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Well-Oiled Machine

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With nothing else to do, she stares out at the falling rain from under the awning of the hospital while leaning against the brick building. It's just past two in the morning on a Friday, but Felicity feels wide awake, despite nearing the forty-hour mark without sleep. It's not like she'd be sleeping anyway. In truth, this dilemma is probably doing her a favor; if this wasn't happening, she'd be pounding pavement with her swords in hand. The last time she did that while so severely sleep-deprived, she ended up with more injuries than her targets.

But the problem is that she can't sleep—not without inviting nightmares.

The doors open, taking her mind off her own problems for a moment, which is just fine with her. The cops exit with a brunette in handcuffs, her brown eyes wide with fear. She doesn't notice Felicity, but, unfortunately, the beat cop does. His eyes narrow at her, and she waves at him out of spite. Officer Daily is the asshole who had Roy hauled down to the station over a gang murder—two years after he'd gotten away from the gangs. If her unofficial roommate hadn't served as an informant for a few detectives who vouched for him, he'd probably still be in jail for something he didn't do. And because she can't resist the opportunity, she calls out to him, "I hope you know what you're doing this time, Daily—the Queens have better lawyers than your usual targets."

"Keep walking, Smoak," he calls over his shoulder without missing a beat. "You stay around here too long and I can make room for you in the back of this car." She wants to retort that she's been held in a box by the Fenghuang Cartel and that he's not scary after that, but this is neither the time or the place. Getting into a fistfight with a cop is just going to get her sent to jail, and that isn't going to make matters better. Instead, she lets it slide and makes a mental note to trash his credit score—again.

Thea looks over her shoulder, staring at Felicity with a growing frown even as she's escorted forward by the police officers. Part of Felicity wants to assure her it's going to be okay, but she isn't sure it will and she isn't in the habit of making false promises. Instead of acting, she just watches the cop car drive away with a growing sense of impatience.

It takes about thirty minutes or so, but finally the doors open again and this time it's the person she wants. He must be rattled because he takes a few steps past the doors, running his hands over his face without sensing her presence here. With a deep sigh, Oliver turns as if to start pacing, but pulls up short when he sees Felicity standing there. "When I see you like this, I always think, 'Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,'" the blonde quotes to him, unable to force a smile tonight. "So you might not wear a crown, but your last name is Queen and that's accurate enough. Maybe Shakespeare had something there."

He offers her the barest hint of a smile. "I didn't study Shakespeare in any of the four schools I dropped out of, either, Felicity," is all he says for a moment. Then he takes a few steps closer. "I'm glad to see you, but what are you doing here?"

That causes a genuine smile to grace Felicity's face, for reasons she'd rather not dwell upon. "I set up a search parameter for mentions of our names in all law enforcement databases," she explains. Hacking should probably bother her, but hacking charges are going to be the least of her worries if they ever catch her. "I saw the arrest warrant. I tried to call you, but your phone was off. So when you didn't answer, I came." She shrugs, for some reason fearing rejection when she knows Oliver wouldn't turn her down. "I thought you might need a friend."

His response is to pull her into his arms in an almost bone-crushing hug. It's her natural reaction to tense for a moment, but she returns it as soon as she recovers. When he releases her a long moment later, he admits in a defeated tone, "I don't know what to do, Felicity. She's going to jail for the night—maybe we can get her bail hearing on the docket for tomorrow." Oliver runs a hand over his face again, looking as though the weight of the world is on his shoulders. "I just… need a ride and a place to stay tonight. I don't want to go home right now."

With a knowing nod, Felicity answers, "My car is just across the street, and you know you're always welcome at the house." Before he can respond, the blonde grabs him by the elbow and leads him across the street to the black Volvo sedan. "Get in—we can talk about it in the car." She holds up a hand. "Oh, and use your sleeve to open the door handle," she states as she pulls on a pair of black driving gloves.

It earns her an odd look, but at least Oliver does her the courtesy of waiting until they're in the car to ask questions. He studies the interior for a moment while she restarts the ignition with the wires below the wheel. "I thought you had a Volkswagen," he says after a moment, reaching out to touch the dash of the newer-model sedan.

Before he can, she reaches for his hand, catching his wrist. "I do," Felicity answers. "Unfortunately, it doesn't want to work most of the time, but I don't have the heart or the money to get a different car. So I had to make… other arrangements." He continues to stare at her until she releases his hand, feeling a little awkward. "It's probably better if you don't touch anything—or wipe it down when you do."

The archer's face lights with understanding. "Where did you learn how to hotwire a car?" he asks. There's no judgment in his voice, just curiosity. But, then again, Oliver isn't really the kind to judge; he's had to learn a few unsavory things to stay alive, too.

Because she sees no harm in telling him now, the blonde answers without hesitation, "My dad." It earns her a look, which she ignores as she tries to get the car started again. "Everyone might have known Noah Kuttler as Ted Kord's technical genius, but my dad wasn't as innocent as you might have been led to believe." She smiles at Oliver. "He was just smart enough to avoid getting caught. My mom wasn't thrilled when she found out he was teaching me his tricks."

The car starts, and she pushes the stick into drive before pulling away from the curb. "But I spent a lot of time in his garage playing with computer parts, so I had a front-row seat to his illegal activities. When I built my first computer with some of his leftover parts, he was so proud. He started teaching me coding and then hacking. I knew every shady trick he could teach me by the time I was nine." With a laugh, she continues, "I caused a major, city-wide blackout from my fourth grade classroom, and I don't think he was so excited when I graduated MIT." Sadness overtakes her without warning; even now, the pain of loss is almost too difficult to bear. "He might not have been the best person or parent in the world," she finishes in a quiet voice, "but he was my dad and I loved him."

Felicity expects Oliver to be appalled by that; after all, he grew up in a mansion with a relatively happy family and everything he could need. But instead he answers, "My father wasn't a saint, either." It seems to be just as hard for him to say it as it was for her to talk about her father, but yet he presses onward. "He caused a lot of destruction in this city." A humorless laugh leaves him. "Did you know that my father found a loophole in the union contracts for the steel factory? We had employees that had been there over thirty years when he sold it, and no one received anything for their dedication. No severance, no insurance." He looks at the blonde with a deep frown. "And it was completely legal." He waves a hand outside his window. "That is legal, but when you and I try to stop exploitation like that, the cops swarm us."

"The system isn't perfect," Felicity agrees as she turns into the Glades, "but it's all we have, Oliver. You and I might have lost faith in the legal system and 'justice for all' years ago, but that's why we owe it to these people to make a stand." She motions with a hand. "Because they still have hope, and at least we can remind them that evil doesn't always have to win." She pauses before allowing, "I wouldn't necessarily classify myself as 'good,' but I'm certainly better than the evil we fight."

To her surprise, Oliver releases a breathy laugh. "Careful, Felicity," he warns. "You're starting to sound like an idealist."

The blonde shakes her head resolutely at that. "Never," she assures him with a grin. "I'm just a girl with a vendetta and a sharp pair of swords." A thought occurs to her, and she drums her fingers across the steering wheel for a moment as she ponders it. "Speaking of," Felicity continues slowly, "I could put those swords to work for you, if you wanted." Out of the corner of her eye, she can see him glance over at her, and she continues, "I know you're itching to get at these Vertigo dealers, but it's not smart. The Arrow went active right after you came back from the island. Then he starts going after Vertigo hot and heavy after your sister gets arrested for using it? Lance isn't an idiot—he's going to pick up on that." Silence lapses between them for a moment. "What if I went after the guy who manufactures Vertigo instead?"

His answer is immediate: "You do inspire more fear than I do." Felicity sends him a withering glance as she turns on to Ocean Avenue, and he releases another breathy laugh in response. "Thea does need me more right now," he admits slowly, as if rolling the thought over in his head. A sigh leaves him after a moment. "It would probably keep me out of jail."

The acknowledgement is all she needs to know he's in agreement. "By the time I get finished, this city is going to be short a few drug dealers," Felicity assures him. Then she tilts her head to the side. "They might short a few appendages, too." It's quiet, so she continues, "While I always love to discuss pleasant topics with you, how do you feel about food? Because I'm suddenly craving Italian, despite the fact it's two in the morning. I think there's some leftovers in the fridge—I hope that wouldn't offend your billionaire sensibilities."

When he doesn't answer, she glances over to find him staring out the window. In a comforting gesture, she reaches across the center console to place her hand on his. Oliver isn't having that; he twists their hands so that he can lace his fingers through hers. For a moment, they just sit like that, but then he lifts her hand and something soft brushes against her knuckles. It probably says something about their relationship that Felicity knows what his lips feel like without even looking, but that is not anything she wants to address. She will deny this to the end.

Because she is not going to fall in love with Oliver Queen.

God knows she wouldn't be the first woman to make that mistake, but it's the principle of the thing. Oliver is someone she'd trust with her life, and that should be good enough. But if she were inclined, it would be easy enough to fall for him because of all that ridiculous… goodness he seems to radiate. Usually she associates that with naïveté, but he's been through enough to understand the darker nature of the world, too. And, damn it, she's always had a thing for a dark hero.

In a way, Felicity thinks of the two of them as yin and yang. Oliver is one of those few people in the world who are inherently good, but with just enough darkness and suffering to keep him out of the annoying, Snow White-singing-animal level of goodness. On the other hand, she's just a few steps away from no-turning-back, twirling-an-evil-moustache-while-plotting-world-domination bad, with just enough light left in her to keep her in the moral gray area—albeit a very dark charcoal one. But it's Oliver who balances her out, brings her into the light. The only problem with that is, as much as he could be her salvation, she could be his damnation. And that is simply unacceptable.

Oblivious to her mental reflection, Oliver states in a quiet voice, "Thank you, Felicity."

She tries to shrug off the praise with a smile, but makes no move to draw her hand back—not when he's gripping it so tight. "I haven't done anything yet, Oliver," she insists. "Thank me when this city is short a few drug dealers and I'm parading around your Vertigo guy on a leash." She punctuates the thought by pulling against the curb a few blocks down from her house on the opposite side of the street.

Before she can move to shut off the car and get out of it, the archer squeezes her hand, refusing to let go as a way of stopping here. "You're here," he states simply. "That's enough." If this was a romantic movie, this would be the part where she melts and gives in, but Felicity is not Kate Hudson and there aren't any cameras rolling in the background.

Instead, she scurries out of the car like the coward she is, walking away as fast as she can without it seeming like she's running. Oliver catches up to her easily, and they walk back to her place in silence because nothing else really needs to be said. And if he reaches out and takes her hand again—and if she doesn't pull away—that's really none of anyone's business.

When she opens the door, Felicity tells him, "Make yourself at home. Your bag is at the top of my closet, where you left it." She drops her keys into the bowl by the door, easing off her shoes on the mat and hanging her jacket on the coat rack before continuing into the house. She trudges forward from there, knowing Oliver is on her heels.

Because she's uncomfortably comfortable with him, the blonde pulls off her shirt the moment she walks into the room and shuts the door, digging through her armoire for a set of pajamas. A glance out of the corner of her eye proves what she already knew to be true: Oliver is looking anywhere but her direction. Smiling at that wonderful amount of privacy, she slips into a pair of purple pajama pants with pink flamingos and a black tank top.

When she pulls her shirt down, though, a callused finger runs a line along the middle of her shoulder blades, tracing a very specific pattern. "I thought you hated needles," is his only comment as he brushes over one of the scars that mar the artwork on her back. "Getting a tattoo must have been difficult for you."

Words escape her for a moment, having forgotten one of the things that she tries hard to hide—more so than her scars, in many ways. While her scars are reminder of her survival, the wings tattooed across her back are a reminder of who she is under the façade. They stretch from the middle of her shoulder blades to the bottom of them, painted in blacks and grays. In addition to that, they're broken off at the ends and blood drips from them, cut in asymmetrical angles. The left one even appears to show bone. Like her, they're broken.

"It was," she agrees with a small smile, in spite of her mood. "That's why I had to get one on my back, where I couldn't watch them do it." She turns to face him. "I went through a bit of a rebellious phase in college. Started hacking, dyed my hair black." His eyebrows shoot up at that, probably trying to picture it. "My mom has never been… conventional, but she didn't like it. Dad was upset, too, but I reminded him he had no right to lecture me about a moral, upstanding life." Waving a hand, she continues with some hesitance, "Mom tried to tighten the reins to keep me in check, but because I was sixteen and an idiot teenager, I fought back by doing the things she didn't want me to. She reminded me that if I had a tattoo, I couldn't be buried in a Jewish cemetery, so I did just that."

She motions to her shoulders. "It's kind of ironic, isn't it?" she muses, mostly to herself. "I got those wings on my back when everything was relatively good, but they fit me now more than ever." For the most part, they ground her; every time she sees the dark wings with bloodied, broken feathers down her back, she remembers that beyond the blonde hair and bright colors, a part of her is the same, troubled woman—perhaps even more so than she had been before Japan. She can only imagine what Oliver must think of them; they paint a gruesome picture down her back.

But he surprises her yet again when he deadpans with a hint of a sarcastic smile, "And I thought you were a law-abiding citizen." It coaxes a laugh out of her, one that bubbles up without warning. Perhaps the tattoo doesn't upset him because he already knows that side of her—and he still doesn't flinch when something reminds him of that darkness.

"Never even a speeding ticket," Felicity agrees in a cheery tone, which pulls a laugh out of Oliver in return For her troubles. She hesitates before voicing her next thought, but then decides it would be good for her to talk about this. "After I returned home from Japan, I went back and got another one. I didn't do it out of rebellion that time, though. This one was about me."

Lifting her tank, she flashes him as much of her left side as possible without flashing things she doesn't want to show, displaying the inked design on her side. Unlike her wings, this one isn't in color; from the middle of her ribcage to her hip, her side is pitch black, darkness with tendrils and rough edges. A pair of eyes sticks out near the top, and the un-painted letters in her side read in a sinister script, I am no longer afraid of fear, and I will not let it rule me. Fear will learn to fear me. The last word is emphasized with a long, swirling line.

With gentle hands, Oliver brushes his thumb against it while his hand falls against her waist. They trace the eyes set in darkness, and of all things, a smile comes to his face. When he meets her eyes, the archer only says, "This is the Felicity I know." It's a quiet, subtle compliment, the kind that he gives best. He removes his hand, tugging down her shirt for her. "This one must have been more painful. All that ink across your ribcage."

The blonde shrugs at that; after Japan, she'd been beaten so much that she hardly even felt it. She had to wait for the bruising and broken bones to heal, but as soon as it was safe, she'd been in the chair, watching the artist ink her skin. "The quote is from a book I read," she responds instead. She doesn't tell him about the other one she had in mind at the time: I am in chains because I let you chain me. Never again will someone in this world have me at their mercy. "After I got back, I did a lot of reading in the park—just to enjoy the sunshine again. Those sentences… Well, I decided that was how I wanted to live my life."

Even if she had to become a monster in the process, at least Felicity is no longer afraid.

Oliver remains silent, so the blonde motions to the bed. "Go ahead—I'm going to make sure I put my laptop on charge, and then I'll be back." He nods once as she exits, and the blonde has to stop in the doorway to stare at Oliver Queen in her bed for a moment, just to remind herself it isn't one of those dreams occurring with increasing frequency. Then she shuts off the lights, deciding that some things are better un-thought.

Shaking her head to clear it, she goes back to the living room, pleased to see that she did plug in her laptop before leaving. She'd been sharpening her swords when the alert came through, though, and they lay on the table where she left them. Cursing her foolishness—she could go to jail if she had those out where the world could see—Felicity gathers them in her arms before marching back to her bedroom.

Footsteps in the hall catch her attention, and she unsheathes a sword before taking a few steps forward. It may be nothing, but it might also be the unluckiest burglar in the world. Either way, the vigilante prefers to take no chances, taking slow steps toward the wall and pressing herself up against it, waiting for whomever-it-is to come to her before she strikes.

He stops in the middle of the hall, and Felicity has to fight back a groan when she realizes she'll have to come at him instead. Within an instant, she has him at the end of her blade, and the familiar yelp makes her pull the sword away with a startled breath. "Roy William Harper, what have I told you about slinking around here at night?" she demands of him as she sheathes it again. "Make some noise. Shuffle your feet or groan or something."

"If it makes you feel better," he answers, his voice starting off an octave higher than normal before dropping, "I won't forget that any time soon." He takes a shaky breath. "You scared the hell out of me, Felicity. I thought I heard you up and I was trying to see if you were in your room or not." He points toward the room with a knowing look, neither approving nor judgmental. "Oliver's staying tonight?"

"Yeah," Felicity agrees. She pulls him toward the kitchen before saying in a low tone, "His sister wrecked her car tonight. She wasn't hurt, but apparently Thea was high on the newest drug. She's in jail for the night—or at least until they can set bail." Roy's eyebrows shoot up, and the blonde adds, though it's probably unnecessary, "He's not taking it well."

Falling asleep on his feet, he scratches at his hair, making it stand up more than it already is. "I have some information on the gangs I was holding back for a rainy day," he offers, yawning through half of it. "Maybe I can talk to Lance in the morning, see if I can't use what I have to get her out on bail as fast as possible." Felicity's eyebrows shoot up; Roy doesn't usually offer to help anyone other than her. "Hey, I owe him—he saved your ass when you needed it. Least I can do is return the favor."

With a smile, Felicity kisses his cheek before nudging him back down the hall. "I don't care what anyone says about you, Roy," she teases with a smile. "You're a good man—and a complete pushover."

He snorts. "Just don't tell anyone—you'll ruin my rep."

 


 

Thea stares at the address on the sticky note again before looking at the house she's parked next to again, eyes narrowing. She wasn't sure what she expected when Lance told her about the guy who turned in information to get her bail before the weekend, but now that she's staring at the dusty shack that is 1107 Ocean Avenue in the Glades, this is exactly what she expected.

When Lance told her some kid paid for her early release in information, she'd asked Ollie about it, but he'd just shrugged it off, telling her that this Roy Harper person was a friend. (Part of her wondered where Oliver picked up such shady friends, but that wasn't important at the time.) That wasn't enough of an explanation and it was clear that he wasn't going to say more on the subject, so Thea had poked around through some rather dubious characters in the Glades and managed to get her hands on the address. She might not have a car anymore, either, but that problem was remedied when she found the keys to Oliver's Mercedes in the garage.

Though everything in front of her tells her that she should probably run, Thea steps out of the car and marches up the steps to the front door. There isn't a doorbell, so instead she knocks on the heavy wooden door a few times. Almost as an afterthought, she pokes her head around to the small garage, noting that a car is absent. There is, however, a very expensive-looking motorcycle, not unlike the one Ollie seems to prefer to a car.

Before she can chalk this up to a disaster in the making and walk away, she can hear chains rattle across the door, locks being turned. A moment later, a face appears in the small space between the door and the frame allowed by the chain lock, his expression annoyance before it slowly morphs into surprise. He's younger than she expected—and kind of hot, if she's being honest about it. His clothes aren't designer or even anything special, but they're clean and he doesn't look like a murderer. Thea thinks she'll risk it.

As soon as the surprise dawns, he shuts the door back so he can remove the chain before swinging it open again. By the time he has, the surprise is gone and he looks… well, bored. "If you're looking for your brother," he starts, stopping to check the time on his phone, "you'll probably find him at the Big Belly Burger on Ellis and Pershing. Oliver doesn't usually come by here until after dark."

He moves to shut the door, but Thea stops him by calling, "I'm not here to find Ollie." The kid stops with the door halfway shut, opening it again. "I think I'm here to see you," she admits after a moment. Then she points at him, doubtful of her own conclusion; after all, Roy Harper could easily be this kid's dad or brother or even a roommate. "You are Roy Harper, right?"

"Only when it's convenient," he deadpans, his expression never wavering. Thea just cuts him a sharp glare, and he caves within seconds. "Yeah, that's me. What do you want?"

Caught off-guard by his abruptness, the heiress scrambles a moment before replying. "Lance told me that you helped get me an early bail hearing." Roy nods once in affirmation, as if wanting her to get to the point of this. "I just wanted to come by and say thank you. I don't really know why you did it, but I appreciate what you've done."

The boy in the red hoodie crosses his arms over his chest, his posture turning defensive without a moment's notice. "I didn't do it for you," he retorts, his tone sharp as he lashes out. "I did it for Oliver. He saved my sister a while back, so I thought I'd return the favor." He starts to shut the door, but then Roy pauses, his eyebrows knitting together. "You're probably too busy wrecking cars to notice, but Oliver? He's a fairly decent guy." The statement is almost grudging, as if it pains him somehow to admit it. "He deserves better than to have a drug addict for a sister."

Because few people dare to throw her blatant hostility and she's always ready for a fight, Thea explodes, "You don't even know me! You don't get to stand there and judge my decisions."

Harper doesn't back down, either, crossing his arms over his chest as he leans against the door frame. He doesn't yell, but his tone turns more biting as he counters, "Stop me when I get something wrong. You were born with a silver spoon. Grew up with maids and butlers and parents who didn't deny you anything. From the time you were a kid, everyone was afraid of your last name, so no one ever confronted you. You got a pretty nice Audi for your birthday, which you promptly crashed in less than twelve hours."

When he stops, waiting for her to speak, Thea lashes out at him again. "You were just getting to the good parts," she retorts at him. "Dead dad. Absent mother with her own issues to solve. Damaged brother I spent five years believing was dead."

In response, Roy points to himself. "Dead dad I never met. Heroin junkie of a mom who OD'd when I was six. Raised by two women who aren't even blood relatives and a criminal father figure. Damaged sister I thought was dead for almost eight months. Had our reunion across bulletproof glass in juvie." He shrugs. "I'm not saying I didn't screw up my life when she was gone, but I'm trying to be better now." For the first time in her life, someone looks down their nose at Thea, and she doesn't exactly like the way it makes her feel. "Instead of showing some sack by coming down to the Glades in your fancy car, maybe you should use it to clean yourself up."

The punk actually sneers at her. "If not for you, do it for your brother. You're scaring the hell out of people who actually care about you." No retort rolls of her tongue at that, and when Thea opens her mouth, nothing comes out. Seizing the moment in a victory, Roy states with a smirk and a sickly sweet tone, "You have a nice day now, princess." To make matters worse, he adds insult to injury by slamming the door in her face.

After mentally brushing herself off, the heiress storms away. She's going to have a long talk with Ollie about his so-called friends.

 


 

Though it's anything but conventional, there's a certain amount of predictability in Felicity's life. Everything progresses in a pattern. Start the morning with coffee and talking at Roy (because that boy is not functional before ten a.m.) and sometimes Oliver, if he's stayed the night. Go to work and do a job that requires approximately one-tenth of her mental capacity. Go to lunch—plus or minus a combination of Oliver, Tommy, and Roy. Go back to work and finish out the day. Go hunt gun runners, armed with swords and a lot of rage. Attempt to sleep for the remainder of the night before getting up and doing it again.

Which is why when John Diggle shows up at her work alone at eleven-thirty, it signals a deviance from her predictable life. He isn't smiling, instead just standing in the lobby painting a very imposing picture, one that seems to make Jason a little jumpy at the front desk. His eyes keep flickering over to the former soldier, as if waiting for him to do something shady.

To call John's presence in her office a novelty is an understatement. She's maybe seen him twice since the bomb incident; Oliver is trying to keep her Deathstroke persona away because his partner has a vehement hatred of the other vigilante. "Hey, John," she greets with a smile, leaning against the doorway to the back offices. "Do you have a computer problem, or…?" She trails off, already knowing his issue is probably cemented in the or category.

"I was hoping I could catch you before you left for lunch," he answers, his expression betraying nothing. "I know a good diner a couple of blocks over." When her brow furrows, John tacks on with emphasis, "I'm a little concerned about a mutual friend of ours, and I thought we could discuss it." Already Felicity knows he means Oliver, and, if it was serious, one of the two would have called her immediately. "I can sit here until you're finished."

Watching Jason squirm out of the corner of her eye, the blonde assures him, "I can leave now, John." She turns to the red-headed teenager at the desk. "Jason, I'm going to leave a little early for lunch, but I'll be back in an hour." Ducking around the corner to retrieve her purse and coat from her cubicle, she continues to call out, "If Oliver or Roy come in to see me, tell them I had a change of plans and to call me." Jason nods once as she pulls on the leather jacket, dropping her headset on the desk.

For someone who wants to talk, he's oddly quiet through the walk down the street. Feeling the need to break the silence, Felicity asks in a conversational tone, "Have you found any more bomb collars recently, John?"

He snorts at that. "I think I've met my quota for the year, Felicity," he answers in a dry tone. "Maybe even for my lifetime." He studies her for a moment. "I'm kind of surprised I haven't seen you around more this week, with everything happening to Thea." He pauses for a moment, as if carefully weighing his words before speaking. "Oliver's put in a few calls to Deathstroke, and I know he's doing his own research into this in his spare time." That's a new piece of information—one she'll yell at him for later. "Kind of thought he'd call you in, too, since the two of you work like a well-oiled machine."

Shrugging, Felicity answers, "I was under the impression that Deathstroke was supposed to be taking care of this alone." She chooses her words carefully; she likes John too much to lie to him. Maybe it's a lie of omission, but she can't prevent those from happening, not with what she does every night. "Oliver was supposed to be sitting this one out."

As they walk into the diner, John holds the door open for her—a surprisingly nice gesture. "Well, I think we both know that wasn't gonna happen," he retorts, waving to one of the waitresses as he enters. In explanation of his action, he says to her, "Charlene was the one who trained my sister-in-law Carly when she worked here. One of the finest women you'll ever meet." With a slight smile, he adds, "Present company excluded."

She sits down across the booth from him, perusing the menu as they order drinks from Charlene. "As much as I appreciate flattery, John, I think it's a little premature to say that." Actually, it's completely incorrect; Felicity had to become a monster to survive Japan, and now she doesn't know anything else. It's something she came to terms with a long time ago, but it still makes the praise feel like a lie. "We barely know each other, and it's hard to make a bad first impression when you save someone from a bomb collar."

Something about that makes John laugh. "You've been managing Oliver by yourself for months now, keeping him on the straight and narrow. That's an impressive feat in itself." They both take a moment to order, and he waits for Charlene to leave again before discussing it again. "I think I'm just starting to realize how difficult that is." He takes a sip of his soda. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I think he's going off the rails a little on this one."

"Of course he is," Felicity responds without missing a beat. "This is his sister on the line, John. If our situations were reversed and this was Roy, no power on earth could stop me from saving him. We lose all rational thought when our loved ones are in danger." Because she recognizes the concern on his face for what it is, she assures him, "Oliver… well, he already takes people preying on the innocent personally. So he's just a little more intense than usual when it actually does get personal."

John studies her for a long moment, his eyes narrowing at her, as if with a new perspective. "Oliver's fighting a war on those streets. He's killing people and breaking the law. I have trouble with that sometimes, but I've fought in a war before and I know what I signed up for." His head tilts to the side. "But I'm curious to know why you're okay with what he does. Most civilians call him a murderer, but you don't seem to mind."

That's a tricky subject because of her activity as Deathstroke, but after a moment of thought, she finds a way around telling him. "Because of Japan," she answers, her voice turning quiet. There's no recognition in his eyes, and she realizes that Oliver, true to his word, hasn't told a soul about what she's survived. "It's kind of a long story, but I was with my dad on a business trip in Tokyo. We were taken hostage by the Fenghuang Cartel." John's face softens in sympathy. "I lost seven months of my life in a cell, and I was the lucky one. I came home. No one else did."

Before he can rush into the typical condolences that she doesn't want or need, Felicity continues, "The first thing the Arrow did when he went active was to free women from the slave trade." She isn't an idiot; she knows that would have eventually been her destination. They might have wanted her computer skills first, but they were starting to get tired of her unwillingness to cooperate, and eventually she would have become more trouble than she was worth. "He wasn't even after Jian Ling for his role in the sex trade, but when he found out, he stopped them anyway." She smiles, remembering how she'd felt when she read that article. Even before she met Oliver, she'd known he was something special: he was able to give her hope, something she hadn't felt in a long time. "He did it just because standing by and watching something like that happen was impossible for him. So when I had the chance to work with him, I jumped at it."

Diggle only stares at her for a long moment, in that unnerving way he has about him, the one that makes Felicity feel like she's standing naked in a room full of people—with the mentality of a body-conscious, insecure teenager. "That's a lot for anyone to go through," he responds in a weighted tone, as if rolling over his words before saying them. "I told Oliver once that he's not as messed up in the head as he has every right to be." John then offers a slight smile. "Maybe he isn't the only one."

With a smile and a joke that is anything but, the blonde replies, "I'm just a more convincing actress."

 


 

Felicity really shouldn't find joy in this, but as the five-time convicted drug dealer—who apparently dabbles in murder and rape—lets out a high-pitched scream, she finds herself grinning under her mask all the same. After all, there are few things better than a monster learning his place in the food chain. By that line of logic, her reckoning will come too, until that day, she's the shark in this proverbial ecosystem.

But for the moment, her slimeball is hanging by his ankles from a conveniently located crane, swaying back and forth in front of her as he screams bloody murder. "I need some information, please," she tells the unlucky creep, her modulator making it come out darker and more sinister than she intends. He flinches, though, and the blonde decides that isn't necessarily a bad thing. "I need the name of your Vertigo supplier, if you don't mind." She holds her sword so close to his throat that it draws a line of blood as he swings by her again. "The sooner the better. It occasionally occurs to me that you're a convicted rapist, and I can't guarantee that I'll be able to stay my blade much longer."

He whimpers and pleads a few incoherent sentences like please don't kill me and I don't want to die, but really, Felicity just tunes it out after a few seconds. It's nothing she hasn't heard before, but she's starting to realize that drug dealers are a particular sort of crybaby. At least organized crime guys don't snivel or beg—and they usually provide a bit of a fight.

But these guys? Hardened criminals, her ass.

Her patience thinning, she continues in a conversational tone, "If we could fast-forward through the part where you grovel for your life, I'd really appreciate it." She sighs, taking a moment to rack her brain for the name of this particular piece of trash. Robert… something. "Here's the thing, Bobby." She stops, realizing that she's a bit forward. "May I call you Bobby? I know it's a little presumptuous, but I feel like we have a real connection." When he sobs, Felicity thinks she might be a little vindictive in her interrogation, but, then again, her mother always said it was important to love what you do.

Taking a deep breath, the vigilante continues, "Here's the thing. You're going to die tonight. There's nothing you can say to change that. Quite frankly—and I do mean this in the nicest way possible—you're a miserable human being. You prey on women, you sell drugs to minors, and you've murdered a handful of innocent people. I'm going to kill you, Bobby. You should make peace with that now." As he swings by again, she slides her blade across the top of his hand. "But that's the destination, not the journey. There are a lot of ways to die, and some of them are more painful than others. If you tell me what I want to know, I promise you the quickest death possible with a sword."

While he's whimpering, Felicity continues, "I'd like to know who your boss is, and where he operates. As quickly as possible, please—I don't have a lot of night left to work with."

"I always met him at an abandoned mental facility on the other side of town," Bobby confesses in a frantic tone, almost indistinguishable between the blubbering. Next time, she's going to let Oliver go through drug dealers with reckless abandon instead of listening to them cry all night. It's kind of a downer, really, and she has enough of that in her life already. "I swear to God, I don't know anything else—not even a name. They just call him the Count."

Felicity snorts at the horrible name. That might actually be worse than Deathstroke—and not even as bone-chilling or ominous. "Guess all the good ones were taken," she retorts in a dry tone.

Bobby snivels a little bit more. "No, you don't understand," he corrects her. "They call him that because he spent so much time making the drug. Perfected it using people who wouldn't be missed—hookers, homeless guys, meth heads. Took him several tries to get it right. The bodies just showed up with needle marks in their necks. The press thought it looked like a vampire." He waves his arms as he swings by again, and the two motions combine make it difficult for the blonde to track them. "That's all I know, I swear. I got a kid—just don't hurt him."

A familiar discomfort washes over her, and, feeling as though she's being watched, Felicity turns around to check. No one is visible, but she knows damn well where he is and what he wants. "There are some lines that should never be crossed, Bobby," is her response, slow and methodical. "I don't kill innocents." She inspects her blade for a moment. "And, because you've held up your end of the bargain so nicely, I think it's time for me to keep my promise to you."

Without waiting for a response, she takes a long swing with her blade, the momentum causing her to make a full one-eighty as it severs his head from his shoulders in a clean slice. Felicity ignores it, instead focusing on her unwelcome visitor. "You were supposed to be home," the vigilante calls out to him. "I distinctly remember telling you that I had this under control."

It says a lot about the two of them that, when the Arrow lands just inches from her, she doesn't even flinch. This is nothing new; Oliver seems to get a thrill from swinging around like Tarzan on his high-density polymer cables, while she prefers to keep her feet on the ground. If humans were meant to fly, then Felicity would have wings. But even so, the action is familiar—they're familiar. Perhaps too much so at times. But, then again, the swordmaster rather likes it. She's forgotten what it's like to trust people, but the archer always seems to help her remember.

"I had to get away from the house," Oliver confesses to her with a grimace, his own modulator off for the time being. "Apparently, Thea met Roy."

The blonde winces; that can't have ended well. While Roy was willing and able to help the heiress with her problem, he did it for Oliver, not Thea. So of course he spent most of the morning making snide comments before going down to the police station. Even with those thoughts in mind, she thinks they're similar—putting on brave faces for the rest of the world to protect themselves. "I can think of two reasons for your exasperation," she admits. "Either that ended in an argument or a hot and heavy make-out session."

With a look of disgust, he answers in a sharp tone, "I'd guess it was an argument. She spent most of the night complaining about my 'legally ambigious asshat' of a friend." He makes a noise in his throat. "And then Roy called to complain about Thea. His exact words were something like 'snot-nosed troll princess.'"

Despite the weariness written all over her friend's face, Felicity can barely hold in the laugh threatening to burst out. "I think I have to give Roy this round for most creative insult," she muses, mostly to herself. "He actually managed to fit a pun in there—Queen, princess. I didn't know he had that in him—I must be exerting a positive influence." She holds up a hand. "Still, I don't think you should dismiss the second option. Roy has a thing for bad girls, and from what you've told me, a boy from the Glades is right up Thea's alley."

Exasperation etches itself across Oliver's face for a moment, but the smile plays it down a little. Ignoring her tangent, he continues, "I needed to get out in the field for a while. There was something on the police scanner about a man screaming in a high-pitched voice, and I thought of you." He looks past her, toward her victim. "Did he tell you anything?"

Unable to resist, Felicity asks, "You think of me when you hear high-pitched screaming? You always say the sweetest things." It earns yet another smile, which fades as she continues, "I distinctly remember you agreeing that this was my case." He might be Oliver Queen, but she is not going to allow a hostile takeover of her case. She sheathes her swords before brushing past him. "If I need your help, I'll let you know."

"Felicity," he growls in warning as he catches her arm. Usually he says her name in amusement or something else that the blonde refuses to follow down the rabbit hole, but tonight, it's in irritation, making her name sound like a threat and a curse all at once. "She's my sister." Maybe there's a little desperation there, too, judging by the soft, helpless way his voice curves at the end.

"You're too close to this case," she retorts, rounding on him. "You've made this one personal—which I get—and I'm afraid of what that will do to you in the field." The firm set of his mouth is enough for her; she knows a trained interrogator—not the police kind—when she sees one, and she knew it the first time she laid eyes on him. But he's never used his abilities before, and now that she knows Oliver to carry guilt around with him like thousand-pound weights, she understands why. "You might not regret it then, but you will later. I'll let you know when I'm ready to abase the Count."

He shakes his head in a sharp, violent motion, huffing a sigh. "I appreciate what you're doing, Felicity, but it's not your job to keep me from losing my humanity. Whatever I do, I have to live with it—that's on me, not you." His eyes narrow. "And you cannot convince me that if the situations were reversed—if it was Roy who was in danger—that you wouldn't be painting this town red with blood until you saved him."

She shrugs his hand away and starts walking before answering, "That's because you have some humanity left to save, Oliver."

 


 

Roy shouldn't answer the door. He knows that. He knows who it is—because she's clearly announcing her presence to not just him, but the entire neighborhood—and that's why he shouldn't answer. Talking to party princess Thea Queen is just going to piss him off all over again. But he needs to go get something to eat before Felicity gets home from work, and damn it, she's not going away.

With a sense of foreboding laced with exasperation, he wrenches open the door, leaving the chain on between them again. "Now that the whole neighborhood knows you're here," he greets her, "what the hell do you—?"

He stops mid-sentence because she's a well-composed disaster—something he knows well after so many years of living with Felicity post-Japan. Her mascara is smudged and has been hastily re-applied, and her eyes are red. Felicity's cover-up process might usually be due to prowling around all night instead of crying, but Thea isn't as good at faking as his almost-sister.

"I know you probably don't want to see me," she says with a sniffle, "but I didn't know where else to go and I didn't want to stay for another lecture from my mom." She motions between them. "Can we not do this with a door between us?"

Sighing because, like Felicity accused, he's a complete pushover, he unchains the door and swings it wide between them. "Look, I was a little hard on you," he admits as she walks in, examining the room with a careful eye. "I probably shouldn't have said that, but my mom was an addict. I know what it's like watching someone go through that." Absently, he realizes it's Thursday, and that her court hearing was today. "How did court go?" he asks as he walks toward the kitchen to see if there's anything to eat in the house. Probably not.

"I don't want to talk about it," Thea answers, dropping down on one of the bar stools as though she owns the place. Her eyes dart over her shoulder. "I didn't really peg you for the type to build computers." She nods toward the mound of computer parts in the corner, old ones they phased out at Driscoll's that Felicity thought she could re-purpose.

As he rummages through the fridge, Roy replies, "Those are Felicity's." Heading off the question before it can be asked, he continues, "She's like my sister. This is her place. She's the computer genius here, not me."

"Felicity?" she repeats as he closes the door to the fridge. When he turns to her, Thea's eyebrows are narrowed together. "That's not a very common name—do you mean Tommy's Felicity?" She sits a little straighter on the stool, leaning forward. "Because he has drinks with a friend named Felicity every Monday night after the club shuts down."

Unable to help himself, Roy snorts at that. It's not the first time someone has gotten it completely wrong by saying something completely right. "More like Oliver's Felicity," he corrects. After all, he thinks that Oliver probably spends more time with Felicity than he does in his own home. "But yeah, same person." He pulls his phone out of his pocket, meaning to text the woman in question only to find one waiting for him: Got a lead on the case. Don't worry—I'm taking Oliver with me. Don't wait up. "And it doesn't look like she's going to be home for dinner." Though it's probably inviting trouble, a long night of worrying about Felicity is completely unappetizing. "You hungry? It's a short walk from here to one of the best Thai places in the city."

The question seems to throw the heiress for a moment, as she says nothing. Too late Roy realizes it could be seen as something more than it is, which is simply that the two of them don't want to be alone and they have no better offers. Besides, she is Oliver's sister—he owes it to him to make sure she doesn't do anything reckless. "I could eat," Thea decides slowly. "I just have to get my purse out of the car and—"

He cuts her off as he moves toward the door. "I don't want your money, princess. Keep it—I'm paying."

 


 

Quentin Lance gave up on calling it a good day hours ago, but now that he watches the grainy security feed from the buildings around the old abandoned mental facility, he decides that might be putting it mildly. Even with low-quality footage, he can recognize that most of his assumptions about Deathstroke and the Arrow were wrong. Meaning he's back at square one with absolutely nothing to discern much detail about either of them.

Because the video footage is mediocre at best, there's nothing too interesting when it comes to identification of the two killers loose on his streets. His video techs were able to tell him that the Arrow probably cuts an intimidating figure at over six feet tall, and that he seems to have a beard of some sort. Because it's in black-and-white in the dark, nothing else can be determined. The arrows on the scene don't have serial numbers of any sort, indicating that the bastard is smart enough to make his own. The footprints he leaves behind are from a generic boot, sold at just about every shoe store in town.

But his slaughterhouse of a partner, well, that's the real mystery. Three years this son of a bitch has been active, and they're not any closer now than they were when he started. He covers himself from head to toe with that freaky mask and gloves. He almost never takes a hit, and if he does, he's careful to wipe up blood evidence. There have been a few close misses trying to catch the Arrow, but Deathstroke is always gone by the time they show up, leaving them with an autopsy suite full of mutilated corpses.

Lance has never seen Deathstroke in the flesh before, never laid eyes on him once. Everything he knows about him comes from a few of his victims that weren't quite dead on the scene, one grainy still from a camera, and a few rare bystanders who managed to get a look at him from afar. From what he's been told, the detective expected a man over six feet tall, broad-shouldered and just as imposing as the Arrow. However, he's a little disappointed by the video footage. In thick-soled boots, Deathstroke is just taller than the Arrow's shoulder; the techs say that places him at five-seven. On top of that, the guy has a slight build, making him look like a gangly fifteen-year-old in a mask. Still, it explains a lot; the kid clearly has one hell of a Napoleon Complex.

But perhaps the most enlightening thing about the video is that it clears up some of their misconceptions before. He'd originally assumed the two of them had some sort of agreement, a reluctant partnership. But from the footage, he realizes it's more than that; the two of them work together like a well-oiled machine, always conscious of the other's movements and working together to stop anyone in their path. The Arrow even ends up with one of Deathstroke's swords for a moment, and, while awkward with it, he still manages to get the job done.

It's clear there's nothing reluctant about this. Lance doubts he works this well with Hilton, and the two of them have been partners for years. They aren't working together out of a mutual interest—like the detectives' goal of closing cases—but out of a personal one. They want to be a team—probably due to some sort of mutual respect for one another.

Then the damnedest thing happens, something he's never noticed on the video before: the corner of the Arrow's mouth appears to come up, and he waves Deathstroke ahead of him through the doorway. It only strikes Lance because he made the same gesture not a few hours ago at the restaurant with Laurel, allowing her to go first. The way the Arrow does it on the screen seems much the same way, and while his words are unreadable, it almost seems as though he's saying ladies first. Even though it's a ridiculous notion because of the rarity of violent, female serial murderers, it would explain the small shoeprints from the crime scenes, his height, and his build.

But in Lance's world, evidence usually isn't explained so easily.

He's about to go through it again when the phone on his desk rings. It isn't his, but instead the one the Arrow sent him several months ago, when he called in a warning about Triad activity at the port. The detective had made a nice bust that night, even though it wasn't the one he wanted. Because talking to the Arrow could help him get a read on the guy, he sets it up to record the conversation for his own purposes for later. Pressing the button, he answers it. "Looks like you and your sideshow freak of a partner have been busy tonight," he greets the emerald archer.

"Sideshow freak?" he repeats, but his modulated voice sounds… different somehow. More robotic and deeper, but less serious. "I don't think anyone's ever called me that before." At the same moment the words register, the Vengeance of Starling clarifies, "Wrong vigilante, Detective. This is your friendly, neighborhood sword-slinger. I have a lot of names, but for the most part, they seem to call me Deathstroke." There's a short pause. "Or less formal names, like devil, monster, demon, and—my personal favorite—oh God, please don't kill me."

The humor, albeit morbid, takes Lance by surprise. The Arrow is always business, whereas this psychopath seems a lot more casual. Because he takes the hand dealt him, Lance responds in a dry tone, "I'd be more interested to know what your mother calls you."

To his surprise, Deathstroke replies with a snort of laugher before responding, "Usually she just calls me 'honey.' When she's not irritated with me, anyway—which is rare. But if I wanted to talk about my mother, I'd talk to my psychiatrist." Lance barely bites back a retort of, Clearly you don't spend enough time in therapy. "But today, I'm in need of a cop, and the Arrow gave you a glowing recommendation."

Lance snorts. "I'll be sure to put that on my résumé," he retorts in a dry tone. Losing patience with this conversation, one that's seemingly going nowhere, he asks, "Now why are you calling me on your boyfriend's cell phone?"

He says it to get a rise out of the guy, but Deathstroke doesn't rise to the bait. "I always get sidetracked in conversations," he responds instead. Then there's a muffled, "I blame you for that—you just let me talk at you, and now I can't have conversations with normal human beings." With a start, Lance realizes that the Arrow is there. The self-described sword-slinger's tone is light and cordial, and the detective realizes that the two vigilantes might actually be friends.

His voice is louder again as the vigilante continues, "All in due time, Detective. But first, on the Arrow's behalf, I have to protest your last statement: he's not my boyfriend. He seems to have a thing for leggy brunettes, and I seem to be drawn to guys with a save-the-world complex." Before he can dwell on that, Deathstroke continues, "I have a present for you that I'd like to deliver in person." There's a short pause before he adds, "From my experience, I can make the journey from your desk to the back door takes me about thirty seconds, but because I want you to take your time to avoid suspicion, I'll give you sixty. Back door, be casual about it. Any more than sixty seconds, and I walk away. If you don't come alone, I walk."

"Why me?" Lance can't help but ask. "Why not any other police officer on the force?"

"Fifty-five seconds, Detective, or I go to a rookie cop who isn't smart enough to ask questions," is Deathstroke's response before hanging up.

Sensing this is the only opportunity he's going to get, he rises from his desk, moving from his cubicle to the back door as efficiently as possible. It would be easy to grab another cop and get him to round everything up, but that's the kind of stunt that would work for the Arrow. Today, though, he's dealing with Deathstroke, the menace who has been running around Starling City for three years and has managed to get caught once on tape—and never in person.

The Arrow might be more eager to take down criminals, but Deathstroke is far more intelligent.

When Lance steps out onto the back steps in the alleyway, he's met with nothing but silence and darkness in response. He starts to decide he missed the vigilante when he notices something odd next to the dumpster at one end. Curious, he goes to examine it, only to find that the something is a man in his twenties or thirties, with brown hair and his hands zip-cuffed together. A flash drive of some sort is around his neck, and in a bizarre turn of events, there's a large, red, store-bought bow stuck to his head.

"I told him it was too much," a voice states, and Lance looks up to find the Arrow standing on the rootop, staring down at him with hawk-like eyes, bow in hand. With something that almost sounds like amusement, he continues, "But I'm told it's bad form not to wrap a gift."

Lance sneers at him, irritation at the situation building. It would be hard enough to do this without him being a smart ass. "I thought I was supposed to be meeting your boyfriend instead," he snaps.

There's a laugh as another modulated voice responds, "I'm not his type, Detective." Seemingly out of nowhere, Deathstroke appears, and, sure as the world, he only reaches the Arrow's shoulder. Compared to his partner, the Vengeance of Starling is almost frail, with a small, delicate frame. "He's not really mine, either, but that doesn't keep me from appreciating the way he wears green leather." He motions between the two of them. "I hope you didn't mind if I brought a friend. We're kind of a packaged deal these days." As if to emphasize that, the Arrow places a hand on his partner's shoulder.

Unlike his partner, Deathstroke drops to sit on the ledge, legs dangling off the edge as he leans back casually on his palms. "I wish I could have done more for you tonight, Detective." She motions to the man at Lance's feet for reference. "Wrapping packages is really a lost art, and I do an incredible job. You've never seen folds so straight in your life." The Arrow clears his throat, and Deathstroke shakes his head, as if trying to remember his point. "But I'm kind of on a time schedule here. The Thai restaurants will be closing soon, and there's nothing like dim sum after fisticuffs."

The Arrow snorts at that, and if Lance didn't know better, he'd say that was a smile on the big guy's face. "I know it's not the gift you wanted, Detective," Deathstroke continues casually, "but I'm not interested in sitting in a cage. Didn't like it much the last time." With that information, Lance makes a mental note to look for previous arrests that are proficient with swords. "Still, happy Thursday."

Though the light is low and both of them are trying to avoid the security light's glow, Lance can tell that Deathstroke is kicking his legs and that his hand is on the Arrow's shoe. Because he's trying to bait them, the detective notes aloud, "For a homicidal killing machine, you're kind of on the short side." Now that he thinks about it, though, trying to get a rise out of the sword-slinger might not be his best move. Provoking an unbalanced killer could qualify him for suicide by vigilante.

Instead of provoking Deathstroke, it seems to draw out a response from the Arrow; he crosses his arms over his chest while holding his bow in front of him, the tight leather calling attention to his muscle definition. Unlike his partner, the archer isn't a small man by any means, and the way he stands is clearly meant to be a reminder of that. Or a threat.

However, the swordsman seems to take it in stride with a motion that seems like a shrug. "I prefer to think of myself as fun-sized," the masked psychopath replies without missing a beat. In some sort of twisted chain reaction, the corners of the Arrow's mouth come up wide enough that there's no question about his amusement. Before Lance can come up with a response, the Vengeance of Starling continues, "But my stature isn't important. That man is known as the Count. Around his neck you'll find a flash drive with information proving that he's been responsible for manufacturing Vertigo for the last few months. That should be enough to make judges ease up on his victims."

Only one victim has been in the news of late, and Lance knows exactly what he's getting at. "You mean Thea Queen," he accuses. It's an odd choice, especially given how Deathstroke's usual targets are gang-affiliated, and he wonders for a moment if he should talk to the Queens about this. Maybe he should talk to them—and the Merlyn boy, for good measure—to see how they respond to the information. "Usually you don't give a damn about anybody without a gang record." He gestures toward the Arrow. "And another drug on the streets is a little too low-profile for you. Why him? Why now?"

Gripping the bow tighter, the Arrow takes a step toward the ledge. "Anyone who commits crime in my city concerns me," he growls, a threat laced somewhere in the words. It surprises Lance; the Arrow doesn't usually run this hot. He's quiet and only says what's necessary, but passion and ire aren't really his style.

Deathstroke places a hand on the archer's calf in warning. "I told you," the sword-wielding vigilante chides, "that if you can't behave yourself, I'm going to make you leave." There's something almost predatory as he adds, "The good detective is trying to find the best bait to haul in the big fish—like you and me." It just confirms the detective's suspicions; the Vengeance of Starling is a quick study. And a criminal with a steep learning curve is precisely the opposite of what he needs right now.

"And technically," he continues, waving a hand, "I've been here for three years. You've been active for a few months. I think that makes it my city. You're lucky I'm such a softie and that I like you. And that I don't take it personally when you try to kill me." There's a small pause between them, filled with things they don't have to say. "You seem like a decent fellow. I'd hate to kill you."

Lance swears he remembers those words from somewhere else, but it doesn't quite register. Though there's a smile on the Arrow's face, it's in seriousness he replies, "I'd hate to die."

For reasons the detective doesn't understand, that sends Deathstroke into a fit of cackles, and he tries to balance the image of the vigilantes that he's created with the ones he sees. The stoic, almost ghost-like Arrow with a dark side and a softer side makes an oddly perfect complement to the playful, cheeky Deathstroke. For all they call them monsters, maybe the two vigilantes are human after all. That doesn't change the fact that they're criminals, but it does change the way Lance sees them. They have families and friends, people who love them—people who probably don't suspect their nighttime activities.

Finally attempting to answer his statement, Deathstroke doesn't deny the facts about Thea Queen. "And I decided to help you because I saw the Queen girl's story on the news, Detective," the vigilante answers, picking something of his sword hilt. "Seventeen years old, and condemned by one, single mistake." There's a far away quality in his voice, as though he's reliving a memory, and Lance amends his mental note to include juvenile arrests. "I guess my heart just broke for her a little."

Trying to get a rise—and perhaps more information—the detective baits him with, "You don't have a heart."

This time it draws out the Arrow again, and he regrips his bow in a gesture far more menacing. Before Lance can go for his gun, Deathstroke laughs, placing a hand on the archer's thigh with a shake of his head. Just like that, the Arrow stands down, and the detective decides there's another aspect of this picture he isn't seeing yet. "I may be a monster," the swordsman corrects, "but I do have a heart, Detective." He rises to his feet in one fluid, lithe motion, striking an odd contrast to his partner. "I know you'll find that hard to believe, but maybe you'll believe this instead: I have a little brother whose life is ruined because of the mistakes he made as a kid. I didn't want to see the same thing happen to her."

"Well, maybe they'll nominate you for sainthood now," Lance quips, unimpressed. One good deed doesn't redeem him from all of the crimes he's committed—especially when Deathstroke had to kill people to accomplish it. But on top of that, it gives him a good insight into the vigilante; maybe he should check for juvenile offenders with loud-mouthed older brothers, too. Deathstroke is too chatty not to mouth off about something like that. "Not too bright of you to say that about your brother. Or to leave evidence behind."

The sword-slinger makes a sound in his throat. "What, like the video footage?" he asks, causing Lance's eyebrows to shoot up. "Come on, Detective. In three years, you've never seen video surveillance of me, and you think this one time I slipped up?" He crosses his arms. "I don't take the time to destroy unimportant evidence against me." The son of a bitch actually shrugs. "Besides, it was really awesome footage, if I may say so myself. And really, everyone should watch him fight once." He gestures to his partner. "The Arrow fights like…" He trails off before deciding, "You kind of remind me of this ex-KGB agent I fought when I first started doing this. Got a couple of nice hits in with a knife before I relieved him of his head." He waves a hand. "Basically, you fight like a Russian ghost."

The look on the Arrow's face is almost… indulgent, Lance decides, as he watches the archer smile at his fellow escaped mental patient. The detective knew they fought together, but this is friendly and easy, as though they're more than just partners. The two of them have a mutual respect for one another, see each other as equals. "You fight like an Australian demon," he counters without missing a beat. The detective studies them for a moment before deciding the country of origin in that statement is meaningful somehow. "But I think Detective Lance has more important things on his mind than my fighting style." A siren blares in the distance, and he turns toward it. "We should leave."

Because he feels the need to clear the air, Lance warns them, "The only reason I'm letting you walk is because I have paper to fill out on this guy." He points at Deathstroke. "The next time we meet, I'm going to see you in cuffs."

"Well, you can try," Deathstroke corrects, the mask tilting to the side. "You're not the first man to express interest in having me in handcuffs, but they weren't very successful, either." Lance isn't sure how to take that, if it's supposed to be suggestive or not. To the Arrow, he continues in a soft conversational tone, "Ex number one liked that kind of thing." Louder, he continues, "I don't like to be tied down. But if I'm the one with the cuffs, I have no objection to—"

"Stop," the Arrow barks out, his voice wrong somehow. It's garbled, as if he's choking on his own tongue. At first, Lance thinks he's imagining it, but then Deathstroke turns to look at him, head tilting to the side.

The Vengeance of Starling reaches for his partner's modulator. "Are you having trouble with this thing again?" he asks. "You need to buy better equipment." The Arrow pushes his hand away, shaking his head and murmuring something under his breath about not the modulator. Deathstroke responds with something in a foreign language—it sounds Slavic, like Russian—and then the fearsome emerald archer can't seem to look at his partner. It only makes Deathstroke laugh; he tilts his partner's head around in an action that's familiar and belies the trust between them. "Something interesting about that dumpster?" he teases.

Now there's no question in Lance's mind that he's pegged them completely wrong. They're still criminals and they're still murderers, but the psychology is all wrong. Deathstroke is supposed to be dark and angry, venomous and spiteful. Instead, he finds the man far too personable for a serial killer, which leads him to a confused set of conclusions. Maybe it's time for another opinion on this, someone who knows a little more about behavioral psych and criminal mentality than him.

Before Lance can comment, Deathstroke grabs his partner's wrist and says with a salute, "Have a lovely evening, Detective."

 


 

Thea jolts awake when a sharp movement startles her, eyes flying open as she takes in the unfamiliar surroundings and the orange sofa she's draped across. It takes her a moment to push through her grogginess, but then she realizes that she must have fallen asleep at Roy's. The heavy weight on her waist confirms it, especially when she sees the sleeve of a red hoodie.

"I tried to warn you, but you didn't listen," an unfamiliar female voice calls. Thea's eyes track the motion, settling on the petite blonde in glasses standing at the end of the couch. She's turned toward the kitchen, wearing a pair of skinny jeans with black ballet flats that lace up and wrap around her ankles. She wears a black T-shirt with them, one displaying a female superhero of some sort—one with hair that's half red and half black—holding a pistol in each hand with an ammo belt over her chest. The words below it read Fight Like a Girl. "And now you're surprised to walk in on this."

Though Thea doesn't understand the meaning of her words, Roy obviously does, pulling himself upright behind her. "It's not what it looks like," he says in a rushed voice. Despite his unease, his hand still stays on her arm, and the brunette decides she likes that feeling. Maybe he isn't as bad as she originally thought he was.

If anything, the blonde seems to take more amusement from that, her red lips turning up at one corner in a half-smile. "Really?" she drawls, crossing her arms over her chest. "Because it looks like you were spooning with Oliver's sister on my couch." Almost ironically, she adds, "Platonically, of course."

"Okay, then it's exactly what it looks like," Roy amends as Thea pulls herself into a sitting position, shaking out her probably flat hair. He motions to the blonde. "Thea, this is Felicity Smoak. Felicity, Thea." He doesn't elaborate on that last part, as though he doesn't need to. But, then again, if she knows Tommy, he probably doesn't.

Felicity waves, her smile turning genuine. "Nice to finally meet you. I've heard a lot." Her smile falls slightly as she continues, "Oliver said your trial didn't go well today. If there was anything I could do, I would. No one deserves to be punished for a stupid, youthful mistake for the rest of their lives." Though it's meant to be kind, it only makes Thea feel worse about it; it wasn't a mistake, but something she's done time and time again. She just got caught this time. "Here's hoping they catch that guy making Vertigo—it would probably reduce your punishment."

Because she doesn't want to talk about it, the heiress looks for a change in subject. She latches on to one easily; she just mentioned Oliver, and Roy said something earlier about her being Oliver's Felicity. "Wait, you know my brother, too?" she asks.

Incredulity flickers across her features, and then she turns toward the kitchen, behind Thea's place on the couch. "Seriously?" she demands, placing her hands on her hips. Though she seemed nice before, the heiress is starting to understand how she pulled Roy back on the straight and narrow. "I've been carrying your luddite ass for months now, and I don't even get a casual mention to your sister?"

The familiar voice makes Thea's head turn when he counters with, "Did you tell your mother about me?" To her surprise, Ollie is standing in the kitchen as if he owns it, pulling containers of Thai food out of a plastic bag. His expression is lighter than usual, and he looks… happy. She hasn't seen that since before the island, and now it almost looks foreign on his features

"That's a horse of a different color," Felicity argues. "Actually, I think it's so different that it's more like a unicorn to your palomino." It pulls another smile out of him, this one so wide it exposes teeth. Thea can't help but wonder who he is and what he's done with her brother. "The moment I tell her when we're friends, she's going to start asking inappropriate questions and planning our wedding." She shudders at that thought, and the brunette bites back a smile; God knows Ollie has never met a woman who found that prospect distasteful. The blonde walks up to grab a plate from the bar, where Oliver placed it. "At most, your family is going to come to the conclusion that I'm just there to fill the mathlete space on your sex bingo card." She snorts, and Thea laughs in surprise. "Too bad for you I'm not a one-night stand kind of girl."

It's then that the brunette heiress decides she likes this Felicity. Few women have the ability to put Ollie in his place so bluntly, and she's never seen anyone do it and make him laugh at the same time. "You wouldn't be my first mathlete," he disagrees in a light, teasing tone that makes the brunette's eyes widen in shock. Usually when they talk about his string of women, he gets defensive, but yet he's talking about this freely. "But you would be my first Mensa member. And computer technician." Despite his words and his obvious flirting, Thea is surprised to find there's no intent in the statement. There's no ulterior motive to him spending time with her, and he isn't trying to make a move. He's just simply enjoying her company.

"Keep dreaming, lover boy," the blonde retorts with a smile. Something passes between them that Thea can't quite define in that moment; her brother's eyes darken a little, and his smile warps into something more loaded, darker. Maybe their friendship isn't quite as innocent as it appears.

"If I can get you off the topic of bagging my sister," Roy says with a face, "how pissed are you right now, Oliver?"

Thea joins him as he walks up to the bar, sitting on the stool next to his. It might give him some credit to have her by his side, and she might just want to be there, too. "I'm not mad," Ollie assures him, and she thinks he might actually be serious. "Despite the arrest record, you're a good man, Roy. My sister could do a lot worse." He cuts her a look. "And usually has." She sticks out her tongue at him as he turns back to Roy, his expression darkening. "But if you hurt her, I'll snap your neck." Roy swallows audibly, and Thea thinks for a moment her brother is serious, until he breaks into a smile. "I'm kidding."

Her miscreant friend doesn't seem convinced, but then again, Oliver has always been pretty good at putting the fear of God into her boyfriends—not that Roy is her boyfriend, because they're not together, and she is not going to date a petty thief from the wrong side of town. (Maybe.) Felicity winks at her foster brother in response. "Don't worry, Roy. I'll keep you safe," she assures him. Thea snorts at that; Ollie is stubborn as hell and it's hard to talk him down from the ledge when he puts his mind to something. In response to her doubt, the blonde assures her, "No one gets to take Roy down but me. I might not look scary, but I'm meaner than Oliver. I'd kick his ass."

With an almost admiring look, the man in question replies solemnly, "She wouldn't even hesitate."