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Bloody Secrets

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Felicity's P.O.V.

 

Felicity groaned, dropping her head into her hands for a moment of totally self-pitying aggravation as both of the programs she'd been waiting on failed.

 

The search for Floyd Lawton (A.K.A Deadshot) coming up empty for the moment, again, wasn't all the surprising. The assassin was apparently laying too low for technology to find right now. If he was paid anything even close to the price promised the arrowed Guillermo Barrera (A.K.A Brutale), he shouldn't need to take another job all that soon. If need was a driving factor in his career choice; but judging by what she'd found of said criminal career it really wasn't.

 

So he might surface soon. Or not. Or not.

 

At the moment she could only hope for the best—and try not to think that her hoping to hear about someone being assassinated by a professional sniper was a bad thing. People dying before their time wasn't at all a new thing in the world, and to find Deadshot she needed more information. More assassinations and the like would be something she could use to try and figure out what his real drives were, and therefore where he might be next. For John Diggle's sake.

 

The careful codes she had surfing Merlyn Global also coming up empty though, again, was very much like those times she'd been looking forward to some delicious baked delight or another, but let herself get distracted too long and ended up with charcoal instead. Except she hadn't been distracted—by another Immortal nearby, memories best left forgotten, other computer codes or anything else—she hadn't even stepped away. She'd been sitting right here for hours, monitoring and intermittently tweaking. So it didn't seemed fair that she could almost smell the burnt would-be dessert's remains in her nostrils.

 

It almost made her want to be at least a little less careful; try a brute force attack out of sheer frustration. But she knew better. She would even if the man she was trying to look into wasn't maybe a member of the League of Assassins who happened to have another Immortal employed on his cyber security staff. Another Immortal who might be looking for her as it was, whether the C.E.O of his current career's company wasn't some sort of sleeper agent for a former student of hers or not. Though said former student having possibly been driven made by the power of too many Dark Quickenings while she wasn't paying close enough attention from afar wasn't something she wanted to think about at all.

 

If she had to pick any one thing she truly hated about Immortality, it'd have to be a pretty close call between all the loved ones she'd lost and the Quickenings.

 

That a powerful light Quickening could turn even the most evil of Immortals into decent individuals might be seen as a good thing by some, but she'd been friends with the pacifist who's beheading had turned a vicious Roman conqueror into a pacifistic priest.

 

Felicity couldn't help but flinch at the memories—it'd been hard enough to accept Darius's sincere apologies when murdering Haraonos Emrys had both made him realize the error of his ways and made her brother the world's oldest Immortal. It was confusing to consider how much of Darius was the warrior general he'd been before that day, and how much was the gentle healer he'd murdered. Her friend. Methos had had an easier time accepting Haraonos's choice and thus Darius' apologies; with his history, perhaps he felt he had to. Felicity had had to force a lot of smiles for a long time, at least until the former Roman general had continued Haraonos's work long enough for her to see some of the friend she'd lost was still in his killer. That the ancient that asked her how best to approach the mortal warrior queen who'd rebelled against Rome—what advice would make her want peace even if it was with the Romans—wasn't completely gone. That Haraonos Emry's killer had become more Haraonos than the man he'd been before he swung his sword for the last time.

 

Yes, after she and Methos had both seen signs of their lost friend in Darius had eventually led to both of them forgiving him. Mostly because it's what Haraonos would've wanted, as he had essentially offered his head and Quickening up to the younger Immortal for the exact purpose his death had ultimately served. But it'd taken Felicity a lot longer to visit that church than her somewhat more forgiving teacher.

 

Even worse than Light Quickenings, however, were Dark ones. Felicity hated to think how much harder it would be if the opposite had really happened—if someone she called a friend was now her enemy because he'd ended one evil existence too many. It was truthfully a fate she'd feared from the moment the possibility it'd happening had occurred to her. More from the thought of having to kill a friend because of it than out of any real fear for herself.

 

Then again, if it came down to it she might well make the same choice Haraonos had made almost two-thousand years ago. Which was undoubtedly exactly why the few Dark Quickening situations that'd arisen over the years Methos had dealt with without ever considering asking for her help.

 

But he wasn't the one that'd realized the potential problem this time, and Mazin was never his student...

 

"Anything?" Oliver's query from up by the ceiling made her pity party end, her focus narrowing in on his fit form instead of her past with no small amount of relief.

 

Though Felicity didn't  particularly like the pull-ups on the pipes. The old steel factory's plumbing, while at one time cutting edge and now impressively enduring, wasn't built with safety standards for exercise enthusiasts in mind. And the view, though not capable of being called unattractive, was a lot harder to watch when that involved craning her neck at an awkward angle it didn't like for just a few seconds, let alone actively watching.

 

"Felicity?"

 

"What? Oh, no, sorry," the Immortal sighed, trying to turn the unhappy tenseness out of her neck before she looked back at her computers. The messages on the monitors sadly hadn't changed to more happy, or at least helpful, tidings. "Lawton's laying low. He's not showing up anywhere yet. There's still a lot to go through at Merlyn Global—I can't really rush it anymore than I have without attracting attention. And I haven't completely cracked the Starling Triad's firewalls yet."

 

The thump of the vigilante suddenly dropping down from the ceiling made her wince, even though she knew from the sound that he'd landed it right and was fine. It wasn't even that she didn't think it could be done. What she hadn't learned from Methos or some of her other mentors when it came to physical fitness she'd had to learn as an Amazon. But she'd broken enough bones to know how much it hurt—and those without either a Quickening immortalizing them from inside or even the magic that most of the world's remaining Amazons relied on took such a long time to heal.

 

His hands on her shoulders were less surprising; she'd heard him coming, of course, but she hadn't expected him to start kneading the knots in and around her neck.

 

For a moment, Felicity could only melt. Being an Immortal, with the Quickening keeping her healthy and ensuring her metabolism never stopped burning at full power actually meant it was harder for to not stay fighting trim. Especially since that fitness could be the difference between life and death any day of every year. That didn't mean she didn't feel pain though. She could ignore it, of course, it'd been millennia since Methos had taught her the necessity of mental fortitude, and her endurance had only grown with each moment it'd needed to. But sometimes her body still complained, and those complaints didn't merit meditation or rest or the any sort of medical attention. However, Strong, skilled hands massaging aching muscles—any muscles, really—had always been a weakness of hers.

 

"Why are you hacking the Triad?" Oliver wanted to know, not at all distracted from the task his hands were so easily performing.

 

Felicity released a sigh before she answered. "They hired him," she leaned back even more as the archer's fingers found that one particularly pained spot, biting back a groan as he zeroed in on it. Then she made herself go on. "They paid him. The money might leave a trail for me to follow."

 

"He didn't finish the job, he might not have been paid for it. And they're not going to keep records of—"

 

"Maybe not. But once I know more of their banking info I can find patterns. Maybe track them to Deadshot or..." she trailed off, not wanting to remind him again of the legitimate suspicions Diggle had raised till she actually found the proof.

 

Oliver's fingers paused for just a second, before resuming their delightful assault while he asked. "Don't we already know the account? From Barrera's phone? He was paid when he arrived in Starling City."

 

"Yeah, half a million up front, the rest after," Felicity confirmed, then shook her head the tiny distance she could with his hands working magic via the pressure points and loosening tension knots along the back of her neck.

 

She didn't care at all that he was essentially using his masseuse skills to make her more pliable than she might otherwise be to his interrogation because she'd have told him all of this anyway. And she could finally ignore the fact that he was likely trying to sneakily check on her shoulder again because even a mortal should be mostly healed of the slight cut she let him see—both the first, real one that'd had a few hours to mend itself and the second one she'd made herself and partially healed in the shower after that, just so he could feel better after checking on it 'again' had hopefully made him think it wasn't as bad as he thought. Yup—there was the slightly more hesitant prodding closer to the 'injury'—she shifted slightly away from it without even really thinking about it, not a flinch but an awareness that was entirely tied to what he was doing rather than any actual pain at all.

 

"I still don't get that," Felicity admitted, leaning slightly to shift his touch back to where the last tight knot of tension was shallowly entrenched. "I mean, Chien Na Wei's an assassin, and a knife fighter, herself. Why would she hire Barrera? He'd have used knives—would've had to get a lot closer than a sniper like Deadshot to throw one of his knives at a target. Just like she would."

 

"He would have been inside the party," Oliver agreed. "Just like all of the Triad soldiers were," he shook his head. "He would've had a harder time than he was expecting. The Triad, too. They never would've agreed to try and take out someone of Mister Merlyn's skill set at a public event like that, not without a lot more muscle. Not with a close-quarters fighter like Barrera, either, rather than Lawton. Not if they had any idea he could fight back effectively."

 

Felicity considered not saying anything more pointed about it, but it wasn't really a conversation that could be avoid too long, so she went with it. "So that rules out the Chinese mafia knowing he could fight, right?" She tilted her head to look at him, "And whoever hired them."

 

"My mom, you mean," Oliver was frowning as he shook his head. "You don't have to avoid it for me, Felicity. I can't pretend anymore."

 

Felicity swallowed, but nodded. "Yeah. Okay. Your Mom. Maybe." That got a slight upward quirk to one side of his mouth, then she closed her eyes as he started rubbing harder again.

 

"The Triad didn't know. Maybe they still don't. You said the tapes of that part of the security system were overwritten, right?"

 

"Yeah. He must've called someone from the hospital."

 

"Or someone at Merlyn Global knew to check for that sort of thing before handing anything over to the police."

 

"Maybe," Felicity agreed, not letting herself frown as she wondered whether or not the man she'd met, who'd adapted to modern times much like she had, might've been the one to do that for Malcolm Merlyn or not.

 

If so, it did make some sense to her. His name was Polish, and so was the accent he hadn't completely lost and didn't work at hiding. So he wasn't old enough to realize the value of such minute alterations—even though changing his name entirely would've made more sense. But maybe his teacher just hadn't been as thorough as Methos. Actually, it'd surprise her if anyone else was as thorough as the man that'd been seeking redemption from his Age as Death. Starek's Quickening wasn't that strong, either—enough for a few centuries and a few random duels won. And mixed in with the slightly uncomfortable degree of interest that made her think he might not have met a female Immortal before were more than a few of the characteristics that reminded her of the Szlachta. If he was raised in their times of privilege and suffered their losses thereafter, he probably still felt cheated by what he'd lost from his childhood. Such things didn't diminish quickly for Immortals, so even a few lifetimes, or centuries, sometimes didn't lessen them all that much. Coming to America, where education would allow him to prosper if he worked at it, a former courtier of that diminished regime might find nothing wrong with working for a man like Malcolm Merlyn—whether he was a somewhat free agent of the League of Assassins or a renegade. Though if it was the latter, as Felicity hoped, Starek would be wiser to distance himself as far from Tommy's father as he could. And if it was the former, well Starek likely wasn't nearly old enough to know how badly that could go for everyone involved.

 

Even under Oliver's masterful manipulations, thinking about whether or not her student might now be a demon not just in name but in fact made her tense again. Just for the moment it took her to realize she was doing it and it, but it was more than enough time for the observant man to notice since he was trying working the tension out of those same muscles.

 

Oliver waited a long moment, his fingers kneading at that new tension; only asking as she managed to make herself calm down again. "Felicity?"

 

She thought of pretending it was nothing. That she'd forgotten she had to do something and she had to go, something like that. She was a good enough actress to fool most people, mortals especially. But lying to someone she cared about had never come easily to her, and it already felt like she was lying too much by omission. The arrow in her ear was only a symbol of the place the hero himself had somehow already taken in her heart, and she couldn't bring herself to lie to him.

 

So, instead, she evaded just a little with a question. "Have you thought about where he might've trained? Learned... how to kill like that?"

 

All the while, Oliver's hands never stopped massaging. The subject obviously wasn't so touchy for him—maybe because it was Tommy who was his friend, after all, and Malcolm Merlyn hadn't been a good father to that friend in far too long. For most of both their childhoods. Abandonment wasn't something children forgot easily, especially once they were grown—when all the years in between would only make forgiveness seem more and more impossible.

 

Felicity could understand it; why Malcolm Merlyn might've gone looking for something after his wife's murder. Why not being there for his wife when she needed him might've made it hard to be there for his son, thereby making it hard for him to recognize that he should be going on for their son. And if needing to find answers, to find strength was what'd led him to Nanda Parbat, he would have been welcomed there. Where broken people were supposedly made new again. If they were worthy.

 

But she couldn't explain it to her vigilante.

 

He'd be interested if she did, but to do that she'd have to explain how she knew enough to explain it. More than enough. Because Oliver hadn't reacted at all to the mention of Nanda Parbat, so wherever he'd been over the last five years he hadn't heard those sort of specifics regarding the League of Assassins. If he'd ever heard anything at all about them.

 

That mysterious, hard half decade of Oliver's life made it a little easier to justify her continuing secrecy and reliance on assumptions to protect her own past. It also made precisely predicting his reactions somewhat difficult. Even he considered those the defining years of his adult life; having led up to who he was today, despite his unwillingness to talk much about it.

 

It made it very tempting to just keep mum. Enjoy a few years of his company (massages and all), help where she could, and then just stage her death and move on when her eternal youth became too noticed. She'd done it before. What seemed like many, many times in fact. A tiring number of times really. She didn't remember the very thought of doing it ever feeling quite so very painful from the very start though.

 

"...city? Felicity? Hey," Oliver's voice broke into her musings just as she realized her massage had halted. And because he was turning her chair away from her computers with one hand now, while the other caught her chin and turned her face towards his. "Hey, stop worrying so much, okay? Tommy's dad being able to defend himself, and Tommy, doesn't have to be a bad thing."

 

"Even if  Digg is right about your mom?" Felicity forced herself to say it because it had to be said, but she bit her lip as soon as she finished to keep an automatic apology from slipping out when he winced.

 

It couldn't be denied that Oliver was a strong fighter and a driven man who was smarter than he pretended to be, but he was also a loving son despite the careless image he sometimes had to play. So the idea that his mother had caused everything they'd fought to prevent a few nights ago had to hurt.

 

Oliver shook his head, big hands shifting to frame her face so his thumb could pry her lower lip free from her teeth as he answered. "Maybe he is right. Maybe Mister Merlyn is dangerous to more than just hitmen. And maybe my mom has a good reason for wanting Tommy's dad dead." His hand moved slowly back into her hair, finding that spot behind her ear with the same accuracy he fired arrows with. "We don't know. Don't waste energy worrying about it until we know we have to. All right?"

 

Felicity was torn. Wanting to agree because he was asking it of her and it already felt wrong that she hadn't told him he didn't have to worry about anyone hurting her in any way that didn't involve decapitation—and that she could take care of herself anyway. That she'd been around, taking care of herself and others, for a very long time.

 

It might be nice to pretend she hadn't heart Malcolm Merlyn talk about meeting a man at a place called Nanda Parbat. To pretend that she didn't know the only man he could mean. But it wasn't something that could be let go.

 

Not when Tommy's father spoke of making Starling City a better place and that he'd learned how to do so from the League of Assassins. After all, he wasn't trying to save the city the way Oliver was: by taking justice into his own hands, under orders or not. That ruled out the more direct application of the skills he could've learned in the Hindu Kush. Leaving a much longer end-game at play here... and possible a broken promise that also couldn't be let go.

 

Her head turned and tilted automatically as the archer's hands directed it to, but the soft pressure on her lips a moment later made every single thought in her head halt. Because she hadn't been biting her lip again and both his hands were still framing her face, holding her unnecessarily in place, as his warm, slightly chapped lips molded with hers.

 

It was careful and chaste; sweet, and as confusing as it was surprising...

 

Oliver had been increasingly tactile since they'd watched a parody of fairytales and then fallen asleep on her couch only a few minutes into the subsequent movie he'd eventually picked at random by making her close her eyes and then doing the same before scrolling and pushing play without looking at whatever it was he'd landed on. Which was actually a movie she'd never seen, but she also hadn't recognized anyone in those few minutes she kept trying to pry her eyelids apart so she probably wouldn't re-watch it anytime soon anyway. Since then, Oliver's hands had found her shoulders, her hair, her neck very often.

 

Mostly her shoulders at first; particularly the injured one she hadn't let him check again because she really didn't want to cut it open yet again to make it look like she didn't heal any faster than a normal human being. The frequency of those touches didn't seem to be diminishing with all the times she hadn't faked flinches as he checked her shoulder, though; if anything they were still steadily increasing.

 

Felicity hadn't minded. It'd been a lot longer than five years since she'd been in a really meaningful relationship, so she didn't mind it where this was going at all. Actually, the former playboy was going slower than she probably would if she'd decided to set the tempo—carefully, methodically, in a way she doubted he'd ever been before the boat wreck that claimed his father's life and changed his irrevocably.

 

But she wasn't sure where the kiss had come from.

 

A moment later Oliver was pulling away, eyes opening to hold her blinking, bewildered gaze as steadily as he still held her face between his palms.

 

"What was that?" the Immortal blinked at him.

 

"Something else to think about," Oliver told her with his small smile, which was really just the very edges of his mouth quirking up. Then he shook his head. "I mean it, Felicity. Stop worrying so much. It won't help."

 

For a second the Immortal woman could only keep blinking at him, but then her tongue was moving any prior permission from her. "I might, if it means we keep doing that."

 

Oliver's face softened even more than the gently earnest look he'd already been hitting her with, but instead of kissing her again he shook his head. "No," he told her, mercifully going on before her heart could start to die another hundred times. "You deserve better than that, Felicity."

 

He didn't actually say it, but she had the distinct idea that what he really meant was: 'you deserve better than me.' That she couldn't agree with. No matter what Oliver had done in his twenty-eight years on this Earth, she'd surely done worse.

 

And the fact that he cared so much about whatever he had done told her that he wasn't irredeemable. Just the opposite. If only she could make him see that... Such things took time though, and baby step by baby step.

 

Still, there was something she could say right now. With her face still held in place, somewhat surprisingly very comfortable in his hands, Felicity couldn't shake her head, but her mouth still worked. "My life, my choice, Oliver. And I'm sure I know what I deserved better than—"

 

His index and pointer finger on her lips were half of what made her trail off, but it was mostly his intent eyes—and that small start of a smile that made more appearances than any full smile could on his serious face—that made her stay silent long enough for him to talk instead. How was it that the firm press of his fingertips on her lips could feel just as intimate as his lips had?

 

"A real date first," Oliver insisted softly. "I'm trying to be a better man than I was," he reminded her.

 

That made Felicity frown and jerk her head free, trying not to miss his hands as he let them drop while their gazes stayed locked. "You weren't a man then, Oliver," she told him carefully. "In many ways you were still a boy. A boy who didn't deserve what hap—"

 

"Maybe I did, maybe I didn't," he interrupted firmly, hands curling slightly at his side as he did so. Curling—but not in that way that looked like he was subconsciously wondering where his bow was, so he was just as calm as he appeared. "You still deserve better."

 

"Fine." Felicity allowed, arching an eyebrow at him. "How about tomorrow night then?"

 

Oliver blinked, but then surprised her with a smile. Still a relatively small smile, but it was sincere—and as devastating as all his smiles probably were. "All right. When and where?"

 

"I get off work at five-thirty."

 

He considered that, then offered, "So, eight?"

 

Felicity laughed, pleased to see her own enjoyment shining back at her in his eyes. "Depends on where we're going? You know Starling City better than I ever will."

 

There was still a lot to worry about, of course, but that didn't mean they should stop living. It was a relief to see that Oliver, despite everything he didn't talk about suffering through in the last five years, was still able to see that. Even if worrying about her 'mysterious injury' and stress levels was what brought it out.

 

What's more, the world was only so big. For Deadshot it would keep getting smaller now that she was looking for him.

 

If Malcolm Merlyn was here doing something the League didn't approve of, they'd handle him. If not... well, she needed to start building that bridge just in case, but she'd had the plans and framework in places for decades now, just in case. The only real questions there were just how many steps she could take before Mazin realized what she was doing. Or Methos noticed there might be a problem.

 

It helped, however, that even while looking for them over the last several days, Felicity hadn't found any signs at all that a significantly dangerous Dark Immortal had risen in recent years. Yes, that was exactly one of things her student's organization was primarily designed to fight, so if he'd turned they'd know how to hide most of the indications, but no one was perfect. Yet what few signs she'd found of what might be League of Assassins actions were all within the acceptable parameters her student had agreed to early on. So hopefully whatever was happening in Starling City, her home, wouldn't be a problem in that regard.

 

"Do you like Italian?" Oliver's question drew her out of her now only semi-darkening thoughts again, and she immediately flashed him a smile, both in gratitude and to hopeful hide her return to worrying.

 

"I love Italian."

 

"Great, me too," he nodded slowly.

 

She could see the questions he wasn't asking behind his eyes, just like she was sure he could see that he was still worrying. Nonetheless, they were making progress. Little by little.

Chapter Text

John Diggle's P.O.V.

 

CLANG-GLANG! CLANG-CLANG!

CLANG! SWISH!

 

John could tell he was getting better, but not by the fewer number of bruises he'd been walking away from these sparring sessions with. Stick fighting wasn't something he'd specifically trained in before the versatile vigilante started schooling him in eskrima.

 

But one arms-dealer had already gotten an arrow for trying to sell here, and with good reason. Part of saving their city was not letting the more indiscriminate weapons of war that becoming and being a soldier had made John Diggle an expert at enter Starling City's streets.

 

CLANG-GLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

CLANG-CLANG! SWISH!

 

Not that that meant he'd be handing in his handguns anytime soon, or that they didn't have some heavier firepower stored away down here either. (Much heavier firepower, actually; and it'd taken him a while to decide he'd rather not ask where the billionaire had procured it. Since some of the weapons were higher end than Special Forces could normally expect to be provided with, but also the sort of purchases that should've merited a visit from an A.T.F agent at some point.)

 

Regardless, complete reliance on firearms was never a good idea. The weapon could, after all, be taken away or unavailable when needed.

 

His time with the military, both the initial training and his later tours, meant that John was not helpless without a gun of some kind in his hands. All the same, it'd become clear to him early on that Oliver Queen was someone he should be open to learning a little from, if only to improve himself.

 

After who knows how many of these sparring sessions, John would like to think that he might last longer against the deadly Triad assassin that Oliver hadn't had any qualms about facing again at Merlyn Global. He refused to let that moment where he realized the knife the woman wielded could very well end his life, if not for the timely intervention of hisclient throwing a kitchenknife accurately enough to disarm her from across the room.

 

However, John was a realist too. China White wasn't someone he'd voluntarily engage in hand-to-hand combat with; not when knives were clearly her weapon of choice and brute strength definitely couldn't be relied upon against her.

 

Still, he'd keep learning.

 

CLANG-CLANG-CLANG-CLANG!

CLANG-CLANG-CLANG-CLANG!

 

He was getting a bit better at the variable acceleration. The weapons themselves were starting to feel like actual weapons rather than heavy toys that would hurt if they hit you. And maybe he did have a few fewer bruises than before.

 

CLANG-CLANG! CLANG-CLANG!

CLANGSWISH!

 

But if that was true—and it wasn't just that he was in slightly better shape and so might be recovering a little faster—then John Diggle did know enough about fighting in general to recognize that his employer and partner-in-crime was taking it easy on him. Especially since he knew exactly when it'd started.

 

Not that he wanted to talk about that. Not yet.

 

CLANG-CLANG-CLANG!

CLANG-CLANG-CLANG!

SWISH!

CLANG! SWISH!

 

"Do you know anyone else that you'd recommend for this?" Oliver asked out of the blue.

 

Diggle blinked at him, only barely managing to block the hit towards his abdomen as a result. "What?"

 

CLANG! CLANG-CLANG!

 

"From your time in the military," the vigilante replied, varying his blows, blocks and dodges without looking like he was concentrating at all. "Then you were a bodyguard for a few years. You must've met someone that might be worth approaching."

 

CLANG-CLANG-CLANG! CLANG-CLANG!

SWISH!

CLANG-CLANG!

 

Digg considered that as they traded several more blows, but instead of really trying to think of someone, he asked, "Why?"

 

SWISH! CLANG-CLANG! SWISH!

CLANG-CLANG! CLANG-CLANG-CLANG!

 

"Because I'm starting to think Felicity needs protection, and neither one of us can provide it. Not all the time," Oliver grimaced as he spun around, but that grimace was more for what he was saying than the stick that Digg had just barely missed his head with.

 

SWISH! CLANG-CLANG! CLANG-CLANG!

 

"You could, obviously," the younger man continued.

 

CLANG! CLANG-CLANG!

SWISH! SWISH!

CLANG! CLANG-CLANG!

 

"But it's not like I can pay you to—"

 

"Guard your girlfriend?" Digg interjected.

 

Oliver promptly knocked his legs out from under him.

 

The former solider hit the mat hard, muscle memory making him roll off the impact almost entirely on instinct; the grin he'd delivered the retort with never leaving his face. It was a small grin that felt a little strange after all the dark thoughts he kept circling through since learning Deadshot wasn't six feet under. Strange, but not exactly bad.

 

The archer scowled down at him even as he offered a helping hand up. "I went to check on her after Merlyn Global."

 

"I know," John answered as he accepted the hand and pushed himself up at the same time, half-shrugging once he was on his feet again.

 

Though he was a bit relieved that Oliver had transferred both his eskrima into one hand to help him and was now turning to snatch his water bottle off the nearby table.

 

"Remember? You texted me about her phone." He looked over at the training equipment off to the side at the same time as the archer, specifically at the recently replaced dummy, and shook his head. "Still not sure how she even got it up there. I mean, she picked the tallest one. It's a foot taller than her. At least."

 

Oliver shook his head in agreement. "That's probably how she hurt her shoulder again." He grumbled, then took a few more gulps.

 

"Probably," John agreed as he grabbed his own sports bottle, downing some water himself, before he shook his head. "You mom knows you're seeing her, 'case you forgot."

 

Of course, he'd told Oliver that already. Because the fact that Tommy Merlyn and Laurel Lance had met Felicity had definitely interested the Queen matriarch. Even while she was apparently waiting for someone to attack the guest of honor that night.

 

When the younger man didn't respond, John added, "Might want to think about admitting you know her first name now."

 

"First..." the former playboy's scowl returned as realization dawned, and then he put his bottle back down before stalking back to the mats. He spun on his heel as John followed, bottle also left behind and fighting sticks already as ready as he could make them. "I'm not going to tell her that Felicity's the girl I was hooking up with when I first got back!"

 

CLANG! CLANG-CLANG-CLANG!

CLANG-CLANG! CLANG!

 

"Alright," John met blow after blow with a lot more ease than he had a few months ago. At least that much improvement was apparent. "And what'd you think she's..." he dropped down to avoid another overhead strike.

 

SWISH!

 

"...Think she's gonna think after you hire a bodyguard for a girl she's never met?"

 

CLANG-CLANG! CLANG-CLANG!

 

"I wasn't going to tell her," Oliver growled.

 

CLANG! CLANG-CLANG! CLANG!

 

"Yeah?" John snorted. "Just like you weren't going to tell her where you were running off to every day and night? How'd that work out for you?"

 

Oliver's only response was to up the speed again, the metal sticks almost whistling as they whipped through the air in between the clanging collisions.

 

CLANG-CLANG-CLANG-CLANG!

CLANG-SWISH! CLANG-CLANG!

 

"Look, man, I get it. Felicity's the kind of girl, the kind of person, you don't want to let anything near," John ducked down again, this time to kick out at the vigilante's legs, but pulled back quickly when the sweep was avoided. "Doesn't mean she's gonna let you get her a bodyguard."

 

SWISH! CLANG-CLANG! SWISH!

 

"I mean, she doesn't even like talking about self-defense lessons."

 

Oliver actually growled again at that; a harsh huff of breath that sounded distinctly animalistic rather than a word.

 

CLANG-CLANG! SWISH—

BAM!

 

The ex-soldier managed to block two of the blows that flew towards him and dodge the third, but the forth struck where a nice bruise would soon bloom.

 

"She needs one or the other," the vigilante grumbled. "Or both." He waited for his sparring partner to find his balance on the mat before he started up again—yet another example of how much easier he was taking it on his pseudo-bodyguard of late.

 

The emotionally scarred but driven young man John Diggle had decided to help hadn't had the patience for giving anyone time. But he'd had to learn—or relearn—it, at least a little bit, with Felicity. After all, trying to intimidate her hadn't worked at all. Meanwhile, flirting had gotten Oliver farther, but also made it harder to ignore the chemistry that just seemed to be baking between them.

 

John would've kept an eye on them even if it wasn't sort of fascinating to watch. That didn't mean that he'd missed the fact that the archer thought he'd failed by not killing the sniper who'd shot Andy as he'd once told him.

 

SWISH-CLANG!

CLANG-CLANG! CLANG!

CLAND-SWISH!

 

Not that Deadshot's continuing survival could actually be laid at Oliver's door. John had no doubt that the Hood had put an arrow in the sniper to keep him from completing his last mission in Starling City. Still, seeing those signs of remorse made it easier to accept the younger man's help. Even if the only help he was offering right now was in continuing unspoken apologies, implied promises, and a few less bruises here and there.

 

CLANG-CLANG-CLANG!

CLANG! CLANG-CLANG!

SWISH-CLANG-SWISH!

 

John snorted as he backed off. "I'm not the one you have to convince of that." He stepped off the mat then, deliberately stopping their sparring session before he asked, "What makes you think she needs a bodyguard?"

 

That someone had hurt her, apparently right outside their door—though  she stubbornly refused to confirm that—had raised both their hackles. If anything, though, Oliver's protectiveness had increased even as she healed. And while John could understand the sentiment, the continuing growth was something he kept reminding himself to watch. In case Oliver went overboard, Felicity just freaked out, all the above, or worse; if there was a real necessity.

 

Oliver slammed his sticks down on the nearest free tabletop as he headed for his sports bottle again.

 

The same sports bottle that their I.T girl grinned at whenever she saw it, though they'd intentionally never asked why. John was pretty sure he knew. Learning after the fact that the man had been still in the process of recovering from a near-fatal Vertigo overdose at the time hadn't lessened the complete failure that attempted cover story.

 

"It was after midnight. When I got there, that night," Oliver finally started explaining. "I didn't even think she'd be up... but I wanted to check on her anyway." He gulped down some water, then shook his head as he went on. "She was just getting home. From jogging."

 

John blinked. "Jogging?"

 

Oliver snorted. "Said she had to 'clear her head,' so she went for a run." The sports bottle creaked a little in his grip, so he set it back down on the table. "Her house's only a few blocks away from the Glades, Digg. And she was running around there in the middle of the night."

 

Much as both of them would like to live in a city where a woman really could go jogging whenever and wherever she wished with the expectation of only losing her breath and some sweat, they didn't. Starling City was not that place. There were all too many places that were or could easily become the wrong place to be. And while any time could become the wrong time, the nighttime anywhere near the Glades was almost guaranteed to be bad. Maybe only a little less so with the vigilante occasionally intervening in muggings and putting arrows in thugs every now and then. Also something he'd only started because of Felicity. Unfortunately, that didn't mean most of the city's streets could be called safe.

 

Felicity knew that. If she hadn't, she should've learned it already, when someone cut her, whether she was willing to admit it or not.

 

John did have to frown at that himself. "Might be worth talking to her about, at least."

 

"I tried," Oliver scowled as he thought back on it. "She kept redirecting the conversation back to Tommy and me."

 

"She cares a lot more about everyone else then she does herself." John shook his head as he sat down. (On one of the spare chairs, not the especially comfortable computer chair neither one of them was supposed to touch.)

 

Oliver nodded, then added, "And she was dodging."

 

"Yeah, she does that, too," John acknowledged.

 

Because their I.T girl did have some secrets.

 

Then again, they all did. Something Oliver seemed to alternate between accepting or refusing to take into consideration, despite the years he wouldn't talk about being basically taboo. He was learning to be patient with Felicity, somehow, but John doubted he'd wait forever.

 

The billionaire sighed. "But she said she'll start taking lessons with you." He admitted, then chuckled. "And she mentioned she's pretty good at fencing."

 

John blinked again. "Can't say they taught that in Special Forces," he replied dryly, shaking his head. "Guess I could try watching Pirates of the Caribbean again, but if she's actually any good that wouldn't help much."

 

Though her having even so esoteric a martial skill in her background could go a long way towards explaining how she'd escaped some thug with a knife, and those times she'd manage to dodge around one of them unexpectedly.

 

"I have a little training with swords," the vigilante admitted, before he leapt up to start climbing his salmon ladder. The admission no more of a surprise than it was up for discussion as he threw his body into its next workout. "But it's not like she can carry a sword around all the time."

 

John nodded his silent agreement as he watched the younger man start the one exercise the former soldier didn't ever want to try. That ladder looked like an exercise in futility, whether it worked the whole body or not. Up, up, up, and down, down, down. Again, and again, and again. Just watching it on repeat, sometimes for hours on end, was irritating enough if John didn't make himself focus on something else. Give him a bunch of weights any day. And anyway; who the hell wanted to compare their body to a fish?

 

"I can, work with her, on that," Oliver continued in between jumps up the ladder, climbing more slowly than normal so that he could actually talk in between each thud and swing; though he was gradually gaining speed.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"But you'll—"

 

"Go over the basics with her," John readily agreed.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

After another drink, he added, "Maybe try a lecture on avoidance and awareness, too."

 

"Probably a—"

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"—good idea," the acrobat approved.

 

Swing... THUD!

Swing... THUD!

 

John Diggle debated for a moment, then looked up again to watch the man for another few moments, till he reached the top all over again.

 

Swing... THUD!

Swing... THUD!

Swing... THUD!

 

After he started back down, John finally asked, "So you spent the night, again, but you're not calling her your girlfriend. What is she then?"

 

Swing...

 

Oliver stopped mid-motion on the bar, somehow locking himself in place.

 

Making the ex-soldier wonder (not for the first time) how one picked up notable gymnastic abilities while on a deserted island. So far all he'd been able to think of was that the former playboy might've taken to imitating Tarzan for some reason.

 

Then Oliver swung down, dropping back towards the cement floor, where he absorbed the impact with the cement in his knees, before answering as he stood. "We just watched a movie, Digg. Talked a little. Fell asleep on her couch. It was... nice." He sighed, shaking his head. "Tonight... It's probably a mistake—"

 

"No," John cut in firmly. "It's not."

 

"Maybe I shouldn't date her, Digg," Oliver argued with that frown that the older man had come to recognize.

 

That frown that came more from thinking about the past—his real playboy days much more so than the island he didn't talk to anyone about—than anything in the present or possible futures. It was about memories of how Ollie Queen had hurt Laurel Lance, even before getting her little sister killed. And memories of all the stupid stuff he'd done back then, in general, that'd made him so popular with the paparazzi and the tabloids.

 

What he didn't seem to get, as far as John Diggle could see, was that that wasn't who he was anymore. It was something Oliver had told others occasionally, but that didn't mean he completely recognized it in himself.

 

John raised an eyebrow at him. "Though you asked her."

 

"I did, but—"

 

"'But,' nothing." John interrupted again. "Sounds like you're trying to talk yourself out of it now, and there are plenty more reasons for that to be a bad idea, Oliver." He shook his head. "'Specially if you're really worried about bein' anything like the jackass you used to be."

 

The former playboy winced. "I don't want to hurt her—"

 

"Standing her up—"

 

"I wouldn't—"

 

"Or canceling at the last second's not a good way to avoid that," John finished firmly. "Why'd you ask her out in the first place?" He almost expected the younger man to blink at him in bewilderment, but when Oliver frowned instead, John frowned right back at him. "Oliver?"

 

Neither frown diminished as the blond shook his head. "She's been opening up more..." he sighed, looking away. "And there's something there... I just figured..."

 

"It was worth a shot," John nodded, understanding. "Maybe it is." He arched an eyebrow. "What's changed since last night?"

 

Even as he watched the younger man consider his answer for long than he probably meant to, John was still finding himself torn over missing that step. Because by not being here last night he could only take Oliver's words on whatever had actually led to them deciding to date. A potential problem not because it'd come as any kind of shock; the attraction between the two had been obvious from the moment he'd first seen them together, even with the pair trying to ignore it they looked liked magnets. No, the problem was it felt like it might've come too soon.

 

Too soon for the damaged man that John Diggle was still trying to figure out in some ways.

 

Though Felicity Smoak had proved more than once already that she could help Oliver Queen in many, many ways. The vigilante was lighter around her; amused and sometimes even happy in that way that John completely understood, even though he wasn't the one falling in love with her.

 

Too soon for the on-mission man who wouldn't seem to have the background that could've turned him into this soldier-like individual focused on righting his family's wrongs and saving their city. (Because whatever had shaped man and mission alike hadn't happened in front of cameras and summarizing tabloid journalists, unlike all of his life.)

 

But that light that Felicity had really brought into both their lives was like a balm against everything else they saw out there. In spite of all her secrets, her humor and good-nature helped burn away everything. All the corruption and turmoil that in some ways had become the norm here in Starling City... and maybe that was what their city really needed to be saved from.

 

It still seemed too soon for Oliver Queen. The same Oliver Queen that'd planned to hide behind his old playboy image as some sort of expected master disguise. Who'd soon be opening a nightclub to perpetuate that cover.

 

Verdant, named for the color of his costume or not, was supposed to add to his playboy image, and in some ways it depended on it, too.  So for him to start dating a woman a woman he'd presumably be serious about before said club even opened, could be problematic.

 

Not just because she worked with them and he'd better be serious about this. The gold-diggers and party-girls were one thing; if Oliver was an ass to them, John wouldn't feel obliged to at least try and give him a black eye. And Oliver most likely wouldn't feel obliged to let him.

 

Felicity was a bright girl. A very bright girl. And John didn't honestly think Oliver would ever want to hurt her. Nevertheless there were still plenty of ways this could go badly, and lead to a really awkward atmosphere in their hideout under the very soon-to-open nightspot.

 

"Nothing's changed," Oliver finally answered, shaking his head again. "But the mission—"

 

"Is all well and good," John interrupted, standing up mostly be back at eye-level with him. "But what about her?"

 

Oliver frowned, shaking his head slowly. "She said it's her choice." Somehow, he said that like it was a surprise.

 

"Her life, her choice? Yeah. Seems to be a mantra of hers." John shrugged. "Doesn't mean she's not right." He cocked his head to the side, hesitating for only a moment before deciding; the Hell with it, because letting the boy back out now wouldn't do any of them any favors. "Does saving the city mean we have to be unhappy?" He added quickly before the vigilante could respond, "Me? Felicity?"

 

Oliver's started nod immediately turned into a rough, negative headshake instead. "No. Of course not."

 

"Then why can't you be happy, too?" John shook his head when the younger man stared at him, though he wasn't sure the other man was seeing him. He was sure he was still listening though. "If she's willing to give it a shot, man, you should, too." He glanced at the clock the woman they were discussing had asked him to mount on the wall by the stairs early last week before all the craziness of assassination plots had started up. "And you'd better get going. Don't want to be late."

 

Oliver looked at the clock, too. "She just got out of work. Our reservation's for eight."

 

"Giving you plenty of time to go home, take a shower," John raised an eyebrow. "And admit to your mom that you're going on a date."

 

Oliver blinked, but thought it through before saying, "You think she might start looking into Felicity? Figure out she's been spending too much time here?"

 

John shrugged, "Yeah, on the first one. Who the hell knows, on the second. Either way, do you want your mom introducing herself to Felicity?" He asked, remembering the hopeful interest that'd blossomed on Moira Queen's face a few nights ago.

 

"No," the younger man replied evenly, then he sighed. "But Tommy told her, and—"

 

"And I had to give her Felicity's name," John interrupted, nodding again. "You already introduced her to Tommy and Laurel, man. It wasn't like I could lie and not risk that coming back to bite us."

 

"No, I know," Oliver sighed, slowly nodding. "And yeah, it's better if we try to control her...impression, I guess." He frowned. "I should probably mention that to Felicity."

 

"Yeah, probably," John snorted. "Not sure she'll be able to control her babbling when she's not in disguise."

 

That made a corner of the vigilante's mouth twitch upward. Then again, that was the affect most of Felicity's babbles had on Oliver. Apparently even in abstract. "She doesn't need to pretend anything with my mom," he shook his head. "If... this is going to work, at least this has to be something honest."

 

"Roger that," John approved, nodding again. "Which is why were you were going."

 

"Yeah. Okay." Oliver still hesitated a moment when he looked back at the ex-soldier. "You'll—"

 

"I already asked Turner to cover for me tonight, since your mom's staying in." John cut in, shaking his head when the billionaire blinked. "Having a driver'll help you avoid the paparazzi more than any of your flashy cars. And he might buy you some time by answering some of your mom's questions."

 

Oliver considered it a moment, his frown returning as he realized that this would essentially result in his whole first real date with Felicity being reported verbatim to his mother.

 

Felicity hadn't reported any problems at her day job in the few days that'd past since that eventful night. Oliver's mother hadn't come looking for her, or called her up to the office that Queen Consolidated maintained for Missus Queen. But that didn't mean she wasn't curious. If that curiosity hadn't translated to questioning Oliver yet, it was likely they had to thank whatever the woman was involved in. It didn't mean, however, that she wouldn't ask eventually.

 

"Thanks, Digg." Oliver nodded. He didn't move yet though. "What about you?"

 

"Little more exercise," John indicated the dummy he'd found Felicity's phone perched on top of a few days ago, shaking his head to dismiss the general confusion that still stirred. "Then I should stop in at Big Belly Burger. See Carly and A.J."

 

"Good idea," Oliver allowed with a nod as he visibly forced himself to turn towards the side entrance. "See you tomorrow."

 

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," John returned with a smirk, curious how the former playboy would respond to the normal ribbing. The friendly banter Felicity always liked to watch them engage in had been more for her amusement—and comfort—early on, but it'd grown on both of them.

 

So it wasn't a surprise that what he got back was a semi-amused smirk. What he was not unhappily surprised by, though, was that he could recognize that that smirk looked a lot like the small smiles Felicity seemed to surprise out of both of them, rather than the fake grins that the celebutant saved for the media and even, sometimes, for his family.

 

"Not sure we know each other well enough for that taunt yet, Digg," Oliver replied easily, as he put on his leather jacket over the t-shirt he'd quickly shrugged back on before. "And believe it or not, I usually let the lady lead."

 

John's eyebrows shot up. "Really?"

 

"It was easier back then. Less work; something I wasn't all that interested in," the former playboy frowned that thinking-back frown. "With a few exceptions." He shrugged.

 

Then he grabbed the helmet he probably wore on his motorcycle more for concealment than safety—both as the infamous vigilante and the famous Oliver Queen.

 

"But I don't want to try much of my old playbook with Felicity." He said, shaking his head another time, still frowning.

 

John considered him for a few seconds, then smirked. "Yeah, she might slap you," he said it lightly, deliberately as he shrugged. "Or start laughing at you." He blinked as he realized he really wasn't sure which one it'd be. "Can't really tell with that girl all the time. Some of her reactions are..." he thought about it, then finished, "Outside the norm."

 

"Lucky for us," Oliver agreed, his frown deepening as he added, "I'd rather she didn't do the midnight jogs after leaving here. Obviously."

 

An idea hit him then, making John frown back. "That's not why you asked her, is it?" he raise a disapproving eyebrow. "'Cause somehow I don't think she'll let you be more protective even if you make it to boyfriend status."

 

The archer scowled. "That's not..." he trailed off, shaking his head slowly. "That's not why I asked her."

 

"Good." John nodded. "'Cause I'm pretty sure that might be a good way to make sure she called Detective Lance. Or hacks everything he needs to throw us both in jail onto his computer."

 

Oliver didn't give that a second's thought. "She won't—"

 

"I know, Oliver," the former solider cut in, rolling his eyes. "Try not to piss her off too much anyway, okay?" John held his eyes for a long, pointed moment, then shrugged again. "You've already got one crazy ex-girlfriend that knows about all of this."

 

The vigilante made a face that was somewhere in between a scowl and a wince. "You know, we only went out on two dates. Didn't even finish the second one."

 

John snorted. "Yet before that bad 'second' you were showing her around down here. Helping her pick out a wardrobe and giving her hardware."

 

"You know that's not how it happened," Oliver sighed. "It was more complicated than that."

 

"Usually is," John shrugged. "At least we can be sure Felicity's not insane. Or bent on starting a gang war to get back at her father, uncaring of how many innocents would be in the crossfire."

 

Oliver didn't bother arguing anymore. His last attempt at a relationship, especially the woman it'd been with and the disaster it'd turned into could've easily become so much worse. Still could, since she was still out there. So that mistake wasn't really defendable. "Are you done?"

 

John immediately nodded; because Helena Bertinelli wasn't actually the point here. Anymore than attacking this man that was already at least something like a friend was. "Just keep in mind, Oliver; you don't want to hurt Felicity. Or piss her off, either." He smirked. "She won't turn us in, sure, but I think our tech girl's barely demonstrated just how dangerous her particular skills can be. And if you couldn't put your homicidal, criminal ex down, I doubt you'd be able to talk yourself into aiming an arrow at Felicity. No matter what she did."

 

"You're probably right about that," Oliver admitted, almost too quietly to be heard over the sounds overhead.

 

Not construction workers anymore; these were the decorators that Tommy had hired for the finishing touches. He'd kept on top of his job, prepping the club he was to manage for opening, despite everything that'd happened. Almost losing his dad and whatever was going on with him. Finding out Oliver was the vigilante... Still, he'd stayed on top of it all; done his job. Something that John had to admit, at least in his own mind, he was unexpectedly impressed by.

 

"Thanks," Oliver concluded with a respectful nod that the older man returned. "Enjoy your night off," he told him, turning towards the side exit again.

 

"Thanks," John replied, watching him till he rounded the corner.

 

The door opened and then banged shut a few seconds later.

 

Then John turned back towards the practice mats, heading for the new dummy.

 

There were several of the things down here, but this one was brand new. Very recently replaced after the vigilante had completely obliterated it. The whole thing, rather than just the arms, which they had plenty of refills for because that wasn't unusual. Oliver broke the limbs all the time. Sometimes John did, too.

 

BAM-BAM! BAM-BAM!

 

Then again, if Felicity had really reopened her still not fully explained knife-wound while climbing the old dummy and Oliver realized it, that did make more sense of the unexpectedly abrupt and violent end it'd come to.

 

It made John want to hit the replacement a little harder, too. Though, unlike Oliver, he was only attacking it with fists, feet, and some of his own limb lengths in between.

 

BAM-BAM-BAM!

 

It was also proof that those two pairing off would leave him at least a little out of the loop, and that almost made him regret requesting the switch with Turner tonight.

 

Only almost though.

 

BAM! BAM-BAM! BAM-BAM! BAM!

 

There came a point where this was supposed to happen.

 

Just because John couldn't justify telling Carly about any of this, that he didn't even really want to tell her, didn't mean Oliver and Felicity didn't have the potential to really hit it off.

 

And it was better if John wasn't there tonight. He wouldn't mind playing the part of his friend's bodyguard when that part needed to be played. Whether that friend was Oliver or Felicity. That was part of what he'd signed on for with all of this. Though hopefully shadowing Felicity, when they came back to that, didn't piss her off too much at both of them.

 

But he wasn't up for that tonight. Hadn't really been up for any of it since that night. Just that moment, really. When he'd learned his brother's killer was still out there. Somewhere.

 

Playing any role wasn't easy when his head was still spinning every which way.

 

BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM!

 

Plus, after 'tricking' his bodyguard into guarding his mother instead of himself, Oliver allowing Ricky Turner to drive them should hopefully calm his mother down.

 

John still felt a little bad for not somehow stopping Tommy Merlyn from unintentionally tattling on his secretive best friend. Only because that tattle could adversely affect Felicity. It was Oliver's fault, after all, that Tommy and Laurel had met Felicity and come to the assumption that they were dating already. Not that John could fault the couple for having eyes.

 

BAM! BAM! BAM-BAM-BAM!

 

Hopefully the switch with Turner would help handle Moira Queen by getting out in front of any belated reaction that might still be lying in wait. Any questions she had, after all, should be directed at Oliver, not Felicity, so giving her the opening of her driver taking them on their date tonight should get that ball rolling there. Whether Oliver confessed his plans beforehand or not.

 

BAM! BAM-BAM-BAM! BAM-BAM!

 

Besides, it was John's night off. They'd all agreed they were supposed to start taking those, and that extended to John pretending to be a bodyguard still.

 

It wasn't like Oliver couldn't look after himself, and Felicity, anyway. Apparently until she got her hands on a sword...which wasn't something he was thinking about anymore tonight.

 

Although thinking was what he really needed to be doing right now. Not about Oliver and Felicity and however awkward and/or perfect that might end up being.

 

About Andy.

 

BAM-BAM-BAM!

 

And Deadshot.

 

BAM-BAM-BAM! BAM-BAM-BAM!

 

Summarizing most of the thoughts after thoughts that'd been circling in his head since that night also, but that he couldn't really act on.

 

John still couldn't act. He didn't have anything to acton. But that didn't mean he shouldn't at least try to get his head back on straight.

 

BAM! BAM-BAM! BAM!

 

Felicity was looking for Floyd Lawton. John trusted that. Trusted her. Short time though they'd known each other. They'd saved Oliver by performing surgery and fixing the defibrillator. That, along with a bomb collar, a surprisingly successful undercover-op and everything else in between had bred trust, and the start of a friendship, too.

 

BAM-BAM! BAM-BAM!

 

And whatever Oliver Queen was hiding, John liked to think that he could trust the man with this. Since he did trust him with 'saving the city' outside the lines of the law.

 

With protecting the place he'd grown up in and come home to.

 

With protecting Carly and A.J.

 

John had to believe he could trust that when push came to shove the vigilante would help him find and bring his brother's killer to justice.

 

BAM-BAM-BAM!

 

It'd be easier, though, if John Diggle was sure that justice was what he wanted.

 

BAM! BAM! BAM!

Chapter Text

Oliver Queen's P.O.V.

 

Oliver paused just before the living room entrance, listening to the chatter of his mother and sister's voices within.

 

They were speaking too softly for him to make out their exact words over the television blaring about the latest ladies' fashion, but what they were saying wasn't all that important. It was the familiarity of their voices he was really listening to. Voices he'd never forgotten, per say, but had had to not think about over too many days; when missing family or remembering the sounds of a loved one's voice was a distraction, a luxury he couldn't afford himself if he wanted to keep on surviving. To get back to them.

 

This wasn't the first time since getting back that he'd just listened to them talk like this: just indulged himself in their unwary, carefree presence.

 

Except they weren't carefree.

 

The last time he'd listened like this, from this exact spot, his stepfather had been in there with them. And while Walter Steele—his mother's new husband, his dead father's old  friend and coworker—wasn't someone Oliver had known enough to miss before, he did miss him now.

 

He missed that deep, refined voice that was supposed to be in there with them. That was supposed to be filling the void that Robert Queen's death had left behind.

 

The man that his mother was at ease with; could trust and take comfort from.

 

The man that Thea could turn to, even as a rebellious teenager, for a father's love.

 

The man that was more than willing to be there for Oliver, too, if he'd let him. That'd helped him at Queen Consolidated; even going against his wife a few times, for her son's sake, his stepson's sake. That'd helped him handle the legal system: returning from the dead, and then with Detective Lance and the S.C.P.D.

 

Walter Steele was always willing to help. Determined to, even. Because it was the right thing to do. That, Oliver was sure, was also what'd led to Felicity helping him and continuing to look for him now. Though part of that was the simple fact that that helpfulness as the very core was a trait she shared with the missing Englishman.

 

He didn't deserve whatever had happened to him. Whether he was long dead; murdered, or kept alive; a prisoner somewhere for who knows how much longer.

 

And, in a way, his loss—his absence from the Queen family—was even worse than the first father and husband they'd all lost. It was just as sudden. There was no indication of his survival, or if he'd be back soon, somehow, or gone years. But worse; he'd never really taken Robert Queen's place.

 

Oliver's father would forever be missed. Would forever belong in their world. In the world he'd been forced to leave all too soon, thanks to a sabotaged boat. Sabotage that his mother knew about...

 

Walter was a band-aid over that wound. Maybe even a bandage. He helped them, all of them, heal somewhat. But under that bandage was a scar that was still more of scab; rough and sensitive and always there. And now that he'd been taken away, that bandage and scab was ripped up, too. The wound was all torn up and bloody; healing undone.

 

They were healing again. Slowly but surely.

 

Much more so his mother and sister than him, of course. For Oliver it was more wondering what he'd missed, what threat to his family had escaped his notice and thus taken his stepfather. And watching their pain.

 

Because Walter was still supposed to be here. A missed voice in that room. With the wife and stepdaughter that missed him even as they kept soldiering on.

 

Oliver shook the thoughts off, taking a deep breath, then he walked into the room.

 

Thea was partially facing the door, so she spotted him right away. "Ooh," she admired as she picked up the remote to mute the television. "What's with the fancy-fancy?"

 

From the opposite end of the couch, their mother looked up from their reading, turning slightly in her seat to look him up and down approvingly. "You look very handsome, Oliver."

 

"Thanks," Oliver answered their mother first, before looking at his sister. "I have a date," he admitted as he buttoned his suit jacket even though his mother's inspection was already over and he'd passed. "Contrary to popular opinion, I do have a life."

 

Both women looked at him for a moment, clearly curious, though Thea's curiosity was tinged with some sisterly amusement as she spoke up first.

 

"Then why do you seem so nervous?"

 

Oliver blinked, glancing down at the hands that were still hovering over his waistline, though the jacket had already been buttoned in a quick movement that was too routine to require thought. "Is is obvious?" he asked, dropping his hands to his sides as he made himself looked back at his amusedly smiling female family members.

 

"Just be your charming and brooding self," his smirking sister shook her head, rolling her eyes as she finished. "I mean, girls seem to dig that."

 

Oliver sighed, "This girl is... different." He shook his head, pretending not to notice just how closely both Queen women were watching him. "She didn't know me before the island, when I was..." he trailed off, shaking his head again. "She doesn't care about any of that."

 

"Is that good?" Thea asked uncertainly; every time she'd tried to talk to him about the five years he'd been missing, and everything he'd missed, in her eyes.

 

This was getting more personal than he was really comfortable with, especially with his mother still watching silently, so Oliver just shrugged. "It's why she's easy to talk to, I think," he smiled slightly as he finished. "That and her conversation style. She's... very honest. And she babbles." He couldn't say the last part without a widening of his smile, that both intently watching women noticed.

 

"That's good," Thea decided, smiling sincerely back at him. "I'm glad you're talking to someone."

 

"Yes," their mother finally spoke up then, a small smile also on her lips as she raised an eyebrow at him. "I don't suppose you know her name yet?"

 

Oliver winced, shaking his head immediately. "She's not... that girl, mom. I met her a few months ago." He hesitated a moment, then added, "She works at Q.C. Walter recommended her when I needed computer help."

 

All true, though it was also a very deliberate twist of those truths that neatly avoided vigilantism, gunshot wounds and everything else. Adding Walter's referral was meant to help with the fact that she worked at their family company. And it seemed to work, though their missing family member's name made both women flinch ever so slightly, some of that small amount of judgment disappeared from the Queen matriarch's eyes, which were slowly becoming more curiously calculating than disapproving.

 

"She works in the I.T Department?" Moira nodded slowly. "Yes, Tommy mentioned she worked at Queen Consolidated. Though Mister Diggle indicated you weren't dating?"

 

Oliver met her gaze steadily even as his sister's gaze kept shooting back and forth between them. "We weren't." He shrugged. "We were trying the friends thing for a while."

 

"Wait," Thea was frowning now. "Tommy's met her?"

 

"I asked her to Tommy's birthday dinner, as a friend," Oliver confirmed, shrugging again.

 

"Wow... I didn't know you could move that slow," Thea mumbled, shrugging innocently when both of them looked at her. "What?" She raised an eyebrow at him. "It sounds like you haven't even slept with her yet." When he just kept looking back at her, not reacting, her other eyebrow joined its partner up by her hairline. "You haven't?"

 

"There's nothing wrong with taking your time, Thea," their mother chided her gently, some of that fading disapproval returning; this time to be turned towards her teenage daughter.

 

"Well, no, I guess, but for Ollie it's weird." Thea shook her head, completely ignoring their mother's frown and her brother's barely hidden amusement at it. Then her surprised shifted suddenly to amused consideration, making Oliver almost immediately wary. "She's not into the no sex before marriage thing, is she? Cause I'm pretty sure that wouldn't work for you."

 

"Thea!" The look Moira Queen gave her daughter now was scandalized. "That's enough." Her expression gentled, however, as her daughter subsided and sunk back into the couch cushions as she looked back at her son. "And does this exemplary employee have a name, Oliver?"

 

He let himself wince again. "She really doesn't want us dating to effect her career at all, Mom."

 

"And that's admirable," Moira approved, her expression staying expectant. "But I would still like to meet her." She looked thoughtful for a moment, so he waited for what was coming next, then she nodded. "Your club will be opening in just a few days."

 

Oliver blinked again, honestly surprised she'd let him put introductions off even that long. "Uh, yeah. Sure," he agreed. Hoping that didn't mean she'd go looking for Felicity at Q.C before the opening of Verdant.

 

"I assume she'll be there?"

 

"I haven't asked her yet," he replied honestly. It was something he had to ask about, and soon, but asking about another date before they'd even gone on their first seemed a little overconfident. And Oliver would like to think he was mostly past that phase. At least when it came to dating.

 

"No, that would be presumptuous, I suppose," Moira agreed, as if what she was expecting her son to say now wasn't. "Well, assuming all continues to go well, we shall see her here."

 

"Really?" Thea glanced between them again, her brows furrowing a little in incredulity. "That's, like, days away."

 

Oliver chuckled, "You'll live."

 

"But Tommy's already met her!" his sister complained indignantly. Then she blinked, her indignation giving way to what looked like shock. "Wait. You took her to Tommy's birthday party? With Laurel?" She blinked at him again when he just nodded. "Really?"

 

"Tommy indicated he and Laurel both liked her," Moira interjected, as though that was what had her daughter staring at her son rather than all the unmentioned baggage that came with Laurel dating Tommy now and all of them still being friendly.

 

"She didn't say anything at C.N.R.I," Thea scowled, like her sort-of-friend turned supervisor had intentionally denied her a treat.

 

"She's had a lot on her mind, Thea," Moira reminded her daughter, her expression darkening a little with worry as she looked back at her son. "How is Tommy, by the way? That night..." she swallowed, shaking her head. "That must've been horrible for him."

 

Watching her now, Oliver was again seized by the conviction that his mother couldn't want to kill Tommy's father. How could she? He was practically a second son to her.

 

Please don't take me from my children! They've lost their father. They can't lose me, too...

 

But... she knew.

 

Whatever his father's cryptic, nonspecific request of righting their families wrongs in Starling City was about, she knew what he really meant.

 

I already told you that I knew Robert's yacht was sabotaged...

 

If the Queen family was involved in something that affected the city as a whole, something that'd brought them great wealth and power at the expense of others before becoming something his father just couldn't stomach...

 

Well, Malcolm Merlyn would almost certainly be involved also. And he was always—or at least as far back as Oliver could really remember—more coldhearted than Oliver's own father ever was.

 

And he could kill. With brutal efficiency.

 

Yes, it was a clear case of self-defense. That he'd been protecting Tommy, and himself, couldn't be plainer in that security footage.

 

But since no questions whatsoever had been raised about it, obviously the S.C.P.D, for whatever reason, hadn't even bothered to ask for that particular fight's footage. Undoubtedly attributing it to the vigilante and not really caring about the deaths of two Triad hitmen enough to really look into it. At this point, though, it was likely that the footage wasn't there to be found. That camera wasn't working that night, the lens was dirty, the Triad cut the electricity to that region trying to affect the separate electric grid that powered the penthouse safe room... something like that.

 

The fact remained, though, that Malcolm Merlyn could fight. Could kill as effectively as Oliver himself could...

 

So perhaps, from that perspective, Oliver might be able to grasp his mother maybe hiring the Triad to kill Tommy's father and only really regretting it for Tommy's sake. It wasn't like Tommy and his dad were ever close, but still... she probably hadn't even expected him to be there that night, come to think of it. Why would she, all things considering?

 

"Oliver?" his mother's voice forced him out of his musings. "Is Tommy alright?"

 

Seeing Thea, too, looking concerned now made Oliver realize he'd been thinking much too long, so he nodded quickly. "Yeah, I guess. He's really thrown himself into getting the club ready to open." He shook his head. "Hasn't really wanted to talk about... that."

 

Thea wrinkled her nose. "You know, the suffering in silence thing isn't really that hot. Actually, it's pretty not. Not hot, I mean."

 

Oliver laughed shortly, "I'll tell him you said that."

 

"Good." His sister approved, then tilted her head sideways. "You still haven't told us her name."

 

Oliver rolled his eyes, but since his mother really already knew there was no point in not telling the both of them. "It's Felicity. Felicity Smoak." He glanced over at the clock on the mantel then. "And I've gotta get going. Our reservation's for eight." He turned back towards the doorway, but stopped when he reached it to look back at his mother. "Mom?"

 

"Yes, dear?"

 

"Could you, um, not give Felicity a hard time at work?" He asked clumsily, tacking on before her small frown could deepen. "Please? For me?"

 

His mother sighed, "You know, you really should be past the stage of not wanting me to meet your girlfriends, Oliver. But," she nodded regally, looking for all the world like she was the one born a Queen as she gave him a soft smile. "If it makes you feel better, I'll promise to wait until Saturday night."

 

"Thank you," Oliver nodded, flashing her his widest smile. It didn't come easily now, except around Felicity, but this particular situation seemed to call for it. "I've gotta go."

 

"Yes," His mother replied. "Ricky's waiting out front for you. Have fun."

 

"We won't wait up!" Thea shouted after him. "You know, just in case she stops making you wait!"

 

Oliver rolled his eyes, but he was still smiling slightly as he headed out the door, nodding to the driver that was waiting for him.

 

"Good evening, sir," his mother's longtime driver greeted him evenly as he held the door of one of the Queens' limos open for him.

 

"Good evening, Ricky," Oliver returned as he climbed into the car.

 

It wasn't the longest limousine the family owned, but like all the others it had the privacy glass that prevented pictures by the paparazzi of whoever was inside the car. Not of any help when they arrived at a public place they planned to get out at, but it give the option of choosing to just turn around if necessary. And for security concerns it was obviously much more effective, but none of them really liked riding around during the day, or really whenever they didn't have to. Still, there were times when it helped to have them, and if he was spotted at the club it'd be a good means of escape if it did make the hornet-like photographers swarm. At least then they'd only be able to sting along the walkway between the private club's entrance and the vehicle itself.

 

Hopefully, of course, there would be no photos at all involved. Or, if there were, it'd just be someone with a smartphone inside the club wondering who Felicity was. As was the case with how a photo of him and Helena had ended up in the tabloids despite the brevity of their real relationship. Or, you know, no photographs at all. But Oliver had really never been that much of an optimist.

 

"Digg tell you the address?" he asked as the driver climbed in up front.

 

"Yes sir," Ricky replied as he shifted out of park; not needing to turn the limousine on because it'd been idling in the driveway, engine hot and interior warm as it awaited its passengers. "Any other stops along the way?" When Oliver didn't answer right away, he recommended, "Missus Queen thought you might like to stop at the florist?"

 

"Right, flowers," Oliver snapped his fingers as he fought the urge to roll his eyes at his mother's meddling, even if it was the helpful sort. "That'd be a good idea," he nodded. "Do we have time?"

 

"Plenty, sir," his mother's longtime driver confirmed as he drove through the gates as soon as they opened enough for the limo to safely pass without risking the car; a mark of just how long he'd been driver for the family. "Missus Queen asked Sherwood Florist's to have several bouquets ready."

 

'Of course she did,' Oliver thought, but didn't let himself say. Instead he replied, "I'll have to remember to thank her. Sherwood's, what, ten minutes out?"

 

"Maybe a little less, sir." Ricky answered. "Miss Smoak's home is only a short distance from there." Meaning they'd arrive with plenty of time for the pair to make it to the restaurant on time.

 

"Great." Oliver approved, ignoring the fact the driver already knew Felicity's name. While he may have learned it from Moira Queen, Digg was the one that'd briefed the man for the trip with addresses, times, etc. Considering quenching Oliver's mother's curiosity was part of all this—was, in fact, the only reason he wasn't driving one of the sports cars he'd inherited from his dad or the handful he'd bought for himself over the years before The Gambit—it just wasn't worth worrying about.

 

Ricky Turner was, of course, a competent and reliable driver. He wouldn't have lasted seven going on eight years as Moira Queen's primary chauffer if he wasn't. That Digg had been able to push him around as much as he had—especially getting him to take some sick days so that the bodyguard could 'cover'—was more of a surprise to Oliver than his smooth, steady hand at the wheel could ever be.

 

Sherwood Florist was the flower shop his mother, along with most of Starling City's elite, had been loyal customers to for as long as Oliver could remember. All of the bouquets that Raisa regularly ordered to fill the house, and the additional ones for special occasions all came from the same shop that Laurel's great grandmother had started back when the city itself was first forming.

 

That shop was one of the reasons the Lance sisters had been able to attend the same schools as a Queen and Merlyn growing up; while their father was a beat-cop that eventually made it up to detective, now a sergeant, their mother came from some money. The renowned flower shop passed down to her mother, and her father a known name in banking. Neither ever anywhere near billionaires, but easily able to support their granddaughters through school even in their golden years, probably with a considerable amount of money left to the former Missus Lance when her parents died; both before Laurel had graduated from high school. So the sentiment she might attached to flower arrangements was something he understood even then.

 

None of Oliver's grandparents were still around to see him enter high school. His paternal grandmother dead to cancer years before Robert met Moira and her husband barely hanging on long enough to see their wedding. Both of his mom's parents were at that wedding, and occasional visitors when he was growing up, too, but neither one was still around by the time Thea was born.

 

Oliver could remember stopping here more than once as a child. His mother explaining that every flower had its own meaning and thus bouquets were not necessarily just pretty, fragrant decorations, but messages, too. Not that the language of flowers had really interested young Ollie back then, when he'd rather visit his father at the office and get a soda out of it, or even when he'd started to be interested in girls. He could remember his mother stepping in like this more than once though; especially when it came to Laurel.

 

It'd irritated Oliver a little as an independent teenager (that at least semi-rebellious stage that Thea was in right now), but even teenage Ollie could appreciate it from time to time, too. After all, even with her mother being a law professor and her dad a cop, odds were that the Lance girls' grandmother had taught her granddaughters a thing or two before she died, so those 'messages' might be something Laurel was looking for in flowers. The standard, expensive bouquets worked for things like those early dates, dances and each prom, but the ones that effectively said 'sorry' every time he screwed up—sometimes sent without him even knowing of it till she called to thank him for them—went a long way towards helping Laurel forgive again, and again, and again. And again; many more times over.

 

It'd been enough of a staple of their so-called relationship that he'd almost gone with Slade's sarcastically offered suggestion that he show up with flowers for her. But somehow stopping at the flower shop that now belonged to her mother to buy flowers to say; 'I'm sorry I cheated on you with your sister and got her killed' didn't seem like a good idea. It probably would've gotten him much worse than the harsh, burn-in-hell response his flowerless apology had gotten him.

 

Still, remembering all of that, it wasn't at all surprising that his mother had told Ricky to stop for flowers along the way. And Oliver supposed he could be glad, at least, that she was at least letting him pick. Though that likely had more to do with the fact that she hadn't even met Felicity and knew next to nothing about her, more anything else. The wide array of extravagant bouquets that were waiting for him when he got there, comprised of many more types of flowers than one would generally expect to find mid-March, clearly displayed that.

 

But knowing what a few flowers meant wasn't much help here. Yes, he knew some of the messages they could supposedly say thanks to those childhood lessons, but said lessons had never made much sense to him. Not when many flowers had multiple meanings and the receiver was somehow just supposed to know which one you meant. Felicity had never mentioned what her favorite flowers were, why would she? So all he could really do here was guess. Roses seemed safe, which was probably why they were incorporated into more than half of the already prepared bouquets. She favored vibrant colors in her wardrobe when she wasn't disguising herself; contrasting bright pinks with vivid purples. So he picked the collection of pink roses that had something purple added to them, all artfully centered around one big red rose in the middle that reminded him of both the red pen she'd been chewing on that first day he introduced himself in her office and the red lipsticks she tended to wear that also always reminded him of that pen.

 

It was as Oliver was leaving the florists, however, that something else caught his attention. Not by sight; there were so many flowers crammed into the little shop even in the wintertime that just picking something by sight from all around wasn't really an easy task. No, he didn't spot the flower by sight; his nose noticed it.

 

It was the same smell as her shampoo. The same smell that filled her candlelit apartment, from what he'd seen, every night. The softly sweet, floral scent that made him think of sunshine. Of Felicity.

 

"Mister Queen?" the head florist, Bethany, was quick to come out from behind the counter as he stopped, halfway to the door. "Would you like something else?"

 

Oliver ignored her and the girl that was also hovering just behind her for a few seconds, slowly moving towards the scent with careful steps as he sought its soft aroma out in between the many more punchy, bold blooms that tried to distract him, till he was standing front of a big bouquet of little white flowers that looked like stars on their dark green canopy of leaves. "What is this?" he asked, stepping to the side so the two florists could see what he'd stopped for.

 

The younger girl blushed, but said nothing as her supervisor smiled and nodded approvingly.

 

"Jasmine," Bethany answered immediately. "One of our more exotic treasures. Not the easiest blossom to grow in this climate, even in the greenhouses, but it's a beauty, isn't it?"

 

Oliver nodded, glancing at his watch before he handed the flowers he'd picked a moment ago back to her. "Can you add them to this, please?"

 

"Of course, right away," the woman agreed, her cheerful eagerness—even in the face of staying open a few more minutes after already staying open hours later than their normal closing time just because Moira Queen had asked her to—likely having a lot to do with mentioned difficulty growing the added flowers. There weren't any prices listed on many of the bouquets; if you had to ask you probably couldn't afford them, but  'hard to grow' here and 'exotic' both meant they'd cost more than most. Not that any member of the Queen family would notice or care.

 

"You know, jasmine's said to be one of the great aphrodisiacs," the blushing teenager—that'd probably stayed late at her after school job just because she heard he was going to be here—finally spoke up.

 

Oliver gave her a small, amused smile that only made her cheeks turn even redder, her soft voice apparently leaving her again as her supervisor replied.

 

"Yes," Bethany agreed lightly as she wove the collections of star-like flowers in among the pink and purple blooms, the red rose still precisely centered. "That goes back to Cleopatra being the first known to use its perfume. Hold that, Jennie," she directed, going on with a shrug as her young coworker obeyed, helping her by holding some of the bigger flowers in place while the little white ones were woven through. "Maybe there's some truth to it. It's used in countless perfumes, after all, but I don't know how much stock I put in that sort of thing. There we go," she smiled widely as she finished, starting to rewrap it in all knew fabric even as he handed one of his black credit cards back to the younger florist.

 

Oliver was still headed out only a few minutes after he'd gone in, Ricky getting them back on the road towards Felicity's home with plenty of time to spare. He spent the entire drive there contemplating the flowers rather than the time. Trying to remember when the last time was that he'd bought flowers for someone himself.

 

Obviously it was before The Gambit went down. Before that entire trip and everything surrounding it.

 

Had he even bought Laurel flowers in the months before that, though? He didn't think so. The flowers for Valentine's Day Raisa had handed to him as he was leaving the mansion for that disastrous date. The last bunch he could remember picking at Sherwood's personally was for her birthday. In November. Almost a whole year before The Gambit...

 

Maybe that was why Oliver didn't want to set this bouquet down? He used to think nothing of tossing the collections of flowers on the seat next to him, or sometimes dropping them on the floor as he drove or was driven over to Laurel's. After all, what did it matter if they lost a few petals?

 

Staring at those delicate little white flowers though, with their soft, light but heady aroma already filling up the inside of the car, Oliver couldn't bring himself to put them down any further than his lap. It seemed as stupidly sentimental as Slade had thought him gazing constantly at Laurel's picture was, back before burns and madness had taken his brother from him. But it felt right, too.

 

The limousine stopped in front of Felicity's home only a few minutes later, as promised, but even though they weren't even close to late Oliver had to make himself sit still, waiting impatiently, as Ricky rounded the vehicle to open the door right in front of her walkway.

 

"We'll be right out," Oliver nodded to him as he went by.

 

Another thing he wouldn't have bothered with before. Respecting 'the help.' Raisa was really a special case for both the Queen children; in the practical sense she'd been the one raising Oliver, and Tommy, for most of his childhood, and then Thea, too, years later. But almost everyone else may as well have been invisible most of the time. They'd always been there, doing their jobs; what they were paid to do, so what was there to thank them for? After his five years 'away,' however, it was sometimes harder not to say thank you when it'd seem out of place. Or out of character... and no, he didn't like what that said about his supposed character.

 

Oliver didn't get the chance to knock on Felicity's door this time, she opened it before he'd set foot on the steps. For a second he stopped and stared.

 

Green.

 

His green. She was dressed, head to foot in a glittery green dress. A dress that under all the shimmering and glitter was the exact same shade as the hood.

 

Felicity smiled widely, visibly pleased by his stunned appraisal when most women would be waiting for him to find the right words. "Are those for me?" she asked, an edge of laughter in her voice that made him smile in response.

 

Oliver swallowed, then made himself climb the steps to finally hand the bouquet over. "Of course," he replied, making himself swallow again when the words didn't come quite as easily as they should.

 

"Thank you," Felicity nodded dutifully, her smile stretching as she looked the gift. "Jasmine," she approved, her eyes dropping shut as she buried her nose in the flowers and breathed the scent in, her nose angled towards the little white stars rather than any of the roses. "My favorite."

 

Oliver nodded slowly, a little amazed by the feeling blossoming in his chest. It seemed odd to feel so proud at just figuring out what her favorite flower was. But, watching her entire face light up as she saw the bouquet—as she closed her green-shadowed eyes a moment to savor the smell—that was what he felt.

 

That didn't mean that he missed that her dark green eye-shadow could be the real make-up equivalent of his grease-paint. It, too, was that exact same shade of green.

 

"Come in," Felicity waived him inside, turning towards her little kitchenette. "Let me just put these in water."

 

"Sure," Oliver agreed easily as he followed her, stopping in the her tidy, sweetly scented little living room as she grabbed a glass vase out of the shelf over the refrigerator. Wondering as he watched her fill it with water and free the flowers from their confines to carefully place them in it, if she was mocking him or just wearing his colors for the same reason she had an arrow in her ear. Though that he couldn't actually see, with her hair not up in her typical ponytail her ears were hidden by those long shimmering waves of gold draping down in a lavish fall around her head and shoulders.

 

Felicity stepped back from her counter to consider the arrangement for a moment, then nodded in satisfaction before she turned and walked back to him with another wide smile. "All set," she approved, stopping in front of him and then pressed a kiss to his cheek so quickly he could only blink at her as she did it. "Thank you."

 

Oliver swallowed again before the perfunctory response, "You're welcome." He replied as he looked her up and down, offering her his arm by rote even as he realized that she was several inches taller thanks to the shoes she was wearing, which were also green, their pointed toes and very high heels the same dark shade as his arrowheads. "You look gorgeous." He dutifully remarked, better late than never.

 

"And as expected; you are devastatingly handsome in a suit," Felicity shook her head as she gave him the same once over, wrinkling her nose playfully as she met his gaze again. "And you already know about the problem with my mouth, so if I say something it's entirely your fault."

 

Oliver chuckled as she looped her arm through his, "And yet you're the one in green tonight."

 

Felicity laughed, "I thought you'd like that." She slipped her arm free as soon as they reached her front steps again.

 

Oliver waited patiently while she closed and locked her door, immediately offering her his arm again to help her down the steps and the brick walkway that those heels might make dangerous. So he reached out to steady her automatically when she suddenly stopped; her spine stiffening for barely a second that he wouldn't have noticed if he wasn't paying attention to her every step. "What's wrong?" he asked, frowning down at her—even in the ridiculous heels he was still several inches taller than her—as she forced a small smile in response.

 

"Nothing," Felicity shook her head, glancing down the street as the roar of a motorcycle came down the street a little ways ahead of the machine itself. "Sorry. I just forgot to do something at work," she shrugged slightly. "I'll just have to remember it tomorrow morning. We should get going. We might be late. I wouldn't actually know, would I? Since I don't have any idea where we're going except that it's Italian."

 

"We'll be fine," Oliver replied, continuing down the path. But now his eyes were on the biker; because he'd pulled into the driveway across the street before killing the engine and dismounting, taking his helmet off as he turned towards them.

 

"Good evening, Nick," Felicity called politely as the man started walking closer.

 

Oliver frowned as the other man gave her the same appreciative once-over he himself had a minute ago, though his irritation subsided a little when the motorcyclist didn't leer, only raising an eyebrow at her. Trying to place the man who was obviously her neighbor by his first name and address, but not putting two and two together until the light of a nearby streetlight glinted off of the badge by the gun at his waist.

 

Detective Nicholas Cassidy. Newest member of the S.C.P.D's major case squad; who'd specifically requested the transfer to the vigilante taskforce. And Felicity's newest neighbor of a few weeks now. 

 

"Evening, Felicity," Nick nodded back to her, then nodded to Oliver as well. "Mister Queen."

 

Oliver nodded back, resignedly used to being recognized by complete strangers. Even if they had just recently moved to Starling City, the story of Oliver's return from the dead had been national news for at least a few days last fall. And any new detective on the vigilante case would've had to read up on the only man ever arrested but not charged for the vigilante's crimes thus far. He stayed quiet as Felicity spoke up again.

 

"Oliver, this is Detective Nick Cassidy. He works with Detective Lance. Nick, you seem to already know this is Oliver Queen." She paused, then asked lightly, "Any luck on the case?"

 

"Nothing new," the detective snorted. "You probably would've heard before me, if there was. Most tips seem to go to the news stations before the cops these days." He shook his head. "Where are you off to?"

 

"I have no idea," Felicity answered honestly. "We'll be eating Italian food tonight. That's all he's told me."

 

"Didn't think you liked surprises."

 

"There's exceptions to every rule." The blonde shrugged. "I also know our reservation's for eight, though, and I'm not wearing a watch but that's sometime soon, so we'd better be going. Have a nice night, Nick."

 

"You, too, Felicity." Detective Cassidy replied, the slight smirk he'd given her falling before he nodded to him again. "Mister Queen."

 

"Detective," Oliver nodded back again, before helping Felicity slide into the backseat of the limo via the door that Ricky had been holding open for them since they reappeared on the steps. As he climbed in behind her and Ricky shut the door after him, he thought about the detective he'd just met—now one of three detectives he'd met who was working directly on 'his' case—but decided there really wasn't much to say.

 

Obviously Felicity had better hearing than him, though; if she'd heard that motorcycle coming a few solid seconds before him. And, just as obviously, she'd known it was her motorcycle-riding neighbor that happened to be an S.C.P.D detective working to put them behind bars. If Oliver was going to say anything about it, it'd have to be a question about if the detective's proximity was problematic enough to merit moving, but that wasn't something they should be talking about on their first real date.

 

"You don't have to worry about Nick."

 

Apparently she disagreed.

 

Oliver didn't answer as Ricky climbed in up front and pulled back on the road, once again not needing to turn the car on because he'd never turned it off. "Let us know if there're any problems, Ricky, okay?"

 

"Yes, sir," the driver replied respectfully once again.

 

"Thanks," Oliver replied, before hitting the button to close the partition that'd give them privacy, checking to make sure the light wasn't on for the speaker system before he looked at his date again. "You don't think he'll give you trouble?" He raised an eyebrow. "Even if he sees your earring?"

 

"Nick's harmless, Oliver," Felicity reassured him, sounding so completely confident that he couldn't help staring at her. "Really, he is."

 

She sounded sure about that. Surer than she really should be considering the man legally carried a gun around and was part of the task force in charge of arresting him, and maybe her and Digg with him. Not to mention she'd only met the man a few weeks or so ago. But he didn't have any reason to doubt her judgment either.

 

Oliver gave her a small smile. "Might want to make sure he doesn't see your earring anyway."

 

"Oh, he's seen it already," Felicity shrugged as he blinked at her. "He thinks I'm openly mocking him." She nodded, then smirked slightly. "Which I guess I kind of am."

 

"And here I thought you might be mocking me," Oliver smirked at her.

 

"Would I do that?" she replied, all wide-eyed faux-innocence as she grinned at him, her eyes especially bright because of the dark shadows and mascara that was framing them in place of her usual glasses.

 

"Yes," He kept smirking right back. "I seem to remember you comparing my mask to make-up more than once."

 

That made her roll her eyes, "You don't have a mask, Oliver. You have eye-shadow aiding real shadows. And it can be defeated by a flashlight or one too well-lit room."

 

Oliver sighed, glancing at the unlit light that confirmed the intercom still wasn't on (trusting that light because it was something Digg had already checked out earlier in the day just to be safe), then met her gaze again. "Then find me a mask that doesn't affect my ability to aim while I'm on the run."

 

Felicity blinked, then looked away, her waves of golden hair glimmering with the movement and again when she looked back at him. "You've tried fabrics that conform to your face?"

 

"Cloth moves."

 

"More leather?"

 

"Too thick," Oliver shook his head. "Blocks my peripheral vision."

 

"Your peripheral vision inside the hood."

 

"The hood's not—it's far enough away that I still have peripheral vision as long as I keep moving, which is when I need it; to aim." Oliver tried to explain. "It's limited, but not unworkable. Adding a mask limits me even more; to practically tunnel-vision."

 

"And tunnel-vision is bad, literally and figuratively," Felicity nodded slowly, "So the mask has to conform closer to your face?" she barely waited for Oliver's nod before going on. "I'll start looking into compressible fabrics—"

 

"Later," Oliver interrupted, reaching up to catch her chin and gently turn her head back towards him, holding her gaze as she blinked at him. "We're not supposed to be working tonight. Remember?" he smirked at her. "You were very clear about that on the phone. I got the message. Digg did, too. That's why we stole my mom's driver."

 

"No," the blonde rolled her eyes again, shifting to tug her chin free as she went on. "You stole your mom's driver because you and Digg are being over-protective. Again."

 

"We're not—"

 

"Oliver," she interrupted him firmly, her gaze incredulous. "You're trying to protect me from your mother."

 

"You're welcome."

 

"No, I'm not thanking you, because it's silly," Felicity insisted. "Even if she—"

 

He put a finger to her lips then, glancing towards the thankfully still unlit speaker button, then nodding towards the front.

 

"What? We can talk about make-up and masks, but not your mom?" Felicity asked dryly as soon as he dropped his finger from her glossy lips.

 

Oliver held her gaze a moment, then sighed. "What happened to 'no work tonight'?" He watched her eyes drop shut as she sighed too.

 

"You're right," Felicity answered softly, opening her eyes to meet his again. "I'm sorry."

 

"No," Oliver shook his head, his smile as gentle as he could make it; though that wasn't hard when she looked so crestfallen. "This is...new. For both of us. Not talking about 'work,'" he nodded, his lips quirking a little when hers did, too, at the word. "That's what we've usually talked about, so..."

 

"We're going to slip back into it every now and then?"

 

Oliver nodded, "But let's keep trying, okay?"

 

"Okay," she answered softly, voice still a little tremulous. But at least she was still meeting his eyes; not looking away.

 

Oliver searched for a new topic that wasn't related to 'work,' half hoping the car would stop at the restaurant soon. Give them both the break of the walk inside and then the menus to hide behind for a bit. But if they were where he thought they were—the windows were great for privacy but made it impossible to see anything outside at night—then they still had at least a few more minutes to go. "So... why's jasmine your favorite flower? The smell?" he asked, adding the last bit because the question felt weak, but he was quickly becoming fond of that soft, sunny scent himself.

 

Felicity's prettily painted face shifted, becoming lighter and yet sadder in response. "Yes." Her small smile was definitely sad, her eyes distant as she thought about it. "It reminds me of my mother. So it... it means home to me."

 

Oliver frowned slightly, not sure he wanted to keep pressing when the topic seemed to sadden her. But she was still smiling a little, and he didn't understand why thinking about her mother would automatically make her sad, so he asked, "Your mother?"

 

Sure, Donna Smoak and her daughter didn't seem to talk a lot, as far as he could tell. In fact, Felicity had only mentioned her once from what he remembered; most of what he knew about the cocktail waitress that'd raised her in the city of sin was from his background research into Felicity herself. Considering part of her paycheck did go to the woman every month though, it seemed unlikely that they were anymore estranged than the distance between Starling City and Las Vegas created naturally.

 

"Yes," Felicity nodded, her eyes distant as she went on. "Jasmine was her favorite, too. She had it planted all around the pal—place. All around our home. The green vines and leaves crawling up the garden walls, white blossoms blooming everywhere all summer long..."

 

Her smile wasn't just sad, he realized as he watched her now: it was fond, too. Remembering.

 

"They grew up around the doorways and the windows, too. The scent seeped into everything... so that even when it was too cold, I could still smell them everywhere. I used to fall asleep to that smell, every night." She finished fondly, shrugging. "So I notice, when it's missing..."

 

Oliver was smiling slightly as she trailed off, able to relate to fond memories of childhood. But then he realized that what she was saying didn't really add up with what he already knew of her, and frowned in confusion. "In Vegas?"

 

From what he understood, Felicity had lived with her hardworking cocktail waitress mother until she graduated high school early, then traveled across the country to M.I.T. Her father was never in the picture. But Las Vegas was pretty much the same climate as Starling City, so... He just wasn't sure how an expensive, exotic, and 'hard to grow in cold climates' plant could fit into that. Not the way she described it. Not even exaggerated by fondness for something from her childhood.

 

"What?" Felicity blinked, then shook her head slowly. "No..." she answered just as slowly, biting her lip a moment, then explaining. "I was adopted, actually... Donna Smoak she... she wasn't my birth mother."

 

"She wasn't?" Oliver repeated, because the nonspecific clarification was the only response he could think of when faced with the realization (again) that his so-called 'background' check of her had pretty much been useless. So it really was a good thing she was both harmless and too good a person for even him to doubt that.

 

"No. My..." Felicity swallowed. "My first mother she... she died..." She closed her eyes on another painful looking swallow, then finished. "A long time ago."

 

"I'm sorry," Oliver winced again, the appropriate response falling from his mouth automatically, but nonetheless sincere.

 

"Don't be," the blonde shook her head hard enough to make her long hair rustle around her shoulders with the abrupt motion. Then she swallowed one more time, before forcing a smile as she met his eyes again for just a moment before looking away. Remembering again. "It's good to remember. It'll always hurt, of course, but it's not like I'd ever choose to forget her. Memories are all we really have left of loved ones, once they're gone."

 

"That's...true," Oliver agreed slowly, maybe unconsciously mimicking her patient pace as he studied her, wondering what it was just then that made her seem so...

 

Wise? World weary? Maybe a bit of both, but something else, too.

 

She was bright and beautiful. Always. Those were her norms; both words fitting her oh so well in more ways than one. In just about every way those particular words could fit someone.

 

But sometimes there was something more there. Something... fascinating. Maybe not quite the right word, because that was more the effect than the quality he couldn't accurately name in his own mind as he watched her think about a loved one lost; her eyes clearly seeing into her past as he watched her in their present.

 

Because it was easier just to focus on her; to let himself be drawn in. Even though Oliver knew she was right, contemplating the past (and the future) like that had never been something he cared for. Not on the personal level.

 

Strategy and missions were one thing, just like studying someone's history was a key part of determining how they should react to having an arrow aimed at them. But getting bogged down in doubts towards the future or regrets from the past was still something Oliver tried to avoid as much as he could. It did mean that thinking about the fallen—Akio, Slade, Sara, Shado, Yao Fei, his father, and far too many others—was something he only really did with a strong drink in hand. Or, more than once since coming home, in the nightmares his subconscious haunted his short sleeping hours with.

 

"But I'm the one that should apologize," the spell broke as Felicity's face fell into a rueful smile. "We're supposed to be having fun tonight."

 

"No," Oliver shook his head firmly. "I asked." He continued as she just looked at him again, answering seriousness with seriousness even though he'd rather see her smile and laugh and babble again. "And we're really supposed to be getting to know one another, right? Now I know you were adopted  and your biological mom was a green thumb." That surprised a burst of laughter from her, and he returned her smile with a nod.

 

Though he was starting to wonder if Ricky might be lost. Or had just taken them on a pretty massive detour. Like all the way around the city instead of straight to the restaurant.

 

"What about you?" Felicity asked, her tone significantly lighter as she smiled again, her eyes brightening a bit more as she asked, "What's your favorite flower?"

 

Oliver blinked, then laughed himself. "Can't say I've ever thought about it," he admitted with a shrug.

 

And he really hadn't. Even with Laurel's grandmother owning the city's leading flower shop, it wasn't the sort of thing Ollie ever thought about personally. He associated flowers with girls. Laurel's favorites were lily of the valley paired with alstroemeria—a bouquet he'd bought her pretty much every other week after they'd graduated high school till that Valentines' disaster. His mom liked snapdragons or some kind of orchid (he could never remember which one, but he'd never had to order it himself either, the florists always knew which one he was talking about if he asked for it). Thea had always liked red roses, so the whole flower language thing just had to be ignored if he was buying them because that was one of the few he did know...

 

When she just kept expectantly watching him again, that teasing smile staying in place, Oliver laughed again. "Jasmine's growing on me."

 

The amused admission made her smile widen, her laughter never leaving her eyes. "Well then, you have excellent taste."

 

"I think you might be a bit biased," Oliver grinned at her, raising his hand to indicate with a hand gesture, "Just a bit."

 

"Maybe," Felicity allowed with a playful shrug. She seemed to be shrugging a lot tonight, but then maybe he just noticed her shoulder movements more since she'd been hurt and so seeing her shrug without wincing was now a good thing. Then she smirked just as playfully. "Of course, you're kind of named for it, too."

 

Oliver blinked again, then shook his head. "My middle name's Jonas. Not Jasmine."

 

"Yeah, but jasmine's the queen of flowers."

 

"Thought that was roses?" he shot back, pretty sure he'd heard that at some point. Probably from Thea, considering how much she liked them; and she'd been in a flower phase when he'd left on TheGambit. Didn't seem to be now, but the bouquets Raisa had all around the house for most of January had all had red roses in them; a good indication that they were still her favorite even if she'd grown out of wanting flower patterns everywhere, too.

 

"Only since Queen Victoria," Felicity shook her head. "Jasmine ruled long before that. Before Cleopatra."

 

Oliver's lips quirked towards a smile again. "They mentioned that in the flower shop," he told her, one eyebrow rising. "Said she used it to seduce Caesar?"

 

"Actually, her using it on Antony was better known," Felicity shrugged again. "I think. Sure, she brewed perfumes and oils along with all her poisons, but her sailing down the Nile with jasmine scented sails on a boat full of flowers was probably its most open use as an aphrodisiac."

 

"An aphrodisiac," Oliver repeated amusedly. "That you use to wash your hair and in scented candles around your house?"

 

She just laughed, also smiling in amusement still. "Don't read too much into it. That didn't end so well for Caesar or Antony. Besides, you're supposed to be the great seducer, aren't you?" she shrugged yet again, smiling as he smirked. "And a lot of people just like the scent."

 

Oliver nodded, smirk shifting towards a smile. "So I should get my mom and Thea to make it the family flower? 'Cause Thea might fight me on it if she still loves roses."

 

"Oh no, Oliver." Felicity shook her head. "Jasmine's your flower. You're the one that's named for it."

 

"My mom and sister are Queens, too," he pointed out, then watched her shake her head again, still smiling.

 

"Yeah, but you're the one that's named for it." She said again, going on insistently before he could decide to ask anything in response. "Because it's an olive."

 

"No, it's a flower," Oliver replied, a little uncertainly because he really didn't know, but the little fragrant flowers the florists had added to her bouquet hadn't looked anything like olives to him.

 

"It's an Oleaceae. The olive family. And the queen of flowers. Ergo," Felicity gestured to him with a smirk. "Your floral namesake, Oliver Queen."

 

He thought about it a moment, then told her, "You can never tell my sister that."

 

It was as she dissolved into laughter that the limousine finally found the restaurant. Ricky opened the door on Oliver's side only a moment later, with her bright laughter still echoing around the billionaire as he climbed out and turned back to offer her a hand.

 

Felicity accepted his help, restraining her amusement to only a smile as she nodded her thanks, climbing from the car and perching atop her heels with all the grace of any super model he'd ever dated. Her balance never seemed to waiver, she didn't stumble on the carpet the club rolled out every night to where their clients were dropped off, accepting his help but not once seeming to need it.

 

"Queen, party of two," Oliver introduced himself unnecessarily as the maître d met them barely a few step from the doorway, his nod almost a bow.

 

"Right this way, Mister Queen."

Chapter Text

Felicity's P.O.V.

 

Felicity ignored all the eyes that were following them as the maître d’ led them across the respectably busy restaurant. Most of Starling City's present elite possessed enough polished politeness for at least the pretense of pretending they weren't watching, but of the half dozen or so that didn't wear well-bred disguises of disinterest, only two were adults who should know better. Then again, both of those two were women, and Oliver did look very nice in that suit.

 

All the same, it was an effort not to show any strain as their guide stopped at an immaculately dressed table. That was almost smack dab in the center of the restaurant. Thereby putting them perfectly on display for at least seventy percent of the other patrons.

 

Oliver caught her elbow before she could step towards the proffered chair. "I hadn't realized the club no longer considered its clients' requests relevant." The billionaire's tone was mild, but his eyes were a little too hard for the carefree playboy persona he was still supposedly supposed to be hiding behind.

 

Felicity didn't say anything though. Either in relief at his pointed intervention or worry that he might let the only real mask he had—that of his youthful, carefree reputation—slip more often than might be wise. Here wasn't the place to try and point such things out. It also wasn't necessary. This restaurant was one of those premiere places that catered to only the city's elite. One of the places that Oliver would've frequented all his life until a boat sank him away from all of that. Whatever image he wanted to portray, she had to trust that he knew what he was doing here.

 

The tuxedoed older man immediately folded into an almost-bow, apologizing in the same quiet tone so that only the most intently listening nearby eavesdroppers might hear. So that none of the conversations of those few that were either oblivious to the Oliver Queen's arrival (or those who simply didn't care) would be bothered as he turned to lead them towards a different table. Not surprising; the restaurant certainly wouldn't want there to be any indication of Oliver Queen finding their service lacking even before the island, but after? Well, his castaway story had made his name known for at least a few moments all the way around the world, even among those that couldn't care less about celebrities. With everyone knowing that he'd been away from civilization for five years in conditions that most people probably couldn't imagine, his lack of satisfaction with one of Starling City's most exclusive (and expensive) club's could do a lot more damage than the fact that he'd chosen to bring a date here in the first place could ever hope to repair.

 

The firm but quiet reprimand showed more respect for both the restaurant and the fellow patrons than most might expect from a playboy. Even if many of those pretending they weren't watching would probably prefer if they could hear what he was saying. It was a show of class that would, hopefully, go a long way towards making the man he'd almost been glaring at forget just how stern the supposedly carefree man's stare could be. Not that the maître d’ had gotten an actually taste of the Hood's glare; just a hint of it. Nonetheless, it was the sort of thing Oliver really shouldn't want anyone talking about if he wanted to stay off the S.C.P.D's radar. All the same, under the eyes of so many customers, causing a confrontation with a famous guest would just be stupid, so of course they had their way without any difficulty at all.

 

Even on a Wednesday night, the club's restaurant was more than half full of those that could afford it. Every table almost certainly containing at least one person Oliver should recognize. While not the only 'elite club' in the city, this was one of the most exclusive. Not just because it's pricey meals meant it catered only to those who didn't particularly care about prices. Before that there was the need for a membership to just get in the doors, too.

 

Aesdomus wasn't a place the Immortal had planned on visiting anytime soon. Certainly not in this lifetime. The sort of lifestyle that afforded such luxuries wasn't one that any I.T girl's salary could support, not without such wealth explained by something other than her career. Exactly the sort of thing she'd been avoiding for a good few years now, and that wasn't the life she'd chosen to lead in this city.

 

She could have, of course. If that was what Felicitas had wanted this time around, she could've come to Starling City as a woman of considerable wealth. The heiress of some anti-social tech titan that'd recently died. Or the techie-daughter of some other wealthy, social recluse. Or a princess, duchess, or countess of some small country that everyone would pretend they'd heard of before.

 

There were more than a few places that she could use that'd even be legitimate enough to pass almost any inspection. Places where she had been royalty, or at least nobility, at some point in time. Places that were part of why she did have a lot of real wealth hidden away around the world.

 

Well, that and the number of times dying mortal friends chose to leave her some portion of their fortune—generosity that tended to bother her even when she didn't think it was intended as charity. It was hard enough, sometimes, to stomach accepting the loss of a loved one, without profiting from it. She'd acquired more than enough real wealth over her millennia of life, and even if she didn't have various treasures hidden around the world and impressive bank accounts under various names at her disposal, she was more than good enough with computers to just fake it if she wanted to.

 

But that wasn't the life she'd planned for this time around. Before the first time she saw her vigilante's smiling eyes, she was usually content with the simple ease of a day job that was predictable and occasionally a little challenging.

 

All the same, Aesdomus was a name she'd recognized on the elegant sign outside as Oliver guided her towards the double doors that were probably pulled open as soon as the billionaire stepped out of the limousine. She recognized it from her research. She always tried to plan wherever she might be going next. In fact, she already had a few places lined up, if necessary, much as she'd hate having to leave at this point.

 

Research was usually how she chose those places. Where she could be going next. If she found any indication of another Immortal having already taken up residence somewhere, even a friendly acquaintance, she preferred to avoid infringing on their space. Major cities were one thing; it was amazing how many Immortals managed to just miss each other most of the time in places like London or New York, but they did. But there were plenty of places she could claim for herself without stealing from someone else who should wield a sword, so there was rarely any reason not to limit herself to only short visits to the places that didn't qualify. Beyond that, it was just too easy these days to justify not doing the research. From restaurants to businesses to entertainment and residences.

 

And she hadn't moved here in a hurry; she'd started her time as Felicity Smoak at M.I.T, after all, so she'd had plenty of time to decide where she'd be going next after graduating again: the only real limit being she couldn't accept offers from anywhere that any of her fellow classmates were going to. Not any of those that'd spent enough time with her in Massachusetts to wonder how she could afford really good plastic surgery on an I.T girl's salary. She'd found more than enough online about this place to know that the life she'd chosen in this city meant that the only ways she might be getting into this particular club were if her brother decided to follow her here as a much less economical individual (something they'd both occasionally done to each other), or if she met someone who was a member, like Oliver.

 

To even get in the door one needed a membership or a member's invitation. And while it was likely none of the Queen's had ever had to wait for their membership, this place did have both a waitlist and bi-annual meetings where it was decided if anyone on the waitlist should be let in even if none of the members had recently died without bequeathing their memberships to their heirs. If a potential new member couldn't afford to bribe the board, then they needed a friend that could, or enough influence to sway them without financial incentive. It was the sort of thing that supposedly kept out 'unsavory elements,' but in reality it was just another example of elitism not unlike the others she'd seen through the ages.

 

After all, while some of the younger Oliver Queen's many scandals were likely hushed up by his family's money, there were enough of them that made it out to merit a rehash by the media following his miraculous return from the dead. Yet it was highly unlikely that Robert and Moira Queen's son was ever threatened with losing his membership. Then again, those scandals—along with the more recent publicity surrounding his return, later his arrest and more recently Thea's—were probably part of the reason that more than a few interested eyes were watching Oliver follow a woman they didn't recognize across the room.

 

When it came down to it, he was a Queen. And the local press didn't dub his family the city's royalty just because of their last name. Queen Consolidated had been the city's leading employer for the whole of Oliver's lifetime. That fact alone would wield power in Starling City even if it wasn't also where his family's sizable fortune had come from.

 

It was why their rejected table was one of the ones that everyone else could see, but also why the tables were initially spaced so that all of those watching couldn't also eavesdrop easily. An illusion of privacy while on display.

 

It was also why Oliver shouldn't have brought her here ontheirfirst date.

 

Felicity didn't let those thoughts show though, anymore than she'd reacted to his glare being a bit too hard a moment ago. Instead, as the now slightly nervous head server stopped at another table, she nodded her thanks as he held her chair out for her. "Thank you," she said as she accepted her menu with a smile for both the servers that was just a little too bright; and a little too direct as she caught the eyes of both tuxedo clad men for a few seconds too long.

 

Too much, she knew, for any of the wealthy wives  and heiresses around the room that maybe didn't even see the staff after a lifetime of such service. And too much, also, for the models here with wealthy men who could afford their smiles. But she wasn't either of those typical types, and didn't want to be. Neither role was who she'd chosen to be in Starling City.

 

Actually, Felicity had constrained herself to very little acting and begrudged societal constraints this time around. In times gone by there were certain roles that'd had to be played. Back then the difference between success and failure was a lot closer to living or yet another death. When being the one served, rather than the server, meant more than just luxury, but security and safety, too. Most of the time anyway.

 

Over the last few generations, though, some of those norms had expanded, and others had been completely—and sometimes very violently—discarded. So being the quiet, helpful girl that just watched for a while had seemed like such a good idea. One that she'd stuck to, perhaps for too many decades.

 

Until Oliver Queen smiled at her. Sure, she'd stuck to her rules at first, for the most part. With each and every one of his requests, though, she'd become more curious. More invested. And then Walter vanished when she was helping him... something she probably shouldn't blame herself for, but she did. And so the time for quiet curiosity past, all doubts about curiosity leading to trouble being put down by the simple fact that she had many more lives than any cat could spare.

 

That hadn't meant acting, though, even when she'd finally gone to Oliver. That quiet, caring, helpful girl was so much a part of who she was anyway that she hadn't had to change when she risked trusting her instincts again. And those instincts—the same ones that'd had her setting cautiousness aside in the face of each of his strange requests, following through after only the slightest of challenges sometimes—had been right.

 

Maybe that was why even more truths kept slipping out so easily around Oliver? Because he'd already broken the thin frame she'd fitted herself into, and the only thing to do in response was to just go with it? Talking so much about her first life when he'd asked about her favorite flowers wasn't like her. But Oliver had managed to very pleasantly surprise her with a bouquet containing them, and once again more than she should've said had slipped out.

 

She knew it was partially why Oliver's interest in her meant so much. Whether it was based in proximity, availability and protectiveness on his side, or not. That he was attracted to her, when she wasn't going out of her way to play any specific part, meant a great deal on its own. His many attractive qualities—the impressive drive that he refused to recognize even as it was what drew his teammates to him, along with his desire to help—were just icing on the cake. His absurdly attractive face, that physique that'd draw eyes even if he wasn't semi-famous, and the charisma that'd made him a successful playboy before were the candles lit on top.

 

"Thank you," Oliver echoed as he accepted his own menu, probably only after giving the new table a cursory once-over just to make the maître d’ sweat a few seconds longer. Though when her eyes went his way, his smile was aimed at her.

 

Would how handsome he was ever stop surprising her?

 

"So," Felicity made herself say as she dragged her gaze away from his bluest of blues and back to the artfully, priceless crafted bill of fare in her hands. "What's good here?" she queried without opening the leather bound booklet just yet.

 

"No idea," Oliver admitted, tilting his head instead of shrugging, probably because so many people were watching them.

 

The Immortal had to wonder if that sort of thing was just instinctive to him or if he actually had to think about it—and which was born of his luxurious childhood versus his half decade without luxuries? Such acting was a constant stream of thought for her; much more so if she was truly playing a part rather than just going with the flow to fit into the ever-changing world that'd changed so very much from her first lifetime. After all, both her ancient childhood as a petted, privileged princess, and the obligated life of prestige as the queen regnant she'd had to grow into all too soon, didn't truly translate directly to anything in the modern world.

 

But the most valuable lesson Methos had taught her early on was the need for adaptation. A key aspect to humanity's success as a whole, but also the only way in which any ancients could still really be around today. Learning to live on when all around you the world was changing as most people died and new people were born, making the world anew, with each generation remembering only the bits and pieces past down to them by their fore bearers. An invaluable lesson even for mortal, but especially for Immortals: one that some—too many—were unfortunately incapable of learning. Though some stayed safe in their sanctuaries, never changing, that wasn't truly living.

 

"Haven't been here in five years," the former castaway admitted, eyes on the menu now when she looked at him. Then, after a moment more of thought, he added, "Almost six, actually."

 

Felicity almost wanted to ask him why he'd decided they should come here then. If only so she could stop alternating between the various interpretations of what his reasoning might be.

 

The security concerns weren't hard to recognize. Oliver had only been out to dinner with the mobster's daughter twice before their picture hit the tabloids. The fact that their brief relationship had, according to Digg, crashed and burned that same night of little consequence to the media. So the lack of potential paparazzi exposure here was probably a plus in the vigilante's mind. Though no formal restaurant would allow photographers inside to disturb their diners, the private club made it even more difficult. Especially with the actual security guards at the doors; sure, they'd acted as doormen for her and Oliver, but that was because they'd recognized him. The odds of any paparazzo getting in at all were next to nothing. And the elitism of this particular place should, in theory, keep the other diners from reaching for their smartphones.

 

The problem, though, was that same ambiance. This wasn't a nightclub or a cute little restaurant with just a few other diners. This was the height of sophistication. And though Felicity knew well how to play the part if needed, she wasn't sure if that was what Oliver really wanted. She wasn't sure if it was something she wanted. Because even if no one took their picture together, it would at least become a topic of conversation that Oliver Queen had been seen here with some unknown blonde.

 

Did he want that? Or had he just overlooked the statement this made for the sake of the security? Or maybe she was over-thinking this?

 

Sure, she'd dressed nicely enough to avoid being recognized by any of her Queen Consolidated coworkers even if any photos were taken tonight. And her selection of attire, while intended to tease her date, should also lead most to assume she was a not-yet-well-known model or actress. Assumptions that were safe to allow. If it made the tabloids and things didn't work out between them, she'd be as Oliver was photographed with another woman. Sooner, even. As soon as the next piece of juicy gossip swam into the ever swarming sharks the tabloids kept fishing and whipped them into yet another feeding frenzy.

 

If their relationship kept progressing, however, the fact that Oliver had chosen to bring her here; to a club that catered exclusively to the city's elite, could be seen to imply he was a lot more serious than his playboy image should lend anyone to believe. Because if he'd grown out of the partying playboy phase, why was he interested in opening a night club? It wasn't like he especially needed the money and so was falling back on 'what he knew' out of necessity. While the questions wouldn't necessarily be asked of Oliver himself, they'd be out there. And even if somehow it wasn't gossip-rag fodder, bringing Felicity here placed her on the same level as any of the heiresses around the room, and that could have far too many prominent people wondering who she was and why he was dating her.

 

That could lead to questions.

 

It would, somewhere in the not so distant future, lead to paparazzi ambushes and tabloid articles fabricating stories or dissecting their relationship like it was anyone else's business—because that was the business of the professional gossips—and the Immortal really wasn't sure if that was actually what Oliver wanted. Never mind what she wanted; her own mind was much too confusing all on its lonesome to be sure.

 

Though the possibility of Methos finding out her new budding relationship status that way couldn't be ignored. Because even if he pretended he didn't indulge in gossip, which he did, they shared too many friends that would recognize her even if most mortals wouldn't. And far too many of them would call her brother before her. Over talkative traitors, the lot of them.

 

That, however, would come from her dating anyone with any notoriety whatsoever in this age. Her picture would be taken. It'd be out there. With Oliver's. Linking them together. Not something Felicity minded, per say. Mastering computers as they came into being was something she and Methos had both initially set out to do as a means of control that they actually had down pretty good these days. Even if her picture made papers—or, more precisely, the digital versions that passed for them these days—the fame would pass faster than paper documentation had. And she had programs in place already that made sure such images and mentions of her on the worldwide web were never entirely accurate to start with, and would cease to even exist out there in due time, whether it was the publisher's normal policy or not.

 

But had all of this come from the man across from her wanting to get closer to her just to get closer to her, or more to protect her? Felicity hadn't missed his carefully massaging hands checking her shoulder. Or his comments about her jogging habits. So she couldn't help but wonder if that hinted at a step forward from protectiveness or for the sake of the dance's next step...

 

Could this just be that Oliver had realized he didn't want to be alone anymore? That he'd been alone for the last five years, and unable to commit even before that, and maybe he wanted to try anew now? With her?

 

Oliver turning the page of his menu pulled her out of her circling thoughts, and Felicity tried to shake those thoughts off as she finally actually read the menu she'd opened  probably too long ago to be missed, but Oliver was either absorbed in his own thoughts or willing to pretend he hadn't noticed her occupation. But looking at the elegant cursive, she had to blink a few times.

 

Not because she couldn't read it. No, despite her ancient dislike for the Roman Empire, she'd learned their language long ago. And all things considered she'd never had a real reason not to add Italian to all the other tongues in her repertoire, too.

 

Then again, the Italians were not really the descendents of the ancient Romans in any direct sort of correlation. The peninsula that'd once been the heart of the Empire that destroyed her home had fallen to conquest itself many times over since then. Not that she hadn't realized, long ago, that Methos had been right not to have much sympathy for her dislike of the Romans back then. He'd tolerated it in Hannibal's time, when the Romans had defeated him and completely destroyed the city that'd once been her home. Even if it'd been almost seven centuries since she'd left her first life behind. But she'd known back then that he was right. That it wasn't wise to openly oppose Rome back then, when it was becoming the power in the world. Though it'd taken her a full century to accept it, she had eventually made herself pretend to be a proud Roman, and had thus become one of the few Immortals who'd once met Julius Caesar upon the slippery marble steps of Rome.

 

Regardless, if her mind were monolingually confined to only English, it wouldn't be a problem here. Each of the items came with a succinct summary meant to wet the pallet underneath all the mostly non-English names. What had her studying the lengthy list of options in surprise was the fact that English and Italian weren't the only languages therein.

 

"Well, they used to serve Italian here," Oliver finally broke the silence, his slight discomfort at the unanticipated alteration almost disguised by his smile as their gazes met again.

 

"There's some Italian here," Felicity pointed out with an easy shrug, deliberately rolling her shoulder slowly so that he could see—if he was looking for it, because he probably was—that doing so caused her no pain. "Bruschetta al Pomodoro and Spaghetti alle Vongole are both Italian... so's the Isalata Caprese. And they have Spaghetti with Meatballs—if you wanted American-Italian."

 

"You don't have to order Italian, Felicity," Oliver chuckled as he told her.

 

"No," The blonde agreed, still smiling with some amusement. "This menu's much more eclectic than that." She cocked her head to the side, "Do you think the chef changed it to justify visiting all the food capitals of the world, or did the restaurant just change chefs? Or maybe they have a bunch of chefs battling by the stoves back there? Like on Top Chef?"

 

"I have no idea," Oliver answered with another light laugh. "But it sure looks like they were trying to put a bit of everything on here."

 

"Hmm," Felicity hummed her agreement, then wrinkled her nose. "I'm not sure I like the concept. I mean, sure, in theory it tries to cater to everybody at any time. But it's kind of... I don't know. Generic?"

 

Oliver raised an eyebrow at her. "We haven't even seen any food yet."

 

"True..." Felicity allowed, deciding not to point out the fact that they could see the food all around the room; everything mild enough that no strong scents were disturbing or tempting that that hadn't ordered them. "So what are you in the mood for? I'm game for anything, as long as it's no longer moving. And not a snake. Or an insect. Of any kind."

 

"Don't see any bugs or snakes here," Oliver observed, "'No longer moving' is an interesting requirement." The inquiry in his tone almost hid the furrow of his brow.

 

Felicity ignored the former, focusing on the latter. "Maybe," she replied softly. "But I'm sure you had more than enough hunting and cooking yourself these last few years. And they're supposed to do at least the kitchen part here. Whether they're chef-knife-fighting back there or not."

 

Oliver was quiet for a long moment that she waited through without looking at him, studiously reading through the many different dishes that they could order for their dinner. When he spoke again, his words were a little too even. Too controlled. "Is that your way of asking me about the island?"

 

"No," Felicity shook her head automatically, eyes still on the entrees. "That was my mouth talking without the permission of my brain. Somehow without mentioning sex—Oh wait, there it is." She sighed, knowing her cheeks were at least pink as she once again found her mouth running away in that direction with this man. It was like, deep down, she just didn't want to lie to him, even by omission... actually, maybe that was exactly the problem?

 

His chuckle was surprised but sincere. Still, it was another long moment before he said anything. "I don't want to talk about Lian Yu, Felicity," he told her, still totally controlled, but the same warmth that'd been in his chuckle was there, too. Dimmed by the mentioning of that island's ominous name, but there nonetheless. Which told her how much he was still hurting. Not that she didn't know that already.

 

"I know," Felicity answered calmly, meeting his conflicted gaze again. "Doesn't mean you don't need to. Doesn't mean you won't want to... And when you do, I can listen. Or talk," she flashed him a soft version of her bright smile, "You know I'm good at that."

 

That made him crack a smile back at her, almost managing hiding how his right hand had started to look like it was wondering where his weapons were. So he really didn't want to talk about the Island. Not unexpected. Though she was a bit surprised that he seemed to feel threatened by his very thoughts of the place. Even—or maybe especially—when the questions were from someone like her: who knew he hadn't spent the entire time there working out while waiting to be rescued. As his archery skills were ample proof, because unlike his sister he hadn't studied archery (competitively or otherwise) before that boat sank. She'd checked. Then there were the scars... and everything else.

 

"We could try the chef's choice?" Oliver suggested a long moment later, his more mild tone much less indicative of painful past events.

 

Felicity glanced at the first page of the menu, which she'd initially skipped over because the elaborate setup was sure to be the most expensive option here even before any alcohol was added in. The whole inside cover, which displayed a carefully worded description that didn't actually tell you what you'd be eating if you ordered it. 'Tastes from around the world,' as it was called, could mean almost anything. All the chef's best, made from the very finest ingredients. Which almost made it sound like the rest of the lengthy menu wasn't the best or made from the finest, but that was probably unintentional. It also promised to match to your personal tastes, despite the global adventure it'd take your tongue on at the same time. Making her wonder if the chef was some sort of super-human or just crazy. All of it without any listed price, just like the rest of this menu. There was also an optional wine pairing, of course, which permitted one to choose between red or white wine.

 

Felicity still almost rejected it out of hand, a necessary inclination of this lifetime, but then reconsidered. She tilted her head to the side as she glanced at her still tense date. "Is that what you want?"

 

Oliver shrugged, looking for all the world like he couldn't care either way. And maybe he couldn't. "It'd probably give us the best idea of what they serve here now."

 

"Okay," Felicity nodded slowly. Even though a tasting menu didn't tend to be the same thing as a sampler. What they'd eat, after all, wasn't really what tonight was about. "'Tastes from around the World' it is, then," she agreed. "Are we getting the wine pairing, too?"

 

"Sure, why not," Oliver closed his menu and set it on the table with a shrug. "You prefer red, right?"

 

"I do love red wine," Felicity confirmed with a small smile that twitched towards a smirk when the words visibly registered on his face, but the waitress arrived before he could remark on it.

 

"Good evening and welcome to Aesdomus," the redheaded woman greeted them with a professional smile, trained well enough at least not be staring as the handsome, famous man at the table. Though the precise way she was speaking might be to cover her nervousness, since she sounded American to the Immortal's time-trained ears. Down to the decidedly incorrect pronunciation of the restaurant's Latin name, which was probably exactly how the owner wanted it pronounced; incorrect or not. "My name is Angela, and I will be your server this evening. May I start you off with some refreshments?"

 

"I'll have a scotch, neat," Oliver replied readily.

 

"Just water for me, thank you," Felicity told the redhead, tilting her head when her date frowned at her. "You said we're getting the wine pairings, too. It'd be silly to order more wine on top of that," she pointed out, and Oliver nodded his understanding.

 

Their server smiled as she glanced between them. "Then you've chosen the chef's tasting option?"

 

"Yes. We'll have the 'Tastes from around the World' for two, thank you," Oliver replied. "With the wine. Red wine."

 

The redhead's nod wasn't quite as much of an almost-bow as the head server's had been, but it was close. "And what shall we be cooking for you this evening?"

 

That made Oliver frown slightly. "Doesn't the chef decide that?" he asked, his tone all but saying 'isn't that the point?' Apparently not having read as far into the fine-print size cursive near the bottom of the page as Felicity had. Maybe his mother should be glad he didn't want anything to do with the family business...

 

Felicity didn't let herself frown at her own thoughts, though it took a moment of effort before she could start talking evenly. "I think she means preferences, Oliver. Or allergies, I guess? Stuff like that?" she interjected mildly, pretending she didn't see the slight furrow that'd started to try and form between the girl's manicured eyebrows smoothed over her diffident smile. "Well, for me, no nuts, please. Red wine, like Oliver said. And I'd prefer chocolate in the desert course, if possible."

 

"What about bugs and snakes?" Oliver asked, a definite note of teasing in his tone as he smirked at her, ignoring the confused blink it got him from the waitress, promptly covered by professionalism's mask, but there for a second before that.

 

Felicity rolled her eyes as she handed over her menu. "Well, I didn't see those anywhere in there, but yes, I'd prefer to avoid being that adventurous, too, please." She confirmed, and then pretended not to notice when the young woman waited for Oliver's approval.

 

In this supposedly pro-feminist era an Amazon's outrage might be dressed up as politically correct, but there were times and places for such things and this was neither. Not when Oliver was both the club member here and the one paying. Any politics, past or present, would only be an unnecessary, tricky tangent. And no more what their first real date was about than the food was.

 

"Sounds good, I'll have the same," Oliver approved with a chuckle as he handed the redhead his menu, too.

 

"An excellent choice," the girl approved, as if she could say anything else. "I'll be right back with your drinks, please let me know if you need anything at all."

 

"So you really love red wine?" Oliver smirked as the redhead departed, that definite glint of teasing still in his eyes.

 

"I did tell you that," the Immortal reminded him.

 

"Right," He winced. "I still owe you that bottle, don't I?"

 

"No." Felicity shook her head. "You only promised me a bottle of ridiculously expensive wine if you won the case of it. Obviously you didn't," she shrugged, meeting his gaze steadily. "You were a bit busier than most of the idle rich."

 

The billionaire blinked at her. "Felicity...there was no scavenger hunt," he told her slowly, like he was surprised he had to tell her.

 

She rolled her eyes. "I know that, Oliver."

 

"I promised you a bottle of wine," the man maintained, frowning. "And I meant to give it to you. I just...forgot."

 

Felicity didn't let her eyes roll again, but she was grinning slightly as she replied. "You 'forgot' to give me a bottle of wine worth much more than I make in a year if you're buying it at a particularly competitive auction?" she went on before he could answer. "The sort of thing you shouldn't give me, anyway, because it begs the question: Why would you give it to me?"

 

Oliver shook his head, "Because you helped—"

 

The Immortal cut him short, speaking far too softly for anyone other than him to hear her, careful to keep her face fixed pleasantly so that it looked like they were just talking about the typical stuff couples would chatter about on first dates. "An answer that the S.C.P.D's task force could actually swallow, so that it shouldn't lead to my arrest as an accessory to who-knows-how-many crimes?" She shook her head slowly, smiling as she started to continue, but stopped herself when she saw the waitress out of the corner of her eye, returning with their drinks.

 

"And here you are," the redhead smiled as she set the scotch in front of Oliver and the water in front of Felicity, obviously deciding to forego the unspoken invisible help role in places like this, since they'd both looked at her when she arrived. "May I get you anything else for the moment?"

 

"No, thank you, Angela," Felicity replied, responding to the woman's surprised look with a polite nod. A clear dismissal, but not one that'd have the waitress badmouthing Oliver's mystery date if any tabloid reporters did start sniffing around here. She watched the woman leave again after Oliver had shaken his head. When the young woman was out of earshot, Felicity looked back at him again. "Don't worry about the wine, Oliver. I really don't care about it nearly enough to risk exposing either of us."

 

The real risk, of course, was to him. He was the actual vigilante, and the one that'd already been investigated for being the vigilante, charges hurriedly dropped or not. But he was also too stubborn to back down out of concern for himself, so reminding him that she was working with him now and therefore somewhat at risk if he was caught was the easiest way to make him let it go.

 

Oliver sighed, but nodded as he reached for his scotch. "Fine." He took a sip without looking at her, but his eyes met hers as he put the tumbler back down. He studied her for a moment, his eyes appreciative, then he finally said, "I like you dress."

 

"I know," Felicity smirked, though it became more of a smile after only a moment. She shook her head. "You seemed surprised?"

 

The vigilante nodded slowly. "Wasn't expecting you... in my color." He nodded towards her as he finished, then admitted, "Maybe I should have, after that earring, but yeah, it still surprised me."

 

His surprise surprised her a little. Yes, her selection of attire for the night, from her dress to her make-up had all been a conscious, deliberate choice on her part. But it didn't seem like something that should've really surprised him.

 

Demonstrating loyalty through ones choice of clothing color was hardly an unknown principle. It'd been a practical, practicable staple of societies around the world since coloring cloth was first conceived. As it was no longer limited by expense, or legalities in most places, it was pretty much a non-issue these days, but that didn't mean it wasn't something everyone who was paying attention recognized. It was the same concept tying together soldiers by their uniforms and sports fans in far less exacting uniformity when supporting their teams.

 

Then again, maybe it shouldn't surprise her at all. As keen an observer as the archer could be when it came to combat, and his mission in general, this proved it was debatable how much he consciously noticed such things in his everyday life. After all, his picking out her favorite flower by recognizing its scent in relation to the candles and soaps she still had shipped to her from what remained of her first home had surprised her. Very pleasantly so. So perhaps it'd be best to just set aside assumptions when it came to Oliver Queen. Like everyone else, he couldn't be defined by a single thought or idea, nor should he be.

 

Still, there were some things she could ask.

 

"Why did you decide on all green?" Felicity asked, going on quickly when he tilted his head to the side at her. "I mean, I get why it would've made sense on the island we're not talking about, for camouflage and whatnot. But for that, here, well, wouldn't black be better?" she finished carefully, honestly curious as to how much thought he'd put into his disguise.

 

Oliver considered her for a moment, and she watched the thought that they were still sort of talking about 'work' pass through his eyes and just as quickly be dismissed. "The," he paused, deliberately gesturing to his head since saying 'the hood' while discussing the color green in public where someone might here and tie the two to Oliver Queen, again, would be bad. "It belonged to a close friend. She died on the island, and... I kept it. To honor her."

 

Felicity was again relieved; this time by the fact that he wasn't completely oblivious to those concerns. But that realization was, of course, pushed to the back of the mind by the revelation of what he'd decided to reveal despite not wanting to talk about it. What she'd seen of his opinion of his own past, however, did limit what she could ask in response, so she had to think for a moment before she softly asked, "What was her name?"

 

Oliver took another sip of scotch before he answered her. "Shado."

 

That was all he said. And there was an old pain there; memories of loss that still lingered, so she knew better than to keep pushing.

 

"But why the uniformity?" Felicity asked instead. "Combined with the," instead of saying the word she ran a hand through her hair, deliberately pausing for a second with fingertips pointing at that single green arrow in her ear, before letting the curtain of her curls drop again as she gestured at nothing. "You were kind of asking for some of the comparisons that've come up."

 

Namely referring to his distaste at being compared to the medieval hero of English folklore. His response to the Dodger a few weeks ago, 'I'm not Robin Hood' had amused her in retrospect. At the time she'd been too busy being relieved that the bomb collar was no longer clashing with her dress and threatening to really end her life for good to take notice. But afterwards she'd had to laugh.

 

"I mean, you were the first one to 'see' him, too." Felicity pointed out, then frowned. "Why did you bother emphasizing him then?"

 

Oliver blinked, "What?"

 

Felicity took a sip of her water before answering, still almost whisper soft. "You could've said that you were just waking up when someone attacked your kidnappers. That he cut you free before running after one of them but, like Tommy, you didn't really see him." She shrugged, intentionally rolling her formerly hurt shoulder yet again. "Yeah, Lance probably would've linked him afterwards anyway, but it would've taken them a long time to be sure if you couldn't give them a description to start with. And if that description of him hadn't come from you, maybe less of Detective Lance's animosity would've tied you so closely to the case a few weeks later."

 

Oliver visibly thought for a very long moment, but before he could answer their waitress returned.

 

First to come was the predictable bread. Warm and soft with a crumbly crust, and the choices of either—butter, slightly chilled so as to melt on contact, or two different oils: one with hotter spices, the other mild—made the expected just a touch more extravagant.

 

Though if the two of them were actually expected to eat the whole half loaf they were served—the equivalent of what once would've been considered an adequate meal even among nobility or royalty, at least while traveling away from the luxury of the kitchens of the those times—it either indicated to her that the ludicrous portions provided in many American restaurants might be translated here even into what were supposed to be 'tastes.' Or, possibly with fee the meal required, this club simply didn't mind wasting the food. A cultural common that the Immortal had to make herself ignore, despite all the ages she'd lived through where most people were just trying to get by with the bare minimum to survive, and despite knowing that there were places in the world where that was still the case. Just like there were still times when even getting by wasn't possible, and that even the worldwide news programs generally ignored it unless there were the mass casualties one would associate with wars involved. Or an actual war.

 

Felicity smiled her thanks as she accepted a piece of bread, spooning the hotter oil onto her bread plate and mixing it with the spicier oil. Not saying anything as Oliver did the same, both of them ignoring the much more basic, but undoubtedly top-of-the-line, butter.

 

"I wanted to them to make the connection," Oliver admitted quietly, once the servers had all vanished.

 

Felicity just listened, chewing an entirely satisfying bite of her bread at the same time both because she was hungry and because it'd look better. While there wasn't technically anything wrong with just sitting there talking, and these days it could even be explained away by something like a no carb diet, it still required more thought occurring behind all the eyes that were weren't watching—weren't constantly glancing their way—and in their case less was certainly more.

 

"I wanted the image out there," the vigilante finished after he'd swallowed his first bite of bread. "It's better if everyone has the same man in mind. If everyone knows who I am when I show up. Even if they only know I'm him."

 

"Hmm, maybe it is," Felicity nodded slowly, before taking, chewing and swallowing her next bite. Then she pointed out. "But it drew a direct connection to you from the start. To Tommy, too," she went on as he frowned. "I'm actually surprised the S.C.P.D didn't bother him more, what with the security cameras 'failing.' But maybe the detective just doesn't hate him that much."

 

Oliver nodded. "That's why I let myself be arrested. To put those thoughts down." He grimaced slightly as he admitted, "Wouldn't have worked out so well if Digg hadn't signed on when he did."

 

"But you knew he would," Felicity nodded back, rolling her eyes yet again when he frowned at her. "Despite yourself, Oliver, you actually are a good judge of character when you're paying attention."

 

"'When I'm paying attention'?" He repeated, looking like he was trying to decide if he should be flattered or offended by the backhanded compliment.

 

Felicity deliberately shrugged again, wondering as she did so if she'd shrugged enough times yet to make him feel better. Because rolling that one shoulder wasn't actually a motion she particularly wanted to become habit. "Digg doesn't have many nice things to say about your 'psycho ex-girlfriend.' His words, not mine. I've never met the woman," she shrugged again as she finished, just because it fit, and took another sip of the water that was probably from some specific, praised spot in the world.

 

Oliver also took another sip of his scotch before answering. "Helena's..." He sighed, shaking his head. "She's complicated, Felicity."

 

The Immortal sipped again to give herself a few seconds longer to think her response through, holding his eyes as she swallowed. "So am I. So are you." She shook her head when he frowned. "Everyone's complicated, Oliver. Figuring those complications out? That's life."

 

Oliver only nodded slowly, as he just as slowly tore at his piece of bread again. He'd given her a lot more bread than he'd taken himself. While wasting food after going through who knows how many struggles for it on that island was probably somewhat anathema to him, too, it was also likely that his stomach could simply handle a lot less food than it once could. Not that he wasn't more than capable of working off whatever extra calories he did intake. However she focused on the fight he was having with his eyebrows, which were attempting to furrow against his will as he thought.

 

"I know you probably don't want to talk about her, either," Felicity put out there as she swirled another tear of bready goodness in spicy oil.

 

"No," Oliver grimaced slightly, shaking his head. "Helena's..." he sighed. "A fair question, I guess." When Felicity only raised an eyebrow at him as she put her bite bread of in her mouth, his mouth twitched like he couldn't decide if he should smile or frown. "What's Digg told you about her?"

 

"Just a few things," Felicity shrugged, again not letting herself frown at her own annoyance towards the too-off repeated motion as she replied. "I think he was trying to tell me that this," she gestured between the two of them with her hand, before reaching for the water glass again. "Us. Doesn't bother him."

 

"Helena bothered him," Oliver nodded, and Felicity chuckled.

 

"To put it mildly."

 

The vigilante snorted. "He didn't really do that."

 

"I'm sure." Then she sighed. "You did tell her pretty quickly. About, you know; you."

 

The vigilante's brow furrowed, "No. I didn't." He shook his head as he went on, almost too quietly for even her to hear. "I didn't just tell her, Felicity. Her father's men would've killed us."

 

"Would they?" Felicity frowned, not liking playing devil's advocate here, but also knowing it needed to be asked. "Digg didn't seem to think—"

 

"Digg wasn't there," he cut her off, a little sharply; though still too softly for anyone other than her to hear.

 

Felicity waited a moment, just to see if he'd go on. But when she saw him visibly pulling himself back and readying an apology, she spoke first. "No, he wasn't. And I wasn't either," she shook her head. "I just don't understand why you'd tell Helena so quickly, when..." she trailed off, biting her lip because that wasn't at all where she'd though she was planning to go when she opened her mouth.

 

"Hey," Oliver's hand caught hers, unhappy sharpness giving way surprisingly quickly to understanding. "It wasn't about trust, Felicity. It was..." he paused, considering his words carefully, then he winced. "I mean, I wanted to trust her. But, really, I think I just wanted someone I could talk to."

 

"Talking's good," she replied mildly. "And I guess your situations might've felt sort of similar? With her hunting down mobsters."

 

The vigilante nodded, grimacing slightly. "I knew," he shook his head. "I knew as soon as she told me about her fiancé. About what her father had done. That she wouldn't let it go. But I had to try."

 

That, the Immortal could understand. It wasn't about wisdom. It was about hope. Hopefully, however, Oliver had learned his lesson. At least enough to realize that redemption couldn't be found in saving someone else from themselves; especially not when the redemption you really needed to find was for yourself. Not because she thought he really needed; but because he thought he did. She remembered, ages ago, the man that'd been called 'Death' telling her she was his redemption, but she also knew that her brother had had to learn to forgive himself before he could hope to move beyond his past. At least as much as he ever could. Just like anyone else.

 

Felicity cocked her head to the side, not letting herself favor the formerly injured shoulder that only bothered her now because she still had to keep pretending that it was hurt but healing. "It was a messy situation to put yourself in." She observed, adding quickly before he could reply, "But, then, you could say the same thing about most of Starling."

 

Oliver blinked. "What?" he asked, as he had a few times before already tonight.

 

Instead of answering, Felicity reached for her water again, because the waitress was on her way back with what was likely their next course. Assuming, of course, that the bread was their first. Was bread still even considered a course in restaurants these days, or was it just what was on the table with the water before the actual food came out?

 

The vigilante didn't react to the redhead's return, even though she'd come up from almost directly behind him. (The restaurant must be somewhat circular, architecturally, since the staff didn't seem depart to or approach from any specific direction.)

 

"And here we have the Cuori di Caesar," the waitress presented their plates. "The chef's reconstruction of Caesar's original salad. Hearts of Romaine serve as vessels for the classic dressing, topped with parmigiarno-reggiano and the chef's skillet-toasted miniature croutons. Served with Domaine Carneros Le Rêve, 2005."

 

Oliver had listened as she introduced the food, but he stopped the sommelier before he could even pour him a taste. "We ordered the red wine," he reminded the waitress, but it was the wine steward who answered.

 

"Indeed, sir," the tuxedoed man tilted forward in an almost bow. "Your selection would overpower the appetizers. However it will certainly be served with the entrées."

 

"Unless you'd prefer it sooner?" the waitress hurriedly interjected, not seeming to see the sommelier's frown.

 

Felicity shook her head ever so slightly when her date glanced at her, not bothering to hid her amusement at the unintended show.

 

"No, this'll be fine," Oliver allowed, but nodded to her when the wine steward tried to pour the taste again. "It's the lady's choice."

 

"Of course, sir. Miss?"

 

Felicity gave a small smile as she nodded her agreement; fully aware that this was stubbornness on his part at being banned from buying her the promised bottle of wine, much more so than the catering of a good host. Once the taste was poured, she picked up the glass with a quiet, "Thank you."

 

At a quick glance it looked good: the glass was right, as was the temperature, color and consistency from each quick angle. She breathed the flavor in few quick sniffs as she swirled the sample around. Despite being on the latter end of its generally acceptable age, none of the common flaws spoiled the soft but tart tropical notes of fruit. Lastly, a sip confirmed its pleasant complexity. It wasn't sweet: as a brut wine it should be, but there was a slight tang to it. All flavors that balanced elegantly with the bubbles that danced on her tongue.

 

Felicity finally nodded confirmation to the serene steward after only a moment. "Superb, thank you."

 

The man nodded respectfully, filled her glass, followed by Oliver's after he'd gestured for it to just be filled, then departed with a bow for them both, their waitress now trailing behind him.

 

Oliver finished his scotch as they were leaving, then asked, "So you like white wines, too?"

 

Felicity made herself shrug her opposite shoulder this time, because it should get the point across without irritating her quite so much. In theory, anyway. "I don't dislike it. And it is a better pairing for Caesar salad," she admitted, while delicately picking up the little lettuce 'boat' and taking a bite.

 

It was vaguely amusing to her that the man that'd once been hailed as Alexander's great predecessor was better remembered now by his name alone, rather than any of his victories. Not surprising, per say, since his cognomen was swiftly adopted as a title of imperial character that his own predecessors were wise to utilize.

 

Though the fact that Caesar later became a name like any other again did make her wonder if most modern minds wouldn't consider him as distant a historical figure as any other if not for Shakespeare and other entertainers since the English bard that'd given Methos more than a few scares. Her brother had gone to so much trouble to make sure Immortals remained myths, himself especially—though it'd turned out he'd done a better job for her—that the plays that still enthralled the world today had troubled him until the last one was published without any mention of any orphans born by storms or coming back from all deaths but one.

 

Never mind that the restaurant seemed to be hiding the salad's non-European origins via an Italian name that it's creator had never claimed, despite having been born in Italy.

 

Oliver nodded his acceptance of her response, before asking, "You were saying something about Starling earlier?" he asked, adding on: "About it being a 'messy situation'?"

 

Felicity blinked at him, confused by his questioning the simple observation. "You don't think it is?" she cocked her head to the side, finishing off her first 'boat' as he picked up his own.

 

The vigilante's brow furrowed slightly, as he chewed and swallowed. "I'm not sure what you mean." He shook his head.

 

"Hmm," Felicity took a sip of the bubbly before answering. "Then what'd you mean? When you told Digg that people here used to help each other here?"

 

"They did," he replied, not seeming to get her question, either. "Now they don't. Not really."

 

"Hmm," the Immortal hummed again, wondering how much of that was the naiveté of holding onto childhood's glowing years, and how much of it was actually a simple truth. She knew it was at least partially true, because Diggle had seemed to somewhat agree with Oliver's assessment of city's decline.

 

And because she'd seen it in some of her own research, though it hadn't been obvious enough to deter her choosing to move here. Like many Immortals, she'd learned to watch for the signs of too swift a decline; the sort that could erupt into violence and even outright civil war at the drop of a hat. Starling City wasn't there yet. At least it hadn't been when she moved here a few years ago, but she was starting to wonder if it might not be all that far off now. Because the need for action—vigilante or otherwise—had been hinted at by many, but Oliver's own words declared it outright.

 

Setting her glass down again as she finished that sip, Felicity sighed. "People are complicated," she reiterated, shaking her head as his brows frowned. "And a city's made up of a lot of people, Oliver. 'Saving them' all's impossible. Saving most of them? Well, that's always going to be complicated. And very messy, just going by what we've seen so far? Very messy."

 

Oliver considered that, finishing off another salad boat. Then he cocked his head to the side. "Are we talking about The List or just the last few weeks?"

 

The Immortal frowned. "Both, Oliver. And neither," she sighed, shaking her head yet again. She set down the piece of lettuce she'd been about to eat without even really thinking about it, her hands moving of their own volition as she tried to express her words with somewhat constrained gestures, too. "What you're doing? What we're doing? It's not just a list. It's not just one thing at a time. Because... What you've crossed off? Some of them can come up again. And what you haven't gotten to yet? Well, they might come calling before you get to them, too."

 

Her reaction was probably too animated, she could see that in the extra glances coming their way now and in the fact that Oliver wasn't eating or drinking anything just now because all the attention of those blue eyes were locked on her. But it was a point that had to be made, the sooner the better. And however many more times it took.

 

After a moment too long, Oliver nodded. "You're right," he answered, then took a sip of his wine.

 

Felicity did the same, hoping her relief at his agreement wasn't too blatant. "Thank you," she said it almost into her wine as she took the sip.

 

The vigilante nodded again, picking up his last piece of salad. (What'd happened to the rest of it? She still had half her little plate left!) "Digg thinks I get zeroed in on the problem too much sometimes, too. You're both right," he shook his head. "But sometimes that's the only way I can deal with everything."

 

Felicity smiled softly, silently nodding to the busboy that appeared to collect the bread basket and Oliver's plate to let him know he could take hers, too. Once they were once more out of earshot she told him, "I'm sorry, I don't mean to—"

 

"No," Oliver cut her off firmly. "You're right."

 

"I know," Felicity agreed, shaking her head slowly. "But somehow we started talking about 'work' again. And we're not supposed to be doing that tonight, right?"

 

The stern resolve melted into a relieved smile, "That's life, too, isn't it?" He went on as she nodded her own relief. "My coffee shop's in that neighborhood, remember?"

 

Felicity nodded slowly. "So's mine."

 

Their exchanged smiled were again interrupted by the arrival of another course which seemed to be sushi. That wasn't the artful description Angela gave of it, of course, but that was what it ultimately was.

 

A medley of other courses followed. All of them examples of fine cuisine from various food capitals around the world. None of them exactly authentic  in the sense that anyone who'd actually been to Japan, Paris, Athens, Buenos Aires, or any of the other places represented could say that the dish intended to exemplify some delicacy of the region was quite what they'd actually had there. And Felicity would know, because at this point there were fewer places she hadn't been than vice versa. But beneath the dressings of elaborate plating on fine china, available ingredients and artful alteration, the intent was there. And it held throughout the meal. Excellent tastes from all around the world to delight any palate adventurous enough to try them. Combined with equally excellent wine—the red was even better than the white—and the company, it was a wonderful meal all around.

 

So when it was interrupted by the very unwelcome sensation of another Immortal nearby slamming into her—the nearness of another Quickening triggering that buzz between her eyebrows as her own Quickening's adrenaline alarms—it took all the experience of every century she'd lived through not to let it show. It wasn't easy. The way things had been going of late, she was starting to feel like she'd somehow missed the memo about her home becoming one of the stupid Game's gathering places.

 

"Hey, are you okay?" Oliver's voice brought her back to the present; where his questions and tone told her she hadn't been as successful in concealing her discomfort as she'd hoped. The worried brow, above those all too observant eyes, wasn't a surprise as he asked, "What's wrong?"

 

Felicity shook her head automatically. "Nothing," she replied, reaching for her wine.

 

Oliver didn't look like he believed her.

 

And it wasn't going to get easier with the other Immortal obviously coming closer.

 

Then Oliver, looking at something, or someone, behind her—back towards the entrance—frowned. "Damn. No, don't look," he stopped her before she could start to turn her head; not that she was going to—given how close the other Quickening was now, it was all too likely that whoever had walked in was the one she was sensing. "The guy from Merlyn Global's here."

 

That almost made Felicity feel better.

 

A brief perusal of the Watcher databases had confirmed her initial suspicions that the other Immortal tech expert wasn't a warrior. The Watchers had lost track of Paulius Starek somewhere in Switzerland a few years back, but before that he hadn't even fought in half a dozen duels yet. He was raised among the Polish nobility in the 16th century, and lived a mortal life that'd favored the arts over everything else. Even after he became Immortal he remained more of a scholar than a fighter; understandably preferring to remain in the privileged circles of his mortal life as long as possible. A few too close calls with witch-hunters led to him traveling to other parts of Europe; once as a diplomat, more often as a wealthy merchant or lifelong scholar. That he'd condescended to master a trade and enter someone's employ at all was actually a distinct sign of personal growth for him, and likely the main reason the Watchers hadn't found him again yet.

 

Though they would soon enough if he kept going around emulating the Highlanders by not really changing his name. A lot less important for modern-born Immortals, but even their names would eventually start to sound strange. Hence the reason Paulius probably called himself 'Paul' now, but that wouldn't be enough to hide him from the Watchers. Or the League.

 

Regardless, Starek didn't have nearly enough experience or training for Felicity to consider him a threat in that sense. So the only problem was the possibility of him recognizing her here.

 

At least there wasn't yet another Immortal invading her home. Yet.

 

"What guy?" she made herself ask, because she had interacted with the two security guards, too. Though Oliver wasn't as likely to recognize them on sight as he was the man that'd all but chased her out of the building.

 

"The security tech guy," Oliver answered, grabbing his own wine to hide his frown behind. That, and the way he made himself look at her instead of continuing to glare at the newcomer he wasn't happy to see, was yet another indication that the vigilante had had some experience with espionage prior to his crusade, but that wasn't at all something they could talk about here.

 

"Hmm," Felicity studied her own wine, which had been freshly refilled a few minutes ago. "Is he here with someone?" she asked, and quickly took a sip to hide her wince as she realized a potential problem.

 

Paul Starek worked for Malcolm Merlyn. Who was far more likely to have a membership here than any new employee. Who, like other business leaders, likely used that membership to host work functions. And who'd probably come over and say hello if he saw Oliver here, so Starek being with him would be bad.

 

"I think he's headed towards the bar," Oliver told her, looking away from his plate to glance at her, his eyes looking beyond her for only the quickest second before coming back to hers. "The banquet rooms are back there, too. There's probably a MerlynGlobal function there tonight."

 

"Probably," Felicity agreed, savoring another sip of wine before adding. "I don't look anything like I did that day, so—"

 

"So he probably won't recognize you," Oliver interrupted with a nod of agreement even as he added, "Just don't look at him." When she blinked at him, he added. "Your eyes are pretty distinctive, even with the different make-up."

 

Felicity smiled slightly, obediently continuing to watch him, like she would've done anyway. She had to focus on something while ignoring the panging pulse behind her eyes that wasn't fond of the Buzz, it might as well be Oliver's handsome face. "Where's he now?"

 

Oliver risked glanced over her shoulder—the right one this time, not the left—before meeting her gaze again with a frown. "He's stopped. Looks like he's looking for someone."

 

That's because he was, of course, but the Immortal could hardly say that.

 

"I could go powder my nose," Felicity offered, though it wasn't something she intended to do, so she quickly added. "But that might just make him notice me."

 

In fact it'd definitely make Starek notice her, and that couldn't lead to anywhere good. Not when Oliver was bound to notice the other man noticing her, and if Starek followed her, Oliver would follow, too. A less than lovely way to end the evening all around, so once again she had to just keep suffering through just silently telling the warning buzz in her head to shut up rather than taking the easy way to switch it off by making eye-contact.

 

"No," Oliver said, shaking his head as he caught the hand she wasn't still holding her wineglass in with his own. "Stay put. We can leave once he goes out back."

 

Felicity frowned, "We haven't had dessert yet," she protested. More because leaving so quickly might be a way for Starek to figure out who she was. Better to wait for the other tables that were just about done to start emptying. Two of the big ones looked like they should be finishing up anytime now. And if they left when both tables emptied she'd be somewhat concealed by numbers; since she highly doubted Starek had any training in reading auras, let alone Quickenings well enough to recognize anyone.

 

Oliver returned her frown, eyebrows furrowing just a little this time as he clearly wondered if she was serious, but then he spotted their waitress returning again, and rolled his eyes. "Here it comes."

 

Indeed, Angela was at their table only a few seconds later, a cheerful smile on her face as she waited for them to draw their hands back out of the way before she set a plate between them. "And last but certainly not least we have the house favorite; the Crémeux au Chocolat Noir, for two." She set a spoon in front of each of them. Still smiling, she asked, "Would you like anything else?"

 

"No, thank you," Oliver answered immediately, and Felicity shook her head in agreement when the waitress looked at her.

 

"Then enjoy," the redhead indicated the dessert, smile still fixed on her face as she finished her spiel. "And we hope you enjoyed dining with us here at Aesdomus this evening."

 

"Thank you," Felicity smiled at her again, waiting till the redhead had left before she reached for her spoon, "Is he still there?"

 

"No," Oliver also grabbed his spoon. "The maître d’ just took him out back. Still looked like he was looking for someone though."

 

"Maybe he was expecting to see someone here," Felicity offered as she took her first bite of the decadent desert, moaning as the flavor hit her tongue.

 

Oliver grinned at her as he took a bite himself.

 

"Mmm..." Felicity moaned around the second bite of the delicate French custard, too. Focusing perhaps too much on the flavor, now, because it was easier than trying to talk while her head went on buzzing. The warning always faded, a little, from its first initial cocophany, but it wouldn't go completely away until she either made eye-contact with the other Immortal or the potential threat was out of range. Seeing as they were dining in the same restaurant—and Felicity wasn't sure she liked what that said about dining out in Starling City—that wasn't likely to happen soon. So the dessert was a welcome distraction.

 

The finely prepped, perfectly balanced blend of dark chocolate combined with sea salt, all whipped up in a creamy concoction, was perfect. It made her wonder, not for the first time, how humanity had lived before the invention of chocolate. How exactly the divine creation had taken so long to come into being had never made sense to her. Not since she was there when tasty—not always easily breakable—bricks of the stuff started selling in markets that catered to those who could afford such luxuries. Though it also made her glad that her metabolism was just as supercharged by her Quickening as every other aspect of her immortalized body was. Otherwise she'd undoubtedly have to put far more hours into exercise than she did already.

 

"What?" she asked, just a little defensively, when she saw Oliver watching her with a smile. "It's good. No, it's amazing. Like a miracle in my mouth."

 

He chuckled, smiling as he stole another spoonful for himself. "Well, you definitely weren't lying to Tommy and Laurel about being addicted to chocolate."

 

Felicity wrinkled her nose. "I wouldn't say I'm 'addicted.' Just... I'd rather not do without it. Every now and again." Then she winced as her battered brain caught up with her words. "Though we all have to made do, sometimes."

 

"Oh?" Oliver raised an eyebrow as he took another bite, curiosity clear. "When were you cut off from chocolate?" he asked, ignoring her referencing his time 'away' again.

 

"Growing up." Felicity answered as she finished another spoonful herself, almost not even needing to think about it to twist the truth around just so. Except she found herself having to stare at the dessert as she said it. "I didn't have any chocolate as a child."

 

"My mom never let me have soda when I was a kid." Oliver's small smile was nostalgic as he went on. "I used to love going into Q.C with my dad, 'cause he let me have it there."

 

Felicity snorted softly. "Some might call that bribery," she waited a moment, then observed. "That didn't really work. You shut down your mom's bids to involve you at Q.C pretty hard a few months back." She let the statement stand as he nodded, then asked, "I'm guessing she didn't take that well?"

 

Because she couldn't imagine how Moira Queen could ever react well to the very public humiliation her son had resorted to in order to stay out of the family business. And she had to wonder if some residual guilt from that, compounded by his stepfather's kidnapping, might not have more to do with how protective Oliver was of his mother when it came to her potential involvement in whatever was happening in Starling City than just filial loyalty. Which was obviously a factor too.

 

"No, she didn't," Oliver admitted, setting his spoon down to let her take the last scoop of the dessert. He sighed. "Turns out our situation might be more like Helena's than I'd like."

 

"Maybe," Felicity said softly. "Maybe not. We don't really know."

 

Oliver obviously didn't entirely agree even as he nodded. "All set?" he asked, nodding slightly behind her in the direction Starek had gone without seeing her. "We should probably get going now. If it were a few weeks from now, it might not matter, but almost anyone can recognize someone they just met a few days ago."

 

Felicity nodded slowly, thankful to see one of the big tables she'd been hoping would leave soon starting to do so. "Yeah, sure. We should go."

 

"Don't worry about the bill," Oliver told her softly as he stood up, rounding the table to help her out of his seat. Looking like a perfect gentleman, and doing an excellent perfect job of blocking her from that side of the room's direct line of sight as he did so. "They let us in, so it's safe to say my tab's still open."

 

With a migraine starting to form thanks to the nearness of another Immortal, it hadn't even occurred to Felicity that she should probably ask about their leaving without paying. Whether or not a normal I.T girl who'd never experienced such luxuries would've noticed that none of the people who'd departed since she and Oliver had arrived had received their bill first, or if she would've made the connection to the fact that it was probably tacked onto whatever fees were sent to them or their accountants, after the fact, wasn't the sort of specific even she could think about through the Buzz that triggered all Immortal's fight or flight response.

 

Obviously Mathis Fournier hadn't been anywhere near as close when he'd sensed her at Tommy's birthday dinner just as his father had crashed it. Which might mean she needed to look into how far out her own Quickening was broadcasting again—it'd probably been too long since she'd meditated. But that was something to think about later, not while she was letting herself be guided outside.

 

Oliver led her up behind the large party that was leaving, keeping himself between her and the direction of the man that he didn't know could be a literal threat to her every step of the way. When the party reached the reception area the majority of them went out the front doors, and he tugged her around the two couples that seemed to be turning towards the side entrance they were headed out.

 

It was yet another testament to the influence of Oliver's family in this city that the maître d’ followed them towards the side door instead of the larger party, moving ahead of them with quick but somehow unhurried looking steps to open the door before they got there. Though one of the two men on guard outside quickly grabbed the door while his colleague held open the other as their supervisor bid them good night. "Have an excellent evening, Mister Queen."

 

Other than a nod to encompass basically all of them—security guards/doormen and master of the restaurant alike—Oliver all but ignored the toadying. Their ride pulled up before they were halfway down the short walkway towards the parking lot, with the chauffer that must've been staring at the exit on and off while waiting for them hurrying around to open the nearby door for them.

 

"Where to now, Mister Queen?" the man asked once he'd hurried back around to the driver's seat, glancing through the now open window at his employer.

 

"Back to Miss Smoak's house, Ricky. Thanks," Oliver answered, his arm going around her shoulders again as he hit the button to close the window again for privacy.

 

Then they were on their way, and Felicity couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief as the Buzz finally started to abate in her head. A dull thrum not long after they turned out of the parking lot, quickly fading to just the after-pangs of her head complaining at the prolonged assault from pains that it wouldn't otherwise normally feel.

 

"You okay?" Oliver asked her.

 

"What?" Felicity blinked at him.

 

"You're doing this crinkly thing with your eyebrows," he told her, one hand going to her forehead, concern painted across his own face. "Headache?"

 

"Yeah," Felicity sighed, not really deciding to lean into his palm, but not wanting to pull back when she noticed his normally very warm hands felt soothing cool. Meaning the Buzz's burning was maybe a bit more literal, physically, than she'd ever realized. And that his hand on her brow made it feel a bit better. But after a moment she pulled back to start rubbing her temples herself. "Guess I should've had more water, less wine."

 

When she looked at him a moment later, Oliver was studying her again, his amazing eyes undoubtedly seeing more than she should want him to. "Don't worry about... whatever his name was. You showed me the police report about Merlyn Global not handing any security footage over; that they said their system crashed that night and the S.C.P.D's blaming the Triad," he winced, shaking his head. "Mister Merlyn probably made that happen, but if the S.C.P.D's not looking into it, it's unlikely anyone at Merlyn Global will be backtracking that far in the day. And your cover from Q.C was solid, right?"

 

"Yeah," Felicity replied, forcing herself to stop massaging her temples. "And no one ever said anything about it. Even if Erika noticed she got paid for it, she probably wouldn't say anything 'cause she really doesn't like doing off-site work, so..."

 

"So there's nothing to worry about," Oliver nodded, giving her shoulders a reassuring squeeze that, again, she couldn't help but relax into.

 

The Immortal watched him for a moment, a little amazed that this man could be both so perceptive and, well, not, under varying circumstances. That he chose to pay so much attention to her was beyond flattering, of course, but it could still be a big problem going forward. Especially since she really wasn't sure how he'd react to her secret.

 

Sometimes it was easy to tell. For some the magic of it all was outright terrifying, while others merely marveled at it. Some people became uncomfortably curious in the scientific sense, while others didn't want to ask anything about it at all until it occurred to them that she'd actually lived through so much history.

 

It had been a very long time since she'd told a man she was in love with though. Felicitas didn't tend to fall in love all that easily, finding it hard to truly trust her heart entirely to someone even before the last time. And that the last time she'd tried, she couldn't have been more wrong about him.

 

Felicity didn't think that was at all the case with Oliver. From what she'd seen of him—from everything about his city-saving crusade to the way he put himself between her and danger without even seeming to think about—he couldn't be less like the Spaniard that'd switched from eagerly anticipating their nuptials to declaring her a witch. In fact, she thought Oliver might not have all that much trouble taking her Immorality in stride. If she was right, it was The Game he'd have trouble with. Which was a dance she'd done before. But it was so hard to be sure...

 

Felicity barely noticed him shifting, till his hand on the back of her neck startled her. "Wha..." she started to ask, trailing off in a soft moan as he started gently kneaded the tense muscles like had more than a few times now down in his lair.

 

"Relax," Oliver told her softly, the command as soothing as the gentle strokes of his strong fingers. "Really, Felicity. It's not like he was going to come running out of the restaurant after us even if he recognized you."

 

"No," she agreed, making herself talk even as she all but folded into his touch. "But he probably would've connected you to the biker that I said was my boyfriend."

 

"And said what?" the vigilante asked her, sounding amused. "What would he even say if he reported that to anyone at M.G2? That he let some girl from Q.C play with the mainframe a few hours before the attack, then—after the computer crash that we know Mister Merlyn either made happen himself or ordered—say that he saw the girl again? Only now instead of gothic make-up, black leather and hair, she was a blonde on the arm of Oliver Queen at one of the city's top restaurants?"

 

"You may have a point," Felicity conceded.

 

Because he did. If not for their shared Immortality and the Quickenings that recognized each other based upon proximity, she wouldn't have needed to worry all that much about Starek ever recognizing her tonight. Even if she ran into him again later, as long as she wasn't with Oliver or Digg and didn't have a comm in her ear, she'd have no reason to worry about it. Not after looking at his Watcher profile.

 

Actually, after looking at his records in the database, Felicity was a little surprised he actually actively looked for whoever was triggering the Buzz. Never mind his deciding to actually seek her out when she was at Merlyn Global Group Tower. All she could attribute it to, really, was maybe he'd never met a female Immortal before. Perhaps it was the novelty that gave him the spine to actually talk to her in the first place. Or machismo leading him to the false assumption that even if they fought each other, he'd win. She'd encountered it before, and knew from his history according to Watcher records that without a great deal of luck he wouldn't stand a chance against her. So no, it wasn't fear of Paulius Starek that'd caused the tension Oliver had noted.

 

It was the continuing need to lie to Oliver. Even only by omission.

 

"You know, this is a lot easier when you're sitting in your chair," the archer told her with soft chuckle.

 

"Hmm, is it?" Felicity smiled slightly, looking through her lashes at him. "With all the time you spend on that salmon ladder, I'd think you'd be used to awkward angles."

 

Oliver snorted, still smiling as he stopped massaging her neck and moved his arm back around her shoulders. "I wouldn't think it'd surprise you to hear that there were actually very few positions I haven't tried."

 

Felicity blinked, then blushed, but couldn't help but smile at him. "And do you think we're there yet?" she raised an eyebrow at him. "I mean, you're the one that wanted a real date first."

 

That surprised another laugh out of him that she could feel rumbled pleasantly through his broad chest, tucked comfortably into his side as she was. "Well, thanks for accommodating me, then."

 

"You are very welcome," Felicity replied, meeting his smile with her own.

 

And this time it wasn't a surprise when he kissed her.

 

 

Chapter Text

John Diggle's P.O.V.

 

John had known this moment was coming. He wouldn't have gone looking, after all, if he hadn't expected to find something. Well, he probably wouldn't have found this so soon, anyway, if not for Felicity's setup here. But when he'd come in this morning and the computers were beeping, checking them had been an auto-response.

 

But for the part of him that'd been so entirely relieved when Oliver had told him he'd put an arrow through the eye of the assassin that'd killed Andy, it was hard seeing the proof that he wasn't dead spelled out in the World News section of the Starling City Sentinel's website.

 

BIALYAN PRESIDENT ASSASSINATED!

Interpol suspects "Deadshot!"

 

Beneath the headlines, of course, was almost entirely conjecture. No Starling City reporter had the resources to research an assassination in the Middle East. Even if they did, Bialya was of much less relevance to the world than its southern neighbors—too small, not enough oil and, as far as John knew, no terrorists to bring global scrutiny there. An article on the untimely death of their president was all the consideration most of the world would give them.

 

Not that John was any different in that respect. All he cared about here, after all, was the identity of the suspected assassin. If President Harjavti had been assassinated by a suicide bomber, the ninjas that were whispered about for ghost stories over there, or almost anyone else, John probably wouldn't have read much past the subtitle. He definitely wouldn't have reread the article multiple times or tried to look for more info himself.

 

He would have changed out of his suit and started working out a while ago. Instead he was still sitting here staring at the summarized story of a professional murder more than halfway around the world.

 

"Yo," Oliver's voice from behind startled him—though not nearly as much as the time in the corner of the computer screen did.

 

"Hey," John returned the greeting as he closed the window he'd had up before turning around. "Where you been?"

 

The billionaire shrugged, "Oh, I thought I'd give myself a rare morning in." He shook his head when his partner raised an eyebrow at that. "Don't look at me like that. The club's opening. Finally. Felicity and I went on our first date last night—"

 

"'First date'?" John quoted back at him, bemused by the budding relationship between the two even with the further proof of Lawton's continuing survival fresh on the monitor.

 

Happy for the distraction. It wasn't like he could do something about Deadshot assassinating anyone in the Middle East last night. Watching his two teammates dance closer and closer together was welcome proof that the world went on.

 

"You don't count the birthday party then? Or the Dodger disaster? Well, no," he decided with a grimace, "Guess I wouldn't count that one either."

 

While it was the first time they'd seen their I.T girl decked to the nines; and Oliver's reaction had amused him right up until he'd seen the unwelcome explosive addition to the blonde bombshell's attire a little while later.

 

"Of course not," Oliver snorted, staying quiet for a moment before explaining. "Yeah, I went to her place after that, just to check on her, and we watched a movie—which sounds very high school, I know, but it... worked. And no," he added quickly. "We just watched a movie. Both times."

 

"Both times. Well, good to see you're taking it slow." John shook his head, smirking slightly. "Like a glacier, for you."

 

It made him wonder if the billionaire hadn't skipped over the slower stages of dating in years past. If he'd jumped right into the part of partying playboy even back in high school, and that was why he'd never learned how to take it slow until his not wanting to scare this genius who knew everything about him off had forced him to pause.

 

"For me before the island, yeah. I never really did the... friends first thing, I guess," the 'playboy' allowed with a frown. "Though my last real girlfriend almost accused me of moving too slow."

 

"That'd be Laurel, right?" John shrugged, going on without waiting for confirmation. "You were a kid then, Oliver. Yeah, you could vote and buy beer, but you were still a kid."

 

"I was," Oliver agreed easily, then sighed. "And that kid had to die pretty quick on Lian Yu."

 

"Uh-huh," John allowed, well able to see how that could've been the case.

 

The many scars on his employer's body were more than another reason that Oliver Queen was no longer caught partying with his shirt off these days. Each scar told its own tale. More traumatic than any sort of modesty born while in his 'exile.' Not that much modesty at all seemed to pass through Oliver's mind; quite the opposite, since their team grew especially. No, the vigilante had no problem walking around barely dressed in the lair when Felicity was here—and though he was definitely showing off for said blonde, John kind of thought the younger man might also be getting his otherwise repressed extroversion out there at one of the only places he could.

 

Something their tech girl had adapted to much more quickly than John had expected. Sure, she'd blushed and averted her eyes a few times, stared steadily at her computer screen many more times than that; but Felicity didn't seem shy or anxious around either of them when they were treating the Foundry as their extreme workout zone. A little odd, especially since she and Oliver were dancing around each other a little bit even before she found him bleeding out in her crammed backseat. Obvious to John back then, despite his not previously knowing about their 'movie nights.'

 

Which brought to mind, again, a question he really should ask since he was starting to feel like a big brother to both of the two people involved here. Though exactly how that'd happened was impossible to put into words...

 

"You sure about this? Dating Felicity?" John shook his head when the other man frowned at him, clearly remembering they'd kind of already had this talk. Except they hadn't. Not exactly. "Doesn't seem like something you'd normally do. Gotta say; you asking her to tag along to that birthday dinner with Tommy and your infamous ex, little while back? Almost seemed like you were trying to scare her off."

 

He made sure to keep any judgment out of his voice, not wanting to discourage their budding relationship anymore than he had to. No, if it'd help Oliver Queen realize he really hadn't died on that island, and that having a life of his own didn't mean he couldn't still help Starling City, John was all for it. He'd seen too many good friends go down the darker paths that often involved a lot of alcohol and sometimes too many pills or the barrel of a gun.

 

The light Felicity brought without even seeming to try could only be a good thing; especially since she seemed to light up even more just being around Oliver. There was some of that lively animation to her all the time anyway, especially when she was in her element, but going by that being with Oliver was even more her element than all her computers, and the way both of them all but preened in response to any attention from the other made it impossible not to root for them.

 

"I wasn't." Oliver shook his head. "I was asking her as a friend then, Digg. Even if no one else seems to think so." The vigilante sighed, still shaking his head slowly. "No. I'm not sure. I know I shouldn't, but..." He clearly considered his next words. "It feels right."

 

"Nothing wrong with that," John let his approval color his voice this time, seizing onto the latter because the former was just B.S. "You're both consenting adults, Oliver. You both know what you're getting into."

 

"I'm not sure she does," Oliver snorted. "But, then again, maybe she knows better than I do." He shook his head again, finally dropping down into a nearby chair rather than standing over his friend. "She always seems to know what to say."

 

"Long as it's not about defending herself, you mean," John shrugged when the archer frowned. "I know she changed her mind, and if her fencing stuff wasn't a million years ago, maybe she won't have too much trouble with some regular hand-to-hand, but I'll feel better when I actually see it."

 

"Yeah, me too," Oliver heaved another sigh in agreement. "She said she'll bring her sword in after work today, so I'll see what she's got then."

 

John watched him for a moment, reassured by how comfortable the younger man was in his own skin this morning. The spring in his step wasn't the same one that the bodyguard had seen after Oliver's night with the psycho mob princess, which was good since he'd much rather his teammates took their time figuring this out. And Oliver seemed to be doing just that. Felicity, too, though that was less surprising. But maybe it shouldn't be. Not with how comfortable the vigilante had been with the I.T girl these last few weeks. That, though, was also a cause for concern here.

 

"Sure you don't want me to start off with her?"

 

Oliver frowned again, this time in mild confusion. "You said you don't have any training with swords."

 

"I don't," John acknowledged. "But basic hand-to-hand I can do. Taught some of it, back in the army. Worked with some women there, too, so I've got some idea of their limitations to start." He shook his head when the archer just kept frowning at him. "That's S.O.P. Don't know much about swords, but soldiers don't just jump straight to knife-fighting. Drills only have a few basic maneuvers to start because it's as much about safety as it is discipline."

 

"And I'm sure those two thing go hand-in-hand in the army, Digg," Oliver cut in, shaking his head. "But we'll both be focused on just Felicity here. We won't hurt her, or let her hurt herself."

 

"Playing with sharp weapons is a good way to get hurt even if you don't mean to," John pointed out, nodding towards their closet that served as their make-shift armory. "Don't you have any, I don't know, wooden swords in there? That'd do less damage than a sharp blade."

 

"I'd have bought those today, but she wants to work with what she has," the billionaire admitted with a grimace. "She was pretty adamant about it. Didn't even want me to get a sword for myself," he shook his head. "Apparently she has some sort of collection of them and wants to give me one."

 

"That's...an interesting gift after a first date," John said slowly, not sure if he should smirk or be at least a little worried.

 

"Had nothing to do with the date," Oliver told him. "I think it only came up because I told her we should get started today." He shook his head. "I'd noticed she has a bunch of different swords on display around her home, but I'm not sure which ones she's going to bring in."

 

"Not talking about swordplay on your first date's probably a good rule to follow," John said, smirking at the look the younger man gave him. "Surprised that didn't come up if you were talking about swords."

 

Oliver rolled his eyes. "Felicity might've said something," he admitted, that blend between a smirk and a smile that only seemed to occur in response to the girl they were talking about making an appearance. "Sometimes I wonder if she says stuff like that on purpose, but I'm not sure she could look so shocked at herself if she wanted to."

 

"And it's adorable," John shook his head, smirk falling as he pressed, "But that doesn't mean it's a good idea to stick to starting with swords in here, Oliver."

 

"Maybe not," the vigilante allowed, getting up from where he'd been more leaning against the workstation rather than sitting on it to head towards the sparring area. "But it's not like I want to talk her out of any kind of self-defense training, Digg."

 

That was fair, the soldier had to admit. Though watching his employer walk towards the mat led to his eyes looking at the gear there again.

 

"You know, we could start off with how exactly she put her phone on top of one of the sparring dummies," John suggested, even though he wasn't sure he could imagine that happening since he hadn't been able to figure out how she did it in the first place. And he wasn't entirely sure it was a great idea to ask her to do it again, but how she'd done it at all continued to bother him...

 

Oliver stopped after he'd draped his coat over the empty med-station, frowning over at the wooden man. "Maybe she used a step ladder? We've borrowed 'em from upstairs before. Can't remember if we had one down here then."

 

"We didn't," John told him flatly. "I checked when I first got the phone that morning," he shook his head. "Only thing down there that she could've used easily was her chair. These wheels don't lock, so you'd think just climbing that thing would be safer, but that thing threw me a good few feet when I tried."

 

That made the vigilante blink at him. "You tried to climb it? You're tall enough to reach the top on your own."

 

"Which is how I rescued her phone," John nodded. "But I can't figure out how she got it up there, so..." he shrugged.

 

Oliver looked between him and the dummy again, that thoughtful frown on his face. "We both outweigh Felicity by, I don't know, at least sixty pounds? There's bound to be more of a reaction when you climb that thing compared to her."

 

The ex-soldier crossed his arms. "Oliver, I didn't just jump on the thing."

 

Well, that wasn't exactly true. He sort of had, that first time, and the results hadn't been pretty. But he didn't need to tell the much more acrobatic archer that.

 

"That's one of the ones with the suped-up reactions," John reminded him, more to get on with it so the younger man might stop smirking at him than anything else. "That's why it was out."

 

Sometimes it being more of a work-out to put the equipment away was an exercise all its own, but most times it was just more than you wanted to deal with. Especially if you'd already been pounding and blocking the thing for longer than you cared to think about. Letting it beat you up while you tried to put it away just wasn't worth it most of the time. Something both men had agreed on without no discussion, but going by a few comments their I.T girl had made about boys not being able to put away their toys, she didn't agree. So why she would've wanted to put her phone on top of the dummy in the first place made even less sense to John Diggle than the question of how she'd ever managed to do it did.

 

"Could mean she's more agile than we're expecting," Oliver pointed out half-handedly, tugging off his shirt and tossing it aside as he moved towards the salmon ladder. "She's shown she's pretty good at dodging a few times before." He leapt up to grab the bar as finished, starting his repetitions there without bothering to change, and so not needing to head to their 'wash/changing room' as Felicity had dubbed it.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

As the pair was now dating, officially boyfriend and girlfriend or not, John had to wonder how long it'd be before Felicity's comments about boys and their toys became more weighted. He couldn't quite see her ever caring about the workout area enough to argue, or even be sharp about it, but it could all too easily be one of those things that built up into a big blow up if Oliver wasn't mindful of such factors.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

With how much she liked to watch Oliver workout, it'd probably be a longer time before Felicity complained about him tossing his clothing aside while he half stripped in front of her, but that was still something that could come up, too. And John couldn't decide if he should warn the other man or not.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

After all, all of the Queen family had always had servants waiting on them hand and foot at home. That was Oliver's privileged childhood and his present, even if it was interrupted by being a tortured castaway half way around the world for five years and having any kind of cleaners come down here at all would just be asking for trouble.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

And John knew the inside of Queen Mansion. Had learned the floor plan and the grounds his first week in the Queens' employ. It wasn't like the family was ever tripping over each other there.

 

So Oliver had never actually had to share his space with anyone. The exception, maybe, being the half decade away from all of that. More than merely camping out on an island, obviously: because John couldn't imagine either the Russian or Chinese mobs spending all that much time in a place like that, but Oliver had learned Chinese and Russian, and joined the Bratva, somehow.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

Still, some of that essential minimalism had leaked into the billionaire's room at home; according to Raisa, the longtime family housekeeper, he hadn't changed a thing when he returned, but he'd purportedly become a lot neater. Even if he'd fallen back into someone doing his laundry and every other chore of the house very easily.

 

Then again most people probably would. John certainly didn't mind eating Raisa's cooking when he happened to be there for any meal.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

Oliver had never really settled down at any of the four colleges he'd flunked out of—where he'd undoubtedly had either their best accommodations or rented far better ones nearby—so the fact that he'd run away from his girlfriend when she wanted to move in together shouldn't have come as a huge shock. Probably wouldn't have, either, if he hadn't taken said girlfriend's little sister along for the ride, leading to her death, and then come back from the dead himself five years later.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

All the same, Felicity had handled the tortured man fairly well so far, so John was pretty sure she didn't need to be protected from helping Oliver grow up in the few ways he hadn't had to on that island.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"What are you, working on?" Oliver asked between swings.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

John startled, then shook his head as he realized he'd basically been watching the other man workout while he thought, Felicity's norm, not his, so the younger man had realized something was wrong. He hesitated a moment, then admitted, "Just going through some of the stuff Felicity's search programs found since yesterday."

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"Deadshot?" the archer didn't mince words.

 

John shook his head. "There's nothing solid. Just a dead politician and a lot of suspicion."

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"Yeah," Oliver acknowledged. "That's what Felicity said."

 

John blinked at him. "When?"

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"Last night," he answered like it was obvious. "She has the alerts—"

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"—sent to her phone."

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"And her tablet."

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"And her T.V—"

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"—apparently," Oliver finished, swinging in place for a longer moment at the top this time, posed over the bars with all of his weight balanced on his steady arms. While he'd never been entirely out of shape, the partying billionaire he was before couldn't have managed that feet without effort (or even thought like he could now). While Felicity appreciated the show just for the privilege of watching it, it was yet another thing that kept John wondering what'd happened in those five lost years of the younger man's life.

 

"Our girl's thorough," John acknowledged, a bit surprised by just how thorough she was. Sure, he'd seen her at work here, and a few times at Queen Consolidated, but the fact that she wanted to take this work home with her—that she realized something important could happen at any moment and that she was their first line of defense on that front—was impressive. Especially since she didn't have any kind of military or security background to explain how she came to that conclusion on her own.

 

...Except for her own hacking abilities, and whatever they'd led her into. Another conversation the vigilante and ex-soldier had chosen to not have without talking about it. Because while Felicity had asked astute questions of them before the vigilante had had to reveal the truth to her, she'd still kept helping them without demanding the answers they couldn't give. That, just as much as necessity and the vibrancy that drew the archer to her and made John smile, had had as much to do with Oliver finding her car in the Q.C parking lot as the necessity of that G.S.W had.

 

"She didn't want to bother you with the article, 'cause it's a dead-end." Oliver said before starting back down.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"Yeah, figured that out myself, thanks," John sighed, turning the computer chair he didn't dare adjust back towards the trio of computer monitors. "Hoped she might have an easier time finding whoever gets his jobs for him with this."

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"She might."

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"She's been looking—"

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"—into the money, mostly."

 

Which meant bank accounts. And hacking banks. Not exactly a 'standard' skill level for hackers, but then their I.T girl couldn't really be called standard in any way.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

Oliver stopped, swinging longer on the bottom bar now as he said, "But I didn't want her to start working on it in the middle of the night." Then he started back up once more.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"No, good call," John agreed. "She can't pull all-nighters for stuff like this. She does have a day job."

 

Swing... THUD!

 

The louder landing of a more aggressive jump made the soldier look up at the acrobat, and studying his unhappy face between the next repetition.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

After another loud landing, which he'd actually watched come about, John asked, "Something wrong at Q.C?"

 

"Not sure," Oliver's admission was almost a growl.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"But I think—"

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"—her supervisor might—"

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"—be giving her trouble," he finished frowningly.

 

And John frowned, too. "What? 'Cause she's fallen behind at work?"

 

That didn't sound like what he'd seen of Felicity Smoak at all, so he wasn't surprised to see the vigilante shaking his head as he swung in place to answer.

 

"Not according to her Q.C file," Oliver replied. "I mean, she's still completing more work than anyone else in her department." He pulled himself through another kip up.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"But if she was doing even more before, makes sense her supervisor would want to know why she's slowed down," John observed. "Could be a problem."

 

Not the sort of thing he'd think Felicity would let be a problem, but nobody was perfect.

 

"That she wants me to stay away from." Oliver said, sounding like she'd asked him for the moon and the sun.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"And he's not on the List."

 

"Uh-huh."

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"I checked."

 

"Uh-huh," John nodded, letting himself smirk again now as he shook his head. "She's got a point, Oliver. It's a bit early for you to be swooping in to save her at work, isn't it?"

 

Oliver just leapt again.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"And I'm not sure she'll ever be ready for that, anyway," John told him.

 

"What'd you mean?" Oliver stopped on the bars again to scowl at him.

 

"Being the damsel in distress at Q.C, with you playing her hero." John shook his head, remembering all too well the few times he'd made that mistake (or come too closer to it) with his wife. Now ex-wife. "Tread carefully, man."

 

Swing... THUD!

 

Swing... THUD!

 

Seeing this wasn't something the other man really wanted to admit here and now, the former soldier switched back to the earlier subject. "What about the background check you did on her?"

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"Did it say she studied fencing or something in school?"

 

"No," the vigilante snorted between reps. "Not that it would."

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"If she didn't want anything to come up in her background check..."

 

"It wouldn't come up," John finished for him as he swung down again.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

"Did you find anything on her?" the former soldier pressed, knowing that with Oliver's money and many varied connections there had to be something on her.

 

Swing... THUD!

 

After one last hard landing as low as he typical went on that ladder, Oliver let go of the bar and dropped down to the ground. Then he sighed as he stood. "Not much that wasn't in her Q.C profile. Some stuff from M.I.T." He shook his head as he headed for his water bottle. "She didn't take fencing there. Maybe in high school, but she skipped a bunch of grades there by tests. Took some A.P classes and college courses at the same time."

 

"That was in Vegas, right? Where her mom lives?" John asked, continuing when Oliver nodded. "How old was she when she moved to Mass?"

 

"Fifteen," Oliver replied, his smile proud for her. "Had two Masters by the time she turned 20. Got a doctorate, too, while she was working at Q.C."

 

"Our tech-girl's got some pretty impressive credentials," John nodded, also smiling proudly. But it quickly dropped into a frown. "So why was she working in I.T support?"

 

Oliver blinked, "What?"

 

"One Masters in Computer Science I could buy, but two and a doctorate?" John shook his head. "She should at least be the head of the department."

 

Sure, seniority and connections always had their part in places like Queen Consolidated, but so did your credentials. And from the sound of it, Felicity's had to be two to three times what most of her co-workers could claim. Never mind her I.Q probably being way outside of their realm of possibility, too.

 

Oliver considered that for a moment, then he nodded. "There was a note in her file about doing some impressive work in Q.C's computer security a few years ago. Still in her first year there. I think Walter recommended her for the promotion himself." He shook his head. "And she was the one that Walter contacted about the List, so he trusted her."

 

And he was the C.E.O. Still was, technically, since his wife refused to take the 'acting' off her job title.

 

"So why isn't she the head of I.T?" John wondered.

 

"I don't know." Oliver shook his head again, frowning as he made his way over to the computers and quickly opened a file there.

 

John pulled the chair back and just watched. When it opened, he wasn't shocked to see what was obviously Oliver's background check on Felicity Smoak, everything from Q.C included. What he was stunned by was where the rest of the information had apparently come from. But Oliver spoke again before he could do anything more than blink at the name of the government agency that Lyla now worked for being used as a source for background checks by Starling City's vigilante.

 

"Yeah, looks like Walter was considering her for a bigger promotion, before he was abducted, doesn't say anything specific here," Oliver's frown deepened. "There's nothing about why she wasn't promoted sooner." He shook his head as he scrolled back into her pre-Q.C days. "And yeah, there's no fencing on her M.I.T application. Looks like she was homeschooled. The A.P and early college stuff was all online, except for a few tests."

 

"Thought her mom was a cocktail waitress," John said, surprised. "Don't they work real long hours? And make most of their money at night? Pretty hard to home school her kid during the day."

 

Oliver nodded his agreement, going back further. "Oh... Looks like her aunt homeschooled her. Maria Smoak. Died just before Felicity went off to M.I.T in oh-four." He clicked a link to a new file, and a summary of said aunt's life appeared.

 

Worked mostly as a travel journalist, occasionally a travel agent, traveling all around the world. And probably taking her niece along with her on at least some of the trips if she was responsible for Felicity's schooling, though the file didn't actually say that.

 

Digg went through the basics of the Smoak family background aloud, since Oliver was obviously seeing it for the first time now, too. Apparently, in Felicity's case having a background check done on her didn't necessarily mean reading it all. "Her aunt was named for Felicity's grandmother, a Mary Smoak. She died from cancer back in '74. Raised her sister after that, so guess she just took over with Felicity too. What about granddad? Or Felicity's dad?"

 

"Donna was a single mom, Felicity said," Oliver replied, clicking through the ARGUS informational screens with clear familiarity. "Not sure her dad was mentioned; yeah no name on the birth certificate. She was a preemie."

 

"Small, too," John commented, smirking slightly as he added. "Least she grew a little bit."

 

Oliver snorted, "Don't let her hear you say that. She might start wearing heels all the time."

 

Something the vigilante would probably only mind because their girl had already run into trouble not far from their door, and high heels could've made that night much worse. Not that they'd ever let her walk to her car alone since then, which Felicity hadn't said anything about, but John couldn't shake the feeling that she knew they were following her out even when they were being sneaky about it...

 

"Pretty sure she's more practical than that," the former soldier shrugged, then winced when he saw what Oliver had found on their friend's grandfather. "Damn."

 

"Homicide," Oliver sighed unhappily. "Cold case from '73 in Las Vegas. Never solved."

 

They both read quickly through it, neither one able to not frown as they read about the fate that'd befallen Donald Smoak some forty years ago.

 

"Damn," John swore, shaking his head. "I thought shit like that just happened in the Middle East if you were caught without your gun and backup."

 

Oliver cocked his head to the side. "Do they burn the body too?"

 

"No, I don't think so," John grimaced. "And I thought your ex-girlfriend was a psycho."

 

"And they never caught the guy." The vigilante ignored the comment, his scowl more directed at the screen, which only deepened as he hit another ARGUS link.

 

Then they both swore.

 

"How the Hell was that never in the news?" John wondered, honestly shocked. "I mean, if ARGUS is right...."

 

"Then there's still someone going around cutting off people's heads and burning their bodies," Oliver finished for him, eyes narrowed on the brief info, clearly wondering why there wasn't more there than even that.

 

Even the suspicion wasn't spelled out: it was just there for anyone with access to see themselves in hundreds of unsolved homicides in every major city on the planet, plus more than a handful of less densely populated places, too. Yet it wasn't noted an ARGUS priority, or a priority for anyone, anywhere at all.

 

"This can't be one serial killer," Oliver shot that thought down after studying the screen for a moment more. "Too many places. Too much time."

 

"A cult, maybe?" John wondered aloud. "Some of those things are generational."

 

And wasn't that a scary thought? A cult of murderous madmen like this...

 

"Maybe," Oliver agreed, standing back up all the way and crossing his arms as he considered something.

 

"What?" John asked after a second's silence. "You meet any crazy swordsman on that island of yours?"

 

The vigilante stiffened, but then shook his head, visibly forcing himself to relax. "Nothing like this, no." He was frowning, though, as he met his bodyguard's gaze again. "You think this might be why she learned fencing in the first place?"

 

John blinked at him, "Oliver, that was almost twenty years before she was born."

 

"Sixteen years," Oliver corrected, nodding. "But if there's a computer file on this, do you think she never found it? Her mom and aunt must've talked about their parents."

 

"Talked about them, yeah," the ex-soldier allowed. "Can't see them maybe indoctrinating their little girl into the same cult that got their dad killed, though."

 

The vigilante blinked, then shook his head. "No, I don't think Felicity's... or her family..." he shook his head again. "No, but it might be why she wanted to learn in the first place."

 

After a moment, John agreed uncertainly, "Yeah. Might explain how our computer girl ever got interested in fencing. Don't think they decapitate, though, just stabbing."

 

"She didn't say fencing." Oliver replied undecidedly. "And she said she was bringing swords. Aren't they called something else in fencing?"

 

"No idea," he replied dryly.

 

Oliver kept going anyway. "If she didn't study fencing, she must've studied some sort of martial art, right? I don't think they teach sword-fighting any other way. Except as a specialty."

 

John didn't really see what the difference was there, or where the archer wanted to go with this line of thought, but he nodded anyway. "Uh-huh."

 

That didn't fool Oliver, who snorted again. "Digg, I know nothing would make her background check if she didn't want it to." He admitted, thinking about it a moment, then added, "But why she learned isn't really important. If she can defend herself, even a little, that's good."

 

John nodded slowly, "Could be how she got away from whoever cut her," he ignored the scowl that immediately overtook the vigilante's face again at the reminder, not liking that it'd happened himself, but it had. "Knowing how an attacker moves and how to react is more than half of a fight," he pointed out, then glanced at the computer screens again as an alert sounded.

 

Beep-Beep. Beep-Beep. Beep-Beep.

 

Nothing opened over the background check with the ARGUS logo in it, and the computer stopped sounding after that. Not an alarm, then, just an alert about something they should look at happening. Yes, it could be something more about Deadshot, but considering he was on the other side of the world less than a day ago waiting a few minutes before checking the notification wouldn't hurt.

 

John ignored it in favor of finishing this conversation. "We all have some secrets," he pointed out, forcing a shrug as he indicated the computers. "Still, swordsmanship's not something you really expect from an I.T expert."

 

"No, it's not," Oliver sighed, shaking his head. "And I'm gonna have to ask her about her grandfather—"

 

"Gonna talk about Las Vegas, too?" John cut in. "M.I.T? Why she picked Q.C? What she was doing in Starling before you walked into her office?"

 

The vigilante had rolled his eyes as he waited for him to finish, clearly getting the point. "She knows I did background checks on both of you. Just like you did."

 

John nodded, then finally tried, "Didn't know you had a federal agency do the checking for you."

 

Oliver sighed, "My affiliation with ARGUS is complicated."

 

"Uh-huh," John raised an eyebrow. "Like how you're a Captain in the Russian mob?"

 

The vigilante locked gazed with him for a few stubborn seconds, but then nodded. "Yeah, sort of," he shook his head. "Not the same thing, but similar."

 

"And this somehow came about because of that island, too?" John prodded a little more, wanting the confirmation there because the idea that the man he worked with might've been some sort of spy even before that boat went down, back when everyone knew him as one of the tabloids bad boys wasn't something he was sure he could dismiss out of hand. Because ARGUS recruiting a castaway off an island south of China made even less sense than the Russian mob dropping in to give him the tattoo and rank of a Captain did. Though it was yet another step towards making how easy Oliver had shaken him, back before he found out he was the vigilante, much easier to explain. And, just going by some of the places he knew Lyla had been since leaving the army, ARGUS was definitely an international operation.

 

The former playboy laughed shortly, "Yeah, Digg. Don't worry. I was everything the tabloids said I was back then. Mostly," he shrugged. "Like I said, I had to grow up pretty fast after The Gambit went down."

 

John nodded slowly.

 

The younger man went on before he'd thought of a response. "I get what you're saying, about rushing Felicity. I know I shouldn't hold secrets against anyone, and we just started dating." He shook his head slowly, looking thoughtful as he finished, "But last night went really well. Just talking... till I brought up her jogging," he grimaced, shaking his head. "Maybe she'll feel like opening up a little more."

 

"Shyness isn't something I'd accuse Felicity Smoak of, Oliver," John scoffed slightly, just to see how the other man would react.

 

His headshake was still thoughtful, maybe even hopeful. "Not shy," he agreed. "Just reserved."

 

John couldn't deny that description fit their blonde friend fairly well, that she held back a lot despite her tongue sometimes getting away with itself, so he nodded agreement at that. "Works better if it goes both way," he advised the younger man, before finally turning his attention to see what the problem on the computers was.

 

Oliver didn't say anything as he stepped closer to watch what the programs had found himself.

 

John saw him stiffen out of the corner of his eyes, even as he clenched his own jaw when he immediately recognized that this alert really should've been an alarm.

 

"Helena," the vigilante said softly, standing stiffly as they watched the windows open.

 

On one monitor was the initial police report that'd triggered the initial alarm, but while they were ignoring it Felicity's fairly incredible specialty search program—or maybe programs?—had filled several more screens.

 

It was the security feed (also stolen from the S.C.P.D evidence) that they'd reacted to first. Because a picture really was worth at least a thousand words, and even a short video was made up of a bunch of 'em. Helena Bertintelli dolled up like a stripper and shooting two crossbow bolts into a terrified man—obviously the recording of a murder in the S.C.P.D's jurisdiction—could really only mean one thing.

 

"Looks like your psycho ex-girlfriend's back," John observed unnecessarily, unable to resist the dig. Letting every ounce of disapproval he'd felt towards that relationship show. He hadn't hidden it at the time, and he'd been proven right, so he sure as hell wasn't going to hide it now.

 

Oliver grimaced again, the sight of the admittedly beautiful but ruthlessly vengeful brunette spoiling whatever was left of his good mood this morning. "This was last night?"

 

"Yeah," John confirmed, nodded to the information that was somehow stolen straight from the S.C.P.D. "At Alley Cats, the strip joint." He read a little further. "Police report lists the stiff's name as Gus Sabatoni."

 

"That's Bertinelli's lawyer," Oliver shook his head, some confusion showing through the gruffer mask that'd already started to descend as they started talking 'business.' "Why would she come back to Starling City for him? It's not like he did a good job. Her father's serving consecutive life sentences without parole."

 

John was busy reading the next window to pop up, which was kind of making him wonder if their I.T girl had created artificial intelligence without telling anyone, because her computers really seemed to be thinking and reacting just like the two men were. "Looks like he's cutting a deal with the F.B.I."

 

"What?"

 

"He's agreed to testify against the mob, for immunity and a new life." John read quickly. "He was moved out of Iron Heights 'bout two weeks ago."

After they get his testimony he goes into WITSEC."

 

"Dammit!" Oliver slammed his fist down onto one of the workstations, hard, before spinning towards the training mats to storm towards the dummy that he'd been beating on almost as much as John did ever since Felicity had somehow gotten her phone on its head and probably hurt herself in the process.

 

John spoke up before he could start there. "Further in the report it says that's why the Sabatoni homicide's being handed over Lance."

 

The vigilante visibly forced himself to stop, his scowl just a bit deeper than any of the earlier ones as he was forced to contemplate too many likely, unhappy futures.

 

Because, yes, Lance's team was Starling City's Major Case Squad. But they were also the Vigilante Taskforce. Who had to suspect that the Hood had made the mistake of revealing his real identity to the Huntress, and would want to catch her just for that. The police, for the most part, might not really care if she was still running around murdering mobsters, now or a few months ago, if she was more careful about it. And if she wasn't trying to start a mob war back then. That she might be their best shot at tracking down the vigilante, however, was an opportunity that the S.C.P.D wouldn't pass up.

 

"Come on, Oliver," John crossed his arms as he stood from the computer chair he didn't dare adjust.

 

Because the only time he did that it'd taken him three whole days of apologies and coffee bribes to convince Felicity to let him off the hook and make his phone stop annoying him whenever they weren't talking Hood business. And he still hadn't managed to change his ringtone back to anything reasonable, rather than songs little girls probably liked to dance to: that was why he had it on vibrate all the time.

 

But that wasn't why he was walking closer to his employer and friend, their expressions matching seriousness. "We both knew this was just a matter of time. You tried to help her; you couldn't. Now the question is, how long before she drops the dime on you, me, this whole operation?"

 

The vigilante scowled at the thought, unable to deny it anymore than he could deny that if they went down there was a real risk they'd take their tech girl, his girlfriend, with them. "Okay. I want you to get in touch with our contacts in the Bratva. Talk to anyone on the street. Figure out where Helena is. If her dad's why she's back."

 

"Okay. But Oliver—"

 

"Digg, if she's here, she's here for a reason." Oliver shook his head as he got up and headed for the locker room to change—likely planning on at least a dozen times up his crazy salmon-ladder as punishment for getting them into this position in the first place. "If that's not Frank Bertinelli, we need to know what she has planned."

 

"Okay," John nodded his understanding, but didn't get up yet. "What about Felicity?"

 

That, predictably, gave the self-hating man pause. "What about her?"

 

Like he couldn't remotely see any problem between his crazy ex and his new girlfriend so long as Helena didn't turn him into the cops. Then again, maybe he couldn't.

 

The bodyguard raised an eyebrow. "Oliver, you took her to the most exclusive restaurant in the city last night."

 

"Helena wasn't there," he pointed out stubbornly.

 

"No, but she might read the local gossip rags." John persevered.

 

"That was one date," Oliver shook his head, wincing even while he said it. "Helena won't think anything of it. She thought I was 'the rich man's Lindsay Lohan' before she found out about all of this."

 

"'Before,' being the key word." John pressed dryly, refusing to be amused by anything the crazy Huntress had ever said. "And the club opens tomorrow. Even if Helena doesn't show up, plenty of photographers will, and they'll get pictures." He locked gazes again as he finished with, "Either way, your psycho ex will probably hear about her."

 

"Helena won't do anything to Felicity," Oliver shook his head. "As long as she thinks she's just some girl I just started dating, she has no reason to go anywhere near her."

 

"Since when is that woman 'reasonable?'" John had to snort at that, "Last I checked she was all about vengeance; to hell with whoever gets hurt in the process."

 

And really that was what'd bothered him so much about Helena Bertinelli from the start. Even before she went from shooting bullets at crowds to hit one mobster among them to trying to start an all-out mob war in Starling's streets.

 

Wanting to avenge a loved one was something John could understand, especially now. With the same beast snarling in his chest, curling his fists and making him want to shout at the world for the fact that his brother's murderer still drew breath. If it'd been Lyla that a sniper's bullet had taken from him, whether she was the target or not, John could imagine that the pain might be even worse. But he still couldn't stomach the madwoman's complete disregard for all the other lives she destroyed in the process. That wasn't something Lyla would want. Wasn't something Andy would want either. And John Diggle couldn't want it.

 

The vigilante glared at him for several long seconds, then shook his head. "First you think my dating Felicity's a good idea," he raised an eyebrow at him. "Now you think I should keep my distance while Helena's around?"

 

"Nope," John shook his head. "But your new girlfriend might appreciate a head's up sooner than later."

 

Oliver blinked, then agreed. "Fair enough."

 

"Not like it's worth trying to hide it," John added before the younger man could turn all the way. "If she gets these alerts at home, she probably gets 'em at work, too."

 

That made the younger man grimace, before looking at the clock near the stairs. "I'll head home to change now, then see if I can catch her on her lunch break in a couple hours. She usually goes around 12:30."

 

Made sense: if Felicity's supervisor was already giving her trouble despite (or maybe because of) Oliver's occasional visits in the past, popping in more might not help. Not that John could see the billionaire restraining his protectiveness for very long, but it was the sort of thing an arrow was less than likely to help solve.

 

"I'm gonna up the security for tomorrow, just in case she does show," John called after him. "You might get a complaint from Tommy."

 

"He'd have to talk to me for that," Oliver replied, some of the sadness at the seeming loss of his best friend obviously still an issue. But he was already headed out to where he needed to be.

 

And John had plenty to think about all on his own. Though at least with security plans to work on he could keep his mind busy with thoughts other than the fact that Floyd Lawton, A.K.A Deadshot, was still shooting people dead around the world.

 

One psychopath at a time was a good rule of thumb, right?

Chapter Text

Thea Queen's P.O.V.

 

Thea had to admit when the sitting room was empty, too.

 

It'd been a last, somewhat desperate hope that he might be watching T.V or waiting for someone here. The overly formal room was where their mother liked to watch the morning news in, but neither of her children had ever really liked it. She'd searched every other room in the mansion already though, despite knowing he probably wasn't home because Raisa thought he'd been headed out a little while before his sister had started looking for him.

 

Thea dropped onto the not really comfortable sofa with a groan, reaching for the remote to turn the T.V on. Much as she didn't like this room, it was better than sitting on the stairs waiting to catching him coming in (hopefully sometime soon).

 

Figures that when she really needed to ask him for a favor, Ollie wouldn't be around at all.

 

It'd seemed like such a perfect solution, getting her big brother to give the cute guy from the Glades an honest job. She'd both be able to see Roy Harper occasionally, and stop worrying that there was more truth to his 'lies' about having to steal to survive than he'd indicated that night after she'd told Laurel to have her dad drop the charges for stealing a stupid purse.

 

Sounds good. Know anyone who's hiring high school dropouts with a couple of priors, no references and a history of violence?

 

When he said stuff like that, so matter-of-factly, it was a lot harder to make herself believe that everything he'd said in that interrogation room wasn't true. Even if she'd never seen his mom.

 

And yeah, asking Ollie and Tommy to trust a guy who'd been arrested for grand theft auto with parking cars at their new club might be more than she should do to sooth her guilty conscious. But his situation just didn't seem fair, and it seemed only right to give him at least that chance. Plus, they'd do it, for her.

 

Assuming she ever got the chance to ask them.

 

Thea sighed.

 

She supposed it didn't have to be before the club opened tomorrow night. It wasn't like they couldn't add a few more employees later...

 

A nightclub opened by Oliver Queen and Tommy Merlyn would be a hit in Starling City no matter what it's theme was. The media had lavished praise on it for months, even more so after that crazy pyromaniac had burnt it down during a fundraiser for firefighters. And it wasn't just because the Hood-guy had stopped him: showing up to play the hero again for the first time since the Christmas hostage thing. That was probably part of it; but so was the media wanting legitimate access to Ollie again. He just didn't party like he used to; no one really knew what he did most of the time. So everyone was still curious and the paparazzi wanted pictures. A night club Ollie was guaranteed to frequent was basically a promise of a bunch of tabloid covers with him partying again, whether that was who he was anymore or not.

 

Plus, it was located in the Glades. Something Thea would've thought a lot people would cringe away from, but starting it off with a benefit gala for Starling City's firefighters had been a stroke of genius. Probably Tommy's. It linked the idea of opening a club in the Glades, and partying there, with charity. With helping the less fortunate.

 

Who, if they were anything like Roy Harper, wouldn't accept help easily. You know, for a stuck up, rich bitch, you seem to spend a lot of time here in the Glades...

 

But the new jobs, a steady flow of cash and the added police presence that all but had to appear around a club supported by the Queen family in their city—on top of the club security that Ollie's big bodyguard was putting together—could only help. It was also a relatively short walk from Abercrombie's little house, which was good since he didn't have a car and shouldn't steal one to get to an actual job.

 

You think that's a good idea? Me, taking the keys to strangers' cars?

 

Harper had laid the sarcasm on so thick, but Thea couldn't help but relate to that. It was, after all, exactly how she'd responded to her mother and her brother both trying to save her from herself a few months back. It'd taken a car crash, some terrifying appearances in court, and five-hundred hours community service on top of two years probation to save her from that selfish, almost suicidal spiral.

 

Working at C.N.R.I hadn't turned out to be so bad; and Thea was almost a quarter of the way through her community service hours already, before long she wouldn't even have a real reason to be hanging out in the Glades. Except for her brother's club, of course. Sure, it sucked that she couldn't get her license back for two more years, and any arrests in that time might send her to jail, but she wasn't planning on drugs or parties anymore.

 

Thea didn't think she'd ever be able to make herself admit it, but Laurel was right. Working to help others—from petty criminals who couldn't afford high-priced lawyers to abuse victims, and worse in some cases—was 'it's own reward,' as she'd told Anastasia a few months ago. That Anastasia was on the last week of her pro bono sabbatical had gone unmentioned at the time, but that was probably because it would've made the new girl feel even more anxious.

 

She wasn't so anxious anymore. Where school used to make the world feel big and impossible to control—especially after a storm had snatched her father and brother away from her—working at C.N.R.I helped her learn how to take things one step at a time. That even the biggest of problems could be solved, step by step. Recognizing homework and tests as some of those steps had helped, too: she might actually graduate on time.

 

(Maybe. At least she really hoped so. Since she'd been avoiding telling her mother that a bribe like the one that'd gotten Ollie out of school on time might be necessary for her, too. But her teachers seemed a lot happier with her lately, so she could keep hoping... at least until the next midterm report card came out.)

 

Still, Thea wanted to help Roy Harper a lot more than she wanted to keep worrying about school. Never mind college. Ugh. So the first step for Abercrombie seemed obvious; getting him a real job.

 

Now, if only she could actually catch Ollie long enough to ask him.

 

She'd fallen asleep before he got back from his date last night, and even though he'd slept in later than her this morning, he'd slipped out before she'd gotten back from her morning jog. Really, the worst part about the C.N.R.I stuff had to be that she couldn't really party anymore or sleep in any day that wasn't Sunday. But, while working on Saturday mornings had seemed really unfair those first few weeks, but she'd liked getting lunch with Laurel there. And that was how she'd met Roy in the first place... Granted, she should've been going to school most weekdays anyway before, but she hadn't missed a day since the Vertigo thing!

 

Thea hadn't even had a chance to ask Ollie how his date had gone. Or tease him about it. Raisa wouldn't tell her anything except that he'd had a good time. And she knew better than to ask her mom.

 

Now, knowing her luck, Ollie wouldn't even come home till after she'd had to leave for C.N.R.I—she hadn't had school today for some sort of professional day thing (she hadn't really cared why, since her mom wasn't meeting with teachers and it'd meant she could sleep in). But while Laurel wouldn't give her more than a comment for being late, Thea had learned that it was the sort of thing she shouldn't do at C.N.R.I especially. Actually, she hadn't been willing to even consider risking it yet, and didn't really want to start. What few comments she had gotten from her brother's ex had all been about her closing it a little close.

 

But Thea didn't want to not ask Ollie about giving Roy a job, either. She might see him near C.N.R.I again!

 

Thea sighed, but made herself turn the T.V off and get up. Obviously staking out the living room wasn't getting her anywhere. Why would it? Wherever her brother spent most of his time, it wasn't here at home.

 

Knock-Knock-Knock.

 

The knock came from the front just as she'd stepped into the front hall, and Thea turned towards the doors automatically.

 

Unlike her mother, Thea had never really seen the point in waiting for Raisa to answer the door. Not unless she was avoiding one of her friends. It wasn't like anyone dangerous could get through the security at the front gate and all over the grounds. And even though Raisa would've heard the knock through that baby-monitor-like thing she carried around, the kitchen wasn't that close to the front doors: it wasn't fair to expect her to run all the way here for a package while she was making lunch. And none of the maids the heiress had kept practically tripping on throughout her mansion-wide search for her brother were anywhere to be seen.

 

So Thea opened the door with a smile that she kept in place even though she didn't recognize the pretty brunette standing there, also smiling at her. "Hi, can I help you?"

 

"Hi," the woman replied, still smiling. "Thea, right?"

 

"Yeah," Thea replied, hoping if she kept smiling it wouldn't show on her face that she had no idea who the woman was. That was one problem with being in the tabloids with any kind of regularity: everyone knew what you looked like and who you were even if you'd never met them before.

 

"I'm Helena," the older brunette held out her hand and the teen accepted the handshake automatically. "I was hoping to surprise Oliver. Is he in?"

 

"No," Thea shook her head, finally letting herself wince. "Sorry. He went out a while ago."

 

"Well, drat," Helena frowned, shaking her head, still smiling. "I guess it's my own fault. If I'd called I could've met him in town instead of coming all the way out here." She shrugged, "I was hoping to drag him to Russo's again for lunch."

 

"Russo's?" Thea repeated, trying not to frown as the mention of the nice little Italian restaurant made the picture start to form in her head.

 

If Ollie hadn't told her his date's name when he left last night, she might've made the mistake of thinking that this was her, but her name was Felicity Smoak, not Helena something. So obviously this was one of Ollie's old hangers-on still trying to hang on even though he was trying to move on.

 

Or another fraud like the others that came around after The Gambit. Twelve-year-old Thea had been shocked when she heard Raisa sending away a woman that said she was carrying Ollie's baby. Worse, she was then told that that one was the third one in the two weeks after the boat went down. There had been seven of them all together, and none of them had been willing to talk to the Q.C lawyers, or agree to any sort of D.N.A test at all. After Walter had started to draw her mother out of mourning Thea wasn't too surprised to learn that the older Queen had had every claim investigated and disproved. It would've been nice to have a little niece or nephew: a piece of her brother living on. But instead it'd been a big eye-opener into how much she should trust complete strangers making those sort of claims: not at all.

 

"Yes, we went there for our first date before I left for Europe." Helena told her as she stepped through the narrow opening Thea hadn't realized she'd left in the entryway while she was thinking.

 

The teen frowned at the older brunette, trying to think of a way to get her go away without risk of another bad tabloid story. Something she wouldn't have cared about before all the Vertigo stuff, but she wasn't entirely sure that sort of stuff wouldn't affect her probation and she really didn't want to risk prison or even just not being able to drive for even longer than two years. Well, one year and ten-and-a-half months now.

 

"Miss Thea?" Raisa's familiar voice sent a wave of relief through her.

 

"Raisa, hi," the smile she gave the housekeeper that'd practically raised her was real, and not just from relief. "Ollie's not coming back anytime soon, right? He's still busy with the club stuff? Right?"

 

The Russian-born lady nodded respectfully, her dark eyes still carefully watching the two brunettes, more the unwanted visitor than Thea after a quick, cursory once-over of the heiress. "Mister Oliver isn't often home during the day, no. And the club is opening tomorrow night."

 

"I'd heard about that," Helena agreed, still smiling at the teen: ignoring the Queen family housekeeper like Thea was the one that'd spoken. "But I'm happy to wait. Perhaps we could talk? I'd love to know what Oliver's been up to."

 

Thea hesitated, still not sure if throwing the older woman out wouldn't be a bad thing to do or not. It was starting to feel like risking a tabloid or two would be worth it. "Um, I kind of have to get ready for work."

 

"Oh," the older brunette blinked at her, then frowned. "Shouldn't you be in school?"

 

Thea shook her head, "Day off. Teacher thing. But I work—"

 

"That's nice," Helena cut her off, finally really looking at Raisa. "I'll wait in the sitting room then. I'm sure Oliver won't be long."

 

It very obviously wasn't a question. And Thea's temper was starting to flare under the worries for her future and problems with the law. Without all her partying, drinking and drugs, stuff like that was a lot more dominant in her mind. Especially in awkward social situations like this that got more awkward by the moment.

 

"Apologies, Miss, but the family isn't available for visitors at the moment," Raisa answered in the same voice that'd always soothed Thea, and did so again even though how firm her tone was right now reminded her of the gentle disapproval she'd always received for breaking rules as a child, or things that even Thea's parents considered expensive. "I would be happy to take a message for Mister Oliver if you would like."

 

Suddenly something about the way the brunette looked between them then seemed very cold, even though she was still smiling it'd sharpened somehow, and made Thea very glad Raisa had moved up to stand next to her. Almost in front of her, actually, but maybe that was because Thea kind of wanted to hide behind her.

 

If this was what a lot of Ollie's other ex's were like, she really couldn't blame him for not moving on from Laurel sooner. And it made her really hope that how nervous he'd been last night meant Felicity Smoak was an exception to that rule.

 

"Alright," Helena finally nodded."Tell him I'm sorry I missed him, but I'm back now. And to give me a call." She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a mini notepad, quickly scrawling out a series of numbers. "Here's my mobile."

 

Raisa accepted the folded up note, tucking it into her apron with another respectful nod, her eyes never leaving the other woman.

 

Thea wondered if the housekeeper would let her burn the note before Ollie got home. Or at least change a few of the numbers.

 

"It was nice meeting you, Thea," Helena nodded to her as she headed for the door.

 

"You too," Thea forced a smile with the lie. As soon as the door closed behind the slightly scary still smiling woman, she met her old nanny's eyes. "Can we not give him her number? Please?"

 

"I rarely do, Miss Thea," Raisa told her, shaking her head. "Though that one, I think I might ask security to not allow in again unless Mister Oliver objects."

 

"He better not," Thea grumbled, folding her arms. "She was creepy."

 

Raisa only gave her a small smile. "Will you be staying for lunch, Miss Thea?"

 

She hadn't been planning on it, but she didn't actually have to be at C.N.R.I until three when she was scheduled. Going a few hours early just seemed like a good idea when she had nothing else to do. She would've been gone already if she'd had a chance to ask Ollie earlier about the job for Roy. Which she still hadn't been able to do yet, so Thea nodded. "Yeah, I guess." Then as she followed the older woman towards the kitchen, she asked, "Do you know when Ollie's coming home?"

 

"No, Mister Oliver didn't say, Miss." Raisa gave her that kind smile again. "What would you like for lunch?"

 

Thea shrugged. "Surprise me." She considered a moment, then asked. "Maybe I should call him?"

 

Before the housekeeper could answer, they both heard the sound of the front door opening and closing again, and Thea turned back towards it.

 

"Never mind, I'll be right back," Thea hurried back down the hall, knowing that this could only be her brother because their mom was upstairs, and anyone else would've knocked. "Ollie?"

 

"Speedy?" he called back, sounding slightly concerned, which was on his face, too, as he came around the corner to meet her. "You okay?"

 

"Oh, yeah," Thea blinked, shaking her head because one of his brother's ex-no-one's really wasn't worth getting worked up about. "I just needed to ask you something," she bit her lip uncertainly, only getting more nervous as he watched her, waiting patiently for the question.

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Um... Oh, Raisa's making lunch, do you—"

 

"Actually, I'm gonna try and catch Felicity at work," Ollie interrupted, his slight smile getting a little bit bigger. Warmer. "She's not always good about taking breaks. But thanks," he explained, then asked. "Was that it?"

 

"No!" Thea shook her head quickly, wincing as she did so, but then just making herself ask, "I, um, I kind of have this pseudo friend that's looking for a job? I was wondering if the club's still hiring?" she finished nervously, and to her relief, her brother immediately nodded.

 

"Yeah. Of course. You'll have to talk to Tommy since he's the manager, but I'm sure it won't be a problem," Ollie reassured her, still watching her for a moment, before frowning. "Speedy, everything okay?"

 

"Yeah, fine," Thea nodded automatically, not sure how to put into words the thoughts still forming in her head.

 

"Are you sure?" Ollie asked again, still frowning worriedly.

 

"Yeah, Ollie, I'm fine," she tried to tell him, but he wasn't convinced.

 

"Shouldn't you be in school? Did you stay home sick?" He was pressing one of his big, callus roughened but warm hands to her forehead even as he asked.

 

Thea indulged him for a second, knowing she wasn't sick.

 

Her big brother was still frowning as he pulled his hand away. "You don't feel warm."

 

"There's no school today, Ollie. Conferences or something. I'm not sick. I'm fine, really," Thea insisted with a sigh, looking down as she admitted, "I just didn't like one of your ex's very much. Raisa got rid of her, but it was... awkward."

 

"Ex's?" Ollie repeated, his frown confused when she looked up at him again now. Though some of that worry was still there, so maybe he'd dated more chicks with crazy vibes than she'd imagined.

 

"Yeah, Helena something? Don't think she told me her last name," Thea shook her head, then looked back at her brother, who's whole worried face had darkened. "She just got back from Europe, I guess?" the teen considered uncertainly, not liking that dark worry at all. Not sure if it meant he was mad he'd missed this 'Helena,' or not. "She—uh, she said you went to Russo's with her?"

 

She hadn't said when, but Ollie obviously remembered her. He didn't look any happier at that, but he asked, "Did she say anything else?"

 

"Just that she missed you, and to call her, Raisa has her number," Thea wrinkled her nose, really wishing she'd just stayed in the kitchen and made sure their housekeeper didn't mention the woman to him. She really should've ripped the little note up and tossed it down the toilet.

 

"Okay, thanks, Thea." Ollie nodded. "You said Raisa's in the kitchen, right?"

 

"Yeah. Making lunch," Thea followed him down the hall. "You could bring Felicity lunch?" she suggested when they were almost there.

 

Ollie stopped and turned back to her with another frown, but it didn't bother her like the last few had; that dark worry was still there behind his eyes. He looked more confused than worried as he focused on her again. "What?"

 

"I mean, if she's really busy at work, right? She still needs lunch, but she might prefer eating there?" Thea shrugged uncertainly

 

Maybe she shouldn't really be trying to give her brother advice about his girlfriend when she hadn't even met the woman yet. But she didn't want him to forget that he was planning on a lunch date with her just because some scary old flame had flown into town. Especially when this Felicity seemed so good for him: she made him smile even when he was nervous and it was so cute...

 

Thea didn't want to see some other woman ruin that, and going by all his mistakes with Laurel and the sheer number of other women the renowned playboy used to screw, he might need the reminder. "Laurel and a lot of the other lawyers at C.N.R.I do that all the time, sometimes for dinner, too." She went on hurriedly, "And Raisa makes really good lunches, so..."

 

"She does," Ollie agreed with a grin. "And it's a great idea." Then he shook his head. "But I kind of want to get her out of work, Speedy. To talk about... stuff."

 

Thea frowned. "Didn't your date go well?"

 

"Yeah. Yeah, last night was great," her brother reassured her, his face looking a little lighter as he thought about it. "We just have a lot to talk about."

 

"That's good," Thea decided, nodding slowly, liking that lightness around his eyes. "Talking's good." She stopped him again as he started to turn. "But who's Helena?"

 

He frowned again, the light from talking about Felicity gone as quickly as it'd come. "She's just someone I haven't seen in a while, Thea. That's all."

 

"So she's not... I mean, you're not..." Thea bit her lip, not wanting to actually ask the words.

 

Ollie sighed heavily. "I'm not cheating on Felicity, Thea," he told her, looking more sad than angry. Not in his frowning expression, that didn't really change; it was in his eyes.

 

Like he was disappointed she'd think that of him, but knew he deserved it, too, after all the times he'd cheated on Laurel even before he and Sara Lance went down with The Gambit. All the stuff that twelve-year-old Thea Queen would've never heard about back then, but found in plenty back when she was searching for anything to help her not forget her brother and found what most of the world thought of him on the worldwide web. The beginning of her own downward spiral into around-the-clock partying, drinking and drugs. It hurt to see then, and hurt to remember now almost as much as that disappointment in his eyes that she knew was directed more at himself than her, but it was the truth all the same...

 

"Not with Helena, or anyone else," Ollie finished reassuring her.

 

Thea really wanted to believe him. Believe that he'd had to have grown up enough in the last five years to know he'd found a good thing and wouldn't screw it up. Because maybe if he could grow up and make something of herself, there was a chance she could, too. "Not sure Helena agreed with you," she told him flatly.

 

"You're probably right." He sighed, shaking his head again. "That's why I need to call her, okay? Make sure she knows it's over."

 

"Okay," Thea agreed softly, nodding tentatively still. Still a little worried about the force of personality that she hadn't quite been sure she shouldn't have been running away from. That she really hoped her brother knew better than to run towards.

 

"Go call Tommy," Ollie told her again. "Let him know about your friend. I'm sure we still need plenty of valets or waiters."

 

"Great. You rock," Thea told him sincerely, her smile coming a little easier this time, relief at the fact that she'd gotten what she'd wanted warring with whether or not the cute purse-snatcher she had a crush on could really be trusted to work honestly for her brother, and hoping that her brother wasn't going to screw his life up again all on his own. Or with Helena's help.

 

"Oh, there you are."

 

Their mother's abrupt appearance around the corner made Thea jump in surprised.

 

Ollie, to her annoyance, didn't look even a little startled. "Hi Mom," he greeted her with a smile and a kiss on the cheek.

 

"I have a question about your opening tomorrow night," she told him, but then paused to frown at her daughter. "Thea, shouldn't you be getting ready for work? I thought you were headed in early with the day off from school?"

 

"I will, Mom," Thea rolled her eyes. "After I eat lunch," she gestured towards the kitchen, then went up on her tiptoes to press a kiss to her brother's cheek. "Thanks, Ollie. Good luck with your date."

 

"Thanks, sis," he answered sincerely, before turning his attention to their mother.

 

Inside the kitchen, Thea wasn't surprised to find Raisa already setting an elaborate salad out at her typical seat for her. "Thanks, Raisa," she flashed an easy smile to her.

 

"You are most welcome, Miss Thea," her childhood nanny returned her smile with a warm one of her own.

 

Thea glanced behind her at the closed kitchen door before she looked back at the older woman and asked, "Don't suppose you already burned her number?"

 

Raisa chuckled, "No, Miss. That is Mister Oliver's business."

 

Thea frowned. "You said you don't always give him the notes when girls leave their number for him."

 

"No, not if Mister Oliver does not want them." Raisa told her. "Frequently he does not."

 

That made the teen's frown deepen. "How many girls just drop by to leave their number for him?"

 

"Only the most determined," the housekeeper shook her head. "Not so many since Mister Oliver's return, before Miss..." she frowned, and Thea remembered she hadn't heard the leggy brunette mention her last name either even before the housekeeper went on. "Before the young lady today. There have been some calls. As there always were before."

 

"But Ollie doesn't call them back?" Thea asked, her morbid fascination at just how many fangirls her brother had making her keep at it. Also, she couldn't help finding it funny that Raisa so clearly wasn't willing to refer to this morning's unwanted caller by her first name. Even if she didn't disagree; that particular honorific was reserved for family, not creepy callers. At least that was how it worked in Thea's mind, whether it was the truth or not.

 

"Mister Oliver was only rarely interested in their messages," Raisa confirmed.

 

"Wait," Thea frowned as she remembered her own days as a party girl, even curtailed as they now were. "Do guys call for me, too?"

 

"Only if they do not have your personal number, Miss." Raisa replied evenly. "Missus Queen insists that only your schoolmates be permitted to contact you thus."

 

"Course she does," Thea grumbled automatically. Not doing more than that, though, because she didn't really care.

 

She ran into a lot of people that seemed fun while she was buzzed and/or high, only to later realize that most of whatever fascinated her about them at the time had more to do with where she met them or what she was on than anything about the other partygoers themselves. She'd learned pretty early on not to give out her phone number, and it was a lesson that stuck even when she was out having fun.

 

In fact, thinking on it as she munched on some of her salad, Thea wasn't really sure she'd care if she ever went partying with Shane Colvin again. She knew Morgan really wanted Chris Fuller to notice her, though, so it was worth it if it helped her B.F.F out. Even if she'd rather just get Morgan and Margo in to party with her friends. Though she was kind of curious about if Morgan's promise of being her plus one into Verdant had more to do with a guarantee of getting into her brother's club, or if Shane had actually grown a spine since Ollie caught him with her at the Christmas Party.

 

Now if she could get Roy Harper to agree to be her plus one, that'd be another story. The opening of her big brother's nightclub could lead to said big brother trying to scare another potential boyfriend off. Again. But a gangbanger from the Glades probably wouldn't find him as intimidating as the guy who was really only cool 'cause he was the head of the only band in her school, right?

 

"Mister Oliver," Raisa acknowledged him with a smile when he walked into the kitchen, and nodded to their mother right behind him. "Missus Queen. Would you like anything for lunch?"

 

"Yes, please, Raisa, a salad would be lovely," the Queen matriarch replied, and as she headed for the seat she so rarely took at the counter for informal meals instead of insisting their meal be moved to the dining room, Thea couldn't help but be please.

 

"Thanks, Raisa, but no," Ollie answered, shaking his head. "Thea said you have a message for me?"

 

"Yes, Mister Oliver."

 

He accepted the folded note that the Russian lady pulled from her apron with a small smile. "Thank you."

 

"Is everything ready at the club?" their mother asked before he could leave, making her daughter wonder what she'd been asking him in the hall, but she couldn't say she wanted him to run away right now either.

 

"Yeah," Ollie confirmed immediately, tucking the note in his coat pocket after a quick glance, he gave them both a smile. "Doors open tomorrow night." He shook his head. "Finally."

 

"Hopefully this time no one wants to burn it down," Thea commented, shrugging when everyone looked at her. "What? It happened before. Remember? They said on the news that it would've been worse if the Hood guy hadn't been there."

 

"Yes, well, thankfully the man responsible for that can't attempt it again," their mother replied with a grimace that melted into a smile as she nodded her thanks to Raisa when her own salad was set in front of her. Instead of eating, though, she turned her smile on her son. "I'm sure everything will be go wonderfully, Oliver."

 

"Thanks, Mom," he returned her smile, then turned towards the door. "I've gotta get going. Enjoy your lunch, ladies."

 

"Tell Felicity we said 'hi!'" Thea called after him, "And we can't wait to meet her!"

 

No answer came from her brother as the kitchen door swung shut behind him, but their mother and Raisa both chuckled lightly.

 

"He has promised to introduce us tomorrow night, sweetheart," her mother reminded her gently.

 

Thea sighed, "Yeah. But he's gonna call another chick while he's headed over to meet her for lunch," she shook her head. "That wouldn't seem right even if she hadn't been kind of creepy."

 

The small smile on her mother's face turned upside down. "'Creepy'?" she repeated as she speared some salad on a fork, taking a polite bite and chewing it as she waited for her daughter's response.

 

Thea didn't need to think about swallowing her own bite of food before answering, those etiquette lessons she'd hated at a kid still made those kinds of things natural. "Yeah, this woman just stopped by," she shook her head, stabbing a slice of cucumber with her fork to dip it in the bowl of dressing on the side. "I saw her walking up and answered the door 'cause Raisa was in the kitchen and, well, I kinda thought she might be his new girlfriend, but she said her name was Helena."

 

Her mother nodded, "And your brother is dating Felicity Smoak." She sighed, but then shook her head and reassured her daughter. "I'm sure Oliver knows what he's doing, darling. He's clearly happy with Miss Smoak."

 

"So why's he calling 'Helena' back?" Thea grumbled.

 

"We all have pasts we can't escape from, Thea," Moira shook her head. "And sometimes ignoring past mistakes is even more of a mistake than the one made before." She nodded. "Perhaps your brother simply wants to make sure this woman from his past doesn't think she can interfere in future." Then she looked at their housekeeper with a small frown. "What was her last name, Raisa?"

 

"She didn't say," Thea answered before Raisa could, not wanting her to get in trouble with her mother for something she'd brought up. "She wanted to wait for Ollie to come home," she explained to her mother. "But... like I said, she was kind of creepy."

 

"And you didn't want to talk to her if she wasn't Oliver's new girlfriend," her mother said shrewdly.

 

Thea shrugged, "Well, yeah, but she was... really pushy, too. I almost thought we were going to have to call the security guys." She tried not to feel too put out when her mother immediately looked at Raisa for confirmation.

 

When the housekeeper nodded, Thea's mother frowned. "Well, clearly I'll need to have a discussion with security about who is and isn't allowed entry to the grounds."

 

"I can do that, Missus Queen," Raisa immediately volunteered.

 

"Thank you, Raisa, but I would prefer to make the point clear myself." She shook her head. "Our security staff shouldn't need to be apprised of the fact that our home isn't open to the public. I'd best make that clear to them before Oliver's club opens. Who knows how many of the clientele might otherwise make the mistake of thinking their visiting here uninvited would be welcome," she shook her head.

 

"Of course, Missus Queen," the housekeeper immediately deferred.

 

Thea wanted to snap at her mother for treating the woman that'd done most of the work in raising her like she was any other member of the hired help, but her mother's face softened almost immediately

 

"But thank you, Raisa, for helping Thea," the Queen matriarch smiled kindly at her.

 

Raisa started to shake her head, still deferentially, but stayed quiet as her employer kept speaking warmly.

 

"Your diligence has always been a greater comfort to me than I can express, and I certainly don't mean to imply otherwise."

 

"I am happy to be of service, Missus Queen." The Russian lady bowed her head, but there was sincerity and warmth in her voice.

 

Seeing that the bashful woman was flattered by the eldest Queen's attention made the teenager glad she'd taken another bite of salad instead of snapping at her mother a moment ago.

 

"Now, Thea," her mother turned to her, "I'm sure I don't need to remind you how important tomorrow night is for your brother?"

 

"Don't worry, Mom," The teenager rolled her eyes, trying to not let herself be too offended. "I'll be on my best behavior."

 

Even if she didn't really associate nightclubs with any sort of behavior her mother might consider 'good,' Thea wouldn't want to do anything to spoil the night for Ollie and Tommy. And, remembering the way her brother's eyes had warmed at the mere mention of his new girlfriend, she wanted to make a good impression on her, too. So even if she didn't have the probation hanging over her head and hundreds of hours more of community service left to go, the youngest Queen would be willing to follow her mother's lead.

 

At least Ollie had promised they'd meet this 'Felicity Smoak' at the opening tomorrow night. If he hadn't, his sister might've had to do something drastic. Like find some reason to visit the I.T department at Q.C. Or create it. Dump a latte on her laptop, or something like that.

Chapter Text

Oliver Queen's P.O.V.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Well, most of it anyway.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

At least with this phone call.

 

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

 

"—having lunch with Felicity right about now?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"What just making small talk?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Thanks," he replied with equal humorous sarcasm.

 

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

 

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

 

Oliver sighed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

All the same, it suddenly felt too quiet.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So he couldn't be surprised she was back.

 

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

 

But Oliver had been Bratva. Still was, technically.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


**WARNING**


 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 


**END WARNING**


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Chapter Text

Felicity's P.O.V.

 

BURING! BURING! BURING! BURING! BURING!

 

Felicity jumped when her phone rang, the abrupt noise startling her out of her multitasking and simultaneously making her fingers fly through the steps of closing the windows she shouldn't have open here almost without thought.

 

She really shouldn't be trying to find Floyd Lawton, or keeping track of the news on Helena Bertinelli either, not while she was working at Q.C. But since she was at present still mostly hidden away here in the server room the temptation was hard to ignore. And needs must.

 

Her hand was halfway to the company phone on her desk a moment later, but the second ring didn't come from it. And it wasn't the right sound anyway.

 

BURING! BURING! BURING! BURING! BURING!

 

No, it was her cell phone. Which shouldn't be ringing here.

 

Oliver and Diggle had her numbers, of course. But the phone would be vibrating if it was either of them calling or texting, unless they used the emergency settings she wasn't entirely sure either of them had understood how to use. In the absence of an emergency call, here inside Queen Consolidated, her mobile phone would only vibrate. What should be the only exception being if the person calling triggered that emergency setting... except that wasn't what was going on because then the ringtone should've been an alert sound like the red-alert from Star Trek.

 

BURING! BURING! BURING! BURING! BURING!

 

Felicity would never set her phone to that ringtone. She'd been sick of the long, drawn out sound not too long after the rotary phones first started becoming accessible to the public. The novelty of being able to communicate with someone directly from afar forced her to overcome her dislike, and the convenience made her keep the thing, but it'd been a marked improvement in her mind when phones with different sounds started appearing on the market. So she didn't need to look at the caller I.D on the screen to know who was calling her.

 

BURING! BUR—

 

"What?" she answered sharply, not bothering to bite back her annoyance even though she knew that was what her oldest friend was aiming for with the trick.

 

"Well, hello, Felicity. How are you on this fine day?" Methos answered her with the genial personality and English accent of the ex-Watcher persona he was still using—Adam Pierson.

 

The personality wasn't actually as fake as the accent, over all he really was pretty easy going most of the time. Just like she was. You had to be, to survive adapting to age after age without your sanity making a break for it. And they were both used to adopting whatever languages and accents they needed to, in order to fit in wherever they happened to be making their lives at the time.

 

There were times when that was specific 'voice,' as it were, was supposed to tell her that she was talking to was a new Immortal that the Watchers were still aware of—an identity he hadn't deliberately lost just yet because the usable connection to the Watchers was just too convenient to drop without a good reason. Even though he wasn't the only one they had in the Watchers and never had been, it was useful to know exactly what the Watchers were willing to tell an Immortal who they'd known as one of them that'd supposedly then 'become' an Immortal. Though Methos's friendship with the Highlander, and especially Duncan MacLeod's own Watcher, Joe Dawson, also meant her brother was in no rush to abandon one of the few mortal friends he had these days that knew who and what he was. It always was hard not to cling to the mortals who not only found out the truth but actually accepted it, let alone embraced it: especially since all Immortals couldn't help but learn the hard truth that all mortals died at some point, and the ones you wanted to hold onto died sooner than you could ever like.

 

There were also times when her 'big brother' was just emphasizing that carefree attitude to deliberately aggravate her a little more than normal. Because while Adam Pierson pre-reveal to the rest of the Watchers had to be a bit more careful in maintaining a 'mortal' persona, afterwards, as a recognized 'new Immortal' and a friend of the younger Highlander, he'd given himself a lot more leeway. Though he'd always managed to be annoying when it was his aim, either way.

 

Felicity didn't let herself sigh, she could only expect more teasing from her brother if she did, and she didn't have time for his sense of humor right now. "Good morning, Adam," She replied dutifully. "I'm fine. I'm sure you are too. Now what do you want? I'm working."

 

Methos snorted, "Felicity, you're quite capable of doing your I.T job with one arm in a sling and blind, I'm sure. Talking to me on the phone while you type and check simple codes and answer emails or instant chats isn't going to hurt anyone."

 

That was true.

 

What's more, she didn't really have to worry about her job. She never had had to worry about it the way most mortals did: if she was laid off or fired or felt the need to quit, well, it wasn't like she didn't have plenty of places she could move on to. And her 'savings' could hold her over a lot longer than most small countries could last, without even touching the ancient treasures she didn't particularly care about.

 

Then again, she had no desire to leave Starling City anytime soon, but if someone at Q.C did threaten her job Oliver likely wouldn't keep quiet about her being fired from his family's company for anything less than a felony. But Oliver had enough on his plate with Helena Bertinelli back in town, and she was still expecting a call from him sometime soon about that. Her search program at the Foundry would've alerted him and Diggle, both there and by their phones if Digg hadn't checked into the Foundry hours ago. The same program had alerted her phone right away. Because Oliver's vengeful, psychotic ex-girlfriend's name and handle had made the semi-long list of 'high level' alerts that she didn't want sitting unanswered for any length of time. Ergo, she got the alert as soon as the S.C.P.D released the latest bulletin on her—which was at six o'clock this morning.

 

But also not at all what her old mentor would be calling about, anymore than he'd be interested in her search for the sniper that'd escaped Starling City's vigilante twice now. Unless Deadshot turned out to be not shot dead because he was like them, but she still had her fingers crossed on that not being the case. After all, Oliver had only shot him in the eye—mortals had survived that in the Middle Ages, occasionally, it was all dependent upon how deep that arrow went...

 

Felicity sighed into the lingering silence, "I appreciate the compliment—"

 

"Not a compliment," he corrected, and she could almost see his smirk. "A statement of fact."

 

"But you know I don't like taking personal calls at work. It's unprofessional."

 

That earned another snort from one of the very few people in the world that was actually older than her. "Right. Well then, I'm calling about Fournier."

 

Felicity didn't let herself respond verbally until she was sure she wasn't flinching anymore. "Who?"

 

"Don't play coy." Most of the humor was gone from his voice now, the stern older brother coming to the fore in his annoyance with her. "Mathis Fournier. Headhunter. Born in France in the late 1940s. Doesn't keep up with the latest trends too well as he wanders the world looking for heads to take... or he didn't, until he quit headhunting after his stop in Starling City 'bout a week ago. Am I ringing any bells yet?"

 

"One less headhunter in the world is hardly a bad thing, Adam," Felicity offered softly.

 

She knew that wasn't going to cut it today. But there were worse questions he could ask.

 

She'd really rather he not be asking anything at all. Her brother never used to check on her nearly as often as he did these days, but then again all the conveniences of modern communication were to blame for that. Just like many mortal parents these days, the fact that he could check up on her from afar meant he did, sometimes more often than she liked. But better that than him arriving here in person...

 

"I couldn't agree more." Methos replied matter-of-factly. "Which is why you're supposed to take their head when they challenge you. Not let them go after proving you're the better fighter."

 

Felicity frowned. "Is that what the Watchers think happened?"

 

"No, that's what I know happened." Her teacher admitted, irritation dripping from each word. "His Watcher lost track of him after he arrived in Starling—didn't find him again till he was flying out three days later."

 

Felicity nodded, glad that he at least couldn't yell at her for being unaware of being watched. Especially since she had looked for the Frenchman's Watcher. "And he hasn't taken up headhunting again?"

 

Methos was silent a long moment, then he growled. "That's not the point."

 

"He hasn't, has he?" she pressed, pleased to have some confirmation of her reading on the younger Immortal she'd let keep his head. After all, that he could change, that he wasn't completely trapped in the Game yet, was why she hadn't wanted to take his head. So the confirmation that she'd been right and he had, in fact, made the effort to keep his end of the bargain for his life did mean something to her.

 

"Felicity, you can't keep letting headhunter's who aren't yet good enough to kill you go!" Methos snapped, all the centuries he'd been like a big brother to her shining through the words. "One day, one of them might get better and come back for you."

 

"Maybe. But it's my life, big brother. My choice."

 

It was an argument they'd had more than once over each millennium. The explosion of technological innovation in the last century, however, just meant everything seemed to happen more quickly—and sometimes more often, too, as a result.

 

Methos wasn't just learning she'd spared two headhunters in the last decade as they met up again after a decade or two apart. No. With the Internet, and more importantly the Watchers, he could keep an eye on her from afar as often as he wanted—and spend more time worrying about her than he had in any other millennium.

 

"Big brother," she went on in her mother-tongue. The language of ancient Carthage when it'd still been young and glorious, which most historians and linguists alike could only guess at since the Roman's ruinous conquest. "The boy barely had half a century of experience. And his heart wasn't in the duel at all. He was happy for the excuse to stop headhunting."

 

"And if you see him again?" Methos growled the words out, slipping into the same tongue as easily as he did every other.

 

As he'd once taught her how to do.

 

Felicitas knew she owed this man everything, that she likely wouldn't still exist today if he hadn't gone out of his way to take her under his protection and teaching millennia ago. But that didn't mean she had to let him control every aspect of her life.

 

"I warned him not to seek me out for the Game again. you know I always do," She reminded him gently. "If he ever challenges me again, he will die."

 

"Or maybe you will."

 

The ancient queen chuckled. "Perhaps," she shook her head. "Even if I do... I've lived a long time, big brother. If it comes to that, I'll die with fewer regrets playing the Game by my own rules than I would otherwise."

 

"I suppose there is that," the former Horseman allowed with a sigh as he switched back to English. After a very long span of silence, he asked. "Any other bomb-collar-wielding maniacs since the jewel thief? I heard he couldn't dodge your vigilante."

 

"The Hood caught him, yes," Felicity nodded, hoping her voice sounded right as she added. "You saw that in the news, too? With the way the media presents him, it's a wonder the police are still able to mount a taskforce to send after him."

 

"He's still a vigilante, Felicity. Whether he occasionally aspires to champion of the city or not," Methos reminded her. "And while we may not have the right to judge such things, societies with laws and the like are always better than anarchy."

 

Felicity did flinch at that, memories of all the chaos she'd seen in various war zones and the like leaving her unable to deny that. It wasn't always wars. Sometimes it was plagues. Sometimes famine or witch hunts or a particularly disastrous natural event: a storm, an earthquake or a tsunami. What was worse was when it was a combination of more than one—it took an area a long time to forget just one tragedy, when they piled on top of each other it became impossible for at least a generation to forget. Sometimes far longer still.

 

"But, hey, at least he's just going around shooting people with arrows," Methos allowed more casually. "If he creates a bunch of copycats, hopefully they'll do the same."

 

Felicity snorted, "I thought you didn't like getting shot with an arrow anymore than a gun?"

 

"Well, no, both hurt like hell, of course—as you well know. But as long as the head stays attached everything else is fine in the end."

 

Felicity shook her head. "I don't know. Personally I might prefer decapitation to burning again. I think I've burnt more than my fair share." She was almost surprised she could finish so mildly. Not too long ago talking about that would've made the words catch in her throat and it'd feel like the thoughts alone were suffocating her just like that thick, hot smoke had before her dress caught fire.

 

"Never suffered that end myself," Methos admitted mildly. "On a stake or not."

 

She already knew that, but that wasn't the point. This was the way they always talked about their prior deaths. Which were somehow always easier to talk about than many parts of their prior lifetimes—loves lost, especially—ever were. With some only some exceptions. So it wasn't surprising he didn't blink at her finally being able to talk about that death. It wasn't like it was even the most recent traumatic one; just the last to involve real heartbreak. And they both had plenty of practice playing light-hearted when it came to

 

"Count yourself lucky," Felicity told the older Immortal with a weighty sigh.

 

One that he, not surprisingly, recognized from the weight of his silence. Because both of them couldn't not recognize the toll of their very long pasts, and while sometimes a friendly ear did help, there were too many tales that'd already been talked to death. And a few that were best forgotten: in so far as they could be.

 

Knock-Knock.

 

Felicity jumped, too-wide eyes flying to the doorway at the polite tapping. "Oliver!" she blinked at him, honestly startled at just how surprised she was to see him standing there. She had been waiting to hear from him, after all, and it wasn't exactly surprising that he'd decide to just show up at Q.C instead. It was sometimes terrifying—how all-consuming mere thoughts of the past could be...

 

"Nope, I'm Adam," Methos answered her through the phone, and then the crafty, nosy bastard sounded far too intrigued as he asked her: "Who's 'Oliver?'"

 

The man in question was giving her a warm smile that almost hid the worry in his eyes as he sat down in one of the chairs on the other side of her desk, signaling to her that he could wait.

 

Except she couldn't keep talking to Methos in front of him. For a random person she could switch to a little known dialect of some language they wouldn't know and trust that their own ignorance would embarrass them into not asking too many questions afterwards. But Oliver would ask questions. She'd told him to.

 

"Uh, sorry, Adam. I have to go," Felicity said, ignoring her new love-interest's immediate frown.

 

"Who's Oliver?" Methos persisted obstinately, obviously having heard more than just surprise in her tone. "New boyfriend?"

 

How did he...

 

Felicity frowned. "Goodbye, Adam." She ended the call, switching her frown for a small smile at the man across from her. "Hi Oliver."

 

"Hey," he replied, somehow sounding both happy and worried all at once. His earlier smile was a frown now, but it was still full of that warmth that reminded her of the sun. "You didn't have to do that. I could've waited."

 

"Oh, I really didn't want to talk to him anyway," she reassured him quickly, shrugging as she set her cellphone on the desk.

 

Oliver blinked at it. "I thought you didn't answer your cell at work? That Q.C didn't allow it?" he raised an eyebrow.

 

Felicity sighed. "It's still set to let emergency calls through. I told you how to do that," she grimaced. "And my brother knows how to override it if he wants to. Even if it's not an emergency."

 

"Brother?" Oliver blinked at her.

 

And just how surprised he looked for a half-second there made her realize her mistake. Felicity Smoak didn't have a brother, did she? Felicitas did, in so far as any Immortal ever could. Dammit, what was her current relationship to her teacher on paper these days anyway?

 

She couldn't remember the last time she'd slipped up this badly. Because even though that surprise hadn't been there for even a full second, it'd still been there. And it told her that Oliver had looked into her—as she'd known he would have—and he probably hadn't seen anything about a brother.

 

Because as Felicity Smoak she didn't have one. Was he her 'uncle' now, or her 'cousin?'

 

Marie Smoak had had a brother, though only after Felicitas assumed her dead friend's identity to raise her daughter. But the man that'd been Donna's honorary uncle, and then uncle to both 'Smoak sisters' couldn't be Felicity's great-uncle. He looked far too young. So she hadn't even tried to fabricate anything after the missing persons report for an elderly, absent-minded uncle that was never found. He'd been so busy meddling with the younger Highlander's life in that timeframe that she hadn't seen any reason to bother creating another identity for him that likely wouldn't be used... so she hadn't given them any relationship at all, had she?

 

"Felicity?" Oliver looked more worried now. "Everything okay with your brother?" His tone was free of that earlier surprise, but she still remembered it, and it's absence now meant he'd noticed her reaction, too.

 

Dammit.

 

Felicity closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then smiled as she looked at him again. "Yeah. Just an old argument."

 

Oliver nodded slowly. "Anything I can help with?"

 

"No," She snorted, chuckling as she shook her head. "Thank you though."

 

He nodded. "His name's Adam?"

 

Felicity forced a strained smile at that. "You didn't come here to talk about my brother, Oliver." She raised a knowing eyebrow when he started to shake his head. "You didn't even know I had a brother."

 

For a long moment it looked like he might not let it go, and she knew that even when he sighed and shook his head that this wasn't going completely away.

 

"You already know," he said as he realized she already knew why he'd been doing a not so great job of hiding the fact that he was worried when he got here.

 

Because of Helena Bertinelli. A.K.A 'The Huntress.'

 

Felicity nodded, "Yeah, I got the alert this morning."

 

Oliver's frown returned, "Why didn't you tell me?"

 

"Figured you'd see it at the Foundry soon enough," she shrugged, not letting herself wince at the fact that the motion seemed to be just as instinctively ingrained as she'd feared. Though that was neither here nor there, but her answer wasn't a lie either.

 

Actually, that detection grid she'd set up on the system in the Foundry wasn't the only one that sent alerts to her phone. She had more than a few setups going--constantly searching--well before Oliver had first walked up to her desk. Several were searching for other Immortals, either by their reputation among the Immortal community or others if only because the Watchers had, with good reason, labeled them dangerous. Some other programs tracked the Watchers themselves, too; something that was far easier than it once was, because the Watchers themselves kept such good track of each other. They always had, of course, as knowing where their people were was a large part of knowing where the ones they were tracking happened to be, too, but these days modern technology made it almost too easy. Setting up yet more systems for Oliver's mission had seemed like a matter of course, even before she'd started searching for Deadshot specifically, she'd been keeping track of the crime in the city because some criminals made much more moral targets for Oliver than many of the names in 'The List.'

 

But when she'd seen what the low-level alert was for this morning, she hadn't wanted to call him about it. She hadn't wanted her first phone call to him following their date to be about his ex-girlfriend. Maybe that was a little unfair or even immature of her, since she had been expecting him to call her about it, but it wasn't like she'd hidden it from him.

 

"It wasn't like it was something happening this morning," Felicity reminded him hesitantly when he kept frowning. "It was about a police report from last night. It just hit the S.C.P.D's system this morning." She paused, then offered, "I haven't worked all the bugs out of the matrix for the general communications systems yet: not for anything other than certain keywords. It's coming along, but it'll take a little while. Still, I could set our computers up to alert your phone, too, if you want?" When he visibly thought about it, she added quickly, "But it'd have to be a different phone from your personal one. A burner, maybe? I could set it up?"

 

Oliver shook his head. "We have some spare burners back at the Foundry. I'll get you the numbers." He didn't bother asking why it had to be a different phone from his personal one. Either because he could seeing the practicality of not wanting to receive messages related to or referencing his vigilantism on his the phone with an open account under his name, or he simply trusted her judgment in the technological area that'd really become her domain the moment she'd shaken his hand. Though he wasn't really a slouch himself, even if he had had to keep coming to her for help with stories that seemed to become increasingly more unbelievable each time she saw him.

 

Felicity nodded, biting her lip. Not sure if she should try to correct her earlier mistake or focus on the present. Not at all used to being so unsure. But she didn't want to lie to him, and that made saying anything hard.

 

"Have you taken your lunch break yet?"

 

"Uh-no?" She blinked at him, then glanced at the clock, stunned to see just how late it was. "No, I haven't."

 

"Great," Oliver stood, offering her his hand over the desk. "Let's go."

 

The Immortal accepted the gallantry without thought, more amused by it than anything else. "I thought we were going to dinner somewhere, tomorrow, before the club opens?" she teased, nodding her thanks while he helped her into her coat.

 

That was the 'next' date they had planned, but plans could change. And even knowing why they were changing now it didn't really bother her. The return of an old, somewhat dangerous flame wasn't a bad reason for the change. Actually, since he'd come to see her in person and was willing to go somewhere with her (rather than deciding to put everything on hold for the first hurdle they'd encounter since they started seeing each other), this was potentially a very good sign.

 

"That's tomorrow," Oliver shook his head, tucking her arm through his and leading her from her office. "And we really should talk about this now."

 

The clear plea (and worry) in his voice made her instantly fold. "All right," Felicity acquiesced, glad to see that most of her co-workers weren't back from their own lunch breaks yet. Stevenson was in his office, but as usual he was turned towards the little television that he watched much more than any of the Q.C computers. Still, she waited till they were in the elevator before she suggested, "We can go to Belleza Días."

 

"That's the new Spanish cafe, right?"

 

"That's the one," Felicity confirmed. "It opened a few years ago, but it'd still seem new to you, of course."

 

The cafe was a little further away from Queen Consolidated than the normal lunch crowd would wander, since there were a bunch of places a lot closer and it was on the pricier side, too. Both were factors that should make it less likely for them to run into anyone else from Q.C, which would be good both because he clearly wanted to talk privately somewhere they wouldn't be interrupted, and because it shouldn't lead to their relationship becoming tabloid fodder today. The gossip wouldn't bother her too much, and the devices she wore to make sure a Watcher wouldn't be able to take her picture if they happened to spot her talking to another Immortal meant the paparazzi were going to hate her anyway.

 

Oliver nodded. "Okay. My bike's in the garage."

 

The Immortal couldn't help but roll her eyes. "Oliver, it's only a few blocks away." When he blinked at her, frowning slightly, she sighed. "I can meet you there?" she offered, gesturing to herself. "Sorry, but I'm not exactly dressed for riding."

 

While her heels wouldn't precisely be an issue, since all she had to do was make sure her feet stayed in the right spot, her pencil skirt wasn't at all designed with riding astride anything in mind... and that was what the small, amused smirk on his face was for, wasn't it?

 

Felicity rolled her eyes even as Oliver shook his head.

 

"It's still pretty cold out." He objected gently, and hit the button for the lobby just as they were about to pass it on the way to the V.I.P level of the garage. In the V.I.P elevator that his fingerprint gave him automatic access to their journey wasn't interrupted by any other stops. They'd never taken him out of the system, actually—Missus Queen had apparently reacted very badly to the idea when it was broached several years ago. Such sentiment was rarely wise when it came to security features, but it very convenient for Oliver since he wasn't actually dead.

 

Felicity frowned, but forced the expression off her face as she let him lead her out of the elevator and across the lobby to the front reception desk, pretending she didn't feel all the eyes on them—on her now only because she was with him—as he asked the receptionist to have a car brought around.

 

"Right away, Mister Queen," the girl behind the desk told him perkily, doing a better job than almost everyone else in the lobby at not being too overt with the speculative, judgmental look she shot the I.T girl's way.

 

But Oliver was leading her out of the building barely a minute later, out to the company car and driver that Queen Consolidated apparently kept stored away in the garage.

 

While the rapid means of transportation that'd come into being in the last century or so had more uses than Felicity could count, the attitude that it seemed to have engendered in the latest generation amazed her. Granted, in eras past the offer would have been a matter of propriety—it wouldn't do to expect a young lady to walk the streets unaccompanied, after all. And Oliver, at least, was only insisting because he didn't want her to be cold, not because he was lazy or thought she couldn't walk half a dozen blocks in a short amount of time. Though, then again, the billionaire might well be the opposite end of his generation's spectrum: among those who wanted to do everything quickly because they could. That, too, while sometimes necessary, could become tiresome from time to time.

 

The picturesque little cafe had only a few other diners scattered around, as expected. So they were soon seated, menus in their hands once again.

 

"Thank you," Felicity flashed him a smile as he held her seat out for her, then cocked her head to the side as she watched him sit down across from her again. She studied him a moment, instead of looking at the little lunch menu the hostess had handed them as they'd entered they'd entered. "You know, I don't usually eat out this much."

 

"No?" Oliver replied, the small smile on his face still not managing to hide his worry. "Can't say I do either."

 

That worry wasn't really obvious, per say. If you weren't looking for it, you might not see it. But she was looking. That, and many of Oliver's traits and mannerisms reminded her of those precious few men she'd known very well, so it might as well be spelled out across his forehead for her to read.

 

"Dinner last night, lunch today, dinner and the club tomorrow," Felicity shook her head, then rested her chin on her hand as she folded her elbow atop the table. "Are we making up for lost time?"

 

"Don't forget dinner tonight," he teased her, closing his own menu and setting it aside after that quick glance through it.

 

The Immortal raised an eyebrow, "I thought we were 'working' tonight? Is that before or after dinner?"

 

"Up to you," Oliver shrugged, looking amused. "You gotta keep your strength up."

 

"Very true," Felicity's lips quirked, unable to not be amused at the idea that she was the one that needed the meager strength one mere meal provided for at most a few short hours of swordplay. Or sparring—or sparring, she still hadn't entirely decided which way she should play her skills. A natural affinity left a little too long to rust or a hobby from childhood reluctantly revisited with perhaps some excessive clumsiness thrown in?

 

"Buenas tardes," a dark-haired woman so petite she made Felicity feel tall stopped beside their table. "Me llamo Elena. ¿Cómo está?"

 

Felicity took her in with a quick glance. While the woman might have some Mayan ancestry the accent she was attempting with her oft practiced greeting harkened more to Iberian than Mexican, which was somewhat interesting as the vast majority of Spanish speakers in the United States spoke with the dialect specific to the nation's southern neighbor. But she didn't speak with the familiarity of one whose tongue knew the words well enough to twist them with little thought, even if the tired air she was trying to hide with a smile had more to do with her incorrect congregation for addressing two versus one, it was more likely that a reply in the same language would put her on edge rather than relax her. That the Immortal's last time where that dialect hailed from had ended quite painfully was neither here nor there. So the blonde returned her smile with a kind one of her own, "Very well, Elena, and you?"

 

As intended, the returned smile set the tired woman a little more at ease. After all, it was always easier to serve friendly, considerate people than brash, impatient ones. "Very good, Miss, thank you," she gave a nod that was almost a bow of her head. "What can I get for you guys?"After acknowledging that they both wanted coffee and taking their lunch orders, too, the short woman was off again, leaving the pair mostly alone.

 

"You haven't taken a vacation in a while," Oliver said almost as soon as the waitress was gone.

 

Felicity blinked at him, a bit bemused. "No, I haven't," she agreed, brow furrowing as she wondered why it was that the men in her life inevitably seemed to resort to sending her away from potential problems as a matter of course.

 

It was both better and worse in Oliver's case. Because he really knew nothing about her—ergo, he didn't know she could take care of herself. But he'd also not known her, nor been dating her, nearly long enough to have much say in her travel plans. Especially since he wasn't to going to ask her to go somewhere with him: no, he wanted her away from Starling City while he wrestled with his ex-girlfriend. Not a fantastic starting point for the first fight in any relationship...

 

"There's a tech conference coming up in Coast City—"

 

"At STAR Labs, yeah," Felicity nodded. "I went to it last year. Doubt it's changed much, they're still developing their particle-accelerator, and that looked like it still needed a few more years work, so..." she shrugged, cocked her head to the side. "Wouldn't think that it was something you'd be very interested in anyway."

 

"No, I couldn't go," the vigilante admitted honestly, the discomfort that was just barely there on his handsome face telling her he knew better than to ask this, but he was going to push it anyway. "But I thought you might like to?"

 

"Without you," Felicity clarified because it needed to be said, then shook her head as soon as he nodded. "Because you're going to be running around Starling after Helena Bertinelli."

 

Oliver sighed, but didn't say anything in response as the waitress returned with the little tapas the cafe was known for to nipple on while they waited for their actual meal and a promise that there coffees would be ready very soon. "I'm sorry," he apologized dutifully as soon as she was out of earshot again. "But Helena's... She's dangerous. She'll stop at nothing to get back at her father and—"

 

"And she knows about you," Felicity interrupted again, nodding as he frowned at her. "It's not hard to put together. You were dating her, as you, in the same timeframe that the Hood had a female sidekick." She shrugged, reaching out to pick up a tapa. "Even if I wasn't paying attention to the vigilante blogs, it's in the S.C.P.D's file. I'm kind of surprised they didn't question you about it."

 

"Lance warned me off before that," Oliver shook his head, then his brow furrowed even as he automatically picked up a tapa, too. "Wait, we just looked at the Dodger investigation—"

 

"You did," Felicity nodded as she cut in again. "I tend to look at a lot more than that. And keeping an eye on that case seems like a good idea, doesn't it?" she asked him as she took another bite out of her tapa.

 

Maybe it was something she wouldn't have the sheer nerve to do if she was a mortal, with the limited experiences of a young woman who'd graduated from M.I.T only a few years back before moving to Starling City to work as a tech expert for said city's largest employer. But she wasn't that girl. Or at least she wasn't just that girl. And she'd learned a long time ago that her 'type,'  as Methos had dubbed them as soon as the designation came into existence, tended to need looking after. Ironically, that was when her brother had first started doing his best to help her open herself up to the idea of romance again. A real role-reversal for him from times past, which could play out in too many different ways to predict with any sort of certainty.

 

"That's...good," Oliver finally decided, pausing again as their waitress returned with their coffees.

 

Both of them shook their heads when she asked after them needing anything else. Though from the looks of it, the billionaire would've preferred something stronger than coffee right now. Always a bad thing at lunch time.

 

"Thanks," Felicity smiled at the tired woman, taking a sip of her coffee while her date went on as soon as the waitress had hurried away again.

 

"Felicity, she's already threatened my family." He shook his head roughly in frustration. "Digg's put extra security on them, but—"

 

"Oliver, she doesn't have any reason to know who I am. We've been on two dates in public, and I don't recall seeing any camera flashes at either restaurant." The Immortal hesitated, then sighed. "And Oliver, even if my picture was out there?" she shook her head. "You can't protect me from everything."

 

"I'm not—"

 

"And I," she cut him off again, needing to say this, "I am the one that decides if I need protection."

 

Oliver's brow furrowed even more as he visibly fought with his own frown, then he finally shook his head and met her eyes again. "Felicity, I don't want anything to happen to you."

 

"And I appreciate that," the Immortal told him. "I don't want anything to happen to you either, but," she held up her hand to stop him when he opened his mouth. "But I still have to respect your choices. Just like you have to respect mine. Or this?" she gestured between them, then reached across the table to catch his hand. "Us? Can't go anywhere."

 

It was too early for this, really, but it still had to be said at some point. She'd let her wariness of scaring a prospective partner off silence her more than once in the past, the most recent time with terrible consequence. So it was relief when he caught her hand before she could withdraw it, returning the gentle squeeze she'd given his with even more careful care.

 

"You're right." Oliver told her calmly, squeezing her hand again. "But I'm right, too, okay?" He shook his head. "I made Helena what she is. I tried to help her and—"

 

"You can't help everyone, no one can." Felicity told him softly. "And some people don't want to be helped."

 

"Yeah." He nodded, clearly not liking that he had to agree with that statement. It was always a very hard lesson for anyone to learn.

 

"So you've seen her already?" Felicity raised an eyebrow when he frowned. "When she threatened your family?"

 

That didn't quite add up in her head. But then again it had already crossed her mind that her new boyfriend might have a slightly too strong chivalrous side. With how protective he was of anyone even speaking ill of his mother, how much he hated admitting they had to keep looking into whatever Moira Queen and Malcolm Merlyn were up to, it was hard to imagine him letting someone who'd threatened his family with harm walk away without significant extenuating circumstances...

 

"No, she..." Oliver grimaced, his hold on her hand tightening a little too much, till he noticed and immediately let go.

 

Felicity withdrew her hand with deliberate unhurriedness to ensure he didn't think she was pulling away as she folded both her hands on the table in front of her. It took significantly more pain than anyone could inflict accidentally for her really notice it, and while he might've left a bruise on her hand were she mortal, her Quickening was already healing away the aggravation and she wasn't even sure it'd been enough to cause more than that momentary pain anyway. "She what?"

 

Oliver's grimace had given way to relief at her lack of a pained reaction, but her reminder brought his aggravation back. "She stopped by the mansion while I was out. Talked to Thea and left her number with Raisa." He shook his head. "Raisa didn't like her. Thea didn't either."

 

The housekeeper that'd been like a second mother to both Queen children being protective wasn't at all surprising. From the reforming party girl, however, such a level of good judgment was somewhat unexpected. Though not in any way bad.

 

It was a bold move for the self-styled 'Huntress' to make. Going to his home directly, rather than leaving a message from afar by telephone. Was that because the woman had little real care for her own safety, or an accurate reading on just how far she could push Oliver Queen?

 

"I called her... She wants me to help her, with her father." Oliver sighed. "When I refused, she made a not so veiled threat."

 

Felicity nodded. "And you think she'll go through with it? Rather than trying to go after her father by herself?" she took a sip of her coffee as she finished, and watched him do the same as he thought through his response.

 

"I think she'll have to try something." He admitted. "She couldn't get to him in prison. Not herself."

 

"And she's angry that he's getting a deal now?" Felicity guessed, well able to imagine the mortal woman's fury.

 

She'd known that sort of fury herself, hadn't she? Each time Cassandra had gotten away from her, though none so towering as that first time: when she would've traded anything to see the woman's crimes undone.

 

The difference was Felicitas still retained enough of her reason to forgive her mentor, rather than clinging to the feeling of betrayal that could all too easily be inspired by Methos' interference in the matter. That, and perhaps simple circumstances—upbringing and duty. Felicitas had been raised to rule over a nation. Had ruled Carthage for many years before she became an Immortal. Had spent her whole life striving to put the well-being of her people first, far ahead of anything she allowed herself. The only real exception she'd made back then was when she'd convinced her husband to let her legally adopt his late sister's children after she'd died, making them the princes and princess of Carthage when it might've caused a political imbalance that could've been difficult to whether out. But that one slightly selfish choice hadn't been entirely selfish, as she was seeing to her city's future by finding the heirs her own barren body could not make. And all that was before that life was taken from her by a woman consumed by that unreasoning spirit of vengeance that'd so baffled her upon their first meeting. Had Methos not spoken for the madwoman when she'd first arrived in the city and declared him a murderer, Felicitas would have sent her on her way. But that didn't mean that what the madwoman had done then, or any of her crimes thereafter, were the fault of the older ancient... no matter how willing he was to accept that burden of blame.

 

"If it's a head you need now, you can take mine!" her mentor's painful words from long ago still sometimes echoed inside her head, almost as clearly as the sight of her sword at his neck and his own delved into the ground by his own hand. "I won't fight you."

 

She'd tried to flinch away when he'd shaken his head, making the sharp edge of her blade slice some of the skin of his neck and draw blood.

 

He hadn't let her—he'd continued to hold the blade there with his equally bloodied hand. "But I won't watch you become her. You're better than that, Felicitas of Carthage. Better than both of us." Finally, he'd let her sword go, nodding sadly as she immediately dropped it. "And you know it. You have to."

 

When her knees gave way beneath her, Methos had knelt beside her, holding her as rage had to give way to all-consuming grief upon the marble floor of her first home. The same home that that spiteful woman had sought to ruin, and had in too many ways succeeded...

 

"Felicity?" the concern in Oliver's voice brought her out of the past.

 

The Immortal blinked at him, "Hmm?" then she shook her head quickly. "I-I'm sorry. I was thinking."

 

"Are you alright?" he asked her, the careful way he was watching her reminding her once again that for all this man preferred to be underestimated, his eyes really were very, very sharp.

 

Their waitress's return once more forestalled the need to answer him immediately. "And here we are," she forced her tired smile for both of them as she set their plates down. "Would you like anything else?"

 

"No," Felicity answered. "Thank you."

 

After Oliver shook his head, the woman left again, looking like she trying to not look like she couldn't wait for them to finish eating. They were probably her last table of the day. Neither one of them was really paying attention to their food now though.

 

"Where'd you go?" Oliver asked her gently, taking a bite of his sandwich. He gestured towards his head when she frowned in response, clarifying after he'd swallowed, "You were thinking about something?"

 

"Thinking, yes..." The Immortal shook her head. "I don't agree with what she's done. What she's doing. It's hard not to feel a little sympathetic though." She shot him a small smile. "But you already know that. That's why you tried to help her."

 

"That's what I told myself anyway," Oliver sighed, shaking his head when she tilted her head to the side. "I'd like to think I was that selfless, but I'm not."

 

"Oliver—"

 

"I'm not, Felicity." He insisted firmly. "I never have been."

 

The Immortal snorted, "Never?" she shook her head slowly. "I can't believe that."

 

"It's true, Felicity. Even now. Especially now. You seem to think I'm some hero—"

 

"And what's your definition of hero, Oliver?" Felicity demanded firmly, but didn't give him time to respond. "Just last week you saved Mister Merlyn's life. No matter what he's done, what he is or isn't involved in, you did save his life. And the week before that? You saved me."

 

"I saved Mister Merlyn because he's Tommy's dad, and I pretty much lost my friend in the process." Oliver retorted. "You wouldn't have even been anywhere near the Dodger if—"

 

"If I hadn't chosen to help take him down? Maybe not," she shrugged, as if coming so close to losing her head hadn't bothered her. It had, of course, it'd been more of shock than any duel she'd fought in centuries—because it had been at least that long since it seemed more like than not that she might lose her head for good. "But you stopped him. You saved me, and you got justice for the Medina family."

 

That finally made him blink, just as she'd intended. "Who?"

 

"The Medina family," Felicity continued evenly, like it shouldn't come as a surprise to him. (Because, really, it shouldn't.) "Remember? The only time the Dodger killed a man in Madrid? That was Señior Sergio Medina. The Councillor responsible for the police in Madrid released a written statement of gratitude towards the S.C.P.D's 'somewhat unconventional but effective methods' in apprehending him, but the Medina family was a bit more straightforward." She held Oliver's still slightly bewildered gaze for a long moment before admitting with a smirk, "They were all wearing green when Señora Medina thanked the ones responsible for finding justice for her husband in heaven. And just a little while after that her three children were signed up for a summer camp in America—after her eldest had received confirmation by email that the camp did offer archery lessons."

 

"That's..." Oliver blinked at her slowly. Once. Twice. Then he shook his head. "That's not what I do this for, Felicity. I—"

 

"I know," she cut him off again, reaching across the table again to place her hand over his, which almost automatically made it relax from the fist it'd been curled into. "But that doesn't mean helping them heal is a bad thing. Does it?"

 

"...No," he admitted slowly, confusedly torn between his own self-loathing and hesitant pride. "But—"

 

"And you didn't save Mister Merlyn because he was Tommy's dad," the Immortal corrected him again, gently firm. "You didn't know Tommy or his father would be involved at all when you found out an internationally renowned hitman was flying into Starling City. You chose to stop him before he could harm anyone, without any idea of who he'd been hired to kill. We all chose to find out who he was here for and save them, no matter who they were." She shook her head again. "Yes, you only showed Tommy the truth because he's your friend, and yes he's angry at you right now, but don't confuse the reasons for your actions, Oliver. They're not one and the same."

 

The vigilante shook his head again, his sharp eyes darting around just a little nervously as he seemed to recall they were in public talking about this. But the tired waitress and cook that were waiting for them to leave so they could close up were the only ones still here with them, and they were eating their own late lunches on the table nearest to the kitchen: too far away to hear the couples softly spoken words. And Elena had locked the door behind the last customer to leave—the old man that'd been reading the newspaper while slowly eating a churros with his own afternoon coffee when they'd come in.

 

"Remember what you told Detective Lance? That it wasn't about either of you, it was about saving a life?" Felicity only waited for him to give the smallest nod before she pressed, "If choosing to save someone's life just because it's the right thing to do isn't heroic, I'm not sure what is." She went quiet then, focusing on her food for the first time since it'd been placed in front of her. "Because I refuse to accept that only someone who dies protecting someone else can be called a hero."

 

Her chicken and chorizo enchilada was quite tasty, the tasty spiciness not at all diminished by the fact that it wasn't steaming hot like it'd been upon arrival. That enchiladas originated in Mexico, rather than Spain, seemed contrary to the accent that tired Elena had been taught, but then again a wise restaurateur should want their menu to contain meals that people would order, and enchiladas had been rather popular in the Americas for a good while now.

 

"You're right," Oliver finally said, meeting her gaze steadily when she looked across the table at him again.

 

When he didn't say anything more right away, Felicity had to smirk at him as she replied nonchalantly, "I know."

 

That made the edges of his mouth quirk upwards in one of his almost-smiles again. "I'm sorry," he sighed.

 

"Don't be ridiculous—you've been offending yourself a lot more than me," she pointed out, before taking another quick bite of her enchilada because she still had half of hers left and his was already gone.

 

How did men do that? She couldn't even say she'd noticed him eating quickly or impolitely at any point—in fact he'd been eating at pretty much the same pace as her. So was his mouth just that much bigger than hers or was he just inhaling those big bites instead of really chewing them?

 

"But, Felicity," he went on as she ate, not seeming to have a single thought about her plate still being half full. "A lot of what I did before you started helping was mostly selfish. Sure, I picked some names from the List based on who was in the news at the time, but a lot of them I only focused on because someone I cared about was somehow tied to them."

 

'Them' mostly meaning Laurel Lance, Felicity knew, but she didn't need to try to hide any reaction. Really, her exceedingly long history didn't give her much room for judging his lifetime. Felicitas hadn't ever cheated on anyone, but if the most painful part of the betrayal was the breach in expected honesty, and not meeting some expectations and sometimes not being entirely honest were things she'd had to be guilty of far too many times.

 

"I didn't pay any attention to the city's drug problem until Thea..." Oliver's eyes closed on a painful wince that she couldn't help but share, and she squeezed his hand again, threading her fingers through his on the table top as she took another bite. "I even knew she was in trouble before that." He sighed. "I'd caught her with drugs at my welcome home party—months before her accident, and I did nothing to stop it."

 

Felicity swallowed before saying softly, "I'm sure that's not true."

 

"It is true," he insisted painfully. "Almost every time I tried to talk to her ended in an argument I couldn't win. The rest of the time? I just ignored her."

 

The Immortal snorted, "I'm sure you weren't watching her get drunk and/or high and not stepping in, Oliver. You were busy—with everything. And coming home to find everything changed had to be hard on you." She shook her head. "As for not being able to win arguments with her? You might want to keep in mind that she is a teenager now. And she's been through a lot, too. Losing your dad? Losing you? That couldn't have been easy on her, either." Her eyes darted towards the kitchen as the faint clink of two plates being set together alerted her to the fact that the waitress and cook were clearing their own table, so she quickly took another bite of her lunch, just a little bigger than she was used to.

 

"Yeah..." Oliver sighed, his eyes also coming back to hers from responding to that faint sound. "But I should've stopped the Count—"

 

The Immortal nearly choked as she swallowed her food to soon, but managed to force it down so she could interrupt. "You can't be everywhere, Oliver, no one can."

 

"Yeah, but—"

 

"But, what?" Felicity cut him off again, struggling just a little to keep her voice even at just barely above her whisper—the cook wasn't in the room anymore, but the waitress was wiping down all the tables, clearly just wasting time with the task while she waited for them to finish up. "Don't try to tell me that Digg was overstating the injuries you had to recover from after you saved the Christmas hostages, I checked your medical file."

 

"How'd you—"

 

"Not the point," Felicity didn't let him interrupt. "You said yourself that he almost killed you. Recovering from that took time, physically and mentally. You were in no shape to be taking on that monster, especially since your initial confrontation with him didn't work out so well anyway. I mean, when I saw you the next day I was really being generous when I said you looked like you were hungover."

 

"I know, but—"

 

"Unless you're blaming Digg for not taking care of it?" she asked, raising an eyebrow as she interrupted him again. "'Cause that doesn't seem very fair—since you weren't able to go out yourself, even as backup."

 

"No, of course not..." Oliver sighed, tugging his hand free from her gentle grasp to rub his forehead. "But I should've done something sooner. He was terrorizing the city for months before Thea got jammed up. I should've noticed—"

 

"How?" Felicity laughed lightly, more for the curious look the tired but surprisingly patient waitress was throwing their way than anything they were talking about. "Were you talking to many dealers or junkies before that?" She shook her head slowly as he only frowned at her. "We'll be able to keep track of more with my computers monitoring all the chatter, but you can still only be in one place at a time. Even if you could go back—would you really choose to not save those hostages if that meant you might've stopped the Count sooner?"

 

"Of course not," Oliver sighed.

 

"Just like you wouldn't choose to leave the city's firemen unprotected from their homicidal ex-coworker. Or let those ex-soldiers keep killing the men driving the city's armored cars to steal the money, right?"

 

Oliver looked visibly torn as he thought about, but he still nodded slowly.

 

"We all have regrets, Oliver," Felicity told him gently. "But try not to confuse the bad choices you made with the good ones, okay? There's nothing good down that road."

 

"Okay," her date sighed softly, glancing towards the industrious waitress again, before looking back at her. "I still don't want you anywhere near Helena, Felicity. She already knows too much she can use against me."

 

The Immortal sighed, "So... what? You don't want to have anything to do with me after this until your ex is gone?"

 

"That's not—She's not—"

 

"Because that's not how relationships work, Oliver," Felicity held his gaze again. "That's how they fail." She shook her head. "And I don't like failing. In fact, I'm really not any good at it. Fair warning."

 

"Duly noted," he chuckled lightly, but didn't say anything as their waitress finally headed their way.

 

"How are you guys doing?" Elena asked them with the best smile she could muster. "Would you like anything wrapped to go?"

 

"I'm all set," Oliver replied. "Felicity?"

 

The Immortal glanced down at her plate, which was respectfully cleared, then shook her head as she looked at the petite woman again. "No, thank you. I would love some more coffee to go though, if that's alright."

 

"Of course," Elena agreed warmly. "I'll just put a fresh pot on."

 

"That sounds good, actually, I'll take one, too," Oliver said as he pulled a hundred dollar bill from his wallet and held it out to her. "Keep the change."

 

The waitress's smile widened only a little bit more as she bowed her head with the same careful professionalism that'd governed her patience with them. "Thank you, Mister Queen." She said as she accepted the money. "I'll have those coffees right out." After both of them thanked her, she hurried back towards the kitchen.

 

"You do know you just massively over-tipped her, right?" Felicity asked, somewhat amused by how easily the man gave away money. While she'd never really wanted for anything herself, she had learned over time to at least try and be financially circumspect—mostly at Methos' insistence. Overspending drew attention, and more often than not it was more attention than any Immortal should want regularly. It was a careful balance, to fit in where you were supposed to. By that standard, dating Oliver Queen was decidedly outside of the realm of possibilities she'd picked for this lifetime: but that wasn't something she'd give up if she had the choice.

 

"She stayed open a lot longer than she should have for us," the billionaire shrugged, clearly not caring about the money. Though it was as much out of compassion for the hardworking waitress as it was for the convenience of her not rushing them, as well as meeting the expectations of being a recognizable, famously wealthy figure in the city. "Felicity—"

 

"I'll be careful. I won't take any unnecessary risks, alright?" she promised him. "But I'm not going to hide, and I'm not going to pretend we're not dating. Unless you are breaking up with me?"

 

"No!" the response flew from the archer's mouth almost before she'd finished asking the question, and this time he was the one to reach across the table to thread their fingers again. "No, I'm not... I just want you safe."

 

"I'm a lot tougher than I look," the Immortal told him again, before immediately repeating her promise. "But I will be careful." Then she glanced at her watch, tilting her head to the side to read it at the awkward angle. "I really should get back to work though."

 

"Our coffee's not here yet," Oliver reminded her, gently squeezing her hand as if to hold her prisoner a few moments more.

 

"Right," Felicity chuckled.

 

She didn't particularly like to be one of the last ones to report back from lunch break—despite her having been the very last one to leave, Stevenson would still complain. And any time he spent away from his television—trying to pretend he knew what someone in his profession was supposed to be doing for their paycheck—was time wasted in the I.T department. But if she was going to have to put up with that moron all afternoon anyway, she might as well try to enjoy what was left of her lunch break.

 

"So," she cocked her head to the side. "Where are we going for dinner?"

 

That was where they were going next, after all—dinner before the swords came out. And the dinner part was easier to talk about, since she still wasn't sure how she should act when Oliver and Digg both tried to teach her how to defend herself: with or without a sword...

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.

Chapter Text

Oliver Queen's P.O.V.

 

Oliver watched as the blonde danced through her sword moves with the obvious ease of long practice, her gracefully fluid motions reminding him a lot of Shado, even though the Chinese woman had never wielded a sword in front of him.

 

The comparisons his mind made weren't unexpected.

 

Although the sword was Slade's weapon of choice, the former A.S.I.S operative had half a foot more height and plenty more muscle, and all that before the Mirakuru and the madness. Though his former friend's fighting skill—ruthless and aggressive even before the Japanese-made super-soldier serum made him mad—wasn't what Oliver wanted to think about as he watched Felicity flow from one form to another. Not when such thoughts brought to mind another blonde woman he'd known, who hadn't been fortunate enough to survive her own last encounter with him.

 

No. Shado was much safer to think about; despite her tragic and still very traumatic death. Shado and Felicity had far more in common than Felicity and Slade anyway. Not only in size and shape—though they were more similar there, too. And those physical similarities clearly transferred to how the women moved, too. Graceful, deliberate... and far more gentle with Oliver than he could ever deserve.

 

That gentleness wasn't just movement and touch though: it was part of them both. Who Felicity was, and who Shado had been. More than how deliberately Shado had drawn back that first bowstring for him, and how Felicity was being almost as careful of hitting him as he was of her. More than how calmly and caringly Felicity had changed the bandages on his gunshot wound—checking on it far more often than Oliver would've chosen to do himself those first few days. More than how delicately Shado had washed his hands of the blood he'd stained them with while protecting her...

 

He was even more unworthy of Felicity than he'd been of Shado. Yao Fei's daughter had had nowhere to go: no way off the island that her father had been executed on. Back then, even after Fyers, Oliver had still been more boy than man, so Shado's kind heart had taken him in. Had been a bright spot amongst all the Island's hell. For Oliver and Slade. But she should have been with Slade. He wouldn't have hesitated to commit to her, and maybe they could've made each other happy. Maybe they'd both still be alive now...

 

Swish!

 

Oliver groaned as he ducked under another swing of the blonde's sword, letting instinct lead him that far, but ruthlessly suppressing the follow-up that his body would've normally blown through—and at least put her on the floor as he did it. At least.

 

He'd agreed with Diggle, that protecting Felicity had to be one of their top priorities when she first signed on. Still did. Seeing the damn Dodger's collar around her neck, her eyes wide with the terror, hadn't reduced his protective instincts at all. They'd both been impressed that she'd soldiered on through that terror, though he could've done without her first instinct being to run away—to get the bomb away from him—when she realized he didn't have a failsafe plan for that horrific contingency. Getting away from the other partygoers, fine, but he was the one that was supposed to keep her safe. Telling her she had to keep working—had to help him save her life—before hurrying away, hadn't been easy. But there hadn't been any other choice, and she'd been amazing.

 

Maybe that was why he'd asked her to go to Tommy's birthday dinner. He hadn't actually planned it out, it'd just sort of happened. Which might be why he asked her to go 'just as friends'—something billionaire playboy Oliver Queen had never done in his life. Then again, that could've all had just as much to do with how easily she made him smile; with how easily that continued even after she found him bleeding out in her car's backseat.

 

Comparatively, the wound Felicity had tried to hide from him—from both him and Digg—was relatively minor. On either man, in fact, it would've barely been worth noticing. But both of them were a lot bigger than her, and she wasn't supposed to bleed. Just like Shado wasn't supposed to die and her death wasn't supposed to help the Mirakuru drive Slade mad...

 

Swish-SwishCLACK!

 

Oliver's frown had more to do with his own thoughts than their swords sliding along each other for a second—though he had to blink at how quickly Felicity danced away: too fast for him to even consider any of the disarming techniques. Not that most of the moves he generally used would be of use here—not when he wasn't remotely willing to hurt her. Just the sight of the injury, of her bleedings, was an alarming reminder of how Shado's death had driven Slade mad: alarming because the rage the immediately surged inside him at the sight told Oliver that he'd fare no better with the same fate if it were Felicity...

 

SwishSwish... Swish-Swish-SwishCLACK!

 

Oliver was trying to shake that thought off as their fake swords hit against each other again. It wouldn't help him. It wouldn't help Felicity.

 

Why his thoughts kept drifting back around towards Slade while they played with fake swords wasn't hard to figure out. The Australian had been his first real teacher, and no matter what he'd said to Shado after she'd joined them, he had taught Oliver more than a few things. And a few of them had stuck. The vigilante wouldn't ever call himself a swordsman after the fact—the bow would always be his weapon of choice, followed by his fists—but Slade Wilson had every reason to say he liked swords after he agreed to try and whip the billionaire castaway into shape. And he was a swordsman in every sense of the word...

 

Now, the man that'd been his last real student—and, looking back on it, maybe his first, too—couldn't help but compare the slender, curvy blonde to the hard, harsh man that'd saved his life more than once. Slade almost always attacked, instead of defending. He'd lectured Oliver once that sticking to just defense gave your opponent time to outthink you—not giving them that time, and being faster, and better, tended to mean you came out on top. At least until you didn't. It hadn't been easy for the deadly man to hold back, even when he was truly trying to teach Oliver. That was why he'd very quickly switched to teaching him stick-fighting and some hand-to-hand much more than swordsmanship.

 

Felicity, however, didn't seem uncomfortable sticking to defense. Dancing around and blocking the blows he sent her way—and only very occasionally striking out herself. Then again, how often he was missing her entirely—both their swords swishing through the air—gave him some hope for her aptitude. It was indicative of a knack for dodging, at least, which was undoubtedly how she'd escaped the punk that'd tried to hurt her not too far from here—dodging and running the wrong way. She just hadn't dodged far enough. But her passive, laid-back approach was probable indicative of how she'd learned: training for fun, not life and death. Then again, each time she did attempt a hit made perfect sense.

 

And she knew how to move with the wooden 'weapon.' The fast, simple motions looked like something his I.T girl was comfortable with. Maybe too comfortable?

 

She clearly had to be pushed outside of that comfort zone, or what skill she had would never be of much use. He had to help her learn how to react, rather than thinking everything through—because in a real fight you didn't tend to have the time.

 

Helena likely wouldn't give her any time to think if their paths ever crossed. But the Huntress shooting back into town wasn't what he was supposed to be thinking about right now...

 

No. Oliver shook that thought off, forcing himself to focus on the here and now, and the remarkable woman that was in front of him.

 

The outfit Felicity had changed into didn't leave much to the imagination. Sure, her feet were effectively hidden away in her sneakers. The leggings, though, hugged snuggly as they stretched up her legs—making them look impossibly long. The puffy windbreaker she had zipped all the way up wasn't so form fitting, but it showed off some of her curves. And, unlike the black leggings and black sneakers, her windbreaker was dark green. Almost the same shade as his hood. His green...

 

Oliver barely managed to dodge the jab she sent at his head, and he could see from her small smile that she had a good guess as to what had him distracted. Not that that excused her missing: she wouldn't have if she'd actually been aiming for his face and not the air beside his ear. He couldn't really call her on it, though: he'd done the same thing just a minute ago, only he'd been aiming a few inches farther off.

 

If her aim was actually that good, then the only problem was whether or not she'd be able to land the blow—be it a jab, strike or slash—if she was crossing swords with someone that would hurt her... In the most unlikely event that said someone's weapon of choice was a sword and not a gun. Because there couldn't be that many Slade Wilsons and Tatsu Yamashiros in the world... Or Billy Wintergreens and Chien Na Weis...

 

Then again, Felicity's grandfather was killed by some crazy swordsman, wasn't he? Before his body burned—almost beyond recognition, head and all, according to the ARGUS-flagged cold case file of his homicide. In some sick ritual that ARGUS had found repeated all over the world, going back years, but done nothing about, other than make note of it. Something Oliver should probably ask his new girlfriend about, but even the thought of trying to ask made all the words lock up deep in his chest.

 

What was he supposed to say? 'By the way, when I had your background check done by a shady intelligence organization I can't entirely trust, ever, they didn't find anything on Felicity Smoak that I didn't already know or could've easily guessed. But they did flag the cold case file for your granddad's bizarre murder, because it turned out it wasn't that bizarre? And was that why you really studied swords? Even though it happened almost twenty years before you were born?'

 

Swish... Whap!

 

Oliver stepped around her next strike, then whacked the fake blade away with his hand rather than the wooden weapon he was supposed to be using.

 

Felicity frowned, but didn't say anything as she backed off a step, her brilliant eyes studying him as her mind rapidly moved on instead of focusing on what was already done.

 

Diggle, though, wasn't so forgiving. And just watching got boring after a while. "That's cheating, Queen," he called with a smirk. "You're supposed to be pretending the swords are real. Right?"

 

The question was directed at the blonde, whose frown returned as she sighed. "Well, yeah, but—"

 

"Yeah," Digg cut in, still smirking. "And a real one of those would've taken your hand off, probably. Or at least cut it in half."

 

"Thought you didn't know anything about swords?" the vigilante shot back.

 

"Don't know swords," the other man agreed. "But I know knives just fine. 'Bout the same thing, isn't it, just a bit bigger?"

 

"Not really," Felicity surprised both of them by saying. When they looked at her, she was grimacing like she wasn't sure she should've said that, but she continued anyway. "Strictly speaking, knives are for cooking—most don't actually make good weapons. The fighting knives you studied in the army are really more like daggers. They blade, at least, it bigger—and more importantly stronger. Durable."

 

"Not likely to break," Oliver nodded, though the semantics of whether or not the word 'knife' was right didn't really matter. Someone who must've been at least somewhat important had decided on it at some point, and it'd stuck. Whether or not that made it right, he couldn't argue either way.

 

"So you're saying a sword's more like a big dagger than a big knife?" the ex-soldier spelled out, still amused.

 

The blonde winced. "Not exactly?"

 

Seeing that standing there talking about this was just giving her brilliant brain too much time to think, Oliver said, "On guard." He waited almost a full second before he started his attack—a lot longer than he tended to give Diggle. Forewarning wasn't something he was big on, either, but with Felicity he would much prefer to be safe; never sorry.

 

WHAP!

Swish...

 

His girlfriend then swung her whole form around, like her body was a lissome extension of the blade. Again, far more graceful than could've hoped—more competent, too, than she seemed to think herself.

 

WHAP! WHAP! WHAP!

 

"Daggers were around before swords. I think," Felicity went on as she blocked three more of his careful attacks in quick, easy succession. "They, um, probably evolved from them as metalworking improved."

 

Swish...

 

"Got bigger. Longer."

 

Swish-Swish...

 

"And knives are the other side of that?" Digg suggested thoughtfully.

 

Swish

 

"Probably," Felicity agreed, breathing evenly as she sidestepped Oliver's next attack: forcing him to quickly pull back. But she didn't even try to take advantage of that split second where Slade would've nailed him. Tatsu would have, too: any serious swordsman surely would. But that was the kind of thinking you acquired while training for life or death scenarios. Or experiencing them. Not playing at a sport or any kind of game.

 

Oliver almost said something. But none of Slade's harsh, apt reproofs sounded right in his head. Shado had taught him Mandarin, Cantonese and archery—and only a little close-quarters combat techniques: hand-to-hand, not swords. It made him wish he'd had more time among the Yamashiro's once Tatsu learned to like him. She probably would've made a better teacher than Slade. Though the abandoned A.S.I.S agent would undoubtedly have fared better against Chien Na Wei.

 

The sheer viciousness and brutality Oliver had only started to learn under Slade Wilson's violent mentorship had served him well many times since, but it was no help for teaching the woman he was falling in love with anything. No: it was necessary to teach her some self-defense, but the brutality that came to the vigilante so easily when he wore the Hood wasn't something Oliver ever wanted anywhere near Felicity. Ever.

 

"You could've hit him there, Felicity," Diggle pointed out a moment later, his tone mild, and the gentle scrutiny on his face no more off-putting than his huge crossed arms were. "When you dodged, he was over-extended for a second."

 

"Yeah, but I don't want to hit him."

 

Her response made him stop, and the way she lowered her 'sword' at the same time he did didn't make the corners of his mouth stop sinking.

 

"What?" Oliver questioned.

 

Felicity frowned right back at him. "I don't want to hurt you, Oliver. Anymore than you want to hurt me."

 

And something in her eyes made him think this was really more about him not even trying to hit her than whether or not she wanted to hit him. His frown deepened all the more. "Felicity, that's why we're using fake swords, remember? They're wood wrapped in duct-tape—they're not gonna cut my arm off."

 

"That doesn't mean they won't hurt. That they won't bruise: just like a club would," his I.T girl insisted stubbornly, meeting him frown for frown. "That's why you haven't really tried to hit me, either."

 

Oliver sighed, not particularly liking that he'd read her right. "I'm evaluating your skill level, Felicity. Not attacking you, or even training you yet."

 

"We're watching how you move," Digg backed him up: tone still calm and not judging. "Seeing what you can do."

 

But the blonde rolled her eyes. "Even the Scadian fighters hit each other."

 

"So you shouldn't have any problem hitting me," Oliver tried.

 

"Tempting as that is right now," Felicity sent it right back. "You're not wearing any of the armor the S.C.A requires, Oliver. You're not even wearing a shirt, let alone padding."

 

"I almost never do while I'm training," he reminded her, just to see how she'd respond. "Digg doesn't either."

 

"Don't think you want me in that part of this fight, man," Diggle said from the sideline.

 

"No, it's fine," Felicity shook her head. "'Cause as much as I appreciate all the shirtlessness—and I really, really do—that doesn't make me want to hurt you."

 

Oliver couldn't come up with an easy rebuttal for that: not because he'd care about a couple extra bruises on himself—he wouldn't, especially if it meant Felicity could better protect herself. But he knew she wasn't wrong about his not wanting to hurt a hair on her head either. So he was relieved when Digg spoke up again, despite his warning just a second ago.

 

"Kinda comes with the territory, Felicity," the ex-soldier told her gently. "May come a time you have to hurt someone to protect yourself."

 

"Already did," Oliver reminded him darkly. The image of that small slice into her slender shoulder not about to leave his mind anytime soon. There were more than a few bad memories in there, of course, but injuries on someone he cared about—especially Felicity—that was a lot work.

 

Felicity sighed. "Oliver, you really have to let that go. I'm perfectly fine."

 

He scowled at her, "That cuts not even a scar yet, and when it is I still won't like the fact that it happened in the first place."

 

"How about you both agree to at least lightly tap each other a few times, and maybe we won't be standing here all night?" Diggle tried to referee.

 

"I will if he does," Felicity sighed, not looking happy to be saying it, but he didn't think she was lying either.

 

"Fine," Oliver agreed, though he knew holding up his end of that agreement wouldn't be easy. No matter how amused Diggle looked at all of the feints and dodges the vigilante had been making, without mixing in even light taps for the blows that he normally wouldn't dish out to his friend. "On guard," he said again.

 

Felicity raised her sword, waiting for him to attack. When he did, she stepped out of the way again, as agile as any dancer.

 

Swish...

 

But Digg was his friend, not his girlfriend. Former Special Forces, too. Trained, disciplined, and built like a tank with bowling balls for arms.

 

Swish-Swish.

 

Not more than half a foot shorter than the vigilante with a bright bouncing ponytail and equally bright blue eyes behind the glasses she was still wearing. He'd considered telling her to take them off, but then decided that her wearing them was another reminder that he didn't want to even tap anywhere near her face... though that didn't seem to be a problem since he couldn't even work himself up to tapping anywhere else, either... at least not with the wooden stick.

 

The thought made the edges of  Oliver's mouth tilt up, because it was all too easy to imagine her saying something like that and then attempting to backtrack but ending up babbling through even more double-entendres... When she ducked low to take a swipe at his feet, he made himself focus again.

 

Felicity was clearly used to fencing—no, she said it wasn't fencing... not fighting, maybe sparring? or play-fighting?—with people who were taller than her; each time she stepped into a defensive stance it was clearly angled towards parrying or blocking a blow from on high. Not a bad thing, since most men would have a considerable height—and reach—advantage on her. But maybe something he should comment on; if only because it was possible, however unlikely, that she might meet someone shorter than her with a sword in hand at some point.

 

Oliver didn't like to think about it, but it was entirely possible that being involved with him—and everything that came with him—could put her in danger. Again. That was why he'd taken up the argument with her after she'd repeatedly shut Digg down. That was why he'd said he'd supervise at least this part of her 'training' when Digg said he knew next to nothing about swords.

 

"You know," Felicity spoke up even as she kept moving through the flowing steps she was demonstrating. "I would've thought you'd want to actually test me with a sword." She blinked, as she paused when he did, rolling her eyes when she heard Diggle's amused snort from a few feet away and the little smile that'd returned to her the archer's face. Then she deliberately whacked her 'blade' against his a little harder. "That one, I mean." When both of them waited expectantly for her to start babbling, she sighed. "No. There are just too many suggestive sayings that correlate automatically to swordplay, that one wasn't even that bad."

 

Oliver raised a brow at her, a little disappointed, but still vaguely amused both by her irritation with their expecting her blushing babbles and wondering exactly how many times she'd told herself before this that she wasn't going to let her tongue slip about swords. "I thought you didn't want any training?" he asked, pretending he hadn't noticed what she was correcting herself on even as he started to circle her again, watching carefully as she started dancing through more steps her feet knew well.

 

She gracefully completed the maneuver, before pointing the fake sword's rounded tip at the floor as she stopped. "I don't. But I didn't think that mattered to you."

 

The vigilante's smile immediately dropped into a frown. "It matters," Oliver reassured her with a sigh, shaking his head before he made himself feign another attack—jabbing the fake weapon over her shoulder instead of towards her face or neck to make sure he'd miss if she didn't dodge.

 

She did, dancing away as gracefully as she'd done everything else once the nerves had started to fade.

 

"But you're too smart to not know you should be able to defend yourself, Felicity." He waited for what felt like an eternity before he attacked again, once more ready to pull the blow if it looked like she couldn't block it.

 

His tech expert girlfriend surprised him again, however, as she deflected him with an ease that again reminded him of Slade Wilson—making his mind briefly flash back to the many moments when the older man had been trying to teach him swordplay with little (and at first no) success. The obvious disparity between them—the rich boy who'd never really fought a day (let alone anyone during a day) in his life and the man that Australia had sent to kill people many times before he was stranded on Lian Yu—had been too obvious for even Oliver to miss. And the feelings of inadequacy it'd engendered made him reluctant to even try and learn what the other man was trying to pound into him until Slade wisely presented it as the simple thing it was, the same thing Yao Fei had called it from the start: survival. Such thoughts weren't at all what he ever would've expected around Felicity Smoak, but the reminiscence remained as she parried attack after attack, very noticeably holding back.

 

Then again, Oliver wasn't the boy he was five years ago—he was holding back, too. And he knew the beautiful blonde at least well enough to see it was starting to irritate her just as much as it was amusing their friend. So he slowly stopped, steadily increasing his speed and the strength behind his attacks... until he was honestly stunned that she was still meeting him blow for blow.

 

...Until she made herself trip.

 

Oliver was so surprised that he only had time to pull his own attack—himself and his 'blade'—back and watch her fall face-down on the mat: there just wasn't time to catch her when she'd literally thrown herself face-first at the floor mats.

 

"Damn, girl," Diggle spoke up from the top of the stairs, where he'd been watching them for the last minute or so. "You were going pretty good there."

 

"Thanks," Felicity replied breathlessly—much more breathlessly than she should be, considering the ease with which she'd kept pace with him the last several minutes.

 

Whatever she said, and apparently demonstrated, Felicity Smoak was neither out of shape nor out of practice.

 

Oliver wasn't all that good at telling lies, particularly to this woman it seemed. But he was very good at spotting them.

 

The question was: why was Felicity lying about this?

 

Well, that was only one question. Another was: Why didn't she want to talk about her brother? Half or step, he still didn't know because she'd dodged the few questions he'd tried so far... though it bothered him more because he didn't like that the reason she might not want to talk about the man might be why the ARGUS file on him was weirdly thin and non-explanatory. Almost like even Amanda Waller's people didn't know much about him. (He wasn't sure if he'd prefer that to Amanda just not telling him more because of what she did know and didn't want to share, for whatever reasons...)

 

Oliver almost asked, again, but knew better than to do so right now. It'd already been proven more than once that the girl he was offering his hand to help up off the floor would answer more questions while cuddling on her couch, or something similar, than she ever would with weapons of any kind in hand. So he only cocked his head to the side, watching for a second as she leaned over a little to continue feigning being completely out of breath.

 

Something that wouldn't make sense even if he hadn't so carefully upped the test moments before, because he'd seen how easy normal exercise was for her, too. Since he'd learned that she sometimes went jogging in the middle of the night, he'd followed her more than once. Which she knew, because the last few times she'd made a point of letting him catch up until it was easier to just run with her rather than try to pretend he wasn't keeping an eye on her.

 

"You are pretty good," Oliver allowed after a few long moments, cocking an eyebrow back at her when she raised both of hers at him. "Too good for fencing recreationally 'years ago.' Or playing lady-knight a long time ago, too."

 

Felicity took a deep breath as she shrugged, turning towards the weapons wall to put her saber back—correctly checking the blade for any signs of damage or the like before she actually returned it to its place. "Not that long ago," she admitted with her back still turned to them, shrugging again as she turned around unarmed. "And like I said, sword, uh, play comes pretty easily to me."

 

Oliver considered her, wondering why she'd stumbled over the term 'sword play,' again something that reminded him of Slade Wilson. The swordsman had thought it ridiculous calling anything that involved a real weapon 'playing.' Oliver agreed, but it was a strange sentiment to hear in the voice of a girl that'd supposedly learned the art for fun. He shook the thought off as he pointed out, "But you can't carry a sword everywhere, Felicity. Some hand-to-hand self defense lessons would still be a good idea." He indicated their other team member as he went on. "With either me or Diggle, it's up to you."

 

The big blue eyes considered him for a very long feeling second before she finally sighed. "Fine." She looked at Diggle. "Tomorrow okay for you?"

 

Oliver was a little disappointed as he watched Diggle nod, but not surprised at her choice. Not at her choice, at least.

 

What did surprise him was the thought that passed through his head; that she'd picked the ex-soldier because she thought Diggle would be less likely to notice any particular skill she already possessed.

 

The former Special Forces soldier had much more regimented training than Oliver did. Sure, he'd picked some stuff up along the way, but not like Oliver had. Ergo, for a supposed beginner he'd lean back more to his 'basic' training, and maybe not notice signs that Felicity Smoak knew a lot more than she was letting on.

 

Because she did.

 

How she did, and why she was hiding it, were what would have him watching over their 'lessons' even more so than he'd initially planned...

 

"Think I'll take a shower," Felicity said then, walking towards the washroom she'd made him have installed down here weeks ago, despite the hassle it'd been to hide everything while a few workmen put it together. She stopped in the doorway to look back at him though. "You're not hooding up right away, right? I didn't get anymore alerts on Bertinelli. Either of them."

 

"Not just yet," Oliver shook his head. "We'll be here when you come back out. Take your time."

 

"Thanks," her smile was warm again.

 

And he was almost starting to get used to the way that smile made him feel warmer, too. Even with countless questions wanting to be asked inside his head.

 

Once the door closed behind her, Oliver walked over to the box she'd brought the fake swords in, putting both of them back inside before closing them up. Not bothering to move the box yet though, not when he didn't know where would be the best place to put it. Instead, he waited for the sound of running water to start before he turned to his bodyguard, making himself meet Digg's eyes and focus on what they had to talk about rather than the thought of his girlfriend in the nearby shower.

 

"Girl's got some more surprises," Diggle said quietly from the chair he'd seated himself in about halfway through the short sparring session. Once he was sure his intervention clearly wasn't going to be necessary as long as the archer didn't piss their I.T girl off.

 

"Yeah," Oliver sighed. "I noticed."

 

"Some more secrets, too."

 

"Yeah," the vigilante sighed again, not liking any of the ways his mind could turn with this. "Yeah, she does."

 

There was an unlikely possibility that she was some sort of spy, of course. Waller wouldn't be above planting someone in his path like that, and he'd learned more than once that ARGUS operatives came in various shapes in forms—some more willingly than others. The idea of her being trapped like he'd been made his jaw clench, but it didn't seem likely. Felicity had already been working at Q.C back when he'd snuck in for ARGUS years ago: and he didn't doubt she could've hacked into the files they'd supposedly needed his fingerprint to steal. So it seemed unlikely, but not necessarily beyond Amanda Waller.

 

Still, it was barely a passing thought, really, because it just didn't fit Felicity Smoak. Sure, she had secrets. But she was just so innately honest that she couldn't keep the fact that she had secrets a secret. Not exactly spy material, let alone ARGUS.

 

Much more likely was the idea that her learning how to use swords had more than a little to do with her grandfather's death. The strange homicide that, as it turned out, wasn't all that unusual. The only thing Oliver had come up with thinking about it was maybe it was some sort of secret society where arguments were still settled with duels, like they had been a long time ago, according to various movies he'd watched that may or may not have been historically accurate. The idea of Felicity needing to learn how to defend herself with a sword because she'd been born into a group that required it of its members, or something like that, was even more unsettling than the unwilling spy idea. But given what he'd read in the relatively untouched ARGUS file on the matter, it was the only thing that made sense.

 

Oliver froze as his mind made the next leap there: and it wasn't one he liked any more than any of the ones before.

 

Felicity had been attacked outside of Verdant by someone with a blade. He'd assumed it was a knife. So had Digg. But instead of running back inside to safety or even just telling them once she'd somehow managed to escape on her own, she'd tried to hide the injury she'd received in the process. Could that actually mean there really was someone out there that wanted to settle a score with Felicity by chopping her head off and setting her on fire?

 

"Not a bad thing," Digg spoke up again, continuing with a shrug when the vigilante immediately frowned at him. "It's good that she knows how to defend herself a little bit. Should make teaching her more easier." He shook his head slowly, dark eyes fixed on his employer's probably very unhappy face. "Be easier still if we had some idea of what she already knew."

 

Oliver nodded. "And why."

 

The former soldier frowned, "Why?" his eyes narrowed a little. "You think it's more than the S.C.A thing?"

 

"Might be... her grandfather could've been killed by a swordsman."

 

The only sort of 'proof' they had of that were the notes in the ARGUS files about some swordfights being witnessed from afar, but there was also the fact that there weren't that many weapons that could actually decapitate someone very easily. There really were many other ways that were much easier to kill someone, but decapitation followed by burning seemed to be the M.O that tied the far too many deaths together.

 

And Felicity's grandfather could've died that way.

 

And she was better with a sword than she wanted them to know. Maybe much better.

 

What else was he supposed to think?

 

Diggle's heavy sigh sounded like how he was feeling right now. "And here I thought the archery was old-school."

 

Oliver couldn't even make himself to roll his eyes.

Chapter Text

John Diggle's P.O.V.

 

Click-Click.

BAM-BAM! BAM-BAM-BAM!

 

John didn’t particularly like to work-out this late. It got the blood pumping and pretty much required a shower before bed unless he wanted to do the laundry early this week.

 

Worry for the employer that he’d accepted as a friend—almost as soon as he'd accepted his crusade—often kept his heartbeat fast enough as it was. When the daredevil didn’t do something to make it stop for a second or two instead.

 

Click-Click-Click. Click.

BAM-BAM! BAM! BAM-BAM! BAM!

 

But since they’d brought Felicity into the loop, the computer genius had understandably taken over most of the tech support—including the comms, leaving John to either hover over her shoulder with his arms crossed to keep himself from pacing most of the time.

 

The blonde didn’t mind him hovering. She’d never even given him a sideways glance about it, which would strike him as odd since she didn’t have any sort of military or intelligence background, but it wasn't any odder than how easily she'd fit into the vigilante's mission, too. Genius I.Q, Las Vegas childhood, M.I.T education and a couple years bored in the I.T department of Queen Consolidated didn't exactly translate to how she'd accepted pretty much all of this with relative ease.

 

Then again, Felicity's family history and at least a certain number of personal history yet untold hung in the balance, too. And just like she'd accepted Oliver's ridiculous excuses each time they went to her for various kinds of tech help wasn't all that different from her accepting that John just needed to know what was happening rather than waiting for her to tell him. She seemed to worry about both of them enough to explain how she’d understand the bodyguard needing to keep an eye on their boy himself even if it was over her shoulder.

 

BAM! BAM! BAM!

Click. Click-Click.

 

John couldn’t do that now though. Not when he knew his eyes would be straying to the blonde herself more often than the computer screens.

 

Felicity may not mind him watching over her shoulder, but he was sure she’d notice if he was specifically watching her. Her situational awareness was better than he ever could’ve expected from any tech specialist, after all, and even the most ordinary people could usually sense when someone was watching them. They might not know what the sixth sense that was making the hair on the back of their next stand up was, but that didn't mean they didn't feel it.

 

Click-Click. Click-Click.

BAM! BAM-BAM! BAM!

 

So here he was, pulverizing the punching bag with steady combinations that his body knew well enough to do without much thought involved, while Felicity kept track of the comms while working on her computer and Oliver was out scouring the streets for any signs of his psycho ex. John's eyes were firmly zeroed in on that bag, but his mind was working through their tech genius.

 

He could be worrying about their latest problem, of course, but he'd already said his piece on the mobster's bloodthirsty daughter—a few times to the fool that'd thought he could save her by dating her—and he didn't want to waste any more thought on that woman than he absolutely had to.

 

BAM! BAM! BAM!

Click-Click-Click.

 

The woman that he had welcomed to the team was much more worthy of thought. Funny, sweet, super smart, but open-minded and beyond resourceful, she was all but a godsend when it came to rounding off pretty much all the areas of their little team that the archer and bodyguard couldn't cover even half as well, if at all. But there was a lot about Felicity Smoak that just didn’t make sense.

 

John had tried not to focus too much on it at first. He liked the girl even back when she was just the Q.C. I.T girl that Oliver probably went too for far too much tech help. He’d suspected from the very first time he saw the two of them together that the chemistry sizzling the air between them had a lot to do with why the vigilante kept going back to her. Oliver would flatly deny it, John was sure, but that was why he’d never bothered to bring it up. If only out of curiosity to see how it might eventually play out.

 

That, and it'd been reassuring, really, to see that smile that the billionaire couldn’t stop from appearing around the babbling blonde. Enough so that all her disbelieving looks and eye-rolls weren't worth worrying about when she so clearly had no intention of not helping the Queen heir no matter how stupid the story he told. The ex-soldier knew what war could do to you, so watching even a brief conversation lift a little of the weight off of the vigilante’s shoulders, even if it was only for a very short time, hadn’t been something he’d wanted to mess with.

 

Click... Click.

BAM! BAM! BAM-BAM!

Click-Click-Click-Click.

 

John had never imagined, of course, that Oliver would have to resort to telling Felicity the truth in order to escape the police after his mother shot him at the company his family owned and the genius kept insanely long hours at. He’d never forget just how shocked he’d been when she’d appeared in the basement, blood covering her shirt and her hands, her eyes alarmed—but for the man bleeding out in the backseat of her car, not the gun the surprised former soldier had instinctively drawn on her.

 

Click-Click-Click... Click-Click.

BAM-BAM-BAM! BAM-BAM-BAM!

 

As shocking as it’d been though, it had been even more of a relief. Once the billionaire had stopped coding on the table—and all the machines in the Foundry were working correctly. Because if mere moments in her presence made the vigilante’s world a little brighter, than having her around more often could only help all the more.

 

The solider had been surprised again, of course, when the tech girl had challenged the vigilante on the very first name he'd decided to cross off the List once his G.S.W had just finally healed. Not because her questions hadn't made sense, or because he'd thought for a moment the archer might hurt the girl, but because it'd been such a change.

 

Sure, she'd played the part of concerned nurse to a decidedly impatient and unhelpful Oliver very well for a number of weeks before that. Her real and not at all hidden concern the time the man had been stupid and tried to work himself back into shape far too soon—tearing open his wound and losing blood again in the process—had probably done more to make the man take it slow for at least a little while longer than anything John Diggle could've said to him could have.

 

It hadn't been a problem when the other archer had put the vigilante in the hospital for the holidays. For one thing, Oliver hadn't had his confidence shot by an unexpected beating—even though his mother shooting him, quickly rationalized as 'she was defending herself,' had hit some keys to reset him back to his mother's willing involvement in anything bad being impossible. For another, his family had known he was hurt and he hadn't had to hide it, though all their worry over him had undoubtedly been even more aggravated by the fact that they had lost him before. And then there was Walter's kidnapping to consider, too. Still, that his mother had had a copy of the List, and Walter's questions about it had led to him being kidnapped couldn't be denied, so it'd taken more than a few arguments to keep the billionaire from pushing himself too far while his body was on the mend. How she'd gotten him to agree to not even trying hooding up again until he wasn't hurt anymore, John Diggle wasn't entirely sure, even though he'd been there for every one of their arguments about it. The only thing he could say for sure was the she'd somehow gotten the vigilante to agree that there would be no more vigilantism until he could climb that 'stupid salmon ladder of his' without fault or further injury. And that night when Oliver had been ready to head out again had been the first time he'd been able to meet the requirement.  

 

Felicity challenging the vigilante that night, the first time the Hood came out again, and about the List, had been something else entirely. It had seemed like quite a change from the pretty girl that just cocked her head to the side or occasionally gave the billionaire a sideways look or sigh at some of his more bizarre requests.

 

Click-Click.

BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!

Click-Click-Click.

 

But Felicity Smoak really was a genius. With a mind for much more than just her computers. So Digg had never ruled out whether or not she hadn't called 'this' all along. Or at least some time before she found the man in the green Hood bleeding out in the backseat of her car.

 

It was hard to say when, exactly, she might’ve figured it out.

 

Oliver had been going to her for computer help before his bodyguard even found out that his employer was more than just a billionaire who’d come back from the dead as an escape artist.

 

Click-Click.

BAM! BAM! BAM!

Click-Click.

 

Both the vigilante and the tech genius had mentioned the first request he’d made of her had involved a bullet riddled laptop, which had contained evidence that’d told Oliver that Deadshot was targeting the UNIDAC auction. That the Hood had later stopped the sniper—even if it had unfortunately not been permanently—wasn’t exactly something she could have missed.

 

Another very likely possibility was when Oliver had had her hack into Blackhawk Security for him. First ever to break through their firewall, Knox had said. No matter what it was Felicity had found there for the Queen heir, she couldn’t have exactly missed that men from the same company she’d hacked were behind the armored car heists and they—like Deadshot—were also stopped by the vigilante.

 

Click-Click.

BAM-BAM-BAM!

Click-Click.

BAM-BAM!

 

The Royal Flush Gang—as the media had dubbed the family of thieves that Oliver tried to help in his father’s memory but had ultimately had to stop—were in the news enough, too, for everyone in Starling to at least know of them. That the leader of the gang was the same former Q.C employee Oliver had had Felicity look up couldn't have escaped her attention unless she didn't pay attention to the news. And given how she seemed to track it all better than Oliver and Digg combined now, it wasn't likely she didn't watch it before she joined the team.

 

BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!

Click-Click. Click. Click.

 

Still, the only time Felicity Smoak had really questioned the billionaire on one of his bizarre requests was when he'd brought that giant ass needle still two-thirds full of Vertigo to her at Q.C. Her point there had been a good one, though, they really should’ve put the drug in a bottle or something. The Count’s deadly cocktail would’ve been suspicious enough without it coming to her in a needle that looked more like a weapon than a medical instrument of any kind. The look she’d given Oliver that time had all but said, ‘I’m trying to pretend I don’t already know you’re the vigilante, but you’re really, really not making it easy.’ And that was before the billionaire’s pathetic response of ‘I ran out of sports bottles.’

 

That had been a lot more direct than the time she didn’t pretend to believe the billionaire was having her look up an old friend for him when he clearly didn’t know anything about the man that’d once worked for his father but had eventually become a bank robber along with the rest of his family. Then again, it’d been even more blatantly stupid than just Oliver’s inability to actually tell a lie well to her. Not to mention analyzing chemical compounds probably wasn't the sort of thing anyone asked the average Q.C I.T specialist for—looking back she'd probably had to head to Applied Sciences to even do it, and while John wouldn't put it past her to be able to run the sample herself even if she had to hack her way in or just say it was for a member of the Queen family—it'd been asking a lot more than any sort of basic computer work. Still, she'd come through and she'd come through fast.

 

So it was possible that they shouldn't have been surprised that as soon as her plausible deniability was blown out of the water, whatever it was that’d had her holding her tongue before was gone, too.

 

Click-Click-Click.

BAM! BAM! BAM!

 

All the same, the blonde clearly had some secrets of her own.

 

Her learning how to wield a sword for some fantasy recreational hobby could’ve made sense, if she hadn’t been trying so hard to not show how good she was. That fall of hers had been a thing of beauty, really: she couldn’t have fallen on her face at a better time, because even if her face hitting the mat had been uncomfortable her sword hadn’t been anymore a threat to herself or Oliver than his had been to her at that exact moment in the very brief handful of minutes when the vigilante hadn’t been holding back and it had kind of looked like maybe she still was.

 

Click-Click. Click-Click.

BAM! BAM-BAM! BAM!

 

John Diggle didn’t know anything about swords that hadn’t come up in movies, and he couldn’t entirely say that he considered entertainment a good source material. Not when he’d spotted plenty of things movie-makers had gotten wrong regarding soldiers, the Army, or Afghanistan. Or all the above all at the same time.

 

He did, however, know sports. And anyone good enough to keep up with Oliver Queen when he was swinging a weapon of any kind around would’ve been steered into competing even if she’d started off learning how to wield a sword for fun. Yet she said she never had. Not that she’d chosen not to because she was focusing on her schoolwork, or that she’d tried it once but didn’t like it. No, she’d said she’d never done it at all, which just didn’t add up. A hot girl like her swinging a sword around back when Xena was still big would’ve been beating the event coordinators off at the very least. The only question would be whether she was using a wooden sword then or her Loud Voice.

 

Probably her Loud Voice, which he'd so far only seen once. That was the time Oliver seemed about ready to try exercising too soon, again, and she stopped him before he could hurt himself all over again.

 

Click-Click-Click-Click...

BAM-BAM! BAM-BAM! BAM-BAM!

Click-Click. Clack... Click-Click.

 

For some reason Felicity didn’t want them to know how good she was. Just like she didn’t want their help with the cut on her shoulder, even though changing those bandages would’ve been a lot easier for another person that could use both hands.

 

And John for the life of him couldn’t come up with any good reason for either one of her choices there.

 

Maybe Oliver was right and she’d learned how to use a sword because of her grandfather. Even though the man was murdered years before she was born... if it was some sort of family tradition even before that it would’ve made sense.

 

Her hiding that someone had hurt her if it had anything to do with how her grandfather had died, didn’t make nearly as much sense.

 

She had to know they’d protect her. For all that she’d argued against Oliver putting an arrow in a little boy’s father, she’d barely said a word about the knife wielding assassin. Someone who wanted to hurt her would surely fall closer to the assassin than the white-collar criminal who happened to be a single father.

 

Click-Click-Click.

BAM-BAM! BAM-BAM-BAM!

Click-Click. Click-Click. Click.

 

So why didn’t she want them to know that she could fight, let alone that she knew how because she needed to?

 

No reason that really made sense came to mind.

 

It couldn’t be because she didn’t want them to worry—or if that was it, it definitely wasn’t working and wasn’t going to.

 

She might think that it’d make Oliver more protective her, rather than less. And if anyone was trying to hurt her, she’d be right. The vigilante’s over-protectiveness probably would go a story or two higher up the skyscraper it'd already become. John’s certainly would, too. But even not knowing for sure, both of them were already worried and protective.

 

What he knew she was working on in the spare time she didn’t really have didn’t help.

 

BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!

Click-Click.

 

Deadshot.

 

Andy’s killer.

 

Floyd Lawton.

 

The sniper that’d shot John’s little brother without meaning to.

 

The sniper that’d never missed his target any other time since then, save for when the vigilante had interfered at the auction and stopped him with an arrow in his eye. An arrow in the eye that he'd somehow survived. Just one more instance of Karma and Lady Luck getting really mixed up.

 

BAM! BAM! BAM!

Click-Click-Click.

 

John had already dried up most of his own resources. The only friend he hadn’t yet called about it was his ex-wife.

 

Not because Lyla couldn’t help. Given her many promotions in the last few years she had to be pretty high up in ARGUS by now. So she undoubtedly could help him look for an international assassin. But she’d want to know why, and John wasn’t any better at lying to her than Oliver was with Felicity.

 

So the sound of the tech genius’s keys clicking away was hard to ignore for long.

 

BAM-BAM!

Click-Click.

BAM-BAM-BAM!

Click-Click-Click.

BAM-BAM! BAM-BAM!

Click-Click.

 

Finally John just stopped, because while he didn’t think he should just come out and ask about one of the things on his mind, he might as well ask about the other. “Find anything yet?”

 

“Hmm?” Felicity blinked at him as she looked away from her computer screen, but then started shaking her head without awaiting response as his question registered after the fact. “No, he’s still looking for her. Don’t think there’re too many more places he can check though.”

 

The vigilante had been scouring the city for hours now. With what sounded like no luck whatsoever. So calling it a night soon wouldn't be a bad idea.

 

“Then he won’t be out too much longer,” John nodded, crossing his arms just to have something to do with them. “But that wasn’t what I was asking about.”

 

This time she didn’t blink, but she did wince. “No, sorry. There really hasn’t been much about Deadshot. Even on the Dark Web. Any of them.” Felicity held her hands up quickly. “I am still looking though, really,” she reassured him, shaking her head. “But I don’t know how much longer it might take.”

 

“Thanks for doing it,” John nodded, not letting himself sigh. “I know you’ve got a lot on your plate already with all of this.”

 

Felicity shook her head. “Don’t be silly. I’m happy to help.” She cocked her head to the side. “Oliver would be, too, you know.” She said it easily, like she wasn't at all uncomfortable with their teammate not knowing they were still looking for the assassin just yet. But she did seem to have plenty of secrets of her own, never mind how readily she'd kept the vigilante's, so keeping another for a friend might not be much of a hardship for this girl who, other than all the secrets she clearly had, seemed so honest most of the time.

 

“Not yet.” John shook his head again. “He’s got more than enough on his plate, too.” He frowned at her in concern. “But it’s not silly to notice that you’re burning the candle at both ends, Felicity.”

 

She shook her head quickly. “No, I’m—”

 

“It’s almost one in the morning, now. You have to be at work for nine, don’t you?”

 

Felicity shrugged, like such thoughts weren't worth worrying about. “Like you said, he’ll be back soon.”

 

But sleep deprivation wasn't something you could just keep shrugging off. Eventually the exhaustion would hit you, and it'd hit you hard. Looking at the blonde as he considered it, John was surprised he didn't see bags below her blue eyes. But women were sometimes adept at hiding such things with make-up, and Felicity had her glasses, too.

 

“This isn’t the first time you probably won’t be in bed before two or three though.” John told her firmly, not liking the realization at all. “It’s a good way to make yourself sick.”

 

It was one thing for the bodyguard and the billionaire to not get some shut-eye till about the time the sun started to come up sometimes. Neither one of them had to be up in the early morning hours if they didn't want to be. Oliver was his day job, and now that he wasn't set on losing him anymore Digg could trust him to be where he said he'd be when needed. Felicity, on the other hand, had another whole job she had to be on time for every day, no matter how late she stayed at her computers the night before.

 

“I’m fine, John, really,” the tech girl told him with a small smile. “You don’t have to worry about me.”

 

“I will anyway, so will Oliver,” John told her, shaking his head. “We might worry less if we can be sure you’re okay.”

 

That was starting to edge towards the worries he wasn't supposed to ask her about until they were sure they weren't letting their healthy paranoia create problems that weren't really there, but it just slipped out that way.

 

Felicity snorted, “Unlike either of you, no one is shooting at me on a regular basis,” she shook her head. “And it’s not like I can tell anyone at work that I need to cut my hours back because of my new night job.”

 

“Why not?” John shrugged when she raised an eyebrow at her. “You can say you’ve taken over all the tech support for Oliver’s new club. Your supervisor wouldn’t dare question you needing the time for a member of the Queen family.”

 

“I’m not sure he actually has even that much self-preservation,” Felicity shook her head. She seemed more amused than annoyed, though she'd had one or two unflattering things to say about said supervisor before. Never to Oliver, who might do something about it, though.

 

"He didn't before, right?" John double-checked.

 

"I never told him about Oliver before," the blonde shook her head. "He only knows about a few of the times he stopped by, not what it was really about or how often it happened."

 

Because all too many of the favors the billionaire had asked for had traced very easily back to the vigilante, and for reasons still not said the genius had obviously been covering for him. Which still didn't tell him when, exactly, the blonde had figured it all out, but that made it seem like it must've been a lot earlier than Oliver definitely thought.

 

The bodyguard frowned, “Then we tell him," he indicated their teammate via a nod to their comm station, which was obviously muted on her end.

 

Her soft humming had supposedly made it hard for the vigilante to concentrate on intimidating some street thug a little while back, so the vigilante had made her promise to keep her line muted unless she had something to say. What'd impressed John the most about the B.S there was that he'd actually been able to make himself ask the I.T girl nicely, even though if called on it he'd probably have to confess that the thug in question had been plenty scared of the infamous vigilante.

 

"If the man’s enough of an idiot to give you trouble, straightening him out is the least Oliver can do.”

 

“Like you said,” the blonde shook her head. “He has enough on his plate.” She went on with a sigh before he could say anything else in argument. “I’m sorry I haven’t found anything about Deadshot yet. I am looking. And I have a few more things to try, it just takes time.”

 

“I know,” John shook his head. “No apologies necessary.” He assured her, before pressing on. “But you really should cut back at Q.C, Felicity. It’s not like Oliver can’t pay you for working here if you need the money.”

 

“It’s not about the money,” Felicity shook her head, continuing matter-of-factly. “It’s about perception.” She sighed when he blinked at her, then went on to explain. “Everyone at Q.C knows about Oliver coming to me a lot for tech help, so my helping with the setup here at Verdant makes sense. But there’s already enough water cooler gossip about us without adding me working regularly at the nightclub. A nightclub doesn't need regular tech help, like a lot of other places they're fine with occasional consultations.”

 

That made his frown deepen, “Are your co-workers bothering you that much?”

 

Because everything else she'd said made sense, but something about that part had sounded a little off. Like she'd realized she hadn't meant to say it as it was coming out, like one of the innuendoes that frequently popped out around Oliver, so she'd started talking faster to get past it. The reputation the billionaire came back home planning to hide behind could've all too easily caused problems for Felicity. Problems that might get worse before they got better when it got out that she was dating the former playboy. Which would definitely happen when she was at his side for Verdant's grand opening.

 

“Not especially,” Felicity denied, and then sighed again. “But they never really noticed me before, you know? I was used to almost everyone eventually coming to me when they hit a block they couldn’t stumble over on their own, but now that it’s known that Oliver comes to me specifically for technical support a lot more of the higher ups want me, too.” She shook her head. “It was a little easier being more unknown, but Mister Steele had already noticed me anyway, so this was bound to happen.”

 

“But the water cooler gossip wasn’t.” John kept on it because that was the problematic part of the situation. “Not without Oliver’s old reputation.”

 

“That’s part of it,” she allowed, then shrugged. “But it’s nothing I can’t handle.”

 

Making him feel a little better only because the motion didn't trouble hurt—didn't seem to make her shoulder hurt—so it was one less thing to worry about. What she was saying, however, was still worrying.

 

"It does bother you," John frowned, and followed up firmly. "And you shouldn't have to handle it alone."

 

The idea grated. Though their friendship was still somewhat new, with plenty of secrets still left untold, Felicity had started to feel like family very fast. Almost from the very start, she'd been like the little sister he'd never known he'd wanted. And no matter what she wasn't saying or why, she was a good person who didn't deserve to be so unnecessarily burdened by the pettiness of people with nothing better to do than make up and spread spiteful stories.

 

"Not as much as you seem to think," Felicity told him, her voice gentle as she held his gaze only a moment. But she went on again before he could try to press her more. "I’ve got a few more things to try to find Deadshot, but I can’t do them here. Can you take over the comms?"

 

"Sure," John agreed readily, as was expected of him.

 

He knew she was using that expectation to make herself an exit from the unfinished conversation. But if he'd learned anything in the weeks of working with this woman, it was that she was as smart as she was stubborn. She wouldn't be tricked into sharing, and she wouldn't share before she was ready to.

 

“Arrow,” Felicity said into the comms then. “I’m going to head home early tonight, Freelancer’s taking over… Right… Yeah, you too. Good night.” Then she turned to take the Bluetooth out of her ear and quickly handed it to him.

 

“Let me know what I can do to help,” he told her as he accepted the device and just as quickly put it in his own ear. Even though their vigilante wasn’t supposed to get into trouble tonight, he was quite capable of finding it even when he shouldn’t. "And get some sleep. You wanta be well-rested for the opening, and we start your self-defense training the day after that."

 

The blonde's nose wrinkled a little at the idea, likely more the training than the club opening. Her interesting sparring session with the archer hadn't seemed to make their I.T girl  any more eager to start 'basic' self-defense  with the former soldier. Really, John was pretty sure she knew she'd revealed too much of her Xena-like abilities, because she'd gotten too quiet about all of it. Even now she was keeping quiet as she got ready to go.

 

All of it, though, would still have to stay on the backburner until the problem of the Bertinelli bitch was solved. So John didn't say anything more as he un-muted the comms. (He wasn't willing to waste time needing to do that later just because the vigilante might not like the sound of his breathing.)

 

Though John did, of course, watch Felicity while she walked out—via the now fully operational security system that covered every possible angle both inside the club and out. He wasn't surprised when one of the bouncer's was quick to walk her out to her car. He'd made a point of the back alley and the employee parking lot both being under their watch just as much as the main entrance, V.I.P section, dance floor and the bar.

 

Though Matt was lucky the vigilante wasn't here to see him trying to flirt with Felicity, who was too nice to just shoot him down. No one hired to work at Verdant was on the List, though those names weren't all corrupt rick people. That was part of the background check for all employees, and Merlyn had kept using the computer system Oliver had setup—courtesy of Felicity—so they could be sure about that. But the bouncer would've probably been doomed to a terrorizing meeting with the Hood anyway, even though all he'd done was win one of Felicity's polite smile as he helped her into her car...

 

If asked, said vigilante would probably be more than willing to redirect his attention from the futile search for Helena Bertinelli to what was troubling his girlfriend.

 

His bodyguard and vigilante-partner would have preferred to keep the focus on their I.T girl, too. But the return of this particular—psycho—ex had the potential to become a real disaster all too easily.

 

So far, Felicity had said all the right things, she was good at that. And she clearly didn’t want either of them to interfere in her real world job, no matter how much it was Oliver's fault or how easily he could help. Ignoring her wishes wouldn't help, there could soon come a time when that would have to change. It might be sooner than Felicity herself liked, once Oliver realized her being tied to him was having a negative impact on her career in his family's company.

 

But right now they should stay focused on the woman that a part of John still wished Oliver Queen hadn’t been quite fast enough to save a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, in this case, the archer was very, very fast and plenty chivalrous enough for that pretty face to make all the difference.

 

Felicity Smoak, at least, they could be sure didn’t need to be feared. Feared for and respected, of course, but the odds of her trying to start a gang war or something equally insane were a great deal lower than they were for Helena Bertinelli.

 

For all they knew, the Huntress might decided to just try and blow up the whole courthouse while her father was inside—it wasn’t like she gave a damn about civilian casualties or any other kind of collateral damage that shouldn’t be written off by anyone.

 

Then again, the bitch might just as easily put a call into the Major Case Squad’s vigilante task force, promising the identity of the Hood in exchange for her father’s murder. That the D.A and the S.C.P.D couldn’t legally accept such an exchange under any circumstances was neither here or there. If she made that call, it’d be all the proof they’d need about her knowing that information. Then the Vigilante Taskforce would have to go after the ex-mob princess all the harder just because she’d have to be easier to catch than the Hood had been thus far.

 

If she told Detective Lance he was right, and that the Hood really was Oliver Queen, all of this would be over. John Diggle would definitely go down with him at this point, and Felicity Smoak might, too. Oliver’s family would lose him again, if not to prison then to those that wanted revenge on the vigilante or just wanted him to not be a problem in the future.

 

And whatever the hell was going on in Starling City, pitting some of the city’s leading lights against each other and getting others kidnapped right out of their own office buildings would remain a mystery. One that none of them would be able to put any effort into solving. So Walter Steele would remain missing and presumed dead. And any hope of trying to help their home become a better place to live again through vigilantism would be all but impossible…

 

So they had to find Helena Bertinelli.

 

And John Diggle had to hope that Oliver would be able to aim that arrow straight when he had to let it fly.

 

Deadshot, Queen Consolidated, and all the secrets of Felicity Smoak could wait. For now.

Chapter Text

Felicity's P.O.V.

 

Felicity scowled as yet another search came up empty.

 

At least she'd thought to mute all but the most imperative of alerts already. The blaring sound that typically harassed her into looking at whatever the program had found wasn't necessary when she was sitting in front of the computer and actively working the problem. It was only an added aggravation with each failure. Though there were some things that bore that alarming sound.

 

She really should be asleep right now. She was immortal, but shadows would still start to form under her eyes if she went too long without a good night's rest every once and a while. It just took a lot longer for her than most. It wasn't in her, though, to give up before every option had been exhausted. Not when she knew how much this meant to her friend. Even though that same friend would be sure to notice if dark circles did start to appear under her eyes, though her glasses and eye-shadow should hide them for a time.

 

Not that she was still trying to find Deadshot, per say, anymore than she was monitoring the activities at Merlyn Global Group directly from her home. She wasn't.

 

The programs running twenty-four-seven at the Foundry could handle all of that, and she'd set them up to notify her of anything they did find, just like all her other 'vigilante programs.' She'd receive the same update Oliver and Digg would, and whoever was at the Foundry would be able to easily access it there. Neither one of the men were incompetent enough with computers to worry about in that regard: after all, the laptop the archer had brought her had been destroyed by bullets not a latte like he'd said. The same programs kept track of the S.C.P.D's investigations, so she didn't have to.

 

All together it wasn't quite as comprehensive and sophisticated as the whole slew of systems she had trying to keep track of Immortals and Watchers alike, all around the world, but it didn't need to be. Many of the new programs she'd designed for the Starling City vigilante's mission were certainly based on programs she'd already created, and in some cases—like when Floyd Lawton was getting away—she still borrowed from her 'Immortals network,' as Methos had dubbed it. But all of that wasn't what was needed in her home here, wasn't what her team needed or what Oliver needed. Anything outside of Starling wasn't really necessary, so her programs here only needed to monitor the one city.

 

Except for the ones hunting for Floyd Lawton, of course. Unsuccessfully, still.

 

What she was researching in her spare time, now, was the murder of Diggle's brother, Andy.

 

Andrew Diggle Senior had been shot by the sniper Floyd Lawton two years ago. He'd served in the military, like his brother, before becoming a bodyguard here in Starling City, which was where he died. Felicity had known all of that the first night she'd run a very general search on him. What didn't make sense to her even then was how little information she'd found.

 

The relatively sparse information on his death was one thing. It was immediately ruled a homicide, which made sense since a sniper's gunshot couldn't really be anything else. Thanks to ARGUS, it was only a few weeks later that the S.C.P.D was able to identify the killer. Courtesy of the curare laced bullets Deadshot was known for almost as much as his accuracy. It seemed Floyd Lawton's second career had only started just then, his infamous international reputation starting with that murder. That homicide that the police, Interpol and ARGUS all noted was probably 'Deadshot's only miss to date,' because an assassin of his caliber wouldn't be hired to kill a mere bodyguard. Therefore the actual target was 'probably the man he was protecting.'

 

That assumption was wrong.

 

Felicity knew that even before she'd finished reading those short reports. But it also meant that the case wasn't being actively investigated by anyone. Yes, Andrew Diggle Senior was dead, and murdered, but he was just one of many victims. His homicide wasn't closed, because the killer was never caught, but his was just the first name on the list of kills known to be the responsibility of a professional assassin. And unlike a great number of the other names on that same list, Andy Diggle wasn't a priority for anyone outside of the small family that lost him. His brother, widow and son. If not for the fact that he was Deadshot's first kill, his name wouldn't even be noted by half the global organizations that kept track of the murders made by one of the world's best assassins.

 

Or one of world's 'best' known assassins, anyway.

 

Deadshot was much more showy than anyone in the League of Assassins tended to be, unless expressly ordered. His murders were meant to be seen and recognized. Three bullets in the chest, laced with curare to make sure the target shouldn't survive.

 

Malcolm Merlyn did, because he was wearing a bulletproof vest and Oliver knew they needed to counter the curare right away. None of Deadshot previous targets had been so lucky.

 

Deadshot didn't miss. Even if he did fire only once that first time. And if that first shot had been a miss, he would've fired more bullets until one found the man he had been hired to kill.

 

So Andy Diggle was a target. The target. Not a miss like far too many had assumed. Like even his brother still assumed.

 

It'd be one thing if he was hit by a stray bullet and his client was killed, or at least hit, too. But only the one shot was fired. Not the tree that Deadshot usually killed with, true, but the only curare laced bullet fired that day was meant for Andy Diggle.

 

Felicity had read the coroner's report, and while something about it hadn't rung quite true to her—she couldn't put her finger on what yet but she knew something was off—the analysis of the corpse was straightforward enough. It wasn't the curare that'd killed him, he'd been shot dead by the one bullet fired from the sniper's gun that day.

 

The first bullet of that notable signature to appear, yes. Attributed to being different from all the others that'd received a trio of shots to the chest because it was his first hit. Dead shot, square in the chest: thus the name, and the signature that anyone who paid attention to such things should recognize thereafter.

 

Why though, was Digg's brother the target that night?

 

And why were so many professional investigators willing to just let it go with an obviously false conclusion. While he hadn't worked in law enforcement, Andy Diggle had been a former soldier. That was something many policemen would draw kinship to if they didn't have a significant reason not to.

 

Never mind the fact that it was just as hard to research Digg's brother as it was to find the man that'd killed him. He'd been a ghost in the technological sense even before he'd died.

 

Yes, he'd served in the military.

 

Yes, he'd become a bodyguard here in Starling City while his brother was returning to the Middle East for his third tour there post-divorce.

 

But other than his marriage, the birth of his son and a few guard jobs here and there, Andy Diggle might as well have not existed.

 

The gaps in between the few brief protection details he took on had been significant, some of them covering years. And though the years sometimes seemed to fly by, in the computer age there should be many more records for her to find of him.

 

Unless he’d been erased, and by someone who knew what they were doing at that. Someone who knew how to make sure the information wasn't there to be found anymore. Like she did when an Immortal screwed up enough under one of their aliases to necessitate that lifetime being completely wiped away. Usually she helped in the forging of new identities in this age more than the destruction of them, but sometimes the screw ups really were that bad. There were a few independent hackers other than herself who were capable of that, when they were inspired, but the ones that typically did it usually worked for whoever needed it done.

 

Government agencies and espionage were the two biggest groups that fit that category, but some criminal organization could, too. Including assassins.

 

Whichever one it might be, if someone was scrubbing his identity down to near non-existence before he was killed though, Andy Diggle wasn’t a mere definitely a bodyguard. What was he then? Why was he practically invisible between his military service and the start of his second career? Why had it gotten him killed?

 

No matter what avenue Felicity had tried thus far, however, the answers had continued to elude her. No matter what web she tried. Deep, dark, dark and deep—it didn’t matter. Even she couldn’t find it if it wasn’t there to be found.

 

Leaving her with only the options of last resort.

 

The ones she didn’t like to take.

 

It was a relief, at least, to now be sure that Deadshot wasn't one of Mazin's men. That the League of Assassins hadn't been here, assassinating in Starling City, while she called it home. That her deadliest student hadn't broken his word in that regard, too. So at least she only had to demand answers for the presence of Malcolm Merlyn. A call she still hadn't made.

 

Because she couldn't be sure that there wasn't more going on than she knew. While a few reasons Malcolm Merlyn might be here with Ra's al Ghul's blessing came to mind all too easily, some of the reasons she didn't like.

 

One of those un-liked reasons, however, would be a good thing if it meant her former student was still her friend. It would be just like the deadly man that'd asked her to teach him her wisdom, and eventually become just as over protective as every other man she knew. But Malcolm Merlyn had been here years before her, so his placement couldn't have much to do with her.

 

What's more, the 'Dark Archer's' own actions wouldn't bear that reason out. It wouldn't make sense for a League member placed in her home to protect her to draw attention to themselves. Calling the vigilante out like he did a few months ago had been done very publically, even if his face and form were never seen by anyone other than the hostages and the vigilante.

 

That sort of theatricality wasn't a weapon the League didn't know how to wield, of course, she'd taught Mazin the value of drama herself. It was a lesson he'd learned well.

 

But the Starling City vigilante had been no threat to her. He'd been targeting criminals and corrupt businessmen. Not I.T girls.

 

As far as she knew, the only woman Oliver had ever even fought was the Triad hit-woman Chien Na-Wei, and he'd practically run away from their last fight at Merlyn Global. Then again, there was more than a problem or two inherent there if the Chinese woman was anything like her teacher. Who, thus far, hadn't raised the League's ire by breaking any of their unofficial rules.

 

Still, the exposure back before Christmas didn't make sense if Tommy's father was here on a mission. And if Malcolm Merlyn somehow wasn't the darkly armored archer that Oliver had fought—seeing as it was a description that fit most of the League—then he should have reported it. Either way, Felicitas should have heard from Mazin by now.

 

Unless he'd gone dark. A description they'd borrowed from Star Wars, which didn't make the idea of Dark Quickenings any less terrifying for her. The duels of The Game were bad enough on their own, but the idea that the madness and outright evil of someone could come with their Quickening and corrupt you sometimes made death sound like a better alternative... Better than becoming what you fought to destroy. Better than turning on your friends.

 

Or a friend turning on you...

 

That, however, was something Felicitas couldn't ask about from afar. It was a question that had to be asked and answered in person. With the Buzz of their Quickenings telling the truth even if tongues did not. If it'd happened it couldn't easily be undone, even if Methos had managed to save the Highlander from it once. Either way, she wouldn't know if it'd happened until the next time their eyes met.

 

Should she call for a different explanation entirely though? Because there was something she was missing here, something she couldn’t find on her own, because whatever organization Andy Diggle had gotten involved in clearly didn’t make use of such ‘open’ markets—of even the less open ones—on the worldwide web.

 

Like the League of Assassins.

 

The death of Digg’s brother shouldn’t have been their doing, because Mazin had been well aware of where she called home for all but a few short parts of his lifetime. She’d been in Starling City for several years now, including when Andy Diggle was killed. So by the rules Ra’s al Ghul personally determined for his League, this city was off limits in that time frame. At least without first receiving her permission.

 

The League was willing to kill Immortals, of course. Usually headhunters who became too bold or too careless. But not Immortals their leader called friends, let alone family.

 

Then again, Mazin had made exceptions for Felicitas in the past. Sending assassins when a headhunter with more skill than her student was comfortable with got too close to her. He was as protective as just about every other man in her life, even though he’d never really managed to best her before. He’d always asked first though, unwilling to offend her and risk invoking her own teacher’s wrath.

 

Once upon a time Methos had very pointedly told Mazin to keep ‘his game’ away from Felicitas unless it involved intervening if someone broke the unofficial—but by now kind of official—rules of the The Game. Mazin hadn’t ever forgotten any warning the man the world had called Death had given him. Though he was happy to call Felicitas his sister and friend, the other Immortal she called brother had never made any attempt to not intimidate him, so there was still a sense of self-preservation in his respect for Methos.

 

Any actual breaches in the damn Game hadn’t happened in centuries, until the incidents the younger Highlander had reacted to. As the headhunters involved were all targeting Duncan MacLeod himself, the League had simply watched him handle them. Mazin’s warriors had been exceedingly thorough, however, since the League’s inception, with making sure no one’s head got too big in The Game. Even if unofficially governing The Game was only one of the reasons that Ra’s al Ghul claimed to have created his League of Assassins. Beneath both maintaining his authority over the League and, supposedly, trying to end The Game once and for all... something so many of them had been trying to do for millennia without success.

 

Granted, if Mazin was trying to be sneaky about it he might've thought sending a sniper would throw her off. Make her think he was an assassin who wasn't affiliated with the League. Deadshot didn’t wield swords, likely didn’t even understand why so many high-caliber assassins still did. So allowing him to kill anywhere near her even if the target wasn’t another Immortal or Pre-Immortal might not be a violation of that rule in some regards… but Felicitas had never known the League to put out hits on anyone. They were almost all of them assassins, if Ra’s al Ghul wanted someone dead, for profit or any other reason; he sent one of his own warriors. Or, occasionally, he went himself.

 

But who else in that sort of sphere could’ve hired Deadshot? And more importantly, as it could lead to the first answer: why?

 

She wasn't going to find anything more this way. If it was on the web, she would've found some trace of it by now. She'd been searching for over a week already, and it'd been days since she'd found anything new. She could continue to leave her search algorithms running, of course, could wait to hear back from any of the message boards the cyber division of many law enforcement agencies would never find unless a highly skilled hacker showed them where to look.

 

But... it felt wrong to just wait. Especially when that waiting could lead to nothing still. Especially when there was another option.

 

In this day and age, waiting seemed to be a thing of the past. Everything happened so fast, it seemed to be a necessary part of adaption to move fast, too. And this was life or death. One that'd already happened, but maybe more if her fears were reality.

 

Felicity sighed, finally opening the top drawer of her desk and pulling the cell phone she never used out of the charger it was always connected to. After going through each setting that would keep someone else from being able to open this phone; two ridiculously long passwords, her fingerprints from her right thumb and left index finger, and finally an optical scan of her right eye, the security protocol deactivated, at least momentarily. She'd wondered more than once, though she'd never actually needed to use this phone for the reason it was provided, how she was supposed to do so quickly with so many road blocks in the way. But then she'd never actually needed it, and didn't personally need it now.

 

She opened the list of contacts, all nameless, and scrolled past all the people who couldn't hope to help her with this, deliberately skipping over Methos because while he might be able to help he wouldn't want her to keep looking into something like this at all. When she reached the last number, she didn't let herself hesitate before she pressed the 'call' button and then brought the device up to her ear.

 

It rang only once before it was answered without a greeting.

 

Felicity didn't hesitate, she simply started speaking in Latin as she was expected to, "I need information. Now."

 

Each word was carefully chosen even though she was sure every communication device Methos had provided for her over the years—probably by way of the organization she was currently calling—was as secure as it could be. There was no reason to waste words here, and while her student might've merely been following her teacher's lead, Methos wouldn't have insisted on strict guidelines for the communication methods without a good reason. Even if that reason was mostly healthy paranoia.

 

"Apologies, most honored one," the 'operator' answered immediately, his Latin a little rougher than her own as he likely hadn't ever had to speak it regularly, but even through the electronic disguising of his voice the respect was clear. At least that still hadn't changed. "The great one is not available at this time. Are you in danger?"

 

"No," Felicity hesitated a moment, then repeated; "I need information."

 

"How may this one be of assistance?" the reply was again immediate, as expected.

 

She hesitated only a moment more, then decided to go with the safest option. The only question she knew she could ask, even if it might confuse her student whether he was still himself or not. "There was an incident near my home. In April of 2010. I need to know why it happened."

 

"This one does not—"

 

"I know you couldn't tell me by phone even if you knew the answer," Felicity cut him off. "Send someone."

 

"Understood, most honored one."

 

"Thank you," she replied, before hanging up.

 

Felicity had considered trying to say something along the lines of 'don't tell anyone else' to see if that might keep Mazin from contacting Methos about it, but that was actually more likely to have the opposite effect.

 

Better known as the Demon’s Head these days or not, if he was still himself, her most dangerous student took after her own mentor in the most exasperating of ways. That the pair could find common ground wasn’t a bad thing of course—but why did that commonality have to be protecting her when she didn’t need protecting?

 

So Felicity set the phone back in its permanent charging place, closed said drawer without watching to see if the encryption protocols came into effect because she didn't need to.

 

Then, at last, she could go to bed for at least a few short hours until the sun rose on a new day.

Chapter Text

Tommy Merlyn's P.O.V.

 

Tommy breathed a sigh of relief when he finally finished the checklist in his head of everything that should already be done for the club to be completely ready for tonight. With just a few hours to spare, everything was as a ready as it could be. As long as no one set the building on fire again and the famous D.J showed up, Verdant's opening night should be everything everyone was expecting it to be.

 

Well, everyone except Tommy himself, that is. Because the club was never really about doing something fun that resembled responsible with his childhood friend. And it wasn't really about making money instead of just spending it.

 

At least it clearly wasn't for Oliver. Whom he hadn't seen since that terrible night at the hospital.

 

Tommy had seen more of his former friend's bodyguard recently than the owner of this new nightclub himself. Because of some psycho ex—who, from the sounds of it, just might set the club on fire again, according to the bodyguard.

 

And it was hard not to take the imposing ex-soldier seriously. Even though none of all the many, many women they had met through the years had ever struck him as particularly dangerous. But Tommy had been Ollie's wingman as often as he'd returned the favor, and the blur of women his friend had dated over the years had been just that. A blur.

 

No one particularly memorable. Other than Laurel, of course. And he was fairly sure his own girlfriend couldn't be the 'psycho ex' Mister Diggle was worried about.

 

There was the bubbly blonde he'd brought to Tommy's birthday party, too. But somehow he couldn't imagine she was the crazy one, either. The girl he remembered meeting that night would've been memorable for her smiles and easy laughter alone, but how important she'd seemed to Oliver was what made him hope his friend hadn't screwed that up already. Even if they weren't friends anymore.

 

It had almost felt like he'd gotten the real Oliver Queen back for that birthday. Only a slightly more serious, maybe more grown up version. The version that no one thought they'd ever see after the Queen's Gambit was lost at sea.

 

It was, at the same time, an unbelievably huge change from the Ollie of before. He'd always had that focus, though he hadn't always wanted to use it. Except with women: with women Ollie had made seduction look so easy that sometimes even Tommy was jealous. But only very rarely was he interested in anyone afterwards.

 

Like Laurel.

 

But the woman the bodyguard was worried about couldn't be Laurel or the bubbly blonde...

 

Felicity, that was her name. And when Missus Q had asked about her, the imposing bodyguard had even known her name, hadn't he? So it couldn't be her that a bodyguard—and by extension every one of Verdant's bouncers—should be worried about tonight.

 

The ex-soldier had been very serious about it though, so the former playboy tried to think some more. He couldn't think of any other woman, though. Other than Laurel or Felicity, no one else in the blur of women from before had ever made much of a lasting impression on Oliver, let alone on his (now former) best friend.

 

Well, there was that one woman Ollie had knocked up, wasn't there? Sandra or Samantha something? But after she'd lost the baby Tommy had never seen any reason to even try to meet her... and that was even farther back...

 

It'd taken a lot of very specific reminders from Mister Diggle, regarding the when and where, for Tommy to even vaguely remember the woman. Apparently she was the one Ollie had been on a date with that he and Laurel had unintentionally crashed. When he and Laurel couldn't get a table, she'd asked Ollie for help, and then asked about the job Tommy hadn't been able to make himself say anything about before that.

 

Admittedly, Tommy had been more focused on being furious at Laurel and jealous of Ollie than anything else. The other woman that was there that night hadn't even been a blip on his radar. He'd had to ask Laurel what her name was before he'd gone to talk to Oliver about the job thing. When he'd had to make himself fess up shortly afterwards about his dad cutting him off. But by then 'Helena' was already out of the picture.

 

So it wasn't really a surprise that Tommy couldn't remember what she looked like—other than she was a brunette, not a blonde. But that was more tied to his memory of the next girl.

 

He remembered not knowing what to say when Laurel commented under her breath that he'd switched from brunettes when they saw the blonde on his arm that night. Those sort of comments from Laurel were rare, but proof that she hadn't forgotten how often Oliver had cheated on her. Maybe she kept saying them early on, less and less these days, as a way of telling him she wouldn't accept it from him because she shouldn't have taken it from Oliver. Looking back, after meeting the bubbly blonde, the lawyer would probably feel bad if asked about it, which was why Tommy never would ask her.

 

But either way, he really didn't know what to do with Mister Diggle's warnings about Oliver's psycho ex being back in town, other than agreeing he could tell the club security whatever he wanted.

 

Tommy didn't think he'd ever had a bodyguard who actually commented on his love-life, but then Mister Diggle seemed to fit more into the friend category for Oliver than Tommy himself did—he'd actually been down into the basement before, which may or may not be where Oliver was hiding these days. Because Oliver, himself, Tommy hadn't seen since that night at the hospital. Not that he wanted to.

 

Still, the steady, high flow of power going into whatever was under the club told Tommy that what was really important to his lying best friend was down there. Not up here. That basement that was in the blueprints of the old steel factory but not the plans for the new night club, was where the electricity had been going even before construction crews started spending a few hours a day up here—more hours once Tommy had taken over as general manager. He probably should've asked what was down there, but somehow it'd never come up.

 

He'd never tried to open that door. That door with its own security system that Oliver had led him away from the few times he'd caught him by it, whether he was going out or coming in at the time.

 

After everything Tommy had learned, everything he couldn't remotely wrap his head around—his coldhearted father killing people as easily as he might fire a father of five; or his brother, back from the dead but shooting arrows at people—after all of that, he probably shouldn't be looking at that door.

 

This door. Yet somehow Tommy still found himself standing here, contemplating it. Staring at the security pad that kept it locked.

 

Only for a minute though. Then the door opened.

 

And Tommy jerked back, suddenly remembering that he'd been relieved by the fact that Oliver was avoiding him, that he wasn't at all ready to have this conversation with him. Or any conversation with the man he'd mourned for five years and then never really gotten back.

 

But the blonde head that popped out was several inches closer to the ground than the vigilante's. Oliver's hair was a lot shorter; his admittedly buff form not anywhere near as curvy. And he was pretty sure he'd never seen Oliver wearing that shade of pink, so for a minute Tommy could only stare at the smiling, bespectacled face.

 

"Hi," the girl greeted him cheerfully. "Were you coming down? You should come down," she grabbed his wrist without waiting for an answer, yanking him through the doorway so she could close the door.

 

The little thing was a lot stronger than she looked: if not for her fingers around his wrist still holding on, Tommy might've gone straight down the stairs, headfirst, whether he wanted to or not.

 

"Sorry," the blonde went on as she let him go once he was standing on the other side of the door she was closing. "We're not really supposed to stand there. Draws too much attention, or it might, something like that. You know, once the club opens. But there's still workers working right now, so..."

 

Tommy wasn't sure why he was following the woman down the staircase his face had almost known much too intimately, but he was mostly focused on trying to figure out where he knew her from. Because maybe if he knew that, he'd have a shot at figuring out what she was doing popping out of Oliver's not-so-well-hidden hideout.

 

"I tried to tell Oliver that that door was stupid," the woman went on emphatically. "That it should really be a secret—as in hidden—door. Maybe in a rarely used pantry, or where you keep the really pricey stuff. Behind a secret wall wouldn't be a bad idea, either. But it was done this way before he let you take-over the club, and he didn't want to stomp on your toes, I guess," She smiled up at him again as she dropped gracefully into the computer chair that was set up for what was obviously a workstation of some kind, right in the middle of the large basement. "So? What do you think?" she made an all-encompassing gesture at the room around them with the hands sporting  green manicure.

 

Tommy glanced between her, the computers behind her, all the exercise equipment beyond, and all the green arrows displayed around the room like decorations designed to make Detective Lance's job easy if he ever got a warrant for this place. Then he shook his head. "What the hell is this?" he demanded flatly.

 

The woman rolled her eyes, "You already know that, Tommy."

 

And suddenly Tommy recognized her. Though he didn't think he'd ever seen her make that eye movement it did bring his attention to her pretty eyes for a moment, which he remembered without glasses in front of them. "You're... You're that girl that Ollie brought to my birthday party... Felicity?"

 

"Um-hum. Felicity Smoak," she confirmed with a nod that had her ponytail bouncing. "Thank you, again, for the cake, by the way. It was delicious."

 

Tommy stared at her, picturing her pretty face without her glasses and all that long blonde hair a tumble of artsy curls around her face instead of a tight ponytail. "You're welcome?" then he blinked. "Wait... Why are you here?"

 

"I'm working," she responded just as easily, gesturing to the computers as if to remind him of exactly what her expertise was as Queen Consolidated.

 

But this wasn't Queen Consolidated. This was the vigilante's secret-lair underneath their new nightclub—it couldn't be anything but now that Tommy was down here. And even though all the looks he and Laurel had both seen Ollie send this girl's way a few weeks ago didn't quite translate to how the hell a girl he'd only just met since his return to Starling was worthy of such trust if his childhood friends and family weren't.

 

Tommy shook his head, trying to swallow the bitterness that was starting to claw up his throat again. The girl he was talking to, after all, hadn't done anything to deserve it. "Where's Oliver?" he asked her, wincing a little as the words came out too sharply anyway.

 

The blonde seemed unfazed by it. "Also working," she shrugged.

 

Tommy frowned. "He doesn't work."

 

What he meant was Oliver didn't have a job: didn't need one. And since Tommy had found out the truth, his friend had given up even the pretense of actually caring about the club coming together over their heads. Which, while convenient in the avoiding-talking-area, did make some of those jealousy-like feelings Tommy wasn't used to feeling before his father cut him off rear their head a little bit.

 

But what he'd said got him a look that somehow made him feel like a misbehaving two-year-old. "That's a hell of a judgment to make about a friend you got back from the dead after mourning him for half a decade," she commented.

 

Tommy scowled, his temper finally flaring and making him break in, "Hey, you don't know—"

 

But the blonde cut him off, "And now you hate him for...what?" she shook her head, golden ponytail twitching from side to side like an agitated cat's tail. "Saving your dad's life? Saving your life? Saving Laurel's life?"

 

"No, he—"

 

"Or maybe it's just that he wanted to keep the people he really cares about, yourself included, as far away from all of this as he could?" She raised an eyebrow as that made him pause, but didn't stop. "Or is it just that he changed from the boy you lost to a man that could survive everything that he's been through?"

 

"No!" Tommy shook his head quickly. "That's not—he lied to me! To everybody! He's been lying all this time..." he trailed off, trying not to shrink under her wilting stare.

 

"And what, exactly, was he supposed to tell you, Tommy? When?" she asked, sounding so calmly matter-of-fact that they might have been discussing whether or not there were clouds in the sky outside. She spread her arms wide, in another all-encompassing gesture at all that was around them. "How? Should he have given you the tour down here when he first started talking about a club? Or did you really want to know that the first people he'd had to kill since coming back were the guys that kidnapped you two? Would it make you feel better if I reminded you that those guys were the bad guys?"

 

Tommy frowned, not liking the feeling of being lectured like a little kid who'd asked why he couldn't jump off the third story balcony into the backyard pool. He only tried to do that once, but somehow he felt the same way in front of Felicity Smoak that he had been when Raisa had been yelling at him half in English and half in Russian that day. "I know, they—"

 

She cut him off again. "That they'd killed some innocent bystander just for being in the same alley as your car when they kidnapped you? Or do you need to be told that your friend let them torture him a bit before he fought back?"

 

"What? No!" Tommy blinked at her, horrified as he remembered some of the scary-looking devices he'd seen the S.C.P.D lab guys bringing out in bags just like the kidnappers' bodies that day. Before they were loaded into a cop car and driven to Queen Mansion, with Detectives Lance and Hilton not far behind them.

 

The woman was still talking though. "Or that that wasn't the first time he's had to kill? Or the first time he was tortured?"

 

"No!" Tommy cried, completely aghast.

 

But the blonde kept going like she hadn't heard him, the voice that'd been soft, friendly and bright when she'd been Oliver's smiling date to his birthday dinner was now a distant memory barely anything like to the analytical, no-nonsense hardness that was accompanying her frown. "Judging by his scars, actually, I'd say there were more than a few times. That he was tortured, I mean. Though some of those wounds could have killed him, so that was probably the goal more than outright torture those times. Dead men don't usually tell tales, after all."

 

"St-Stop it," Tommy tried to say it firmly, but his voice broke right away, like it had back when he was a boy just becoming a man. He didn't let himself back away or cover his ears, though the urge was strong, because a part of him felt like he almost had to hear this. Though exactly why the words were coming from Oliver's maybe-girlfriend wasn't something he knew the answer to either.

 

"Why?" she kept pressing on, cocking her head to the side in a gently curious gesture that was at odds with her relentless words. "Is it that much easier alone in your own thoughts? Hating him for... again: what, exactly?"

 

Tommy kept shaking his head, waving his hands helplessly at his sides for a moment before a reply found its way out. "He wasn't going to tell me. Ever. He said that." His hands finally fell to hang at his sides as he shoulders sagged.

 

"Humph," Felicity raised an eyebrow. "And that's a problem because you feel so wonderful now that you do know?"

 

Tommy blinked at her, then swallowed. "What?"

 

"You feel better, knowing that some psychopath beat Oliver half to death a few months ago? That saving half a dozen hostages that night of the Queen Christmas Party was what put him in the hospital, not a crazy motorcycle accident after a fight with his sister?"

 

Tommy shook his head, trying to think of a better reply, but she went on again before he could.

 

"Or do you feel better knowing that Moira Queen was never in any real danger the night the vigilante visited her? When she shot him?"

 

"She—Why did he—"

 

"Or that Laurel wasn't ever in any danger from him, either, because she's one of the people that Oliver would never hurt? Since you know he'd put an arrow in himself before he'd hurt her?" the blonde shook her head. "Though, again, it wasn't too long ago that he had to go all-out to save her life, was it?"

 

Tommy's eyes slammed shut, trying to keep out the image that recorded threat had painted for the vigilante. For Oliver. When Laurel let her job get her in over her head with someone who'd made even her hard-as-nails cop father paler than a piece of paper.

 

That voice still haunted his nightmares sometimes. 'Make sure this message finds its way to The Vigilante. Do it fast. Because at sunrise I'm going to leave pieces of this girl all over Starling City unless he pays me a little visit. You know, gives us a chance to get to know each other better...'

 

Remembering that night sometimes made him wish that the vigilante—that Oliver—hadn't made an exception and let that bastard live. Even though Laurel and her father were there... though that was probably why he'd done it. And he probably wasn't wrong.

 

"Stop it, please," Tommy pleaded, but again she ignored him.

 

"He took on a criminal mastermind's private army, without the element of surprise, to save her life. Just like he took on the Triad—the Chinese mob to save your father. And you, since you were there." Felicity paused a moment, then splayed her hands as if looking for answers herself. "And you hate him because he might not have chosen to tell you if there was any other way to save your father's life that night?"

 

"Stop it!" Tommy finally shouted, turning to slam his hands into the metal surface of a nearby table.

 

It didn't give at all, and his palms didn't appreciate it. But at least this woman he'd only just met last week finally stopped talking.

 

He took a deep breath, then made himself turn to meet her calm gaze; his miniature tantrum hadn't fazed her at all either. "I don't hate him," he told her, then watched as she nodded, her ponytail bobbing with the motion.

 

"Good. That's a start."

 

Tommy blinked. "A start to what?" He asked bitterly. "Our friendship's obviously over."

 

"And that's what you're really so angry about, isn't it?" her smile was gentle now, and it looked a lot more natural on her face then the unforgiving frown of a few moments ago. "But it doesn't have to be. Not if you don't want it to be. Do you?"

 

Tommy shook his head again even as he said, "He doesn't trust me."

 

"I'm not sure how much he trusts anybody." She answered softly. "Fighting for your life. Surviving torture. Killing. Those types of things don't exactly lend themselves to trusting anyone."

 

"He's killed people," Tommy focused on that. He had to focus on that. "How can I—How can you—trust him?"

 

Felicity gazed steadily back at him for a long moment, then told him, "He saved my life, too, you know." Her hand came up to her neck, emerald green nails flashing over pale skin. "Do you remember seeing the Dodger in the news a few weeks ago?"

 

Tommy blinked, but nodded almost at the same time. "Wasn't he a thief?" he asked; segwayed, but the desire for any answers at all kept his mouth moving.

 

"Um-hum. A hostage-taking jewel thief, specifically," Felicity looked away as she went on. "I showed Oliver that news report. Told him that that was the sort of thing he should stop. He agreed. Well," she amended lightly. "He said he'd make an exception."

 

"To go after a thief who wasn't white-collar?" Tommy questioned, not sure why he sounded so snide as he asked it.

 

"To stop a criminal that used hostages to get what he wanted." The blonde clarified, emerald-nailed fingers still moving around her neck. "He'd put bomb collars around their necks. And, if they didn't do what he wanted—boom!" She threw her hands wide from where they'd been framing her neck like she was talking about some sort of special effect in a movie, but the way she flinched as she did it made what she was talking about all too real. "He got away from the police. He had to use one of his collars like a grenade to get away from the vigilante that first time."

 

"Sounds like a pretty bad guy," Tommy admitted, because anyone who turned people into hostages was bad, and bombs just brought that to another level. A bullet—or an arrow—after all, might take only one unfortunate life. A bomb could kill and hurt who knew how many more.

 

The girl nodded. "A few months ago he killed a man in Spain. Señior Medina had just returned from volunteering in New England after super-storm Sandy when the Dodger collared him at the airport. When he wasn't willing to walk into the crowd at one of Madrid's best jewelers wearing that bomb, the Dodger blew his head off. Orphaned two little boys and a baby girl that day."

 

Tommy grimaced, natural horror and outrage at the horrible happening slightly overshadowed by just how close it stabbed to home. To that night he'd woken up to his father in tears and the realization that his mother was never coming home again. "That's awful," he admitted needlessly, but then he frowned. "But if Ollie was after that guy how did he—if you were helping him—how—"

 

"How did I end up with a bomb collar around my neck?" Felicity shook her head when his eyes widened. "It was my own fault," she sighed. "We set a trap for him. Placed a necklace we knew he'd want at a public auction. A charity for cancer." She grimaced, looking away as she went on. "I saw a man take it, and he wasn't wearing a bomb collar, so I didn't think he was... Well, anyway, turned out the Dodger had decided to do the deed himself that time. But he had a bomb with him, so when I tried to make him put the necklace back," she gestured to her throat, then smiled a little tremulously as her eyes met his again. "Oliver chased him down."

 

"Killed him?" Tommy clarified, a little surprised to realize even as he said it that the idea didn't bother him so much anymore. Much at all, really. A guy who’d orphaned three little kids and then threatened this bubbly—if somewhat scary—blonde didn’t deserve his horror.

 

The secrecy still hurt. At the moment when he'd actually asked if Oliver would've ever told him that he was just pretending to be some damaged version of the boy he'd once been. That there was a lot more truth to that damage than the rest of the lie. That who he was now wasn't at all who he'd been...that still hurt. Especially since it was Oliver.

 

Tommy had gotten used to being hurt by his father a long time ago, so the idea that he didn't really know the cold man at all—when he'd been barely more than a shadow with a disapproving voice for almost as long as his son could really remember—didn't hurt all that much.

 

But Oliver... his best friend, his brother in all but blood... Tommy had been able to count on him till that damn storm stole him away. So the idea that he couldn't anymore: couldn't count on him, couldn't trust him... that hurt.

 

"No," the blonde shook her head slowly this time, and the speculation in her eyes as he looked back at her made Tommy wonder what this stranger that might be his not-best friend's girlfriend saw on his face.

 

And she almost had to be Ollie's girlfriend, didn't she? How else could she be down here? Why else would Ollie have introduced her to him? To Laurel?

 

"He could have killed him," she went on matter-of-factly. "It probably would've been easier. It might have been safer, long-term... Maybe even better for, well, almost everybody... But Oliver doesn't just kill people, Tommy."

 

Even Tommy couldn't quite see how killing the bomb-wielding jewel-thief could be called 'just killing' like it wasn't justified, especially by the woman who'd been unlucky enough to end up wearing one of his bombs around her neck. Or how Oliver could've not killed him. Tommy thought he himself would have; it it'd been Laurel. But he went with it because somehow talking to this almost-stranger was making him feel better word-by-word. And it hinted at something he needed to know. "He doesn't?"

 

"No," Felicity shook her head yet again. "He gives them the chance to change first. To do the right thing. Every time, if he can." She shrugged. "The Dodger was never going to do that. But Oliver didn't need to kill him to stop him. So I'm glad he didn't."

 

"You...are?" Tommy blinked, wondering if Laurel might say the same thing.

 

"Yes."

 

He stared at her for a second, then cautiously clarified, "You're glad he didn't kill the guy that was gonna blow your head off."

 

Felicity nodded. "I'm glad that he didn't have to. That he knew that. Recognized that. And didn't decide to kill him anyway." She tilted her head slightly, studying him a second before saying, "You asked how to trust him again. Trust isn't just about who he was is, Tommy. It's about what he does." She cocked her head to the side. "Do you think he had to pull back his hood that night?"

 

Tommy blinked at her again. "Wh-What?"

 

"When your father was shot. Did he have to show you who he was?"

 

"I-I thought he wanted to kill my Dad," Tommy told her, although the thought seemed stupid now, at the time he'd been so scared. "I was pointing a gun at him."

 

"Do you know how to fire a gun?"

 

"What?" Tommy frowned. "You point and pull the trigger."

 

"You have to aim if you want to actually hit anything," Felicity told him mildly. "And sometimes you need to disengage the safety to fire it." She waited a moment. "Do you know how to do either of those things?"

 

Tommy swallowed slowly, then admitted, "No."

 

After his mother was murdered by some punk with a gun in the Glades, years ago, he'd never wanted anything to do with guns. When they'd gotten to that part of 'anti-kidnapping training' back in high school, he'd told his father as much. It was one of the few times his father had actually backed down on that kind of argument: instead of haranguing him into completing the course with Oliver if he wanted something or other—whatever the next big thing was back then—his father had actually said that maybe he was right. Making that night when his father almost died the first time Tommy had ever even held a gun before.

 

"It's not as easy as they make it look in the movies," the blonde told him mildly. "Even when it's not a friend you're aiming at." She shook her head. "Even if your friend doesn't make escape and evasion look like something he might've learned in pre-school."

 

Tommy nodded slowly as he realized what she was really saying, "He didn't have to tell me then... he could've just left me there." He swallowed at the thought. "He could've let my Dad die."

 

"He could have," Felicity agreed, bringing him gaze back to hers. "But he didn't. "She held his eyes a moment longer, then nodded. "If you want to trust him again, if you want your friend back? You have to look at the big picture. At everything he's done. Everything he does. And not just the few incidents the S.C.P.D can't keep from the media."

 

Tommy swallowed, "How?"

 

"You could try asking."

 

"He doesn't want—"

 

"And please," Felicity cut him off again, "Try not to assume. You'll get as much wrong as you get right. Maybe. And if he doesn't want to talk about some stuff, ask about something else. Anything else." She spread her arms in what looked like a welcoming gesture this time. "Ask me whatever you want. Digg, too. We might tell you to mind your own business sometimes, but none of us will put an arrow in you. Oliver certainly never would."

 

"I didn't think he'd..." Tommy started, then trailed off with a frown.

 

When Starling City's infamous vigilante had pulled back his hood to reveal the face of his best friend, Tommy hadn't hesitated to lower the gun he'd had aimed at him. Hadn't even thought about it. Because shooting some scary bow-wielding wacko was one thing—one Tommy wasn't really sure he could've actually done anyway—but shooting Oliver? That he could never even consider doing.

 

Except, sitting there next to his dying dad (who'd also just killed two guys right in front of him), and watching as his best friend—who also happened to be that whacko with a bow—raced to save the older man... It was still hard to swallow. To get his head around at all.

 

Thinking back, though, Tommy had never once thought that he might end up with an arrow in him. Not after he recognized his friend's face. Maybe in those few moments before Oliver pulled back the hood, but the vigilante had also just saved them so even then...

 

The first reported 'sighting' of the man had been when he'd saved Tommy 'and Oliver.' And then Tommy's dad had cut him off, so money couldn't have brought him back to the vigilante's attention, making the man pretty much a non-issue to him. Until he found out that Laurel was working with the madman. That said madman was Oliver could put that in uncomfortable perspective. Except he'd seen Oliver with the woman who was somehow playing the part of shrink for him here and now.

 

"That's a good start," said pseudo-shrink's calm voice brought him back out of his thoughts.

 

When Tommy looked at her he saw she'd spun the chair back towards the monitors: two of which had computer gibberish scrolling steadily down multiple windows, but the screen on the right was full of what looked like old home video footage playing in a bunch of little windows.

 

It wasn't home videos—mostly it looked like street intersections and some sidewalks—but the image quality was terrible, like it was coming from cameras no one should still be using. Cameras so bad, they had to be older than both of the people watching their results right now. Or trying to.

 

"What's that?" Tommy tried asking, pointing at the blurry videos more as a distraction than genuine curiosity.

 

But the blonde ignored his gesture and answered as though he'd been continuing his involuntary psych-analysis. As though he was the one that needed it. "It is a good start. Realizing that you don't really hate him. Or fear him. That you don't even want to."

 

Tommy shook his head slowly. "I don't," he hesitantly agreed.

 

"Yup. Good first step. Next up, you might try talking." She glanced back from her computer screens. "After the grand opening all of us have to get ready for, that is." Her eyes went back to the screens, and in the glare from the grainy images she looked like she might be tired. "Which you should be leaving to get ready for soon. Like, now. 'Cause if you're still here in five to ten minutes, he will be, too. And that would require you two actually doing that talking thing, which I don't think you're ready for yet."

 

Tommy was already starting to back away before she was halfway through that spiel, but stopped as she spun around in her chair again.

 

Something about the look in her big blue eyes—intent and studious and something else... maybe hopeful?—making him feel like a deer caught in headlights. Not because he thought he was gonna be road kill right now, that'd been a little while ago. But because that appraisal felt very, very important.

 

"Speaking of, when you do talk? You might want to swing at him a few times. I doubt he'll mind even if you hit him."

 

Tommy blinked at her again. "What—"

 

"It might help. Just remember, that the only way you'll land more than one very lucky punch? Is if he lets you." Her nose wrinkled a little as she thought about that while she said it, then she added: "Though that very lucky one might only happen if he lets it, too. He has pretty good reflexes."

 

"I think that may be more than I need to know," Tommy replied, blinking again as the teasing words fell all too easily from his tongue.

 

"Sorry," She raised both hands a little defensively, then dropped them with a shrug. "I'm just saying."

 

Tommy wasn't sure how to respond to that, or the surprising urge to smile he wasn't really trying to suppress. So instead he glanced around, then asked her, "Can I come back?"

 

"Sure," Felicity agreed a lot more easily than he'd asked. "But, F.Y.I: he spends a lot of time down here. Pretty much any time he's not with his family or under the hood he's torturing himself on all of that." She gestured again at what looked like enough exercise equipment to fill a public gym. "And while I certainly don't mind the show, as long as he's not being too stupid and hurting himself, it probably wouldn't appeal to you so much."

 

No, it wouldn't. At all.

 

Just the vague reminder of exactly how much his friend had buffed up—on par with the ex-Special Forces bodyguard Missus Q clearly hadn't truly needed to hire—made Tommy wonder, not for the first time, if he should get a membership at Laurel's gym again. He'd had one before, that he'd gotten during the friends-with-excellent-benefits stage, but he'd typically worked out at one for one-percenters that came with your choice of personal trainers and a spa. When he'd felt like it from time to time. His annual membership there had expired at the end of the year, of course, and after being cut off he couldn't remotely afford to renew it. Honestly, he'd been a little surprised that his father hadn't bothered to have his membership rubbed out by the penny counters before that: months earlier along with his credit cards and everything else. But either way he certainly couldn't afford to renew it when he was just living on fumes at the start of the year. Ollie, he was sure, wouldn't bat an eye if he asked about it, but that wasn't something he could do. Or should.

 

"Also more than I needed to know," Tommy found himself saying to the blonde. His eyes were drawn to what had to be equipment for some weird gymnastics thing up by the ceiling, but he was pretty sure he didn't want to ask about that either.

 

She caught him looking at it anyway. "That's the salmon ladder."

 

"What's it for?" Tommy wondered, made even more curious by the wistful look she shot the contraption in response.

 

"Distracting me," Felicity sighed. Then she shook her head again. "Anyway, you really should get going. But I'm here a lot, too. When I'm not at Q.C."

 

"Then I guess I'll see you around." Tommy nodded slowly, then blinked as something else occurred to him. "Wait... he runs around in that green leather getup during the day?"

 

While he wasn't entirely sure how his vigilante friend did most of what he did, Tommy was pretty sure most people would notice if they saw someone around the city in green leather during the day. And they'd definitely remember the bow and arrows. Weren't ninja's supposed to only come out at night?

 

Felicity laughed again, "No. He's just out on his motorcycle. Seeing if he could spot... well, Digg told you to beef up security here, right?"

 

Tommy nodded, "For some crazy chick," he shook his head. "Not sure if the guys we hired will take it all that seriously."

 

"Then they're not very good guards," the blonde retorted, before her frown fell with another sigh. "But men underestimating the amount of damage a dangerous women can do if she's given cause isn't anything new." She hesitated, then admitted, "From what Digg told me, she really took Oliver by surprise, too."

 

"How did they meet?" Tommy asked, curious despite everything else. He couldn't for the life of him remember anyone Oliver had dated other than the woman he was talking to right now. And Laurel, of course.

 

There'd been that woman Oliver was with when Laurel had turned to him for help getting a table. The same unplanned double-date that'd led to Tommy finally telling his friend the truth about his father cutting him off. But honestly Tommy couldn't say for sure if he'd ever looked at the woman—he was going by his memory of Laurel's initial reaction to Felicity to know that she hadn't been a blonde or a redhead, after all—let alone anything else about her.

 

"Her father was the head of Italian mob here in Starling," Felicity replied like that was something normal for anyone to mention in their family history. "Long story short, he had her fiancé killed—"

 

"Wait," Tommy interrupted, blinking at her. "Oliver—"

 

"No. Frank Bertinelli. Helena Bertinelli's father," the blonde clarified matter-of-factly.

 

The names sound vaguely familiar. In that way that meant he'd probably heard of the family a few times before, but never been personally introduced. The mob might have money—but not on the same scale that the Queens and Merlyns did. And money from organized crime was always tainted by association. So while their circles might sometimes touch, they rarely crossed or intermingled.

 

"Helena started working to destroy her father's organization. For revenge," Felicity went on explaining. "She almost shot Missus Queen when she killed one of her father's men."

 

"That was her? On a motorcycle, right? Why would he..." Tommy trailed off when he saw the patient look the blonde was giving him. "You were getting to that, right." He gave her his best grin, though it was probably feeble after not getting enough practice lately. "Please, continue."

 

Felicity's lips quirked into an almost smile of her own as she nodded, but it fell as she went on. "This was before I joined the team—officially, anyway," she shrugged. "But Digg says it was obvious that someone was gunning for Bertinelli's men. That Missus Queen was just unfortunate in whom she was standing next to that day."

 

"Wrong place, wrong time?" Tommy frowned, not liking the way it sounded at all. But it was never supposed to sound good, was it?

 

Felicity shook her head. "I've read the police reports about the same incidents."

 

"Incidents, plural?" he caught, and she nodded again.

 

"The man that was murdered that day was the third homicide involving one of the higher ups in the Bertinelli crime family last year. The S.C.P.D had been keeping track of it, of course, but the profile wasn't lining up with any of their usual suspects."

 

"What, like the Yakuza?" Tommy wondered.

 

Felicity shook her head. "No. That'd be Japanese organized crime—and they currently have very little influence here in Starling. The prominent groups here, back then were the Bertinellis and the Triad—the Chinese mob."

 

"They were—"

 

"They were hired to kill your father a few weeks ago, yes." Felicity nodded. "Bertinelli's arrest made room for the Triad to grow, and the Bratva have gotten a bit bigger according to the S.C.P.D, too."

 

"The Bratva?" Tommy repeated, not sure he really wanted to know, but she was saying it all like they were terms he should recognized so he might as well ask.

 

"The Russian mob."

 

These were the sort of things Oliver's real friends apparently had to know these days....

 

Tommy shook his head slowly. "So she got what she wanted, then?" he asked as it all clicked together. "Helena Bertinelli, right? She wanted her father's mob to fall? So why's she a problem now?"

 

"Because she didn't get what she wanted," the blonde shook her head yet again. "Oliver disagreed with her methods." She paused a moment, as if considering how to explain it, then went on. "She wanted to start an all-out mob war between the Chinese and Italian mobs."

 

"That... doesn't sound good," Tommy guessed.

 

"If it'd happened that way, Missus Queen wouldn't have been the only innocent caught in the crossfire, and the next ones probably wouldn't have been so lucky." Felicity told him.

 

"So Oliver stopped her?"

 

She nodded again. "He did."

 

"Why didn't he just help her some other way?" Tommy wondered. "Put a-an arrow in her dad, I guess?"

 

It sounded easier in his head before he started to say it, but as it was coming out of his mouth he remembered he was actually talking about his friend voluntarily ending someone's life. And the idea of Oliver killing people as easily as Laurel's father made it sound when the vigilante was involved was still unsettling for him. Even if the guy they were talking about was some big mob guy.

 

"He tried to help her." Felicity told him. "He made sure the police got all the evidence they needed to finally arrest Frank Bertinelli, and kept the Triad—and Helena—from killing him. So the bloodbath that could've easily happened afterwards, didn't."

 

"Wait—she wanted to kill him?" Tommy blinked at her.

 

"Yes."

 

"Her father?"

 

"Yes."

 

"And Oliver stopped her?"

 

"Um-hum."

 

Tommy shook his head, sure he was missing something. "Why?"

 

The blonde didn't answer right away this time, instead she looked thoughtful for several seconds.

 

It couldn't be the first time she'd thought about it. Especially not since the so-called 'psycho ex' they were talking about had shot back into town. (And Oliver's bodyguard had really called her that.)

 

"The problem with killing for revenge is it doesn't fix the problem," Felicity answered slowly. "Doesn't stop the cycle. Doesn't help anyone." She shook her head. "All it does is end another life—and put that blood on another's hands."

 

That all sounded far too philosophical for the friend Tommy remembered hadn't cracked open the bindings of even one of the books they were supposed to read for Intro to Philosophy during the short time they were both at Harvard together. But something about the thoughtful expression on that pretty face kept him from interrupting. Made him keep listening.

 

"He wanted to save her from that. He thought he could," Felicity shook her head again slowly. "He thought he could help her see that revenge wasn't worth what it costs. And that justice is the far worthier goal."

 

That sounded good—and not much like what Tommy kind of thought the Hood was about at all...

 

"So what happened?" Tommy asked.

 

"He taught her how to fire a crossbow, first," Felicity answered evenly. "Trying to teach her the value of accuracy, I guess. Of aiming."

 

"Isn't that important for guns, too?" Tommy asked, because the bow and arrow thing was still weird. And they were just talking about that a minute ago. She wasn't talking about someone not knowing how to fire a firearm though. She was talking about a woman that'd actually killed people with the thing.

 

"It is. But guns hold more bullets. Aim a spray of bullets in the general direction of you target, and chances are one of them will finds its mark. Even if most of them don't. The crossbow forced her to aim, reload, and aim again." The blonde's smile was odd, making him wonder if Ollie had given her archery lessons, too. But she kept going before he could decide if he even wanted to ask. "It wasn't an unworthy goal."

 

If the end result was Oliver tearing up the streets not long before their club was due to open, while his bodyguard worried about said opening being blown up by the woman he was trying to find, Tommy wasn't sure he could agree. But then again he still didn't know very much about all of this, did he?

 

Felicity smiled sadly. "He tried to help her. Tried to teach her." She shook her head. "But you can't help someone who doesn't want your help, Tommy. Can't save someone who doesn't want to be saved—especially not from themselves."

 

"Save her from herself?" Tommy repeated it, and it still didn't make sense when he said it out loud.

 

"Mostly from the guilt he expects her to feel if he lets her take her own father's life, I think," Felicity shrugged. "If Bertinelli had gone to jail for life, Helena might've been able to accept it. Might've eventually tried to move past it. But he knows too much for that."

 

Tommy blinked again, "Knows too much?"

 

It made sense that the man would probably know everything about his own crime businesses. But if he was the biggest fish in that pond, how could he be thrown back in for a bigger one?

 

"He was in charge here in Starling, Tommy, but the Italian mob has families and operations all across the country. All around the world. Like a hydra: one head falls, two or three more start fighting to take its place..."

 

And wasn't that a disturbing mental image? Tommy winced.

 

"Helena had done a pretty good job of destabilizing everything and angering the Triad. That's why they'd be hard pressed to take Starling back without going through a lot of trouble. But Bertinelli could trade what else he knew for his freedom. Names. Locations. Deals," Felicity shrugged. "Whatever it was, the Justice Department agreed to something. Now he's going to testify against his former associates, and in return he'll receive immunity and be placed in witness protection."

 

"That... sucks," Tommy decided lamely.

 

"It does," the blonde agreed. "But if it shuts down some bad stuff, or puts someone worse than him behind bars, or even just a few more like him," she shrugged once more. "It does work."

 

Tommy nodded, understanding that that was the way the criminal justice system worked in theory—though no one really liked it. "So why are we worried about her? If she's after her dad, doesn't she  have to break into his jail cell to get him?"

 

"He's not in Iron Heights anymore." Felicity replied. "Even if they put him in solitary, someone who's turned on the mob wouldn't last long in jail."

 

"So he's already in witness protection? With the F.B.I or something?"

 

"Witness protection," Felicity confirmed. "Protected by the U.S Marshalls Service. He's due to testify to the grand jury here in Starling this weekend."

 

"Meanings she either has to find where they're hiding him and get through whoever's guarding him, or she'll attack at the courthouse," Tommy shook his head. "Either way, he's not gonna be at Verdant tonight."

 

"No, but Helena might."

 

"Why?"

 

"Because she knows she can't get to her father on her own." The blonde told him, clearly waiting for him to make the connection that came a few seconds later.

 

"Wait—she wants Oliver to help her kill her dad now?" Tommy shook his head again. "Why would he when he stopped her before?"

 

"Because she knows who he is," Felicity reminded him, and the obvious piece he'd been missing slammed into place like a train wreck.

 

"She knows he's the vigilante," Tommy shook his head slowly, not sure how he'd missed that obvious problem. Not when Ollie had been teaching her archery and his version of justice while they'd been dating.

 

"And that he's Oliver Queen." Felicity nodded. "Digg thinks he wanted to tell her, at the time, so he took the opportunity when it presented itself."

 

Tommy's frown was back. "I still don't get why we should be so worried about her showing up tonight. I mean, she's gotta know that Ollie can kill her," he shifted uncomfortably. "I mean, he's killed before."

 

"He has," the blonde allowed. "But she also knows he let her get away before. That he tried to help her before."

 

"Yeah, when they were hooking up," Tommy shook his head. "He's with you now."

 

The blonde's eyebrows shot up. "I think you know matters of the heart are never that simple." She went on before he could try to reply. "Besides, I'm not sure Oliver's ever had to kill a woman before. Let alone one he has feelings for."

 

Tommy blinked, segwayed again. Not really sure what to say to that. His mind mostly caught on the 'has feelings' part. 'Has' she'd said. Not 'had.'

 

"He's fought Chien Na Wei twice now, that I know of," Felicity went on. "She's one of the Triad's heaviest hitters. And she's very good. But I was watching their last fight through the security cameras at Merlyn Global. He's better than she it. He could have killed her, if he wanted to."

 

Tommy still wasn't sure what to say. He didn't remember any scary Chinese lady that night his world had been turned upside down and whacked all over the place. Just a lot of scary Chinese men. With guns.

 

But what she was talking about must've happened while the Hood—while Oliver—was holding off some of the attackers so Tommy and his father could get away.

 

Or maybe it was later, even, while his dad was dealing with the other two guys on the stairs... something surprisingly no one had ever asked about.

 

Or maybe it'd been happening while the bulletproof glass was exploding and his dad was getting shot.

 

Still, Tommy tried to think through what she was saying. "So... Ollie doesn't kill women?" he said it like a question, because he wasn't sure if that should be a problem or not. Maybe it was, when there was a crazy ex-mob boss's daughter and female assassins running around.

 

"I don't know," Felicity admitted, and he couldn't judge from her thoughtful tone or expression whether that bothered her or not.

 

He couldn't really say if it bothered him or not either.

 

After a few moments of thoughtful silence, he asked her. "So he's out looking for her now? On his motorcycle?"

 

Probably not dressed all in green with a bow and arrow on his back. Because no matter which one of his bikes Ollie used for vigilante work people would still notice him on it. Without all the green leather and the arrows, though, they shouldn't automatically associate him with the infamous modern-day Robin Hood they had running around the city these days.

 

"He is," Felicity confirmed. And from the amused look the blonde woman was still giving him, she knew exactly what he was thinking, so he didn't even try to hide it.

 

"Okay, well, I'll just go now."

 

She stopped him just as he reached the bottom of the stairs. "Oh, and Tommy? One more thing to think on..."

 

He turned back to face her, but her eyes were on her computer screens again by then.

 

"Remember, Oliver wasn't the only one to surprise you that night."

 

"I know that..." Tommy trailed off, then frowned as he was hit by what her words meant. "Wait, how do you—"

 

"I see all and know all. Well, almost." She turned back around to face him then. "Actually, we'd figured out your father was the target earlier in the day. We weren't sure how the Triad was going to attack him; the first assassin was a knife-specialist, and the ceremony wasn't really the right format for him but it was where it was supposed to happen. Getting access to the building security system was part of covering every angle," she shrugged slightly. "Though, obviously, we'd prefer if you didn't tell your dad about that. Strictly speaking it wasn't any more legal than vigilantism in general."

 

She had said something about security footage earlier, hadn't she?

 

Tommy found himself blinking at her again, then glancing at the grainy footage of cars and pedestrians, but before he could decide to ask one of the computers beeped and Felicity spun back towards her station.

 

"He's a few minutes out now," she told him over her shoulder, tilting her head towards the stairs he had to climb to go back inside the club. "He'll be coming in the side entrance, though, so if you still want to avoid him you'd better head back upstairs."

 

"Yeah," Tommy nodded, making himself turn around and climb the stairs. As he got to the top the light on the security pad turned beeped and green to let him open the door, but he still turned back towards her to call, "Thanks."

 

"No problem," she flashed him that bright smile he'd seen lighten his best friend's face a few weeks ago. "I'll be heading out to get ready soon, too. See you later tonight."

 

Tommy paused, his frown returning as he remembered the added worry about Verdant's opening that'd almost made him try to talk Laurel out of coming, but he hadn't been able to think of any good reason his girlfriend would accept.

 

Even if he told her the truth, that Ollie's bodyguard was worried about some dangerous ex of his showing up, that wouldn't scare the cop's daughter off. But Oliver's girlfriend obviously knew everything, so why would he let her come?

 

"Wait, you're coming to the opening?" Tommy stopped, staring at her in surprise.

 

The blonde's light laughter brought him back to the basement where she was smiling, "Oh don't worry, that's not me. He hasn't managed to scare me off just yet."

 

Tommy found himself returning her smile with a small one of his own, but it fell almost as quickly as it'd come. "But are you sure it's a good idea? I mean, I couldn't think of a way to tell Laurel not to come, but you—"

 

"I am going to be here tonight," Felicity interrupted firmly, but she was still smiling. "Thank you for your concern, but Oliver and I have already talked about it."

 

"Okay..." He returned a little unsurely. Still not really liking the idea of this helpful, if somewhat scary blonde being anywhere near some psychotic ex of Oliver's. At least Laurel was his girlfriend now, not Oliver's. But something about the smile the blonde was giving him now told him he wouldn't have any more luck with this argument then he had with the lecture she'd apparently dragged him down here for.

 

And he'd given Mister Diggle pretty much free reign to do whatever he wanted when it came to beefing up security for the opening, so everyone should be safe....

 

"Okay," Tommy nodded as he turned to leave again. "Well, I'll see you tonight then. Thanks, again."

 

As he went back into the club and closed the door to the poorly hidden secret lair behind him, he was pretty sure that the computer genius was smart enough to know he was thanking her more for opening the door to let him in than letting him back out.

Chapter Text

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?

Chapter Text

Felicity's P.O.V.

 

Felicity did not stare after Oliver as he hurried away. She refused to. Left alone with Moira Queen and Thea Queen like it was nothing to worry about, or not.

 

He was lucky she wasn't a twenty-something-year-old woman with only hacking, college and I.T work in her background. The mortal girl she might've been in a different world would probably be babbling already. Possibly about the attractive backside that was just sort of running downstairs. And since she was sitting with his mother and sister, that'd just be even more embarrassing than normal, even the normal innuendoes inspired by Oliver Queen.

 

But Felicitas wasn't that mortal woman. She was an Immortal, who'd lived many lives before this. She'd been married more than once, after all. For most of those marriages, in fact, her in-laws had been real royalty: and that was back when a royal title actually meant you were as close to absolute power as any human being could get.

 

Power, prestige and wealth weren't the problem here, however. It was that Oliver had left her alone with his mother and his sister, not too many minutes after introducing them. Their names and finances meant nothing next to that. And there was the fact that whatever that note had said definitely didn't have anything do with whether or not the club still had champagne.

 

"I'm sorry," Felicity offered the Queen matriarch the sincerest smile, "What were we—"

 

"Mom was asking you if she sucks as the C.E.O at Q.C," Thea Queen interjected with a small smirk as she took another sip of champagne that she really shouldn't be drinking.

 

The scrutiny in her eyes, that reminded Felicity of a cat with a mouse between its paws—debating if it was going to just play with it or eat it—seemed more relevant to Felicity than the fact that the eighteen-year-old was drinking alcohol. It wasn't too long ago, in the Immortal's experience, that legal age-restrictions on alcohol never would've been imagined. More relevantly, intoxication to the point of physical sickness was typically something only drunks did without a real reason before drinking was made a privilege of adulthood. Or maybe it had more to do with sickness being more treatable these days, so poisoning yourself somehow wasn't all that bad? Either way, one glass of bubbly from France was not going to knock semi-reformed party-girl Thea Queen over.

 

Moira shot her daughter a look, but didn't immediately correct her, so Felicity decided to just go with it.

 

"You know I can't judge the company as a whole, really. But the number of computer crises seems to be starting to go down at least."

 

"Were they a problem after," Moira swallowed before making herself finish, "Walter's abduc—after Walter disappeared?"

 

It was the first time she'd seen the woman struggle through saying something about her husband. In front of Oliver she'd put a lot of effort into being strong, but it was nice to see some amount of pain show through. As proof of, if nothing else, that Walter and Oliver—and Thea—all loved a woman that also loved them, no matter what else she'd gotten involved in that may've led to her husband's abduction when he tried to figure it out. As seemed to be the case, but the woman wouldn't appreciate her drawing attention to it, and her daughter had already winced at the stumble, so the Immortal only shrugged.

 

"I haven't heard any real complaints in the elevator or the break room. Well, except that time we ran out of coffee last week—that wasn't pretty, but I'm sure Starbucks appreciated it."

 

Both Queens laughed, and it didn't sound fake.

 

"So how'd you and Ollie meet? I know it was at Q.C, and he broke something, but what actually happened?" the teenager asked, her curiosity so plain in her eyes that it made her look more like a kitten than a lioness.

 

From the twitch of Moira Queen's eyebrow, she hadn't thought of the specific question: so it was something she'd already asked her son. Perhaps in detail, and perhaps it was a discussion her daughter was there for, too. That didn't mean, though, that it couldn't be answered again. Or that it wasn't one of those questions that'd be asked and answered so many times they might eventually start saying some of it in their sleep. It was. If they lasted long enough for typical couples' questions to keep coming back around so like that.

 

Felicity smiled easily. "He needed some files off a broken laptop, so he brought it to the I.T Department. Then he kept coming back," she took another sip of her champagne before she went on, not at all worried about drinking too much. It'd been a very long time since her Quickening actually let her get drunk, or even tipsy, without a lot more alcohol than the whole bottle of Cristal contained. Alcohol was a poison, after all, and the Quickening beat back every kind of death—like death by poisoning—as long as she didn't literally lose her head. "Some of his requests were more ridiculous than others," she finished.

 

"Wait," Thea blinked at her, surprise overtaking curiosity. "How long did it take him to ask you out?"

 

"There's nothing wrong with taking your time, Thea," the teen's mother said for what sounded like it wasn't the first time.

 

It likely wasn't. The world moved so very fast these days, in matters of the heart almost as much as everything else. And love, at least, had to be worth slowing down for. At least as much as mortals could. Sadly, none of them had very much time...

 

"No, there's not," Felicity agreed easily, because she did and because it worked for her answer. "I'm not sure that's what Oliver was doing to start with, but maybe in a way it was."

 

"What'd you mean?" Thea asked with a frown.

 

Felicity shrugged. "As amazing as his smile is, that's all I got out of him that first meeting. Not that I expected him to ask me out then, or soon after." She shook her head. "I just liked seeing him smile each time he came back."

 

And she was intrigued by the puzzle presented by all his strange requests and really, really bad lies, but he wouldn't appreciate her mentioning that his family.

 

"I can't decide if that's sweet or sad," Oliver's sister said honestly.

 

"Thea," Moira Queen immediately rebuked her daughter.

 

"What?" the girl answered defensively. "You were thinking it, too."

 

Felicity only laughed, real and easy. "It's a bit of both, I think." She shook her head again. "We became friends first. Learned to trust each other. Eventually he asked me out to dinner, and I said yes."

 

"That's a very mature outlook, Doctor Smoak."

 

"Felicity, please," the Immortal insisted again, not surprised the Queen matriarch had reverted back to the formality as soon as her son had unexpectedly walked away.

 

"Felicity," Moira nodded graciously. "I'm gratified you're willing to give Oliver the time he needs." She paused for a moment, then asked. "And what do you think of all of this?"

 

"This?" Felicity cocked her head to the side.

 

"This night club," Moira clarified. "Verdant."

 

"Really, Mom?" Thea sighed, and her mother sent her a quieting glance that made the teen needed to take another sip of bubbly to allow as the older woman looked back at the I.T expert.

 

Felicity answered slowly, watching the woman's face for the little reactions: her eyes and the barely-there wrinkles around them told much more truth than her expertly controlled smiles. "It's a business that makes sense for him. And for Tommy. It could be good for both of them."

 

"It could be," Moira allowed, the consideration in her eyes as careful as her vague nod. "But so could following in their father's footsteps."

 

"You want Ollie to take over at Q.C?" Thea looked as horrified by the idea as she sounded. "Mom, that'd suck so much it's not even funny. It's almost scary."

 

Her mother shook her head. "Hypothetically, if his business here does well—and it seems to be off to a promising start—there's no reason he couldn't learn to run Queen Consolidated just as well."

 

"Except he'd hate it!" Thea protested.

 

And Felicity knew she was right. She hid a grimace with another sip of champagne. It was obvious now that she was being tested, and while not really unexpected when you met a potential significant other's family, it did seem a little ridiculous that this was happening before she'd even gotten a second real date out of the man—not counting the movie nights that maybe she should. But it had very little to do with the world moving faster every day, and everything to do with a mother worrying for the son she'd lost once already. Whether she counted that night at Starling City's most exclusive restaurant as their first date of three or their only real date so far, the Immortal could still see that.

 

Of course, she could also see that Oliver's sister was right. He would hate working at Queen Consolidated. That he didn't have the qualifications for the job could be overlooked with relative ease. The education and experience standards supposedly expected today were relatively new and thus subject to change still. Always subject to change actually. They were an aspect of this age's business world that didn't necessary mean everything because it was his family's company. Some would cry nepotism, certainly, but there was something to be said for outright ownership, too.

 

Any job at Queen Consolidated wouldn't work half so well as a cover career for his vigilantism, which was what Oliver wanted to continue devoting most of his time to, and that couldn't be so easily ignored. A wealthy club owner could spend a lot of his time at that club, but not always be available there every moment of every day and night. That unavailability whenever the vigilante was aiming arrows would be a hard connection to make, so it wouldn't raise half so many questions as a businessman not being available when he should be. His mother would want him to start off up high, whether he was ready for it or not, and an executive who kept the hours people associated with vampires and might have to run out of meetings or completely miss them would not be given the same tolerance as a nightclub owner could expect.

 

No, for where Oliver's priorities lay, he'd be better off if everyone thought of him as still mostly one of the idle rich. Any involvement he had with his family's company kept to much more of a minimum than his mother obviously wanted.

 

"Maybe he'll want to, someday," Felicity offered the woman to turn the frown she wasn't even trying to hide away from her daughter. "Each victory has to be won before we can move on to the next one."

 

Moira blinked, but then gave a smile that did light up her eyes a little. "Well said, Felicity," the Acting-C.E.O approved. Then she titled her head towards a group of older wealthy women nearby who were probably only at a nightclub at all because of who owned it and they wanted to say they'd been here for the grand opening. "I should say hello to some of our family friends. Excuse me." She left her still more than half-full first flute on the table as she stood.

 

Felicity and Thea both watched her move off for a moment.

 

Then Oliver's sister said, "He really would hate it, you know."

 

"I know," Felicity agreed. "Your mom knows that, too."

 

"Doesn't mean she cares," Thea snorted, gulping from what little was left in her glass now.

 

"Different people care in different ways," the Immortal told the teenager. "For your mom, that means making sure you have everything you need. There's nothing wrong with that."

 

The heiress considered that for a long moment as a new song started up to a handful of cheers from the dance floor below. "I guess..." she allowed, nodding slowly.

 

Felicity watched her think through it, curious to see what the teenager would come up with next. She only had to wait a moment before her teenage angst gave away to a small smirk that looked at home on her young face.

 

"So, do you believe in the no sex before marriage thing?"

 

The Immortal was glad she'd only just raised her glass to her lips as the girl started talking, allowing her to lower it back to the table without taking a sip she might've had to cough or choke down. "Excuse me?"

 

"You know, the 'won't go to bed till I'm legally wed,' thing?" the young woman clarified, and for a moment the Immortal could only blink at her.

 

Felicity really had no idea where this could be coming from. She couldn't imagine Oliver saying anything to indicate it. After all they'd only been on one real date, but they'd talked and worked together plenty. Her mouth had let more than a few innuendoes slip out around this girl's brother, but she couldn't imagine he'd tell her that, either. So where would the teenager get the idea? And why would she ask her brother's new girlfriend almost as soon as she met her?

 

"Sorry," Thea's smirk fell away, and she suddenly looked worried. "I didn't mean to offend you—"

 

"No," Felicity shook her head. "No, I'm not offended. Just a little confused," she admitted with a shrug. "We really did just start dating."

 

"I know, I know, sorry," Oliver's sister shook her head quickly, looking away with a sigh. "It was just something I was teasing Ollie about, I don't know why I actually asked about it," she finished with a wince.

 

"Don't worry about it," the Immortal told her again, reaching out her free hand to catch the girl's just like Thea's mother had caught hers a little earlier. "Really, I don't mind." Seeing the girl still might try to bolt soon, she finally answered. "And no, I don't believe in abstinence before marriage. I can't promise your brother and I'll jump into bed anytime soon—"

 

"Please don't tell me when you do," Thea interrupted, wincing again. "I really don't know why I asked in the first place. It was stupid."

 

"I think it was sweet," Felicity told her, adding when the girl blinked at her in confusion. "You're worried about your brother?"

 

Thea nodded slowly, "Apparently enough to be meddling in his sex life," she admitted, and grabbed her mother's still half-full glass with her free hand, wincing as she stole a few gulps. "Really, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have—"

 

"Don't worry about it," Felicity told her again. "Really." She squeezed her hand again, gently applying just enough pressure to be reassuring, before letting go. "You lost him once. I'd guess getting him back was like a miracle, but it can't of all been easy."

 

"No, it wasn't," Thea shook her head in agreement. Then she grimaced, "But it wasn't his fault. I mean, all the stupid stuff I was doing didn't help, and Laurel's father hates him for—well, 'cause of Sara." She took another gulp from the glass, then licked her lips before going on slowly. "I think he's happier now. With you."

 

Felicity nodded, smiling softly. "I think I'm happier with him, too."

 

The teenager smile softly back. "I'm glad."

 

For a long moment they just sat there, thinking while the loud music and cheers echoed up around him.

 

Then Thea sighed. "I've gotta talk to Tommy." She glanced down towards the bar and frowned. "Huh. Wonder where he went."

 

Felicity glanced down below and was a little bit surprised herself to see Laurel Lance standing near the bar by herself. "He is working," she reminded the teen after a moment. As the youngest Queen had been working at C.N.R.I for a while now, she should have a better idea of what working meant than her earlier complaints had indicated.

 

"Yeah, that's gonna take some getting used to. And till I do, it's just gonna be weird," Thea sighed again, completely draining her stolen glass as she stood up. "I'll ask Laurel where he went. I've gotta talk to him about something." She didn't speed away immediately, however, though the Immortal thought she probably was usually pretty quick on her feet. She was Oliver's sister. "It was nice meeting you, Doctor—"

 

"Felicity," the Immortal reminded her firmly.

 

Thea's smile was real in response, like her mother's had been, only more so. "It was nice meeting you, Felicity."

 

"It was nice to meet you, too, Thea," the Immortal returned her smile and her nod.

 

Then the heiress was hurrying towards the stairs to descend down into the club proper.

 

Felicity finally let herself sigh as she watched the girl go, a little exasperated with herself over how relieved she felt just now. Really, talking to two wealth women shouldn't feel anything like waiting for that unwanted duel last week had, but it did.

 

How had she forgotten how complicated relationships got? And how quickly it happened? Yes, the whole world seemed faster now, but in some ways it hadn't changed so much. Meeting prospective in-laws would always come with worries, whether it was just before the wedding or only a few nights after the first date.

 

After the disaster that her last attempt at marriage had been—when she'd fooled herself into loving a man who hadn't been capable of loving her...

 

Well, Felicitas hadn't made the effort in a long time. It had meant shorter stays in various places—her many different lifetimes, as it were—but it was what had to be done. Staying somewhere too long mean commitment, and for that to be to a career instead of a relationship was a relatively new thing for women.

 

How western society had relaxed the standards regarding such things, by a lot over the last few generations, was probably what'd led to her letting her guard down a little in the first place. It'd certainly made it easier for her in some ways over the years: one-night-stands, short-lived romances while 'on vacation' or even the handful of summer flings hadn't allowed for any sort of meaningful relationship to form. They'd meant no strings for her heart just as much as they did for mortals. No commitment: no heartbreak by betrayal. Though, looking back, there were a few there she maybe should've made the effort for... but she hadn't.

 

Not until Oliver Queen had walked into the boring life she'd made for herself and set it alight with his brilliant smile and bizarre requests...

 

It was a good thing, though, wasn't it, that Felicitas couldn't really say she regretted any decision she'd made so far? Even better: she didn't think she'd come to regret loving Oliver Queen going forward...

 

She knew his sister was right. Oliver would hate almost everything that came with being the C.E.O of a major corporation. What it came down to, all the other complications aside, was that he didn't have the real mindset for it.

 

Oliver focused on solving one problem at a time. One arrow after the other. Very rarely did the archer even aim to consider the big picture. The ways all the problems could—and sometimes definitely did—fit together.

 

It wasn't always easy, but that's what leadership was. Seeing how everything worked and didn't work with everything else. Making the tough choices. Delegating tasks to the right people. And sometimes ruining someone's life if that's what needed to be done.

 

Modern business wasn't exactly the same thing as ruling a nation of old, but there were similarities. For a C.E.O that meant destroying someone's career: firing someone who failed, or ruining a competitor that would do the same to you if they got the chance. Sending warriors to fight for you, to die for you if need be, and literally destroying your enemies... Well, the the two seemed more different on the surface than they really were...

 

And Thea Queen was right. Her brother would hate almost all of it.

 

So hopefully it wasn't something he'd have to worry about anytime soon, Felicity rationalized as she finished her champagne. Then she set the empty flute on the table and started to stand: ready to find out why, exactly, Oliver had needed to run off like that.

 

Before she could actually get up, though, an oddly familiar woman sat down in the seat Oliver had vacated several minutes earlier.

 

Felicity blinked at her, studying the unmarred lines of the young face—picking up characteristics she recognized from various places, but no certain one. So her heritage must be mixed... which didn't explain why the dark beauty seemed so familiar to her. Not when the Immortal was sure she'd never met this woman before, and yet equally sure she should know her. "Hello."

 

The unexpected, barely-there Buzz of a Pre-Immortal was almost not worth wondering about beside that familiarity, but it ruled out her being descended from a mortal Felicitas might've met before she was born...

 

"Good evening, honored one," the woman bowed her head. "I am Nyssa. Daughter of Ra's al Ghul. Heir to the Demon."

 

Formal introductions were to be expected from the League of Assassins. Once upon a time they were how every first meeting should start. The Game had spoiled that nicety of politeness for Immortals, however, long before such standards were allowed to go lax throughout much of modern society. Mazin, however, would not let it go—and Felicitas couldn't say she didn't appreciate that.

 

However, despite all her long years of experience and her determination not to show any sort of weakness before the League (something both her brothers—teacher and student alike—insisted upon), Felicity did have to blink in real surprise at the titles the girl claimed. Then she managed a polite smile, "Felicity Smoak, M.I.T class of oh-nine," she spoke only just loud enough for the woman sitting right next to her to hear over the heart pounding tempo of Steve Aoki's music.

 

Technically, the woman across from her was the one who should be speaking carefully, since she seemed to speaking the whole truth as she knew it, however impossible a part of that whole might be. But then again, most people didn't pay attention to quiet conversations in nightclubs when there was so much else to appreciate.

 

"You made amazing time," Felicity said, still at that same volume. "I called, like, yesterday morning."

 

Nyssa cocked her head to the side in contemplation, her long ebony tresses sliding to the side with the motion, as the earrings that looked a lot like decorated darts (and probably were), did too. "You try, very hard, to change with the times, honored ancient one," she observed in Arabic.

 

"Those of us who want to truly live have to," Felicity answered in the same language. "Why are you here, Nyssa al Ghul?"

 

The long lashes looked wrong, and the shape was a little off as Nyssa gave one slow blink, but those dark irises were still familiar. "You called us, honored lady. I am here to answer your summons."

 

They were Mazin's eyes, Felicity recognized, completely unexpectedly. Impossibly. And she had to stare for a long second as that struck; the eyes of a fellow Immortal in the face of woman who claimed to be his daughter. As entirely impossible as it was plain to see.

 

"The answers you seek cannot be discussed here," the assassin continued in English after a long moment's pause, seemingly unconcerned with the way the much older woman was staring at her. "Shall we leave?"

 

"I can't," Felicity focused on each word as she said it, if only to keep her mind from spiraling in impossible circles. "I'm here on a date, actually."

 

"Ah, yes, with Mister Queen," the assassin surveyed the chaotic dance floor down below, seemingly taking in the very successful opening as a whole as she said, "An interesting choice in lovers."

 

"He's an interesting man," Felicity agreed just as easily, even though she was frowning. "But he's not why I called."

 

"No?" another graceful shake of her head. "Yet it is his stepfather whose welfare you ask after, and the death of his bodyman's brother that made you think of us now?"

 

Felicity hadn't called them about Walter, though maybe she should have. So she focused on the assassination. Mostly because there was something about the way the assassin's attention on Oliver that sounded like more than simple curiosity to her. "I know it wasn't you. And it wasn't any of your warriors either. The killer wasn't League material."

 

"No. He is not," Nyssa al Ghul agreed.

 

"And, as far as I know, kidnapping was never really League style either," Felicity observed in reference to the other problem.

 

"It is not typically, no," the deadly daughter confirmed again.

 

Felicity almost ignored her phone when it vibrated, but the young woman across from her—while undoubtedly dangerous in her own right—shouldn't be a true threat to an Immortal. Even if Felicity's student had lost his mind, she couldn't imagine he'd order any Immortal decapitated in a crowded club for everyone to see. Furthermore, he wouldn't send a Pre-Immortal he claimed at his own daughter to do it—nor would any of his warriors have falsely introduced themselves to his teacher even if he did want her dead. So she nodded slightly to the girl, "Excuse me a moment."

 

"Of course," Nyssa accepted instantly, her nod almost another bow of her head.

 

Felicity could feel her eyes watching as she pulled the device out.

Trouble downstairs. Stay in public.

 

"Is something wrong?" the assassin asked as the ancient blinked at Digg's abrupt text.

 

"Probably," Felicity admitted on a sigh, because it wasn't worth the wasted effort of trying to lie about it. She shook her head as she dismissed the message and slipped her phone back into her purse. "Apologies, but I am needed elsewhere. We will have to continue this discussion at another time," she told the younger woman. Slipping back into Arabic for it, because that was far less likely to be understood by any of the people here that probably weren't paying attention around them. Those that were paying attention and would understand, on the other hand, would also be League, so they didn't matter.

 

Mazin's daughter cocked her head to the side. "May we be of assistance, honored one?"

 

Could the Heir of the Demon probably lend a very useful pair of hands here? Yes. As could every one of the contingent of warriors that were undoubtedly here with her.

 

But Felicity felt bad enough going behind Oliver's back for the information. Both regarding Digg's brother's murder, Oliver's stepfather's kidnapping, and the potentially problematic ties of Tommy's father. She wasn't ready to ask for the League's interference in a situation she was sure Oliver didn't even want her involved in. Not yet. Certainly not before she was sure her student was still sane.

 

"No, thank you," Felicity shook her head, putting her purse strap over her shoulder and tucking it against her hip as she got up.

 

The raven haired beauty rose with her. "Are you quite certain?" she asked in earnest.

 

"I am," Felicity answered firmly, but didn't try to leave just yet. "I'm sure you know where I live."

 

"We do," Nyssa nodded, also making the transition back into English just as easily again.

 

Mazin had taught her well: or at least he'd hired excellent teachers for her. Perhaps a bit of both, as it always once was... however he'd happened to find a Pre-Immortal that looked like his late wife with his eyes and hair. If that was indeed what'd happened.

 

It had to be. Didn't it?

 

"I shouldn't be here much longer tonight," Felicity told her. "Would you meet me at home later?"

 

"Of course, 'Ama," Nyssa bowed her head fully again this time. "It was an honor to finally meet you in person."

 

The Immortal once more didn't let herself react to the unexpected familial address. Instead she nodded back in response. "And you, Nyssa. We should have met long before now, but I have only myself to blame for that. Thank you for coming so quickly."

 

The assassin bowed her head again, holding the submissive pose a moment longer than she really needed to, then she moved away. She didn't disappear into the club scene. Felicitas' eyes were too-time trained for that. But her graceful form cut through the crowd at just the right pace to go unnoticed by most as any more than a passing beauty in red. Who was joined by a blonde woman in a black dress—undoubtedly another assassin—almost as soon as she exited the V.I.P section.

 

Of course, even with her own past experiences and training making Felicitas' eyes sharper than most, she wouldn't be able to not notice Nyssa al Ghul. The barely-there Buzz of the young woman's still dormant Quickening would make her stand out. Her appearance here had only surprised the Immortal because she'd already expected a Pre-Immortal to be here, so she hadn't been paying attention to the sensation until she realized it wasn't coming from the person she was expecting it to.

 

Another conundrum to ponder, when there was actually time for pondering. As the assassins were, for now, leaving.

 

It wasn't like Felicitas could simply ask, after all. Somehow that wouldn't feel right. To tell someone, even—or maybe especially—a dangerous international assassin that they shouldn't exist. That their existence was an established impossibility.

 

It was, of course, more likely that Nyssa al Ghul was adopted. Possible. That was what Felicitas had assumed when she'd received notification from Mazin—twenty-eight years ago, now—that he was a father. It had been the same year his wife died. So really she'd just been surprised he hadn't named the girl he'd adopted after the wife he'd lost, since the two had to be connected somehow. The girl could be the former Bride of the Demon's living ghost, were she mortal she'd have to be related to his lost love.

 

Not the great love of his mortal life, of course. Sora, whom Mazin had loved while he was still a mortal man, had been murdered centuries ago. Her murder had led to him setting aside his ambitions for science and healing, and instead he'd dedicated himself to becoming a mighty warrior. He would've had to anyway, as he hadn't long survived her—his First Death—and The Game would have found him soon enough after that.

 

But by the time Felicitas met Mazin, he'd already been known as Ra's al Ghul for decades. The League of Assassins wasn't nearly so shrouded in secrecy back then. Not like it was now.

 

Though even if it had been, Felicitas didn't doubt that her brother would have heard something of them. He always did. Laid back though he pretended to be, because he liked to be, Methos still kept a careful eye on such aspects of society.

 

So did Felicitas. These days that was rendered both easier and immeasurably more difficult by technology. Her brother, however, had always been better at it.

 

Maybe because Methos was more comfortable associating with those that most societies had always frowned upon. Criminals and 'low life's,' as some would call them. Those that made up the underbelly of society, and therefore always knew the worst secrets. While whispers made it back to Felicitas, who'd even called a few criminals friends from time to time, Methos made a point of knowing everything he could about such things. The Watchers weren't the first intelligence organization he'd infiltrated over the years... they were just arguably the most dangerous with what they already knew.

 

Either way, they had heard about the young Immortal warrior seeking out the man that was once know as Death, back then. That was how they'd met...

 

...FLASHBACK: 535 years ago...

What surprised Felicitas the most about the warrior standing before her now wasn't that he was here or that he was an Immortal. They'd sensed his approach over an hour ago and known he was searching for Methos even before that.

 

What she wasn't expecting was the respect in his eyes as he bowed his head. The quiet politeness and calm confidence. All were at odds with the warrior whose quest had had her teacher on edge for days now. Any man who sought out Death, after all, couldn't be seeking anything good...

 

Well, really Methos was worried more because she was still here. He would've been much happier allowing this master-assassin who'd been making a fearsome name for himself find him if his favorite student had agreed to hide. But she wasn't going anywhere, unless he left again. Then she'd follow.  It was a dance they'd played many times. And would undoubtedly play again and again.

 

Not that she'd intended to be the first once to face this seeker. But she wouldn't back down from his challenge, either, no matter how dangerous his reputation was.

 

A duel wouldn't be fought here, however. Though a challenge may be issued, for an actual fight to take place they would have to move off holy ground. Which was exactly why they'd been waiting here for the last few days.

 

"Good morning," Felicitas finally offered, her hands still moving through the wildflowers. "May I help you?"

 

She wasn't picking the flowers anymore. The ones in her hands were only props, just as they'd been from the moment she'd noticed his approach.  Her eyes were paying more attention to the men that were here with him.

 

All of his shadows weren't coming any closer, and they were all more than far enough away to not be a threat as of yet. Nothing short of a firearm would shoot from across that distance, and not with any accuracy. Regardless, she'd seen the silhouettes of each man clearly enough to tell each one was  armed with a quiver of arrows and a bow.

 

Interestingly enough, the birds were still singing all around them.  That wasn't always an accurate assessment of danger though. The little ones may own the skies, but that didn't mean that they always knew whether or not what was down below was dangerous or not. Especially in remote areas like this, where the ruins they'd set up camp in were considered holy ground to a people long dead before the Catholic Church built a monastery amongst them.

 

"If you would be so kind, my lady," the man bowed his head again, his eyes not leaving hers. "I would request an audience with the one they once called Death, he who led the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?"

 

Felicitas considered him for a moment, then her eyes went to the bouquet in her, which hid the hilt of the sword she'd laid there when she'd started picking the pretty blossoms. "Even back then he was better known by another name."

 

"Was he?" the warrior replied immediately, calm and unperturbed by the redirection that did not recognized or refuse his request. Perhaps he wasn't a headhunter then.

 

"His first name," she confirmed with a nod. "It is not a name he can claim for every life, especially after that, but it was the one his band of brothers knew."

 

The man was quiet a little longer this time.

 

So she picked another flower. And watched another shadow move along the horizon.

 

Then he said, "The Four Horsemen were brothers?"

 

"Of a sort," Felicitas confirmed. "For a time, at least."

 

"The stories do not say what it was that finally divided them."

 

"Death divides us all in the end," she answered evenly, telling the truth in more ways than one.

 

"It does at that," the man acknowledged, and the hint of sadness in his still polite, calm voice made her look at him again.

 

He was a handsome man. Perhaps a little past his prime when he first became Immortal, but his Quickening would've undone any actual damage there. What stamina age stole away restored by that first brush with death that wasn't permanent for any of them so long as they kept their heads. That calm patience wasn't a pretense, either. However he'd come to be who he was today, this was a man that was used to wielding power well enough to know when ill words and ill tempers wouldn't benefit anyone.

 

"And yet here you are," Felicitas observed, still not trying to rise from where she was knelt amongst the flowers next to her sword. "Seeking an audience with Death." She shook her head. "Some would call that a fool's errand."

 

He knew she was armed—his calm eyes had paused a moment too long on the exact spot her sword restedbut it didn't seem to bother him. But then, he was armed, too. Though he made no move to draw the sword he wore on his hip.

 

"You misunderstand, my lady," the warrior told her. "I seek not my end, but my teacher."

 

Both of Felicitas' eyebrows rose at that. "Your teacher?"

 

"Who better to learn from then the oldest of our kind?"

 

"Who, indeed," Felicitas nodded. "But death does not teach life. Only the absence of it."

 

The man cocked his head to the side as he considered her words, but before he could reply they both heard the footfall that they were allowed to hear coming up behind her.

 

"Oh, I don't know, little sister," Methos hadn't been far, after all, and apparently he'd decided to come to her rescue, as always. "Death can teach us all one thing or another."

 

That he'd come out now must mean the many traps they had in place—just in case this young Immortal and his followers didn't follow the unofficial rules of The Game—were set to spring. Maybe they wouldn't be necessary though.

 

The stranger's eyes had gone to Methos, making no effort to hide his curiosity, but he looked back at her as she stood up, her sword and flowers both in hand. Instead of reaching for his own weapon as hers became visible, he held up both his hands. Showing them that his palms were callused from long years of regularly wielding a sword, but currently those calluses touched only air.  I mean you no harm."

 

"You'll forgive us our caution, I'm sure," Methos remarked. "Considering your profession."

 

The man lowered his hands, but still made no move to reach for his own sword. "Death comes for us all. We can only evade it for so long."

 

"That may be true," Felicitas replied, intrigued despite herself. "But to seek it out for no reason at all is both foolish and careless."

 

"Yet as I have said," the man replied. "I seek not my end, but my teacher."

 

"Your legions continue to grow by the year," Methos observed, shaking his head slowly. "You are neither untaught nor untrained, Head of the Demon."

 

"Wing ta leo wo chey," the man bowed his head again.

 

Neither ancient had to ask for translation, of course. Though the dialect was dead, Immortals who'd heard it remembered.

 

"A tale to be told begins thus," Methos shook his head. "Yet your tale has already begun. It has not been so long as mine, or my sister's, but in the scheme of things that's far from relevant."

 

"The will to act is everything, but knowing when to act is worth that much more. Seeking such knowledge when one can yet learn it is, I think,  far from any fool's errand."

 

"Well said," Felicitas spoke up again before her teacher could. Because she knew he didn't have anything to say to that. Battles of wits with words, after all, were most often her domain. "Yet still you are seeking Death?"

 

"I seek the man who went by that name," the younger Immortal replied a little more carefully. "I seek to learn what he would teach me."

 

"When in battle, keep your head," Methos offered blandly.

 

And Felicitas watched a small smirk form on the strange stranger's face.

 

"Wise words for any warrior, to be sure." He spread his hands, still not seeming to have any interest in drawing his weapon at all. "I would be honored to hear more, but perhaps we might first end this stand-off before the most fearful here might imagine a threat where there is none?"

 

Felicitas smiled slightly as she turned to raise an eyebrow at her far harder to please brother.

 

Methos watching him for several more moments, while the younger Immortal bore the inspection patiently. Then he shook his head, "I do not make the habit of inviting strangers into my home."

 

The man bowed his head, "As I tried to tell your fair sister, sir, an introduction would be the highest honor."

 

"I cannot introduce a man I myself do not know," Felicitas told him, smiling slightly. "And I know neither Death, nor you."

 

"Very true," the smile he offered her was small but seemingly sincere. "Allow me, then, to introduce myself. I am called Ra's al Ghul."

 

"That is your title, at present," Methos told him. "Not your name."

 

"In the League we renounce our former life in the name of something new," the man called Ra's al Ghul cocked his head to the side. "Our kind know no father or mother in truth. The families and nations we know are those which we choose, just as our names are. My title and position are my identity."

 

"They are a part of you," Felicitas allowed, because she knew Methos would never agree—simply because he wanted nothing to do with the Leader of the League of Assassins. "But they do not tell us who you were before. Unless it was this League that found you, and raised you from then on to one day become its leader?"

 

The younger Immortal met her gaze for a moment, then bowed his head a little more deeply than before. "Few of the nomads that once fostered a foundling in Arabia's sands survived my First Death. Those that did numbered among my followers; some of their descendents follow me still." He hesitated a moment longer, obviously struggling with revealing that which he'd chosen to put behind him because he could see that it was the only introduction they'd accept. "The family that raised me named me Mazin, for the rare rain clouds I was found under were a scarce sight in the desert."

 

"Then peace be with you, Mazin, son of Arabia," Felicitas offered, because Methos was still busy glaring. "My brother is also a son of the desert, though the nomads who once named him have long since past from history."

 

When she looked at him expectantly, the older ancient sighed. "I am Methos," he offered nod in response to Mazin's bowed head. "This is my sister, Felicitas, known in her first life as the Queen of Carthage."

 

"Not a child of nomads or the desert at all then," Mazin bowed to her fully this time—as all the warriors of old once would. "But one of us, all the same. The best of us, perhaps, from what the legends say."

 

Felicitas blinked at him, but in that space of time her teacher had already moved—and it wasn't until she was standing behind him half a second later that she recognized the threat that that could imply.

 

Mazin, however, hadn't moved though. He hadn't even stood abruptly from his respectful bow to her. He did so now, with all the slow poise that only a lifelong athlete could claim, and showed them his palms once more. "Truly, I mean you no harm. Nor does any warrior of my League.  You are the ancients whom we most honor, both of you."

 

"You said you were here for me," Methos reminded him. That edge of darkness his voice sometimes took was there now. That tone tended to come out only when he felt he had to shed the more peaceful personality he preferred; returning to his deep down warrior roots because he had to. 

 

Because Mazin—or Ra's al Ghul as his people called him—had admitted he knew who she was: and if there was one thing her brother had truly tried to accomplish over the ages it was assuring her security in anonymity. It was good to be a myth, after all, because very few people ever imagined a myth like him might be real. Felicitas, however, they never should've heard of at all.

 

Except she was once the ruler of a vast, powerful empire that the world still remembered thousands of years after her city finally fell to Rome.

 

Before that happened, Alexander the Great had known who she was, and so had several of his generals—too many of his generals, according to Methos. Her brother had done everything he could to ensure that she disappeared from that piece of the world's memory. Though that particular lover was a man whom history would never forget. He remained one of the greatest conquerors the world had ever known--to this day, some would still say the greatest, and would undoubtedly continue to say it for centuries to come.

 

And in between leaving the city her mother had founded and traveling with a conqueror, Felicitas had been  one of the longest reigning Amazon Queen's ever. Only Hippolyta, who still presently reigned on Themyscira, had ever surpassed her and that was only because the Amazons who'd followed Felicitas had gone to the hidden isle with her when it became clear that the safest place for so many Immortal women would be a magically hidden island. Not that all Amazons had gone into hiding, and not all Immortal women became Amazons, either, but that was just one more lifetime her teacher would prefer the world forget.

 

For her sake.

 

"I did. For I do hope to learn some of whatever wisdom you would share from your experiences through the ages," Mazin maintained, bowing fully again. "I have much I would discuss with you both, if you would do me the honor?"

 

Methos, she knew without even looking at him, would much rather not. But he had to know, just like she did, that running wouldn't help them now.

 

This warrior—leader of this League of Assassins—had found them once, somehow, so he could find them again. And talking to him now was how they could learn why he was here and what he wanted. More than that, it was the only way they might determine some clue as to what the army he'd amassed was intended to do.

 

"Your word," Felicitas spoke up when the men were both silent for too long, continuing when the younger Immortal looked at her. "There will be no violence here. No blows exchanged, and no bloodshed. We shall meet in peace, and depart this place in peace, no matter what words are said."

 

"As you wish, your majesty," the warrior bowed his head again, then surprised her further by drawing his sword and dropping to one knee in one smooth motion, holding the sword up, cradled across the palms of his hands towards them. "I give you my word as the boy from the sands, and my oath as Ra's al Ghul—I shall allow no harm to befall you that is within my power to thwart."

 

Felicitas blinked at him again, then raised both her eyebrows. "That was not what I asked for, Mazin."

 

He didn't raise his head as he replied, "Do you accept my oath, your majesty?"

 

And to that, the woman that'd ruled over numerous nations knew there was only one thing she could say.

 

"I do. With gratitude," Felicitas bowed her head in acceptance as she always would when she'd sat on thrones before. Then she stepped around her brother—who was still watching the other man suspiciously but made no move to stop her—and silently offered to help him rise.

 

The warrior accepted her hand in a gentle grasp, not needing any actual help at all as he stood again on his own just as smoothly as he'd knelt, still holding her hand all the while. He met her gaze for a moment, then bowed over her hand. "All gratitude and honor must be mine, great queen."

 

Felicitas didn't try to pull free, too used to the courtly etiquette even though it'd been ages since she'd let herself rise any higher than the minor nobility of any court. "I am not a queen anymore, Mazin of the Desert. My city fell long ago. And the city by its Roman name now does not even stand in the same spot."

 

"Yet your empire's reach is yet felt the world over, is it not?" He asked, shaking his head as he went on without waiting for a response. "Power like yours does not fade with time. The wealth and influence of the wise and wary will always remain."

 

Felicitas cocked her head to the side, still not pulling away even as her brother stepped up alongside her now.

 

"Is that what this is about?" Methos wanted to know. "Her money?"

 

"No," Mazin shook his head, and finally released his gentle hold of her hand. "And yes, in some ways." He looked between them, then focused on her again. "I am not wrong to think that there are others like you, no? Other ancients who have influenced the world's events from time to time?"

 

"Immortals do tend to find themselves involved in history as it is made," Felicitas allowed, not really confirming or denying what he wanted to know.

 

What he already seemed to know was starting to scare her. No one who hadn't been invited to join the Circle should know of its existence. That was the only reason most of them almost safe from The Game for thousands of years. The shroud of secrecy that was supposed to surround their group—or at least the fact that they were a united group with shared goals suited to actions—was a vital defense against the madness that so easily consumed the young.

 

And the warrior standing before her now was far too young for his invitation to even be debated, let alone voted upon or issued. He was no ancient. Not yet. Yet he did know about them, somehow. She could see it in his calm, careful eyes.

 

"The word 'assassin' comes from 'hashishiyya,' which means—"

 

"Outcast, rabble, or drug addict, depending upon different sources," Methos cut in, the way his wariness wasn't easing at all not really a surprise. Nothing this warrior was saying was particularly reassuring, and her teacher had always said she was too trusting. "Most now would say it means professional murderer these days, though I don't doubt one who professes the profession themselves might describe it differently."

 

Ra's al Ghul nodded, "The title has fallen victim to many abuses of language over time. Its real meaning hidden beneath the sediment of lies and falsehoods. In truth, 'assassin' and 'hashishiyya' both mean 'those who stand apart from society."

 

Neither ancient reacted, though Felicitas was sure Methos also recognized what the assassin was trying to imply. By that definition, after all, almost every Immortal could belong to it if they so chose. But so could almost anyone else, depending upon their circumstances and their choices. Felicitas met Methos' eyes when he glanced at her, but still they didn't say anything.

 

"As I said, we have much to discuss," Mazin offered kindly, then gestured back towards their encampment. "Shall we?"

...END OF FLASHBACK...

 

That meeting was over five centuries ago.

 

Back when her deadliest student was still in his first century. Back when his League was still new: a seed sowing roots to eventually grow into the vast international organization it was now. Both a branch of the Circle and another offshoot—another whole plant—all its own.

 

'We make war that we may live in peace,' Aristotle had said.

 

It was a lesson that Felicitas never thought the man's most famous student had ever fully grasped. Peace was for the young and old in his mind, and the mortal man the world still remembered as one of the greatest conquerors ever known had died in his prime. He had made war because he was a mortal man determined to be remembered forever, and so he was. The world remembered him, and so did she.

 

Though the lover that Felicitas remembered—whom she'd known all along loved her for her Immortality at least as much as everything else—was not who the history books knew. Historians listed the battles won, treaties signed, cities built or destroyed, and a great empire that couldn't survive his death intact. She remembered the long discussions, late nights and early mornings. The regrets, as well as the triumphs. The fears just as much as the hate. And his love.

 

And Alexandros had loved her, in his way. His goddess, he'd always called her. Had Felicitas agreed to marry him that first time he'd asked, she would've been his first wife, and his queen. But a barren queen would have done the young king more harm than good, no matter how many admired her. It was better that Roxana be his first wife... no matter how much the insecure woman had hated Felicitas, or how fast that hatred had snuffed out the conqueror's initial fondness for the girl.

 

Roxana's jealousy had turned her into another piece of the political puzzle from the very first move she made against the eternal being that could remember the mortal king forever. Her constant attempts on Felicitas life—a few more successful than she could know, like that damn tiger—had annoyed the Immortal. But they'd hardened the king's heart against the idea of loving anyone else.

 

Unfortunate, since his second wife, Stateira, and third wife, Parysatis, had deserved better. Both Persian princesses had both been good friends to her, and she thought they would have been had they met under other circumstances, as well. Though their husband's love for her, and that Roxana's jealousy could've otherwise fallen upon them instead were surely factors back then. Both daughters of Persia had been wise enough to see the futility of making an enemy of Felicitas: who held Alexandros' real esteem and the respect of his great generals with ease. Of all Alexandros' Diadochi only Hephaestion had known the truth about her Immortality, but Felicitas had never had a difficult time winning over warriors. Roxana, however, had never been able to overcome her hatred for 'the favorite concubine,' as she'd only dared to call her when neither her husband or any of his men could hear it.

 

Dramatic struggles she'd lived through long ago, but could never forget. Alexandros was not a man anyone could forget...

 

His strength had reminded her of Eligius: perhaps more so than any man she'd loved after him, but they were two different men entirely. That warrior's strength was a trait most of her lovers shared, and one held by Oliver Queen, too. Actually, Oliver probably had more in common with Alexandros than any other. The determination, the focus, ever edged by a kind of desperation, were all facets of character that Oliver seemed to share with the king she'd loved long ago...

 

All ancient history, of course, save for the reminders. And, more pragmatically, the simple fact that the conqueror still had a sort of presence in her life. Not because Felicitas never forgot the loved ones she'd lost, some far faster than ever seemed fair—though that was true—but because of the 'great empire' her brother could never quite conceal in histories mysteries and myths.

 

How much trouble Methos had had doing away with that aspect of her history from the world's memory had a lot to do with why she still wondered if her brother had had something to do with that first burning of the Library of Alexandria, a crime she'd never been able to get him to confess to. But he'd never denied it either.

 

The wealth of Carthage, such as it was, might still be a factor today if not for her affair with the Macedonian. But it was all but irrelevant after him. The sheer might of the Circle, after all, had been built upon—or at least throughout—the empire of Alexander the Great, as he was known in English. So that 'great empire' that Methos couldn't quite conceal in history's mysteries and myths wasn't really the one built by Queen Dido. No, the traces that Ra's al Ghul found of them thousands of years later, despite her brother's best efforts, had been borne much more from the legacy of that lost lover than the original empire Rome had wiped out.

 

All ancient history now, but of course for the parts of it that weren't. Like Aristotle's famous words that still echoed out of the past. 'We make war that we may live in peace...'

 

It was an ideal that the Circle sometimes had to live by, but one that Mazin's people embraced. Including, apparently, his Pre-Immortal daughter.

 

Felicitas had known that Mazin had adopted a child, some years ago. Not long after his second, short-lived wife's death. But the girl that called her aunt wasn't at all what she would've expected... though the Pre-Immortality shouldn't be the surprise it was. Anymore than the fact that the girl recognized her as family from the relationship her father claimed to Felicitas.  That of teacher to student as well as siblings by choice.

 

But none of that necessarily told Felicitas how much Nyssa al Ghul already knew. Did she know that nothing short of decapitation—or utter obliteration as the atomic bombs had horrifically proved—would end her life for good? Was everything about Immortality part of her upbringing as the Demon's Daughter, and was that why she was the one sent to answer Felicitas' request for an audience? Or was she sent because she knew very little about why her father called Felicitas, and others like her, the 'honored ones'?

 

It was almost fitting, that this meeting brought with it many more questions than answers... but Felicity didn't have time for even the thinking she'd done so far.

 

Not when something was happening. Digg's text had told her to stay in public, and Oliver probably hoped his abandoning her to his mother and sister would keep her busy for much longer than it had. The party went on, thus whatever was happening here tonight was out of sight...

 

Because Helena Bertinelli had probably been in the basement before, hadn't she? And so she undoubtedly knew the far too easy security combination—that Oliver still hadn't changed—for his badly hidden hideout...

 

Well, Felicity had already stayed in public far longer than she'd wanted to anyway. If an unexpected introduction had inspired such introspection, she clearly needed to meditate again sometime very soon.

 

Now, however, she needed to head downstairs before one of the Queen women wandered back. Somehow, she'd prefer to risk the insanity of Oliver's ex, and the archer's own anger, than that.

Chapter Text

John Diggle's P.O.V.

 

John shook his head as he finished examining the twitching hand.

 

It didn't seem to matter that moving his hand hurt—and it did, Tommy Merlyn winced each and every time he twitched, but—he was too impatient to stay completely still.

 

"It's not broken," John finally told him.

 

"My hand or my wrist?" the younger man grimaced.

 

"Both. Your hand hurts 'cause your wrist is sprained, and your fingers'll hurt for a while, but she really only over did twisting your wrist."

 

"'Over did it?'" Tommy repeated incredulously. "She tortured me!"

 

John couldn't help but snort. "She hurt you, yeah. But I wouldn't call it 'torture' in front of Oliver. He's actually been tortured. Has the scars to prove it."

 

The younger man blinked at him, but his next wince was more pronounced than the ones with every movement of his hand.

 

"Never mind, I probably shouldn't have said anything about it," John shook his head as if just realizing his mistake; thought it wasn't one.

 

Hopefully that'd be enough to make this moron realize that his childhood friend wasn't the scum of the earth.  That the man not being a partying playboy anymore after he'd gone through hell was at least a little understandable. If he got that far, at least, they could work on the whole vigilante thing.

 

"Now pay attention," John ordered, nodding down to where he was holding the start of the ACE bandage above the slightly swollen wrist, explaining as he started. "Start here, wrapping down towards your fingers. The point is to stabilize your wrist and your hand. You overlap it each time, wrapping with enough pressure to support your wrist while it heals. You wanna be able to feel your fingers—"

 

"Oh, I can feel them," his patient griped unhappily, but subsided at the stern look the former soldier gave him in response.

 

"You wanna be able to feel your fingers the whole time. They should stay warm. Bandage goes across your palm, like this, between your thumb and pointer, and then back up. Then you secure it, like this," He fastened the bandage in place with clips, gently holding on when he would've pulled it away. "Check to make sure it's not too tight by doing this," he squeezed down on one of the fingers that the psycho ex hadn't bent back. "Under the nail'll turn white, but it should turn pink again a second after you release it. Like that. That way you know there's still plenty of blood flow. Got it?"

 

"Yeah, I got it," Tommy sighed as he finally got his hand back, almost unconsciously cradling the injured appendage against his chest again as soon as he could.

 

The ex-soldier started dutifully stowing the first-aid kit away again, throwing away the excess garbage and putting everything else neatly back together as he asked, "What'd you want for painkillers? Aspirin? Naproxen? Acetaminophen?"

 

"Got anything stronger than Tylenol or Aleve?"

 

"Yeah," John confirmed, but immediately shot it down. "You don't need it."

 

"Excuse me?"

 

"It's just a sprain, Merlyn. Something over the counter'll take the edge off; that and an ice pack and rest are what you need tonight."

 

The younger man glared balefully at him for a couple of seconds, then sighed and held out his good hand. "Fine. Some aspirin, I guess."

 

John tapped the two pills into his palm, waiting till he threw them in his mouth before he gave him the bottle of water he'd just opened. "Might want to drink all of that," he advised, when it looked like he was going to stop after a few gulps. "If you've been drinking, last thing you wanta wake up with is a hangover on top of your sprain."

 

Tommy finished the bottle off without further prompting, then handed it back with a nod. "Thanks."

 

"Sure." John glanced at his watch. "It's almost ten now. If you wake up after two A.M with it bothering you, you can take more aspirin. Better not to mix more than one pain-med."

 

"Yeah, I won't," Tommy agreed tiredly.

 

"Elevation helps with the pain, too. But if your hand starts to swell, your fingers feel cold, or the pain-level doesn't go down in two days, max: you should see a doctor," John advised, as his limited medical training had drilled into him.

 

Even though most soldiers wouldn't. Oliver wouldn't either, but maybe the cut-off Merlyn heir would. Maybe.

 

"And tell him what?" Tommy snorted, raising his hand a little in askance. "I got in a fight with a blender on opening night?"

 

"You can tell him to mind his own damn business, if you want to," John pointed out. "A doctor's job's to treat you, not judge you."

 

At the word 'judged,' Tommy sighed, "She asked me if I remembered her? I didn't. I really didn't.... I've been with so many girls, most of them in a drunken haze, but a lot of 'em just blend together. And Ollie's girls?" he shook his head, wincing as the motion probably pulled at his shoulder. "I mean, yeah, he introduced her just a few months ago, but it didn't mean anything. He was still Ollie to me, even if he didn't want to go out clubbing every night. She was just another girl."

 

"So when I asked you if you remembered meeting Helena Bertinelli and you said 'sure,' you were lying," John concluded, not really seeing what the cut-off-billionaire thought he had to apologize for there.

 

"She said something about it being amazing Laurel was willing to date me if I treated all my best friend's girlfriends this way, and I," the younger man snorted. "I laughed at her. Told her a night with Oliver Queen, hell, even a date with him, didn't make her his girlfriend."

 

John winced then, hoping this wasn't going where he thought it was. "Bet she didn't like that."

 

"No," Tommy drawled out, shaking his head more gingerly this time. Then he sighed. "And I know I should've headed straight for the nearest bouncer. You warned me, and Smoaky sorta did, too. But..." he shook his head. "Some no one trying to insert herself in Ollie's all around screwed up life like that... that was par for the course back when we really partied a lot. But now it pissed me off. I'm still mad at him, yeah, but it still pissed me off. So I had to rub it in, so she knew how wrong she was, I guess."

 

"It?" the bodyguard repeated, since that sounded like the most important point.

 

"That she wasn't his girlfriend." The younger man finished with a wince. "That if she was, she'd be up in the V.I.P section with him and his mom and Thea."

 

John closed his eyes. "And she saw Felicity?"

 

"Talking to him, his mom and Thea, yeah."

 

"Shit." Digg didn't even try to keep it from slipping out.

 

"She did not like that," Tommy went on, an edge of uncertainty in his rushed words as he hurried them out. "Grabbed my hand, and twisted my thumb behind my back—none of the extra security guys noticed."

 

"Most of 'em are outside," John pointed out with a sigh. "And the few that are inside are watching the V.I.P stairs, the bar and maybe the doors."

 

"Still kinda want call 'em on it," Tommy grumbled, before also sighing again. "Only I can't, can I? 'Cause then I'd have to explain all of... this." He shook his head slowly as he looked around the basement that—with all the green arrows—was obviously the Vigilante's lair. "Somehow..."

 

"Yeah, somehow," John snorted then, shaking his head. "You should be good to go."

 

"What about..." Tommy trailed off, looking towards the door Oliver and the Bertinelli bitch had gone out a little while ago.

 

Out into the cold, dark back alley she'd almost certainly crawled in through in the first place, now that the bodyguard thought about it. Damn.

 

"Don't worry about it," John told him. "Go home. Rest. Ice your wrist if it hurts, no more than twenty minutes every hour. Keep it wrapped; You wanta shower, you can, but try not to use your hand, and re-wrap it right away after. Keepin' it elevated when you can'll help, too."

 

"But what about Smoaky?" Tommy wanted to know, and it made John like the cut-off-rich kid just a bit more. "Felicity, I mean?"

 

"We'll keep an eye on the psycho ex," John reassured him.

 

Tommy looked at him for a long moment, visibly arguing with himself, then he sighed and nodded, turning towards the stairs up to the club. He paused at the bottom. "How do I get out? She punched in a code upstairs?"

 

"1-4-1," John told him, making a mental note to have Felicity change that as soon as possible.

 

They should've changed it long before now.

 

John sighed as soon as he heard the door close upstairs, then got up and walked over to the computer station, not bothering to roll Felicity's chair back yet. They wouldn't want her down here while the bloodthirsty bitch was here anyway.

 

He quickly perused the screens Oliver had been looking through when he's first arrived, figuring out after only a glance that he'd been trying to find the F.B.I's safe-house for Bertinelli, as extorted, but without success.

 

Oliver Queen was one hell of a fighter, but he wasn't their tech expert. And the F.B.I wasn't the S.C.P.D. Not that Oliver could hack the local police without Felicity anyway.

 

John almost turned as he heard the outer door open and close, but didn't bother when he heard only one set of footfalls; the one he'd become familiar with over the last few months that was supposed to be down here.

 

"Don't say it," Oliver growled immediately.

 

Before the bodyguard could think of what he wanted to start with about this. 'I told you so,' would be a good place to start, but that was probably 'it,' so he didn't.

 

"Okay," John agreed as he stood up from where he'd been leaning over the computer desk, and turned around. "Then let's talk about Helena," he crossed his arms when the other man only frowned at him, carefully sitting down on the desk between two of the monitors.

 

Something Felicity wouldn't allow, but she wasn't here. Hopefully she'd stay upstairs like he'd requested via text a few minutes ago. Though he was a bit surprised that that hadn't brought her straight downstairs.

 

"Oliver, if you didn't still have feelings for this girl, you would have thought of a different solution than letting her extort you into killing someone."

 

"So what do you want me to do?" Oliver shook his head, his brow furrowed in resigned worry. "You want me to kill her?"


"I think you would have a long time ago if she looked like me instead of the T-Mobile girl," John immediately shot back. "She's a stone cold killer, Oliver."

 

"She's not evil." The vigilante shook his head again, looking resigned and exhausted. The kind of exhausted only emotions seemed to do to him. "She's been lost since her father killed her fiancé in cold blood." He frowned at the unsympathetic look that earned. "And are you going to sit there and tell me that you don't know what it's like to want revenge?"

 

John held his eyes easily, steady and sure in his belief that his hatred towards Deadshot did not make him anything like the Huntress. Yes, if he ever got the chance he would kill the hitman. But he'd never harm innocent people, or even semi-not-innocent people who had nothing to do with his brother dying long before his time.

 

Were he like Helena Bertinelli, he probably would've gone after the client that Deadshot had been shooting at, that his brother died protecting. Or anyone else that'd been on the detail but failed to take the bullet instead of Andy. But unlike the Huntress, he wasn't crazy.

 

"What would you do? Huh?" Oliver shook his head and gestured to the open area behind them. "If Floyd Lawton was standing right there?"

 

"Nothing that'd involve blackmailing you into hunting him down." John replied evenly, confident of every word.

 

Oliver groaned, "You're right. Okay?" he shook his head. "I can't kill her. And I can't take her to the police and risk her exposing all of this." he finished with a sigh and shrugged. "But at least, if I'm involved, I can contain her, all right? I can minimize the collateral damage."

 

Minimize was the key word there. Because the Huntress didn't care either way if innocents were caught in the crossfire—and so long as she was alive and armed, it was bound to happen.

 

The sounds of the outer door being unlocked, followed by heels on cement, stopped him from saying anything he might've otherwise said.

 

The woman they were arguing about rounded the corner an instant later, "Sorry, am I... interrupting something?" she asked in that smoky, alluring voice that must've hooked Oliver when he first met her.

 

It just made John want to hit her, and there weren't many women that brought out that impulse in him at all. Hell, the only other woman he could think of that might trigger that instinctive response was the Triad hit-woman, China White: and that was just common sense for survival.

 

"We were just talking about you," Oliver didn't deny it.

 

"And here I thought you didn't care much for me," the brunette smirked at him.

 

"Still don't," John confirmed curtly.

 

Oliver spoke up again before the conversation could spiral into any more scathing territory. "I haven't been able to locate the safe house where your F.B.I is keeping your father."

 

"I can help with that."

 

The soft voice made all three of them startle, and their heads jerked instinctively towards the stairs that led up to the newly opened nightclub. Or, in the case of the lady stepping off the bottom step, down from it.

 

John couldn't stop his automatic wince when he saw her. He'd spotted their tech girl earlier, of course, but the sight of her dressed to the nines again—this time for the event going on above their heads—looked wrong down here now.

 

Felicity fit perfectly up there, where she looked every bit the pretty princess Oliver's mother could be thrilled to be meeting as her son's new girlfriend. In her sparkling blue silk, with sincere smiles and that sweet runaway mouth, she was completely charming. It hadn't been hard to see from afar that both Queen women were enchanted. One brief bright point for this night.

 

Down here, it was like the fairytale princess had descended into the cold, dark dungeon she should never see. And they even had a wicked witch down here, too... though it was possible he'd been reading his nephews too many fairy tales  before bed lately.

 

"No!" Oliver's explosive reaction wasn't a bombshell at all, not when his bodyguard's gut had momentarily frozen at the thought of their secretive but sweet tech girl anywhere near the bloodthirsty ex-mob princess.

 

It was enough to jolt John from that frozen second, however, so he started moving towards her—specifically between her and the Huntress—at the same times as the vigilante.

 

"Go back," Oliver ordered sharply, trying to gesture her back up the stairs before he was halfway to her. "Back upstairs, now!"

 

The shouted words were enough to make Felicity stop. As both men closed the distance to her, the blonde clasped her hands elegantly in front of her, looking between them and the other woman in their basement silently.

 

The archer forced himself to take a deep, calm breath once he reached her. "This is a private thing, Felicity."

 

John, on the other hand, made himself turn away from the couple to watch the psycho ex that was only halfway across the room. His hand was on his gun as he watched the brunette's eyes narrow; knowing she was definitely coming to all the accurate conclusions they didn't want her to, but couldn't stop. But Tommy had ensured she was partway there already, so there really was no fixing it now.

 

"Please," Oliver added softly a moment later.

 

"You know I can help," Felicity reminded him in response, her voice just as soft: but not too soft for the Huntress to hear. "That hack would only take me a few—"

 

"I know," the vigilante cut her off a little too late.

 

His psycho ex's eyes had already zeroed in on the blonde at her words, so she unfortunately hadn't missed them.

 

"We can't do this that way," Oliver went on quickly. "I've figured out the transport. Digg'll take you back upstairs. Now."

 

John still didn't turn towards them, continuing to watch the woman that really shouldn't be down here instead. Who's very presence down here was what was wrong.

 

"Fel-liss-ity," Oliver breathed her name out softly, sighing through the syllables as he tried to persuade her. "Please."

 

Finally their third team member sighed, too. "All right," she agreed just as softly. "I'll be upstairs. I have my cell, if you need anything—"

 

"I'll let you know," the vigilante told her, even though it was probably a lie as long as Helena Bertinelli was here. "Digg—"

 

"There's over three dozen bouncers upstairs." Felicity interrupted this time. "I'll be fine on my own. Digg should stay here. You need him."

 

Which wasn't strictly untrue. Not when the woman most of that security was intended for was already down here. And Oliver Queen had already proven he couldn't be left alone with her.

 

Though John doubted Helena would be able to charm the vigilante this time. Not after hurting his friend. Not after threatening his family. Not when he had a real girlfriend now.

 

But that didn't mean Felicity was wrong, either.

 

So John stayed put, watching the Huntress as her eyes followed the other woman up the stairs; her steps not completely silent in the heels she was on top of now that they were all silent, though they were quiet enough to explain why none of them had noticed her coming down earlier.

 

What she was going to do upstairs now was a moot point, really, but John did kind of wonder if she'd brave the V.I.P section—and the two Queen women Oliver had apparently left her at the mercy of—again. The bodyguard had seen them as he'd hurried around from the front of the club earlier. She hadn't looked intimidated, or harassed, by the attention, but it didn't surprise him that she'd taken the first opportunity she'd gotten to get away from them. What he wasn't sure of was if she'd taken the opportunity to escape them, specifically, or if she'd just come down here as soon as she could to see what was going on...

 

Either way, the ex-soldier could see it was going to be a thorn in Oliver's foot later. That she'd drawn attention to herself when she'd managed to come in without any of them hearing her. That she'd called the Huntress's attention to herself...

 

"How many girlfriends do you have, exactly?" the Bertinelli bitch asked with a sardonic smile as soon as the door at the top of the stairs closed again.

 

"Like I said, we don't know where the safe house is." Oliver ignored the jibe, but it'd definitely bothered him almost as much as the so-called Huntress seeing Felicity at all had.

 

After all, he didn't know about Tommy's confession yet.

 

"What we do know is that the Marshalls service is taking your father to a hearing at the Justice Department. Tomorrow night." The vigilante paused for just a breath, then admitted. "There's a problem, Helena."

 

The brunette cocked her head to the side, saying nothing as she waited for him to go on.

 

"There are two vans," Oliver finished, and added the obvious. "One of them's a decoy."

 

"Well, good thing there's two of us, then," the Huntress declared with a devil-may-care shrug.

 

"It's not too late to call this off," Oliver tried, yet again, to reason with her. Like he didn't know better than to reason with a rabid wolf. Rabid werewolf, maybe.

 

"I think you know me better than that," Helena replied coolly, holding his eyes as she told him, "I don't take prisoners."

 

John didn't snort only because he knew it wasn't worth arguing with her. That she wasn't worth arguing with.

 

Oliver held her gaze for several seconds more, before he finally sighed and nodded. "Alright. We don't know where they're coming from," he gestured to the screens he finished. "The best time to strike is after they leave the courthouse. Tomorrow night."

 

That seemed a little strange to John Diggle. That they were taking the special precaution of bringing Bertinelli in and out for his testimony when the courthouse was closed didn't sound quite right. Didn't sound like something that was normally done, because  the courts didn't hold trials around the convenience of criminals or something like that. But maybe the Marshalls could make it happen, and with the real risk of extensive collateral damages being a possibility when the Huntress was in the picture the safety of everyone involved, not just Frank Bertinelli, might make it worth their wild. Maybe that sort of thing did happen and it just wasn't widely known. Or maybe this was a weird sort of one-time thing.

 

It wasn't like they had Felicity down here to look into it for them. And John wasn't going to have any luck finding more than the vigilante had in her absence.

 

The brunette nodded her agreement. "Okay. Tomorrow night's a date then," she agreed, before sauntering towards the outer door, giving John an amused smirk when he stayed stationed at the bottom of the stairs that went up into the club with his arms crossed.

 

John waited till they heard the outer door slam closed, then glanced toward the security monitors they should probably look at more to confirm she really had left. Which was why he saw her climbing onto a motorcycle that wasn't Oliver's. The bitch had parked there. Right outside. Okay, that definitely had his professional pride smarting...

 

The vigilante started to pace almost as soon as he heard the door close, and a few moments later he started, "She shouldn't have—"

 

"She better be the bitch that just left, Oliver," John cut in firmly. "'Cause Felicity didn't do anything wrong."

 

Sure, he agreed she shouldn't have come down here—that's why he'd sent her a text telling her not to come down here. And yes, if curiosity or worry wouldn't let her stay away she should've still left as silently as she'd entered as soon as she saw Oliver's psycho ex down here. But, in the scheme of things, Oliver really didn't get to throw stones here.

 

The archer sighed, "Helena knows her face now."

 

"She already knew that," John told him, going on when the archer frowned at him. "Tommy pointed her out, when Helena claimed to be your girlfriend before she dragged him down here."

 

It wasn't a surprise when Oliver started snarling out words the ex-soldier didn't recognize. If he had to guess, he'd say they were Russian and Chinese—Mandarin, maybe—and that they were probably all profanity. Impressively, he kept it up for at least a full minute, without even one repetition—a hard thing to do in any language, even if you swore often and weren't angry.

 

John waited till he stopped and hadn't said anything more for a handful of seconds, then asked, "Feel better?"

 

"No." Oliver growled and turned back to the computers. "We have work to do."

 

"Planning Bertinelli's murder?"

 

"Her father's," the vigilante clarified without looking at him, like he thought the ex-soldier really needed that made clear.

 

John shrugged, "Yeah, well, I'm kinda hoping they take the vans on the highway. Maybe we'll get lucky and someone won't look before they change lanes; turn your crazy Huntress into another statistic."

 

Oliver didn't say anything in response.

 

Right now, they should probably call Felicity back: she was better at research, and better at everything else technological than both of them combined could ever be. But John wasn't about to suggest that before her boyfriend got that arrow out of his ass and apologized. So instead he made himself get to work. Hoping the younger man felt her absence right now even more keenly than he did, because he really should...

Chapter Text

Oliver Queen's P.O.V.

 

"She's cute, I guess," Helena's tone was offhanded, but her words felt like ice cubes floating in his blood.

 

Oliver didn't let himself respond right away, though he knew he couldn't hide everything from the Huntress.

 

Helena Bertinelli's relentless race for vengeance had destroyed the morals that might've made her try to turn her mob boss father in to the F.B.I in the first place, but neither grief nor rage had made her stupid. Driven, determined, and merciless? Yes. All traits that once made the vigilante think they were alike and could help save each other, until her utterly unreasoning lack of mercy had proven she'd stop at nothing to destroy her father.

 

If that meant destroying everything, so be it. Something the vigilante should've realized from the start. Helena had, after all, shot up a crowded sidewalk to take out one crooked man in that crowd. After that, it shouldn't have surprised him that she was so willing to start a mob just to bring her father down. It shouldn't have surprised him, but it did. Because she couldn't see all the innocent people who'd be caught in the crossfire, and after it'd already happened to his mother Oliver couldn't not see them.

 

Helena, however, clearly didn't care. She'd apologized, but she wouldn't take it back if she could. She'd keep doing it, again and again, until she got what she thought she wanted: and to Hell with everyone else. If watching the whole world burn meant her father would be burning, too, Helena would do it. So Oliver couldn't be surprised she was back in Starling, with or without the forewarning Felicity had somehow found for them before this whole nightmare really took off. He also couldn't come up with a way to stop her that didn't involve killing her.

 

"What?" Oliver finally made himself ask, his tone flat. Not turning to look at her as her heels clicked over the pavement a few feet behind him.

 

Helena was pacing. Back and forth as they both waited for Digg to tell them there was movement from the courthouse over the comms.

 

Or Oliver's comm, at least. The ex-soldier had been utterly unwilling to let him give Helena one. Flat-out refused to even run the op if she had their tech in her ear. The archer couldn't really say he thought the other man was wrong this time. Even if he did: he didn't want Felicity watching over the op and talking to Helena, either, so he pretty much had to let Digg do what he wanted.

 

"Your new 'girlfriend,'" Helena answered, still trying for offhanded, but with a little too much bite on the designation she might've ended up with if she was willing to let her revenge go a few months back.

 

In a way, it was probably better off that things hadn't worked out between them early on. With how jealous she'd been of Laurel, whom Oliver had then been making every effort to distance himself from out of respect for both his best friend and his ex-girlfriend herself, he couldn't imagine she would've reacted well to meeting Felicity back then either. Let alone a little later on. Not when he couldn't honestly say there wasn't a growing attraction to the I.T girl even back then; one that definitely might've turned his head if trying to date Helena long-term had become as difficult as it all too easily could have. He honestly still wasn't sure what it was that'd set her off at that unplanned double-date with Tommy and Laurel, but according to Digg the chemistry between him and Felicity had been plain as day for months before they'd done anything about it. So Helena would've seen it, too.

 

"Or is the computer geek not the only one?" the purple-clad woman snarked, sounding smug. "She's pretty cute, like I said. Useful, too, obviously. But she's gotta be pretty boring."

 

"She doesn't have anything to do with your father," the archer tried to remind her, even though she hadn't said anything about the former mob-boss herself in relation to the tech genius.

 

"Oh, I know," Helena agreed, and he could hear the smug smile in her voice like nails on a chalkboard. "But she knows about you. About all of this."

 

"Marshalls are bringing the vans 'round the courthouse," Digg told him. "No passenger comin' out yet. No guards outside either. Just the two vans backing into the garage."

 

As expected, because bringing Frank Bertinelli outside to one of the vans would expose him, and even if they'd had a decoy prisoner, too, Helena wasn't above shooting them both. The Starling City Courthouse, however, had several side garages that were built right up against the side of the main building, but completely separate from the public garage that everyone else used every day.

 

Too many entrances to cover them all at once, so Digg was watching via the traffic cameras Felicity had hacked them into weeks ago. She'd left them one of her 'back doors,' as she called them, just for things like this.

 

Digg wasn't wrong when he said Felicity Smoak could undoubtedly hack into the courthouse security system for them. Or she could at least tell them how to get into it via some device inside the courthouse; something like that. Oliver didn't doubt that when she said she could hack into what was supposed to be one of the most secure computer systems in the world, she could do it. He was sure she could. She'd already hacked ARGUS, after all, and he didn't think that had anything to do with the likely monitored 'backdoor' Waller had left him access to. Compared to ARGUS, a federal agency that specialized in black-ops and that most people didn't know about, how secure could any other agency be?

 

But that'd mean exposing her to Helena more, and Oliver was not willing to even consider that.

 

"Copy that," Oliver answered the bodyguard, not responding to either the unhidden dislike in the other man's voice—directed at the woman they had to help tonight—or what Helena herself was saying. Because addressing either here and now wouldn't help matters. "Movement," he told the brunette. "No one's leaving yet."

 

Helena heard him, but didn't say anything about that. "I didn't recognize her at first," she went on, attempting offhanded again. "All dolled up like Cinderella."

 

Oliver did finally turn to frown at her then.

 

She wasn't looking at him as she shrugged. "Thought your B.F.F might be blowing me off. You know, pointing out your flavor of the week just to get rid of me?"

 

"She's not—"

 

"But then I recognized her. I saw you with her." Helena did turn back at him then, one eyebrow arching up sardonically. "Before that, I mean. Jogging in the Glades?"

 

That made him stop objecting again, remembering he didn't want to tell her anymore than she already knew. Which was too much, and that was before he heard this...

 

"That a new part of your sidekick training? General fitness till she can play dress up like me? Though I doubt she'll be half as hot as me in leather," the brunette smirked at him. "Maybe that's why you're running? 'Cause I remember better ways to work up a sweat with you, Oliver."

 

The innuendo didn't make him smile even a little bit. She didn't blush as she said it. Didn't clarify. She meant every word exactly as it sounded. Deliberate, biting and harsh. She wasn't Felicity. At all.

 

John Diggle was noticeably quiet. The heavy silence in his ear was weighted with all the disapproval, dislike and distrust the former soldier felt towards this woman before the brilliant tech girl was really part of the picture.

 

"The hoodie's better than the ballgown, I guess. Both of you in green's cute," Helena wrinkled her nose. "Bit desperate though, isn't it?"

 

"What?" Oliver asked before he could think better of it, the response coming out flat as he stared at her.

 

"Wearing your color when you run together," the woman in purple clarified. "She could've at least picked her own. Pink, like Barbie, maybe."

 

For another long moment the vigilante could only stare at her, then he shook his head. "You're jealous?"

 

"Really?" Digg asked then. "You're just realizing that now?"

 

"Of your Barbie doll?" Helena snorted derisively. "Don't be stupid, Oliver."

 

"You can't stop talking about her," he pointed out, studying her even as Diggle's rebuke came over his comm.

 

"She's right, Oliver," his partner pointed out unhappily. "Don't be stupid. Getting her more focused on Felicity's not gonna help anybody."

 

Oliver ignored him, still staring at her incredulously as he shook his head. "You're the one that left, Helena."

 

"Because you saved my father!" the Huntress snapped, crimson lips contorting into a scowl. "I had him, and you had to stop me!"

 

"I was protecting you," he reminded her.

 

"By betraying me," she shook her head, sneering at him. "Just remember not to make that mistake tonight."

 

"Helena—"

 

"Unless you want one of your friends to find out what a crossbow bolt feels like. Might make Barbie think twice about wearing green."

 

"Oliver," Digg warned over the comm again, but it wasn't necessary.

 

The vigilante held her gaze for a moment, then shook his head. "Which garage are they in?" he asked Diggle as a redirect. Because if he tried to speak to the Huntress right away with what she'd just said, he might just aim an arrow he knew he didn't want to let loose.

 

There were three possible 'back exits' the marshals could use to bring Bertinelli out once he was done inside the courthouse. They couldn't risk getting to close to any of them, because there was no point immediately nearby from which they could cover all three. So Digg was watching on the traffic cam footage Felicity had permanently hacked them into at some point, unhappily waiting to tell them where to go.

 

"Northeast side," Diggle answered, unsurprised.

 

Oliver wasn't surprised either. It was exit that offered the closest access to highway. He just hadn't pointed that out to Helena that because he wasn't willing to risk her thinking storming the court house might be a better way to get her father. It'd be faster, but it wouldn't be better. Just a sure way to drop more bodies, and the former mob boss wouldn't necessarily be one of them...

 

"It's the beta exit," Oliver told her, kick starting his engine and heading off without another word. He heard her engine start behind him, but didn't look back for her the short ride to the alley he'd picked to watch from—once he was sure the marshals weren't covering the street.

 

Surprisingly they weren't.

 

The bum sleeping a few feet from the exit point had been there when Oliver had walked by in a ball cap that afternoon, but he was way too out of it to be a fed in disguise: hadn't even shifted when a car had backfired down the block.

 

The kids walking home from the nearby bus stop hours ago had waived to the woman in the little convenience store calling: 'Hello Miz Thompson!' as they went by, and the same woman was falling asleep on her feet right now.

 

The plumbers that'd been working in a nearby apartment building had been swearing too much when they came out covered in something that probably didn't smell too good up close. They were the same three guys finishing packing up their truck now.

 

If Oliver actually cared about this op, and really wanted to make sure Frank Bertinelli was crossed off his list again tonight, he would be bothered by it. Be suspicious at least. But he was just the reluctant muscle right now.

 

This was Helena's show.

 

When she stopped beside him again, he wasn't surprised to see she hadn't bothered with the helmet. Obviously she didn't care that the S.C.P.D and the U.S Marshals should both be on the lookout for her tonight. Then again, the mob life she'd despised probably hadn't taught her much about vigilantism and the need for secrecy even when your target knew who you were. Or especially when they knew you were coming.

 

"I'm sorry," the brunette tried after a few minutes of silence, sounding like she meant it. And maybe she did; right at this minute anyway.  "I really did miss you."

 

Oliver didn't bother responding. He knew giving her the same response she'd shot at him when he'd told her he cared about her wouldn't go over well, and Digg was right. Arguing with her tonight wouldn't help.

 

So it was a relief when the garage door they were watching started rolling up just a few seconds later.

 

"Just your father," Oliver reminded her as the garage door finally opened again. "Anyone else gets hurt and I'll put an arrow in you."

 

"That's sweet," Helena's smirk was clear in his peripheral vision, but he didn't respond to that anymore than he did her more subdued voice. "Now I know how you charmed your geek girlfriend."

 

Oliver shook his head, but put his helmet on the same time she did. He was more than ready to get this done.

 

It didn't matter anymore than he knew seeing her father dead wouldn't really help Helena at all. Not now that she'd gone after people he cared about. Not after she'd hurt Tommy. And not with her interest alone in Felicity feeling like the threat that it might very well be.

 

Knowing his father had killed himself to ensure that his son would live had haunted that son for years. He couldn't imagine how much worse it'd feel if he'd actually, knowingly pointed the gun and deliberately pulled the trigger. No matter what'd happened between them, he couldn't imagine that ever feeling right. Let alone okay.

 

No matter what he had done, Robert Queen was never Frank Bertinelli. Whatever he'd done that made him say he'd wronged their city, Oliver knew his father would never harm anyone in his family or those they loved. Helena's father had had her fiancé killed. So maybe it wasn't quite a fair balance to compare the two...

 

But in the end that didn't matter. Helena was the threat here, and helping her achieve her goal was the only good way to get rid of her. With the only reason he didn't want to help her being a regard for how it wouldn't help her in the end, the choice was easy.

 

And there was an arrow in his quiver that belonged to Frank Bertinelli.

 

Tonight.

Chapter Text

Tommy Merlyn's P.O.V.

 

Tommy blinked in surprise as he entered the club's spacious dual-desk office. He couldn't help it; the golden-hair on the other side of the desk didn't belong to the lying best friend he was expecting. "Smoaky?"

 

Oliver's girlfriend glanced up, a kind smile lighting her face right away as she looked at him, her eyes pausing on his mummified limb for barely a blink before she was meeting his gaze. "Tommy. How are you feeling?"

 

He flinched automatically at the question, protectively cradling his still hurting hand at the reminder.

 

"Sorry," she said before he could force an answer. "You'd probably rather not think about it. But did you go see a doctor?"

 

"No," Tommy shook his head slowly. "It's fine. I'm fine, thanks."

 

The blonde raised an eyebrow, "You're not a very good liar, are you?"

 

Tommy blinked, "Excuse me?" he asked, closing the door because having it open was enough of an invitation for some club goers to drop in and he'd rather not deal with that even if they weren't going to talk about what he thought they might.

 

"Your wrist is hurt. Something happened to it. Otherwise it wouldn't be wrapped up." She shook her head slowly. "It's always easier if you don't lie about the stuff you don't have to."

 

Tommy eyebrows drew together as she glanced back at the computer she was using. One he'd never actually seen Oliver on, come to think of it, but that wasn't all that surprising. That the tech-girl was holed away here in the office, with the club owner she was dating was nowhere to be seen was the surprising part.

 

"And if you're embarrassed about being beat up by a girl, I can show you the police reports on all of the people she's killed." Felicity said like she was talking about yesterday's weather, then she wrinkled her nose. "Don't know you well enough to know if that'll make you feel better or give you nightmares, but either way I'd recommend not looking at some of the pictures."

 

Tommy grimaced. "Oliver told you what happened?"

 

"Not exactly," Her pink lips twisted a little into an almost grimace. "I think he's giving me the silent treatment right now."

 

Tommy blinked. "For what?"

 

"Giving a damn."

 

He blinked again, then shook his head. "Then how..." he trailed off, really not sure how to ask.

 

"Who do you think set up the security system here? And everything else in your digital setup?" Felicity raised one eyebrow at him, before her eyes darted back to the monitor for a moment. Then she shook her head and looked back at him. "Well, he sort of had one already, but even he knew it sucked."

 

"Thank you," Tommy decided on a nod, then tried again, "But you know who did this?" he asked, holding his injured appendage up.

 

"I did warn you about her. Digg calls her Oliver's psycho ex-girlfriend?" Felicity cocked her head to the side. "But they only went on handful of dates, so I don't think she deserves the last designation. The first one's a definite though."

 

"Can't argue with that." Actually, Tommy found that statement very easy to agree with. He studied the blonde for a long moment, while her eyes remained on whatever she was watching on the monitor, then he finally asked, "Oliver's..."

 

"Doing something stupid," she didn't hesitate to fill in the obvious blank.

 

That didn't tell him much, so Tommy waited for her to explain more. When she just kept watching the computer screen, he started walking towards her, pausing when she glanced his way, but then continuing around the desk as her gaze went back to the monitor without a word of protest.

 

It looked a little like the club's security feeds, which he hadn't actually looked at yet. Maybe he should; maybe last night shouldn't be put into storage, opening night or not? Then again, this was the woman who'd just admitted to setting that system up, so she was probably the one to ask. Even though what she was watching was definitely not normal footage from the club.

 

It kind of looked like bad footage from an action movie: like the chase scene. Only instead of cops there was a motorcycle chasing a van—or was it two different motorcycles and two different vans? Must be, 'cause otherwise they were definitely in two different places at the same time.

 

Either way, it pretty much answered his question of whether or not she knew what'd happened last night under the club. Because why wouldn't Oliver tell his girlfriend?

 

"He's helping her?" Tommy knew the incredulity in his voice was stupid even while he was asking it, so he grimaced as he said, "He said he would."

 

The memory of Oliver pleading with the woman that'd attacked him last night came back without any effort at all. 

"Helena! This isn't you!"

It hadn't even crossed Tommy's mind to call for help when he still could have. When she'd grabbed his thumb and twisted his whole arm around behind his back, he'd cried out but no one could've heard him over all the loud music. And somehow drawing attention to himself and a crazy woman who knew the code to get into the basement  hadn't seemed like a great idea. Doing what she said and handing over the note she gave him to send to Oliver, which had all but confirmed for him who she was, had seemed like the best thing he could do at the time. Because there was more than enough crazy in those eyes to convince him that she wouldn't mind pulling out a gun and shooting up their club on its opening night, and even if that'd been a bluff, drawing any attention to the whacko-woman would've demanded the question of why she was attacking him in the first place.

And after fear had fooled his eyes into seeing someone who couldn't be there--had made him think the only person who noticed what was going on was a woman who'd been long dead--Tommy had decided just doing what the bitch was telling him to was the best thing he could do if it got her away from everyone else. The brief, impossible sighting of a woman that could only be a ghost was honestly a lot scarier than the crazy live one who was hauling him off the dance floor...

It'd all seemed to work, too. The madwoman hadn't even pulled a gun once they were both waiting for Oliver downstairs. But she had bent his arm even further up behind his back, twisting his wrist at an odd angle and forcing him to bend over the table facing the stairs as soon as the door at the top of those stairs opened and the man they were waiting for came down them...

Still, why Tommy was seeing ghosts in the second life-or-death situation he'd found himself in, in just as many weeks, was a bit scarier than the pain itself...

"My father is a mobster and a murderer. It's not like you haven't killed men like that before!"

Put like that, Tommy couldn't say he understood why the vigilante gave a damn about the whole thing. Why he hadn't put an arrow in her dad already, since that was what he did to criminals in Starling City. But maybe that was the pain talking—he'd been a little worried she might twist his hand all the way off at that point.

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

"By applying leverage..."

Tommy could hear that the woman was sneering as she said it, even with her standing behind him and completely out of sight.

"Be exploiting someone's weakness..."

Then his hand was definitely being twisted off or his fingers were being broken, or both, and nothing else mattered more than that. Screaming in agony didn't make him feel better, but he couldn't stop it either.

"of leverage above our heads right now," the woman was snarling when he could hear again. Her voice went soft suddenly a second later, pleading. "Please, Oliver. Don't made me do something that both of us will regret."

Tommy tried to look at his friend then, when both of them were quiet for what seemed like a week in heartbeat, but his eyes snapped close on another scream when it suddenly felt like she was tearing his finger off again.

"kay!" Oliver's shouted agreement echoed through his eardrums, around the pounding pain and the memory of his own screams. "Okay. You win. I'll help you. Now let him go."

Tommy hadn't dared to move, he was struggling a little just to breathe as he waited for the woman to obey.

Oliver obviously thought she was taking too long, too, because then he was growling the words out more aggressively. "Let... Him... Go!" he sounded like the scary man under the hood that the city's corrupt had come to fear then.

And finally, she did let him go, thank God.

Well, Tommy did for a moment anyway, but then everything was just pain again and trying to breathe, never mind move...

 

"Of course he did." Felicity replied, her calm words bringing him back to the office. "She knew how to hurt him."

 

Tommy shook his head. "She hurt me."

 

The blonde met his eyes again for a moment, then nodded. "Exactly."

 

Tommy stared at her, not sure what to say, so he only watched while she sighed.

 

"Of course, that was a day after he found her chatting with Thea back at the Mansion."

 

Tommy's eyes flew wide, "What?!" he demanded, his heart all but leaping into his throat at the idea of that crazy bitch anywhere near Speedy.

 

The teen was trying to get her life in some kind of order, and even if she was still the party girl that didn't want to give a damn about anything but the next rave, she couldn't deserve anything her brother's psycho-ex might dish out. The bitch had already almost killed Missus Queen; how Oliver could ignore that, whether his mother was the intended target or not, his childhood friend didn't understand. Then again, Tommy's own mother had been murdered a long time ago and there was no bringing her back...

 

"She's fine. Remember, you saw her last night?" Felicity reminded him, shaking her head. "That was just a threat. She's smart enough to realize Oliver would kill her if she hurt his baby sister." The blonde gave him a small smile, "Unfortunately, she also realized that just hurting you might still keep her under his code of chivalry."

 

"Chivalry?" Tommy blinked, completely thrown by the word itself, never mind what it actually meant.

 

"Obviously he slept with her. Digg thinks that's why he won't kill her now." Felicity shrugged. "Personally, I think Oliver's a bit more complicated than that. We all are."

 

"Then why..."

 

"He thought he could help her," the blonde shook her head. "By the time he realized he couldn't, he'd already made her into a more effective killer who knew too much."

 

"Then why didn't he just..." Tommy winced as he trailed off, unable to actually say it.

 

Felicity glanced at him. "Kill her?" she sighed, her eyes going back to the screen again as she asked, "Do you think you could?"

 

Tommy blinked, staring at her a little because she sounded like she was talking about the weather again. "I'm not..." he shook his head. "I don't know how."

 

Felicity was still watching the monitor as she answered, her voice so steady she might be talking about the plot of some stupid show's most recent episode. "It doesn't take training to kill someone, Tommy. Sure, it helps. But just the wrong circumstances can be enough. Doesn't even have to be that. Just the choice to act, to kill, when necessary, can see it done." Her blue eyes came back to him, looking a lot darker than the warm sunshine he'd come to expect of Oliver's new girl. "If you had a gun in your hand while that madwoman was aiming her crossbow at Laurel, do you really think you wouldn't point and pull the trigger?"

 

"I..." Tommy swallowed, no happier with that mental image then he was with the idea of the madwoman anywhere near Speedy. "Yeah. Yeah, I think I would." He nodded, clarifying softly, "For Laurel."

 

"Of course you would. You love her." She said it matter-of-factly, like it was as simple as that.

 

Then again, in the scenario she'd just described, it really was.

 

"Damn it." Felicity frowned at one of the screens.

 

One of the van's was motorcycle was speeding away.

The van it'd been chasing was stopped in the middle of the two lane read... it's rear doors wide open?

 

"What's wrong?" Tommy asked her while he tried to make sense of it himself, then his eyes widened without any explanation from her.

 

There were cop cars converging on the stopped van—coming at it from either side of the tunnel it'd been forced to stop in—lights flashing, sirens probably going, too.

 

"It's a trap!" he realized.

 

"Yes, Admiral, it is," the blonde acknowledged dryly.

 

Tommy's eyes went back to blinking at her as she raised her cellphone to her ear.

 

"Digg? Call them back, both of them, the S.C.P.D..." she trailed off, then scowled. "What do you mean he turned the comm off?"

 

Tommy glanced between her and the screen, blinking when he saw the remaining van was now spewing smoke from the front as it swerved to a stop.

 

The rider of that motorcycle dismounted and lost her helmet. Revealing the long brown hair of the bitch that'd nearly broken his wrist.

 

"Well, call him then!" Felicity demanded of Oliver's bodyguard. "No, he won't answer if it's me."

 

On screen, the brunette was pointing something—her crossbow, Smoaky had called it?—at the back of the van. Shouting something...

A second later the van doors flew open.

The bitch took a step back in obvious surprise.

And that was before the cop cars closed off both ends of the tunnel she'd stopped the van in, the S.C.P.D surrounding her.

 

Oliver had stopped the van in a tunnel, too, come to think of it. What was the point of that? Why not stop the van outside the tunnel so you couldn't be trapped in it yourself?

 

"It's too late for him to help her, Digg," Felicity sighed. "The S.C.P.D have her." She shook her head. "I'll be downstairs in a minute. Make sure he doesn't do anything stupid..." she trailed off, obviously listening as she nodded in response to whatever the bodyguard was saying. "Yeah, like that."

 

Tommy glanced between the blonde and the monitor, where they could see the brunette surrendering, surrounded by cops with guns all around. He waited till she'd hung up before he asked, "I'm sorry, how's this a bad thing?"

 

Because the psycho bitch behind bars for the rest of her life—unable to break anyone's wrist or shoot crossbows at anyone—seemed like a great idea to him.

 

Oliver's current girlfriend was getting up from his desk then, which now looked like it normally did, he realized: all the weird windows and car chase stuff gone. "Because," she answered with a sigh. "He's going to want to save her."

 

"From the cops?"

 

"Um-hum."

 

Tommy stared after her for a moment, then followed her out of the office. "Where are you going?"

 

The blonde stopped at the top of the stairs, as if frozen for half a second, before she turned back to him with another smile. "I have to make another call, but I'll be heading downstairs—down-downstairs, I mean—soon if you want to join?"

 

Tommy nodded immediately, and tried not to think about whether or not it was strange that he did want to go down there again...

 

"Great," Felicity's smile got brighter, looking like it could light up the room all on its own. "How 'bout you head down then, and I'll be there in a minute?"

 

It took Tommy almost a full second to realize she wanted him to go away because she didn't want him eavesdropping on her phone call, which was fair. So he quickly nodded. "Sure, yeah. I'll be down there."

 

"Thanks," Felicity started walking along the edge the empty V.I.P area's balcony, already dialing her phone. "This'll only take a minute," she said again over her shoulder, which was probably another cue to head down the stairs.

 

A part of him wanted to stay, to try and listen since whatever call she had to make right now because it almost had to be about the unfolding disaster of the night. But this woman had already been going out of her way to be about as helpful as she could be to him, much more so than he—or Ollie, even—probably deserved. So it hardly seemed right to try and eavesdrop no matter how curious he was.

 

It wasn't like she'd be doing anything she wasn't going to report to the vigilante himself once they were all downstairs, and Tommy had just committed to being there for that. So he only glanced at her once as he made his way down the stairs, and her back was to him, so also he could make out was that she already had the phone tucked to her ear. From the way she was standing he'd guess that  whoever she'd called had picked up right away, because it didn't look like she was listening to it ring or waiting for the beep to leave a message.

 

Tommy shook his head, silently rebuking himself for giving into his now more suspicious than ever curiosity; even with this woman who'd been nothing but helpful to him when she didn't have to be. He knew it wasn't fair, and he should save all those suspicions for the best friend that clearly did keep countless secrets...

 

Felicity's heels coming down the V.I.P stairs not even a whole minute later—just like she said—were still a relief to hear then. His thoughts weren't the best place to be right now, so he'd rather be distracted by anything at all. If it was something that'd satisfy his curiosity somewhat—as what looked like a coming confrontation between Oliver and his new friends might just do—all the better.

Chapter Text

Oliver Queen's P.O.V.

 

Oliver almost turned right back around as soon as he rounded the corner into the main area coming in from the alley entrance. He'd been expected only Digg's disapproving frown and crossed bowling-ball arms—both of which were present—but the other two people waiting for him were a surprise. He made himself keep going, nonetheless; heading for the gear station even as he asked, "Tommy? What are you doing here?"

 

Somehow the childhood best friend that'd recently learned he was The Vigilante seemed like a safer bet than either of his unhappy partners. Because he already knew what Digg was going to say, and the fact that Felicity hadn't turned from her computers when he came in didn't make Oliver think talking to her right now was a great idea either.

 

"Here for the show, I guess," Tommy shrugged, wincing as the move made him his hand hurt. "So helping the crazy chick didn't go well, huh?"

 

Olive ignored the undertone of sarcasm that said that wasn't a surprise as he answered, "The entire thing was obviously a setup by the S.C.P.D," he sighed, then he shook his head. "They have Helena in custody. I have to go," he said as he grabbed the smoke grenades and gas mask he'd had to stop here for, making himself go on even as he searched for the right filter in the setup case.

 

The arrows he had for this, after all, wouldn't be enough for openly invading a police station—not nearly enough smoke—and he didn't carry the mask around all the time, either. And he needed both, because he needed a lot of smoke. Needed the cover; because he was not going to start killing cops tonight. The silence was quickly starting to feel heavy again—broken only by the faint, strangely slow sounding clicks from Felicity's keyboard—so he went on as he started fitting the right filter into his mask.

 

"They'll be at the station by now. Breaking her out of there's a lot easier than Iron Heights. I couldn't stop them on the way there—"

 

"Without killing a bunch a cops, yeah," Digg interjected before he could say it any other way; likely not wanting to let him wander back around to the argument they'd had by comm as soon as he'd turned his back on the scene of Helena's capture. Then again, if that meant the former soldier wasn't going to carry on with the short rebuke he'd given him about cutting comms during the chase, going on about all the benefits of open comms or something like that, that was fine by him.

 

"Why are you even helping her?" Tommy wanted to know, the angry accusation in his eyes like a knife. But it was one the other man had every right to wield.

 

"Tommy..." Oliver sighed, grimacing as he started loading the new gear up to go. "Sorry, I don't have time to explain—"

 

"Yes, you do." Felicity interrupted this time, turning her chair around to face him for the first time since he'd come in tonight.

 

This was the first time since he'd seen her since he had sent her away last night, because she hadn't answered her door later that evening. Not that he'd really expected her to. Once he'd been sure she was asleep in bed, safe, sleeping in his car outside hadn't been impossible, just uncomfortable. Though he'd been more than a little unhappy when he'd realized she'd left for her morning jog out the back door and deliberately taken a very different route from normal so that it took him almost twenty minutes to find her after he'd realized she'd left. Still he'd known better than to yell at her for it then, instead keeping his distance for the remainder of the route back. She'd known he was there, he was sure of that just from all the unnecessary twists and turns she'd thrown in there that'd made following her from a distance so hard. But she'd never slowed down or stopped to let him catch up: her sneakered feet pounding the pavement a lot faster than the normal leisurely run they'd started to make a habit of once he'd realized she really did normally jog too close to the Glades and wasn't going to stop doing it... all of that wasn't something he could talk to her about right now though. Even with Helena's snide comments about their jogs still cutting a route through the back of his head.

 

"Why are you doing this?" Felicity asked him now, her gaze locking with his while he frowned at her. "Helping her?"

 

"Fe-liss-ity..." Oliver sighed her name, because he couldn't growl it. "I don't have any choice!" he growled that, and gestured around them. "She knows everything!"

 

"I doubt that," Felicity shook her head far too calmly. "You two dated for what? A week? Maybe a few days more?" she raised an eyebrow, "I may not rush into relationships like she does, but I've known you—known about all of this—a lot longer than that, and I'm sure I don't know everything."

 

"That's not..." Oliver sighed again, and shook his head. "She knows I'm a vigilante, Felicity. The Vigilante."

 

"Yes." Felicity shrugged. "The police accused you of that before. Arrested you, even." She tilted her head this time, as if looking at him from a different angle would make their different views align. "That video you planted for them was better proof than a madwoman's word could ever be. A madwoman you took on a few dates. So any lawyer could easily paint her as a jealous ex without even paying too much attention to her obvious lack of sanity."

 

"No," Oliver shook his head, scowling. "I can't be accused again, Felicity. Last time it was only a few days before a hired gun came after me." He grimaced at the memory. "Who's to say they won't go after my family instead?"

 

"The S.C.P.D won't arrest you again, Oliver. Not on Helena Bertinelli's say-so." She responded evenly, sounding perfectly reasonable. "I can't imagine the D.A was happy with Detective Lance last time, but they'd have to crucify him if he did it again without concrete, absolute proof. Which, I'll say again, your psycho ex-girlfriend's word is not."

 

"He brought her here," Digg put in from where he was watching them with crossed arms. "Even gave her the password."

 

Felicity grimaced. "Yes, that's why I changed it just now, which—just F.Y.I; we should do a lot more often anyway. And a reason to set-up another base just in case."

 

"Wouldn't help us here if the police got a warrant," Oliver objected, because almost everything down here had to belong to the vigilante.

 

"On the homicidal, jealous ex's say-so?" the blonde shook her head. "If that's all you're worried about, we should just start moving out. There's plenty of warehouses nearby that'll let you pay all in cash and not ask any questions—or even want a real name. Give Digg a good disguise and some cash and there'd be almost no way for it to be connected to you." She paused for a breath, then added: "That's assuming you don't already have a second secret base?"

 

Oliver's face twitched. Because yes, he did. But he was still frowning. "The accusation alone would put my family in danger, Felicity. And you. All of you," he nodded towards Tommy and Digg, but kept his eyes locked with hers. "Forget the police task force that would be focusing on us. It'd get out that they were. If corrupt businessmen didn't start hiring hitmen right away, the Triad would still come after me just on principle."

 

"Principle, right," Felicity snorted, rolling her eyes. "I'm surprised you haven't already had that problem. Especially with your club."

 

"Hey now," Tommy objected, but he didn't say anything else. Likely didn't have any idea what to say.

 

Oliver blinked because he didn't know what she was getting at either. "What's wrong with..." he trailed off, and shook his head. "The club's a perfect cover."

 

"In theory it is. Definitely," Felicity nodded, before she rolled her eyes again. "Then you went and named it 'Verdant' to justify the green theme. And the 'V' in your sign? In all the signs? I mean, are they supposed to look like arrows pointing down?"

 

"What? No!" Oliver denied straight away, even though she'd hit very close to why he'd picked the name he had for the nightclub. He didn't think it was that obvious. And the V's just looked like V's... didn't they?

 

Diggle snorted, but didn't otherwise inject his smirking self back into the conversation he was still just watching with his arms exactingly crossed.

 

Tommy, too, stayed silent, though he was blinking like he was also only now making the mental connection to the imagery all around the new club as she drew it out for all of them. The few parts of the club's decor that Oliver himself had picked.

 

This time the brilliant woman's sigh sounded so tired Oliver wanted to refill her coffee cup for her, like had had more than a few times when she came here after all day at work, to help him through most nights. And that was before he'd really realized exactly how much and how hard she did work before she ever set foot in the Foundry each day. Never mind the days that started with them still here long after midnight, when she was headed home for barely a catnap before heading in to work while he and his bodyguard were still catching some shut eye. But tonight was the first night the vigilante could remember seeing her computer station without one of her coffee mugs on it for him to consider refilling, and he really didn't have the time to be arguing about any of this, let alone making coffee.

 

"Oliver, I know you tried to fix the timing problem. That that's why you had yourself arrested a few months ago. And all things considered it mostly worked, but it's not enough."

 

"Felicity—"

 

"No, Oliver, listen to me. Hiding all of this," she gestured around them, and he couldn't help but be a little relieved that even that wide gesture didn't make her wince anymore. "It isn't just the timing. It's not just one time. It's all the time. Every day. Everything you do."

 

"I know that, Felicity—"

 

"No! No, you don't!" Her golden ponytail whipped around as she snapped her head from side to side. "You might think you get it, but you're only looking at what's right in front of you. You're not seeing the big picture. Any of the big pictures."

 

"What'd you mean, Felicity?" Digg spoke up, his disciplined calm almost hiding his concern while Oliver tried to let the same dark emotion make him scowl at the earnest genius.

 

His tech-girl closed her eyes, looking so tired he thought again of how much she worked. Too much. He'd want to send her straight home to bed, but that wouldn't go over well even if they weren't already arguing.

 

Then she took a deep, slow breath, before her lashes went back up and her big blue eyes met his again. "Oliver, what sort of profile do you think the police are working with on 'The Vigilante?'"

 

"Modern day Robin Hood," he answered, tone turning a little sour all on its own.

 

Mostly he'd been able to ignore the comparisons. With all the similarities even he could see: the bow and arrow, stealing from the rich to give to the poor, and the same color choices, he probably should've expected it at some point.

 

To Oliver, though, it was Shado's hood, formerly her father's: Yao Fei's. Camouflage on the island that'd been lifesaving more than once, and a still useful disguise for him in the city, yeah. But he'd chosen to use it, to wear it, to honor both of them and everyone else he'd lost on the painful path from the clueless playboy to a man trying to finally fulfill his father's dying wish; to save his home and right his family's wrongs.

 

That, all of it, had nothing to do with some thief that'd probably always been more stories spun to entertain than any one real person had never come close to Oliver's thought process—let alone crossed it. At least not until the media started saying something about it just about every time they reported anything at all about him. Be it a statement from the S.C.P.D or something dug up by some resourceful journalist after they'd gotten a 'no comment' from the cops, or some variation of both mashed together. Like his wearing a hood and aiming arrows at anyone had to be compared to the guy whose men had to be beyond drunk while they sang merrily about wearing tight tights in the woods...

 

"Okay." Felicity nodded. "That was probably something that came up with Adam Hunt. Well before the media started running with it. That was almost six months ago. A month after that, they arrested you, then they had to let you go with apologies." She raised an eyebrow, her eyes still unwavering when he looked back at her. "What have the S.C.P.D learned about you since then?"

 

Oliver finally let himself scowl. "Detective Lance can't—"

 

"He's one man. The man in charge of the task force, yes. And yes, your trick probably made him doubt his judgment when it comes to you as Oliver Queen. Considering your history with his family I don't get how he was allowed to stay the lead detective on the case while investigating you. A lawyer's dream and a prosecutor's nightmare in a lot of ways—he's really lucky you didn't decide to press charges yourself. Though that might've kept attention you didn't want on you. But he's not the only one looking for the vigilante."

 

The archer certainly did not want to talk about Laurel or Sara, or anything to do with the Lance family right now. He wouldn't want to even if Tommy wasn't watching—or contemplating his hurt hand just to not be uncomfortably watching. So he focused only on the last part with a nod. "I know your neighbor's—"

 

"It's not just Nick. Or McKenna Hall, or Lucas Hilton either. There's two more detectives working the case with them and Lance. Six S.C.P.D detectives actively working to find you. Full time. Nonstop. Every time you put an arrow in anyone, the autopsy report is copied to all of them. And most of the thugs or drug dealers you intimidate in the Glades might not file police reports, but they could be someone's C.I. The white collar crooks? Some of them might not report their terrifying encounter with you, but many of them will. More since the thing back in December wasn't you."

 

"What's your point?" he ground out. Still wanting to head for the door sooner rather than later, but knowing deep down this wasn't a conversation he could just walk away from. Did it really have to happen now though?

 

"My point is almost every time you cross someone off your List? That name gets added to the S.C.P.D's list for you." The genius shook her head so sharply it looked like her hair was alive again as she threw her hands wide. "Everything you do, each time, gives away something about you. And there are a lot of people thinking about all of that, so you can't afford not to."

 

"I know that, Felicity," the vigilante sighed.

 

"Do you?" she cocked her head to the side to look at him.

 

"Yes."

 

The blonde nodded as if accepting what he was saying this time. "Then explain Helena Bertinelli to me."

 

Oliver couldn't help but deflate at that. "I thought I could help her. I was wrong. But now she knows too much—and I can't kill her. Or leave her in cuffs to talk."

 

They'd all talked about all of this already—minus Tommy. In bits and pieces apart more than together. With mostly censure and crossed arms from Diggle; and softer frowns and concern from Felicity. Tommy was the one this was all new to, so that was probably why he was just listening to everything while the other two went after the archer. From Digg he'd expected it, and he couldn't say he didn't deserve it from Felicity at this point, too. But what else could he say?

 

"Because," Felicity nodded deliberately. "The viability of her testimony won't matter till it comes to a trial, which you want to avoid," Felicity nodded. "But you're thinking damage control, Oliver, without seeing all the damage." She shook her head. "Say she hadn't been caught tonight. Say she realized it was a trap, got away and left town. Unlikely, but hypothetically, say it happened. Her brief return would still be a problem. Do you know why?" she demanded.

 

"No," Oliver sighed again, turning to double-check his quiver because he still did not have the time to be arguing about all this right now. "Enlighten me."

 

"Because the S.C.P.D knows Helena Bertinelli is the Huntress," Felicity responded so systematically he couldn't not see what she was getting at as she said it. "They know she started shooting a crossbow instead of a gun while she was working with the Hood. And, in that same timeframe, she was photographed a few times dating Oliver Queen." She shook her head again. "Just one reason her giving them your name will make sense, even if a lawyer can get it thrown out later."

 

"Which is why I have to go get her before she decides to say it!" Oliver exploded, turning to do just that since he now had all the gear he'd had to come back here for to make a raid on the S.C.P.D's central station even plausible.

 

Felicity's voice followed him, "The doors are locked, Oliver. And I just changed the password."

 

He stopped halfway across the room, vibrating with tension as she went on.

 

"You won't be able to unlock them. Not without blowing a hole through, or something like that, anyway. And then no one will need a password—or a warrant—to get in."

 

The vigilante spun back around, storming a few of the steps back towards her, but stopped just as suddenly as he recognized the security screens on each monitor. Not the one he'd installed months ago on the one computer he'd setup. This was the tech genius's upgraded system, which—while it was still supposedly a work-in-progress to get the already impressive setup 'just right'—wasn't something he would be able to get into on his own. And that was help that she wouldn't give him before she was ready, and he knew he didn't have it in him to even try to make her give him the key to either lock.

 

Not that Diggle would let him if he could. And the bodyguard wouldn't make any effort to help him either. Protecting the team was something he could count on the ex-soldier to not hesitate on, but saving Helena was something else all together.

 

And Tommy, while still watching nearby, wouldn't help him either. Even if he could... though the fact that he was still standing down here, listening, almost felt like it helped. But he didn't have time to think about that either right now.

 

"Fel-liss-ity," Oliver managed to growl her name out, barely. None of the animosity he could direct towards most people easily while wearing the Hood would come now. Not at her.

 

So, not surprisingly, his aggravation didn't faze her. "Oliver," she nodded, holding his gaze steady again. "Stop. Think. Please."

 

"Think about what?!" he demanded as he set the case of smoke grenades back down because he clearly wasn't going anywhere with them right this instant.

 

"About what the Hood rescuing the Huntress would mean. What it would do."

 

Oliver blinked at her. "What are you—"

 

"It'll give her credibility the next time she's caught. And she will be, if someone doesn't kill her first."

 

Oliver blinked at her again, incredulously.

 

Before he could think of a response, Diggle was speaking up again. "She's right, man," the former soldier uncrossed his arms, to stick his hands in his pockets as he thought about it. "Right now all the cops have got linking her to the vigilante are the complaints of a bunch of crooks. Lot of 'em probably contradicting each other." He shook his head. "You attack the police station to bust her out? That's the word of who knows how many cops."

 

"All of them trained observers," Felicity tacked on quickly. "That is proof. Even without their security cameras, those are just the whipped cream and cherry on top."

 

"So what?" Oliver snapped. "If she gives them my name now—"

 

"That's not proof." Felicity insisted. "And if Detective Lance is actually stupid enough to pretend it is without investigation—again—he'll lose his badge."

 

"He won't make that mistake a second time," Oliver ground out. "But the task force will start investigating me. Again."

 

Felicity's eyebrows seemed to rise in slow motion this time, and it felt like the warning it was. "What makes you think they ever stopped?"

 

"They dropped—"

 

"The charges, Oliver. Not the case." The genius shook her head as he stared at her, slower this time though, too; so her ponytail only barely swayed with the move. "They have to be more careful of you. That's why even Detective Lance treated you with kid-gloves when you were spotted meeting with Count Vertigo. He's about as bad as they come, and you were spotted with him by a cop. But all you got was, what? A warning? A verbal warning, not even on record, right?"

 

Each and every word she said just made it more and more obvious. One, that she really was a whole lot smarter than him; probably most other people, too. And two, that she was only thinking about all of this because she really did care... about him.

 

Oliver couldn't be angry with her for that, but he still had to go. He shook his head. "I was at the mansion being saved from a hitman by Lance when the Hood disrupted an arms deal across town. Can't be in two places at once."

 

"Two people can," she answered immediately. "That's how you did it. And even though none of the cops would like to think there might be more than one vigilante, that doesn't mean it won't occur to someone. Especially after the other archer went after all the same people as you."

 

He ignored the part about the man who'd almost killed him, because the so-called 'Dark Archer'—another Vigilante with yet another copy of The List—hadn't been seen in months. Hadn't done anything since he almost killed Oliver a few days before Christmas, and it wasn't like he'd been the first to almost do that—far from it.

 

"No," Oliver shook his head. "There's no reason they'd—"

 

"Most cops aren't stupid, Oliver. They can't afford to be. And detectives? They spend a lot of time thinking. About what they know, and what they don't." Felicity grimaced. "And if that idea pops? If it occurs to them that there might be more than one man in the hood? Why can't one of them be Oliver Queen?"

 

"Makes sense," Diggle agreed unhappily. "Leads right to me quick, too. No one asked why I wasn't at the mansion to stop the attack that night, but that's exactly where your bodyguard shoulda been. If Lance remembers I wasn't there—"

 

"You could've been anywhere in the mansion," Oliver objected. "Or I sent you home early 'cause it wasn't like I was going anywhere that night."

 

The bodyguard snorted. "With all the people at your stupid party that you gave the mansion security staff barely a few hours to prep for? I should've said 'no' without someone there to cover for me," he shook his head. "You and I know you don't need a real bodyguard, but that's supposedly what I've been getting paid for these last few months. Not something we want the S.C.P.D thinking about either."

 

"And he lives by himself, Oliver," Felicity added, softly now. "No one to confirm he was home. Or not."

 

The archer grimaced. "He was seen at the party."

 

"Till you sent me to stop an arms deal," Digg nodded.

 

"And wow, I really haven't had any idea of what's been going on most of the time..." Tommy's stunned sounding comment to himself was just barely loud enough for all of them to hear.

 

Oliver opened his mouth to try another defense, but then forced himself to stop, shaking his head as he took a deep breath. "We don't have time for this!" he bit out, and pointed at the computers. "Open the doors."

 

The blonde held his gaze for another long moment, her face pretty even in the absence of all the emotion and brightness that usually animated it to the point of pure beauty. Then she shook her head calmly, so slightly her hair didn't sway at all this time.

 

"Felicity!" he snapped her name out as harshly as he could. It was even harder  than the few times he'd tried to yell at Thea before she became a teenager while he was gone, but she didn't flinch.

 

"Oliver," she answered calmly, unperturbed.

 

"Open. The. Door. Now."

 

"No."

 

Oliver growled, but still he couldn't really direct his anger at this impossible situation Helena had put him in at Felicity. He knew she was trying to help. Knew she wasn't mostly wrong either. Mostly. So he took another breath, then tried more gently. "Felicity, please."

 

Her coldly calm mask immediately softened with warmth that he'd missed every second it wasn't there.

 

Then her computer beeped. Repeatedly.

 

BEEP-BEEP! BEEP-BEEP! BEEP-BEEP!

 

"What's that?" Oliver demanded, moving closer as she immediately turned and disengaged her impossible security system with a handful of flying keystrokes.

 

It was tempting to pull her away from the computers—gently, but firmly—as soon as she'd unlocked them. So he could finally get out of here. But those beeps sounded like an alarm. And the only thing he could think of that should trigger any of Felicity's alarm programs right now would be the S.C.P.D looking for Oliver Queen after the Huntress had given up his name. He didn't think Lance even could be that hasty again, but he'd been wrong before and could be again.

 

Felicity scanned quickly through the lines of code like it was more than a bunch of gibberish that only looked like it was made up of letters and numbers crammed together. "Something's happening... I think it's on the police scanner..." She hit a few keys and a man's voice came through her speakers.

 

"...Repeat," the S.C.P.D dispatcher's odd—almost wavering—voice got steadier as he finished. "All units resume patrol."

 

"Dispatch," another man's voice quickly followed over the radio. "What about the officers in need of assistance?"

 

"'Officers,' plural?" Digg caught it too.

 

"SWAT's got the station covered, patrol. Multiple buses are already here. Resume patrol." The dispatcher barely paused before going on brusquely, "All units, be on the lookout for two perps. One male, one female. Male approximately six-feet tall; may be dressed in all black. Female is twenty-five, white, brunette. May be wearing purple leather. Both are armed and extremely dangerous."

 

"What happened?" Oliver demanded, eyes already watching what the tech genius was looking at while Diggle muted the radio, all of them trusting that—however her programs did it—they'd know if something else came over the police scanners. "Who the hell broke her out?"

 

Felicity's hands flew over the keyboard for a few more moments, numerous windows popping up across her screens, some of them disappearing or being blocked by another window just as quickly. When she stopped typing seconds later it was to study what looked like surveillance footage.

 

Oliver's eyes narrowed as he realized it had to be the security system for the S.C.P.D, but he didn't really care how she'd done that so quickly. "Felicity?" he asked her again.

 

Whatever the hell had happened there was over, except for the mess it'd left behind. Fortunately—amazingly—that mess looked like a lot of people stumbling around, and not a lot of dead bodies. All of it a lot more chaotic than the normal controlled-anarchy the archer had used before to slip in and out unnoticed. With evidence, which while guarded wasn't expected to just get up and walk away on its own, so the security around it wasn't anywhere near as tight as it should be for a dangerous prisoner.

 

"Working on it," the blonde replied just as tersely, not looking at him anymore. After a few moments—in which he realized she wasn't really looking at the security footage, but at the window of code next to it—she nodded. "They didn't loop the footage. This is—well, was—live. Um, just a sec..."

 

The vigilante's eyes went back to the screen as surveillance footage from inside the S.C.P.D's main station as she gestured to it, watching as the grainy videos of police officers and detectives in the late evening hours went backwards—rewinding on command. "Slow it down," he told her when it started to go to fast for even his eyes to follow as Digg came up beside him to watch.

 

"Just a sec," Felicity replied. "The first alert was from almost fifteen minutes ago, it just didn't hit the radio for almost the first ten minutes, so..." she hit a few keys again.

 

Then they were watching as the cops and detectives were working again, without the stumbling, paramedics and all over disorder that was there now, in the present.

 

There were some of the same people that'd be there later. The only one that looked shaky on their feet so far was an obviously angry drunk that four beat cops were escorting to lock-up. Some of the detectives he knew Lance worked with were obviously anticipating something—Felicity's neighbor kept glancing down the hall from his desk as he talked on the phone—but no one was rushing around like something had just exploded.

 

Oliver stiffened as Helena appeared, in cuffs with Lance and McKenna Hall on either side of her, being led to interrogation. "Anything from inside the—"

 

"Different system," the tech interrupted, tapping a few keys again. "Here it is."

 

Another video appeared, that was maybe a little clearer than the images from the hallway. Newer camera probably.

 

Lance kept an eye on Helena as McKenna sat her down. But the brunette didn't put up any fight at all. She just watched them, not seeming to care as the pair of detectives then turned and left the room.

 

Apparently leaving her alone to stew and get more worried. Not that that'd likely work on her. Why would it? She was fully expecting him to rescue her. Knew he had to. So she didn't expect to be there long at all.

 

"Fast forward," Oliver ordered with a frown. "Slowly."

 

"No, wait," Digg said before the blonde could comply. "Look," he pointed at one of the hallway shots.

 

Where one of the officer's had been bracing themselves against the wall, coughing for a moment. Another took a step towards them, as if to ask if he was alright, and stumbled. Then both of them started to sag towards the floor. The civilian that was sitting in a nearby chair was clearly already insensible as the pair passed out.

 

Oliver's eyes darted over all the other miniature images as the same scenario seemed to be happening—in some of them.

 

Outside the interrogation room, Lance had caught McKenna before she could fall face first to the floor, but his knees were buckling even as he did it.

 

The rest of the room wasn't in any better shape. One of the detectives at the desks had face-planted into his paperwork while reaching for a coffee mug that ended up shattered and spilled on the floor. Another had slipped sideways off his chair, barely missing cracking his head open on another desk.

 

The only one still awake for some very long seconds was Felicity's neighbor. Detective... Nick something-or-other. He wasn't on the phone anymore. He'd managed to get up a few steps down the hall where they'd all started collapsing first, before his knees were giving out too. He visibly struggled against it the whole way down, trying to keep his chin up and point his gun down that hall. Until his eyes finally rolled back in his head, and he passed out with his gun still in hand, his own weight still holding him partially propped up against the wall as he nodded off, too.

 

"Knock out gas," Digg stated the obvious.

 

"Looks like," the vigilante agreed.

 

"So-So Laurel's dad's gonna be okay, right?" Tommy asked shakily.

 

Making Oliver's eyes fly back to the window where he'd seen the detective fall: where everyone was clearly out cold.

 

"He should be," Felicity answered reassuringly. "Remember there are already E.M.T's there. They'd take him to the hospital if he wasn't one of the ones that was already up on their own—but it looked like a lot of them were, I think."

 

From what Oliver remember that was true, but he was already frowning as he looked at the interrogation room again.

 

There, Helena was out cold, too.

 

"Wait, how did she..." he trailed off as the images all went dark.

 

No, not all. Just the interrogation room, the bullpen and the hallway. All around that floor, if he had to guess. It looked like all the other cameras were still going: recording dozens of victims of what was obviously some kind of mass-attack using sleeping gas.

 

"Why would they cut the cameras?" Digg asked.

 

Felicity immediately shook her head. "They didn't... look, they're still recording," she pointed towards the dark screens, which did have the timestamps still changing by the second in the corner of their frame.

 

"They killed the lights?" Oliver realized. "But not the power." He shook his head then. "Why? And who are 'they'?" he demanded, even though neither one of his teammates could obviously know that.

 

Felicity actually flinched a little in her seat, and the sight of her shrinking away from him, even just a little, made the archer himself wince.

 

"Sorry," Oliver found himself saying without even thinking about it as he gently gripped her shoulder, forcing his fingers to loosen, to gentle just a little bit more in case it was tighter than he'd thought. His frown deepened a little as she seemed to only shrink further under his hand—she'd never shied away from him before. Hell, just a few minutes ago she wasn't giving a single inch as he yelled at her.

 

Felicity shook her head before he could decide if he should ask something or apologize again. "No, it's not—you don't need to apologize," she told him, hands starting to move over her keyboard again. Just a little too slowly for her. "I know it's frustrating... let me see if I can..."

 

All the men stayed quiet as she trailed off, and for a few more long seconds there was only the slightly too slow sounds of her typing echoing around the basement.

 

Click-click.

Click. Click-click.

Click. Click-click-click.

Click. Click. Click.

 

"There," she stopped to point at another screen even as it opened, her emerald-green nail sparkling over the grainy black-and-white image.

 

Oliver vaguely recognized the alleyway only because he'd considered it as a place to ambush Lance; back before Deadshot's attack on the UNIDAC industry's auction. He'd decided it was better to wait for him to walk all the way out to his car in the police lot: and the camera right over that side door had been a big part of that decision.

 

The man walking out was only a vague shape in the shadows that were very long without the lights from inside the building to illuminate him and the door blocking the spotlight as it opened. When it swung shut behind them he was still a departing black shape. Obviously fit, around six feet like the S.C.P.D had guessed themselves, and not just all in black; but in what looked like all black body-armor. His outline was a bit too uniform, too rigidly lined, for it to just be from muscle.

 

Helena was thrown over his shoulder, clearly completely out of it still, just like all the cops inside. He didn't seem to be paying her much mind either, so whatever he'd knocked her—and more than a few of the S.C.P.D—out with was undoubtedly supposed to keep them out of it for a while longer.

 

Oliver was about to ask his new girlfriend to repeat the timeframe to get some idea, but stopped as the image got a little clearer another few steps away from the camera. Not completely clear... but the bow harnessed over a quiver full of arrows was unmistakable to another archer's eyes. Despite the darkness and the inert Helena hanging there too.

 

"Is that..." Digg trailed off in question.

 

"A bow," Oliver nodded slowly: wanting to un-see it. Or for the image to change right in front of his eyes. No, more than almost.

 

But it wasn't happening. The shadowy shape wasn't changing as the man on the screen walked steadily away without a care for the police station he'd just stolen a wanted criminal from. The audacity of it alone was reminiscent of that 'ransom video' he'd called The Hood out with back in December, all but confirming the unwanted realization that'd shot to mind as soon as he saw the weapons and the armor.

 

"The Dark Archer..." he said it softly, not wanting to believe it. If he were more superstitious he might think his earlier thoughts had summoned the man.

 

Next to him Digg stiffened, "Wait, you think that was the other archer rescuing her?"

 

The 'Dark Archer' or the 'other archer' were the names the S.C.P.D had attributed to the man, at least indirectly, and just like they'd thereby picked the two names he was known by: 'The Hood' and 'The Vigilante,' it had seemed to stick. Even though he hadn't been seen at all this year... until now.

 

"Apparently... " Felicity opined dryly.

 

She was tense, too. Oliver couldn't say whether it was because Helena wasn't behind bars anymore, even though he wasn't the one that'd rescued her, or if it was because of this man that she'd only heard about in passing. As someone who had, after all, put him in the hospital. He could identify with the second himself, and he could not hold the first against her.

 

"Why would he help your psycho-ex?" his bodyguard asked the obvious question that the vigilante hadn't wanted to ask himself.

 

Oliver started to shake his head, but stopped—a new rush of alarm bursting through him—as he realized the answer. "He wants to know who I am."

 

"What?" Felicity was still frowning at him when he looked back at her again but now she looked more confused than unhappy. "You guys mean the guy that tried to kill you before Christmas, right?" she was shaking her head even before both of them nodded. "There hasn't been any sign of him for months. Why would he bother coming back now?"

 

Apparently then, it had been Helena's unexpected escape she was unhappy with before if she was just making that connection now.

 

"He stole her from the S.C.P.D for the same reason the Major Case Squad was focused on her, like you said," Oliver replied, not biting the words out only because she was staring at him with so much concern clear in her eyes. "Because she's tied to me. Because she knows who I am." He started to turn towards the doors again. "I have to—"

 

"Have to what?" Felicity cut him off.

 

Oliver looked back at her in shock, because how could she still not want him to go now?

 

Her eyes were narrowed behind her glasses as she went on without waiting for any answered. "To save her? You're not seriously thinking that, are you?"

 

"Not that simple, Felicity," Diggle spoke up before he could muster a response. "If he finds out from her who the Hood is, none of us are safe. That man's a killer. And even if he kills her when he's done, he'll just come after all of us next."

 

"Well, yeah," the blonde allowed with a wince that was probably related to the fact that the bodyguard was starting to back him up. "But it might not even be him. I mean, the all black body-armor can't be impossible to find, right? And you picked up archery on an island somehow, but that doesn't mean everyone that wants to learn it has to get shipwrecked themselves for a few years to do it."

 

Oliver could only stare at her for several long moment, too horrified by the very idea of there being another other archer to speak at first.

 

"Not sure which worries me more now," Digg said carefully. "The thought that the other archer is after you again right now, or that that might be someone else. 'Cause that'd mean you've started some kind of movement."

 

The second was definitely worse, thought the other archer being back wasn't great either. Hearing it said aloud, however, snapped him out of staring at his girlfriend. "I don't want to start a movement," he snapped at the ex-soldier immediately.

 

"Why not?" Tommy wondered, raising his hands in surrender when the archer's glare turned to him and wincing when that move made his hand hurt. "I'm just saying, if what you're doing is good, and they're copying you..."

 

The wince made it stop glaring at the man that maybe, might still be his friend, but he still had to shake his head as he admitted, "I don't like the idea that somebody dangerous is out there..."

 

Tommy didn't say anything in response, but both his eyebrows shot straight up.

 

"Somebody else," the vigilante amended with an eye roll. "'Cause typically?" he shook his head. "They don't show my level of restraint."

 

Felicity wasn't watching him when he looked back at her again, which surprised him a little. It made him wonder what she was thinking about, but not knowing where he had to go to find Helena now didn't mean they had any time to waste.

 

"Either way," Oliver carefully placed his hand on his new girlfriend's shoulder again, and gently squeezed it when she blinked up at him: glad that this time at least she hadn't jumped or shrunk away. "I need you to find them. Can you..." he trailed off to nod towards her computers, a little surprised she wasn't already volunteering something since she'd seemed so at ease with pre-empting him with what he needed before. "Hack more cameras or... uh, something?"

 

The computer genius blinked at him for another long moment, then her brow furrowed. "But they covered almost all the cameras they needed to—"

 

"By killing the lights inside," the vigilante nodded. "But he didn't bother with the alley. So maybe—"

 

Bzzzt...

Beep-Beep!

 

The sound of Oliver's phone vibrating almost at the same time as Felicity's computers beeped again made them all pause. He took the phone out as the genius started typing again, but she spoke up before he'd unlocked it.

 

"It's her. They—He, I mean, must've let her go? She's fine," Felicity jerked her chin towards the phone when his eyes darted back to her. "Well, she's mad about you not rescuing her yourself from the looks of that text, but—"

 

"You hacked my phone?" the vigilante asked her, blinking between her and locked, supposedly military-grade encrypted phone.

 

"Is that judgment I'm hearing?" His girlfriend didn't look at him as she answered, eyes on her computer screen while she typed some more.

 

"No," Oliver shook his head slowly, knowing a trap when it was laid out before him. "Pride," he answered honestly.

 

Not just because it was a way around that trap, but because it was true. The ARGUS phone was supposed to be completely secure from everyone but ARGUS, but Felicity had hacked it. Probably when she was working to make their comm system in general more secure, but the fact that she'd been able to do it—with Waller's people apparently none-the-wiser since she hadn't sent any single the device was no longer considered secure—was amazing. Remarkable, just like this woman was in every way...

 

The surprised smile the response earned him was a more than welcome change from the tension in the room. "She wants you to meet her," Felicity told him, voice a little warmer. A little more her.

 

"Course she does," Diggle snorted.

 

For the first time in a while, Tommy spoke up, too. "Doesn't sound like a good idea, buddy."

 

Oliver blinked at the best friend he was only starting to hope didn't hate him now, but then he shook his head once again. "I've gotta get her to go. To leave town." He looked at Felicity. "I booked her a ticket—"

 

"To Rome for tonight, yeah. Joanna De Santis is all checked in. She can fly out of Starling International in a couple of hours. I'll print it out now," Felicity clicked a few keys as the nearby printer came on and started spitting something out. "She has enough time to get through security, the airport's not that busy tonight."

 

"Wait, you can hack the T.S.A, too?" Tommy asked, sounding more shocked than he really should. "Isn't that... uh, really hard?"

 

No, hacking his bank accounts and keeping track of all his communications should be hard. Ideally, hacking the group responsible for securing all flights around the country should be impossible. But the military-level encryption of the phones provided to him by ARGUS should be even harder.

 

Not that that was something Tommy should understand well enough to be adequately impressed by without knowing about any of the important facts. And he was probably still assuming, at least a little, that the main reason Felicity was involved was because Oliver was dating her. Given his track record, the idea that he might've started working with her long before he asked her on a date likely hadn't occurred to his former wingman.

 

"I can if I have to," Felicity confirmed evenly.

 

How easily she said it made Oliver exchange a quick smile with Digg, even while his mind was both listening to her go on and going over what the hell the other rescuing Helena and then letting her go could mean.

 

"But I'm just looking through the airport's security system now. The T.S.A has access to it, just like they have access to the No Fly List, but they don't control either one. Not that that matters," the blonde shook her head much more gently than she had earlier, and met Oliver's eyes again. "If the S.C.P.D sends a request to the F.B.I to add her to the No Fly List—"

 

"They'll do it," Oliver nodded. "She's a known serial killer who came from a mob family—

 

"And she's tied to an attack on a police station now," Digg added. "They'll call that terrorism."

 

The vigilante nodded again, unable to deny it. "How long?" he asked, looking back at Felicity. "Before she's on that list?"

 

Felicity frowned, shaking her head slowly. "Hard to say. There's no F.B.I office here in Starling—there probably should be, but the closest one's in Milwaukee. It's not like they have to send someone on a horse though, they'll just email or fax it. Or both."

 

"Might call over after what just happened tonight," Digg pointed out.

 

"They might," Felicity nodded. "Once whoever handles the vetting and approvals there gets it thought," she shrugged. "Like you said, they don't really have any reason to not add her."

 

"So? How long?" Oliver pressed.

 

Felicity sighed. "It probably won't happen tonight, because it's late and it is Sunday. Can't promise she won't be on it by tomorrow morning though."

 

"Can you..." Oliver shook his head. "Do anything?"

 

Felicity looked at him for a moment, then glanced at her computer, then back at him. "About her being labeled a terrorist?" she shook her head. "Why would I want to?"

 

"Uh, maybe we should..." Tommy started uncertainly, stepping towards the door while looking at Digg, but the bodyguard didn't look ready to go anywhere and neither one of them needed to.

 

"No, you two can stay," Oliver told them sharply, immediately turning his attention away from Tommy's disbelief and Digg's smirk and focusing on the genius again. "Felicity, the harder it is for her to leave, the harder it'll be for us to make her leave."

 

"That's why she has to leave tonight and you should go be really persuasive about that," she replied evenly. "Like, now, 'cause the text you didn't look at? It really wasn't very nice."

 

"But the alias I created for her will—"

 

"Will hold up, tonight," Felicity told him, shaking her head again. "After that? She'll have to be a lot more careful picking airports, 'cause her picture will be in the system."

 

"What does that mean?" Tommy asked, while the vigilante sighed because he already had a pretty good idea of what she was talking about.

 

The tech genius sighed. "It probably means no international airports, definitely not ours—because I know they have facial recognition software here. When you fly back into the country and they scan your passport?" she explained at Tommy's confused look. "Your face is being checked against the Terrorist Screening Database—that's what the No Fly List comes from, mostly. It can be fooled, of course, but it'd probably be better if she just avoided it."

 

"Well that means once she's in Rome she won't be able to come back, right?" Tommy sounded a lot happier at the idea, now that he was getting it.

 

But that was the point, and Felicity wasn't wrong—now she was the one saying he should go, after all.

 

"Not without being arrested, and she'll know that," Oliver nodded.

 

"That's why you want her flying out of the country," Digg realized.

 

The vigilante just finally picked up the pages from the printer, quickly folding them to stick them in the envelope that already held the passport he'd booked the flight under last night. "I should go," he told them, turning towards the door again. "I'll be back soon."

 

Tommy's cough made him pause, because the cut-off billionaire had a twisted wrist, not a cold, and that specific clearing of the throat was too deliberate to miss. When Oliver frowned at him in question, he jerked his chin towards the side door, but only waited till they were a few steps away before he spoke to him softly. "You're not seriously going to run off to your ex without fixing things with Smoaky first, are you?" he asked with a frown. "Don't remember you ever being that dumb without a lot of booze bein' involved, Ollie. And we were both pretty dumb kids back then."

 

The vigilante blinked at him, looking back towards where Felicity was still working on something on the computers—and Diggle was watching Tommy approvingly—before blinking at the other man. "There's nothing to—"

 

"This is your first fight, right?" Tommy cut him off, shaking his head. "And right now it's only on pause, Ollie. You really wanta let her keep stewing while you go meet the bondage bitch?"

 

That made Oliver blink again, but he knew better than to blame his friend for any dislike he held towards the woman that'd used him as leverage. Just like he knew that Digg and Felicity were both right. Not that he wasn't right, too, in some ways—but it did make the situation more complicated.

 

He was surprised that Tommy was actually speaking up about this, but doubted it was really for him. It was more likely that the other man liked Felicity. That maybe he thought she was the only good thing, the only truth Oliver had voluntarily shared with him since his return. It seemed much more likely than the possibility of his former wingman forgiving him already, or anytime soon. It was Felicity.

 

Oliver sighed, "I'll talk to her later tonight," he said, even though it was starting to feel like he'd never leave so being anywhere 'later tonight' could never come.

 

"Pretty sure she won't still be here," Tommy opined.

 

The vigilante frowned, knowing he was likely right. He looked back at the blonde again and winced when he realized she was frowning.

 

It was hard to see with her looking away from him, but she didn't quite have her back to him. The back of her chair was, but she wasn't leaning against it: she was sitting straight up, spine stiff and shoulders back. And she was typing at less than half her normal speed: the click of the keys almost accusing in their slowness. How had he missed all that before?

 

Click. Click. Click... Click.

 

Oliver swallowed, "Thanks," he nodded to the other man as he tucked the envelope for Helena in his inner coat pocket. Then he walked back over to her, stopping a little farther away from the computers than he normally might, and slowly raising one hand to rest on her shoulder.

 

She didn't jump or stiffen. He hadn't surprised her, which would've been bad.

 

Click... Click. Click. Click... Click.

 

She did stop typing entirely as Tommy headed out upstairs to the new club he should probably be managing right now, while Digg just gave them some room. But she didn't look at him then, either.

 

Oliver swallowed again, then made himself say, "I'm sorry." The words were spoken softly, but she heard them. He could tell in the way her shoulder relaxed just a little under his palm.

 

"For what?" Felicity asked him just as softly, still looking at her monitors instead of turning to him again.

 

That seemed like another trick question, but he tried not to think about it too much. "For worrying you." Oliver shook his head, giving her a gentle squeeze. "I didn't realize... that aspect of all this bothered you so much."

 

Felicity looked up at him, her brow furrowing a little. "Of course it bothers me, Oliver. If they catch you..."

 

"I'll go to prison, I know." He nodded when she trailed off. "You and Digg might, too."

 

He didn't tell her that someone who had the power to get him out had all but said she would if that happened, because he was too useful to be left rotting behind bars. That wouldn't help her or Diggle if they went down with him. And it wasn't like he ever wanted work for ARGUS again—officially or not. It was one thing to trade favors with Amanda Waller just like he did with the Bratva, another thing entirely to let her cage and collar him again. No matter how nice the cage ever was.

 

The genius sighed and sagged in her seat a little as her eyes dropped closed. "Do you really think I'm that selfish?"

 

"What?" Oliver blinked at her, then quickly shook his head. "No. I—"

 

Felicity talked right over him. "If someone from the S.C.P.D tries to break into our network, Oliver, it'll commit suicide. All the data will delete and overwrite itself—twice—and then every device here will incinerate its own hardware. Remember, I told you that was why you had to know the passwords?"

 

"You didn't tell me all of them," he frowned, shaking his head. "And I thought you were kidding when you said the computers would blow up."

 

"Why would I ever joke about destroying my babies?" She sounded completely serious as she said that, so it didn't feel like the safest subject to pursue either.

 

Instead he reminded her, "They could still find your fingerprints down here. D.N.A."

 

The semi-serious—or maybe entirely serious—frown melted off her face as she rolled her eyes and leaned backwards to rest her head on the chair as she looked up at him. "You wanted everything as secure as possible for the club, 'cause you do know you built this place in the Glades. Someone you'd already met, with a background in cyber security—like me—would be an obvious, smart choice.  So you borrowed me from Q.C to do some I.T setup for Verdant. Your name's on the building, remember? I would've been stupid not to take the job."

 

"We're dating now, so they'd be looking at you anyway," Oliver pointed out, then winced. "If you still—"

 

"I'm not breaking up with you because we had an argument," Felicity cut him off, turning her chair towards him, not seeming to notice his hand moving along her shoulder without causing her any pain. "Are you dumping me for caring about you?" she asked, slowly tilting her head with the question.

 

"No." Oliver swallowed, "Of course not."

 

"Good." Felicity gave him a small smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "I'm glad."

 

"Me too."

 

Some more of the blonde's regular warmth entered the blues of her eyes at that, but she also looked... tired, he realized. Which only reminded him of how much she'd apparently been working—and therefore not sleeping—for far too long. Especially if it really went all the back to when Walter went missing. Months ago.

 

Oliver reached one hand up to cup her jaw. Now more than a little relieved that she hadn't thought of staying to monitor the comms or anything like that: like she had when they were working to save Tommy's father from the Triad.

 

She had been undeniably useful that night. If not for her hacking security to keep a watchful eye over the place while everything went down, they'd have no idea now that Malcolm Merlyn was more than he seemed. Tommy hadn't said anything about the two men his father had so easily killed in front of him.

 

So Oliver still wasn't sure how to look into that. Not because he didn't know there was a need: that was about as obvious as a fist in the face. With the potential to do a lot more damage and linger a lot longer than a black eye, broken nose or busted jaw if the C.E.O of Merlyn Global Group being more than he seemed traced back to The List. As it probably did. After all, Oliver's mother had a copy of the List, and his father had said he wasn't the only one who failed their city. He'd been relieved to not see the Merlyn name in that book: both the copy he carried and the one he let his mother burn. Because had had looked through the whole mint condition book, copying down all the names he hadn't know. Queen, Merlyn and a number of other family friends weren't in there... but that didn't necessarily mean they didn't have their own copies just like Robert Queen had had his. The Dark Archer had one, and so might Malcolm Merlyn...

 

But after urging his childhood friend to try and make up with the dad that'd never been there for him—just because he had the opportunity that Oliver could never have—and then fighting to safeguard the man's life... Telling Tommy the truth felt like a punch he couldn't throw. Not when he knew the other man would prefer all the damage a real punch would do to the emotional blow this one could inflict. Whoever made up the saying about sticks, stones and words had obviously led a very boring, un-dramatic and maybe emotionless life.

 

It was already a huge surprise that Tommy had been down here tonight. Not saying much, but listening in—trying to learn—and here. Because, like Felicity and Digg, he cared. Maybe enough to still want their friendship to survive...

 

So how could Oliver say anything to him about his father? How could he say a single thing against Malcolm Merlyn to the son that'd almost lost him on that night Tommy was undoubtedly trying to forget? Let alone ever consider using him to investigate the older Merlyn?

 

But Malcolm Merlyn wasn't the problem right now, and Oliver didn't need Felicity here monitoring what he and Digg were saying to each other when she could be headed home to bed. So she could go home and get some much needed sleep. It was also a relief that—somehow—there still weren't bags under her eyes. So that sleeplessness hadn't done any clear damage... yet. A benefit of youthful regeneration that wouldn't last too many more years.

 

Oliver just cupped her jaw for a moment, smiling as she leaned into his hand a little, unbothered by the bowman's glove. Then he made himself say, "You should head home. Get some sleep."

 

Felicity pulled away at that. "I will..." she answered, stepping away to grab her coat off her chair.

 

He took it from her without even thinking about it, holding the garment up to help her put it on. It seemed too small to really be a coat: more of a sweater, really, but then she was pretty small herself, so she fit into the sleeves and could tuck the whole thing tightly around herself.

 

"Thanks," Felicity said softly as she tied the coat off instead of buttoning it up. She'd looked down as she'd tied the bow, and studied it a moment longer after she'd finished, but then she made herself look up at him again. "Be careful with her tonight?" she pleaded softly, shaking her head as she hurried on before he could answer. "I know you want to believe she's not as bad as Digg thinks she is, but anger and hate can make a person do things they normally wouldn't. So just, be careful, okay? Please?"

 

Oliver sighed, knowing she was right and not able to be angry with her for caring. "Okay," he agreed softly, then stepped forward to wrap his arms around her, leaning down to press a kiss to her forehead.

 

Not her lips. Though it was tempting. It wouldn't help, neither one of them was in the mood right now, and he really didn't have the time. He should've left a long time ago already. So pressing his lips to her forehead for a moment, holding her at least that long as she relaxed into his arms, had to be enough.

 

"I'll stop by after, all right?" Oliver asked her, still holding her but leaning back a bit so he could meet her eyes as she looked up at him.

 

"You don't have to..."

 

The vigilante shook his head, frowning a little. "I want to," he told her, hesitated just a second, then admitted. "Helena already knows where you live."

 

The blonde tensed in his arms, all the calmness of a second ago gone right away. But she wasn't afraid, she was scowling. "Of course she does," she sighed, shaking her head. "I'm a big girl, I don't need—"

 

"You want me to be careful with her," the vigilante cut in to remind her. "And I hope she takes the plane ticket, but if she doesn't..." he sighed. "There's plenty of security at the mansion. Digg's had them on high-alert since she first showed up there. If you want to move in while—"

 

"Oliver, I just met your family last night," Felicity reminded him, pulling away, but not trying all that hard when he didn't let her go. "I can't move into the mansion the next day. And you don't need to babysit—"

 

"Please, Felicity," he interrupted again, holding her eyes when she blinked at him. "We don't know what she'll do. We don't know what the other archer is doing. It's just safer, okay?"

 

Their gazes locked for several more moments he shouldn't be spending arguing, instead of just showing up later. After all, he had slept in worse places than her rooftop.

 

But finally she sighed. "Okay... I guess I'll see you at my place later tonight."

 

This time when she pulled away he made himself let her, watching as she reached for her purse and threw the strap over her shoulder.

 

She went up on her tiptoes to place a kiss to his cheek. "Be careful."

 

Oliver shook his head as he followed her, and pretended not to notice the smirk on their third team member's face when they finally reached the side door a few seconds later. "Take her home," he told the other man instead.

 

"What?" Felicity stopped just between Digg and the door to look back at him, blinking once again. "No." She shook her head, then pointed between the bodyguard and the archer. "No, he's going with you. Digg, you're going with him, aren't you?"

 

Oliver frowned at her, "No, he's—"

 

"She's right, man," Diggle cut him off this time, still leaning against the wall with his huge arms crossed once more. "You're the one that's going off to meet up with your insane ex and maybe the guy that put you in the hospital a few months ago."

 

The vigilante's frown turned into a full scowl. "Helena wouldn't—"

 

"Wouldn't what?" Digg asked. "Work with a guy that'd probably put an arrow in her dad without a second's hesitation after she helps him kill you?"

 

"Whether the other archer's there or not, the—Helena will be," Felicity reminded him. "So there's no reason for Digg to go anywhere with me. And you said you'd be careful with her."

 

Oliver started to shake his head, but she went on before he could respond.

 

"My car's right outside. Both of you can watch me get in it and drive away if you want." The blonde met his eyes again. "But you need backup a lot more than I do, Oliver. You realize that, right?"

 

The vigilante sighed.

 

His bodyguard spoke up again then, "If that guy's there, man, you could need the backup. Might even want it."

 

That was true... and it was possible that the Dark Archer—as the S.C.P.D had started calling him in their files after the fact—had just rescued Helena and let her go as bait for him. So it made sense.

 

He'd still rather send the former soldier with Felicity to make sure she got home all right and stayed that way, but he knew better than to keep arguing about it when he wasn't going to win them over. It'd be a waste of time that might end with Helena getting impatient instead of waiting for him to come to her. It was lucky that she hadn't come straight here, as she could've already led the other archer to them, instead of waiting somewhere for him. To ambush. Or just watch, so he could try and follow and learn more about him, since there had to be a reason that he hadn't made another appearance after beating him half to death back in December...

 

"Fine." Oliver made himself nod, holding her gaze as he assured her, "See you soon."

 

"Right," the blonde nodded again, but didn't open the door to head out yet. Instead she worried her lower lip for a moment, then met his eyes again. "Call me, okay? Once you're—when you're on your way, I guess? After she heads to the airport?"

 

The archer blinked at her, not sure why she'd requested that, but then nodded slowly. "Sure."

 

"Thanks," Felicity flashed him a smile that made her look a little less tired from the brightness of it alone. Then she did hit in the code that'd open the door, which was different now and more than twice as long as it'd been before last night.

 

Digg had told him she'd changed it remotely, which had irritated him a little at the time, but he hadn't had any trouble remembering the new sequence so far and he had more than enough things to worry about already as it was.

 

So Oliver didn't say anything as he followed her out into the alley, and further down it towards the rear parking lot for employees. He preferred when she parked in the alley itself, but her minuscule car hadn't been here when he'd arrived, so of course it wasn't here now.

 

Felicity glanced at his bike as they walked by it, but the soft words she started saying weren't about that. "I tied that ticket and passport into our surveillance system," she told him softly enough to ensure only he and Diggle would hear her. "So we'll know when she boards and when it takes off. She'll have to hurry to make it in time, but there's another one if she misses it. They'll tell her at check-in if it's transferred automatically. You might not wanna tell her that, though."

 

"Better to make her leave sooner if we can," Digg commented as he followed them down the alley. Both men shortening their strides so the blonde didn't have to hurry, though the sounds of her heels clicking lightly on the pavement still seemed to echo quickly in the alley.

 

At this point even the vigilante couldn't even try to disagree at all. They'd all prefer if Helena left town in a hurry. Well, he'd prefer if she hadn't come back at all, but what was done couldn't be undone.

 

"That's me," Felicity said unnecessarily as they reached the end of the alley, pointing to her the vehicle that was the closest one in the lot to the alley. "And you can't follow me to it," she told him with a small smile as she looked at him again. "You really don't want someone wandering out here for a cigarette break or something and seeing the vigilante walking me to my car in the employees only parking lot."

 

"Probably not," Digg chuckled.

 

Oliver grimaced, but agreed. "We'll watch from here."

 

Felicity actually rolled her eyes. "Stay safe," she told him again, before she went up on her tiptoes another time to press her lips ever-so-lightly to his cheek once more. Then she was walking quickly away, and Oliver was trying not to smile as he watched her until she'd climbed in, started the engine, put her seatbelt on and finally backed out and drove away.

 

"Better get going," Digg said a moment later, after her taillights had finally turned out of sight.

 

Oliver only nodded, turning back around to head for his bike while the bodyguard went for the most inconspicuous of all the cars in the Queen garage... which, looking at it now, he should probably by his partner some cheaper looking vehicles for everything related to being the Vigilante.

 

But that was for another night. Right now he had to climb on his bike and head for the meeting place Helena had selected... and hope she was the only one waiting there for him when he got there.

Chapter Text

John Diggle's P.O.V.

 

John frowned as he looked through his sniper rifle down the alley that the vigilante was just about to turn in. “Arrow, you sure this is the place?”

 

Yeah, why?” the archer's reply wasn't quite drowned out by the roar of his motorcycle in the background. “I'm almost there.”

 

It was left unsaid that he wasn't planning on stopping no matter what his bodyguard had to say. Short of this actually being an impossibly elaborate S.C.P.D trap or the ambush they were half expecting being way over the top... maybe.

 

John couldn't stop his eyes from rolling. "'Cause she's not there.”

 

What?” the other man snapped. “Say again, Freelancer.”

 

“She's not there," the former soldier repeated, frowning as he stopped himself again from saying the other man's name. “The Huntress is not in the alley. It's empty.”

 

Barely a second later the deliberately nondescript motorcycle turned into that alley with its more describable rider. His black, fully face-shielded helmet effectively hid both his face and his hood, but the rest of his all-green outfit along with the bow and arrows on his back still stood out even if the lack of light made everyone a little color blind.

 

She didn't wait," Oliver growled a moment later.

 

“Or maybe she wasn’t here in the first place.” John shook his head. “You're not really surprised, are you?”

 

Not helping, Freelancer," the vigilante growled back. “Where would she go now?”

 

He'd hope that she'd head out of town before the cops could find her without bothering them again, since her father was obviously too well hidden by the U.S Marshalls for her to ever have a chance at finding him on her own.

 

It's not like she can find her father on her own,” The vigilante's words were more for himself, but they set off alarms inside the bodyguard's head.

 

“No," John swallowed, already starting to take his rifle apart and put it back in its box as quickly as he could while he went on. “But she knows who can.”

 

What?” Oliver clearly hadn't made the same connection. “Who?”

 

Fel—Oracle," John remembered to make himself use her codename, not because it was likely that anyone would be listening in on them now, but because it wasn't impossible. A distinction their tech genius had made a point of clarifying, and after all the other good points she'd thrown at them not too long ago tonight he couldn't ignore the earlier ones that'd made a lot of sense, too.

 

What? No—"

 

“Yes," John insisted as he slammed the rifle case closed and started running for the stairs with it in hand. “Remember last night, she said she could.”

 

I’m sure she can," Oliver agreed, his motorcycle roaring to life again in the background even as he tried to reassure himself. “But Helena doesn't know that.”

 

“She was standing right there, Arrow!” John snapped back at him, taking the stairs by two and three at a time and flipping himself around the corners as fast as he could with the rifle case in one hand. “Unless she's deaf and really good at reading lips, she had to have heard her.”

 

Unfortunately, that couldn’t be the case though, because the bodyguard had seen her react to peripheral noises before.

 

The only response for several long moments was the sound of the motorcycle in the background. “She wouldn't...,” the other man tried to deny it, but he couldn't even make himself finish saying something he knew was completely untrue. The sound of his tires peeling on the pavement in the background gave that away.

 

“She would," John said it anyway. “How far are we from Oracle's place here? Twenty minutes? Twenty five?”

 

I'll be there in fifteen," the other man sounded sure of himself even with more than one car honking at him as he undoubtedly wove through traffic at highly unsafe speeds.

 

“Try not to end up a statistic while you're at it,” the former soldier advised as he finally reached the bottom floor and headed out through the same door he'd come in through earlier, all but throwing himself back into the nearby car. “Won't do her any good then, and we already used the motorcycle accident excuse. I'll be there soon, too.”

 

For several long moments—while he dropped the rifle case on the passenger's seat and slammed his door shut, snapping on his seat belt, too, all in a flurry of motion as fast he could make himself move—all he heard was the motorcycle's engine occasionally interrupted by more car horns. He was just pulling out of the nearby alley he'd parked in when the other man started talking.

 

I should've realized she'd do this," the self-reproach—self-hatred, even—couldn't be clearer in the billionaire's voice. “And now she might be leading the other archer right to Fel—"

 

Oracle," John cut him off firmly, because it was the sort of thing they should get used to as soon as they could. “Another reason to play it safe. You can't fight off both of them on your own. Especially trying to protect Oracle at the same time,” He finished firmly, biting his tongue to keep back any comment that might want to come out about how he also couldn't afford to keep trying to save Helena Bertinelli in this scenario. It was nearly impossible before, but now it definitely was. The likely outcome of trying was one of their own—or maybe all of them—ending up dead instead.

 

I know her neighborhood," the vigilante stated the obvious. He'd undoubtedly been patrolling there even more than he'd admitted to the bodyguard himself. “I'll circle around, not come at her house from the front. There's no clear line of sight to her back door.”

 

The image of the archer kicking the door down as soon as he got there made John cringe. “You're gonna make sure she's actually in trouble before you bust in, right? 'Cause that's not a wakeup call you want to give her if she's already getting her beauty sleep.”

 

She won't be," Oliver sighed. “She never goes to sleep right away. Says she has to unwind.”

 

“Uh-huh, thus the movies?” John asked him, continuing to drag the topic out of him because he was hearing less car horns in the background and he thought even the motorcycle sounded a little less angry.

 

She hasn't been getting enough sleep," the younger man went on after a long moment.

 

Completely ignoring the reference to the thus far—somehow—still innocent sleepovers that were really very amusing to think about as long as they stayed that way. Once the pair finally moved to more intimate nights, John Diggle didn't want to hear anything about it. He never had understood why other guys would want to talk about their 'conquests,' but then again the women they were disrespecting were, in their mind, clearly worth even less respect than they themselves were.

 

Did you know how much she was working?”

 

The bodyguard winced at the question, because it wasn't something he'd known for sure but it hadn't been at all hard to guess. “Normal day job with all of this on top of that's a lot of work.” He left unsaid that it was the sort of dilemma you’d expect any normal person—without beyond comprehensible wealth—to have with this sort of ‘work.’

 

It’s more than that,” the billionaire grumbled. “Wal—She was promoted back before her boss was taken, but she hadn’t started the new job yet. So she's stuck trying to figure it out on her own while still doing her old job, too.”

 

John frowned, “Doesn't sound like a good idea,”

 

She didn’t tell me about it,” Oliver went on after another pause, speaking just barely loud enough to be heard over all the background noises. (Though at least there weren't any sirens yet. Just the violent hum of the bike's engine occasionally interrupted by screeching brakes and honking horns.) “She told…” he audibly struggled with the not saying specifics for names rule for a moment before he tried to talk around it. It meant the conversation took a lot longer than it might’ve, but it’d be a habit they’d all be glad of it anyone ever did tap their comms. Even if it went against the radio standard for keeping chatter short—but then their comms weren’t really radios either. “Last night, when they met. Barely half an hour after I introduced them. She just…

 

John waited a few seconds after his friend trailed off, but when he didn't add anymore, the former soldier shook his head again. “She told someone who could actually do something about it.”

 

I could have—

 

“What?” John cut the younger man off, quickly pressing his point, “Asked her new boss—” ‘your mother,’ he didn’t say, “—for help sooner? ‘Cause you made it pretty clear to everyone that you wanted nothing to do with the… with all of that not that long ago.”

 

He was wincing himself even as he mostly managed to avoid anything too specific. It was still something that could lead back to Oliver Queen’s supposedly drunken ramble about not being his father, etc. etc. a few months back, but only if the person listening already had the idea that the vigilante and the formerly castaway billionaire were one and the same. Saying anything more specific than that—even over their hopefully secure comm channel—would render their use of call-signs useless if anyone managed to break the encryptions and listen in. But he’d learned months ago that letting Oliver Queen stew on something was generally a bad idea. Better to get out ahead of anything that might come out of too much brooding on his part. Every additional moment he had spent around Felicity Smoak had to all appearances corresponded to a steady decrease in that brooding overall. But even their genius couldn't work miracles over night: non-tech ones, anyway.

 

There was the sound of squealing tires and a particularly close car horn before the vigilante’s response to that came. “…I could’ve introduced them sooner,” he argued, his usually 'growly tone'—as Felicity had referred to it more than once, and now John Diggle couldn't get it out of his head—broken up by a sigh. “Or at least said something.”

 

“Maybe you could have,” John agreed, adding just as quickly. “But maybe she didn't want to be rescued. She wanted to save herself. So she did.”

 

But she asked—

 

“Her boss. Not her boyfriend,” He drove that home firmly, wincing as he said it but knowing that specific couldn’t be avoided here: it had to be driven home. Because yes, Oliver could obviously afford to ‘hire’ Felicity on at the club and pay here whatever she wanted—he’d probably pay her more than she made at Q.C without any discussion at all, without even thinking about it—but that was exactly the sort of solution their I.T genius had undoubtedly been trying to avoid. Not unwisely since it’d tie her even more directly to The Vigilante if he was ever caught, perhaps inescapably, and if their still young relationship soured for any reason it’d leave her in an even more awkward place than working with them at night and at the Queen family’s company by day did. John shook his head, signaling for the next turn even as he glanced at the clock to be sure, then asked, “You almost there?”

 

The archer’s response was more of a grunt then a word, but somehow it still sounded like an affirmative all the same. Barely a breath later he killed the engine, and the comm was blissfully quiet: the faint sounds of the other man's breaths barely discernible for a little while as bodyguard’s eardrum got over hiding from assault by that beyond aggravating, vibrating sound once it was gone. Only a few seconds later, however, the comm was too quiet: telling him the vigilante had not only stopped moving, but stopped breathing for a second, too.

 

“Arrow, sit-rep?” John pressed immediately, speaking more quietly only because stealth might be important on the other end and yelling into the other man’s ear might lead to him making the unlikely mistake of yelling back.

 

Oliver took a breath then, “She's not here,” he said.

 

That should be good news, but something about his voice was wrong, and that kept the bodyguard from relaxing just yet, or slowing down at all. It was also why he hesitated just another second—long enough to wince through the CRACK he heard through the comm, which almost had to be the door being busted in.

 

“You mean the Hunt—”

 

No!” the vigilante snapped, sounding growly again, but still more breathless than usual, like he was making himself breathe instead of doing it subconsciously. “Oracle. She's not here.”

 

Well then the Huntress probably wasn't either, so John almost wanted to ask why he'd just broken down the door. Instead he clarified to be sure, “And the Hunt—”

 

Not here either,” Oliver snapped again, going on this time. “No signs of struggle... her car's not in the driveway.”

 

“Think she never got home?” John's frown deepened even more with worry. “She left same time we did,” he glanced at the clock again. “Over half an hour ago now.”

 

She's not here,” the other man said again: like saying it three times could make it not be true. “I don't see her coat, her purse—nothing she had with her tonight. She hasn't come back yet.”

 

John took that in for a second, checking the road sign he was passing just to confirm he was where he thought he was before he asked again, “So the Huntress got her along the way?”

 

This time Oliver didn’t ignore the possibility. “Or she was waiting for her outside,” he pointed out grimly. “Got her before she could get inside. Made her drive… somewhere,” He sighed. “Would’ve been more exposed, but Helena’s never been very subtle.”

 

‘Not very subtle’ seemed like a hell of a way to say ‘crazy psycho’ to him, but John didn’t say that. “Where would she take her?” he wondered aloud instead.

 

Hoping the man that'd slept with the woman at least a few times and actually talked to her some, too, might have at least some idea.

 

That man sighed in response. “I don’t know. She had a warehouse before—but the cops closed it up with all the other Bertinelli properties. I’ll drive by just in case. You go back to the Foun—the base. Oracle has tracking programs for all of our devices already set up there. Find out where hers are. Even if Helena made her dump her cell, she’d have to let her keep her laptop or tablet.”

 

“Can’t hack anything without a computer to do it with,” John agreed, but his relief at having some course of action quickly faded as he remembered one specific from the couple's first fight earlier that night. “This is on the computer that'll self-destruct if I use the wrong password?” he checked, hoping he didn’t sound too worried. But their tech genius's computer system was more than a bit intimidating even before he heard about that little tidbit while they were headed out here.

 

You were using the computers this afternoon, the password hasn’t changed,” Oliver replied with a weak chuckle, then he ordered: “See if she has anything else on Helena’s phone, too. I think she started something on it when the text came in, but she didn’t tell me what. I’m gonna try to call her now.”

 

“Don't cut comms,” John ordered back before the other man could do just that.

 

Throwing himself off rooftops on a regular basis must make the man feel at least a little immortal, because simple precautions like checking in and even calling for backup when he obviously needed it seemed to require force-feeding: and he all but choked on it all the way down. Leaving the comms open—whether they were totally secure or not (and they probably were, considering who'd designed their system, no matter where the parts to it’d come from)—just made more sense than expecting him to make contact anytime soon again.

 

I need to call—

 

“So make the call,” John retorted just as sharply. “You don't need to cut comms to do that. That’s why we’re not using personal phones for regular comms.”

 

Are you headed back yet?” the vigilante bit back, but didn't say anything else against the reasonable demand.

 

“Turning now,” the former soldier answered evenly as he signaled to do just that. “Taking the highway part way back'll be faster.”

 

Oliver didn't argue, which someone who didn't know him very well might mistake for agreement. His bodyguard knew that while the vigilante might've mentally made a rough estimate of how close he was to their tech genius's house already, what decided him was that focusing on his phone right now was more important. “Dammit,” he spat a few moments later. “She's not answering.”

 

John almost didn't say anything, but the highway was clear as he sped up the ramp onto it and he didn't have anything else to focus on anyway. “Who's 'she'?” he asked, because it did kind of have to be clarified when the friend they were worried about and the one that was making them worry were both female.

 

Helena,” he growled back. “It's not like she'd let Oracle answer her phone.”

 

“Maybe not, but maybe she threw her phone away already. If she thought you might track it.”

 

I don't think even Oracle can trace burners, not if they don't have any G.P.S at all,” the vigilante sighed, but then said, “Trying her phone now.”

 

John was checking the rearview mirror when the vigilante's barely audible intake of breath make him tense.

 

Felicity?” Oliver saying their third team member's name with so much disbelief in his voice a moment later didn't go a long way toward making him feel better, even if he was breaking their very practical rules for comms.


Author's End Notes: Again, I have to much to say for AO3. Sorry.

S4 comments in actual A/n, don’t read if you haven’t seen it yet.

Ok, so first the excuses:

(1) I really did want to update my other Arrow crossover first. It’s been even longer for readers there, and I finally made it to the editing phase, but even that’s taking a while. *sigh* So I came back here. Eventually. Though I am still working on the other fic, too.

(2) My uncle died, which while not completely unexpected (he’d been in the hospital a while) meant some unplanned travel. And sadness, too, but that was actually useful when it came to writing more. Not for writing more current scenes, unfortunately, but I’ve added a few more to my ever-growing stash of scenes still to come. (It’s getting scary. Like the Room of Requirement as the Hogwarts lost and found…)

(3) I did have another scene planned for here. But it’s more of an interlude, and it got to be very long, so we won’t see what Methos is doing in Seacouver till after Bloody Secrets. I think.

That’s it for excuses, so onto my comments:

SPOILER ALERT

IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN SEASON 4 YET

(WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?)

SPOILER ALERT!

Chapter Text

Oliver Queen's P.O.V.

 

The voice that answered just after the third ring was not the one he was expecting, even though it was her phone.

 

...Hi, Oliver. Wow, that was fast. I thought you'd be at least another half hour. Or longer since, you know, she hasn't checked-in yet. She's already at the airport though?”

 

“Felicity?” Oliver couldn't keep the astonishment from his voice as he said her name, anymore than he could stop himself from relaxing just a little as the normal sound of her babbling made some of the tension in his muscles immediately ease out and away. Because he wasn't hearing any pain or panic, just her normal babble as her brain moved faster than even her own mouth could sometimes follow. He almost sagged against the nearest wall in relief, but the door he’d broken was in the way.

 

It’d been a surprisingly sturdy door. Much sturdier than he’d expected, despite his having previously noticed that her front door was solid and more secure than he would’ve expected, too. It took him three tries to break through it into her kitchen, and that third time he wasn’t holding back anymore than he had on the second attempt. There weren’t even that much splintered debris as a result; just the mess of what’d been the high-end dual locks that’d held it in place till he forced the door itself out of the way.

 

It was not a door that anyone would be able to break in quietly, that was for sure: and he knew her front door had twice as many locks and might be even sturdier. He’d noticed that much about her home security before, along with the alarm system and the outdoor lighting. It’d been in his way tonight, but hearing her voice now and knowing she was fine, it just helped him feel better.

 

Even though he would have to replace that door for her home to be secure again… and apologize for breaking it in the first place.

 

Yes, Oliver, this is my cell phone you've called,” the genius pointed out, laughing lightly, some of the usual brightness breaking through no matter how tired she was. “Or was there some other girl you were trying to call tonight after Miss Bertinelli boarded her jet-plane?”

 

The vigilante ignored the question and the teasing tone it was asked in, though both were just as much of a surprise as the fact that she seemed to be all right. “Are you alright?” he demanded of her, because he had to be sure. “Where are you?”

 

What?” he could almost see her big blue eyes blinking as she answered him. “Of course I'm alright,” She hurried on before he could say anything. “And you're the one that wanted to come over after she's gone, so you can't ask me why I haven't gone to bed yet.”

 

It was her defensive tone more than her words that made Oliver frown now. “Can I at least ask you why you're not home yet?”

 

She hesitated barely a breath, then asked, “If I say 'no,' will you really not ask or just get even angrier with me?”

 

Oliver rolled his eyes, though he had to smile a little as that anger she was referring to seemed to be waning just by listening to her. Just like the painful fear and worry that adrenaline had been burning through his body and his brain since the realization of what Digg was implying had had him speeding out of that empty ally a little while ago. “Where are you?” he repeated again, forcing his tone a little softer and less demanding because she wasn’t reacting well to that and he needed to know a lot more than he needed—or wanted—to argue at all with her.

 

We agreed we'd meet at—

 

“I'm already at your house, Felicity, and you're not here,” he told her, then demanded again, still with still forced-calm as he stepped outside. He tucked his phone back into its pocket, speaking into one of the Bluetooths inside his helmet, as he focused on fitting the door back into its broken frame. Hoping fixing it would help him rein in the destructive drive that he’d never willingly direct towards her, because he’d already snapped at her too many times as it was lately. “So where are you?”

 

That still sounded harsher than it should have, but it didn’t take a carpenter to see that the door was not going to just go back together like it was before.

 

...You were supposed to call first.” She protested weakly, not sounding quite petulant enough to be called childish. She was too tired for that, and again he had to wonder at how much sleep she’d been getting at all.

 

“Fel-liss-ity…” Oliver growled her name, though it came out more like a sigh than the snarl that any criminal who’d met him should later fear.

 

Fine, fine,” she sighed, before going on. “I had some work to finish, so I went back to Q.C first.”

 

Oliver scowled at that, but she kept going before he could say anything.

 

Thank you for the flowers, by the way. They're beautiful.”

 

Referring to the big bouquet he'd had delivered to her at work… because he wasn't sure she'd accept them at home. Not after last night. She hadn’t answered her heavy door when he’d tried to apologize to her after reacting so badly to her unwanted offers of help. Well, what he'd been reacting to, of course, had been her being anywhere near Helena—giving the Huntress another piece of leverage to use against him. But Felicity had just been trying to do what she'd always done: help him. She didn't deserve to have her head bitten off for that... though after the scare tonight the thought that Helena knew her name now still felt like a bunch of frozen poison in the pit of his stomach, biting and burning as it thawed.

 

So she's alright?” Digg's voice came through the comm that was still in his ear, and on at the ex-soldier's insistence.

 

The archer hadn’t forgotten any of that, but their teammate’s interruption still startled him. “She's fine, Freelancer. She’s at work,” Oliver made himself say it flatly, both because they were using the ARGUS-comms that Felicity hadn't gotten around to saying were secure even from their creators yet, and because using Digg's call-sign made it clear the words weren't for her. “Arrow, out.”

 

Give her my best,” Diggle got in before he'd hit the switch to turn the device in his ear off without bothering to wait for the ex-soldier to sign off. Just in case he wouldn't. Not because Digg necessarily wanted to listen to him yell at Felicity—from his tone he was reminding him not to—but because keeping the comm live as much as possible was something the other man had seemed set on lately.

 

Wait, you're still on comms?” Felicity asked, clear surprise in her voice as it came through the speaker that was installed in his helmet itself and linked to his personal phone. “Why are you—”

 

“Not anymore,” Oliver cut in, forcing himself to draw in a long breath before he said. “I'm sorry I needed to send them. The flowers,” He admitted, but he was glad he had ordered them based on last night, before everything tonight. He hurried on when he realized how that sounded, “I shouldn't have snapped at you. Either time… I'm sorry.”

 

I know,” his new girlfriend agreed, her voice soft again. But this time she might be smiling, though he wasn't sure as she went on. “I understand why you're so worried. I worry about you, too, you know.”

 

Oliver closed his eyes. “I know,” He shook his head slow, then forced his eyes open as he headed out the back path, leaving the door and its busted frame to be fixed later. It would have to be, because both the door and frame wouldn’t fit together like they were originally designed to until they resembled that original design again.

 

So how did she take it?” Felicity asked him, and how light her tone sounded—combined with his internal debate over whether or not he'd be better off confessing to destroying the door now—made him take a long handful of moments before he realized what she was asking.

 

Oliver frowned again, “She wasn't there.”

 

...She wasn't?” The genius repeated, sounding very surprised, which to him was more surprising than the fact that Helena hadn't been where she'd said she'd be. Or where they’d feared she’d be. “Huh. I—um. I can't say I expected that,” she continued after a long moment where he found himself imagining the thoughts flying around inside her head faster than he could ever hope to think. “Well, okay, no point in waiting for the notification to trigger once her alias has checked in, then. She can't check-in, let alone fly out, if she never got the ticket...”

 

“Why were you watching the airport anyway?” he asked, mostly surprised because if she really had to go into work in the middle of the night then why should she be also wasting time keeping track of their side of things? Then again, that might just be his deeply-seeded and growing dislike of how hard she made herself work showing itself again. That some of that hard work was for him didn’t make Oliver feel any better about it.

 

I can't really make sure you're covered from all angles if I don't know the angles, Oliver,” the tech expert answered, her even voice not quite hiding what sounded like the same uncertainty she'd offered her help last night with.

 

The vigilante sighed. “I didn't mean it that way,” he told her quickly, then added, “Thank you.”

 

You're welcome,” Felicity answered, and this time she was definitely starting to smile again as she said it. After a moment, she continued calmly, “So if she's not flying out tonight, and she's not meeting with you, then what's she up to?”

 

“I don't know,” Oliver admitted, shaking his head. Because the only thing that'd made sense to him when he realized she wasn't there and she hadn't come to the Foundry was that she must've gone after Felicity instead. Must have either gone to her house or been waiting for them all to leave the club, and even though that hadn't turned out to be the case, the thoughts still made his frown deepen as he finally climbed on his motorcycle again. He kick-started it quickly, and was just as back on the road, but it didn't feel fast enough no matter how hard he gunned the engine. Not when he was wishing he hadn't let himself stop minutes ago. He'd feel a lot better if he was already at her side. Or at least a lot closer than he was right now.

 

It's not like she can find her father on her own. If she could, she would've killed him already. And she can't stay here in Starling,” Felicity continued, so obviously thinking out loud that he didn't even bother responding, just kept listening as she went on after barely a breath. “I mean she's tied to a terrorist attack now, so she's a terrorist—well, allegedly, I should probably say, technically, but she was in the interrogation room before the attack and the only thing that changed, other than everybody getting some unexpected naps, was that she wasn't there after it. And with the footage the S.C.P.D does have, they can be sure she was at least the point of it.”

 

“Did anybody die?” Oliver interjected when she took another breath.

 

“...What?”

 

“At the S.C.P.D,” he clarified. “Did anybody die there tonight?”

 

NoWell, I don't think so. They used, um, some kind of knock-out gas, right?”

 

“That's what it looked like,” the vigilante allowed. “But that can kill, and the other archer's killed before,” He thought about it a second, and shook his head. “He let the hostages go back in December, didn't bother attacking until after I'd freed them. But he would've killed me, and he did kill several others before that.”

 

Felicity was quiet a little longer than he would've expected, though maybe it just seemed more pronounced with his bike's engine echoing through his helmet and into his ears as he sped through his city's streets. He couldn’t hear her typing, though if she was in front of computers she had to be. “We don't know it was him,” she finally said. “Not really.”

 

Oliver snorted, “Felicity, there aren't that many people that are actually capable of something like that. Even fewer that'd consider doing it for better reasons than rescuing Helena Bertinelli,” He shook his head. “She destroyed her father's organization and is still trying to kill him—the Italian mob knows that, so they'd never help her. And she doesn't have any other ties to someone who might.”

 

Except you, you mean.”

 

“Yeah.” He sighed as he leaned into the next curve so he could speed around it. “Yeah, except me.”

 

Her hesitation still seemed particularly noticeable, but this time he assumed it was just because she still had more thoughts than he could imagine blurring around inside her brilliant brain. “Well, if she wasn't there then at least he wasn't, either. So, uh, no trap, right?”

 

Oliver snorted again, surprised by how chipper she sounded about it, though that tiredness was still there—why she thought any I.T project mattered enough to head into work in the middle of the night he did not understand. “No, no trap,” he confirmed, hoping his irritation at her job wasn’t in his voice. “Just an empty alley. So maybe he never let her go. Or if he did, she has some other way of finding her father now.”

 

The first was very possible, all things considered. It didn’t exactly fit with the other time the Dark Archer had tried to take him out before. In December he’d lured him with hostages by making one read a speech about doing what was necessary to take him out. True, the hostages were allowed to leave, but that was only once Oliver was there for the fight that nearly killed him. So letting the Huntress go to do whatever she wanted, whether it involved meeting up with The Hood again or not, didn’t fit with the other archer’s M.O. No, it was far more likely that the Huntress’s body might be found somewhere in the coming days… but then why had he let her send that text and not even been there for the trap?

 

Uh-huh…” Felicity hummed as she thought about it a moment more, then the thought struck her at last. “Wait. You thought she went after me? That's why you rushed over to my place without calling?”

 

“Yeah,” Oliver sighed, frowning again. “Finding you not there was not a pleasant surprise,” he didn’t try to disguise his worry, but it still came out sounding more like anger—though he wasn’t sure she noticed as it sounded like she was still just thinking it through on the other side of the line.

 

Because you thought she'd kidnapped me.

 

Oliver could again see her nodding in his head as she worked it out.

 

Sorry. Though that would be a waste of a lot of time on her part, and she doesn't strike me as all that patient. From what you guys have said about her. And the S.C.P.D file on her. And the F.B.I file.”

 

Oliver blinked. “She has an F.B.I file? Already?” he asked, as thrown by the switch in topic as he was by the fact. As far as he knew the F.B.I hadn’t even bothered looking into him yet, which he could only attribute to Starling City’s relatively small size, the scale of his crimes—that didn’t involve direct attacks on the police unless they came after him first, save that time he needed to tell Lance about Deadshot—and, more than likely, some amount of influence from Amanda Waller. Considering all the equipment he’d already gotten from the Director of ARGUS, also, he owed her anyway, but that’d make it even more so. But Oliver refused to waste too much thought on that: Amanda’d find him again whenever she wanted to collect. She always did.

 

Not from tonight, from everything before that,” Felicity told him. “Remember, her father was a big-time mobster, but now he’s one of their major witnesses against the mob. And she’s trying to kill him. And even before this attack on the S.C.P.D-thing, she was a serial killer, so…”

 

Oliver blinked. “So I have an F.B.I file?” he clarified, and he could hear her second of hesitation again before she replied.

 

...You really shouldn't sound surprised by that.”

 

Maybe he shouldn’t, but that’d mean Amanda hadn’t intervened nearly as much as he’d been thinking she had. The F.B.I coming to Starling City to start hunting him down was exactly the kind of thing that'd force the Director to step in—either covertly on his behalf and/or just by pushing for him to work for ARGUS again. Voluntarily or not. He’d actually thought, at this point, he could trust her a little more than that… but maybe not.

 

They're not investigating you yet though,” Felicity went on, sounding only a little like she was trying to reassure him.

 

“They're not?” Oliver repeated, more than a little relieved.

 

Nope. Just keeping tabs on the S.C.P.D's investigation so far,” his girlfriend confirmed. “Probably helps that you haven't hurt any upstanding citizens. And as far as they know you haven’t left Starling, let alone crossed state lines. And they have enough to deal with most of the time with investigations they have been invited into.”

 

“Invited?”

 

Yup. That's generally they way it works with them. They do have to actually work with the local cops, you know. And the S.C.P.D haven't called them,” Felicity paused, then clarified. “I mean, I'm sure they take over stuff that's big enough without waiting for an invitation sometimesthere wouldn't be all the stories about jurisdictional friction otherwise.”

 

Oliver ended up coughing instead of snorting this time, though he was smiling, too. “Jurisdictional friction?”

 

Well, that's the most polite term I've found for it,” Felicity answered evenly, but he was pretty sure she was smiling, too. “Though I'm not sure how realistic all the dramatized stuff is about that.”

 

“Uh-huh,” Oliver acknowledged, still smiling as he started towards his bike again. Completely sure—after all the familiar, rapid key-clicks he’d heard in the background on her end—that she was still working even as she talked

 

Either way it works out well for you so far,” his girlfriend went on.

 

“You should be finishing your work,” he told her as he climbed back on his bike, barely hearing her reply over the roar of the engine as he started it up.

 

What?”

 

“Let me worry about Helena, Felicity,” Oliver insisted, tucking his phone away in his coat pocket because he was already talking to her through the Bluetooth in his helmet—he’d never taken it off when he got here. “You should be heading home already. It's almost midnight.”

 

Ugh, did you really have to remind me?” the genius groaned.

 

Oliver shook his head as he turned towards downtown. “Why are you at work in the middle of the night, anyway?”

 

I went back. I'm pulling an all-nighter, obviously,” she replied, sounding so matter-of-fact that he was pretty sure she was kidding.

 

But he half-sighed, half-growled her name anyway. “Fel-liss-ity...”

 

Just joking,” she assured him, and he could imagine her eyes rolling around in a circle behind her glasses. “I just need to finish a few things. I left earlier, just in case you might need me forwell, anyway, I had to come back to start this tonight.”

 

Guilt stabbed at him again, because after everything she’d still wanted to be there for him and had to go out of her way to do it, but that was something they could talk about later. “Felicity, college kids pull all-nighters to finish projects,” Oliver shook his head. “I'm sure Queen Consolidated doesn't expect you to—”

 

I said I was joking about that, didn't I?” she interrupted him, sounding only a little snippy, going on quickly. “I’m switching Q.C's server over to a different system. My system. It's what Walter made me System Administrator for in the first place, and since it sounds like your mom is going to follow up on it I want to be as up-to-date as possible.”

 

Oliver was pretty positive his mother hadn’t been calling to talk to her before their planned meeting Monday morning, so even though she probably had said she was following up on Walter’s plans for Felicity it didn’t seem likely that she expected anything before that meeting. He didn’t roll his eyes only because he was keeping his gaze on the road as he sped down it at a slightly more sedate pace then before because the hurry wasn’t necessary and he was sure she’d say something about all the car horns Digg hadn’t mentioned. “My mom—”

 

And it's easier to start the systems switch in the middle of the night. When no one's using their computers,” Felicity went on insistently, and then added, “Well, there's that guy in Accounting that I think might be sleeping in his office, but he hasn't signed on in a few hours. And the poor P.R people that have to cover their nightshift just in case something happens. And Security's still here, too, but they already know—”

 

“So you went in to work late this morning?” Oliver demanded, rolling his eyes when she hesitated again: as if not realizing that the hesitation alone was answer enough.

 

...No,” she admitted with a sigh that was almost too soft to be heard over his motorcycle, which was also probably why he wasn't hearing the familiar background noise of her rapid-fire typing anymore. “There were a bunch of problems in I.T this week. I had to—”

 

“My mom told you that you shouldn't be doing the general I.T work anymore.” Oliver reminded her. “She's your C.E.O.”

 

Actually, she said we'd talk about it first thing Monday morning. That's...well, the meeting's in a little less than nine hours, now, but—”

 

“I'll be there in twenty minutes to take you home,” Oliver cut in, letting every bit of authority the last half decade had taught him seep into his voice. He should’ve stripped out of the leather before leaving her townhouse, but he wasn’t going to stop now and he knew the cameras at the east entrance of the Q.C garage still hadn’t been fixed yet, so he could change when he got there. He wished more than a little that she lived closer to downtown, but he could also see how it was convenient for her that her home was almost exactly halfway between Verdant and her day job at the headquarters of Queen Consolidated.

 

...Okay,” Felicity sighed, then her tongue tripped through a yawn. “...Excuse me. Okay, maybe I should get some sleep,” she admitted sheepishly. “Good thing I just finished the important bits.

 

Oliver had to smile a little as he shook his head again, amused by her stubbornness here despite everything else.

 

The sound she made a second later, however, wiped that smile away. “Uh-oh...”

 

“What?” Oliver demanded immediately, waiting impatiently when he heard her hesitate again because knowing it was something bad had him back on edge already.

 

Um, well, one of my A-Cave programs just sent me an alert.”

 

Oliver refused to comment on yet another new name for the Foundry, knowing she'd only insist on using it more often if he did. Instead he asked, “What is it?”

 

Really, really hoping that it wasn't what he thought it might be.

 

It intercepted a police report. A local sporting goods store just got robbed. Only thing stolen was a high-powered crossbow. And a bunch of bolts, too, ‘cause they’re kind of necessary.”

 

So Helena wasn’t dead then. And the Dark Archer wasn’t holding her somewhere, though he might still be following her… somewhat surprisingly even the first didn’t give him any sense of relief. Only the same dread as the second.

 

Oliver didn't say anything when Felicity stopped talking, too busy hating the warring parts of him: one that wanted to kill Helena to end all of this, and the other part that still wanted to save her, even though he obviously couldn't save her from herself and that part was smaller than it’d once been. A lot smaller. And still shrinking.

 

Looks like the alarm system was triggered about forty minutes ago,” Felicity went on too-calmly. “And obviously she's the main suspect, 'cause—”

 

“Anyone else would've stolen guns,” Oliver nodded, not letting himself start swearing, even in Russian or Mandarin.

 

He wouldn't be surprised if the genius was well-educated enough to recognize it. Or that she watched enough T.V. Both his teammates had surprised him by recognizing a few words when he swore in Mandarin, but according to Digg that was because of some show about cowboys in space named after a bug... and he still wasn't sure he wanted to ask about that. It was a safe assumption, however, since Felicity did seem to enjoy watching television and movies regularly—or as regularly as she could with the crazy hours she worked.

 

Not much else there, but it's safe to say she's still in town,” Felicity went on gently, and it almost hurt as much as it helped to know that she really did seem to understand how he was totally torn over all of this. “I'll let you know if I learn anything more. In the meantime, just watch your...”

 

Oliver's frown deepened as she trailed off, but his spine went ramrod straight when he heard another recognizable voice in the background.

 

Hi. I don't think we had a chance to be properly introduced last night? I'm Helena.”

 

His heart stopped.

Chapter Text

Felicity's P.O.V.

 

Felicity stared at the leather-clad brunette she really never would've expected to see inside her workplace.

 

Anymore than she would've expected crossbows to make any kind of comeback. But, then again, bows had, and all before Oliver started hunting the corrupt elite. There was Legolas, and Katniss, and Merida... not exactly the same thing, no, but maybe part of why interest in archery was on the up-and-up again. Even before Oliver localized it all…

 

“It's rude, you know, talking on the phone when you have company,” the masked and maybe-mad murderess chastised, pointedly aiming the crossbow straight at her then. Her mask-framed eyes had already been zeroed in, of course, but the bolt-point was a little off-point. So now the Immortal only had to worry about pain, blood, and much less about what anyone would think about what anyone would think about her slow-reaction to being held at crossbow-point.

 

Good thing she'd already setup a safeguard for that. Because Oliver had a tendency to think that other people wouldn't find it weird when he brought in bullet-ridden laptops and waived around needles that looked like weapons. Now, at least, it meant that the Q.C security guards on duty wouldn't have any way of knowing something was going on up here on the I.T floor for at least another fifteen minutes, and she could extend it rather easily if she needed to. Especially since the other woman undoubtedly wanted her to be using the computer now.

 

Felicity let me talk to her!” Oliver's yell was loud enough for the ex-mob princess to hear even across the room.

 

It made the Immortal startle slightly, because the man that she was fast falling in love with was now the most predictable part of this scenario. The part that made sense and wasn't surprising her. So her mind had already moved onto everything else—everything that didn't make sense. Trying to rein it all into some semblance of sense.

 

Felicity offered the phone to the other woman without batting an eye or saying anything. That Alice in Wonderland like smile dropping into a barely-there frown told her the other woman had heard him, too. So she obediently pressed the 'end' button when the brunette shook her head.

 

Feliss—"

 

If the vengeance addict was going to hurt her, or even try to kill her, Felicity should have an easier time hiding the fact that she came back from the dead if Oliver didn't hear it. Assuming she couldn't think of a way to neutralize Helena without revealing the full extent of her considerably greater martial skills. Skill which weren't at all in line with what she'd told Oliver and Diggle so far, even with her taking sword-fighting classes as a child that they could tell she must’ve been a protégé at, were that the case. She could hope, of course, that the young woman might not be quite as far off in the deep end as Digg assured her she was, but she wasn't going to count on it.

 

Oliver's 'psycho ex-girlfriend'—as Digg aptly called her—was clearly crazy enough to not respond to even the League of Assassins intimidation tactics the way she'd been expected to. The question now was: was that a combination of determination, growing up in a crime family and maybe her time with Oliver... or was she really just that crazy?

 

“Hmm... Oliver sounded worried, didn't he?” the Huntress commented as she pointed her crossbow towards the ceiling again.

 

And Felicity had the stray thought that she was really glad she was here in the middle of the night. Alone on this floor, and at this point almost alone in the building. At least none of the security guards that would check on her after that first headcount when they were locking down the building were here: and they obviously hadn't noticed the armed and masked woman in the elevator. So each one should still be going home to their families, safe and sound.

 

If the Huntress shot her, she'd survive. The Immortal would be as good as new in a matter of hours. Or a day or two, at most. Sooner, if the Huntress was both a good shot and aiming to kill, because her Quickening would have her up again very quickly considering the amount of adrenaline she could already feel coursing through her blood.

 

It was the kind of thinking her brother—and pretty much everyone else who'd known her long enough to notice it—hated. Felicitas really couldn't help it though. Some mortals might die if a bee stung them, though most would only cry out in pain, and maybe they'd be sore for a little while after. But she was an Immortal: as long as she kept her head she would be fine... and she'd been around for a very long time. And she had already seen so many people die.

 

“He's good at that, you know. Pretending to care..." the Huntress shook her head, forcing a small smile that still looked a lot like a sneer. "You're dating him now, right? I saw you at the club opening; before you were dismissed, I mean,” the other woman finished with a crimson smirk that really did remind the Immortal of that cat in Alice in Wonderland.

 

A thought that didn't belong here anymore than the Huntress herself did, but there it was. Did the fact that the woman was here mean Felicity shouldn't try to trust the League going forward, or were her orders to blame?

 

Felicity didn’t answer, only returned the other woman’s gaze evenly.

 

The Huntress struggled to hide her frown, but then smirked again. “Did he mention we used to be lovers?”

 

Felicity sighed, not at all in the mood for this obviously at least a little insane—and jealous—woman's games. “What do you want, Miss Bertinelli?”

 

The brunette's smile was sharp as she responded: more like a shark’s than a cat’s now. “Let me let you in on a little secret...” she slowly shook her head. “It's not going to work out between you two. You see, Oliver? He has a particular talent. He uses people. He used me. He's using you. He used… what was her name?” that toothy, crimson-framed smile became a sneer. “Oh, yes… Laurel.”

 

Felicity didn't let herself react to the name anymore than the rest of taunt. Honestly she was surprised the woman was jealous enough to bother with taunting her at all when she should've started with the threats already. But rising to the bait wouldn't satisfy her, and it might make her even less predictable.

 

Though it wasn't hard to ignore the mention of Laurel Lance. The Huntress, for whatever reason, clearly thought it should hit home, but it didn't. Felicity knew Tommy's girlfriend still held a place in Oliver's heart; knew that she always would. But Felicitas had mourned almost a score of husbands in the centuries she'd been in this world, and each of them had owned their own piece of her heart.

 

It would be wrong of her to hold loving Laurel against Oliver—it wasn't like he'd cheated on her with the lawyer. In his mind, Laurel was with Tommy now, and while that might change. Felicity was fairly certain he'd never choose to cheat on her. The whole thing with Laurel's sister ending with the yacht sinking should guarantee that much at least...

 

That, and Felicity knew the tortured man that'd come back from Lian Yu with a mission was not the spoiled boy that'd washed ashore there. They were worlds and worlds apart, even when most of the world—nearly all of it—was too willfully blind to see it. Oliver could barely create a box that looked like the one he'd once embodied, never mind managing to actually fit into it ever again.

 

And her sister...” Helena added, stretching her sneer into more of another frown as she still didn’t get the response she wanted. Clearly not knowing what to think about that, other than that she didn't like it. But then most people had a hard time adjusting to the unexpected, it was why they formed expectations and all those boxes in the first place. “And who knows how many others?” she shook her head contemptuously. “I would get out of it, before you get yourself hurt.”

 

“Thanks for the advice," Felicity replied calmly, not blinking as the crossbow pointed at her was slightly shifted again. It was still aimed towards her torso. “But I doubt you came all the way up here just to advise me on my love life.”

 

Oliver was several minutes closer now. She didn't say that, but it was reason enough to move this along.

 

The Huntress didn’t scowl this time, but that disappointment was there in her eyes as she replied. “No, I didn't.” She jerked her chin at Felicity's main computer. “You said you could find my father. Do it. Now.”

 

Felicity gazed back at her for a long moment, a thousand plans forming inside her head and being banished just as fast.

 

Maybe the mortal woman in front of her wasn't as wicked as Digg seemed to think—but she was hurting, and lashing out at the world in her pain.

 

The ancient remembered the heartache of losing her first husband well. Remembered how he was stolen from her so unexpectedly, so unnecessarily—murdered, by a woman that Felicity would hate for all eternity. Even knowing why the other Immortal had done what she'd done didn't diminish her desire to avenge him. If Felicitas and Cassandra ever crossed paths again—without Methos around to interfere again—Felicity was almost certain she'd take the other ancient's head.

 

Almost.

 

But whether she would issue that challenge and follow through on it or not, she'd never hurt others. Never hurt innocents who'd had nothing to do with the ancient crime. A wrong that was committed so long before almost all of them world's present population came into being. That they—all of them—truly had nothing at all to do with. Even the mortal bodyguards Cassandra had employed the last time they'd met—the only time she'd encountered the other ancient without Methos alos there to intervene—had been enough of a deterrent for Felicitas to let her run. They had nothing to do with her ancient warrior-prince's too early death. Staining her hands with their blood, ending their already too short lives, would be both wrong and wasteful. After all, she could wait however long she had to.

 

Helena Bertinelli couldn't. Her enemy was as mortal as she was: no more durable and capable of dying from old age well before her if nothing else got him first. So waiting and patience couldn't come easily to her either.

 

If the pain Helena felt at her fiancé's death was anything like hers had been millennia past, Felicity couldn't expect her to be reasoned with easily. That her own father was the murderer of his son-in-law-to-be would understandably augment that pain.

 

And Oliver's refusal to help kill him was likely viewed as yet another betrayal... Felicitas hadn't reacted well when Methos had refused to let her pursue Cassandra. Before or after the funerals of her first husband and two of the three children they'd adopted. And she hadn't reacted much better when he'd interfered again on the other Immortal's behalf centuries later.

 

Add to that the jealously Helena obviously felt at Oliver having moved on... well, there was a reason the wrath of a woman scorned should be feared.

 

But Tommy hadn't done anything to this woman, and she'd still tortured him. She's threatened Oliver mother and sister, who also hadn't ever hurt the Huntress.

 

Just like none of Felicitas first family had ever hurt Cassandra, but she'd still killed almost all of them just because the queen wasn't willing to turn on a man who'd become their friend. Had earned her trust and admitted he was trying to change years before his former slave came to demand they give her his head. It was decades, lifetimes, after that before Felicitas really thought of Methos, her mentor, as more brother than protector and teacher, but even in those early years she hadn’t been able to turn on him. To give up on him when he hadn’t give up on her, let alone for a bitter woman she’d only just met who would listen to reason—wouldn’t listen to anything at all. Someone who was only a guest in her household because the man she'd hated had asked them to shelter her, and who's show of gratitude for that had been to demand his death.

 

Had Cassandra had any skill with a blade back then at all, she might've demanded a duel. Trial by combat—something all nations back then had to honor because most of those in  power could still remember how they got that power. Military might had been a very real thing back then, and remembering to both respect and honor that was not optional. But the Witch's skill was with herbs and poisons then, and later with magic. Not swords. That she was even willing to raise a sword against Methos herself thousands of years after he'd stopped being Death was something of a surprise a few years back. One far more unsettling than the volatile, impatient presence of the mortal woman with her now. No matter what that might mean about Mazin and the followers of Ra's al Ghul.

 

“What are you waiting for?” Helena snapped, what little patience she did have already spent. "Do it!"

 

Slowly Felicity shook her head. “I won't be an accessory to patricide, Miss Bertinelli.”

 

“You help Oliver!” the Huntress snarled at her, crossbow shaking in her hand: jerking between pointing at the servers or Felicity’s head—either of which she’d have to catch because there was no way she could cover it up otherwise. “He's killed men just like my father! Hell, my father's worse than some of the men Oliver's killed!”

 

“Maybe he is,” Felicity allowed, shaking her head again, leaning back in her seat to make the furious woman's aim drop with her: back towards her torso again. Which it did, a moment later: the bow-woman's hand steadying just enough to be pointing straight again as the blonde watched her coolly. “But I never had anything to do with that.”

 

The lie fell from her tongue easily. She had of course suspected Oliver Queen was the Hood long before she found him bleeding all over the backseat of her car. Each favor he’d come to her for had only solidified her suspicions more and more, just like the list she’d received from Walter and copied down before giving it to Oliver, had done the same. But she didn’t need to let this fuming, furious mortal know any of that.

 

“I've been helping him, yes.” Felicity nodded. “But since he told me he was the Hood, I know he's only killed a few people—and all of them were trying to hurt someone he cared about.” She deliberately didn't finish with ‘like you,’ though she'd said ‘hurt’ instead of ‘kill,’ so that the comparison was there, whether that bolt was shot at her tonight or not.

 

The Huntress scoffed, “So what? You think you've changed him?”

 

“You don't change people, Miss Bertinelli," Felicity shook her head. “You can only choose to change yourself. Whether that's for someone or not is up to you," she hesitated only a second, then asked, "Would Michael want you doing this?”

 

What?” the Huntress hissed, her shocked face quickly giving way to the anger it’d become too accustom to already.

 

“If it's online I can find it," Felicity told her quietly. “You were engaged to Michael Staton, till his—ah, quote-unquote, 'mugging.'”

 

Mugging," the brunette was sneering again as she shook her head. “Michael wasn't mugged. He was murdered. By my father.”

 

“I know," the Immortal answered just as quietly.

 

“You know nothing!” Helena snarled, her hand shaking so violently Felicity was honestly amazed she didn't trigger the crossbow by accident. But she gained control of herself a harsh breath later. “All you need to know is where my father is right now.”

 

“I can't help you with that,” Felicity answered, wincing even as the answer flew from her lips, because she saw the mortal snapping even before the bolt was triggered and shot across the small room.

 

THWIP!

 

Not at her head, or the computers behind her: barely even at her torso.

 

It took every bit of self-control Felicity possessed not to catch it. To hold herself in place instead of dodging away or plucking the bolt out of the air before its head hit her as any Amazon could be expected to do. As she'd taught Mazin—and through him the entire League of Assassins—how to do. As she, Felicity Smoak; vigilante's computer genius girlfriend, shouldn't be able to do... so she didn't.

 

SMASH!

 

It stabbed through her shoulder with enough force to send her chair crashing back into the wall of servers, and she didn't try to hide her pain as it was happening or it stopped. Agony as hot as a fire's heart screeched through her whole upper body, while her skin broke into a cold sweat and her stomach started to roll. Her Quickening immediately responded, surging along screeching nerves towards the injury... but there wasn't much it could do with the bolt still there: oh-so-painfully in the way.

 

Felicity forced herself to breath in and out several times through her nose, careful to keep her shoulder as still as she could when she did so, biting back her stomach's impulse to empty itself for the useless—and additionally painful—thing that'd be. Damn, she'd forgotten how much getting shot—and not dying right away—hurt!<