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What Lies Between Us

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Felicity Smoak knows many things.

And she’ll tell you all of them, mostly unasked—something she’s working on, but her brain is always running and her mouth follows helplessly after and the whole system might just be out to get her for all the coffee she drowns it in… It’s part of what comes with being an MIT graduate and a ninja hacker goddess and one of the top recruits the government has ever had—the knowing of things.

So she knows the next moment will define her entire life.

Or end it.

No amount of breathing calms the churning ache in her stomach as she stares at the glass and steel building before her. The hand she wraps around the strap of her shoulder bag is slick with sweat, the cheekbones beneath the frames of her glasses pulsing with nervous heat, the bottom lip caught between her teeth quivering slightly. She peers back over her shoulder as she crosses the concrete plaza, watching the people meandering about in suits and sunglasses for signs that any of them are following her.

Always watching for the flash of sunlight across the barrel of a gun.

Would the dark of night have been better for this? Or is broad daylight still sufficient cover from a bold assassination? Would her death even be considered an “assassination,” or just plain “murder”? What does it take to get that morbid upgrade?

“And what does it say about me that I kind of want at least that much, if I’m going to die for this?” she mutters to herself--realizing, at the heads turning her way, that she’s been muttering aloud the whole time.

The agonizing minutes it takes to cross the plaza are some of the longest of her life, as she waits with every step for a bullet to break through her spine or the back of her skull, splattering her across the potted plants and crowded benches. But she reaches the glass doors and slides inside with a long exhaled breath, taking a moment inside the vestibule to regain whatever calm she can.

She’s made it this far—but it’s only the beginning.

The tiles on the floor of the lobby are arranged into the symbol of the CIA, a bold declaration for such a secretive organization. But it’s the only way she could be sure it was truly them , truly the good guys (or at least the legally sanctioned ones)—meeting some blandly nondescript man in a trench coat at the top of a parking garage was only going to get her back to where this all started… or worse.

So Felicity steps up to the counter, as though this were the DMV instead of the Central Intelligence Agency, and waits for the woman with the headset to turn towards her with a polite smile.

“I need to speak to Director Devlan,” Felicity says, keeping her words simple. She needs to appear sane and intelligent—not rambling and incoherent. Otherwise the suits in the corner, with hands clasped in front of their gun-laden belts and the white corded ear buds waiting to hiss orders, will be tackling her against the shiny colorful tiles in a heartbeat.

“I’m sorry, miss, but the Director does not take personal meetings without a cleared appointment,” the woman says, kindly enough, but with a firm undertone that belies years of experience turning down everyone you might expect to walk into the CIA Headquarters.

Felicity should have expected as much, should have known … These last couple days have turned everything she thought she knew into an elaborate code even she can’t put back together into anything resembling reality.

“Please, I… I have to…” She closes her eyes before she either bursts into tears or starts babbling incessantly. With a breath, she reopens them, remembering the research she’d done before coming here; research always makes her feel better. “Please tell him he has a walk-in.”

The word changes something in the woman’s eyes, from blankly polite to sharp and focused, as she speaks in a low and rapid tone into her headset. Then she walks around the edge of her desk, leading Felicity towards the elevators and between the tensing suits, who nod at them once the woman flashes the plastic key card clipped to her lapel.

But Felicity isn’t taken to the Director. Instead, she’s left in a nondescript conference room with a pad of yellow paper and a pen, told to write out her statement in as much detail as possible. Now her brain supplies words in abundance, clarifying every statement with two or three more, telling the story that brought her here…

The sunny day on the quad at MIT her junior year, where the man with the business card approached her and told her she could save the world, was in some ways when her life began. She’d always pictured herself working with some kind of computer security, fighting hackers around the globe through thickets of code and fortresses made of firewalls--but this was different. This was actually saving the world and taking on bad guys; this was the kind of thing movies were made of, and they wanted her to be a part of it.

Before that moment, Felicity had thought of herself as a boring IT girl, at least until she perfected her polymorphic anti-hacking virus that could evolve to take down any threat--even then, her life wasn’t going to be something that people wanted to hear about at parties.

After that moment, she was a spy, working for a branch of the CIA so covert it couldn’t even be associated with them, taking down terrorists and snagging bombs and contraband from around the world before the black market could grab them. Okay, so she still couldn’t talk about it at parties; but at least she knew that if she did, it would be interesting.

She started her job at SD-6, an appropriately shadowy name, right after college--disappearing into a hidden basement at the “bank” where it was held. (Now, sitting in this conference room, she writes about the extreme security measures and the lie detector tests and the stocked armory. She writes about the contracts she signed that promised death to anyone she told--she thought that’s just what spies had to do. She’d even joked about saying, “If I tell you, I’d have to kill you,” because that was one thing the movies got right, apparently. She should have known the movies never got anything right.)

From the start of her work there, she knew she wouldn’t be out in the field, pulling knives from sheaths strapped to her thighs or swinging on zip lines across European rooftops… She’d be doing what she was born to do, hacking and developing tech for the real spies. In the room with the long glass table and the computer screens, where pictures of foreign criminals flashed like a bullseye on the wall, she made her tech presentations to the agents before their missions. She felt like she was finally doing something with her life, when she handed their gear across the table to the ones going out in the field, when she listened to their successes on the comms as she walked them through using her tech…

When she tried (and failed) not to stare helplessly across the room at… (She manages to stop herself before she writes that.)

Felicity never thought she’d have friends like the men and women she worked with every day, who were patient with her even when she rambled incoherently, who did their work with a determination and a selflessness even when the world would never know, who all think that the organization they might die for is working to protect this country…

Who have all been lied to. Just like her.

The door to the room opens suddenly and she jumps, but the man stepping in apologizes with a small half-smile, setting down a cup of coffee and a donut in front of her. He’s huge, arms bulging beneath the white sleeves of his shirt, hair shaved close to his head.

“John Diggle,” he says to introduce himself.

“Felicity Smoak,” she says quietly. Her hand aches as she sets down the pen, not certain if she relayed everything clearly enough, if she made sure they knew that her colleagues don’t know…

That they’re the terrorists.

“Thank you for coming in today, Felicity,” he says, already casual and kind. His deep voice plus the strong grip of his hand as he shakes hers are the first fleeting comforts she has felt in days.

“I had to,” she says. “Well, I didn’t have to, I guess—I could have pretended I didn’t see those files, or quit or something—although I’m starting to think I couldn’t have quit, with all those ‘security’ measures I never really thought about before… I would have been ‘terminated,’ you know? But I didn’t come here because of that, I came because…”

“You had to,” he says, tone full of understanding, and it’s not often someone reacts to her rants like that. She finds herself smiling at the man, already feeling safer.

“They don’t know.” She’s still got her hand in his, but now she’s tightening her hold around his fingers. “The people I work with, they don’t know what we really do, who we really work for—they’re good people, I swear . Some of the best, please don’t-”

“We know, Felicity,” he says. His other hand pulls the pad of paper across the table towards him. “We still have to verify your statement, but we know all about SD-6. And we know they advertise themselves to their employees as a covert branch of the CIA.”

“You do?” Her voice goes small. “And you haven’t stopped them?”

Diggle sighs, sliding his hand out of her grasp, folding his fingers together and setting his hands on the table. “It is not as simple as it looks. SD-6 is itself a branch of a larger organization-”

“The Alliance,” she supplies, as his eyebrows go up. “I accidentally hacked into their server, I saw… I saw what SD-6 really is. What the Alliance really is.”

She remembers the way the code had gotten away from her, when she’d reached for another strand of licorice to chew on and clicked on the wrong file, opening a series of prompts and access points she’d never seen before. Maybe it was a bit of boredom, maybe it was exhaustion after a long day spent fruitlessly hacking a remote hard drive (for what turned out to be just a squeaky clean bus driver with a penchant for hoarding building schematics as a hobby), maybe it was just her being thorough.

Maybe it was that she basically solved mysteries for a living, and here was one lurking a few clicks away.

And suddenly there it was… the truth .

SD-6 was not a branch of the CIA, she’d learned in an instant; it was a branch of the Alliance, an immense and complex network of rogue spies, all leading international cells of terrorists pretending to be covert intelligence operations for governments of the world… and convincing their oblivious employees to play along.

To think they’re saving their country while they’re actually destroying it.

Felicity’s hands curl into fists in her lap, and she leans forward. “I want to help. Stop them, I mean. I’ll do anything.”

Diggle nods, looking down at her written statement, the untidy scrawl of blue ink on yellow legal paper. “Well, this is a good start, and it’s one way to do this. You can give us all the intel you have and we can extract you safely.” Now he looks at her, and the way his eyes assess her is as piercing as the flash of the X-ray cameras at the SD-6 entrance. “Or you can go back there.”

“Go… back?” she asks, and she sees the way he watches her process this, carefully, tense. This is the moment she will decide her fate. “You mean like a double agent? A mole?”

“Yes,” he says simply. “It would be extremely dangerous—no one would blame you if you choose not to do this. But… we could always use another double agent in SD-6, helping us take them down from the inside. Helping us figure out what their ultimate plan really is.”

Felicity takes a breath, about to agree wholeheartedly, because even the threat of death can’t quite scrub the lives she may have helped destroy from her skin and soul—when her brain leaps ahead of her mouth, for once.

“Wait… another double agent?”

XXXXX

After a barrage of paperwork, psych evaluations, and cross-referenced facts, Felicity is officially a double agent for the CIA. She pictures smoky back alleys, dead drops in the park, code names whispered hastily into pay phones, long silencer barrels edging out of flapping trench coats…

Okay, she tries not to picture the last one.

But right now, Diggle is leading her through a storage facility that looks more like a parking garage, with flickering flourescent lights and metal fencing like cages, between concrete pillars and through a strong smell of damp stone and moth balls. She adjusts her glasses over her nose, making sure her hair is smoothed back into a ponytail at the base of her neck, tucking down the lapels of her black jacket. Not a trench coat, not yet.

She’s not really sure what to think about the other double agent. They’re one of the good guys, working for the CIA all this time—but they’ve been lying to her, to everyone, letting them continue to hurt people and end lives for their criminal bosses while thinking they’re heroes.

Now she has to do the same thing.

Diggle stops to open the metal grate, and Felicity can’t see around his large frame and the boxes piled strategically within to see who waits for them. It’s not until she’s stepping in behind him, almost too nervous and fidgety to pay attention to Diggle’s greeting as she peeks around his broad shoulders… that she wonders how she ever thought it would be anyone else.

Oliver Queen’s face doesn’t change too much as he takes her in, other than the small parting of his lips (that she should not be staring at) and the twitch of his eyebrows, and then he says in a quiet tone, “Felicity?”

There he stands, in dark slacks and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, the same tall, solid form that draws her eyes around the offices of SD-6 like a beacon. And that stubbled jaw, the handsome and angular face, the hands that twitch at his sides with callused fingers that scrape against hers when she hands him the tech for a mission… The best operative SD-6 has, having survived five years on an extended black ops mission; the man she’s had a crush on for what feels like forever.

And a double agent.

“Um, hi.” She stands beside Diggle, the top of her head barely reaching his shoulder, unsure if she should keep staring at Oliver but unable to look away.“So you’re… And now I’m… This is… Huh. Being speechless is weird.”

“How did this happen?” Oliver asks, tone slightly harsh, looking at Diggle.

“She was a walk-in,” Diggle replies.

“I found the Alliance Server,” Felicity says, when his eyes fall back on her. “Not the actual thing, of course, but the files—right at the core of the SD-6 system. Right there, for anyone to find. Well, anyone with an advanced degree in computer science and access to our mainframe, but still… Not even encrypted.” She looks down at the concrete floor. “Like they don’t even care enough to hide them.”

“Felicity, I…” Oliver’s voice is soft. She peeks up at him, just beneath the top of her glasses, to see him frowning. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault—you’re trying to stop them, right? I just can’t believe… this whole time—I thought I was doing something good, you know?” She blinks rapidly and shakes her head, smiling bashfully. “I’ll get it together, don’t worry. I know spies don’t cry.”

“You’re not extracting her?” he asks Diggle, who shakes his head, but Felicity cuts in before he can reply.

“No, I want to help.” She steps forward, standing between the two men, looking up into those sharp blue eyes. “Even if I didn’t know I was doing it, I’ve helped them . I’ve done terrible things, and now I want to do everything I can to undo that… if it’s even possible.”

Maybe the blood on her hands isn’t as thick or dark as what’s splattered across the agents in the field, since she was far away behind a computer while they stole and destroyed and… killed. She’d never liked the killing, though it was mostly in self-defense--but she’d told herself it was for the good of the world, getting rid of the bad guys so innocent people could sleep peacefully at night. And yet… all along, they were the bad guys.

She realizes she’s someone they should have gotten rid of. Fresh guilt stabs through her, and she takes a shaky breath to stay focused on the moment.

On Oliver, who’s watching her with a sympathetic glance.

“None of that was your fault, any of you,” he says, and she knows he’s talking about their other colleagues at SD-6. “Felicity, you were doing a job you thought was serving your country. None of you are responsible for what SD-6 has tricked you into doing—and the CIA knows that.”

“But every time I’ve hacked a database, or delivered a program, or invented tech that someone uses to… hurt someone, someone I thought was a bad guy but now… Oliver, I…”

He blinks at the sound of his name, and suddenly the air heats with a thick tension that locks their eyes together. When they interact at the office, it’s always been fairly perfunctory, professional, even distant. Of course, she’s held onto every time he smiles when she rambles off track in a meeting, or the way he catches her elbows to steady her when she rounds the corner into his hard frame, or the feeling of his presence standing behind her at her computer as she points out something on the schematics (while imagining his hand on her shoulder or him leaning in to kiss the top of her head)—but that’s just her.

What she sees in his eyes now, as they search her own, is… more. New. As though what held him back before wasn’t a lack of want but a wall of secrets.

A secret she now shares.

Then he blinks again as his gaze hardens and it’s gone.

Felicity looks away, somehow resisting the urge to roll her eyes at herself. Why is she thinking about this right now? They’re hiding in a storage locker discussing her crimes against humanity and her potential for imminent death, and her imagination’s turning this into a romantic rendezvous. With all the romance of damp concrete and flickering flourescent lights and a tense CIA agent watching them.

Focus , she tells herself, as Oliver crosses his arms over his chest.

“This is extremely dangerous,” he says. “Just coming to the CIA in the first place was-”

“I had to,” she says, repeating what she had said to Diggle. “Once I knew what they were doing, what we had been doing, what Malcolm…”

It’s the first time she has said her boss’s name out loud, after writing it into the statement several hundred times. Malcolm Merlyn, the man with the flashing smile and confident air, who calls her “Ms. Smoak,” and directs their mission parameters with a smirking patriotism that now sickens her with the memory of it. He’d recruited her personally, had praised her when she’d hacked the unhackable, had been charming and intimidating and someone she actually enjoyed working for.

When all along he’s been working for the Alliance, sending his agents out to steal intel and devices for his own nefarious plans, with a smug lie about duty and honor. Now her stomach churns just at the thought of him.  

By the way Oliver’s jaw tightens, he’s thinking the same thing.

“We know all about Malcolm Merlyn,” Diggle says with a sigh. “But we can’t take him down until we know exactly what he’s up to, or the rest of the Alliance will just finish the job. We know he’s got some grand plan he’s working towards, but until we know what it is, we can’t bring him in. And that’s where you two come in.”

“Digg,” Oliver says, gruffly.

“We can use her, Oliver. Someone with her skills, on the inside, another set of eyes and ears on Merlyn and the rest.”

“If they even suspect the truth…” he says, frowning.

“They’ll kill me. I know.” Felicity swallows, because those aren’t idle words or an exaggeration. She’s seen the security section orders, the suddenly bare desks and empty chairs, the names never spoken again. She’s even attended a few of the funerals, lied to family members about car accidents and heart attacks at the bank. For a brief moment, she wonders what they’d tell her mother if it happened to her.

But she means it when she adds,“This is worth the risk.”

When Oliver shakes his head, she reaches out and sets a hand on the arms crossed over his chest. His skin is warm beneath her palm, and hers tingles at the lingering touch.

“You made the same choice once, didn’t you? You know it’s worth it.”

He sighs. “We do this my way, though. You find something, bring it to me first. Limit your contact with Digg or the CIA to keep yourself safe.”

The look he sends Digg is uncompromising, but Digg just nods. “I’m okay with that—as long as you know in the end, she’s a CIA asset. If we have to send her out in the field, we will.”

“Not alone,” Oliver says stiffly.

“That sounds fine to me,” Felicity asks, only a little miffed that this conversation seems to be happening more around her than with her. “I mean, there’s a reason I’m behind a desk. I can’t break my precious hands punching people. Not that your hands aren’t precious, because they… are not something I think about, actually. Ever.”

His smirk and the quick shake of his head is familiar, something anchoring her in this new reality—this tiny, secret world she now inhabits with him (and Digg). A world of death around every corner, in every whisper, behind every glance. A world she should be terrified to have awoken in.

A world that might just have everything she’s ever wanted.

XXXXX

Somehow everything can change in an instant—and yet when you look around, nothing has changed at all.

Felicity walks through the lobby at Credit Dauphine, the “bank” where she works, seeing the same smiling security guard at the desk and the milling crowds with their shoes clicking over the marble tile and even Frank, the armed guard in the “executive” elevator that takes her down into SD-6… All going on with their lives as though the world hadn’t flipped upside down overnight.

As she steps out into the bright white room beyond the elevator, she wonders if their scans will pick up her elevated heart rate, the cold sweat gathering in her armpits, the fluttering nerves in her stomach—does she have a story for if they do? A big presentation coming up? A hot date?

Oliver Queen’s face flashes into her mind at the thought, and suddenly her heart is pounding for an entirely different reason. That, at least, she can tell them about and not be killed (other than death by embarrassment; there’s a reason it’s called “mortification”).

But should she even acknowledge him if she sees him? Will the truth be written across her face? And which truth—the one that would get her killed? Or the one that risks her heart?

The rows of desks beneath the exposed pipes and hanging fluorescent lights are filled with the familiar faces, some of which smile at her in welcome and others that don’t even turn her way. She cuts through them hastily, trying not to make eye contact, or smiling too brightly at others as though the sheer force of her cheer is a defense against suspicion.

She’s not even halfway through the room before she seeks him out, looking towards the gathering of desks in the corner where he usually sits. She sees Tommy Merlyn, Malcolm’s son and another successful agent (who must be unaware of his father’s evil, she thinks with a pang of hope, because he’s always been so kind to her); he’s smiling and flirting with Laurel Lance, one of their mission ops consultants—and her sister, Sara, a field agent who’s been nice enough to teach Felicity a few things in the training room. Roy Harper stands beside them, looking a little sulky now as he stares down at his phone. Rumor is that he’s been flirting with Oliver’s little sister outside the agency, a dangerous game on several fronts.

All of them must be oblivious to what it is they’re really doing here, as they smile and laugh and tease, convinced they’re heroes so selfless and brave that the world will never know their names.

Then she sees him, walking in from one of the hallways, sleeves rolled up to display those muscular forearms as his hands hang at his side. His eyes automatically search the room, trained to assess threats and exits and tools, and when they fall on her like a strike of lightning, she’s not sure what he sees.

But for just a moment, they stare at one another across the room, frozen in place, locked into that tiny secret world. Before, she had only ever watched him from a distance, as her eyes traced the muscles of his back surging beneath the fabric of his shirts, gazing helplessly at the way his arms strained against his sleeves. When he did glance at her, it was quick and friendly—she couldn’t help imagining a softness, a gentle amusement, a lingering when she rapidly turned away… well, she won’t blame herself for her fantasies. This was always a tough job.

But now , now when he looks back at her—he sees her, and there’s no denying the intensity in his eyes, all fixed on her. Maybe it’s just the danger they now share; maybe it’s that he’s no longer alone in his deadly game; maybe it’s the lifeline and new ally she represents.

Or maybe it’s something more. Her job did just get much harder; maybe she can allow herself a new and wilder fantasy as her prize.

Oliver is swallowed into the group of agents at the desks, a reluctant smile on his face at something teasing Tommy says to him—but now she recognizes the slight strain of the expression. Tearing her eyes away, she continues walking through the center aisle of the room, towards her office at the back.

Normally, her office with the foggy glass walls is piled high with crates full of loose wires and circuit boards, cameras and microphones (getting tinier and tinier as she tries to cram them into different random objects), hard drives and half-built computers.

Today, it’s filled with Malcolm Merlyn.

Felicity stumbles to a stop in the doorframe, clutching her shoulder bag against her chest as though it might keep her racing heart from leaping out of her body, hoping her wide eyes and loud gasp can be written off as simply being startled—rather than terrified.

“Ms. Smoak,” Malcolm says, smiling at her, seemingly unperturbed. “I am sorry to have frightened you.”

“Oh, frightened , no, why would I be frightened? You’re my boss and I love you— not love you, I didn’t mean that, I meant I respect you, in a professional way, very professional.” Felicity stopped to breathe, her cheeks burning, her mind scrambling. She had overcompensated way too much, but if Malcolm decided she had some weird crush on him, that might at least cover for her odd behavior.

But Malcolm just smiles wider, apparently used to this sort of rambling from her. “Ms. Smoak, you never cease to entertain.”

“Happy to, sir,” she mumbles, fidgeting with her glasses just to do something with her trembling hands. “Was there something I could… help you with?”

More murdering and crime? More lying? More killing of any colleagues that got out of line?

Now her frightened expression must be something more like burning rage, and she realizes she might be sending very mixed signals if he’s paying any attention. If she has to, she’ll blame PMS; men never understand it and don’t like to ask too many questions.

“It’s about the mission report you submitted the other day—it was very… interesting,” he says, hands folded in front of him, and she looks away to drop her things on her desk. How is she supposed to stare this man in the face, day after day, and act like nothing has changed?

“Oh?” she asks, booting up her computers.

“You’re sure the data storage facility in London cannot be hacked remotely?”

Felicity has to think, for a moment, because the mission report she submitted came from another world entirely. Has it really only been a day since she found out the truth? And if he really suspected she might know, would he waste time pretending to just go on with their work?

But then, apparently, he’s spent the entire time she’s been working here just pretending. What else did she really expect?

“Um, yes, sir, I’m sure,” she says, pulling up the files to refresh her memory; she’s never really had to do that before. “The site has a military grade encryption, requiring someone with the ability to solve polymorphic algorithms in real time. I’ve been trying to write a virus that can be uploaded by an agent in the field, but so far no software or tool could do it faster or better than a person.”

“Than you, you mean,” Malcolm says from right behind her, and she nearly jumps again.

She swallows. “Unless you know anyone else who likes polymorphic algorithms—then them, for sure. But, I guess, me. I could do it.”

“Only on site.”

With a strange, twisting feeling at where this is headed, she says simply, “Yes.”

“Excellent—get prepped for the trip to London immediately. I want those Echelon files on our server as soon as possible.”

“You want… Wait, me , out in the field? Alone?” Felicity gapes at him, wondering if this isn’t some grand cosmic trick. Just when she thought her life had reached ultimate complexity, that the new world she’d found had at least a somewhat stable path to follow, the ground is ripped out from beneath her.

“No, not alone—you’re not field-rated. We’ll send you with someone.”

“I’ll go,” says a familiar voice from her doorway, and she spins on her desk chair to see Oliver standing stiffly just inside her office. She’s not sure how long he’s been there; his expression is tense, his eyebrows drawn low over his eyes. But just him standing there, just his presence, floods her with a relief so profound she has to fight to keep it from showing on her face.

“Listening in, were you?” Malcolm says, still smiling that smug grin. “That’s what I get for working with spies.”

“This is about the Echelon files we failed to get from Kuvay, right?” Oliver asks, stepping further into the room. Is it her imagination, or does he inch towards her side, as though preparing to move all the way between her and Malcolm at any moment?

“We found a back-up in storage at a facility in London. Ms. Smoak was just drawing up the specs—but it looks like she’ll need to access the servers in person.” Malcolm squints, looking Oliver up and down, one half of his face twisted up. “And you were volunteering to escort her?”

“I’d like to see this mission complete,” Oliver says plainly. That hint of strain is back behind his eyes, but Felicity’s starting to think maybe she’s the only one who sees it. Her fantasies are running away with her.

“Should be a simple enough op—if you really want to-”

“I do.”

Malcolm narrows his eyes again, but then he blinks and smiles. “Well, then, that’s settled. I’ll get the ops consultants to start preparing the itinerary.”

Felicity doesn’t quite breathe again until Malcolm has left the room, the back of his black suit disappearing down the corridor to his office. When he’s far enough away, Oliver closes her office door, holding up a finger to his lips when she opens her mouth to speak.

The pen he pulls from his pocket emits a high-pitched beep once he clicks it, a screech that grates like nails on a chalkboard--but she recognizes the frequency jammer for what it is.

“Two minutes,” he says quietly, “and no protection against anyone listening through the walls.”

“Got it,” she replies in a whisper.

“Are you okay? I saw Malcolm in here…” He steps up in front of her, reaching out one hand towards her shoulder, then drops it at the last moment.

“I told him I love him,” she says, as Oliver’s eyebrows go up. “I don’t, obviously, I just panicked—apparently, when I’m scared, I tell people I love them, but I never say it when I actually…” She manages to stop herself and look away at the same time, lest he see the obvious in her eyes. But when she looks back, his gaze is merely sympathetic.

“It will get easier,” he says softly. “The lying.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing.” She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, and then remembers that there’s more to discuss here than her eternal awkwardness. “What about the mission? How do we keep SD-6 from getting the Echelon files?”

“The CIA has a virus that can wipe the hard-drive and make it look like a failsafe that Kuvay installed himself,” Oliver says.

“Okay, that could work—I’ll have to make it better so that it looks like something even I couldn’t stop—but I should do it after transmitting the files to the CIA, right?” This is the part she’s still unsure of; trusting the CIA just as blindly as she once trusted SD-6. She’s not sure she could handle another betrayal of everything she thought she knew.

Oliver opens his mouth to reply, clearly in the affirmative, when the pen beeps again to tell them the two minutes have passed. Instead, their gazes linger on each other as he nods. His hand lifts again, this time settling briefly on her shoulder with a heat that sears through her thin sweater, before he turns away and leaves the room.

Felicity takes a deep breath, her fingers shaking as she holds them over her keyboard, uncertain what to focus on in the maelstrom of her emotions. There’s the hovering panic buzzing in the back of her mind, as she sits within the lion’s den and waits for the predator to smell his prey’s fear. And the guilt, a twisting pang every so often shooting through her chest, when she sees a colleague laugh or grin as though the hard day’s work they’re doing isn’t their own worst nightmare--as she sits there and tells them nothing. The anger doesn’t surprise her, with Malcolm gone from her office; now she can focus less on the threat he poses, and more on the image of his whimpering form being dragged away in handcuffs.

And then there’s Oliver… whose touch she can still feel against her shoulder, whose soft voice still rings in her ears. She’d thought her crush on him was just the height and the broad shoulders and the way he smiled when she stumbled over her words. Now, knowing the way he’s risked his life every day for years , the way seeing him standing in her doorway had made her feel safe, the way she thinks back over every mission they’ve worked together, every civilian he’s tried so hard to protect…

This is more than just a crush. She tells herself it’s the worst thing that could be happening right now--with, you know, death being a very real possibility. Not the best time to be spiraling over her feelings for Oliver Queen. Besides, there’s nothing that’s going to happen there; he’s just protecting her as he would protect anyone, because that’s who he is. .   

With a groan, Felicity turns back to her computer, determined not to think about the crinkles around his blue eyes when he smiles or the huff of breath when she surprises him or the time she saw him training shirtless (the multiple times, she admits to herself, because each one is an exquisite experience in her mind and maybe she didn’t have to take that path to the break room but it wasn’t that far out of her way and…).  

When trying not to think about him doesn’t work, she sighs and lets herself fall into her fantasies, where Oliver wraps his arms around her from behind and holds her safe in his arms—a warm, simple world she never needs to leave. A world where Malcolm was never here and she was never anything but a hero.

A world that exists only in her mind.

XXXXX

Felicity peeks back between the airplane seats for the third time, noting the jewelry covering the woman’s hands as she flips the pages of the magazine, then turning rapidly back around before the woman can look up.

“Nervous?” Oliver asks with a chuckle, sitting beside her with his broad shoulders edging over into her space. She doesn’t mind.

“It’s just… are we sure we should be flying commercial?” She squirms against the uncomfortable cushions, keeping her voice to a whisper. “Shouldn’t we be more… covert?”

“We’re just a couple of business associates traveling for work,” he says nonchalantly.

“Yes, but flight manifests are ridiculously easy to-”

“Felicity.” His hand gently grabs hold of the arm she’s waving in the air, strong fingers wrapped around her wrist as he tugs it back down to the armrest. “We’re fine.”

When she blinks up at him through her glasses, still tense despite the warmth of his hand around her arm, he adds in an even softer tone, “You’re safe. I promise.”

She swallows and nods, easing back into the seat until he slowly lets her go. Part of her wishes she could just reach out to snag his hand and intertwine their fingers over the armrest—but that would cross several lines between them. She’s not even sure if he has… someone. In fact, she’s almost sure he must, walking around looking like that.

They’ve got a long international flight to reach London, crammed into narrow seats with stiff backs and pitiful legroom, though for her it’s more than enough space. Oliver, however, is forced to stretch his legs every so often into the aisle, and he leans on the outer armrest to give her some extra room. He’s going through paperwork and studying up on their intel for a few cases, including his alias for an upcoming mission to Cairo, while Felicity alternates between working on some code on her laptop and watching episodes of Doctor Who (while tilting the screen so maybe he won’t see the over-the-top aliens wiggling around in plastic masks and the people running from slowly rolling Daleks).

But after several hours, she can barely keep her eyes open, and she tries to lean her head back to doze. The angle stiffens her neck, but every time her head lolls forward she jerks awake, until she considers falling forward onto the fold-out tray like she’s sleeping at her desk.

Then the next slide into hazy sleep lands her temple against a firm, warm surface, and she jolts up in surprise to see she’d fallen against Oliver’s shoulder.

“It’s fine,” he murmurs as she looks up at him with bleary eyes, and she realizes that he’d actually shifted towards her to catch her head against his arm. “I don’t mind.”

“Are you sure? I might drool—though you’re probably used to women drooling over you.” She closes her eyes with a groan. “I mean, something less horribly embarrassing—I might snore. Or talk in my sleep. Since apparently I can’t stop talking, ever, why stop with sleep—how do you even know if you talk in your sleep? Unless you sleep with people, I guess, which I-”

“Felicity, I think I can handle it,” he says with a grin. “Sleep.”

Feeling a combination of nerves and giddiness overwhelmed by exhaustion, Felicity lets the side of her head rest tentatively against the curve of his shoulder. She wonders if there’s a proper or professional way to sleep against a colleague, but as she closes her eyes and instinctively nestles her temple against the soft fabric of his white linen shirt, she’s slipping into warm darkness before she can think herself out of this.

When she wakes, slowly, an uncertain amount of time later, her glasses are gone and sitting on his tray beside the paperwork he’s holding with his one free hand. She has also moved her entire body closer to his, her arms wrapped loosely around his elbow, her cheekbone resting against the tilted shoulder so that her head is more fully supported by her very firm pillow. Unconsciously, she seems to have claimed him like a fold-out futon.

After lifting one hand to swipe beneath her lips, which are dry and chapped but thankfully not leaking drool, Felicity forces herself to pull away, shaking away the sleep and fuzzy warmth as she detangles her arms from his.

“Um…” she says, squinting at him through her blurred vision, using all of her newly reawakened inhibitions to keep from leaning closer until he becomes clear.

But she can make out the curve of his smile as he shifts his shoulders back to level in his seat.

“For the record, you only talked once—something about ‘salmon,’” he says.

Felicity distracts herself with reaching out for her glasses so he can’t fully see the flush in her cheeks when she mumbles, “Yeah, I was dreaming about… something to, um… eat.”

Ever since she walked in on him using the salmon ladder in the training room, her dreams had never been the same.

“They should be bringing the next round of snacks soon,” he says. “And it’s not too much longer until we land.”

“Thank you,” she says, nearly clarifying that it’s not for the information but for the warm place to sleep—and yet she can see in his small nod that he knows. She can’t quite determine if there’s anything else to read in those blue eyes, but she settles back into her seat and stares straight ahead.

And manages, by the grace of the babbling gods, not to say aloud that she just slept with Oliver Queen.

XXXXX

If Felicity expected the life of a spy to be glamorous, this trip is quickly disproving that theory. After disembarking from the cramped commercial flight, trying not to massage her numb butt cheeks in front of her purely professional colleague, Felicity trails after him towards the public bathrooms where they change into their minimal gear for the mission. Mostly, it’s just a change from the sweatpants she wore for the flight into a pantsuit that she can run in, though she really hopes it doesn’t come to running.

When she emerges from the restrooms of Heathrow airport, Oliver waits against the wall, his own duffel bag sitting beside his feet. But she can only stare at the tailored suit he’s wearing as he checks his phone, the crisp shoulders and slim tie highlighting the breadth of his muscular body, a beast tamed into the modern world.

Now this is what a spy should look like.

She had always dreamed of a plunging neckline and a high slit up her thigh, spiky heels and a knife tucked into her garter, maybe a computer in her make-up compact, if she ever ventured out from behind her computer screen and into the field. Instead, she’s got a simple blouse under a dark blue blazer, her blonde hair tied back in her usual ponytail, and her heels can best be described as “sensible.” But she looks like someone Jennings Aerospace would send to access their backup server in a thoroughly mundane crisis.

She looks unremarkable, inconspicuous, not someone to be remembered—which is exactly what she’s supposed to be.

And exactly what she always is.

Still, Oliver gives her a small smile as she approaches, while she does her best not to drool all over him for the second time this trip. He bends down to take her bag from her grasp, carrying both their small carry-ons through the airport. Since they’re returning right after the mission, they don’t need more than this single change of clothes.

Part of her regrets they won’t even stay a single night in London; that she won’t get to take obnoxious tourist pictures in front of Big Ben or the London Bridge to show her mom, whose idea of a vacation was taking her to the Venetian.

The other part isn’t sure how she would handle a night in the same hotel as Oliver Queen—maybe even right next door. Well, she knows exactly how she would handle it, with binge-watching TV and room service and an inordinate amount of daydreaming, but still… Having him so close and still so out of reach would be an exquisite torture even the CIA couldn’t dream up.

Their town car idles at the curb, waiting to take them directly to the London database storage facility. Felicity eyes the driver carefully, aware that he is one of their SD-6 assets… and now she knows that could mean he’s an international criminal. Of course, he could be just like her, blissfully unaware that he is not serving his country—or he could know everything, and be waiting to take the two double agents in the back of his car to an undisclosed location where two graves have already been dug.

But Oliver greets him casually, impersonally, and slides into the backseat after depositing their bags in the trunk. Felicity follows his lead, but she feels watched and uncertain as the man climbs into the right side of the car, staying silent as he drives.

If they were alone, she would ask Oliver if he’s been to London before, if he’s been to 221B Baker Street, if he’s eaten spotted dick (she can only imagine how that conversation would go). It’s too dark outside to even see much of what they pass, other than the yellow light of streetlamps striking old-fashioned stone architecture and modern glass and steel in turn.

“Wait around the block—we should be no more than an hour,” Oliver tells the driver, who nods. When they both climb out of the car, Oliver turns to her and adds, “Let me do the talking inside.”

“For once,” Felicity mutters, but Oliver hears and a brief grin flashes across his face.

The man at the counter is nondescript, a bored security guard who puts down the donut he’d been eating when they approach.

“Good evening,” Oliver says, and Felicity nearly gapes at the English accent spilling effortlessly from his lips. She should have realized they needed to be British (all of her case prep indicated they were employees of the very British—and very fake—Jennings Aerospace), but somehow she hadn’t put that together until Oliver’s deep, smooth voice emerged in the crisp tones of his accent.

An involuntary shiver sparks up her spine, but she reigns in her expression of shock… and whatever else is showing on her face. After all, she’s supposedly British too—although, repressed longing is very British, she thinks.

“We are with Jennings Aerospace, and our servers crashed—we need access to our backup immediately,” Oliver says, handing over the ID card she’d made.

“And her?” the man replies in a droning tone after checking the ID.

With a small fumble, Felicity hastily hands over her own ID, saying in a nearly squeaking voice and what she’s pretty sure is a Cockney accent, “Cheerio!” The man just blinks and takes the card, while Oliver pinches his lips in a brief grimace.

“The corporate pin number?” the man asks.

“86119,” Oliver replies without hesitation.

“Alright then, you’re on the second floor.” The man waves towards the elevator bank, then settles back into his chair to watch some show on his monitors—a laughing teenager is being tipped backwards off a red chair.

Felicity doesn’t relax until they’re alone in the elevator, taking a deep breath to steady herself. She can feel Oliver’s solid presence beside her, and the way he’s watching her out of the corner of his eye, but she stares straight ahead at the lit numbers on the elevator wall.

But when the doors open on the second floor, Oliver’s hand around her elbow stops her from moving out into the empty hall. They wait until the doors slide closed again before he hits the stop button to hold it there.

“Kuvay rented out the entire third floor,” he says, and points at the keyhole beside the ‘3’ button. “We can’t access it from here.”

“So…”

Oliver is already reaching up to throw the ceiling hatch open, and Felicity blinks wide eyes up at the hands he’s using to grip the edges and lift himself off the elevator floor.

Oh , no.” Her palms are already sweating, and she wipes them against the fabric of her slacks. “I don’t do heights—no climbing, no elevator shafts, sorry, nope .”

He leans over the open hatch, arm reaching down towards her with hand outstretched, and she wants nothing more than to take it. Except it means being forcefully reminded that she’s currently suspended many feet off the ground—and she’d be leaving the only thing holding her up. Or, at least, exchanging it for Oliver’s grasp. As much as she’s dreamed of experiencing that, it was under very different circumstances.

“Felicity, I’m sorry, but we don’t have time for this.” Oliver’s voice is soft but firm, and after closing her eyes for a brief second, Felicity reaches up to grab his arm.

She wanted to be a spy, after all.

Her grasp on his arm is a bit slippery with sweat, but the strong grip of his hand around her is unwavering as he hauls her body up through the hatch and steadies her on her feet. Even when he turns away towards the edge, Felicity grabs hold of the back of his suit jacket to keep her weak knees from collapsing. The elevator shaft is lit by glaring white lights along dark gray concrete, a matrix of pillars criss-crossing throughout the tall space.

When she glimpses the dark void beneath, she realizes the building must have several floors below ground, since they’re much higher than the second floor.

At her squeak, Oliver says sharply, “Don’t look down.”

“Too late,” she says with a gulp.

He lets her hover just behind him, both hands wrinkling the fabric of his jacket, as he pulls the grappling gun from the back of his waistband and fires it up to a pillar above. The service entrance to the third floor, with an easier door to break open than the elevator doors beside them, stands across a gaping hole from where their elevator hovers.

Felicity sees where this is going and starts shaking her head, stepping backwards and nearly tripping over the wiring atop the elevator—where a stumble could mean a lot more than a bruised ego.

Oliver’s arm jerks roughly around her waist, hauling her back to his side. Feeling a bit faint, she looks up at him helplessly, focusing on those sharp blue eyes as they search her face with a  concerned frown.

“I’m sorry,” she gasps out. “I’m trying, I just…”

His hand pinches sharply into her waist, but it’s a reassuring gesture, the strength in his fingers focused entirely on her—while his other hand maintains his grip on the gun.

“Felicity.” Their eyes lock, as tightly as his hold on her. “I will not let you fall.”

Unable to look away, she just nods, and wraps her arms around his neck when he bends down so she can. This close, she can feel the hard lines of his body, can smell the whiff of woodsy cologne against his neck, could almost lean forward to nuzzle her nose against the stubble on his jaw when he finally turns his face away to look at where they’re headed. She manages to resist, though, as she focuses on quelling the butterflies churning in her stomach—the stomach currently pressed flat against his side, with her legs straddling his thigh, her trembling hands clenched in the collar of his jacket.

The hand he uses to grasp her waist is steady and warm, digging in just as he’s about to leap. To keep herself from screaming and giving them away, she squeezes her eyes shut and imagines his close embrace in another world—perhaps as he’s holding her tightly in a slow dance, or leaning down to kiss her, where the hand at her side is slipping up under her shirt, as his fingertips brush across her bare skin…

For a moment, she’s weightless, and in the addled daydreams of her own mind, all she feels is him. He will not let her fall.

Except… she’s pretty sure that she’s already fallen.

Then Oliver’s feet find the platform next to the service door, and gravity returns as her stomach twists in a whole new—and far less pleasant—way. He settles her carefully onto her feet, pressing her back against the wall and watching her closely as he lets her go, but Felicity manages to stay standing when he goes to release the grapple and return the gun to his waistband.

“You okay?” he asks quietly. She’s still not quite sure about opening her mouth, so she just swallows and nods shakily.

He pries the security door open and leads her through onto blessedly solid and enclosed ground, with her knees still so weak she might collapse and kiss the linoleum tile. A few long seconds pass before he releases her hand, though she may be so delirious she imagined it.

“We need to find Kuvay’s terminal,” Oliver says as he strides down the brightly lit hallway.

Gathering all the wits she always claims to have, Felicity takes a deep breath and hurries after him, trying not to be a complete embarrassment to the spy profession. She knows Oliver has scaled buildings without a rope, has taken down rows of armed guards, has parachuted out of planes and done who knows what else to survive on his black ops mission. Some of it she’s even watched, biting her nails and rechecking her tech again and again, as she listens on comms and monitors the satellite feed. He’s one of the few agents who never seems to mind when she butts in on the comms to ask if he’s alright, to babble some nonsense in his ears; when he replies, sometimes she can even hear the amusement in his voice, kind and friendly rather than annoyed or cruel.

There have been moments when she wanted to be out there with him… to do what she thought was helping the world. And now she truly is, following him down a hallway on a covert mission to steal the Echelon files from a wanted criminal—and keeping them from falling into the hands of another.

Letting a little fear of heights ruin this moment is not an option.

Well, in the sense that she can’t really choose not to feel it. But she can choose to ignore it.

Of course, the great irony of her life is that as soon as she regains her footing enough to catch up to his long stride—that’s when the guards appear.

The two young men in uniforms know instantly that Oliver and Felicity do not belong on this floor; their bored expressions flipping rapidly to shock and then determination show that this was supposed to be an easy, empty hallway to patrol. So they’re raising their guns before Oliver can even speak.

He still tries, though, holding his empty hand out in front of him and saying, again in that British accent, “We seem to have gotten lost-”

One of the guards swings his aim towards Felicity standing several feet back, and that’s when Oliver leaps forward, grabbing his arm to wrest the gun from his grasp as he lashes out a foot to strike the other in the stomach.

As Felicity watches helplessly (and uselessly), Oliver takes on the two guards with a series of simple yet brutal moves meant to disarm them with as little damage as possible. They are, after all, just doing their jobs at a relatively legal establishment.

Doing their jobs a little too well, she laments later, when one of the guards distracts Oliver enough for the other to get off a shot.

At the echo of the shot, for one moment, Felicity fears Oliver’s been struck.

Then she feels the pain blossom through her chest, as she stumbles back against the wall with a choked gasp.

The guard is still holding out the gun towards her, though Oliver bashes the other guard into the wall with brutal force. Then, face fixed in a savage expression, Oliver breaks the shooter’s arm and sends him sprawling over the floor with a stomp kick that knocks the wind from the man’s chest as he falls. His skull slamming against the tile is the last sound he makes, other than the wheeze that indicates he’s at least alive.

Which is more than Felicity can hope for, as she starts to slide down the wall, a white haze descending over her mind.

“I’ve been shot,” she mumbles, words starting to slur together. “By a security guard, before we could even… It’s not a good story.”

She’d sort of hoped that if she got killed as a double agent, it would at least be eventful. This is just anticlimactic.

Oliver is in front of her between one blink and the next, one arm sliding around her as he catches her in her slow descent, crouching down with her held against his chest.

“You’re okay, you’re safe, I’m right here,” he’s muttering in a hasty whisper, almost as though he’s reassuring himself, as his other hand searches frantically through the folds of her clothes for the wound. Under other circumstances, Oliver Queen’s hand pawing at her chest would be inciting all sorts of feelings—now, she just waits for him to uncover the blood spilling out of her.

Except… there’s no blood.

An expression of profound relief flickers across his face as his fingers grasp hold of a tiny metal dart sticking through her blouse, yanking it from her skin as she yelps. The spot where it hit still aches, but she realizes it’s a shallow ache, barely beneath the skin.

“Tranq dart,” he breathes, and then he’s lifting them both back up onto their feet. “I don’t think you got the full dose.”

Felicity’s not sure if it’s relief or the sudden wave of fatigue making a swamp of her normally quick mind, but she closes her eyes at the words.

“So I’m not dead,” she says with a sigh. “Just tranqued, like a wild animal. Did the dart have little feathers on it? I’ve always thought they had those little feathers…”

“Come on, we have to go—we have even less time now.”

He takes a step away, expecting her to follow, except that her first step is like wading through water and her knee buckles as her foot lands somewhere on a ground that is tilting sideways.

With a grimace that’s half urgency and half concern, Oliver catches her against his side, hand coming up to lift her chin. “Felicity, you have to stay awake—you need to hack into the server.”

“I always said I could hack in my sleep,” she says, giggling as he drags her down the hallway, her feet scrambling to make some effort at taking steps beside his quick strides. “Now I can prove it—watch me.”

“You can show me another time,” he says, voice deep and focused as he opens the door to the server room. “Right now, show me your skills with the, um…”

“Polymorphic algorithms.” The syllables run together, but they sound right in her head.

Oliver maneuvers her into the chair before the keyboard, sitting beside her and waiting anxiously for her to deliver what she’s been brought here to do. But the room is wavering at the edges and the screen in front of her looks like a black void of stars. Oliver’s own keystrokes bring up little blinking lights that might, if she squints, be letters and numbers in some sort of pattern… dancing… like square dancing…

“Felicity, focus,” he says. Somehow, the controlled desperation in his voice doesn’t sound like scolding, even as he grasps hold of her wrists and lifts her hands to the keyboard, his hands sliding over her tiny fingers and green-painted nails.

“We can dance…” she murmurs, head too heavy for her neck as it falls forward before she jerks it back upright.

With a sigh, Oliver watches her, eyebrows drawn together. And then his hand is sliding across her jaw, tilting her face towards his, and she tries to keep her eyes open because his beautiful face is getting closer…

Then his lips are against her own, soft and warm as they close around her bottom lip and devour her in a consuming kiss that has her gasping against him. His other hand has curled around her neck, holding up her head as he draws her in closer, and he’s leading her through a fumbling kiss (on her part, at least), spreading heat through her limp body that burns away the haze.

Her heart pounds desperately in her chest, her skin tingling with the echoes of his touch as his fingertips graze across her cheek, her breath coming in little gasps—and her mind lurches back into life.

She’s kissing Oliver Queen. What is this… why is he… does he maybe…?

But with that sudden jolt of awareness also comes the realization that they are in the middle of a mission, one that only she can complete, and her thoughts leap automatically into the task ahead.

When he pulls back, she sees in the way his eyes skate across her face that he was hoping for exactly that reaction, and she hides the bitter sting of disappointment with the biting of her trembling bottom lip as she turns back to the computer terminal. If he’s about to say anything, she cuts him off, muttering through the calculations of the algorithms as she solves them rapidly beneath her fingertips.

The files are unearthed in the mass of code within a few minutes, as her mind hastens to keep ahead of the oncoming fog that was only temporarily held at bay.

By Oliver kissing her.

Once the files are downloaded onto their portable drive, the originals erased from the server with a vicious virus, Felicity feels the last of the adrenaline surge leaching out of her. She’s slumping down in the chair just as Oliver tears the drive from the port and reaches down to lift her into his arms.

“Almost done,” he says softly above her, as her head lolls against his shoulder for the second time that day. The jet lag isn’t helping her situation much.

The next few moments pass in and out of darkness, as he steps over the still unconscious bodies of the guards and summons the elevator to the third floor (once here, it requires no key to leave). By the time they reach the lobby, he’s placing her on her feet, using the strength in one arm to half-carry her past the man at the desk—who barely looks up from his show to acknowledge their passing.

Her last flicker of awareness is in the back of the town car, as she lays across Oliver’s lap with his voice telling the driver to get to the airport as quickly as possible. She might have struggled to sit up, uncertain whether enjoying the solid thigh beneath her cheek was a forbidden pleasure. But her body has fallen completely to sleep, and her mind is rolling hurriedly after, so that her last conscious thought is the mumbling of Oliver’s name in the first tendrils of sleep.

And the feeling of his fingers brushing the loosened wisps of hair back from her face.

Or perhaps that last part is the beginning of a dream, fueled by tranquilizer drugs and memories of a tender kiss that still heats her lips.

Because only in a dream could a kiss from Oliver Queen be…

Real.

XXXXX

By the time the plane lands back in Starling City, Felicity has decided that professional spies kiss each other all the time, and it never means anything. In fact, she knows Oliver has kissed Sara before on missions, mostly to blend in at shady clubs or avoid detection--though how two gorgeous people like them kissing doesn’t draw every eye in the room, she isn’t sure. But it does the job for them, and then they’re back to work the next day as friends, with Tommy teasing Sara about her off-and-on relationship with the assassin Nyssa al Ghul and Oliver occasionally shaking his head with a smile at their banter.

So she says nothing about it, and they spend the drive back to SD-6 preparing her explanation to Malcolm about the corrupted files they’d retrieved. Oliver wants to go over the exact words she’ll use, and yeah, she gets that.

If anything, though, her habit of babbling works in her favor; it shrouds her nervous rambling in the familiarity of her just being herself, and Malcolm thankfully reads the waver in her voice as ashamed failure or his own intimidation. By the time he gives her curt instructions to try everything she can to reinstate the data, without a lot of real sincerity behind it, his anger seems to be directed entirely at Kuvay. He leaves her office, passes Oliver hovering anxiously in the doorway, and seems to not suspect a thing.

“How do you keep doing this?” she asks Oliver once he’s gone, quietly, just vaguely enough that anyone overhearing might assume she means going on missions in general. But he must know what she really means; the way her hands are quivering, the cold sweat soaking through the fabric bunched in her armpits, the racing heartbeat nearly drowning out her hearing.

“I remember what’s important,” he replies, simply. He gives her a significant look when he adds, “I’ve got to go make a call. That was… Good work, Felicity.” It’s the closest he’s come to saying anything about the mission. After lingering for just a moment, he nods and turns away--undoubtedly to go call Digg and verify a check-in later.

She watches him walk away, and wonders why she doesn’t feel more triumphant. They just wrested important data away from Malcolm, data which he might have used for who knows what terrible crime, and she was out in the field and helping. Maybe it’s the ghost of the fake kiss still haunting her--no, she told herself she wasn’t going to dwell on that. Professional spy, right?

Rubbing her fingertips across the round purple bruise beneath her collarbone where the tranq hit, Felicity turns back to her computer with a resigned sigh. Malcolm has already ordered another mission report for retrieving bank vault schematics in Switzerland, and she’ll have to figure out a new way to betray him right under his nose. Except this betrayal is actually a reversal of his own betrayal, so does that even count?

When she realizes she’s muttering under her breath aloud, she closes her eyes tightly and thinks of the virtues of wiring her jaw shut. It might make kissing more difficult… but that would be a bonus, she tells herself with firm determination.

So she spends the next few weeks not thinking about it, and thinking about how she’s not going to think about it, and trying to be firmly professional with the man that she is definitely not thinking about. Her calls to him to plan meetings with Digg are brief and steeped in vague code, and their communications while he’s out in the field are quick and to the point. Mostly, it’s to keep from accidentally babbling about their “other” work while she’s on a comm line that the other agents can hear.

But it’s also to keep herself from babbling something potentially much worse. Well, “worse” in the humiliation and friendship-ruining sense, not in the life-threatening sense. Because while revealing the feelings she can no longer deny might end in even more distance between them…  revealing a hint of her work for the CIA would definitely end in that distance being six feet of grave dirt.

It helps that there’s another man occupying her thoughts in a far less pleasant way, his oily smirk and ruthless cruelty haunting her nightmares as she peers around every corner before speaking and jumps at every loud sound in the office. She’s getting better at it, at lying to his smug face the same way he has lied to her since the moment she met him, at finding an eager joy in denying his twisted whims at every turn.

After a few weeks of rewriting code and crafting fake gadgets and hacking into security feeds to cover for Oliver’s sleight of hand in diverting Malcolm’s prizes to the CIA rather than his own still-mysterious aims, though, Felicity starts to feel a hollow frustration with it all. Digg tells her their work has never been easier than since she started; Malcolm is convinced that her extra hours in front of the computer are her compensating for a string of recent “failures” and seems oblivious; and Oliver gets a proud glimmer in his eyes every time she comes up with some new way to twist Malcolm’s agenda against him.

And yet they still have no idea exactly what that agenda is.

“You know he’s bad, why can’t you just arrest him?” Felicity demands at one of their clandestine meetings, pacing back and forth through the storage locker as the two men just watch her.

“If we shut down Malcolm right now, too many threats would just slip away,” Digg replies calmly. “The intel you and Oliver are gathering is too important-”

“But that intel is ultimately for stopping him, right?” Her voice is rising, and she’s aware somewhere in the back of her mind that she’s yelling at a pair of agents who could kill her with their hands tied behind their backs--and yet she knows, deep in her bones, that they never would. Somehow, down in this hidden basement, is the place she feels safest in the world.

With two men who lie for a living and whom she trusts more than anyone.

“You’re already stopping him, Felicity,” Digg says. “You’ve done more in the last couple weeks to upset his plans than we ever have before.”

“But he’s still out there.”

The thought won’t leave her head, as she tosses and turns in bed and lays there angrily in the dark, thinking of Malcolm in his mansion sleeping peacefully. Thinking that he’s gotten away with it all, because so far, he has. He still has the power at his fingertips to kill any of them and disappear, and she’s stuck giving him fake bombs and having to pretend she’s horrible at her job, so he can’t get his hands on the latest deadly weapon or surveillance software. And that cannot go on.

After Digg leaves the storage locker first, having delivered the alternate plan for Oliver’s upcoming mission to Paris, Felicity continues to stomp back and forth over the concrete floor, nearly getting her heel stuck in a drainage grate with the force of her steps.

“I just need access to Malcolm’s private computer,” she mutters, mostly to herself, though Oliver is leaning back against the table in the corner and watching her pace. “If I could sneak into his office-”

“No,” Oliver says, standing up straight at her words.

“No?” She turns towards him with a glare. “You don’t think I can do it? That I can’t end this--end him --once and for all?”

Oliver expels a frustrated breath. “Felicity, if anyone could… But it’s too much of a risk.”

“More of a risk than having Malcolm Merlyn out there running around free?” she asks. The frustration makes her voice nearly shaky with stifled anger, and Oliver steps towards her in automatic response. But his arms stay at his side, and he doesn’t move any closer.

“The CIA--including us--are watching him closely,” Oliver says. “He can’t make any major moves without us knowing, and right now, it’s about patience.”

“Do you trust them? The CIA? I mean, I trust John, but…”

“I do trust them,” he says, voice low. “And that isn’t easy, I know. Maybe not in everything, but in this? In getting Merlyn? We want the same thing.”

No , we don’t. I want to stop him now , and they want… I don’t know what they want!” she spits out, though her anger isn’t directed at him. It’s the entire world, it feels like, suddenly conspiring against her when she thought she had the control beneath her fingertips. And now there’s nothing she can control, and good and evil aren’t as simple as she wants them to be, and there’s no one she can blame--except Malcolm. She feels like she can blame Malcolm for everything.

She moves to start pacing again, or maybe to go get some air, but his hands come up to curl around her shoulders and stop her cold. Or warm, rather, because his large hands are surprisingly warm through the thin fabric of her sweater. She stares helplessly up into his face, unable to look away.

“They want to stop him when it will do the most good, when we can do it right ,” he says, voice calm yet firm as he doesn’t take his eyes from hers. “Until then, we just contain him.”

“How do you… do this? For years ?” Her hands flutter at her sides, unsure whether she should reach up to grab his forearms on either side of her, or somehow try to pull him closer…

“When I started, I felt just like you,” he says. Slowly, he releases her, stepping away to retreat into his own memories--and she nearly reaches out after him to draw him back. She’s been around him enough to know nothing good awaits him there. He doesn’t look at her when he continues, staring at the metal grate that walls in the locker. “I came back from the… mission, from Lian Yu, knowing the truth and wanting to burn down the world just to burn Malcolm with it. John was the one who saved my life again and again--and the lives of those I was putting in the line of fire, even some who might have deserved it. He showed me I could do this another way.” Now Oliver smiles at something in his own mind. “So did you.”

“Me?” Felicity asks in reflex, because he isn’t looking at her when he says it. But when he does turn to glance at her, there’s that thing back in his eyes that makes her heartbeat pick up speed.

“From the moment you started, you argued for reducing casualties; you provided satellite specs so we could avoid guards rather than take them out; you created tech that could incapacitate combatants non-lethally,” he says, shaking his head in wonder. “Even your ways of gathering information gave Malcolm fewer excuses to torture people for it… Gave me fewer excuses to go on as I had been. Felicity…”

His gaze is so intent on her, somehow soft and piercing all at once, pinning her in place as he turns fully towards her in the small space. The air around them suddenly warms, despite the cold metal and concrete of their surroundings, and she can almost feel him moving towards her. There’s the same haze of the moment before he kissed her, which at the time she blamed on the tranquilizer working through her system, but now… Now she can almost feel the same pull of gravity, as though she’s been orbiting him helplessly and is now hurtling towards the core of him with nothing to hold her back.

She thinks he’s about to lift his hands to her face and draw her into him, let them crash into each other, find something stable in the shifting shadows of the world around them. With a small intake of breath, she waits for him to take that final step towards her.

But he doesn’t. And all her recent espionage has not made her brave enough to take the step herself.

Instead, he closes his eyes briefly and turns away, tense in a colder way than the breathless tension of before. Whatever she thought she felt has dissipated back into nothing but her own imaginings, and with a harsh bite of her bottom lip, Felicity reigns back in the raw and vulnerable pieces of herself she nearly exposed to the world. To him.

“We just have to keep doing our work,” he says, not looking at her. “We’ll figure out what Malcolm’s up to soon, I promise, and when we do, we’ll take him down. The right way.”

“Right,” she says, a little absentmindedly. Her anger has been drained from her, left to simmer in the back of her mind behind all of the other emotions fighting for dominance right now. It leaves her a little bit numb.

“You should go--I’ll wait,” he says. It’s his way of ending this, simply and cleanly, of staying in their professional lane.

It’s for the best, she tells herself. They’re not going to stop Malcolm if they’re distracted.

But they are going to stop him. That’s what she clings to as she leaves Oliver behind, as she walks back out into a world that still doesn’t make any sense.

They still have their shared little world of secrets.

She’s starting to think that’s all they have, all they’ll ever have.

And she wonders how she ever thought that would be enough.