig Felicity had put in the Foundry and the one that was in her office at Q.C, too. Remembering his worry when he'd noticed just how often she used said machines. Remembering how tired she'd looked each time he'd visited her at home, and too many times at the Foundry, sometimes even during the day, too—her lack of sleep somehow hadn't made dark circles appear below her beautiful eyes yet, but how long could youthful regeneration hold out under such strain? Remembering, too, the disdain she considered her 'so-called supervisor' with, even as she refused to let him try to help with any problems at Q.C.

 

Felicity nodded as she swallowed the sip she'd just taken before answering, "The Database Administrator and the Systems Administrator are usually two different people, especially in big companies, but Mister Steele wanted to see if the roles could be combined into one," she shrugged. "And I guess I was the most qualified."

 

Oliver hid a snort by taking another sip of his own champagne, a little amazed at how humble the genius sounded. Especially since he didn't think she really was at all impressed by her own brilliance. Thankfully, his stepfather wasn't so blind, which made the Englishman's absence from where he should be—here tonight, with the rest of the family—all the more wrong.

 

"You have your Bachelor's in Computer Science, Miss Smoak?" the Queen matriarch asked, looking thoughtful.

 

"Doctorate, actually," Felicity replied evenly, going on as the three Queen's stared at her. "From M.I.T. It's not exactly normal, but I like to learn. And my brother and I are kind of completive about that sort of thing, so I kept going after I graduated in 2009. Started at Q.C that year, and finished my dissertation mostly online."

 

"How old are you?" Thea blurted out.

 

Felicity blinked at her, then laughed. "C.S comes easily to me," she answered the shock behind the question rather than the question itself, then went on with, "At least I'm not bored anymore. Probably dangerously dependent on caffeine, but not bored."

 

That wasn't good enough for Oliver. It wouldn't be even if they weren't dating. Even if she was just his tech girl.

 

She spent almost as many hours here, down in the basement, as she did at her day job. Sometimes more. Helping him just about every night now. The constant coffee and covered yawns were clearly more serious than he'd thought.

 

"Well, that shows remarkable work ethic on your part, Doctor Smoak," the eldest Queen answered her evenly, very visibly settling into her role as Acting-C.E.O of the company. "But it's abusive of Queen Consolidated." She reached into her purse and pulled out the small folder she kept her business cards in. "Here's my card, my cell's on the back. I won't be in the office tomorrow, but I can meet you first thing on Monday morning. Give me a call if that doesn't work for you, yes?"

 

Felicity blinked at her, this time looking surprised herself, like she couldn't imagine why Moira Queen, the C.E.O—acting or not—of the company she worked for would want to meet with her. But she knew Walter well enough to care when he was abducted and never found. And Oliver had known her long enough to recognize that she only looked surprised because she wanted to. "Yes, ma'am," she bowed her head slightly. "And thank you."

 

Moira nodded back with a small smile that he thought was almost approval from her, which was surprising because it'd taken Laurel weeks to get the same look. Maybe his mother had mellowed with age... or Oliver wasn't in high school anymore and she had just gotten him back from the dead not even half a year ago.

 

That's when he was hit by yet another surprising realization tonight.

 

Felicity could've come to him with this at any time in the last month. She could have said something to him even before she'd saved his life, during any one of the times he'd turned up at Queen Consolidated with his last name, need of a favor from her and a bad lie as to why. She didn't. Probably out of some misguided belief that he had more than enough on his plate, and not wanting him to burden him with problems she thought too small to worry him over. It was a relief that she'd seized the opportunity to present the problem to his mother, someone who theoretically could fix it with relative ease. But it did make Oliver worry about all the times his gut had told him she wasn't all right... clearly a discussion they had to have in detail.

 

"Hey, there's Tommy!" Thea sounded surprised, which didn't make sense till he saw she was frowning down at the club floor. Specifically towards the bar, where Tommy was still watching the grand opening unfold around him instead of coming up to the V.I.P section to watch from above. With them—specifically not with him, but his sister couldn't know that. "And look, Laurel's here, too." His sister's frown turned toward him then as she asked, "Why aren't they coming up here?"

 

Oliver shook his head, not knowing how to pacify his sister when he still felt Tommy had ever right to be angry with him—to hate him—for all the lies he'd told. Their mother answered before he could.

 

"Remember, he's working, Thea," Moira reminded her daughter mildly.

 

"Yeah, but Laurel's not." Thea shot back, still frowning. "She could be up here with..." she trailed off, her frown deepening as she seemed to remember that Tommy's girlfriend was also Oliver's ex with every reason to hate him, even though Laurel was somehow a better person than that. "They should be up here," she continued stubbornly a second later. "I mean, it's not like he's doing anything down there."

 

"He's making himself available just in case he is needed," Moira told her, smiling slightly as she sipped her own champagne. Visibly amused by the fact that she was now excusing one former partier to another, though there might be some pride there, too.

 

"Why can't he do that from up here?" Thea demanded, glancing back and forth between her brother and the man she didn't know probably didn't consider himself his best friend anymore. "Like Ollie?"

 

Her eyes flicking over to Felicity for a second made her brother recognize why she was unhappy. His sister wanted to talk to Tommy—probably about that friend she'd been asking him to give a job to, since he had told her to tell Tommy it was okay with him. But she'd also wanted to meet the woman sitting next to him ever since the two Queen women had caught him headed out for his first real date with Felicity, so she didn't want to leave yet, either. Stuck between one desire and another... it probably shouldn't mean so much to him that getting to know his new girlfriend was winning out so far.

 

And Oliver wasn't worried about Tommy giving her any trouble. The other former playboy was too good a guy to hold his discovery of Oliver's dual identity against either of the Queen ladies. He'd grown up with them, too, after all. Despite his teasing when Oliver had first gotten back, Thea was as much Tommy's sister as she was Oliver's: in everything but blood.

 

"I'm sure Tommy and Laurel will come up to join us soon enough, Thea," their mother spoke up again, and she indicated the pair of spectator chairs that sat empty nearby. "That's what those are for, after all."

 

They were undoubtedly there for exactly that reason. It wasn't like Tommy would've told the staff setting up the V.I.P section not to make sure there were chairs for him and his girlfriend at the best table, after all. So of course they would've assumed there should be six seats at this table, and every other table that technically was reserved for Oliver's family and closest friends to move about the club. Since Thea wasn't dating anyone—as far as Oliver knew she hadn't brought anyone home since he caught her with that kid at the Christmas party—and Walter was still missing, maybe dead.

 

His mother might be right, however. At least Laurel was here with Tommy now. Maybe she'd be able to help him find his way out of his current stew, no matter how much Oliver did deserve every bit of his anger. The too good for her own good lawyer had done more than her ex could've ever hoped for his sister when he'd asked for her help, and Tommy she was still dating. Happily, he hoped.

 

"What was your thesis about, Doctor Smoak?"

 

Oliver turned back to the table, interested in the answer even though he'd be surprised if he understood any of the details. At all.

 

"Please, just call me Felicity," she said by way of answer.

 

Moira smiled back in response, and he thought maybe it looked a little less polished—though not as real and unguarded as Thea's—as she nodded her agreement. "What was your thesis about, Felicity?" she modified the question.

 

This time Felicity answered, "Management of assets and security in multifaceted systems."

 

And again she surprised Oliver; this time with words he could actually understand. Though they were probably the title, or maybe subtitle, of her thesis, and the details that made it worth giving her a doctorate were considerably more complicated. He also understood how her earning a doctorate on that premise would bring her to Walter's attention for the position he'd apparently promoted her to not too long before he disappeared.

 

Apparently his mother could too, because there was approval in her eyes again—this time, unexpectedly, for the girl he'd chosen rather than the triumph of the opening that was more Tommy's than his. "Quite an accomplishment."

 

"Thank you," Felicity didn't deny it, but Oliver knew her gracious gratitude could only improve her image in his mother's eyes.

 

"Sorry to bother you, Mister Queen," their waiter apologized as he stopped at their table again, handing him a folded piece of paper. "They said it was urgent."

 

Oliver accepted it with only a small frown, then had to force that frown to stay small as he unfolded the note and read  the words scrawled there.

Meet me

downstairs.

Now.

Dig.

 

It was clear and to the point. But it was also wrong; off. The penned letters were bigger than his bodyguard normally wrote with—not that Oliver was overly familiar with Diggle's handwriting. The ex-soldier didn't usually send notes. Texts, maybe, but not notes... and he always spelled his nickname with both of the g's in his last name. Besides, Digg was supposed to be monitoring security up front as much as he could...

 

Obviously something was wrong though. So Oliver did have to go downstairs, even if it was Helena rather than John Diggle that'd summoned him there.

 

"Is everything alright?"

 

Apparently his careful control of his face wasn't enough to fool his mother, which meant it wouldn't have worked on Felicity either. Or Thea, for that matter, since all three of these important women in his life were watching him worriedly.

 

"Yeah," Oliver lied anyway, forcing the frown into a smile as he looked up at them, and indicated the champagne bottle that was still half-full next to their table. "We ran out of Cristal. I'll be right back."

 

"All right," his mother accepted, her almost too small to see frown not fading as she watched him get up.

 

"Thought that was what Tommy was downstairs for," Thea's grumble was barely loud enough for her brother to hear, but she didn't seem to expect a response so he ignored it.

 

Oliver could see in Felicity's concerned eyes that she wanted to argue, or demand more of an answer—aware of what the real problem probably was. But in front of his mother she really couldn't, so she only nodded.

 

"Okay."

 

Not surprisingly, his mother started speaking again before he was more than a few steps away from the table. "So, I'm afraid I've been rather focused on managing public image and the like since I took over. Have I missed anything else so far?"

 

Oliver didn't let himself flinch. He knew he'd have to apologize for this. From what he'd seen so far Felicity didn't have holding a grudge in her, so she might not make him beg for forgiveness but he'd understand if she did. Abandoning her to his sister and mother's mercies wasn't something the vigilante wanted to do, no matter how approving and welcoming the two Queen women seemed. But he had to if something was happening...

 

So Oliver hurried down the stairs, exchanging quick nods and equally quick smiles with the few people that noticed him crossing the club—carefully evading Tommy and Laurel's line of sight by not going near the downstairs bar as he rounded the room. Going through the EMPLOYEES ONLY door that Felicity had insisted on blocking the hallway that led to the basement entrance with, passing the break room and the small kitchen that led off of the same hallway behind it, and nodding to the bouncers that were trying to not fall asleep by the door at the end of the hall that only employees entered through. Then he keyed in the password at the indoor entrance to his 'Arrow Cave,' as Felicity wanted it called. He hadn't decided if he could accept that name or not yet. Mostly because he couldn't think of an alternative he liked any better, which would be at all...

 

Oliver hadn't noticed as he'd hurried down one set of stairs towards the other that Laurel was standing alone by the bar now. If he had, he would've wondered where Tommy had gone. But he was busy avoiding that confrontation. He wouldn't, however, have expected what he found as hurried down the stairs into the basement. "Digg?" he'd called when he was halfway down, but when he reached the bottom of the stairs the struggle that'd been out of sight before that made him stop and stare for a stunned second.

 

Helena wasn't entirely unexpected.

 

Tommy pinned face-down to a table with his wrist painfully turned in her grip—his arm forced up behind his back, effectively being tortured in the pain compliance hold he'd been in for who knew how long now—was not a surprise Oliver wanted to find at all.

 

"Let him go," Oliver ordered immediately, the harsh words like punches he almost wanted to throw, but couldn't.

 

Helena covered her instinctive flinch by forcing Tommy's arm back a bit farther, and his painful cry made the vigilante try to reason with her.

 

"He has nothing to do with this."

 

"I told you," Helena shook her head. "Oliver, I warned you."

 

"Helena! This isn't you," he objected, though a large part of him didn't believe it at all. Still, the part of him that'd seen her broken heart in her eyes when she was talking about her murdered fiancé couldn't hate her.

 

"My father is a mobster and a murderer." She spelled out for him once again, raising her voice as she finished. "It is not like you haven't killed men like that before!"

 

Oliver shouted right back. "And I tried to teach you to obtain your objective without killing!"

 

Helena appeared to consider that for only half a second, then she nodded. "By applying leverage. By exploiting someone's weakness," she twisted Tommy's wrist just a bit further as she finished, deliberately bending his fingers the wrong way this time.

 

Tommy's agonized scream echoed around the Foundry, dying off into tortured gasps as she stopped to go on as Oliver was trying to make himself attack her to save his friend.

 

"There is a whole club full of leverage above our heads right now." Helena snapped at him, her pained gaze giving him pause as she went on beseechingly. "Please, Oliver. Don't make me do something that both of us will regret."

 

He stared back at her for a second too long, and then Tommy was screaming again; leaving only one thing he could say. "Okay!" he paused, watching as she stopped applying the painful pressure again, going on over his best—very likely ex-best—friend's stuttered cries. "Okay. You win. I'll help you. Now let him go."

 

For another long moment the brunette stared back at him, clearly trying to assess his sincerity; wanting to believe him but knowing better. Cruel life having taught her that harsh truth that no one could really say was better, but that didn't make it any less true.

 

"Let... Him... Go!" Oliver finally snarled, and this time she did.

 

Helena released her hold and backed away several steps.

 

Immediately, Tommy screamed again, yanking his arm back around and cradling his hand in front of him as he stayed bowed over the table, shaking as his body reacted to pain like he'd never known before—every nerve firing off warnings of something wrong. Very, very wrong. Even though the initial cause had stopped, that didn't mean it'd stop hurting anytime soon.

 

Oliver stared at his friend for a long moment, not sure what to do. Not sure if Tommy would accept help from him after this. If he would have even before this, all things considered.

 

And trying to ignore the practical part of him that was telling him he should stop all of this right now. By killing the woman at the heart of it all.

 

He couldn't.

 

Not when he knew she could've threatened his friend's life. He could've come down here to see her aiming her crossbow, or a gun, at Tommy. Instead she'd hurt him to make her point... but as much as he hated that, she hadn't threatened to kill him. Her backup, again, was exposing the vigilante's secret if he didn't agree even with her hurting his friend.

 

And Oliver couldn't completely blame her for that. Not when it was something he might do. Not when he'd done worse.

 

"Tommy, I'm gonna call Digg down here," He told his still shaking friend, and the woman that'd backed away from them both as he came around the table. "He had medical training in the Army."

 

Tommy didn't verbally answer him, but it looked like he tried to nod into the table, still gasping and clutching his hand protectively.

 

Oliver's scowl sent Helena even further away as he stalked over to grab the computer chair that was set to Felicity's specifications and rolled it closer to his friend. "Here, sit down."

 

For a moment it looked like Tommy wasn't going to do it, like he was just going to stay there, still bent over the table with his face resting on the metal surface, like he didn't have the strength to move. But then he groaned as he forced himself to reach back with the arm he hadn't been tortured with to find the armrest, using that to guide his still shuddering body down onto the cushions. There he sat, still bent over, his unhurt hand immediately returned to cradling his left protectively in his lap now as he tried to stop shaking.

 

Not that Tommy knew how to do that. He'd never had to ride out agony while being tortured before. As far as the vigilante knew, his childhood friend had never known any pain worse than some of the nastier hangovers they'd both brought on themselves years ago.

 

"It'll be a little while before the adrenaline wears off," Oliver told him as he tapped out a quick text to Digg.

Tommy's hurt. Come to the Foundry. ASAP.

 

"Yeah. Doubt it's gonna stop hurting then," Tommy groaned out, sounding more tired—and, of course, hurt—than angry. Surprising, since anger had pretty much been his emotion around Oliver for the last week. But physical pain had to trump emotions. Most of the time anyway.

 

Oliver winced, fighting the urge to glare at Helena again.

 

At least she was smart enough to keep quiet and out of the way for now. Maybe she even regretted hurting his friend. He'd believed her when she'd apologized for hurting his mother.

 

When his phone vibrated he glanced back at the screen as Digg's expected reply appeared.

Be there in 5.

 

Then, with a glance at the brunette, Oliver quickly tapped in:

She's here too.

 

When it came, long seconds later, he could almost hear the sarcasm in the other man's response.

Great.

 

Honestly the archer was more surprised that Diggle didn't ask permission to shoot her when he showed up. But then the soldier might think it better to ask forgiveness than permission in this case, and the vigilante couldn't really say he'd be wrong. Hopefully, Digg's already legendary control would win out and Oliver wouldn't soon find himself playing referee between his bodyguard and the woman he'd tried to save from herself. It was hard to say; the ex-soldier has mostly responded to her before by not being around when she was...


Author's Note included in the chapter because I have too much to say, sorry.

First, if you didn't see it in the A/n at the start: Lexi_the_dragon_muse has started a story based in this universe (same Immortal-Felicity: Felicitas). It's called Guardian Angel, and it's listed in my gifts if you go to my profile, but on AO3 it's /works/6489232. The story is NOT part of THIS series. It's the same background, but spins off from that as an AU with a much earlier meeting. It's based in the same verse, however, so if you like this crossover you should enjoy it. I certainly have thus far. Kudos to Lexi! :-D

Now, back to Bloody Secrets...

Well, there's the first club scene! If you're wondering, I did debate changing Helena-torturting-Tommy thing a bit for this scene, but it worked out too well, so I decided to just keep it. Hopefully the next scene will explain better how it still happened even after Felicity's secret little intervention before this...

And, believe it or not, we have finally gotten to several scenes that I've pre-written. Meaning I don't have to actually write them now: just tweak them to fit into their place in Bloody Secrets, edit and post. So the wait between updates definitely should not be as long as it has been lately. (Sorry, again, about that.)

Competing with that, however, is that today is my last day off for... well, more than a week. I'm not sure if I have next Wednesday off or next Thursday. But I'll be working straight though at least until then and my days are all going to be long. Then this current seasonal job (yes, if you want to know, it's tax related) ends. Which last year meant I had a little time off... but my next seasonal job called at the start of the month wanting to know how soon I could start this year, so that might mean no time off till at least NEXT weekend. *sigh* The paycheck's definitely nice, and I like all the people I work with, but all that work without a real break usually fries my brain a bit. So if updates DON'T start coming quickly after this, or if they do but they stop or slow down for a bit: that's one reason why.

The other reason is my other Arrow crossover. I really want to update that fic but the next scene just hasn't wanted to end yet (remember how I complained back in Deadly Dances about the scene that'd never end? How is it happening again?) so I'm focusing more on that, too.

As for my show comments:

SPOILER

ALERT!

...

On the Olicity breakup. We knew it was coming. It sucks. Its still stupid. I don't think it'll last, though her leaving the team too threw me a little. The fake wedding was wonderful. That episode somehow made me like Cupid a little.

Curtis is working his way to being a favorite of mine in every scene we see him. Hopefully they don't decide to kill him off soon, too. His chip helping Felicity walk again was terrific. LOL. I would've preferred to see Oliver there for more of that, but that sidestory had to play.

ON TO MAJOR SPOILER IN AO3 A/N?