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Knife in a Gunfight

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As Oliver stares at the rooftop across from him, he can't help feeling alone against the landscape of Starling City. It's something that never bothered him before, something he never noticed. Before, it was simply the only option; he had to do this alone and no one would be able to help him. Now, he's been given an option he never knew he had, a taste of how things could be different. He blames a very blonde swordfighter for insisting they pair up at Hunt Multi-National three weeks ago.

Even as that nagging sensation hits him, Oliver has no choice but to take down James Holder by himself tonight. Though he has no doubt he'll succeed, the silence now feels like loneliness instead of solitude. Felicity made it clear three weeks ago that she wasn't interested in a partner, and Oliver doubts he could change her mind. Unlike him, Felicity is comfortable alone in a fight, preferring to trust her own blade.

He should probably call her. She gave him her number if he wanted to talk, but Oliver hasn't had the courage to reach out. Even though she programmed his number into her phone, she hasn't called him, either. Felicity doesn't need the distraction of his problems, and Oliver can respect that. Alone or not, he'll have to adjust to the sensation again. He should be used to it; he's been alone a lot over the last five years.

Maybe that's why Felicity appeals to him so much: not only can she handle his life without flinching, she could also fill that void that's been empty for so long. Oliver didn't learn to survive on his own. He had partners, allies—people he could trust. While he can work on his own, there's always going to be a part of him looking for someone else to join him.

Shaking his head to clear it, Oliver turns back to his purpose for being here tonight, staring down at the building below him. James Holder is on the phone while lounging next to his rooftop pool. It causes Oliver to frown. James Holder clearly has no concerns at the moment, despite the fact nearly thirty people just died because he put defective smoke detectors in his low-income housing. Despite that, he's walking around free, even as the police hunt Oliver his body count.

At least Oliver has the decency to regret the lives he's taken.

With that thought in mind, it's all too easy for Oliver to fire a grappling arrow into the rooftop, allowing it to propel him toward Holder. The vigilante lands with boots crunching on the ground, nocking his bow immediately. A very startled Holder drops his cell phone into the pool, effectively removing all witnesses from the situation.

Holder grasps for his radio, holding it up like a lifeline. “I have armed security inside,” he warns, as if he's relaying a novel idea to the vigilante. Surely he didn't think Oliver would come after him blindly, without surveying the situation. "All I have to do is call out."

Before he responds, Oliver pulls away the string of radios attached to his belt—the ones he took from Holder's poorly trained guards several minutes ago. "Go ahead," is his challenge, his voice even darker with the modulator. "They can't hear you."

As the realization that he's trapped, Holder backs away slowly. Oliver crosses and reaches him within seconds. His first thought is to throw Holder in the pool and keep submerging him until he complies, but Oliver comes up with a better plan as he notices the industrial fan on a level just below the pool. He throws Holder on top of it first, before jumping over the edge and following.

Oliver pushes Holder's head against the guard, until it rests just inches from the fan. Holder screams, but Oliver just speaks over him. "Your corporation put defective smoke detectors in low-income housing in the Glades," he declares. "People died in those fires when your alarms didn't work." He pushes Holder even closer to the blades, and the man whimpers a sob. "The courts may have said you didn't owe your victims anything, but I disagree. You're going to—"

Holder goes limp as a bullet strikes home between his eyes. Oliver immediately turns, ducking behind the fan to avoid getting clipped again. It goes quiet for several minutes, and Oliver finally moves from behind the fan, running to avoid getting clipped himself. After a few seconds, hot metal burns through his arm. He clenches his jaw to keep from crying out in pain, instead reaching for an arrow from his quiver.

As the end of the roof draws close, Oliver pushes himself to run faster, instead of slowing down. As he reaches the end, he jumps off the skyscraper without any hesitation. As he falls, he aims the grappling arrow from his bow and fires it into the side of the building, grabbing the cable with all he has. It burns his hands even through the gloves as the momentum drags the cable against his palms. He grits his teeth through it; he can handle rope burn later. All that matters now is getting out of the sniper's range.

It takes Oliver a moment to realize he's out of range after mentally examining the trajectory, but it wouldn't take long for a professional to relocate—especially if he came prepared. Instead of hanging in place all night, Oliver slides down the cable until his feet touch solid ground.

As he releases the cable, a strange burning sensation starts up in his arm. He's been shot plenty of times, but none of them have felt like this before. There has to be something else. In the alleyway, Oliver lowers himself behind a dumpster, tearing at the bullet stuck in his left arm.

He slips off a glove and takes a deep breath before reaching into the bullet wound. Gritting his teeth, Oliver takes shallow breaths as he pulls the bullet from the wound. There's something different about it; a strange smell rolls off the coating on the bullet. Poison.

Using the side of the building as leverage, he tries to pull himself up. He needs to get back to base before it takes effect, to the small pouch of herbs from the island. The harder he tries to fight, the more futile it is. The tingling in his legs is familiar; he's encountered this before, and it's lethal if he doesn't get help soon.

With a sigh, he pulls out his cell phone and calls the one person who can help him. It rings for an eternity, but just when he thinks she won't answer, it picks up. "I was starting to think you lost my number," Felicity answers without preamble. Her voice is stiff despite the upbeat tone. Oliver knows that tone because he's used it before: upset, but covering the pain with a smile.

Yet another person he's managed to hurt since he's been back.

"I know I've been distant—" he starts.

"Don't apologize," Felicity insists, cutting him off at the knees just as efficiently as she could with her swords. "The phone works both ways. I haven't called you, either." Her tone sounds a little brighter. "We're too new to each other, and I'm guessing you dislike unknown variables as much as I do." Oliver lets his silence serve as confirmation. "I take it you didn't call to chat."

"I think I need to call in a favor," he admits. "I was on a mission when a sniper took a shot at my target." With a curve to his lips, he adds, "An unknown variable." His tone sobers as his calves go numb. "The sniper hit me with a poisoned bullet. It's working like curare. I'm just off Thirty-Second Street, in an alley in the block between Grand and Broadbent."

Before he's even finished, she's saying in a calm tone, "Roy, Oliver is in trouble and my car is down. I need you to hotwire a car. Preferably a four-door sedan."

"I have a cure back at base," Oliver offers. "Green box. There's a pouch—"

"No need for that," Felicity assures him. There's a sound of a wrapper crinkling, of glass bottles clinking together. "I've encountered it before with the Triad. I have neostigmine and atropine on hand." It sounds like she's stuffing something into a plastic bag. "As soon as Roy gets me a car, I'm seven minutes out." She pauses. "Less if I hack the traffic lights."

Oliver's shoulder goes limp. There's no question now that there was enough poison on that bullet to kill him. He licks his bottom lip, his mouth dry. "I'm sorry, Felicity," he says this time. "I should have called you." He sighs. "I know that I should trust you, but…"

He's saved from having to answer when she sighs, blowing static across the line. "Trusting people gets you killed," Felicity finishes for him. "You've proven your worth to me. If you don't die tonight, maybe I can prove mine to you." Her voice is lighter as she insists, "So don't die on me. That's an order."

With a smile, he replies before hanging up, "Only because you asked so nicely."

 


 

As consciousness returns to him, Oliver's eyes fly open. His vision is a giant blur, even after he tries to get his eyes to focus. A throbbing headache makes him wince, closing his eyes again so he can concentrate. A sound reaches his ears, disturbing and familiar all at once: the long draw of a blade across a whetstone.

Tensed for a fight, Oliver turns over on his right side. He relaxes at the sight that greets him. As he lies on the bed, Felicity sits next to it, back resting against a bedside table as she puts a new edge on her sword with a singular focus.

It takes him a moment longer to realize the only light is pouring through the open window. "Don't you have something else to do?" Oliver asks, his voice coming out in a harsh rasp. "There was no reason to watch over me."

She doesn't look up at him, but a smile lifts one corner of her mouth as she pulls the blade against the whetstone again. "I wanted to," is her simple answer. She sheaths the sword before rising to her feed in a fluid motion. "I called in sick and I'm working from home today."

Dropping onto the bed next to him, she asks, "More importantly, how are you feeling? Poisoning is bad enough, but neostigmine can be a pain in the ass, too. It usually makes me throw up—not to mention the headaches and blurry vision."

Groaning, Oliver rolls onto his back again. His eyes fall closed. "I thought that was from the poison," he admits. Moving only makes his muscles ache with a strange soreness. "I think I've had hangovers more pleasant than this."

Felicity responds with an unladylike snort that makes him smile. "If your hangovers weren't this bad, I don't think a worse one exists," she answers in a dry tone. "Didn't you used to spend most of your time getting wasted?" There's no judgment in her tone, only stating fact.

"I don't know about most of it," Oliver replies, "but more than I should have. Tommy and I spent most weekends in a nightclub. He swears he can't remember anything about 2006." The statement does the trick: Felicity laughs.

Sitting up on the bed, Oliver asks quietly, "What about you? Who were you before?" He knows the question isn't easy for her, but Oliver can't help himself. It's impossible for him to fathom Felicity as anything other than the person she is today.

Her hand brushes his as she leans toward him, shifting as she thinks about the question. Just when he's afraid she won't answer, Felicity finally replies, "The same person I am now, I guess." Her head tilts to the side. "Except I had a father and I didn't have the mask and swords." She stares at the nightstand, lost in a distant memory. "I was caged in my life, but I never even realized it.

"Of course, I was happier then," she allows. "I never questioned my world." She blows out a breath. "The part of me that used to enjoy shopping with my mother, or playing video games with Roy, or dating a nice guy…" She makes a vague gesture. "It all kind of… broke after Japan."

Oliver is quiet for several moments before nodding. "A friend once told me that the experiences I endured didn't make me into something new. It just stripped away all the things I wasn't." He looks away before meeting her eyes again. "I was looking for something five years ago, and I tried to find it in drugs, alcohol, and meaningless sex." He shakes his head. "I didn't find it there."

The corner of Felicity's mouth rises in an enigmatic smile. "I guess the most important question is: Did you ever discover what it was?"

"Clarity," he replies immediately.

He can't explain to her that the island wasn't all horrors and nightmares; her experiences were both of those things. On the island, he discovered himself. For the first time in his life, Oliver had to take responsibility. He had to make important decisions, and he had to live with the consequences of them. Maybe those choices turned him into a monster, but it set him free from a life he always hated.

Despite his laconic reply, Felicity nods. "It's strange how empty everything feels after you've fought to survive," she agrees. "The things that mattered then mean nothing to me now. You start to appreciate the things that can't be replaced. Like family."

Oliver sits up, running a hand through his hair. Family isn't an easy point right now. "My family is complicated," he admits.

Felicity snorts before assuring him, "Families always are."

"They all want me to be the person I was before the island," he admits. Something about the look on her face says she's experienced that, as well—only she's had three years to settle into her life after her crucible. "Do they ever stop?"

When she starts to respond, it's after special consideration. It's been a long time since anyone has taken him so seriously. "I think it depends on the person," she replies with an honesty he finds refreshing. "Roy… He understands that this changed me. I'm not sure he likes who I am now, but he at least accepts me." An ironic, dark laugh leaves her. "My mother is still waiting for the old Felicity to come back."

Before he can reply, she pokes at his arm just as gently as she did three weeks ago, examining the wound with great care. "Looks like your stitches are going to hold." Oliver recognizes the subject change for what it is. "It might take a while for the poison and treatment to leave your system, but you're welcome to stay here as long as you'd like."

He blinks twice, realizing that he's forgotten to ask. Something about her presence makes him comfortable here—wherever that is. With a clearer vision, he examines the room. Black curtains cover the windows, the furniture old and dark, worn in some places. Some of the items are too bright for the rest of the room: the pillows are a swirl of cheery colors and a pair of pink flats are tossed in the corner, next to a teal hamper.

"Where is here?" Oliver finally asks.

Turning away, Felicity finds something fascinating about the wooden floor. Because his vision is finally clear, he takes the opportunity to study her. There are a pair of plastic-framed, rectangular glasses on her face, and her blonde hair is pulled neatly into a high ponytail. The bullet wound in her shoulder from three weeks ago is exposed by a black camisole. She combines it with jeans and a pair of red Converse that are well used.

A smile graces his lips. This is the first time he's been able to get a look at Felicity Smoak, not just Deathstroke. Underneath the lethal vigilante, there's a woman with an average life—with hopes and dreams and aspirations. Oliver decides he wants to know that side of her, too.

When she shifts in place, Oliver first thinks that she's noticed her staring, but then her eyes dart around the room. "I had to get you somewhere close where we could stabilize you," she explains slowly. "I'm not really familiar with your base and it was further away, so I had Roy bring you home." Her lips press together. "This is my room."

He pulls himself into a sitting position, her discomfort suddenly contagious. This is Felicity's private space—he shouldn't be here. He means to get up, but even the slight motion makes him dizzy again.

Felicity places a hand on Oliver's knee. "No, it's okay," she assures him. "I told Roy to put you here. You're bigger than my couch and Roy actually sleeps, so…" She shrugs. "It only made sense."

"Thank you," Oliver replies softly.

Though she blinks at him several times, she snorts. "You don't have to thank me for repaying a favor," Felicity assures him.

Insistent, he replies, "We both know you did much more than that."

Even as she rolls her eyes, a subtle hint of a smile graces her face. Oliver decides it's a good look for her. "Well, don't express your gratitude yet," is her reply. "There's a slight issue in the wardrobe department." She reaches over and slaps his thigh lightly.

Unable to do anything but stare, he watches as her eyes widen and her face flushes. "I wasn't trying to cop a feel, but you're still in your gear. You can't exactly leave here in them—not in broad daylight. Those pants are as notorious as they are tight."

A slow chuckle leaves him as she winces. "My point," she says, shaking her head, "is that you don't have any other clothes, and Roy won't have anything that will fit you." She makes a face. "I sent him after your civilian clothes last night, but you installed the new keypad."

She makes a face. "Four-digit passcode, though? Really? I could have walked Roy through hacking that, but I told him to leave it alone until we talked to you." She folds one leg underneath her. "If you want to keep your code private, you can wait until nightfall to sneak out of here—no offense taken. If you want to leave earlier, you can tell me your passcode and I'll get your civilian clothes."

With anyone else, trust would be an issue, but her respect of his privacy tells Oliver all he needs to know. "I should probably leave earlier. Mom and Thea will be concerned if I'm gone that long." Moving to sit next to her, he tells her, "The code to the basement is one-four-one-one."

She's on her feet in an instant, grabbing the nearby t-shirt lying on the dresser. It's black with a picture of a wide-eyed, white, cartoon cat. The words underneath promise I will end you. Oliver can't help smiling at the similarities. Innocent and harmless enough on the outside, but lethal on the inside.

"Felicity?" Oliver calls. She stops in the doorway, turning back to him as he offers her a small smile. "I'm sorry I didn't trust you before."

"I take it that means I've earned your trust?" When he nods, she takes two steps back toward him. "I have my reasons why I don't trust anyone, and I'm sure you have yours, too. I'll try not to be one of them."

A second later, she's pointing through the doorway. "Bathroom is a left and then the next door on your left. Living room and kitchen are to your right from here. Feel free to move around wherever you want—you have the place to yourself right now."

Running her hands over her jeans, she adds, "I'll be back with food and clothes. Roy is the only one with a key, and he should be home soon. If anyone else knocks, just ignore it." She makes a face. "That would be my mother, and I can't deal with her today." Her tone tells him there's a history there, but there are some things Oliver knows better than to ask.

He nods once, and then she's gone, leaving him alone in her space without someone to watch him. It's a gesture of trust far more impressive than any words. Though he trusts her more than anyone else, the thought of her alone in his base still makes him squirm. He has to shake it away; if she can trust him blindly, he can extend the same courtesy to her.

The sound of his Ducati starting up outside jolts him out of his thoughts. Of course; her car isn't working. For some reason, the idea of her on his bike doesn't bother him, but maybe because the bike is replaceable. His privacy is not.

Frowning, Oliver rises to his feet. The action makes him wince, even as he uses slow, exaggerated movements. He wobbles slightly, gripping the nightstand for balance. His head spins for a moment, but he waits until it subsides.

Walking to the living area is slow and frustrating, clinging to the wall for support. Finally he collapses on a couch that somehow survived the seventies, still in immaculate condition but the color of orange sherbet. In anyone else's house, he'd call it garish, but it seems to fit with the oversized purple chair and the plush, sapphire blue recliner on either end of the sofa.

Eyes closing, he lies on the sofa and listens to the sounds of the city around him. Felicity's home is in a quiet neighborhood, with occasional sounds of traffic and wind through the trees. He understands why she lives here; it's a nice home, but it attracts little attention.

A rattle comes from the door, and Oliver rises immediately. A wave of nausea washes over him, but he forces it back. When he sees the red hood, he relaxes, lying back. It does little to help the nausea.

Roy doesn't seem surprised to find Oliver on the sofa. "You look pretty good for a guy who got shot and poisoned," he greets in a flat tone. The sound of keys rattling follows. "Felicity said it would probably be a few more hours before you wake up." He hangs his hoodie up on the coat rack by the door, tidier than Oliver expects from the kid. "Did she go for food?"

"Yeah," Oliver replies, swallowing hard. The nausea isn't subsiding.

Over the back of the couch, Roy appears with a frown. "I know where she keeps the good painkillers, if you need some."

"Just side effects of the medications," Oliver assures him, rising to his feet. The action is more tolerable this time than the last. Circling the couch, he walks over to Roy, extending a hand to shake. "I called Felicity for help, but I know you played a part, too. I wouldn't be standing here right now without the two of you. Thank you."

Though his eyebrows fly up, Roy doesn't hesitate to take Oliver's outstretched hand with a firm shake. "Least I could do," Roy answers with a shrug. "You're the reason Felicity is still walking around after that bullet last month. I'm just glad I could return the favor."

He shoves his hands into his pants pockets, shifting in place while staring at his feet. "Felicity might not be blood, but she's all the family I have, Oliver." Roy makes a face. "My dad died before I was born, and my mom was too busy shooting up her latest fix of heroin to be a parent. Donna took me in when my mom went to rehab, but Felicity was the one who took care of me." Oliver nods once; they must be inseparable after that. "Donna just let me do whatever the hell I wanted. Felicity is the one who kicked my ass when I needed it."

"It couldn't have been easy for you when she was gone," Oliver decides after a long moment. The thought brings him to his own sister. What was it she had said yesterday? You may have gone through hell, Ollie, but it was hell here, too. "My sister is struggling." He turns to Roy. "I think she's making dangerous choices."

As he blows out a breath, sympathy softens Roy's features. "I can't imagine what it would be like to lose Felicity for five years," he states, his tone dripping with sincerity. "She was gone for seven months and I managed to make a mess out of my life." He frowns. "I think I was trying to catch someone's attention. Dropped out of school, stole some cars, armed robbery." When Roy laughs, it's bitter. "And when my sister came back from the dead, I wasn't able to see her because I was stuck in juvie."

A smile turns the corners of his mouth up. "She came to visiting hours and yelled at me. Stormed out." He snorts a silent laugh. "The next day, she came back and hugged me. When the guard told her she couldn't, she yelled at him.

"When I got out of jail, Felicity didn't yell or hover," Roy continues. "She taught me how to hotwire a car and pick a lock, then made me go back to school." His expression turns nostalgic as he loses himself in the memory. "Everyone else let me do what I wanted, but Felicity has always made me feel like I could be better."

"I've tried that," Oliver replies with a frown. "Tough love only makes her think I'm judging her."

Roy nods. "It wasn't easy for us after Japan," he admits, "but it changed when we started over." He shakes his head. "We both went through a lot of shit. We didn't know each other anymore." He shrugs. "So we just started over."

Nodding several times, Oliver files the idea away for later. That might just be the help Thea needs. There's no question that he'll have to take the first step, but maybe they can learn to be siblings again soon.

Another wave of nausea hits him suddenly, his head spinning. It must show on his face because Roy says with urgency, "Bathroom is on the left, down the hall—the room past Felicity's."

Already moving, Oliver rushes toward the bathroom, collapsing to his knees. He wretches a few times before emptying the contents of his stomach into the toilet. The last time he was this miserable, he'd been hungover after one of Tommy's parties. At least he'd had a good time then.

After finishing, Oliver leans back against the wall, his hands shaking. A fresh sheen of sweat makes him shiver as he wipes his mouth on his arm. He closes his eyes as he utters a few choice curses in Mandarin.

"Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" Felicity comments from the doorway, with a hint of amusement. "Those are some nasty words, Queen." He tilts his head toward her in surprise, to find her leaning against the door frame with a smile on her lips. In the language itself, she clarifies, "I speak Mandarin. Quite fluently."

His cheeks feel warm, but Felicity dismisses it with a wave of her hand. "I understand," she assures him. "When shit is miserable, I've found that swearing helps." Lifting one corner of her shirt, she exposes her left side to reveal a thick, angry scar over her hip. "I was just starting out when a Triad guy hit me with a fireplace poker—straight out of the fireplace. I think I invented a few new curses that night."

Rising to the tip of her toes, she reaches into the bathroom cabinet for a hand towel. She runs water over it before dabbing at the perspiration around his hairline with a delicate touch. After finishing, Felicity grabs a bottle of water from the cabinet, opening it for Oliver.

"Roy told me you were in here, praying to the great porcelain god," she explains, leaning against the counter. "I thought you might need something to rinse your mouth out." Oliver takes the water, doing so and spitting the contents into the toilet. "Neostigmine is kind of an asshole. It can save your life, but it makes you pay for it later."

Heaving himself up from the ground, Oliver moves to the sink. As he reaches for the mouthwash bottle on the counter, Felicity opens a drawer. She offers him a toothbrush, still in the plastic packaging.

As he brushes his teeth, Felicity slips past him and exits the room. When she returns, she holds up a black duffel bag. "I gathered your clothes in this." She drops it at his feet. "You can change in my room," she offers. "Your hood should be on top of the chest at the end of my bed."

Biting her lip, she crosses her arms. "I wasn't sure what to do with your bow and quiver, so I locked them in the safe with my swords. I'll get them out for you before you leave." Felicity turns on her heel, calling behind her, "Food is on the kitchen counter. I hope you like Chinese."

Walking into Felicity's room with a smile lingering on his lips, Oliver changes into his jeans and gray sweater. The bullet wound in his arm aches, but it isn't intolerable. He's lucky it wasn't worse.

Several moments later, he emerges from the room to find Roy sitting at the bar in the kitchen. Felicity passes him a brightly colored plate from the cabinet while reaching for her own. Takeout boxes litter the counter. Some are open and some are still closed, but all of it smells delicious. Oliver's stomach rumbles.

As he sits down at the counter, Felicity passes him a plate with a soft smile. She walks around the bar to sit on the middle stool, dropping a handful of forks and spoons in the middle of the counter for all of them.

"I hope you don't mind, but I didn't get out the fine china," she teases him with a smirk. "We don't exactly have a five-star chef on staff. Roy is a terrible cook." She makes a face. "My cooking resembles an arson attempt."

"Felicity is better at taking apart appliances than using them," Roy adds.

"I think it's nice," Oliver assures them both, with a smile of his own. "Family dinners in my house are formal occasions." The words slip out without permission, but it somehow feels like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. "It didn't feel comfortable, like this. Our dinners are always about a statement. Image is everything." The words come out bitter.

The way Felicity looks at him has a little too much understanding and sympathy. Oliver quickly changes the subject. "You speak Mandarin, but do you speak any other languages?"

A snort of amusement comes from Roy. "What languages doesn’t she speak?" he answers with a roll of his eyes, his words garbled by a mouth full of food. He swallows, holding up a finger while taking a drink of his soda. "Noah—Felicity's dad—swore she was a linguist in another life." She doesn't even flinch at the mention of her father, simply taking a drink of her soda.

"Dad did a lot of business in the Orient," she explains, waving her hand. "He was in software R and D for one of your competitors, Kord Industries. He and Ted were pretty good friends. Dad was kind of a rock star in the tech world."

For reasons he doesn't understand, a vague memory floats back to him. At one of his father's meetings, Oliver overheard Malcolm Merlyn talking about the competition. If everyone had a Noah Kuttler in their tech division, Mr. Merlyn had said, they wouldn't be taking the market share from us.

"I started interning there in high school," Felicity continues. "I went overseas a few times with him, so I started studying the languages of the places we went." She tilts her head to the side, popping a bite of food into her mouth. After swallowing, she says, "You're multilingual, too."

Though she isn't asking, Oliver nods anyway. He reaches across for the fried rice as he finishes a portion of his food. "It turns out that I'm good at three things," he tells her with the barest hint of a smile. "Surviving, archery, and learning new languages." Felicity snorts, her mouth twisting up in a grin.

"I speak Spanish, Mandarin, and Russian, mostly," Oliver continues. "I did pick up a little Ukrainian, but barely enough to get by. I met a Ukrainian woman who helped me survive, and she taught me a little." He tenses as he realizes he just spoke about the island; he's never told anyone about his experiences before.

If any of that realization plays on his face, Felicity and Roy are wise enough not to speak of it. Felicity doesn't even miss a beat. "I speak Japanese, Mandarin, Korean, Spanish, Italian, and French," she replies, ticking each language off on her fingers. She frowns as she looks at her hands, mouthing the languages as she runs through them again. "Oh, and German." Tapping her lime green fingernails on the counter, she adds, "I'd love to learn Russian, but I haven't had the time."

While she isn't asking, Oliver can read between the lines. Over the years, he's found that he works best when he trains both body and mind; these days, it's mostly body and no mind. "If you teach me Japanese," he bargains, "I'll teach you Russian."

Her smile is so wide it shows teeth. Oliver can't help but think it's a lovely smile. When she offers a hand for him to shake, he takes it. "You have yourself a deal, Queen," she promises with a smile.

Felicity pushes her fork back into her plate, twisting some chow mein around it. "I didn't get the chance to ask you before, but what's the deal with the bow?" She shoves the bite of food into her mouth. "It's not exactly the most efficient weapon, even if you do make it look like an art form." Oliver blinks twice at the compliment; he has a feeling she doesn't give out many of those.

"When I first arrived on the island…" Oliver swallows, gathering his thoughts before launching into a slow cadence. There are no good memories of the island. Only agony. "I almost starved before someone found me. His name was Yao Fei, and he was a skilled archer. He taught me how to survive, but it was Shado, his daughter, who taught me how to use a bow." His head tilts to the side. "Both of them would make me look like an amateur, but it was what I got used to."

He offers a hint of a smile. "Your turn. Tell me why you use the swords."

A laugh leaves Felicity's lips. "I told you about Slade, didn't I?" Nodding, Oliver remembers the tale of her captor turned mentor. "Well, Slade Wilson was former Australian intelligence. They kicked him out because his methods were unconventional." She takes a sip from her glass of water. "They weren't that different from mine now, actually. The Fenghuang Cartel was more than pleased to offer him a paycheck."

She shovels a bite of sweet and sour chicken in her mouth this time. "Slade was supposed to be one of my guards," she continues, "but he… Well, I don't know. He must have seen something in me that he liked, I guess. That was about three months after I was taken, and I was the only one of the hostages still alive."

It makes sense that she's the one who lasted the longest. The Bratva never trafficked women, but most of the other gangs do, including the Fenghuang Cartel. A young, attractive American woman would be worth a fortune to them. It makes Oliver's stomach turn even thinking about it.

"Slade had to be careful," Felicity continues. "He could only let me use the weapons he had on him, and only at certain times. Swords were his favorite, so that's what he trained me to use." She grins. "And how to handle myself without weapons." She lifts a shoulder. "When the guards came to beat the shit out of me, I started fighting back. The beatings were less brutal."

Twirling her fork against her plate, she concludes, "I guess the swords became a reminder of all the things I've overcome." Felicity places her elbow on the table. "We should practice together sometime. I've never held a bow before, and I don't exactly have the space to train here." She grins. "And it's not like anyone I've taken down has given me a real challenge in years."

"I'd like to see that," Roy interjects. Both Felicity and Oliver turn to face him at once. He shrugs under the attention. "I never get to see Felicity fight because it's dangerous to be where she is." He grins at Oliver. "I kind of want to see her kick your ass."

"Oh, he'd be no match for me with a sword," Felicity agrees, "but I'd look like a child with a bow." She turns back to Oliver. "We have our strengths and weaknesses."

Nodding his agreement, Oliver replies, "I could learn more from you about sword and unarmed combat." He rests his arm on the bar. "I'm sure you fight differently than I do—we could pick up a few things with each other." He grins. "I don't mind losing a fight in order to learn how to win."

"When you heal up," Felicity suggests, "give me a call. We'll start practicing."

"You have the code to the base now," Oliver points out as an idea strikes him. "You could use the training dummies whenever you want." He hesitates. "It might be a good idea for you to have the code to the house gate—just in case something happens and you can't contact me by phone." He drops his fork in his plate. "You saved me tonight anyway, but having those codes might make everything a little easier for you."

From the other end of the bar, Roy points his fork at them. "I know you can handle yourself, Felicity," he starts carefully, "but if something happens to you in the field, Oliver has already proven he could help you out. What if you gave him a key to the house, for emergencies?"

The way Felicity bristles, Oliver expects a rejection, but she stays quiet, eating several bites of her food. Finally, she nods. "That wouldn't hurt," she admits. "We could stash civilian clothes at each other's places, to avoid any more situations like today."

Suddenly, she pokes him in the shoulder. "But we are not working together, Oliver. I meant it when I said one show only. You go after your targets, I go after mine."

"I respect that," Oliver assures her. He might not understand her opposition, but he can certainly allow it. "We're the only vigilantes in Starling City, though. We have to look out for each other."

She snorts. "Something tells me looking after you will be a full-time job."

 


 

Frowning as he reaches his destination, Oliver checks the text message on his phone again. It has to be the right address; the number reads 17505 Sunrise Boulevard, just like Felicity sent him, but it still doesn't seem right.

From the moment he met Felicity, it was obvious she's a highly skilled hacker and computer technician. It was only last week she let slip she graduated from MIT. She could be at a Fortune 500 company with that kind of background. Hell, Walter would leap at the chance to hire someone like her at Queen Consolidated.

But the building in front of him is where students with C-averages go to work. The façade and awning are crumbling, the building leaning slightly to one side. The window is cracked in one corner, and a flickering, neon sign that reads Computer Repair hangs in a high corner. Driscoll's IT Solutions looks like every other shop on this street of the Glades: as if it survived an aerial bombing or two.

Deciding this is the right place, Oliver pulls the battered laptop out of the storage compartment of his Ducati before stuffing his helmet in its place. With a sigh, he crosses the street, hoping Felicity is still willing to help him.

Just two days ago, she'd already tracked down the assassin that nearly killed him, extracting his last favor from her. Floyd Lawton, more commonly known by his alias of Deadshot, had taken down two more targets before Oliver engaged him in another firefight. It left him with the remnants of a broken laptop, and there's only one person Oliver would trust to examine it.

He expected resistance from her after he used up his favors, but she agreed without a fight. You'll owe me one, Oliver, she had warned him. I'm not your partner, and I don't do shit for free.

There are worse people to be in debt to.

The lobby of the building is so small that it's claustrophobic, the counter manned by a redheaded boy with the unfortunate acne of puberty. He can't be out of high school yet, but they seem to trust him with an expensive-looking headset over his ear.

Without looking up, the boy drones in a monotone, "Can I help you?" His eyes are firmly on the computer in front of him.

Oliver flashes the boy a friendly smile he doesn't see. "Hi," he starts in a light voice. It sounds fake to his ears, but no one ever seems to notice. "I talked to one of your technicians earlier—Felicity Smoak? She should be expecting me."

Only then does the clerk look up at him, mouth open in protest. His face goes blank in the typical reaction to Oliver's presence, staring blankly. After gaping like a fish, the kid finally manages to pull himself together. "I'll, uh… I can page her up front for you, Mr. Queen," he says in a high voice, his face going as red as his hair.

"Felicity, you, um… you have a client waiting for you," the kid says into his headset, after pressing a button.

Movement catches in the corner of Oliver's eye, and he turns to smile. "I know, Jason," Felicity says from behind him, making the kid jump as she leans against the wall.

Felicity stands out in her own way, though Oliver can't help but think she always will. Instead of a red polo emblazoned with the company name, like what the kid wears, she's in jeans, red Converse, and a gray graphic t-shirt. It shows a superhero in a red costume around a pile of comics, the words I have issues proudly proclaimed above it. There's a headset over her ear and a pencil stuck through her hair. Oliver smiles so wide he shows teeth.

"Oliver, you have to stop destroying electronics for my benefit," she teases him, fuchsia lips curving upward. It's a good story for the clerk, who looks between them like he's watching a ping-pong match. "You have my number. If you want my attention, just call and say, 'Felicity, I have mint chocolate chip ice cream.' That's all it takes." She crosses her arms over her chest, tapping a red fingernail against the opposite arm. "You don't have to go to the trouble of breaking a computer for my sake."

A breathy laugh leaves him in surprise. "Noted," he says with a nod, "but this time I really did have computer trouble." He holds up the laptop as proof. "I was at the coffee shop surfing the web, and I spilled a latte on it. Do you think you can help me out?"

One corner of her mouth twitches at the blatant lie, coming up higher as she raises an eyebrow at him. Oliver just grins, causing her to roll her eyes. "Come on back and I'll see what I can do with it," Felicity finally replies, motioning to the back offices.

The clerk—Jason, she said his name was—clears his throat. "Felicity, it's company policy that clients aren't allowed in the IT department," he states, tone timid and shaky. Oliver presses his lips together to hide a smile; he didn't think the kid had it in him. Jason has no idea what Felicity is capable of, yet still seems terrified.

"That rule is in place because of property damage reasons," Felicity retorts, rolling her eyes. "He's Oliver Queen, Jason. He could buy this building five times over, update it with a clean room, and still have the money to pay our salaries for a year. With a substantial raise. I think he's okay."

Before Jason can protest again, Felicity rounds the counter, looping Oliver's arm through his. She pulls him forward with force he doesn't expect. "Besides, he's not a client," she continues. "He's a friend and it's my lunch break." Smiling as she passes the kid, she reaches down to pat his arm. Jason flinches and flushes at the same time. "I'll vouch for him. It will be fine."

Without waiting for Jason's response, Felicity navigates them through a maze of cubicles to a small office in the back. There are monitors and cables set up, a bank of black boxes with bright lights further back. The room is colder than the rest of the space by at least twenty degrees.

Felicity pulls the door to. "This server closet is the only place with any kind of privacy," she explains. "I figured you didn't want anyone to know I'm pulling information from an assassin's laptop."

When she opens the cover to reveal three bullet holes in the screen, Felicity winces. "You weren't kidding when you said it was in bad shape," she notes aloud as she plugs it in to a monitor on the wall. "If it starts, it shouldn't be hard to salvage anything with a new display. If it doesn't, I might actually have to work at this."

The moment she presses the button, it whirs to life. Felicity grins. "Looks like it's going to be fish in a barrel this time. And the faster we're out of here, the less chance we have of Jason coming back here to check on us."

Unable to hide his smile, Oliver suggests, "You might want to lighten up on him. He's terrified of you, but I think he also has a crush on you."

"He probably has good reason to be afraid of me," Felicity admits, her tone unapologetic. "One of the guys was a little pushy when I started here, so I convinced him to take no for an answer." She must intend it to be vague because she throws him a smirk that promises nothing good.

Frowning, Felicity rubs at her arms, shivering a little. "I'm going to go get my jacket," she decides.

Oliver rises to his feet, starting to shrug out of his jacket, but Felicity stops him with a hand on her shoulder. "I'm not your girlfriend and this isn't ninth grade, Queen," she says dryly, with a roll of her eyes. "I don't need you to take care of me. The computer needs time to start up, anyway."

Sitting back down, Oliver replies easily, "Have it your way."

She stops at the door, turning to grin. "I usually do."

Five minutes later, she's back, pulling a brick red hoodie over her head. "I forgot to say thank you for offering your jacket," Felicity says as she sits back down, adjusting the strings hanging from the hood. "I'm not good with people." One corner of her mouth tilts up. "Unless I'm stabbing them. So thank you."

"You're welcome," he replies. It wouldn't be an easy thing for him to admit, nor does it seem to be one for Felicity.

Her attention back on the computer, she frowns at the lock screen before reaching across Oliver for another device. As she plugs it in and starts it running, he reads the words on hoodie: To thine own self be true. He's familiar with the quote, even if he's not familiar with the work it comes from. "Are you a fan of Shakespeare?" Oliver asks.

Felicity's eyes light up in a way he's never seen as she turns to him. "You've read Hamlet?" she asks.

"Not in any of the four schools I dropped out of," Oliver admits to her honestly. She tries to hide it, but her face falls slightly. "I spent my time trying to avoid reading Hamlet."

"Right," she answers in a dry tone, pushing up her glasses. "I read a lot when I was in college. I was three years younger than everyone else, so I didn't have many friends. MIT was when I really hit the classics—Shakespeare, Faulkner, Machiavelli, Poe." She makes a face. "I guess the only thing that changed are my hobbies."

Again Oliver can't help but think her skills are beyond what a place like this could pay for. Maybe she prefers it that way—she's hidden here. "They're lucky to have you here," Oliver decides, careful to keep his tone neutral. "I'd bet Driscoll's doesn't see many MIT graduates."

With a grin, Felicity replies, "That's why I hired into an upper-tier position. I might still do technical support in the field, but I'm responsible for the twenty-two other techs here."

She sits a little straighter in her chair. "This place started out as a TV repair shop in the sixties. Melvin Driscoll is the best TV repairman you'll ever know, but times changed. People don't repair TVs anymore—they just buy new ones. So Mr. Driscoll decided computers were a good parallel." She makes a face. "Great businessman, but terrible IT consultant.

"I came back from Japan and I needed a change," Felicity continues with a wave of her hand, not meeting Oliver's eyes. "Mr. Driscoll needed someone who knew computers the way he knew TVs. I started out as his only tech, for ten dollars an hour." She grimaces. "My mother hated it."

Oliver offers her a tentative smile, nudging her shoulder with his own. "You're talking to the family disappointment," he reminds her, teasing in a way that isn't really a joke. "I know how it feels to have your parents criticize your decisions."

Though she returns his smile briefly, it fades. Felicity replies in a slow cadence, "My mom… she doesn't really understand what I've been through. All she saw was me giving up a good job at Kord Industries." She wraps her arms around herself. "I couldn't go back there, even though Ted offered me my dad's job. Ted Kord's name might be on the building, but my dad made that place. Every time I walked in that building, I saw…" She takes a slow, shaky breath. "I see him bleeding out on the ground all over again."

"I feel the same way about Queen Consolidated," Oliver admits in a low voice. When he goes to his mother's office, all he can see is his father with a gun to his head, begging Oliver to survive.

As the computer's desktop comes up, she pats his arm once. "The media coverage just makes it worse, doesn't it?" she asks, turning back to the screen. Oliver nods his agreement, his hand falling on her shoulder as she laughs bitterly. "Everyone wanted Felicity Kuttler in their IT department—Noah Kuttler's daughter, the one who survived the Fenghuang. They wanted the story and the legacy, but never me."

Felicity props her elbow on the desk, using the other hand to smooth down her already immaculate hair. "I changed my last name, dyed my hair, and picked up my swords." When she smiles, her shoulders rise like a weight has been lifted from them. Oliver decides that's what freedom looks like. "Never looked back."

It must have been impossible for her. Oliver grew up with the media watching his every move. For someone who never had to experience that before, it must have felt like her entire life was being scrutinized under a magnifying glass.

"I spent some time in Coast City a while back," Oliver admits quietly. Felicity only listens with an impassive expression, ready to hear anything he says without judgment. No one has ever given him that before. "I could have gone home then, but…"

He sighs. If he can admit this to anyone, it's her. "I had just finished a year with ARGUS. It was an off-the-record job in Hong Kong." He runs a hand through his hair. "My handler, Waller, she was smart. She discovered me and knew what I could do. She thought I had a gift for interrogation." Oliver meets her eyes, trying to convey the horror that he saw—that he had been.

Instead of recoiling, Felicity reaches for his hand, weaving her fingers through his. It gives him the strength to continue. "The worst things I ever did… I did them for Waller." He frowns. "She was a monster, but I was worse. I didn't want my family to see what I became after that."

They're silent for a long moment, but finally Felicity replies, "I should have thought of that. Staying in Japan and sorting out my life might have helped." Sighing, she shakes her head. "It's taken me three years to get to this point." She flashes him an ironic smile. "And I'm not as emotionally healthy as you are."

It surprises a laugh out of Oliver. "I've learned about adapting to this life from you," he admits. "No one else has been able to help. They just want the old me back." He shakes his head. "But you… you're at peace with who you are." He throws her a lopsided smile. "And I'm not exactly the image of mental health, Felicity."

"Now you see why I'm concerned," she retorts with a cheeky grin, releasing his hand. It moves to Oliver's face before she turns back to the computer. The gesture is almost intimate—a rarity for Felicity. Though he's too stunned to act upon it, he's glad they're in private. Otherwise, he might do something stupid that would only ruin their relationship.

Like kiss her.

After a few clicks of the mouse and a few moments of typing code, Felicity pulls up a schematic. Squinting as he leans in, Oliver moves to study it, but his shoulder knocks against hers. She only pulls her arm out of the way, throwing it over his far shoulder so he can lean in closer.

"This is the building where the Unidac Industries auction is scheduled to take place," she informs him, tilting her head to the side to study it. Oliver's brow furrows at her in confusion, and she shrugs. "I like to keep up with current events. I'm usually in current events."

She waves a hand. "The point is that your assassin is going to show up there." Felicity opens a few other screens, pointing at the top of one. "Looks like this laptop is registered to Warren Patel. He's one of the potential buyers." She frowns. "So is Queen Consolidated."

"I could use your help on this one," he starts in a low voice, already aware she's going to turn him down. "I'll have to make an appearance with my family."

Felicity's eyes narrows. "What part of 'one show only' do you not understand, Oliver?" she snaps, before he can even ask. "I work alone." She waves a hand vaguely around them. "I don't mind saving your life. I don't even mind working on computer problems that interest me, but I am not going to play sidekick."

Quietly, Oliver replies, "I was thinking partner, not sidekick."

When she crosses her arms over her chest, he winces internally. He's never seen her hold firm to her position before, but she adjusts herself like she's settling into a trench to wait out a war. It might be long and bloody, but she's prepared to win this battle. She says nothing, only continuing to stare at him. Oliver is starting to understand how she can keep twenty-two technicians in line: fear and intimidation.

At her silence, he huffs a sigh. "Felicity," he tries again, "I can't be in two places at once."

All she does is cross her arms. "Not my problem."

"I don't have anyone else I can depend on," Oliver insists.

"Also not my problem." At least she hesitates this time.

Even though he hates playing the guilt card, he's out of options and he can't afford to play nice. "He's going to take out innocent people to get this company, Felicity. If we don't stop them, it could be Walter next. My mother. My sister."

"Then you can do the honorable thing and step in front of a bullet for them," Felicity snaps, rubbing at her temples. She sighs. "And he killed you, Deadshot would be doing me a tremendous favor."

After jabbing her finger into his nose, she declares, "I know you're manipulating me, Queen, and I don't like it." She crosses her arms again. "Also, I've been a card-carrying member of Mensa since I was fifteen. Playing mind games with me is like bringing a knife to a gunfight."

With a huff, she slams the laptop screen down. "But I have to admit that you're right. Deadshot needs to be stopped before he hurts someone else. It's going to be teeming with a police presence, and there are four buildings around that one Deadshot could use for a sniper perch. This is big enough for two of us."

She pokes his shoulder. "But you owe me, Oliver Queen. I'm cutting off all favors until you pay up."

Oliver's lips press together, trying to come up with something that she might want or need. "I could cook dinner for you and Roy," he offers after a moment. When she arches an eyebrow, he holds his hands up. "I grew up in the kitchen helping Raisa—our maid." He shifts in place. "I'm a little rusty, but I used to make an impressive chicken cordon bleu."

"That would make us even for this," Felicity counters. "I'm about to take on an assassin that uses poisoned bullets, and I don't take neostigmine well, Oliver." She unplugs the laptop. "I need something better than your half-baked culinary skills." She grins to let him know she's only teasing. "Pun completely intended."

He laughs. "Your jokes are terrible," he teases back. After thinking about it for another moment, an idea comes to him. "The Bratva captain who runs Starling City." Felicity leans in, sitting straighter in her chair. "His name is Alexei Leonov. I can give him to you."

"Done," she agrees, shoving the laptop onto his thighs. "Take your stolen property and go."

After Oliver rises to his feet, Felicity does, too. She might be six inches shorter than him and half his weight, but it still manages to be threatening when she pokes her finger in his chest. "But if you ever try to manipulate me again, I will rain digital fire down upon your entire life and dance in the ashes of your credit score." She holds up a hand. "I know you don't actually use credit, but it's the principle of the thing."

It startles a laugh out of him, and she breaks into a smile far too easily to be angry with him. "And here I thought you liked me," he teases.

"I do," Felicity assures him. Her grin morphs into a smirk that reminds him that she spends her nights decapitating people with swords. "If I didn't, I would have threatened to put you on the genital herpes alert list and leak it to the press."

Before he can do anything else but gape, she pats his arm. "I'll meet you at the base at six for briefing," she declares. "We'll determine plan of attack and set up comm links. Say thank you with gifts."

Unable to resist this time, Oliver tilts her head to the side, pressing his lips to her cheek. As he pulls back, her eyes are wide, mouth parted. "Felicity Smoak, I don't deserve you," he declares.

"Maybe not," she answers in a hazy voice, fingers falling on the spot where his lips had just been, "but you're working on it."

 


 

Oliver's eyes flick across the hall, wincing at the openness of it. Few exits, plenty of windows, and plenty of people at this auction. They might as well be in a fishbowl—or maybe they're just fish in a barrel for Deadshot. It's a good thing he brought help, or people could die tonight. Pressing the button on his Bluetooth receiver, he mutters, "Tell me what you see."

"I'm in the northeast building—to your three o'clock," Felicity answers, voice masked by her modulator. "It's clear. Two down, two to go. All I have is a clear view of number six on TMZ's Hottest Billionaire Bachelors list, and he's wearing the hell out of a tuxedo."

Oliver stumbles over his own feet, his face suddenly feeling hot. She's expressed appreciation of his looks before, but never intentionally. It feels an awful lot like flirting, but that's a place too dangerous for either of them.

At his reaction, Felicity laughs. "Did the floor move under you, Oliver?" she teases in a knowing tone. "I hate it when it does that." For a moment, all he can hear is the sound of her breathing over the line. "Are you blushing?"

Deliberately turning his back to her, he continues scanning the room. "I didn't peg you for the type to read anything on TMZ," Oliver teases back. If she's going to give him grief about that ridiculous list, he can at least reciprocate because she knows about it.

"I don't. My mother does," Felicity replies in a dry tone. "She likes to read off the top ten for me after it comes out. It's her way of punishing me for being eternally single. I'm pretty sure the founding fathers had that in mind when they used the phrase 'cruel and unusual punishment.'"

She snorts. "Personally, I thought giving you number six was a bit harsh. They ranked Ray Palmer above you, which is absurd. He looks the kind of guy who would walk me to the door, kiss my cheek, and tell me he had a nice time on our date. You look like the kind of guy I'd take home after five shots of tequila at the bar."

As he comes to an abrupt stop, Oliver's mouth falls open. Felicity continues on, lost in her comparison. "He's dinner, sure, but you're dessert." She makes a small noise in her throat. "That makes it sound like a euphemism for sex, but you know what I mean." He doesn't, actually. "If they're ranking purely on the basis of sex appeal, then you have your share—and the share Ray Palmer was supposed to get."

For the sake of his sanity, he can't allow this to continue any longer. It was hard enough to ignore Felicity's charm when he thought she had no interest in him. Just this once, he's glad she's in another building.

After clearing his throat, he says too sharply, "I'd appreciate it if you could focus." Frowning, he softens is tone. It isn't her fault he can't handle her analytical musings about his looks. "There's an assassin running around who has claimed two victims already, and the the police presence here isn't going to save anyone."

"Excuse me?" a deep voice says from beside him. Oliver jumps, head swiveling to find John Diggle standing next to him.

He understands why his mother hired the man; Diggle looks like he could cut through rock with just a glare. He never smiles and his arms are the size of bowling balls, but in Oliver's experience, big muscles don't decide the victor in a fight. An opponent with fifty pounds on him might pack a punch, but they'd have to hit him first.

In addition to that, Oliver has learned a powerful lesson in the last three weeks: there's an advantage in being the underdog. He's watched Felicity—five-foot-five Felicity who might clock in at a hundred and twenty pounds—could knock out John Diggle while asking for a real challenge.

Maybe that isn't fair to Digg. He's only a former sergeant of the US Army with two tours in Afghanistan. Felicity had to fight for survival every day of her life for seven months, after being trained by a rogue ASIS agent. If she carried a scythe instead of her swords, she'd be the Grim Reaper.

Oliver files that thought away for later, just in case if he ever finds himself on her bad side. She'd love that description.

Turning to Diggle with a polished smile, Oliver explains, "I heard some of the policemen talking about it outside." Digg's eyebrows narrow because he isn't an idiot, but Oliver doesn't wait for questions. Instead, he takes a few quick steps forward to separate the two of them, losing his hired shadow in the crowd.

A distorted laugh comes through the headset. "That was so bad that I'm not even sure it counts as lying," Felicity says with a smile in her voice. "If concealing your identity depends on your ability to lie, you might as well walk up to your once-future father-in-law and confess right now." Oliver's eyebrows knit together. Before he can ask who she's talking about, she adds, "Your two o'clock."

When he turns, it's to see Lance at the refreshment table. Like Oliver, he keeps his head on a swivel and his eyes on the two buildings visible from this angle. "Laurel and I were never engaged," Oliver hears himself say. "I think he's closer to being Tommy's future father-in-law these days." Tommy had admitted two days ago that he was seeing Laurel. It didn't hurt as badly as Oliver expected.

Felicity makes a noise in the back of her throat. "That sounds… complicated."

Moving to stand against a deserted back wall, Oliver replies in a low voice, "I put on a hood and shoot arrows into criminals, Felicity. When it comes to complexity, I grade on a curve."

"That's where you and I differ." A grunt follows, and her voice is breathy as she continues. "I just kill bad people with swords. I don't want to go to prison, so I wear a mask. If people knew, they'd call the police, so I don't tell anyone. I live a model life and keep my nose clean because I intend to keep killing bad people with swords." Another huff of breath passes through the line. "I'm all about keeping things simple."

"But messy," Oliver can't help but point out.

He can practically hear her shrug over their comm link. "If you want to use swords to kill people, you can't expect to keep your hands clean," Felicity retorts. "It's the one thing I allow to be messy. Boring nine-to-five job. Business is always separate from pleasure. No friends, no vigilante partners. I have to have a little fun in my life."

"One friend," Oliver corrects. There's a rush of movement out of the corner of the window, and he turns in time to see a silhouette land on the rooftop of a nearby building. "Did you just make that jump without a grappling hook?"

"Of course. I don't own a grappling hook," is her breathy reply. "And we both know you only want to be my friend because you need my tactical awareness and computer skills. That makes you more of an ally."

Oliver fights back a frown at that conclusion, but then he realizes he's to blame for it. They didn't have a chance to form a friendship before he contacted her again for help. She's tried to be friendly—buying dinner for him, talking about her past, allowing him into her home—but he has never attempted to return it.

To her, he asks, "I've been a jerk to you, haven't I?"

"What? Why would you think that?" is her immediate reply. "Of course not. If one of us has to be an asshole, we both know it's going to be me." It startles a quiet laugh from him. "Oliver, where did you just go in your head to reach that conclusion?"

With a sigh, Oliver admits, "I haven't been a very good friend to you. I'd like to be, but…" He blows out another breath as he scans the room again. "I don't know how."

"We're out of practice," Felicity says, with more graciousness than he deserves. "When is the last time you did something normal people do?" His mouth falls open at the question, but no words come out. Fortunately, she can interpret the silence. "I don't know, either. You and I have spent so much time trying to survive that we've forgotten how to live. Maybe we should try to remember."

Several thoughts pass through his mind before he settles on. "I'd like to start cooking for you and Roy once a week," he decides. "I used to enjoy it." He smiles. "Your microwave could stand a break from the abuse, and someone should use the rest of your appliances."

Felicity snorts. "I never say no to food," she replies in a serious tone.

Oliver nods to himself, eyes flickering back to the refreshments table. "I'll buy some ingredients and we'll work on a schedule," he decides. "What about—"

He cuts off as a red dot appears on Walter's suit jacket. He doesn't hesitate, running to block the shot. To Felicity, he calls, "He's in the southeast building. I'm ten minutes out."

When he's only feet from Walter, the crystal glasses on the table explode. A heartbeat before, Lance shoves Walter to the ground. Both of them look relatively unharmed.

Just when he's about to breathe a sigh of relief, Oliver looks up to see Thea staring at her arm, blood coating the fingers of her opposite hand. His heart drops.

"I need you to get to him now," Oliver growls to Felicity in a low voice. "Before I do."

As he rushes up to Thea, calls to her in a soft tone, "Let me see, Thea." He inspects the wound, deciding it could be much worse. It's little more than a graze, but even a graze from Deadshot is lethal.

"It just came out of nowhere," she says, her tone off. Oliver reaches for his tie, pulling it loose so he can use it as a bandage. As he fastens it in place, Thea stares at her hands. "Why am I shaking?"

"Adrenaline," he replies, distracted by his own handiwork. Only when he finishes does he realize how clipped his tone is. His mind is already on stopping Deadshot, not comforting his sister. Softer, he tries again. "It's just adrenaline, Speedy. It happens after you've been shot." Before she can panic, he squeezes her forearm. "This is just a graze. You'll be okay—I promise."

When he looks up, it's to find both Lance and Diggle staring over them. He doesn't know whose look of surprise is more comical. The former only stops long enough to make sure Thea is safe before walking away. Diggle, however, just stares at the two of them, motioning toward the exit.

"I need to go find Mom," Oliver replies before Digg can try to force them through the nearest exit. It's on the other side of the building from where his gear and Deadshot are, and he watched his mother and Walter leave through it only seconds before.

Instead, he points toward his sister, placing his hand on Digg's shoulder. "Take Thea outside for me," he orders. "Make sure she's seen by the paramedics right away." Diggle's brow furrows. "I heard the police talking about this sniper. He laces his bullets with poison. It's curare. Tell them to give her neostigmine."

Before he can reply, Oliver slips past him, running through the building and ducking into the men's restroom. His gear is stashed in a trash can, where Felicity told him, and he wastes no time changing into it.

"Talk to me about the security cameras," he calls to Felicity, as he exchanges his headset for an earpiece. He clips his voice modulator into place a moment later. "Am I clear?"

"I know we don't know each other that well, but that question is insulting," comes Felicity's reply, between panting. The heavy rhythm of her breaths makes him think she's running. "The moment I heard the shot, I unleashed the worst virus outbreak since the Spanish flu. They're going to be lucky to salvage the cameras, much less any video."

She takes a few breaths before asking, "Is Lawton still firing? I'm in the southeast building, but no signs of him yet."

"Everybody has evacuated," Oliver answers, moving toward the window Lawton broke when he fired into the hall. When he hit Thea. Oliver's fist clenches. "If he has any sense at all, he'll try to make a tactical retreat, but he might try to take the competition down outside." Through the broken window, he aims a grappling arrow into the brick skyscraper across the street and fires.

Gunfire erupts a moment later, causing Oliver to scramble behind an overturned table. "Deathstroke, I need a distraction," he growls. "Lawton has eyes on me. I saw a glint on the top floor."

"I think I can manage that," Felicity assures him, the panting absent this time. Instead, she goes so quiet that he can't even hear her breathing over the line. It's an eerie sort of quiet, and suddenly he understands why they talk about Deathstroke like she's a vengeful ghost. Maybe she is.

Not two minutes later, he hears the familiar hum of a blade flipping end over end through the air. Felicity releases a deep breath before calling out, "Just what do you think you're doing, Mr. Lawton? I like a little murder as much as the next psychotic killing machine, but I don't like sharing. Starling City is mine."

Oliver doesn't let the moment go to waste. He fires another grappling arrow into the building, which sends him swinging into an already-broken window on the top floor. As he ducks behind a nearby pillar, gunfire erupts again. This time, it's in another direction, aimed toward the stairwell. It's in the wrong direction for Felicity.

Though he can't see Lawton in the dark, Oliver can hear him call out to her, "Deathstroke, the Vengeance of Starling. I have to admit, I'm a huge fan of your work." A dark laugh leaves his throat, allowing Oliver time to turn on the recording device from one of his arrows. If Deadshot is in a talkative mood, he might be able to get some information for the police.

"The Fenghuang Cartel offered me a nice score for your head last year. I had to turn them down." Oliver's eyebrows shoot up. "Not many people in the world can use a pair of swords like that. I'd hate to make it one less."

As Oliver takes a step toward the sound, Deadshot continues, "Warren Patel offered me ten million to take down the competition. If you want, we could split it."

Before she speaks, Oliver already knows the answer: "I don't kill for money, Lawton." Felicity laughs. "I take out the trash. When people poison this city, I remove them. I get my hands dirty so no one else has to. Like a garbage collector."

"Even garbage collectors get paid," Deadshot points out.

Felicity makes a noise in her throat. "I refuse to get paid for ending a life," she insists. "And I can't let you kill any innocent people tonight."

Lawton scoffs, and Oliver edges closer to the sound of his voice. "No one is ever really innocent," comes Deadshot's reply. "James Holder used sub-standard smoke detectors in his buildings and people died. Carl Rasmussen was embezzling from his corporation so he could have a nest egg when he divorced his wife."

He sighs. "Walter Steele… well, he's actually a good man. His only crime is marrying that ice-cold bitch." Oliver nocks an arrow before he realizes what he's done. "You wouldn't believe the things I know about Moira Queen." There's a pause. "Are you sure I can't change your mind, Deathstroke?"

"No," is Felicity's immediate reply. "You can't change my mind, and I can't allow you to kill anyone else." Oliver is close enough that he can hear her boots across the floor. He nods to her once before turning off his recording device; he has what he needed.

Buying them time, Felicity continues, "Think about the precedent it would set if I let you come into my city and just start killing these citizens. The meaner, nastier criminals might think I'm a pushover, and then I have to work every day to keep my control in this city—weekends, holidays, sick days."

She huffs. "Do you know what my mother is like when I miss family dinners during Hanukkah? Not pleasant. I'd rather kill a few more people every night so I can take the holidays off and still maintain my control on the city."

"If that's the way you feel, we have a problem." Lawton sighs. "I'll have no choice but to kill you."

Oliver barely catches the movement out of the corner of his eye: Felicity grips her swords tighter, rolling her shoulders to loosen them. "Then we do have a problem," Felicity agrees, "because I don't intend to die."

Another burst of gunfire starts, and Felicity and Oliver dive behind pillars in opposite directions. Through their comm link, he can hear her swear in at least two different languages.

"Deathstroke?" he whispers to her when the gunfire stops.

There's rustle of clothing and a grunt. "I took at least two, but I just gave myself a shot of neostigmine," she whispers back. "Did you get a good fix on him?"

"I just need a distraction to take a shot," Oliver replies.

"Don't be stupid, Deathstroke," Lawton calls, his tone smug and taunting. "You're good with a sword, but we all know what happens when you bring a knife to a gunfight."

Another knife sails through the air. It must miss Lawton because he fires again. She keeps running without breaking stride, and he follows her with the spray of bullets.

This time, Oliver is ready. While the assassin is busy firing at Felicity, Oliver uses the muzzle flare to pinpoint Deadshot. When he fires, the shot is good, landing in Lawton's arm.

"Maybe I can even the odds," Oliver calls out.

By the time he nocks and fires another arrow, Deadshot is already gone, ducking out of sight. Whispering to his partner, Oliver suggests, "I think he was wearing night-vision goggles. If we can get to a light source—"

Before he can suggest anything more, he rounds the corner to lock eyes with Lawton. They both fire at the same time.

The gunshot is different this time: it isn't automatic, and it's too precise to be his guns. Lawton crumples with an arrow in his eye as a flashlight comes on. Oliver finds himself staring into the eyes of John Diggle.

With the flashlight aimed over his gun, he aims both at Oliver, expression cold. "Drop the bow," he demands.

Oliver does it, but only because of the flicker of motion over Diggle's shoulder. He turns off the comm before holding his hands up in the air. "Promise me you won't kill him."

Digg glances down at Deadshot's body. "I think that ship has already sailed."

"I wasn't talking to you," Oliver says.

A gleaming blade appears at Digg's throat as Felicity rests her chin on Diggle's shoulder. Oliver has to fight back a smile when he realizes she has to stand on her toes to do so.

Diggle holds up his hands as Oliver picks up his bow again.

"I make no promises, Arrow," comes her reply. Though her tone is hard, she winks at him. "I didn't come here tonight for murder, but I think it all depends on how well he behaves." She taps Digg's jaw with the flat of her blade. "Name and occupation, please."

"John Diggle," he replies, his voice steady. Cool under pressure—a quality Oliver has come to appreciate. "I'm hired to protect the Queen family. I saw gunfire and I came to investigate."

"Are you ex-military?" Felicity asks. "Your posture is ex-military."

"One Hundred and Fifth Airborne, out of Kandahar," he replies immediately.

Felicity nods several times. "Now that I know who you are, do you know who I am?"

"Codename Deathstroke," Diggle replies evenly, glancing over his shoulder to her. "Deranged killer who thinks he's Michael Myers." His eyes flick over to Oliver. "Not to be confused with the deranged killer who thinks he's Robin Hood."

"Good," Felicity replies. "That saves me the trouble of having to introduce myself." She waves her hand, swinging the sword wide as she does so. "If you know who I am, you know what I'm capable of." The sword goes back to his throat. "What I could do to you if you gave me the incentive."

Her eyes light up, as though she's smiling under the mask. Oliver has never seen her like this, but this might be where she excels—more so than her sword skill. Waller once told him about people like this, who can wield fear like a weapon and inflict torture without a single injury.

It's the kind of gift Waller would kill for.

"So, soldier," Felicity taunts Diggle, "do you think you can follow orders tonight?"

"Yes, sir," is Digg's sarcastic reply.

Laughing, Felicity's eyes focus on Oliver. In Mandarin, she says, "I like him. You should keep him."

Somehow he manages to bite down on his smile. "He isn't a dog, Deathstroke," he answers in the same language.

"Good answer," Felicity states to Diggle, switching back to English again. "I'd appreciate it if you would latch the safety on your gun and toss it, please."

When he does as she asks, Felicity continues, "Thank you, Mr. Diggle." She shifts her weight, as if the position is hard on her feet. "Now, here's what's going to happen: You're going to turn and leave. You don't hurt us, we don't hurt you."

"Why not kill me?" Digg asks. "It's not like the Vengeance of Starling to hesitate." He rolls his eyes at her nickname. "You always kill everyone."

Felicity shrugs. "I like to leave one person alive to tell the tale. Being a killer is hard work if people don't know to fear you."

Despite her callous words, her blade hand relaxes. It isn't enough that Diggle could tell the difference, but Oliver knows how she handles herself in a fight. "If you try to grab your gun, the Arrow and I will have a little contest to see which one of us can kill you faster." She inclines her head. "Personally, I think it will be me. He might have the long-range weapon, but he's also the softer touch."

She releases the blade from Digg's throat as she takes the flashlight from his hand and switches it off. "Your choice, Mr. Diggle: you can walk away a hero tonight, or you can be carted away in a body bag."

Brushing past Diggle, Felicity walks up to Oliver, taking his hand before they start running for the edge of the building. "Are you hit?" she whispers between breaths.

Shaking his head, Oliver pulls the last grappling arrow from his quiver and fires it. He wraps an arm around Felicity as she locks her arms around his neck, using his bow to rappel toward the ground.

They land in a back alley with little light from the surrounding streetlights. The moment their feet touch the ground, Felicity stumbles, clawing at the zipper of her jacket. She unzips it slightly before ripping the mask away from her face.

Before Oliver can ask her what's wrong, she's doubled over, heaving.

She waves the mask in his direction, and he takes it from her, unsure of how else to help her. Felicity retches so hard she has to place a hand to the brick wall to support herself, emptying the contents of her stomach.

When she finishes, she stumbles backward, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. Oliver places a hand on her shoulder to steady her. "What can I do to help you?" he asks her, switching off his voice modulator.

"Change out of your gear and find your sister," is her reply, after turning off her own synthesizer. Oliver just levels a look at her. Felicity rolls her eyes as she leans against the wall. "I'm fine. It's just the neostigmine and the rappelling."

"Can I remove any bullets for you?" he tries this time.

"Not in a dark alley," she retorts, snorting. When she motions to her hip, it's only then he notices the hole from the bullet wound. Another is in her thigh. "I'd have to take off my pants, and we don't know each other well enough for that yet."

They both share a smile before Oliver offers her the mask again, both walking out of the alley and toward the bike he let her borrow. If they start working together like this, he might have to buy her one. When they reach it, she stuffs the mask into the bike's storage compartment.

"I'm sorry you were hurt," Oliver says in a low voice. "It was my mission—I should have taken the bullets."

"You should have," she agrees without any fire, bending over to dig in the storage compartment. Oliver finds his eyes traveling to places where he shouldn't be looking. "It would have been the polite thing to do." Felicity pulls out a package of makeup wipes, along with a bottle of water. She breaks the seal and takes a drink of the water, swishing it around in her mouth before spitting it onto the pavement. "Fortunately, I live in Starling City, and I'm not used to polite."

After pulling a wipe from the package, Felicity dabs at the black grease paint around her eyes. "Are you going to go after Warren Patel?" she asks suddenly. Oliver's head tilts to the side; it isn't like her to express interest about his missions.

She shrugs at the extra attention. "Seems like he's the real asshole in all of this," she finally replies, "and you don't seem like the kind of guy to leave any stones unturned. Patel is a pretty big stone."

"I have an arrow with a recording device in it," Oliver replies, reaching to touch the fletching of the arrow in question. "I recorded what Lawton said about Patel. I plan to drop it off with Detective Lance in the morning." When she nods, he hesitates. "Be careful getting home—they've probably set up roadblocks by now."

Oliver takes a step to walk away, but she calls to him, "Oliver?" He turns back to her, expectant. "Try not to be a stranger. We're not really unknown variables anymore, and I promise I don't bite." The corner of her mouth tilts upward. "I stab and I slice and I even snap the occasional neck, but I won't bite you."

"I'll call you soon," Oliver promises with a breathy laugh. "And not just because I need something this time."

Felicity's smile grows. "I'd like that," she answers, sounding like she means it. "But if you do need help, I'm your girl." She grimaces, waving a hand. "I mean, I'm not your girl—I wasn't making a pass at you. I just mean you should call me if you need help. And if I need help, I'll call you."

He walks over to kiss her cheek before leaving, and Felicity drops her bottle of water. "I'm your guy, Felicity."

Chapter Text

Pacing on the porch, Oliver tries to decide his next move. Everything within him says he shouldn't be here, but there's nowhere else he can think of to go. Even though Thea was fine when he checked on her before leaving the house, the residual adrenaline from the scare has him wide awake.

Sighing, he reaches a hand out tentatively, ignoring the doorbell that doesn't work in favor of knocking. For the third time, he stops himself from doing it. He should just go home; this is ridiculous. It's one o'clock in the morning, and Felicity is probably asleep. There's no need to wake her or—

He senses it more than he hears it. Maybe it's a change in the air or the feeling that he's being watched, but Oliver moves a second before he even hears the soft, familiar hum. A blade embeds into the door facing a moment later, where his shoulder had been only moments before.

When he rounds to face his attacker, he stops suddenly. The street lamp at the corner is faint and flickering, but it gives him enough light to see the blonde hair and the leather jacket. Felicity takes staggering steps, seeming as though the weight of her duffel is enough to topple her.

"And I thought we were friends," Oliver teases her.

Felicity heaves a weary sigh. "We are," she assures him in a similar tone, though her words are sluggish and her voice is laced with exhaustion. "But in case you haven't noticed? We're in a bad neighborhood. Wouldn't be the first burglar we've had.

"I thought you'd be at your mansion." She shrugs. "On the off chance it was you, I only aimed for the shoulder. Any other time…" She makes a slicing motion against her neck, but has to grab the railing for balance. "I would have gone for the throat."

As she walks up the steps, she stumbles on the last one. Oliver steadies her before she can fall, taking the duffel from her shoulder. "You don't have to—" she starts to protest.

"I want to," he assures her.

Shaking her head, Felicity pulls out a set of keys. She squints at them in the low light. "Not that you aren't welcome here," she starts, "but what are you doing in the Glades? I specifically sent you home to take care of your sister."

"Speedy is fine," Oliver replies. When Felicity turns to frown at him, he explains, "That's what I call her. She was always chasing after Tommy and me as a kid." He shifts his weight, adjusting the strap of the duffel over his shoulder. "I couldn't sleep. Somehow I ended up here, but I didn't want to wake you."

He hesitates, suddenly realizing he isn't sure about her relationship status. "Or interrupt anything." She doesn't wear a wedding ring, but she could have a boyfriend or a girlfriend—or even some other arrangement.

Finally, she finds the key. "No chance of that," she assures him in a dry tone, swinging the door open. "Nothing interesting happens here. Roy is currently between partners and I'm terminally single. And as you can see, I'm wide awake." She pulls the knife out of the door facing before turning back to him. "I… don't sleep very often. I can't." After the wave of her hand, she uses her key to tap her forehead. "Japan."

Oliver nods his understanding. "Island." As he steps into the house, he drops her duffel by the coat rack. "China and Russia, too." As she hangs her keys on the key rack, he rubs his thumb against the side of his index finger. "It isn't the things I saw…"

"It's the things you endured," Felicity finishes for him. They share a glance in mutual understanding.

As she takes off her jacket, Oliver frowns. "I thought you would have been home before now. Did something go wrong after we split?"

"Nothing I couldn't handle," Felicity assures him, dropping her jacket in the floor. He frowns; that's even more concerning than her wobbling. Her home is always immaculate. "Just the police checkpoints. I found a place to hide for a while, and then I just hacked into the strongest wi-fi signal and took the time to research Alexei Leonov until the police lights stopped."

Pausing, Felicity turns her attention to the couch, leaning over it. She groans. "Roy Harper, I told you not to wait up."

Roy sits up, his hair disheveled and only one eye open. "I always wait up," is his answer, stretching. "I like to make sure you're still alive before I can actually sleep." He tilts his head to the side, probably taking in her disheveled hair, dark circles under her eyes, and the way she leans at a strange angle. "You look like shit."

She shoves his shoulder. "Always what a girl loves to hear," she answers in a dry tone, rolling her eyes. "Or a guy, for that matter. It suddenly strikes me how you're still single."

When Roy crosses his arms, Felicity sighs at him. "I took a few poisoned bullets. I'm fine, but I don't take the treatment for curare well." She turns back to Oliver. "Want to stitch up a few bullet wounds?"

"Gather your supplies," is all Oliver says.

Groaning, Roy scrambles off the couch as Felicity moves back to her room. "Then I'm going to bed," he says flatly. "The last time I saw her take bullets out, it made me sick. Couldn't help because I kept running back to the bathroom to heave my guts up." He yawns before turning back to Oliver. "See you around, Oliver." He knocks on the frame of Felicity's door. "See you in the morning, Felicity."

"Goodnight," Oliver calls back.

"Sleep well, Roy," Felicity adds from her room.

After shrugging off his brown leather jacket, Oliver hangs it on the rack. Knocking her things lying around will upset Felicity later, he takes her jacket from the floor and hangs it on her coat rack, too. From there, he moves to the bar, taking a seat on one of the stools.

When Felicity reemerges from her room, she's wearing an oversized, black pajama top, with gold letters that read, All I need is wifi, food, and my bed. It hangs to mid-thigh, exposing most of her legs. Her hair is down and her feet are bare, her toenails painted like strawberries.

It isn't until she drops the supplies on the bar that he even notices she's carrying them. When she sits on the stool next to him, only then does he snap into action, organizing her supplies. The forceps and suture are medical grade. She places a pair of gray sweatpants on the stool next to her.

He frowns as she pushes the right sleeve upward and exposes the wound in her arm, unable to find the local anesthetic. "Do you have any lidocaine?" Oliver asks her.

"I don't need it," she assures him. "Pain and I came to an understanding three years ago." Something in his expression must betray his concern because Felicity adds, "I promise I won't flinch."

Oliver offers her a tentative smile. "I wasn't sure you knew how."

When the laugh leaves her throat, that's when he digs the pair of forceps into her arm, using the distraction to her advantage. Felicity may grit her teeth, but, true to her word, she doesn't flinch. She does release a breath when he drops the bullet into the metal tray.

"I'm glad I got to meet your so-called bodyguard," she says suddenly, as Oliver peels open the pack of suture. He knows the trick well: trying to distract herself from the situation with conversation. "John Diggle is more than capable of holding up under pressure." She doesn't even stop talking as Oliver slides the suture needle into her skin. "And he isn't easily intimidated. Those are good qualities. I liked him."

"I called in a favor and got a copy of his file," Oliver admits, continuing the stitches on Felicity's arm. "Digg has several awards and an honorable discharge. His discipline record is a little spotty. He doesn't like risking civilian lives to win a skirmish." Slowly, he meets Felicity's eyes. "He might make a good partner. I'm trying to decide if I can trust him."

Nodding several times, Felicity replies, "He sounds like the man you need for this job." Her tone is sincere, so she isn't just humoring him. "Diggle can handle himself, but he won't be afraid to write out a reality check when you need one."

"I have no trouble understanding reality," Oliver protests, knotting the suture.

Felicity snorts. "Oliver, we run around taking down bad guys at night while wearing masks," she reminds him in a dry voice. "You and I are both slightly out of touch with the rest of the world.

"Which makes Digg a good choice," she insists again. "He isn't confrontational, but he'll point out when he thinks you're wrong." Felicity sighs, drums the fingers of her left hand on her thigh. "And there's this… dark place you and I have a tendency to go to in our heads."

She holds up her hand before Oliver can protest this time. "I saw yours that first night, when you thought killing me would be preferable to working with me." His mouth snaps shut. "I saw it again tonight, when Lawton hit your sister. When he talked about your mother."

Oliver sighs, dropping the forceps on the table as he finishes with her wound. "I have a tendency to be stubborn," he admits. Felicity snorts, muttering something about understatement. "And overprotective of the people I care about."

"Those are two of your better qualities," she assures him quickly. "Even when they're a pain in my ass." They share a smile. "But sometimes those qualities lead you to a dark place. You need someone who can pull you out of it." She sighs, looking away. "And that isn't going to be me. I don't spend time in the light anymore."

"I don't believe that," he says flatly. Felicity turns back to him, eyes widening in surprise. Oliver shakes his head. "If you were that terrible, you wouldn't have found me after my first encounter with Deadshot."

She lifts a shoulder. "I might be a monster, but I have a conscience, Oliver. Of course I was going to do all I could to save you." She offers a tentative smile. "Especially when I know you would do the same for me." Her hand falls over his on the counter. "Thank you."

Smiling, he asks, "For what?"

"For being you," is her simple answer.

Immediately, she lifts her hand, moving it to the side of her neck as she glances away. Oliver studies her for a long moment, watching as she runs a hand through her hair. If he didn't know better, he'd think Felicity seems vulnerable in this state.

As quickly as the mood passes, it disappears. She lifts the edge of her shirt, exposing more of her thigh. "Would you care to pull these bullets out, too?"

It takes Oliver a long moment to even notice the bullets. At this distance, the scars are more obvious: old gunshot wounds, shrapnel scars, and a wide variety of deep cuts. Her ability to survive and endure is etched into her skin.

Eventually, he forces himself to tear his eyes away from her legs, recognizing the sudden subject change for what it is. "If you don't want to talk to me about your darker thoughts, that's fine," he starts in a quiet voice. "But you don't have to shut me out to protect me." Didn't he just do that with his mother and sister only hours ago? He offers her a soft smile. "I have my own demons. Yours won't scare me."

Turning to the bullets in her upper thigh, Oliver picks up the forceps again. Before he places his left hand on her leg to stabilize it, he hesitates. When he looks up, his eyes meet hers. "Is it okay if I…?"

Felicity rolls her eyes. "You probably will have to touch my leg at some point to pull those bullets out of it," she replies in a dry tone. Taking that as permission, Oliver places his hand on her leg, using the forceps to pull out the first of the bullets.

He works in silence for a long moment before she finally admits, "I guess I was trying to protect you." She grits her teeth as he extracts the first bullet in her thigh. "Not because I think you can't handle it, but because I've had to hide parts of myself away from everyone." She glances toward the hallway, where Roy's room would be. "Even Roy." Felicity watches Oliver work for a moment. "I forget I don't have to with you."

Oliver grimaces as he uses the forceps to dig for the second bullet, lodged deeper into her leg than the last. "I think that's the hardest part of what we do," he admits quietly. "I have to lie to everyone: Mom, Thea, Tommy." He snorts as he pulls the bullet free from her leg. "I'm almost relieved that Tommy is keeping Laurel and I apart—one less person to lie to."

The mention of Laurel's name turns Felicity's expression thoughtful as she leans back against the bar. They sit in silence for a moment as he puts sutures into her leg, until Oliver notices the way she drums her fingers on the bar.

"You can ask me anything," he assures her, guessing the source of her hesitance. "If I'm not ready to talk about it, I'll let you know."

"It's kind of a personal question," Felicity warns, "but… Do you think you would have proposed to Laurel?" She waves a hand as he knots and cuts the last bit of suture in the wound. "I mean, if the last five years hadn't happened?"

His hands go still as he thinks about it. "She would have wanted me to," he answers with a humorless laugh. "We were together for five years, and as far as she and my family were concerned, a proposal would have just been a formality. I think she had included our marriage in her five-year plan."

Snorting, Felicity says in a dry voice, "Funny how quickly those change." She laughs, but the sound is off. "I had organized and color-coded a five-year plan, and it didn't include becoming Deathstroke."

With a chuckle, Oliver admits for the first time, "But to answer your question, no. I wouldn't have proposed." Felicity's eyebrows shoot up.

Sighing, he confesses, "I… never wanted that." Oliver shakes his head. "My parents were married for thirty years, and they spent all of it miserable." He frowns. "Whatever they had in the beginning, my father destroyed with multiple affairs. My mother… she stayed for Thea and I." The weight of her gaze becomes too much, and he reaches for the second bullet in her leg. "There are other ways to show devotion to someone."

"I understand," Felicity surprises him by saying. "Not that I'm anti-marriage, but I’m not attached to the concept. If I had a long-term partner who wanted to get married, I wouldn't say no, but it's not important to me. Like you said, marriage doesn't guarantee happiness.

"My relationship phobia is about children," she adds suddenly. Oliver pulls the second bullet from her leg before looking up at her. Felicity looks away. "I don't want them, and I don’t understand them." She makes a face. "I didn't even understand kids when I was a kid."

Waving a hand in the air, she continues, "I've always felt that way, but it's worse now. After what I do every night, there's one thing I never doubt: there is evil in the world. Sometimes I'm part of it." Felicity shakes her head as Oliver starts stitching the final bullet hole. "I couldn't bring a child into this world now, even if I wanted to."

Oliver hesitates, his thoughts going back to seven years ago. He remembers the phone calls from Samantha well—both of them. When she had told him she was pregnant, he was terrified, but that didn't erase that cold disappointment in the pit of his stomach when she told him she miscarried. A part of him always wonders what he lost.

As much as he wants to talk about it, he's spent seven years burying those thoughts. Maybe one day, he'll be able to talk to Felicity about it.

Oblivious to the turn of his thoughts, Felicity adds, "But even if you ignore that, there's also the whole parenting aspect to consider. It will always be amazing to me how badly a parent can screw up their kid."

Her lips press together for a long moment. "Take my mother, for instance. Great parent. She's always wanted the best for me, always been supportive. One mistake." Felicity crosses her arms over her chest. "After Japan, I wasn't the same. I stopped making careful choices and started being reckless. So my mother tried to have me committed."

His eyes widen at the revelation, but it makes sense of the cryptic comments Felicity has made about her mother. "That sort of ruined our relationship," she continues, her tone far too casual. "I didn't take it well." She scoffs, voice turning bitter. "I had just spent seven months in a glorified cage, and my own mother wanted to put me in another one. I still have nightmares about waking up in a padded cell."

Before he replies, Oliver finishes stitching her wound, gathering his thoughts together. Finally, he places his tools in the tray. Felicity still won't look at him, so he places his hand on her chin, turning her attention back to him. "I'm sorry about what your mother tried to do to you, Felicity," he replies in a low tone. "You didn't deserve that."

Turning away, she reaches for her sweatpants. "You didn't deserve what happened to you," she points out. "Sometimes life is shit, Oliver. We both survived. That's what matters."

Though Oliver is used to her putting on a brave face, he's starting to recognize it as her way to run from his pity. If her experiences were anything like his, he imagines she's tired of pity. She's looking for sympathy and understanding, two things he's all too willing to give.

As she starts to walk away, he reaches for Felicity's arm, causing her to turn with wide eyes. "You didn't let me finish," he says in a quiet voice. "I know you're strong enough to endure what your mother put you through." He shakes his head. "What bothers me is that everyone has made you feel broken. What you survived… it would have been enough to destroy most people. Instead of telling you that, they treated you like you're insane. You deserve better than that."

When her lips press together, her eyes turn watery. For a moment, he thinks she might be about to cry, but again he underestimates her. To her, that human act would be weakness, and Felicity would never allow herself to look weak in front of anyone.

"You have no idea how much I needed to hear someone say that," she replies finally, her voice shaky. "Thank you."

Releasing his hold on her, Oliver adds, "I think what you said about us earlier was right: we've spent so much time surviving that we've forgotten how to really live. Maybe we should try to remember how to be normal people together."

Felicity scoffs. "You and I are never going to be normal people, Oliver." They both grin. "But I'd be okay with trying to find our own normal."

She clears her throat, motioning behind her to the sofa. "Usually the only things on at this time of night are nature documentaries and infomercials." The corner of her mouth lifts up. "Want to watch some really bad television together?"

Oliver can't help but laugh, rising from his seat and moving to the sofa. "How could I say no to that?" he teases. "Let's try for the nature documentaries first." He hesitates. "Just not anything about sharks. Every time I see one, I can still feel the one from the island biting into me."

As he sits on one end of the sofa, Felicity sits down next to him, remote in hand. She fixes him with an odd expression. "Did you actually get bitten by a shark, or are you just screwing with me?"

With a laugh, he pulls up a corner of his shirt, to show her the jagged, irregular lines in half of an arch. Scars from seven individual teeth are visible above the line of his belt.

Though Felicity's mouth opens several times, but no words come out. "It bit me and just let me go. I guess I don't taste very good," Oliver teases.

Before he can pull his shirt back into place, her fingers are on his side, feeling the indention of scar tissue across his lower abdomen. "That's…" She shakes her head. "Oliver, this is incredible. I can't even imagine…"

As Felicity meets his eyes, she trails off. She's already blushing before she snatches her hand away. "That was way too personal. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have—"

"It's okay," Oliver assures her, pulling his shirt back down. Ever since he returned home, he's been shying away from unwanted touches, but he realizes now he didn't flinch under hers.

"Well, I promise I'll keep my hands to myself for the rest of the night," Felicity replies, turning on the TV. The nature documentary shows animals in the Serengeti, the narrator giving facts about cheetahs. It causes her to groan. "I hate reruns."

Oliver shushes her. "I'd like to hear about this, if you don't mind," he answers with a grin.

Felicity snorts, rolling her eyes. "Like you give a shit about African cats," is her dry response.

"Some of us didn't learn this in high school, Felicity," he points out. Oliver smiles so wide he flashes teeth. "What if my next target keeps a lion or a cheetah for a pet? It might be useful to know about them."

"If you encounter a lion," Felicity counters flatly, "then I hope it does us all a favor and eats you."

The laugh bubbles up from his throat without permission. "I'm not sure you mean that, Felicity. You might even miss me."

She sighs, grabbing one of the throw pillows from the other end of the couch. "There are worse ways to spend an insomnia-filled two a.m.," she agrees, fluffing the pillow violently. She shoves it into Oliver's lap before plopping her head on top of it. "Oh, two a.m.," Felicity laments, "we have to stop meeting like this. I'd much rather sleep with you. I'm sure Oliver would, too."

He chuckles. "It seems that 2 a.m. doesn't want to sleep with either one of us." Glancing down at her, he can't help but ask, "Weren't you supposed to keep your hands to yourself?"

"I have," Felicity assures him. She makes a show of holding her hands up in the air before crossing her arms. "Hands to myself. I said nothing about using you as a pillow." The teasing lilt in her voice disappears. "Unless you're actually uncomfortable, in which case I'll get up."

In response, Oliver drapes his arm over her side. "You don't have to move," he assures her. "I don't mind being used as a pillow."

Suddenly, Felicity yawns. "Do you know what I miss most after Japan?" she asks without warning. "Being able to sleep. And I don't just mean crashing from exhaustion. When I used to take the bus to work at Kord Industries, I'd fall asleep before the bus started moving and wake up when the driver called my stop."

"I've never been able to sleep well," Oliver admits. "I think that was why I started drinking as a teenager. I slept better after raiding the liquor cabinet."

Felicity points over the back of the couch. "I have a bottle of a cheap red in the cabinet if you think it will help you," she offers suddenly.

By the time she finishes, Oliver is already shaking his head. "I don't drink anymore, but thank you." He runs a hand through his hair. "I have too many secrets to carry now. I can't afford to get drunk."

"Talk about a miserable existence," Felicity replies, her voice muffled by the pillow. "Sometimes alcohol is the solution. You can always drink in a private area, where you can't share secrets with anyone. There's nothing like finishing a good bottle of merlot and collapsing in your own bed in a drunken stupor."

"I'm not sure that drinking alone is ever a good idea," Oliver starts gently. Too many dark thoughts roll around in his head for that. "At least, not for me."

She snorts. "As long as I can come up with ten people I'd rather kill than myself, I think I'm okay to drink alone." They lapse into a long, weighted silence. "On your worst days," Felicity asks in a whisper, "did you ever think about—?"

"Once," Oliver answers without waiting for the question. The hallucination from his first week on the island still haunts him sometimes, and probably always will. "But I held onto the belief that I'd see everyone I loved again." He hesitates, but decides that she was the one to ask the question in the first place. "Did you?"

A noise of dissent leaves her throat. "I was too pissed to even consider it," Felicity answers. "They beat the shit out of me for seven months. I wanted to live so I could get my revenge." A dark laugh leaves her. "One of the newspaper reporters started calling me 'Vengeance of Starling.' She has no idea how accurate that moniker is."

Flopping onto her back, Felicity turns to gauge his reaction. "Why do you choose your targets the way you do?" she asks suddenly. "It just occurred to me that I never asked."  Oliver's hesitation is brief, but she somehow senses it anyway.  "And I probably shouldn't have."

By the time she finishes, he's already shaking his head.  "I said you could ask me anything," he reminds her.  "Some things are just… harder than others."

Shifting in his sea, he pulls the worn, leather-bound notebook from his back pocket.  Wordlessly, he offers it to Felicity.

She takes it, though she gauges his expression for a long moment before opening the book.  Felicity flips through the pages slowly and with care, studying the yellowed writing with a crease between her brows.  She reads through the six names per page, only stopping when she sees the first crossed-out name:  Adam Hunt.

Before she can ask, Oliver explains, "Before my father died, he handed this to me.  He asked me to right his wrongs."  He shakes his head.  "The names in this book… they're the worst of Starling City.  Each one of them has harmed the Glades in some way."  Sighing, he frowns.  "But that isn't my father's handwriting.  Someone else must be involved in whatever this is."

Flipping back to the first page, Felicity runs her hand over the inside of the cover, where the strange logo is.  It's in a circular shape, made up of dark, printed blocks.  In the center, a Y-shape passes through the edges.  "This looks familiar," she mutters.  Oliver studies her until she shakes her head.  "I can't remember where I've seen this before, but I know I saw it somewhere."  She points to it, looking up at him.  "What is this?"

Frowning, Oliver replies, "I'm not sure.  Dad…"  He swallows hard.  "He didn't have time to explain."

Felicity squeezes his hand before handing it back to him.  After he slips it back into his pocket, she finally says, "You're doing this to honor your father's final wish?  That's very… noble of you, Oliver."

Unable to gauge her reaction, he studies her for a long moment.  "It's okay if you don't understand why I’m—" he starts.

"No, I'm serious," she assures him.  "What we do… it costs us everything."  Her expression softens.  "We have to keep everyone we care about at arm's length.  We lie to them on a daily basis.  No one is allowed to get close because they might realize what we really are."  She shakes her head.  "I chose this life.  I was too angry about what happened to pretend to be normal."

When she meets his eyes, it feels as though she's seeing right through Oliver.  As much as it makes his skin crawl, it's also nice to think someone cares enough to learn who he is now.  "But you didn't choose this," she continues.  "You sacrificed your normal life to honor someone else—a person who isn't here to appreciate what you're doing."  Felicity laughs bitterly.  "I survived hell for seven months and it made me a monster.  You survived your nightmare for five years, and it just made you a good person."

Oliver snorts.  "I think I've killed too many people to be a good person, Felicity."

She quirks an eyebrow at him.  "Want to compare body counts?" she challenges in a dry tone.  "Because I'd win."

"Murder isn't the worst thing I've ever done," he points out.

"It's not about what you've done," Felicity disagrees.  "It's about the intent."  Suddenly she sits up, close enough that Oliver can feel her breath on his face.  "Let's not forget that everything you do is just means to an end.  You have a mission, and if people get in your way, well, you cut them down.  If someone has information you need, you extract it.  It's nothing personal, but it still weighs on your conscience."

Her expression darkens.  "I kill because I want to.  When I go in the field, my goal is to kill as many of my targets as possible, and I've never lost a night's sleep because of it."  She places her hand on his shoulder.  "Whatever you think you are, Oliver, I'm worse than you could ever dream of being."

Shaking his head, Oliver assures her, "I've seen enough monsters to know what one looks like."

Felicity's smile is dark.  "Good.  Then you know what you're looking at right now."

"I do," he agrees.  Slowly, he reaches out to cup her face.  A part of him imagines her leaning into the touch.  "And I don't see a monster."

Scoffing, she pulls away.  "That's because you see the best in people," is her reply.  She drops back onto the pillow in his lap with a huff.  "Even when you shouldn't."  She pokes a finger in his breastbone.  "That's going to get you killed someday, Queen."

In spite of her hard tone, Oliver grins.  "As long as I have you to play devil's advocate, I'm sure I'll be fine."

The smirk that crosses her face is dark, like one she might wear under her Deathstroke mask.  "Bold of you to assume you have me, Mr. Queen," she teases in an arch voice.

"You haven't turned me away yet, Miss Smoak," he counters with a smirk of his own.

A laugh leaves her, eyes brightening with it.  "That's because I'm not sure you could survive on your own," she replies flatly.

"Is that your way of saying you like my company?"

"No."  Felicity rolls her eyes, expression softening.  "But if that works for you, go with it."

Oliver smirks.  "That sounds like a 'yes.'"

She flops dramatically onto her side, turning away from him.  If she thinks it will hide the smile she's trying to fight, it isn't working.  "I'm trying to watch this documentary, if you don't mind," Felicity snaps without any fire.

"Haven't you already seen this one before?" Oliver can't help but ask.

"There is a knife in my pocket and I'm within easy access of your femoral artery," she replies, her voice muffled by the pillow on his lap.  Before she can finish the false threat, she breaks into a yawn.  “If I were you, I'd stop talking.”

Shaking his head, Oliver chuckles, letting her settle on his lap.  They fall into a comfortable silence, with only the monotone voice of the narrator in the background.  Soon enough, Felicity’s breathing becomes slow and even.  All the weight she's been carrying seems to slip away, leaving her face in a peaceful expression he’s never seen while she’s awake.

The fact that she can sleep at all surprises him.  Oliver half expected her to stay awake through the night or, at the very least, fall asleep in her bed with a door separating the two of them.  They haven’t known each other that long, he didn’t think she felt that comfortable with him yet.  Based on what she says, it’s hard to tell how much she enjoys his company.

With a smile, he decides that the truth might lie in what Felicity doesn’t say.  She hasn’t turned him away yet, has never denied him help when he needs it.  When he was injured and unconscious, she didn’t hesitate to bring him into her home.  Maybe she’s more comfortable with him than she lets on, fighting the way she feels because she’s been burned before.

He chuckles to himself.  If there’s one thing he knows about Felicity Smoak, it’s that she’s always prepared to fight.  Maybe it just applies to more than the field.

His own eyelids start to feel heavy after a while, and he finally allows himself to give in to sleep.