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Near, Possible, and Inevitable

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"For a few seconds they
looked silently into each
other's eyes, and the distant
and impossible suddenly
became near, possible, and
inevitable."
-Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace

“How much longer is this going to take?” Moira asked impatiently as she put her cup down with more force than was strictly necessary.

“Mom,” Oliver said warningly.

“It’s quite alright,” Anatoly said soothingly as he sipped from his own cup. “Normally my daughter is quite prompt but there were some technical issues she had to take care of that should be resolved shortly.”

“One would think that discussing the upcoming wedding and meeting her future in-laws would take precedence over any ‘technical issues’,” Moira muttered.

“Mom, please,” Oliver said with a pained wince.

“What? It’s true,” she said tightly as she again lifted her tea cup. “One would also think a group with as many resources as the Bratva would have people to take care of this sort of thing.”

“I take it that you are not enthused over your son’s decision to marry my daughter?” Anatoly said in a tone that was deceptively mild.

“No, Mr. Knyazev, I am not,” she said firmly as she looked at the other man unflinchingly. “It is my understanding that my son has done you and your organization a great service.”

He nodded, “This is true.”

“Then I would think that helping out a man who saved your life on multiple occasions and who is a captain in your…organization,” she said with no little amount of distaste, “would take priority and that such an act would come without strings attached.”

“You think my daughter marrying your son is a ‘string’?” Anatoly asked in bemusement.

“You don’t?” she parried. “Threatening to withhold your financial help unless he marries your daughter seems like a pretty big string to me.”

“Mrs. Queen, I am not forcing your son to do anything he does not want to do,” he said simply.

“Mom, just let it go,” Oliver said quietly as he shot his mother a warning look.

“No, I will not let it go,” Moira said shortly. “While I’m sure that your daughter is a wonderful young lady, my son—“

“This whole thing was your son’s idea in the first place,” came a voice from the doorway.

They turned to see a petite blonde woman dressed in an impeccable business suit enter the room along with two other woman, both of whom Oliver recognized and one he knew all too well. The slightly older brunette was Diggle’s ex-wife, Lyla, and the other was Helena Bertinelli, his ex-girlfriend who was currently wanted in the States for multiple crimes including the murder of her own father.

“Excuse me?” Moira asked looking from her to Oliver dubiously.

“You really should tell your mother these things, Ollie,” Helena said with a smirk. “But, then again, you always did like your secrets.”

“What is she doing here?” Oliver demanded looking to Anatoly angrily.

“Ms. Bertinelli works for me,” the blonde said calmly.

“Ms. Bertinelli is an unstable psychopath who tried to kill my mother and who put a crossbow bolt in the chest of her own father along with the FBI agents guarding him,” he tossed back.

“From what I understand, Helena didn’t actually try to kill your mother. She was trying to kill one of her father’s henchmen but, due to her inexperience with handling a weapon while driving, she missed. Therefore, while regrettable, any injuries your mother suffered as a result were unintentional,” the blonde said smoothly. “And, just for curiosities’ sake, if you were so concerned about that then why did you take Helena under your wing and train her after your mother’s attack?”

Moira turned to Oliver and fixed him with a sharp gaze before turning back to the other woman, “And what about the fact that this woman, again, murdered her own father?” she demanded.

“Well, not to butt in here, but he did kind of deserve it,” Lyla offered with a half shrug.

“Especially seeing as my ‘father’ murdered my fiancé and would’ve had me killed as well,” Helena agreed. “I’d say that makes me the opposite of crazy, wouldn’t you? In fact, I’d say that makes me pretty damn rational,” she threw back lazily as she plopped down on a nearby chair.

“Rational or not, what is she doing here?” Oliver demanded in a low growl.

“She’s here because she’s a member of my security team as well as one of our legal advisors since she has a background in corporate law while Ms. Michaels is here acting as the attorney of record. As you are aware, we do have quite a few legalities to get through,” the blonde told him. She extended her hand, “Felicity Smoak.”

“Hello,” Oliver said taking her hand reluctantly before shooting Lyla a look, “Since when are you a lawyer?”

“Since I graduated law school and passed the Texas state bar,” the other woman returned. “I was a reservist all through college and law school and enlisted after graduation. I was going to go into the Army JAG Corps but to serve you have be able to serve twenty years of active commissioned service. Since my seven years in the Army Reserve didn’t count and I didn’t want to commit to another twenty years, I chose the Rangers instead. I’m surprised Johnny didn’t tell you about that.”

“Yeah, me too,” he said dourly before glaring at the door.

Because Diggle was considered his ‘bodyguard’, he was made to sit outside in the foyer until they came out. Speaking of which…

“Why is Helena allowed to be here when my bodyguard was made to wait outside?” Oliver asked as he threw Helena another dirty look.

“I’m not just here as a bodyguard, lover, I’m here as a chaperone,” Helena said with a smirk.

“A chaperone?” Oliver repeated incredulously.

Anatoly nodded, “It is customary when an unmarried woman meets with a man who is not family that she have a female chaperone accompany her, especially during marital negotiations.”

“But you’re her father so she obviously doesn’t need to be here,” he objected.

“Pipe down, Ollie, and stop being such a whiny ass,” Helena told him with a snort. “Besides, it’s the bride’s prerogative, am I right?” she asked looking to Anatoly.

“That is correct, yes,” the older man nodded.

“Fine,” Oliver said tightly even though it was anything but ‘fine’ as far as he was concerned.

So far these ‘marital negotiations’ were off to a less than auspicious start.

“Hi, it’s nice to meet you,” Felicity said extending her hand towards Moira as well.

“Who is this woman?” Moira asked ignoring her outstretched hand and turning to their host.

“This is my daughter,” Anatoly told them. “In actuality she is my stepdaughter but I adopted her after I married her mother when she was seven. Many of our business interests outside of Russia require her to use her mother’s maiden name but everyone within my organization knows she is my daughter.”

“I see,” Moira murmured in a way that said she really didn’t, “And will we be meeting your wife today as well?”

“No,” Felicity answered for him as she dropped her hand without comment. “In fact, I doubt your paths will cross at any time during your stay as there is absolutely no reason for my mother to be part of the negotiations.”

“Negotiations? That’s the second time I’ve heard that word,” Moira repeated with a sharp look. “And exactly what will we be negotiating for? I assumed that this was to be a fairly straightforward exchange; the money in exchange for my son marrying your daughter and making her a Queen. Unless, of course, it’s on whether or not we should serve salmon or sea bass at the reception?”

“There won’t be a reception nor will there be a wedding,” Felicity said unflinchingly.

“You’re turning me down?” Oliver asked feeling a combination of relief and frustration at her pronouncement, particularly since his mother was now looking at them like the cat that ate the canary.

“No, Mr. Queen,” she said without so much as bothering to glance at him. “What I mean is that this is not a love story, nor is this something out of a romance novel where the battle scarred hero forces the virgin bride to marry him and they live happily ever after. This is a business contract which is where the negotiation part of the process comes in.”

At her pronouncement Lyla opened her briefcase and handed him a folder.

“A business contract?” he repeated as he glanced through the thick sheaf of paperwork before handing it off to his mother who began to scrutinize it carefully.

“Since your mother is obviously unaware of how things work within Bratva, perhaps I should explain,” Felicity said turning to him at last, her ice blue eyes focused on his with laser-like intensity.

Had the circumstances of their meeting been different, Oliver would’ve been struck by the younger woman’s fragile beauty but, as delicate as she appeared, there was no mistaking the fact that she was a predator.

“I should confess that just before I came in, I overheard some of your discussion,” Felicity began. “I feel that it’s important to clarify a few things, starting with the fact that, while it is true that your son did my father a service in the past, that service was repaid when my father named him a captain in the Bratva then released him from active duty while allowing him to retain his title.”

“I hardly see how inducting my son into a criminal organization is repayment of anything,” the other woman shot back.

“So says the woman with enough connections that she was able to get Ra’s al Ghul’s cell phone number,” Lyla said dryly.

“What?” Oliver asked sharply as he looked between Lyla and his mother who had been obviously caught unawares.

“How…?” she asked.

“Because we’re Bratva, Mrs. Queen,” Felicity said coolly. “Bratva is the largest and most successful criminal enterprise in the world taking in tens of billions of dollars in profits per year and yet the general public and law enforcement barely know anything about us or how this organization is run. Most of what you think you know comes from supposition and the movies, and not once has any law enforcement agency successfully infiltrated our ranks. We, however, are everywhere. Our brotherhood has agents in every law enforcement and military organization in the world and our reach extends to the highest levels of government. The reason for that is because we know how to keep secrets but, more importantly, we know how to uncover them. There is nothing about you and your family that we do not know. For instance, we know that your daughter, Thea, is Malcolm Merlyn’s biological child.”

At that both Oliver and his mother tensed. The revelations about Thea’s paternity had only come to light recently and their relationship had been strained ever since, especially since the truth only came to light after Tommy had gotten hurt and he and Thea went to visit him in the hospital.

The hospital administrator mentioned that friends and family would often donate blood and, since the blood supply was dangerously low because of the Undertaking, both he and Thea agreed to donate in his name. A well-meaning phlebotomist asked which one of them was adopted, him or his sister then, at his confusion, explained that it was impossible for them to have the same mother and father given their blood types. Oliver, after remembering when Thea broke her arm as a child and how Malcolm and Tommy had to donate blood because no one else in their family was a match, grew suspicious and had his Bratva contact, Ghost Fox, do some digging. Between the broken arm incident and the fact that Thea had recently accused their mother on cheating on Walter with Malcolm, it didn’t surprise him when she told him that his mother had paid off her OB/GYN in order to hide the fact that Thea was Malcolm’s daughter.

He wished it had surprised him but it didn’t.

Looking back there had always been a weirdness between his mother and Tommy’s dad. They were never inappropriate or anything, quite the opposite actually. There was always this strained politeness between them, like they couldn’t stand to look at each other but forced themselves to pretend otherwise. He always assumed it was because Moira loathed him but now he knew it was because of their affair that led to the birth of his sister.

That revelation caused a rift in their relationship; one that he doubted could ever be repaired. He may forgive her in time but Oliver knew for a fact that he would never look at his mother the same way again.

Maybe that was unfair given the numerous affairs his father had during their marriage, affairs that Oliver was fully aware of. In fact, during their annual father/son fishing trips Robert would often bring along his ‘secretaries’ for companionship. It was the reason why he knew his father wouldn’t say anything when he snuck Laurel’s sister onto the Gambit. His father couldn’t very well look down his nose at Oliver’s infidelities when he had, on multiple occasions, watched as his father casually put his hand on his ‘assistant’s’ ass and referred to her as his ‘pretty bird’.

That was his father’s preferred endearment for all of his girlfriends; pretty bird. Where it came from, he had no idea, but Oliver suspected his father used it so he wouldn’t have to remember any of their names. The women ate it up because, unlike the ubiquitous ‘darlings’ and ‘sweethearts’ most men used for their mistresses, it sounded like he used it only for them even though he didn’t. In fact, the only person his father didn’t call ‘pretty bird’ was Moira and he called her ‘sweetheart’ ironically enough.

The worst part was that Oliver, taking a cue from his father’s success with the ladies, began emulating him by calling his own girlfriends ‘pretty bird’. He even called Laurel and Sara ‘pretty bird’ a few times even though it fit Sara a bit better than Laurel. No, for the most part Laurel was always ‘sweetheart’.

Turns out he copied that part from his dad as well.

As for his mother, this trip to meet Anatoly was the first time he’d been in the same room with her in weeks and the only reason she was with him at all was because the company was in jeopardy and this so-called arranged marriage was the only way he had to save it.

“And as Lyla just mentioned we also know that, after being confronted by Malcolm Merlyn in your home, you called the head of the League of Assassins and asked for his help,” Felicity continued in measured tones.

Really, from the way she was speaking she might as well be discussing the weather. It was more than a bit disconcerting to say the least, especially since he was expecting someone else entirely.

This woman was nothing like the ‘Felicity’ Anatoly used to talk about. Helena’s presence alone had him wishing he had his bow with him but Felicity?

That woman had him so frosty his fingers were starting to twitch.

At his mother’s shocked expression she shrugged, “Like I said before, we’re Bratva, Mrs. Queen; we know everything.”

“You contacted the League of Assassins?” Oliver asked slowly as he turned to his mother, “How did you even know that the League existed in the first place?”

Moira’s cheeks flushed slightly but instead of balking at his question she squared her shoulders and looked him in the eye with a defiant expression, “My father was the governor of California for two terms and well on his way to becoming the next President of the United States until he died in a plane crash. I may have only been a teenager when he died but I was my father’s right hand and he told me many things, including the fact that shadow groups like the League existed. Robert confirmed it for me years later when he told me that Malcolm left to join them after Rebecca died. When Malcolm returned to Starling City, he told me that Ra’s al Ghul, their leader, had released him so I knew when Malcolm told me that he was on the run from them that this Ra’s al Ghul was the person I needed to get in contact with. Honestly, it didn’t even take that much of an effort on my part to find him. I merely contacted one of the brokers Malcolm used for Tempest and had him pass along the message.”

“Why would Malcolm tell you all that?” he asked before he could stop himself.

The deepening flush on his mother’s cheeks told him why; it was because, once upon a time, they were lovers and Malcolm’s exploits in the League of Assassins had been pillow talk.

As if reading his mind, his mother’s expression tightened, “You have no right to judge me, Oliver. I did what I had to do in order to keep my family safe.”

“I’m not judging you, mom,” Oliver lied, “I just find it strange that you grew up in a household where your parents seemed to share everything with you only to raise your own children in a house filled with lies and half-truths,” he said bitterly, his anger causing him to forget for a moment that they weren’t alone.

“I wanted to protect you and your sister in any way I could,” she said firmly.

“By sleeping with Malcolm?” he threw back.

She flinched, “Now is not the time to discuss this.”

“It is quite alright, Mrs. Queen,” Anatoly assured her. “After all, we are all family here.”

“Not quite,” she returned getting her second wind. “I still have my reservations about allowing the Bratva into my company much less my family, no offense,” she said glancing at Felicity from the corner of her eye, “And I have serious reservations about this proposed ‘marriage’. I can understand why you’d want your daughter to marry my son. After all, the Queen name means something in Starling City and Oliver is also a Dearden as well. That makes him political royalty in our country and a shoe-in should he ever decide to run for office. I’m sure you’re very much aware of that and I imagine that having a ‘secret’ Bratva daughter as the First Lady in the Governor’s Mansion or the White House would be quite the coup for your organization. However, while I want to save my family’s company, my first priority is my family and preserving our legacy for future generations. I’m honestly not sure if risking all that is worth saving our company.”

“Mom,” Oliver again growled warningly only to be cut off by Felicity.

“You won’t need to worry about your good name or how the introduction of a daughter of Bratva will taint your future generations, Mrs. Queen,” she broke in smoothly, seemingly unaffected by the multiple slights his mother directed towards her. “Your bloodline will remain pure as the driven snow as this will be a marriage on paper only,” she emphasized. “As tempting as it is to one day be the matriarch of royalty, I have no intentions of becoming your son’s broodmare.”

At that well-placed rebuke, his mother’s lips turned down in a scowl.

“There will be no children nor will we see each other outside of the occasional meeting,” she continued. “In fact, outside of the Brotherhood, there is absolutely no reason why the public should be made aware of my connection to your family other than the fact that I represent a group of investors who have a very hands-on approach to management.”

“A hands-on approach,” Oliver repeated slowly. “And what does that mean exactly?”

“And what did you mean by this marriage being on paper only?” Moira asked as well. “If you don’t intend to become a Queen then what’s the point of all this in the first place?”

“A point I’ve brought up myself; several times, in fact,” Felicity smirked at that while Anatoly merely sighed and looked upwards as if seeking strength from a higher power. She then turned to them with a mischievous glint in her eye, “Also, I’d like to take a moment to point out that we are not in Starling City or the United States at the moment so the Queen and Dearden names, as impressive as they are there, mean nothing here while the Knyazev name does.” She took a moment to nod towards a framed photograph of her father having dinner with Putin. “In other words, Mrs. Queen, if I wanted to be treated like royalty, I wouldn’t have to marry your son or move to Starling City to get it.”

“Then what’s in it for you?” Moira parried.

“Mrs. Queen, if you would allow me to, I can explain,” the older man broke in smoothly. “When your son approached me with this, he made it clear that it wasn’t just your company that was in jeopardy but your entire family as well. He asked for the Bratva’s protection, not just from this Stellmoor International, but from the multiple threats that have been plaguing you and your daughter from both known and unknown sources; threats that, even as the Arrow, he was not able to handle effectively on his own.”

“And?” she asked imperiously, ignoring the fact that Anatoly had so casually mentioned his being the Arrow even though Oliver could tell it struck a nerve. “From what I understand, as he's a captain in your organization it should be your duty to protect my family, especially since my son, from what he’s told me, has protected yours in the past.”

Oliver didn’t even bother to say anything; he merely glared at his mother in warning.

“Papa, if I could?” Felicity broke in looking to her father who nodded. “Mrs. Queen,” she said addressing her directly once more, “Bratva is a family, a brotherhood, and your son was granted the title of captain in our brotherhood as a reward for all he’s done for my father and our organization but that does not make him true Bratva.”

Milaya,” Anatoly said in a tone similar to the one Oliver just used with his mother but she waved him off.

“That was not meant as an insult, it is merely a statement of fact,” she said simply. “Were your son a true captain in our organization he would’ve been expected to run a crew, show a profit, and take orders from his pakhan, my father. Not only that but he would be expected to meet with other captains and heads of various other organizations on behalf of our interests. Instead, as a way of thanking him, my father named him captain without assigning him a territory or demanding tribute. In other words, he’s been afforded all the privileges of a captain without any of the obligations.” She allowed that to sink in for a moment before continuing, “Now, while my father is a powerful figure within Bratva, even his power is not absolute. Just like you answer to your board of directors even though your husband’s family founded the company, my father must answer to the other pakhan who are part of something we call the bratsky krug or ‘The Brother’s Circle’. It’s to us what a managing board would be for you. Now, if you were on the board of directors, what would you think if you were asked by your CEO to repay a debt that has already been repaid multiple times by sinking tens of billions of dollars into a foreign company that belongs to an employee who has not contributed a single dime to your organization even though, technically, he’s still on your payroll and receives full benefits?” She smiled, “I’m guessing you would probably replace that CEO and fire that employee, wouldn’t you? On top of that, you are asking for us to provide you with men to protect you and your daughter and to shoulder the financial burden of this as well. Even if your son was a contributing member of Bratva, which he is not, such a thing would be unheard of.”

Felicity took a breath before continuing, “While your son may be royalty in your world, a captain is not a prince in ours, Mrs. Queen. His position within the organization, while high, is not a birthright to be handed down or kept like a trophy to be placed upon a shelf. It must be earned and defended. As a full captain, your son would be expected to run his own crew and those men would serve as his officers and see to the safety of his family members. He would also bankroll his operation through his own efforts and commit a certain percentage of his profits to the organization, not vice versa. As such, Bratva cannot and will not be investing in your company.”

Both Oliver and Moira started at that but before they could speak Anatoly held up his hand in a placating gesture, “What my daughter is saying is that, although Bratva will not be investing in Queen Consolidated, I will. All the funds you need will be coming from my own personal accounts.”

Oliver relaxed slightly at that, “Thank you, Anatoly.”

“Do not thank me yet,” the other man warned. “There is more to it, I’m afraid. Even though these funds are coming from my personal accounts, I still must explain my actions to the other pakhan and handing such a large sum of money to a captain who does not contribute to the organization would raise serious questions and could jeopardize my own position within the brotherhood.”

“This is where the marriage thing comes into play,” Felicity said wryly and Anatoly nodded.

“A marriage between our two families would go a long way towards protecting both our interests,” he continued. “Were I to give this money to a captain who is, at best, a mere…” he looked to Felicity.

“Placeholder?” she offered.

“I do not like that word; it is too insulting and Oliver has done more for the brotherhood than simply hold a place like some…” the older man frowned and looked to her again expectantly.

“Place card?” she offered and when he gave her another disapproving look she spoke again, “Napkin ring? I don’t know you want here.”

He sighed unhappily, “Let us say a ‘captain who does not act like a captain’. If I do this for such a man then I could be accused of showing bad judgement and that would be enough to put my position as pakhan in jeopardy. However, if I were to invest in a legitimate business run by my son-in-law and heir, this changes things. Of course, even then such a gesture would come at a cost.”

“You’re referring to the marriage itself, I presume?” Moira asked.

Felicity let out a chuckle, “Mrs. Queen, again; while I’m sure that many girls would love to marry your son, I will remind you that your family’s position and ‘legacy’ mean very little to Bratva. What my father is referring to is money, pure and simple, and while you may have scads of legacy lying around, money is the one thing you don’t have at the moment.”

His mother’s eyes darkened in annoyance as she glared at her.

Felicity, meanwhile, smiled as if celebrating the fact that she scored a hit, “In order for my father to invest in your company, even though he isn’t using Bratva funds, he must still prove to the other pakhan that his decision to do so was a sound business decision and not based on his affection towards his children. That means that you must show a profit and that Bratva will, in some way, reap a portion of those profits even though, once again, the monies used to invest in Queen Consolidated come from my father’s personal accounts.”

Moira scowled at that, “This is beginning to sound dangerously close to another takeover bid, only instead of the enemy being Stellmoor we’d be dealing with the Bratva.”

“Not a takeover; a merger, and a limited one at that,” Anatoly corrected. “Believe it or not, almost ninety percent of our profits come from legitimate sources.”

“Well, fairly legitimate sources,” Felicity muttered. “It’s a gray area.”

Anatoly shot her a look before clearing his throat, “We have no interest in taking control of Queen Consolidated. The more legitimate our connections to it and your family appear the better. That said, the fact remains that even before the takeover bid from Stellmoor, your company was struggling for funds. As such we would insist on putting our own people in positions within your company in order to oversee and safeguard my investment.”

“Absolutely not,” Moira said immediately. “Queen Consolidated is a family company.”

“Exactly,” Anatoly said smoothly. “Which is why, once Stellmoor’s takeover bid is thwarted; your son will retain his position as CEO while my daughter will be taking over as CTO. This will distance her somewhat from your son while still allowing her to protect your bottom line and my money. From what she tells me, she already has several ideas that can be put into production that she assures me will bring Queen Consolidated out of the red.”

“Ideas like what?” Oliver asked curiously.

“New smartphones and tablets, batteries that don’t need recharging, and medical technologies that will surpass anything Wayne BioTech is producing,” she said smoothly.

“That’s a pretty tall order,” Moira remarked skeptically. “If you have all these good ideas then why hasn’t the Bratva already put them into production?”

“Because the Bratva isn’t interested in producing or manufacturing anything,” she answered. “All they care about is making money as quickly as possible which is why most of my work for the organization has been confined to coding and software development up till now.”

“As I said, my daughter is very eager to stretch her wings and put her skills to good use,” Anatoly said with a proud look. “As for Ms. Michaels, she will be named your company’s VP and Chief Financial Officer.”

Moira’s eyes swept over the other woman dismissively, “And what exactly qualifies her for that position?”

“I was Amanda Waller’s right hand for five years, Mrs. Queen,” Lyla told her. “ARGUS might not be a tech firm but if I can lead soldiers into battle and fight with Oversight to increase our budget while decreasing our spending then I can help your son on his journey to becoming an effective CEO.”

“And Helena?” Oliver asked coolly, “What will she be put in charge of; putting a crossbow bolt in the chests of our competitors?”

“I suppose I could if you needed me to,” Helena said with a smirk.

“Helena won’t be coming with us to Starling,” Felicity said dryly. “Instead she’ll remain in Gotham since too many people would recognize her there.”

“Gotham?” Oliver asked sharply.

Felicity nodded, “I have my own software security company based out of Gotham called Smoak Technologies where Helena, under an assumed name, holds a position within our legal department. While Lyla and I are in Starling, Helena will be running things there in our place.”

“You’re putting a lot of faith in a woman who once held a crossbow bolt to my sister’s neck in order to force me into helping her kill her father,” he remarked coldly.

“Come on, Ollie; let it go already,” Helena said with a huff. “After all, it’s not like I actually hurt her or anything. Besides, just because I’m a killer doesn’t mean I can’t also be a kick ass corporate attorney and business woman. After all, bitches get shit done; just ask that ex of yours, Laurel. By the way, did she ever get around to choosing between you and that friend of yours or are you still playing musical beds? Seriously, maybe you should consider sliding up the Kinsey scale a little and getting it on ménage à trois style? It would save you guys a whole lot of drama if you ask me.”

“Helena, too far,” Felicity murmured in a low censorious tone as he clenched his jaw in anger.

“Actually, that is a legitimate question,” Lyla broke in. “While Ms. Smoak doesn’t expect to be publicly acknowledged as your wife or as a member of the Queen family, other high ranking members of the Bratva will be aware of your marriage. As such, you must adhere to certain conditions, one of them being that you will not enter into a bigamous marriage with another woman.”

“My son has no intentions of committing bigamy!” Moira said in umbrage. “Should he decide to marry someone else, he will most certainly get a divorce first, I can assure you!”

“Mrs. Queen, there is no divorce in Bratva,” Anatoly said not unkindly. “Once Oliver marries my daughter, they will be joined for life.”

“No,” she said immediately. “That’s not—but what about children?” she demanded turning to Felicity.

“Your son is welcome to have as many children as he likes, just not with me,” Felicity said blithely causing Helena to snort beside her.

Oliver looked at her in surprise, “Excuse me?”

“If you want children then you’re more than welcome to have them with your mistress or mistresses,” she repeated.

“And you’d be okay with me fathering children with other women?” he asked skeptically.

She smirked, “Of course, as far as I’m concerned better them than me. I’d even be willing to adopt them as long as I’m kept out of the process of raising them and your mistress knows her place.”

Oliver’s eyebrows drew together in confusion, “What does that mean, ‘knows her place’?”

“Mr. Queen, as your knowledge of Bratva is limited to the year you spent here in Russia, please allow me to explain,” Felicity said with that same cool smile that was really beginning to grate on his nerves. “While many men in Bratva have mistresses and father children outside of marriage, any woman who, for lack of a better word, lowers herself to become the kept woman of a married man is considered ‘tainted’. No other Bratva man will look at her nor will she be acknowledged in any way,” she explained. “Basically she ceases to become a human being and is seen as property. Now while, as a feminist and fellow woman, I find this idea somewhat abhorrent there is a reason for this. Wives and mothers of Bratva, while not being able to hold an official position within the brotherhood, hold a lot of power. Their marriages are often political and business arrangements so, should a man grow bored with his marriage and decide to divorce his wife for a mistress, it could cause a lot of problems within the organization.”

“I’m still not following,” he said shaking his head slightly.

“Imagine going to divorce court and having your ex-wife testify that you’re a high ranking member of Bratva?” Lyla clarified. “Or, better yet, imagine dumping your mistress because you’re unwilling to make her wife number two so, in retaliation, she goes to the press or to the authorities?”

“Or imagine a man disgracing the daughter of another brother by abandoning her along with his legitimate children to favor his mistress and bastards instead,” Anatoly said solemnly. “Brothers would choose sides, many would question the allegiance of a man who would betray his own family for a woman who has proven herself to be little more than a common whore, and war would break out.”

Felicity nodded, “For that reason, there are certain proprieties a man must adhere to when choosing a mistress, the first being that she must be kept discreetly and that her interaction with other members of the organization be limited. Unless she is already Bratva, she cannot know what it is you do. If she finds out then she will be killed, period; if not by you then by someone else within the organization while you, in turn, would be brought before your pakhan to explain why it is that you would allow an outsider to get so close.”

“And, should you be found innocent, the person responsible for the loss of your property would then offer you monetary compensation in an amount to be determined by the pakhan. You, however, would be unable to seek revenge against that brother as the action he took is seen as the destruction of private property, not murder,” Anatoly finished.

“That’s barbaric,” Moira said in disgust.

“That’s Bratva,” Felicity returned.

“And what about the children; are they ‘property’ to be disposed of as well?” she demanded.

“There are no bastards in Bratva,” Felicity said meeting her gaze unflinchingly. “As long as the man who fathers them is of a certain rank and the children are deemed worthy, they may inherit just as a legitimate child would and grow up to join the brotherhood. However, there are degrees of legitimacy,” she warned. “While a man may choose to pass over his legitimate children in favor of one of his bastards based on their skills, most choose not to do this in order to avoid causing strife between the families. As such, there are certain protocols in place to legitimize a bastard child.”

“Can we please stop using the word ‘bastard’?” Oliver asked tersely.

“Illegitimate then,” Felicity said with a nod. “The most common way to do this is to have the wife adopt the child as her own. Many times this happens when the wife is unable to have children for medical reasons or if she only has daughters and wishes to give her husband a son so she asks him to bring one of his favored bastards—“ her lips tightened, “illegitimate children,” she corrected, “into their household. When this happens the child is seen as hers completely, just as they would if she had given birth to it. The child, if he is young enough, would even be raised to believe that she is his mother in every way and rarely is told otherwise.”

“What if when he grows up he figures it out and wants to meet his real mother?” Oliver asked.

“He met his real mother; she raised him,” she said adamantly. “Like I said, to Bratva he is her child and they don’t split hairs over inconsequential things like biology; not about this anyway. It’s why if a child did learn the truth about his or her parentage, no matter how curious they might be about their biological parent, they would never talk about it or allow anyone to know that they even thought about meeting them. To do so would be seen as a rejection of their ‘real’ mother and be viewed unfavorably to say the least.”

“But what about the biological mother?” Moira asked, “Surely she would object to having her child taken from her to be raised by another woman, never to be seen or heard from again.”

“It doesn’t matter what she wants. The mistresses of Bratva men have zero say in the process and no one to complain to. They are property, meaning that they are never acknowledged either publicly or privately,” Lyla answered for her. “As far as the other men are concerned, she does not exist, and she would not be allowed visitation with the child once it’s removed from her custody as her ‘sponsor’, for lack of a better term, would never allow her to present herself before his family. Even if the wife was fully aware of the mistress’s place in her husband’s life, bringing her into their marital home and parading her in front of their children would be like a slap to the face. It would be seen by the other brothers and their wives as the ultimate insult.”

“Ms. Michaels is correct,” Anatoly said with a nod, “To make a spectacle of his indiscretions in front of his wife and family, even if they are already aware she exists, would be a mark of disrespect that would not be tolerated by the other members of the brotherhood. It would impact all of us as it would be seen as an unforgivable lapse in judgment. Despite what you may have heard on television and the movies, we are men of honor, Mrs. Queen,” he said firmly. “We may be criminals, yes, but Bratva wives and children are treated with the highest respect. If a man beats his wife, if he harms his children, or is exposed as a pedophile or rapist, the price for that is death. If he exposes his family to shame by flaunting his indiscretions publicly, he will be seen as a potential traitor to Bratva because, as I said before, many would question his judgement as well as the allegiance of such a man who would betray his own family. Chances are his wife’s family would simply kill him and make her a widow,” he shrugged.

Moira’s mouth fell slightly at that, “And your…comrades would be fine with that; with a wife murdering her husband over his infidelity?”

“Not his infidelity,” Anatoly corrected, “Over his risking her family’s place within the organization through his poor judgement. As for the reaction of our, as you say, ‘comrades’; technically the family’s actions would not be sanctioned under Bratva law as only the pakhan or another superior would have the authority to order the man’s death but, even if the other brothers knew or suspected this, they would turn a blind eye and no one would say anything. It would be considered a family issue and that would be that. Assuming however that he is not killed by his wife’s family for his betrayal he would, at the very least, be risking his position within the brotherhood and demoted or even cast out. If he is demoted then his wife would have the option of remaining with him or becoming a widow.”

Moira raised her eyebrows at that, “So, even if she doesn’t do it herself, she could still have the Bratva kill her husband for cheating on her?”

“She probably could but that’s not what he meant. Also she wouldn’t do it because he has a mistress; that wouldn’t be why she was upset. She would do it because, by flaunting this woman, he would be making her his de facto wife thus signaling to the world through his actions that he’s replacing her,” Felicity explained.

“And that justifies murder?” the other woman asked pointedly.

“Think about it,” she said carefully. “A wife’s power comes from the fact that she runs the household. If her husband makes a bold move like moving in his mistress and handing over control of the house to her, that not only makes her vulnerable but her children as well. And it’s not just about a loss of place or her embarrassment, if this woman could convince her husband to humiliate her in such an open and aggressive way, then what’s to stop her from having him kick them all out into the street, leaving them penniless? It would basically be a death sentence for her and her children so taking him out would be seen as self-defense.”

“Exactly,” her father said with a nod.

“As for what my father said earlier about her choosing to become a widow, he meant that, if the Bratva excommunicates him, she could choose to consider him dead and would then be treated as a widow. It’s the closest thing Bratva has to divorce. She’d even be allowed to remarry and her new husband would then adopt her children, thus erasing her former husband entirely.”

“But if she’s still married to someone else then how is she not a mistress as well?” the other woman asked with a frown.

“Because she’s still seen as a ‘pure’ woman,” Felicity explained. “She committed no sin and was a faithful wife and mother; he’s the one who betrayed her not the other way around. His punishment, therefore, is to lose his position and the family he wronged while she is compensated by becoming a widow and therefore given back what was stolen from her; her self-respect. A mistress, however, is a woman who sleeps with men for money or comfort. She has no self-respect because she sold it in order to become a ‘kept women’; literally.”

“And yet these wives and mothers allow their husbands to keep these women and adopt their children,” Moira said disdainfully.

“It basically comes from Talmudic law,” Felicity told her. “There are three kinds of women in Bratva; wives, mistresses, and whores. A wife sits at the top of the food chain while a mistress is similar to a concubine. She’s basically a sex surrogate and baby making machine. A man can keep up to four mistresses, depending on his rank, as long as the social and economic position of his wife and children are not in any way jeopardized. In other words, his wife has to approve it first since she holds the purse strings.”

“She controls the money?” the other woman asked in mild surprise.

“She runs the household so, yes,” Felicity told her. “He may have money elsewhere but their personal finances fall under her purview so if she feels that they can’t afford it then she has the right to say no. Another reason the wife has the ultimate say is because mistresses have no status within the brotherhood. Her sponsor, to use Lyla’s term, is responsible for her and for everything she does both morally and financially. If she causes trouble or goes to the police with information that compromises the organization, he is responsible for that which puts his legitimate family in jeopardy as well just as he is responsible for any monetary losses she incurs to his family.”

“You said there were three types of women but you never expanded on the place of, um, whores within Bratva,” Moira said clearing her throat.

“That’s because they have no place in Bratva,” she told her. “A whore is exactly that; a woman who accepts money for sex and no Bratva man would ever be caught dead with one.”

“Again, she is correct,” Anatoly nodded. “Even to lie with a woman in that way would be risking one’s place in Bratva. Even so, I’m sure many of the lower ranking vory do patronize the brothels, but none of them would ever admit it openly because prostitutes are considered ‘diseased’.”

“I know it seems a bit hypocritical since the Bratva do own brothels,” Felicity admitted. “It’s not pleasant but it’s the truth. While my father’s branch of the organization is more focused on information and technology and does not engage in human trafficking, others do make a portion of their money from the sex trade just as some make their money from drugs. We’re criminals and this is a criminal organization,” she said plainly. “Bratva is not run by Disney but, just like the men in our organization are forbidden from using drugs even though they sell drugs to others, they also aren’t allowed to frequent brothels.”

Moira’s discomfort was obvious but the younger woman never paused or apologized, “Back to what you were asking earlier. The difference between a prostitute and a mistress is that a mistress is regarded in the same way a concubine would be in the Old Testament,” she said easily. “Basically she is not a wife or a whore, the place she occupies is more like that of a surrogate wife. Her ‘job’, if you will, is to have sex and produce children with the man who ‘owns’ her in place of the wife while the wife is the one who ‘gets the credit’,” she said wryly.

“The credit?” Moira repeated slowly.

Felicity nodded, “Think about in the Old Testament when Sarai gave her maid Hagar to her husband, Abram, as a concubine because she couldn’t bear children, or when Leah gave Zilpah to Jacob for the same reason. Even though these women had sex with another woman’s husband and gave birth to their children, they submitted themselves to the wife’s will and the wife was considered the mother. In other words, while the mistress holds no place within Bratva, her children do and the wife decides what happens from there. That’s perhaps the greatest distinction between a mistress and a prostitute. Meanwhile, a prostitute’s children are basically left to fend for themselves because they, like their mother, are seen as tainted since any man with enough money in his pocket could be the father. A mistress, however, is the man’s property and no other Bratva man would be allowed to look at her much less acknowledge her so her children are given a much higher rank. They are automatically assumed to be the children of her sponsor just as his legitimate children would be and to claim otherwise would be an embarrassment because it would mean that he is basically a cuckold.”

“I doubt that any woman who sells herself in that way or who would sleep with a married man would balk at the opportunity to sleep with someone else were she so inclined,” Moira scoffed.

“You’re probably right but she wouldn’t have that many opportunities,” Felicity agreed. “Remember, his men wouldn’t have any contact with her nor is she is allowed to have contact with members of the family. She’s also not allowed to participate in any official functions or be publicly acknowledged by the man as his mistress. She is another man’s property and sleeping with her would be considered tantamount to theft. Since stealing from another brother is a crime punishable by death most men would avoid her like the plague.”

“And you feel this is normal,” Moira said dubiously, “That women are considered property?”

“It’s her choice,” the other woman shrugged. “She’s the one who decided to become someone’s mistress. No one forced her; she sold herself to him body and soul. The cost for that is that she has no power and no money except what he chooses to give her and her only way out of it is if he gives her away to someone else or dumps her entirely. It’s why if the wife of a Bratva member decides to take her child as her own she would have very little choice in the matter. Her child would simply be removed from her care and the mistress would then be completely cut out of that child’s life.”

“What kind of woman would agree to something like that?” Moira scoffed.

“The kind who wants to be kept in comfort. After all, if you were a pretty girl working the diamond mines in Siberia, or working sixteen hour shifts in a factory in Moscow, would you rather be a rich man’s private whore who gets three meals a day, a roof over your head, and an easy life wearing pretty clothes and diamonds, or would you rather live a life where all you did was work from sun up to sun down before dying an old woman at the age of forty?” Felicity asked her without flinching.

“It’s easy to say you would never do what they do, and I’m not saying that every mistress chooses that life out of sheer desperation, but even the ones who become a kept woman simply because they like pretty clothes and shoes have the right to make that choice as long as they understand the consequences.”

She let that sink in for a moment, “Back to the subject at hand, however: If your son wishes to have children and legitimize them while maintaining a relationship with his mistress, I would be amenable to adopting the child. I would even be okay with breaking the rules a little and ‘hiring’ his mistress on as a ‘surrogate’ and then as our ‘nanny and wet nurse’ so that she can remain with the child provided that the woman he chooses can be discreet, meaning that she won’t insist on putting her name on the birth certificate or teach the child to refer to her as ‘mommy’. The outside world and the child would have to see me as his mother even if I’m not living in the home or acting as his primary caregiver.”

“Again, what kind of woman would agree to that?” Oliver asked for his mother. “We live in Starling, not Siberia; not too many women there feel the burning need to pursue a career as a professional 'concubine’.”

“Yeah, right,” Helena huffed. “I lived in Starling too and, let me tell you, girls whose career goal was landing themselves a sugar daddy weren’t exactly hard to find.”

“There’s a difference,” Oliver snapped at her.

“There may be but that would be your problem to solve, not mine,” Felicity cut in. “However, should your biological clock kick in or should you decide you have needs that require a full-time staff member—“

“Staff member,” Helena snickered. “That’s funny. You know, because she’d be your staff who takes care of your…” she raised her eyebrows meaningfully.

“Would you please shut up?” Oliver growled at her.

“Or she could be the member that takes care of your staff, I suppose?” she murmured ignoring him.

“As I was saying,” Felicity said shooting the other woman a chastising look, “If you should ever acquire the need for a mistress, I would suggest you choose someone who is already in Bratva and who understands what would be expected of her rather than someone like Ms. Lance who would most certainly not be agreeable to those conditions.”

“You don’t even know Laurel; what gives you the right to assume you know anything about my relationship with her?” he returned angrily. “For that matter, if you’re never going to be in any kind of real relationship with me then what gives you the right to decide who I can and can’t sleep with?”

“I’m not demanding these things just because I’m some controlling Bratva wife hell-bent on ruining lives,” she assured him calmly. “As for what gives me the right to comment on who you can and cannot take as your bed partners, I just got through explaining in great detail the dangers associated with taking a mistress outside of Bratva, especially one that you have had a very public relationship with for several years. While I have no intentions of making a habit of butting into your private life, I don’t feel like I’m overstepping by asking you to think carefully about how your association with Ms. Lance would affect your position in Bratva as well as our…relationship with each other,” she said after a moment’s hesitation. “Honestly, I would prefer it if you broke all contact with Ms. Lance altogether seeing as she’s both a former assistant DA and the daughter of a police captain known for his incorruptibility…but that is your business, not mine. However, should it become my business…” she let her words linger, the meaning clear.

“Laurel is not to be touched, understood?” he bit out.

“That’s not my choice to make; it’s yours. If you don’t want her touched, then make sure she doesn’t become a problem and she won’t be,” Felicity returned. “However, the minute your chosen companion becomes a threat to me and mine I will have no other choice but to act.”

“And exactly how would you ‘act’?” he growled.

“Depends on the situation,” she said looking completely unruffled by his obvious agitation. “Most likely though, in deference to your friendship with my father, I would alert him to the situation then let the two of you come to some sort of diplomatic solution.”

“And what do you have to say about that?” Oliver turned to the older man at that who gave him a hard look in return.

“I say that my daughter is being quite generous and that everything she says is both fair and reasonable,” the older man told him.

“You think that’s reasonable?” he bit out.

“I do,” he agreed. “I realize this upsets you but if you stop to consider her words I think you’ll find that my daughter does raise several valid points in regards to your association with this woman. Perhaps it would be best for everyone involved if you put some distance between you.”

“Laurel Lance has been a friend of our family for years; I can’t just not acknowledge her or our previous relationship,” Oliver said darkly.

“Yes, she certainly has been a friend to your family; a very high profile friend,” Felicity said pointedly, “One whose position in your life and the life of your best friend has recently become tabloid fodder. She’s also threatened to expose your mission multiple times, especially since the Undertaking, putting you and your associates in jeopardy and who has a reputation for going after anyone she feels is in the wrong, even if that person is her former lover’s mother.”

“Not that I come from a glowing example of functionality in a family relationship, but even I would have a hard time dating someone who was trying to get my mom on the hook for the death penalty just because I took a runner for a few months,” Helena pitched in wryly, “Not that it wasn’t a shitty move on your part but going after your ex’s mom is a bit much, even for someone like me.”

“It does give the whole ‘woman scorned’ thing a new meaning,” Lyla murmured.

“Tell me about it,” Helena said as an aside, “Killing a guy’s mom has to be worth, what? A hundred boiled bunnies on the crazy ex scale? Even if the sex is great, what kind of idiot would risk his dick by getting inside of that?”

Oliver glared at the three of them, “That’s not what happened.”

“Maybe not but it kind of looks that way from where we’re standing,” Helena smirked.

“More importantly, it’s what the rest of the Bratva would see. I’m sure you’re aware of the old saying, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire’?” Felicity said with a level look.

Lyla nodded, “To the other brothers you would look like, at best, the kind of guy who is easily led by his…” she glanced down at his lap, “And, at worst, someone who makes the kind of reckless decisions that put the people closest to him in jeopardy without considering the consequences of his actions.”

“Which leads to another old saying, ‘You don’t shit where you eat’,” Helena added. “Seriously, Oliver-- and I’m not trying to screw with you here, honest--but are you really willing to risk everything on an ex whose sister you slept with and who literally led a manhunt to capture you? A woman who, even though she’s an old family friend who you’ve known and trusted for years, tried to get your mom tossed into prison? Because, if you are, then you’re a fucking moron.”

His mother turned to him, “I hate to say this but they do have a point, Oliver,” she admitted.

Maybe they did, he admitted reluctantly, but that didn’t make it any easier to hear. It wasn’t even the first time he heard it. The other woman in his life, his mysterious partner, Ghost Fox, had said the same thing to him more than once although perhaps not quite as bluntly as Felicity and her associates.

He hadn’t liked it when she made her argument either. He’d even ignored her warnings about Laurel several times but even he had to admit that she was right and that his stubborn refusal to listen to her had nearly cost him everything. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the intervention of Ghost Fox, his mother would be sitting behind bars while Laurel tried her on five hundred and two counts of murder.

Just as he was arguing with his mom about staging a press conference to reveal her part in the Undertaking, Ghost Fox saved the day by hacking into all of the local television stations in order to expose Malcolm while urging the people living in the Glades to evacuate. Ghost Fox then saved his mother again by erasing all evidence connecting his mother to the Undertaking when Laurel launched an investigation of her and accused her of being complicit in both Malcolm’s crimes as well as the Hood’s.

So, no; he couldn’t in all honesty say they were wrong, not about the risk anyway. They were wrong about her motives for going after him and his mother though. He knew why she did it and it wasn’t because she was angry that he left.

Well, not exactly although his leaving her the way he did probably contributed to it. She went after the Hood and his mother because that was the way Laurel processed her pain. It’s the way Laurel had always processed her pain; because she couldn’t accept responsibility for the consequences of her own poor decisions, she shifted the blame and created an enemy she could defeat, thus proving to herself that she was the ‘hero’ and not the villain.

Not that she was the villain. Laurel was a good person, perhaps the best person he’d ever known, but she was also human.

During the Undertaking Tommy had been gravely injured and very nearly died as a result of being pinned under the remains of the CNRI building. A blow to the head left him nearly blind and, for a while there, it looked as if he might be rendered paralyzed as well. Oliver, unable to face his friend, had taken off to Lian Yu but not before taking Laurel to bed.

Again.

It was a mistake and a catastrophic one at that. He had no one to blame for it but himself, though. They were both feeling vulnerable, both drowning in guilt and worry, so they fell into bad habits. Laurel, seeking to make it all go back to the way it used to be, mentally turned back the clock and began making plans for them. It was déjà vu all over again. She started talking about moving in together and getting married and, every few words or so, she’d remind him of the fact that he owed her.

Not—not overtly. It was subtle, more passive than aggressive but the implications were clear whenever she’d say things like:

“Maybe we can move into one of those old brownstones in Orchid Bay like the one I found for us just before the Gambit went down? You probably don’t remember it because you didn’t make it to the open house the first time but it would be perfect. I know you probably want us to move into the Queen mansion right away but I think it would be better if we distanced ourselves from your mom for a little while, just until things die down, don’t you? Besides, the commute to QC would be a lot shorter. I thought about staying home for a while to oversee the renovations while you’re at work. Not forever, but maybe instead of going back to work right away I could look into starting a foundation to help the people in the Glades? Can’t you just picture it, Ollie? You’ll be Oliver Queen, CEO, and I’ll be Laurel Queen, housewife and philanthropist. It’s like, finally, everything’s back to the way it’s supposed to be!”

The hint being that the reason he never saw the place she chose for them was because he’d been too busy fucking Sara behind her back to go to the open house and everything was back to the way it was supposed to be because he robbed her of it the first time by running off on her and he owed her now.

And it was then that he had an epiphany.

He didn’t love her.

He couldn’t be in love with her because love didn’t feel like it was cutting off your oxygen supply and digging into your chest. It didn’t make you feel like a weight was slowly bearing down on you until your spine cracked from the pressure.

‘This isn’t love,’ he thought as he lay in bed with her curled up in his arms chattering away, ‘This is obligation.’

He wasn’t with Laurel because he was in love with her; he was with her because he felt obligated to be in love with her.

But that wasn’t…that wasn’t right. That wasn’t the way he was supposed to feel at that moment.

It was done, it was over. He righted his father’s wrongs, even if he wasn’t completely successful he survived, Malcolm was dead, and the girl was his but he wasn’t happy. He should’ve been happy but he wasn’t. He still felt…empty.

It was then that it hit him like a ton of bricks; he not only didn’t love her, he’d never been in love with her. If he were in love with her, then he wouldn’t be feeling like he needed to run from her. No, he’d be running towards her, and that thought made him sick to his stomach because, not only wasn’t it fair to her given everything he’d put her through, but it meant that everything he’d endured over the last five years meant nothing.

That Sara died for nothing.

That he betrayed his best friend for nothing.

That Tommy would be blind and stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of his life for nothing.

That he survived for nothing.

He kept her picture for all those years as a reminder of home because he thought he was in love with her and that they were meant to be together. Even though he hurt her, cheated on her, humiliated and embarrassed her time and time again, she was his goal, his finish line. Surviving Lian Yu, Hong Kong, Russia, becoming the Arrow; the entire time he promised himself that, when he was done, he would leave all of that behind and be the man Laurel deserved…but that man didn’t exist.

He never existed.

Up until that point he convinced himself he was justified for sleeping with her just hours after telling Tommy that he should be with her instead because she was the love of his life…but she wasn’t. He could honestly say that he loved her more than any other woman he’d ever been with but he didn’t love her enough.

As she spoke about realtors and their shared future as Mr. and Mrs. Queen, he could see their lives playing out together; lives burdened by guilt and constant fighting just as his parents had been.

He’d give up the hood, become a CEO even though he never wanted to be stuck behind a desk, and marry her like she’d wanted him to because he owed her that much. Eventually they’d settle into some cold, passionless existence where he would resent her for forcing him into a life he hated and she’d resent him for not making her as happy as he should.

She’d blame him for making her give up her career even though she decided to give it up to become ‘Mrs. Laurel Queen, philanthropist and housewife’.

He’d begin to resent the fact that he could never trust her enough to share all of himself even though he’d be the one choosing to keep secrets in the first place.

As time passed they’d try to fill the emptiness in their lives with children and, for a while, it would work but it would be adding more stress on an already strained relationship until love turned to hate.

They would try to stay together for the sake of their children but they wouldn’t be together. She’d blame him for everything and bury her pain in the bottom of a bottle or in whatever fundraiser she could find to distract her. He’d bury his in whatever secretary or waitress caught his attention.

In other words, by being with Laurel he wouldn’t be righting his father’s wrongs, he’d be repeating them.

When he left the following day without so much as a word, naturally she hadn’t taken it well. He had been too lost in his own head space to take that into consideration though. What he should have done is been honest with her, told her point blank that they were not getting back together and that the sex had been a mistake. Instead, like a coward, he said it in a letter he shoved under her door and, as a result of his second abandonment of her and her guilt over Tommy’s injuries, she’d gone a little off the rails.

In her pain and anger, she joined the DA’s office and immediately formed a task force to take down the vigilante while investigating anyone who might be connected to the Undertaking including his mother. In fact, she seemed especially focused on his mother and their family because of their many ‘brushes’ with the vigilante. Truth be told, Laurel probably went so hard after his mom because, deep down, she knew or sensed that he was the Hood. If it weren’t for the Bratva’s mysterious hacker, Oliver had no doubt that eventually Laurel would’ve realized that and had him and his mother brought before the grand jury the second she had the evidence in hand.

Actually, even though she’d been fired from the DA’s office, she probably still would if she could prove it just like she would if she could prove he was a member of Bratva. Laurel was always so damn fixated on doing what was right that she’d even watch as her father slapped the cuffs on with a big smile on her face and tell him so right before telling him that, despite everything, she still loved him.

He knew it, too. He knew it even before Felicity brought it up because it’s the reason he never told Laurel he was the Hood even though he’d had ample opportunities to do so.

Fuck.

He let out a frustrated breath and grimaced before turning to his mother, “Fine, she and Tommy are trying to work things out between them anyway,” he said quietly.

Even though it wasn’t going well, he admitted silently.

Or at all really.

While Tommy still loved Laurel, her failure to visit him in the hospital during his long recovery along with everything else that had gone on before and after their break-up had soured him to the idea of rekindling their relationship. Meanwhile, Laurel didn’t seem to know what she wanted. While she was obviously upset about the fact that Tommy was now almost completely blind and confined to a wheelchair, she was also torn over his rejection of her and whether or not to accept any sort of responsibility in that and in the injuries he suffered on her behalf.

The only reason Tommy went into that building in the first place was because she had foolishly gone into CNRI for some files after being warned repeatedly that it wasn’t safe. She became trapped and Tommy, against the advice of the emergency workers, heroically ran into the burning building to free her. As soon as she was free from the rubble, the ceiling collapsed and he was pinned under a large slab of concrete with a piece of rebar through his lower back.

Before Oliver could get to him, the grit of the fallen debris along with the heat from the fire had damaged his corneas leaving him unable to see much of anything aside from shadows and vague shapes. Luckily the doctors assured them that there was a possibility that the damage to his lower spine could be overcome through physical therapy since the cord itself wasn’t as severely damaged as they first thought. He would never run marathons or anything, and he’d always have some weakness in his legs requiring the use of crutches or a cane, but he would walk again in time. The bad news was that the damage to his eyes was probably permanent and there was a good chance he’d never see again. One of the doctors they consulted said there was the possibility of getting some of his sight back through a corneal transplant but it was a long shot at best since there were a lot of people on the list and most of them had been waiting for years.

Laurel, unable to deal with the guilt, spent the next several months avoiding contact with Tommy and, instead, blamed the vigilante for not getting to them sooner. When her investigation failed to yield results, she turned to drugs and alcohol and was fired from the DA’s office following a DUI.

The first thing Laurel did after she was fired was head to Verdant where she got very drunk then made a public scene where she confronted Tommy and asked him to take her back. While Tommy made it clear that he was uninterested in rekindling their romance, he did urge her to get help. Oliver, however, only made the situation worse by showing up and telling her she needed to leave. She then escalated and began telling Tommy about the fact that they slept together, not once, but twice; the second time being less than a week after the Undertaking while he was still in a coma in the ICU.

She didn’t say it to hurt Tommy. She said it to lash out at him so that Tommy would reject him as well. She thought if he knew that Oliver betrayed him that he’d come back to her and it would fix everything but, in her drunken state, she couldn’t see the damage she was doing to herself as well. Tommy, hurt and betrayed, left without speaking to either of them. Thea…

Well, Thea said plenty and all of it deserved. She not only unloaded a cold as ice diatribe worthy of Moira Queen on Laurel that was harsh enough to drag her kicking and screaming into sobriety, but she also made sure Oliver knew that it was all his fault.

As for him, after Thea stomped off leaving him dumbstruck and Laurel in tears, he called over the bouncers and told them to put her in the office then told Roy to call her father to come get her before heading into the lair. By the time he was done his hands were bloody and his relationship with Laurel was just as broken as the teak slats on the Wing Chun dummy.

He avoided her after that, they all did. He and Tommy, after a lot of yelling, managed to make up but both of them kept their distance; Tommy because he was hurt and disillusioned by what he’d heard and him because he simply couldn’t take it anymore. Every time he looked at Laurel he could feel the guilt rise up in his throat choking the life out of him.

And then Sara came back and Laurel had to endure seeing him with her sister who had miraculously returned from the dead.

He shouldn’t have done that, not to Laurel and certainly not with Sara. That had been the old Ollie’s way of doing things, not his. He rejected Laurel not only because he felt guilty for betraying Tommy but because he couldn’t risk having Laurel find out his secret and exposing him. She was too unstable, too unpredictable, and far too angry however justifiable that anger may have been. Instead of confronting that head-on however, he avoided her just like she had avoided Tommy and, the second Sara showed up, he fell into bed with her not thinking about how it would affect the people around him.

It proved to be too much for his and Sara’s relationship as well and they basically imploded. Their relationship was all fucking and fighting with brief lulls of friendship in between but it was never love for either of them. They fought with each other, with their families, with the team that consisted of himself, Diggle, and his sister’s boyfriend, Roy. The constant fighting had even caused tension between himself and the mysterious fourth member of their team, Ghost Fox, after Sara had overridden some of her programs and attempted to ‘reboot her’.

In Sara’s defense, she didn’t realize that Ghost Fox was an actual person; she thought she was just another program. Even Oliver wasn’t sure at first if she was real or merely some kind of sophisticated AI program that Lyla had stolen from ARGUS. That didn’t excuse the fact that, when Ghost Fox locked Sara out of her systems in order to protect them, Oliver jumped in and made the situation worse by telling the hacker that Sara was a member of his team while she wasn’t.

She was just a piece of equipment.

A tool to be used by them to get the job done and if she wouldn’t do as she was told then he didn’t need her.

That had not gone over well with any of them including Sara.

Looking back he knew why he reacted the way he did though and it had nothing to do with the hacker. He was feeling cornered because of his many strained relationships; Sara, Tommy, Thea, Laurel again, and his mother. The fact that he was under attack by some mysterious enemy in the shadows targeting him and his family didn’t help either and then there was the threat of the hostile takeover hanging over their heads. Even Dig and Roy were snapping at him because the more pressure he found himself under the more reckless he became, not only with his life, but theirs as well. The crushing strain of it all had him lashing out at the one person still on his side which was Ghost Fox but that wasn’t an excuse.

He’d had to do a lot of apologizing for that, but mostly to her. After he threatened to reboot her systems and lock her out, the computers in the lair went dark for almost three days. Nothing any of them did could get them to work; they wouldn’t even switch on even though Sara swore up and down that nothing was wrong with them. It was like Ghost Fox really did leave the lair like he told her to, not just the hologram version of her, but all of it; like she had been the soul that made the system work and all that was left was an empty husk.

He never thought he could miss a computer but he did. It wasn’t until he apologized profusely in front of her darkened monitors that they lit up again and Ghost Fox agreed to rejoin their team once more but only after Oliver told her in front of everyone that she wasn’t just ‘equipment’, she was his partner.

And it was true; Ghost Fox was his partner and friend, maybe one of the best friends he’d ever had next to Tommy, and yet he didn’t even know her name, her face, or even what her real voice sounded like. The weirdest part though was how she came to be part of his team in the first place.

After returning to Starling, Oliver quickly realized that his own meager hacking skills would not be enough. His only other option would be to go to the IT department in his family’s company and find someone smart enough to hack into the files he needed decrypted but dumb enough not to ask why. That or they needed to be greedy enough to take a bribe but anyone who could be so easily bought was just as likely to turn on him the second they got a better offer. In desperation, he reached out to Anatoly and asked if he had any hackers who could help him.

The Bratva employed some of the most sophisticated cyber criminals in the world so Oliver was expecting him to send him to some nerdy looking kid with glasses or some burly looking Russian dude living in a basement. Instead he told him he would be sending him someone named ‘Ghost Fox’, assuring him that this person could be trusted implicitly only to have Diggle’s ex-wife show up with a small crew of Bratva techs who installed the most sophisticated computer system either of them had seen.

At first Oliver thought Lyla was Ghost Fox but she immediately corrected that mistake by explaining that Ghost Fox was the Bratva’s most elite hacker and had only agreed to help them as a personal favor to Anatoly. This had surprised him but not as much as it had Diggle who, until that moment, thought his ex-wife was still working as a high ranking member of ARGUS.

While the technicians installed the system, the three of them sat down as she explained that she joined Bratva after ARGUS had disavowed her following a failed mission to Russia.

The failure of her mission wasn’t Lyla’s fault however; she was just a patsy.

Amanda planted evidence making it appear as if Lyla was a traitor who sold ARGUS secrets to the FSB and Russian Intelligence. Her theory was that Waller set her up in order to protect herself. Her superiors in Oversight were unhappy with Waller and her tactics and some of them had approached Lyla in secret in order to expose her with the intentions of having her removed and Lyla appointed in her place. Waller must have caught wind of those plans and betrayed her to the same Russian authorities she was accused of selling secrets to.

According to her, it was Anatoly who saved her. Knowing her connection to Diggle and therefore to Oliver, he offered her a deal; work for him and he’d see to it that she was freed from prison and cleared of all charges. He’d even see to it that she would be allowed to return to the US under a diplomatic visa putting her out of Waller’s reach.

That surprised Oliver to be honest. While he and Anatoly had a good relationship, he’d never known the other man to play the hero, not even when they were on the island. Anatoly wasn’t a coward by any means but he was a survivor and his own safety and the safety of his people came before anything else. He could see Anatoly making a phone call in order to alert them of the situation, he could even see the other man offering some indirect assistance here and there as long as the potential blow back was minimal, but taking the initiative and snatching an accused traitor from the grip of Amanda Waller on his own?

No.

Something like that would most certainly put him on ARGUS’s radar so jumping into a political powder keg like that, especially for a stranger, seemed incredibly out of character for the other man even if Anatoly did still feel like he owed him a favor.

Still, Lyla agreed to join them, albeit with certain conditions attached, the main one being that she wouldn’t work for Bratva directly nor would she agree to betray her country or share with them any state secrets. Instead she now worked under his daughter, Felicity.

Felicity, while being a daughter of Bratva, was not considered to be a member of the brotherhood as the Bratva did not admit women into their ranks. She was, however, unofficially in charge of their entire cyber network and Ghost Fox was her best hacker.

Considering that the Bratva was considered by the US government to be the oldest and most prolific organized cyber-crime syndicates in the world that was really saying something.

Bratva revolutionized cyber-crimes and hacking in the 90’s when a bunch of ex-KGB cyber-spies realized they could use their expert skills and training to make money off of the hacked information they had previously been retrieving for government espionage purposes. The former spies joined forces with the Bratva whose own leadership was mostly made up of ex-KGB as well and formed a division of Bratva known to most law enforcement agencies as the Russian Business Network which was considered to be the oldest and most formidable internet based criminal enterprise in the world. Interpol and the FBI estimated that the Bratva and the RBN were responsible for $130.1 billion in corporate losses due to data theft and cyber-terrorism in a single year and made the Bratva an estimated $39 billion in profits through things like corporate espionage, credit card theft, and identity theft.

And, according to Lyla, the unofficial new ‘head’ of the RBN was none other than Anatoly’s daughter and her new boss, Felicity Knyazev.

That was the reason why, even though he was reluctant to do so, he turned to the Bratva for help. Still, all he had been expecting was a one-time favor, not an advanced computer set up worth upwards of a million dollars or more and the services of the Bratva’s most talented and legendary hacker. He certainly wasn’t expecting Ghost Fox to appear to them the way she did.

As soon as the technicians were done, the computers sprang to life and a 3-D holographic rendering of a fox appeared above a lighted panel.

It was about a third of the size of a real fox with glowing silver blue translucent fur but so lifelike and perfectly rendered that you could almost reach out and give it a pat on the head…as long as you were willing to risk your hand in the process. The look in its eyes marked it as intelligent but the way it stared at them in open challenge let them know it meant business. It was so unexpected and eerie that both he and John jumped back, the other man even going so far as to reach for his side arm.

“Where’s your manners, boys? Isn’t anyone here going to offer a girl a bowl of warm milk or some dog biscuits maybe?” it said teasingly in an electronically disguised but still obviously feminine voice.

After Ghost Fox’s unique introduction, she quickly made herself an invaluable member to their mission. Truth be told, when she first joined up Oliver wasn’t even completely sure Ghost Fox was human much less a woman. He only assumed she was because of the feminine lilt of her electronically disguised voice and the few hints she’d dropped about herself during their occasional down times. Something about the disembodied voice had relaxed him and, as time passed, he made a habit of talking to her when he was alone in the lair. He’d talk to her about his family, his mission, the problems he was having with both Laurel and his best friend, Tommy. Most of the time she was sympathetic, at times sarcastic, and every once in a while she’d blow up at him and tell him to get his head out of his ass. It was those moments more than anything that convinced him Ghost Fox was a real person. After all, he doubted that even the most sophisticated AI program could be programmed to get angry enough to tell someone to stop wearing their ass as a hat.

He wasn’t the only one to bond with the hacker. Many times he’d walk in on Roy, Sara, Dig, or even Tommy having a conversation with her. Actually, both Roy and Tommy had a particularly strong bond with the hacker, one that led to her changing her entire appearance, in fact.

The second incarnation of Ghost Fox came after a particularly hard night when they were all winding down and hanging out in the lair. Tommy and Roy had begun a teasing game of guessing what Ghost Fox looked like in real life.

“I’ll bet you’re actually some big burly Russian dude covered in scars and prison tats with a penchant for dressing up in women’s clothing,” Tommy said jokingly.

“I already told you, Merlyn; keep your perverse sexual fantasies to yourself,” she shot back.

“I always pictured her as one of those hot anime chicks,” Roy mused aloud as he threw a tennis ball up into the air and caught it, “You know, one of those little blonde cartoon girls with big eyes who have fox ears and a tail?”

“What makes you think I’m a blonde?” Ghost Fox asked in amusement.

“Because your avatar thing is silver,” Roy told her. “Besides you’re Russian, right? Aren’t Russians mostly blonde?”

“No,” she said flatly.

“I think she’s a brunette,” Sara chimed in. “A tall, leggy brunette with an ass that could make angels cry.”

“Yeah, no,” Ghost Fox said with a chuckle. “I’m actually pretty short but you were right about my ass. I do have a great ass.”

“I’ll bet you do,” Sara said throwing him a wink.

Oliver just rolled his eyes and sighed, “Don’t you people have anything better to do?”

“Nope,” Tommy quipped. “Oooh, I think she’s a redhead! A curvy little redhead with a sexy accent who says stuff like, ‘I vill kill you by taking you between my thighs and crushing you to death as I give you pleasure’. Oh yeah, that would be hot,” he hummed. “Especially if she was wearing one of those little school girl outfits or a leather corset and fishnets.”

Roy bobbed his head and gave the other man a fist bump, “Alright! I could get on-board for that!”

“I’m sure you could seeing as you people are all a bunch of deviants,” Dig said with a snort as he leaned against Oliver’s work table.

“Or, better yet, nothing at all with just her fluffy little tail wrapped around her naughty bits,” Sara offered with a pirate’s smile.

Both men sat up at that and began to hoot and clap at her suggestion.

“Please stop encouraging them,” Oliver said irritably but, of course, they ignored him.

“Absolutely!” Tommy exclaimed. “Hey Foxy, you should dump the puppy dog and do that instead!”

“Give me a minute,” Ghost Fox told them and less than a minute later the hologram changed and in the place of a fox was a curvy little anime girl dressed in a skin tight dress with fox ears and a tail.

“Just call me Ghost Fox Goddess,” she said with a saucy wink. “What do you think boys? Is this what you had in mind?” she asked flirtatiously as she lay across the light pad in a cheesecake pose while twirling a lock of her pale blonde hair.

“Oh yeah,” Tommy nodded slowly.

“What do I think?” Roy asked gawking at her. “I think I’m in love!”

“Wow,” Dig said staring at her ghostly image in surprise.

“Va va voom!” Sara grinned and even Oliver had to agree that the effect was, in Dig’s words; wow.

“Can you see her through that thing? I mean, can you see what we’re seeing?” Roy asked Tommy who was wearing the VR interface across his eyes.

“Depends, does the cartoon girl you guys are seeing have on clothes? Because, if not, I’m pretty sure I’m picking up the Playboy Channel on this thing,” he said with a wolfish grin.

Roy pounced grasping at the other man’s visor, “I want to see!”

“Hands off, chin boy!” Tommy told him as he slapped his hands away.

From that point on, every time Ghost Fox used the holographic interface she appeared as the curvy little anime-inspired avatar complete with ears and a tail. Tommy, Roy, and even Sara were delighted by that, particularly on the days she would get playful and change up her outfits, while John just rolled his eyes at their antics, and Oliver…

Well, he missed the little fox because the other avatar was too distracting.

That, however, was neither here nor there. Sara broke up with him and left Starling with her ex-girlfriend shortly after that. Letting her go had been the hardest thing he’d ever done but the easiest at the same time. There had been no yelling, no bitterness, just acceptance after a token offer to take it to the next level if she stayed but she said no and, if he were being honest, she was right to turn him down. Even if Sara wasn’t in love with another woman and he wasn’t a mess of conflicting emotions about, well, everything, their break up was inevitable. While they genuinely loved each other, they were never in love with each other.

Not only that but, as Sara told him, they both shared a darkness and they both needed to find the person who could nurture the light inside of them but, as long as they were together, all they’d be doing is feeding into that darkness until it consumed them.

As for Tommy, he was slowly becoming a valuable member of their team despite his blindness and the fact that he was still stuck in a wheelchair, at least for the time being. His physical therapy was going well but Tommy was uncomfortable with the crutches, especially after he’d taken a few falls due to his visual impairment. He moved in with them as soon as he left the hospital and at the manor he used the crutches but, if he was out and about, most of the time he stayed in the chair.

It was frustrating, especially for a guy like Tommy who was always so active. In high school he’d been an athlete; football, baseball, hockey. He’d even played sports in college and took up running after graduation, and he loved nothing more than shaking his ass on a dance floor while being the life of the party. For a guy to go from that to someone who couldn’t move unless he had someone there to lead him around…well, it had been a bitter pill to swallow for all of them.

Tommy even confessed to him shortly after the blow up with Laurel that he wished he’d died during the Undertaking; that maybe it would’ve been better for all of them. He wondered if it really was all his fault; from the five hundred and two deaths because he refused to listen to him instead of helping them stop his father, to the destructive turn Laurel had taken because he rejected her. Mostly he wished he’d died because he’d always been afraid of the dark, even as a child, and now that’s all he could see; unrelenting darkness.

Because he refused to recognize the fact that his father was a monster, because he was eager to have his father love him after years of neglect and abandonment even though he knew better, he was being punished. He was trapped in the dark and he’d never find a way out of it ever again.

When he said that, Oliver’s heart felt like it was being torn from his chest. He knew what that felt like; unrelenting darkness. He remembered waking up in Lian Yu hurt, cold, hungry, but the worst part was the darkness that surrounded him. He remembered lying on the hard ground and hearing the sounds of animals scuffling around in the jungle never knowing what or when someone or something would spring out of the shadows. He remembered feeling powerless and scared, but he’d never felt more powerless in his entire life than at that very moment.

That was when Ghost Fox stepped in to save the day once more.

After a night spent confessing all this to Ghost Fox; his guilt over Laurel, Tommy, and everything else, she sent them this thing that looked like a helmet and visor that acted as a sophisticated VR interface. When Tommy put it on, it was able to bypass the vision centers of his brain allowing him to ‘see’ again but only through the computer’s holographic interface. In other words, when he wasn’t sitting in front of the computers in the lair he was blind but when he acted as Ghost Fox’s ‘assistant’ he was able to see everything her computer system did. He was also able to ‘move’ through the data. The visor didn’t magically turn him into a hacker or anything, but it allowed him to process the information in a more tangible way giving him the illusion of having the full use of his legs back.

For instance, according to Tommy, Ghost Fox could send him inside a 3-D rendering of a crime scene or CCTV footage and his brain would somehow fill in the gaps allowing him to move around the space and catch things that a computer might not by using reason as well as intuition.

Right now the helmet was a bit too clunky to be used outside of the basement but the freedom it gave him had turned his entire world around. Before that he was lost in a miasma of depression and self-loathing but being part of the mission and having his vision back, even if in a limited capacity, had given him a new lease on life.

Ghost Fox even promised him that she was working on an improved system, one that would allow him to use the vision enhancing goggles outside of the lair and even allow him to direct his wheelchair through mental commands.

“Think Cerebro meets Professor X’s hover chair only without the hovering part,” she promised him then added, “But we can always add that later.”.

Tommy, in response to that, told her that if they ever met face to face he’d kiss her then ask her to marry him.

Oliver was half-convinced that he meant it, too. Tommy practically begged to accompany them to Russia purely in hopes of meeting the actual Ghost Fox but Oliver finally managed to convince him to stay behind to help out Roy and watch out for Thea instead. He did send along a gift for the mysterious hacker though, one that was currently tucked into the inner pocket of his suit and that was probably very expensive given Tommy’s financial resources now that he had full control over his trust fund…although whether or not he’d be able to meet his enigmatic partner and his best friend’s crush remained to be seen.

For all the conversations he’d had with Ghost Fox over the last several months, he really didn’t know much about her at all. He knew little things like her favorite ice cream, the fact that she was obsessed with shoes, and that her parents drove her insane. He knew she liked to hum and talk to herself when she was in the zone, that her favorite American food was cheeseburgers, and that she was a great listener, but that was the extent of it. He knew nothing substantial about her. He didn’t know if she actually lived in Russia or was based somewhere else, her age, her race, her sexual orientation, if she was single or involved with someone; he didn’t even know her real name.

He would like to know it though. It would be nice to call her something other than ‘Ghost Fox’ or simply ‘Fox’ for a change.

At that moment though, and as enjoyable a distraction as she was, his mysterious partner should be the last thing on his mind, especially given that the current topic they were discussing was whether or not he planned on taking a mistress and the rules he would have to follow in regards to said ‘mistress’; namely that she not be Laurel.

Not that there was a shot in hell of that ever happening again, he thought ruefully. He’d have a better shot of getting Ghost Fox to agree to be his mistress but, given the fact that she was the brotherhood’s biggest money earner and number one on Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad Wish List, chances are that the Bratva had her locked down tight like a princess in a turret and surrounded by guards 24/7.

And that’s assuming she didn’t redirect a drone to take him out for even joking about that—not that he would. She was his friend, nothing more, and he respected her and her skills far too much to risk it.

He wouldn’t mind meeting her however, if only just once.

Pulling himself back to the present he shifted uncomfortably in his chair before speaking directly to Felicity, “While I may have to maintain some sort of connection with Laurel, if only for appearances sake, I can assure you that I have no interest in rekindling our relationship nor do I intend on telling her about Bratva or about the true nature of our relationship.”

“Fair enough,” Felicity agreed with an ease that surprised him considering.

He was even tempted to comment on that when Lyla spoke up, “Since we’re on the subject of children, how do you plan on handling the situation with your son? Do you intend to publicly acknowledge him as yours or will you be maintaining the status quo and keeping your distance?”

Moira stiffened beside him as Oliver looked between them in confusion, “I’m sorry, are you talking to me or my mother because everyone already knows we’re related?”

“She’s referring to your kid in Central City,” Helena said with a snort. “You know, William?”

“Who…?” Oliver turned to his mother in surprise, “What are they talking about; who’s William?”

“William is your son with a woman named Samantha Clayton,” Felicity answered for her with a sympathetic expression as she looked between them. “You apparently fathered him sometime before you shipwrecked. Your mother’s financial records show that an account was established in his name for what we originally assumed was child support.”

“There were two checks written out to the name Samantha Clayton,” Lyla said as she handed him another folder from her briefcase which Oliver accepted numbly. “As you can see, although both checks were written at the same time and your mother’s accountant earmarked two million dollars for dispersal, the only one that was ever deposited was the check written out in April of 2007 while the second uncashed check was postdated for November of 2007. I take it that you were unaware of his existence until now?” she asked looking up at him.

Oliver looked at his mother who was studiously avoiding his enraged gaze. Swallowing down the bile which had risen to his throat, he bit out, “No; no, I was not.”

Lyla gave him a look akin to pity, “As much as I hate to press you for an answer right now, the question stands; do you have any plans to legitimize your son and bring him into your family?”

“I don’t…I don’t know,” Oliver said darkly before taking a shuddering breath. “If I did, what are my options?”

“We would be amenable to you legitimizing your son without Felicity adopting him,” Lyla told him. “However, neither the boy’s mother nor the boy may be made aware of your role in Bratva.”

“That’s acceptable,” Oliver said at last. He clenched his jaw as he forced out his next question, “And what about visitation? If I were to have more children in the future, would he be allowed to meet them and visit me in my home?”

“Again, that’s up to you,” Felicity told him. “I have no intentions of sharing a home with you but, should that happen and we ever have children together, then I would have no problem having your son come visit as long as Bratva is protected.”

“What about Samantha?” he asked them, looking between her and Anatoly.

“I’m sorry, Oliver, but Bratva will not recognize her nor will they provide her with monies or protection,” the other man said but in a way that made it clear he was sympathetic to his current situation thereby taking the sting out of his words.

“However, although the organization cannot do these things, you can. I have no objections to you providing financially for your son and his mother nor will I prevent her from entering your home given the circumstances surrounding his conception,” Felicity added before turning to her father, “After all, this child was born several years before Mr. Queen officially joined the brotherhood. Well, not several but a few years anyway,” she corrected herself.

Anatoly let out a deep breath and paused, “I suppose that since my daughter is willing to allow this I can as well and, should any of the other captains comment on it, I will show my support in any way I can. That said, I strongly advise you to keep this woman out of the public eye,” he warned him. “Even if my family accepts this woman and her child, the others will not, and she will not be afforded any of the rights and privileges of a Bratva wife even if she is the mother of your son. In other words, if one of your enemies comes after her in order to strike at you or your family we will not intervene nor will there be any repercussions beyond financial compensation should that enemy himself be a member of the brotherhood. Your son would, of course, have limited protection once he is recognized as being yours but not the mother. Even then,” he shook his head. “Oliver, you know as well as I do that if a rival wants to strike at you by hurting this woman and her child, it is highly unlikely that the brotherhood would take action against him.”

“You’re saying that some gangster can murder this boy and nothing would happen to him?” Moira demanded in umbrage.

“I’m saying he would not be killed for his actions since the boy is unclaimed,” Anatoly told her. “He would be brought before the other pakhan and probably be made to pay a steep penalty; he may even be forced to give up some territory if your son is able to prove it was deliberate. However, the only way I could see the other pakhan ordering his exile or execution was if it could be proven that the murder of the woman and child were designed to bring Oliver’s involvement in the brotherhood to the attention law enforcement thus potentially exposing us all…but that is unlikely,” he said regretfully. “If someone is bold enough to risk going to war with the son-in-law and presumed heir of the pakhan then they are prepared to face the consequences for that and more.”

“But if I do claim him as mine then that also leaves him vulnerable,” Oliver said grimly.

“It’s a risk, yes,” the older man agreed. “It is the reason why when children like this boy are legitimized they are brought into their father’s home and not left vulnerable in the custody of the birth mother. In this case though…” he sighed, “It is a hard decision to make and I do not envy you for being the one to make it. As I see it, you have three options: You could abandon all knowledge of the boy and pretend he does not exist, but that would in no way guarantee his safety. You could take the boy from the mother but it would mean…” he gave him a pointed look. “Even then, you would be inviting attention from the police and others by bringing him into your home. While it would keep him safe it would still be complicated and…unpleasant; for you and the boy,” he said with a slight grimace. “Your final option is to claim the boy but leave him in the custody of the mother. This, while the most logical course of action given your situation, would make him an easy target for your enemies. You would have to arrange for his protection but, if you do this, the mother cannot be made aware of the fact that you are Bratva,” he emphasized. “If she becomes aware of this then I will have no choice but to order you to see to it personally and then it will be up to my daughter to decide whether or not she is willing to accept this woman’s child as her own.”

In other words, if Samantha accidentally found out about his being a member of the brotherhood, Anatoly would expect him to clean up his own mess, meaning he’d have no other choice but to kill her leaving his son an orphan unless Felicity decided to allow him to live with them. That’s assuming, of course, he was even on the birth certificate or that she wasn’t remarried and her new husband hadn’t adopted him already.

His thoughts jumbled at that and, as if reading his mind, Felicity spoke up, “Ms. Clayton is unmarried and there are no other relatives that we can find so, should worse come to worst, I would have no objections to you taking custody of your child,” she assured him.

“It also wouldn’t take much to get you on the birth certificate once a DNA test confirms paternity,” Lyla added.

“Thank you for the free legal advice as well as the kind offer to allow me to raise my own child in my home should I be forced to orphan him but I would prefer to avoid having to murder the mother of my child altogether if you don’t mind,” he bit out through clenched teeth before taking a fortifying breath, “As of right now, given my current circumstances, I have no intentions of reaching out to either Samantha Clayton or my son. If that should change I will, of course, inform you of this decision beforehand and I assure you that I have no intentions of revealing the fact that I am a member of the brotherhood to either of them.”

“Understood,” she nodded and again he was struck by the lack of resistance she put up.

It was weird; he just couldn’t get a handle on her for some reason. One minute she was cold as ice and looking at him like she’d just as soon slit his throat then the next minute she was warm and even…kind, he thought reluctantly. But just as soon as she showed the slightest bit of human warmth she’d do a complete turn around and give him another one of those knowing little smirks while she spoke to him with all the animation of a robot.

No, not a robot, Oliver thought as he looked over her petite figure and porcelain complexion. She was more like a Russian doll, like one of those expensive art dolls by Marina Bychkova his mother used to collect for Thea even though they cost upwards of five grand a piece and were, in his opinion, a bit grotesque. They were beautiful but also hauntingly life-like right down to being anatomically correct and their eyes always seemed to bore right through you like they knew something you didn’t. The effect was eerie to say the least.

He’d never liked those dolls; in fact he’d detested them. He always found them creepy and was more than a little uncomfortable around them but now he knew why a five year old Thea would beg for the keys to the display cabinet where his mom stored the dolls whenever she wasn’t home. She knew she wasn’t allowed to touch them if Moira wasn’t there but something about them begged to be played with.

Felicity reminded him of one of those dolls; cold to the touch but seemingly warm with an innocent face contrasting a provocative sensuality that was enough to make even someone as jaded as himself squirm. So much so that he, like Thea, had to fight the perverse urge to reach out and feel for himself if there was life in her or if it was all just an illusion.

“I have a question,” Moira broke in bitterly, her expression blank even though Oliver could see the hurt and anger radiating off of her, “You mentioned that my son would be allowed to father children outside of the marriage but does that go both ways? After all, why should my son be forced to give his name to some other man’s bastard?”

“Now that’s the pot calling the kettle black,” Helena snorted.

Moira turned hate-filled eyes towards the other woman but said nothing as she again looked to Felicity accusingly, “You said you had no intentions of ever having my son’s children or acknowledging your place within my family.”

“I did, yes, although if the press does catch wind of our marriage I will, of course, adjust for that,” Felicity agreed remaining true to her doll-like composure, unaffected by either his harsh tone or his mother’s icy demeanor, “After all, these things do happen although I would prefer to avoid it if at all possible.”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Moira said curtly.

“If I choose to begin a relationship outside of my arrangement with your son I can promise you both that I will be discreet,” she said, the casualness of her tone as she discussed taking a lover raising his hackles for some odd reason. “And while I currently do not have the burning desire to become a mother, if I should ever decide to have my own biological children, your son and I can come to some kind of arrangement be it through IVF, a donor, adoption, or by natural means.”

Even though it was grossly inappropriate, especially with his mother in the room and sitting right beside him, Oliver couldn’t help but prod at her composure a bit, “So does this mean that eventually you do intend to turn this into a real marriage and not just a ‘paper’ one?”

She raised an amused eyebrow at that, “Anything’s possible but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. Besides, I’m only twenty-three and, given your night time activities, I fully expect to be made a widow long before my fertility window comes to a close.”

Despite his current mood and the recent revelations about his son, Oliver couldn’t help but be amused by that while his mother appeared anything but.

“However, should I lose my head and forget the basics of birth control, I would hope your son would extend to me the same courtesies I intend to extend towards him,” she finished, her offhand reference to giving birth to another man’s child in his name landing a blow that his did not. “After all, exposing me as an unfaithful wife who gave birth to another man’s child would do you and your family more harm than it would me and mine.”

“And what does that mean exactly?” Moira demanded as he bit down on the urge to add a few comments of his own.

“It means that a man who cannot keep his wife satisfied is seen as weak and impotent,” Anatoly told her with a stern expression. “To accuse my daughter of infidelity may bring shame upon her and our family, but it would bring even more shame to yours. Oliver would lose his rank and, in return, I would be forced to disown my daughter and Oliver, as her husband, would have to choose between having her killed, cast into the streets, or selling her to a brothel. Once that happens I would then pull all my financial support leaving you and your company vulnerable to anyone wishing to take your son’s place,” he let that sink in for a moment.

“I see,” Moira said with a calculating expression.

“I am not done,” he warned her. “The man who fathered her child, should he be of a rank equal or above Oliver’s, would only be reprimanded at best. He would be given a loss of rank and be expected to provide your son with monetary compensation. If he is of a lesser rank or an outsider, he would be killed and your son, as compensation, would be permitted to dispose of him in any manner he sees fit. Meanwhile the child would either be taken in by the man’s wife, an unlikely event considering that her husband would either be dead or have lost a great deal of his power and influence as a result of his indiscretion--and that’s assuming he acknowledges paternity in the first place; or sent away to be adopted by another Bratva family. It is likely that if this man is Bratva, his family would likely be the ones to retaliate despite the fact that he chose his own fate by taking the wife of another captain. Should a war break out as a result your company would be targeted for takeover, your entire family killed, and neither I nor any other member of Bratva would intervene because your son would be seen as weak and there is no place for weakness within Bratva,” he intoned with a stony expression.

Lyla held up a finger in attention, “Also, and I’m just mentioning this since it’s somewhat relevant to the conversation, should anyone falsely accuse Felicity of infidelity in an effort to get out of the marriage and break ties with the organization, they would be targeted for death and she would retain everything; the company, your family fortune, all of it.”

“This is ridiculous. These people are insane,” Moira sputtered before turning to him. “Oliver, enough is enough. We’ll find some other way to protect the company.”

“There is no other way,” he said without looking at her. “How and when do we do this?”

“‘How’ is you signing a few papers, and ‘when’ is now,” Lyla said reaching into her briefcase again and pulling out another folder. “Inside is an amended will naming Felicity and any surviving children you may have your sole beneficiaries. You’ll also be required to take out life insurance policies for each other as well as any children you might have while Felicity agrees to do the same. You will note that Felicity did ask that we make an allotment for your son as well which would see to it that he is provided for whether you acknowledge him as yours or not,” she said turning the page and pointing to a highlighted paragraph then pointing to a similarly worded clause in his copy of Felicity’s will. “She felt it would be something you’d insist upon.”

“Thank you,” he said in surprise looking up at her.

She nodded but said nothing in response.

“You’ll notice that she has made similar allotments for you and any children you might share as well, whether they be through adoption or your biological issue,” Lyla continued before turning another page in Felicity’s document. “The only difference between the two is the fact that her business, Smoak Tech, will be left in its entirety to her parents and not to you, while you will be given some money and securities instead.”

“Why should my son’s share in the company go to her when she’s unwilling to do the same?” Moira demanded.

“Because, while most of what we do at Smoak Technologies is completely above board, I still handle a great deal of the Bratva’s business and security,” Felicity explained. “Were I to die and your son were to absorb my company into Queen Consolidated then that information be out of the brotherhood’s control.”

“And then the brotherhood would go after you and Thea to get control back,” he told his mother before she could object causing her to falter.

Helena held her hand up, “Can I mention something real quick?”

“No,” Oliver said flatly.

Ignoring him Helena focused her attention on his mother instead, “Mrs. Queen, do you know why everyone, including the mob, is afraid of the Bratva?”

“No idea,” she said with a brittle smile.

“It’s because everyone else has rules and limitations as to what they will and won’t do, while the Bratva…” she tilted the corner of her mouth up in a rueful expression. “Take the Italians, for example. When the mafia goes after someone, they go after that one person. They might go after his crew, too, but they leave the guy’s wife and kids alone. See, even though they’re criminals, both Camorra and La Cosa Nostra, the two groups that make up what people think of when they talk about the ‘Mafia’, are made up of men who still believe in things like God, family, and country. In fact, the vast majority of made-men, whether it’s with La Cosa Nostra which are the Sicilians, or Camorra which are the Napoli Mafia, would never even consider targeting innocent women and children, have served in the military, and, for the most part, consider themselves to be good Catholics.”

Moira gave her a look of stern disapproval, “Good Catholics, really?”

“Well, reasonably good Catholics; they are still criminals, after all,” Helena corrected. “I mean, think about it; I’m certainly not pro-mafia but they started out as a militia made up of ordinary people who took up arms to drive out the French then progressed to become…well, crooks,” she said with a shrug, “Specifically they started out providing people with the things the church or the law prohibited like vice, alcohol, and gambling but their focus has always been to protect their own. They’re also fairly practical and understand that if you go after a man’s wife and kids then they’ll retaliate by going after yours; eye for an eye, you know? The Bratva though, they don’t think that way. They were founded by ex-KGB Cold War soldiers and prison gang members who were taught that when you hit, you hit hard and make sure to leave nothing but scorched earth in your wake.”

Helena leaned forward in her chair and lowered her voice to a more confidential level, “When the Bratva retaliates, they go after you, your crew, your family meaning your wife, your kids, your aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors--even the family dog isn’t safe. It’s not just their rep that makes them intimidating either, the Bratva practically owns the Swiss banking industry and everybody’s money flows through them,” she said seriously. “I know for a fact that La Cosa Nostra and the Camorra pay them almost thirty percent to launder their money and the Galicians, which are the Spanish mafia, pay almost ninety since they traffic for the Columbians and Albanians. Every major organized crime syndicate in the world; the Italian, Sicilian, and Spanish mafias, the Irish, the Triad, the Yakuza—hell, even Outlaw Biker gangs like the Banditos bend over backwards to keep it friendly with the brotherhood so, if I were you, I’d be less concerned about what happens after Felicity dies and more concerned with making sure she stays alive in the first place.”

“My mother is not planning on hurting Felicity in any way,” Oliver said angrily.

“I’m sure she isn’t but, like Lyla said, she does have the Head of the Demon’s cell number and she was complicit in a conspiracy that led to the deaths of over five hundred people so excuse me if I jumped to the wrong conclusion there, Ollie. After all, Felicity is my girl and I’m just trying to watch out for her while your mom?” she tilted her head and chuckled, “I know she used to kiss your boo boos better when you were a kid but even you have to admit that she has a higher body count than the rest of us put together—and I’m including Felicity’s dad and Lyla in that.”

“Well…” Anatoly cleared his throat with a sheepish look.

“Okay, well, maybe just me, you, and Lyla then,” she corrected.

“I never killed anyone, nor was I ‘complicit’ in Malcolm’s crimes, nor was I ever charged with being his accomplice,” Moira insisted.

“That’s because they couldn’t find enough evidence to nail you on it, but come on! You can at least admit it to us,” Helena said broadly as she gestured around the room. “Trust me; no one here is going to judge you. Think of it as a Murderers Anonymous meeting...only without the ‘anonymous’ part or the whole Serenity Prayer thing.”

“I don’t care if you believe me or not but the only reason I went along with Malcolm is because he threatened my family,” the older woman said contemptuously.

“Helena is simply teasing you, Mrs. Queen,” Felicity assured her. “It’s just her own unique sense of humor at play; she meant no offence.”

“Yeah, I was just kidding,” Helena agreed. “But, and I’m just putting this out there: Ra’s al Ghul’s phone tree buddy,” she mouthed while pointing at the other woman.

“You are a very unpleasant young woman,” Moira bit out.

“And you are a lady who seriously knows how to network,” she retorted mockingly.

“Speaking of making connections, how exactly did you come to join the Bratva in the first place?” Oliver threw back at Helena, “I thought you hated the mob and everything it stood for?”

“I hated my father and everything his organization stood for,” she corrected him. “Truth be told though, I’m not exactly on board for the whole drug and human trafficking stuff the Bratva is into either but I don’t work for the Bratva. They don’t admit women, remember? I work for Felicity.”

“Felicity,” Oliver said as he fixed is eyes on the tiny blonde who had been watching their entire byplay with amusement.

“Is it my turn now?” she asked teasingly before offering him a grin. “I hired Helena after Lyla alerted me that Waller was planning on faking her death in prison and making her part of the Suicide Squad,” she explained. “Given her relationship with you and your complicated past with ARGUS, I didn’t want to risk letting Waller use her as leverage against you.”

“Why would you care if Waller used Helena against me?” he asked skeptically.

“I wasn’t protecting you, I was protecting the organization as well as myself,” Felicity said firmly. “After all, figurehead or not, you are a captain and pretty much every law enforcement agency in the world, including ARGUS, would love to get inside of the inner workings of Bratva.”

“You were protecting ‘yourself’?” he repeated narrowing his eyes at her.

She nodded, “In addition to infiltrating Bratva, Amanda Waller is especially keen to get her hands on me. Specifically she wants to control my network and ‘recruit’ some of my more elite hackers like Ghost Fox so she can put them to work in one of her ARGUS black sites. Waller already keeps very close tabs on you and your team so it would not surprise me to learn that she is aware of the fact that Ghost Fox has been assisting you for almost a year and a half now. Given Helena’s previous romantic connection to you, Ghost Fox’s association with your team, and your status as the favorite captain of one of the brotherhood’s most powerful pakhans; that makes you the perfect bait for her mousetrap,” she allowed him to mull that over for a moment. “With that in mind, we seized the opportunity to cut Waller off at the pass by positioning our own people inside the prison and arranging for Helena to be ‘murdered’ by what appeared to be a guard that had connections with her father’s organization. Her body was then transported out of the prison and she was taken to a Bratva safe house where she was given the option of leaving the country forever while spending the rest of her life in hiding or the chance to earn herself a clean slate by working for me as my personal security agent. She chose me.”

“Fine, I get why you took her out of play but why trust Helena of all people with your personal safety?” Oliver demanded with a scowl. “She’s dangerous and she can’t be reformed or controlled. I tried helping her and she turned on me the second I got between her and one of her targets.”

“Because I’m neither trying to control her nor am I trying to reform her,” Felicity told him. “I offered her an opportunity and she took it, that’s all. As long as she does her job effectively, I don’t care how many mobsters she kills in her free time. After all, officially she works for me, not the brotherhood, so as long as she’s taking out guys who aren’t Bratva and nothing she does blows back on us, I’m cool with it,” she shrugged. “Oh, and another reason she might be more willing to follow my directions than she was yours is because I’m not sleeping with her,” she added dryly.

“Not that I wouldn’t be willing to give it a go,” Helena offered with a grin. “Blondie is pretty hot when she loses the business suit and glasses and that ass of hers is bounce a quarter off that pillow top fine. You know, as in firm but with plenty of cushion for the pushin’ like a really great mattress?” she cracked with a bawdy wink.

Oliver and Anatoly both looked at Helena in disapproval while Moira merely looked at her in distaste. Felicity and Lyla just shared a long-suffering look before addressing him once more.

“I can assure you that Helena is in control and a valued member of our team,” Lyla told him. “I ran the Suicide Squad for years under Waller so trust me when I tell you that keeping a lid on Helena is nothing compared to dealing with those guys.”

Oliver wasn’t sold though, “I still don’t understand what it is exactly that Helena does for you. You said she was a bodyguard but then you said she works in your legal department so which is it?”

“That’s my business,” Felicity told him.

“If we’re going to be married then I think it should be my business as well,” he retorted.

“Then stop thinking of it as a marriage and start thinking of it for what it is; a civil contract,” she said undeterred. “As I said before, there will be no courtship, no long white wedding gown, no honeymoon in Bali; all we’re doing here is signing a piece of paper that incorporates our personal assets and liabilities thereby turning us into a single entity in the eyes of the law. Did I get that right?” she asked turning to Lyla.

“Yup,” the other woman told her.

“If this was all about love and trust we could just as easily skip off into a field of wildflowers and declare our undying devotion to one another but this isn’t that. This is business; specifically it is a private LTD,” Felicity said firmly.

“A what?” he scowled.

“A private LTD; a private corporation where the liability of members of the company are limited to what they have invested or guaranteed to the company,” Lyla told him. “In other words, you get what you came with, maintain separate accounts and assets during, then leave with what’s yours and split the rest, meaning only shared assets and liabilities are at risk which is why we’re here; to minimize those risks. Also, everything gets laid out ahead of time and the rules you follow are the ones the two of you agree to here and now and no one can come in and make up new rules later on just because it suits them. You’re only liable for what it is you agree to.”

“So speak now or forever hold your peace,” Helena said blithely.

“Exactly,” the other woman agreed.

“This is why we’re here laying everything out and leaving nothing to chance,” Felicity said evenly. “This arrangement, Mr. Queen, has to be based on total honesty and that requires full disclosure. It isn’t a love match where two people meet and fall in love over time, where they spend months or years dating and getting to know one another over shared experiences; it’s an arrangement based on logic and reason and borne of necessity. That means we treat this as a business merger.”

She gestured between them, “You are one company and I am another. We want to merge our two companies into one company in order to be stronger and more successful. The first step to shaping this new company is to establish our mission statement which we’ve done. Next we disclose all of our assets and liabilities so that we can negotiate the terms of our merger. Think of our marriage certificate as the last page of a contract that requires both of our signatures. You wouldn’t just sign a contract without reading it first, would you?” she hummed. “No, you’d sit down with your perspective partner and let them know where you’re willing to compromise as well as establish some hard limits so that neither of you can claim later that you weren’t aware of what it is you agreed to. Maybe that sounds unappealing at first glance but you could argue that people in a romantic relationship do the same thing only it’s less noticeable because their negotiations are stretched out over a period of several months or years. We don’t have that kind of time so I’m letting you now that, while you do have limited control over my personal life, you will have no control over my company nor will you have any say in how I run it and that includes who I choose to have on my payroll. Helena is my employee, not yours,” she stated unequivocally.

“Helena shot my mother and held a crossbow to my sister’s throat,” he reminded her once more.

“That won’t be happening again, I assure you,” she said not backing down an inch. “However, if it should happen again, Helena knows that I will be the one she’ll be answering to and, I guarantee you, she’s probably a hell of a lot more afraid of what I’ll do to her than she is of you. Especially since she’s seen for herself just how far we’re both willing to go and what both of us are capable of.”

“Damn straight,” Helena said ruefully while blowing out her cheeks.

His eyebrows drew together at that as he gave her the once over. Even if Felicity was Anatoly’s daughter she was, at best, a hundred and ten pounds soaking wet and at least a foot shorter than him and that was with heels. Not only that but, while she appeared trim and fit, it was fairly obvious that she didn’t work out beyond the occasional yoga or spin class. Helena could swat her like a fly but, while she could be referring to Bratva when she said that the other woman wouldn’t dare cross her, he doubted it.

So what was her deal? And why were Lyla and Helena so devoted to her? It couldn’t just be because she helped them get away from Waller.

Thus far Felicity had been very clear about the fact that both Lyla and Helena were her employees and not connected to Bratva in any way except through her. The impression he got from that was that even if Helena got out of line and Anatoly offered to take care of it, Felicity would refuse then take care of it herself.

How though he had no idea and he’d be lying if he said that didn’t bother him.

In the months he spent with Anatoly in Lian Yu and the year he spent with him in Russia, the older man rarely spoke of Felicity but, when he did, he always referred to her as his ‘little sunflower’ or his ‘sweet angel’ but never once did he give him the impression that she was anything more than the pampered and beloved daughter of a pakhan.

The wives and daughters of Bratva men were highly sheltered and rarely were they ever exposed to other members of the brotherhood. On rare occasions a man may bring his wife to some sort of party or official function held at another family member’s home but if a man of lower rank who was not part of the same household or extended family even dared to look or speak to another man’s wife or daughter, the consequences of that transgression were often swift and painful. Even when the wives did meet with other members of the Bratva they would keep to themselves and not speak or mingle with anyone of the opposite sex. They would split up into two separate groups and the wives would gather in one room while the men talked business in another.

They were even more protective of their children. Rarely did the children of high ranking Bratva appear in public and many were even homeschooled or sent away to elite boarding schools as Felicity was. Despite all the months he spent in Anatoly’s company and the trust the other man had in him, he’d never so much as met either Felicity or her mother before now and the only pictures he’d ever seen of her was when she was a child.

When he first approached Anatoly about having him invest in Queen Consolidated he was more than a little taken aback by his suggestion that he marry his daughter. In his mind Felicity was still the twelve year old girl he saw in the picture on Anatoly’s desk. Even after he found out she was an adult he was still a bit worried about the five year age gap between them. Normally the idea of dating someone who was five years younger than he was wouldn’t bother him. After all, he was only twenty-eight but the time he’d spent away had aged him considerably. When he looked in the mirror he could see the damage those years had done. He could easily be mistaken for someone in his mid-thirties thanks to the years spent baking in the sun or shivering in the cold while fighting malnutrition and whatever madman was trying to kill him that week. He felt even older than that, far too old to be marrying some sheltered twenty-three year old virgin who most likely had never even been allowed to be alone in the same room with a man much less date.

Honestly, that was what he was expecting; a sweet faced sheltered virgin who would willingly marry whatever man her father gave her to without complaint. He wasn’t really looking forward to that either but he was desperate not only to save his family’s company but to protect them from whomever it was targeting them. Three men, one of them blind, and a disembodied voice on a computer screen couldn’t protect an entire city and their families at the same time.

He needed the Bratva’s help. He needed boots on the ground and as much firepower at his disposal as he could get. When he left Russia he promised himself he would leave that part of his past behind him and he tried not to use his position as a captain except when he absolutely had to. He most definitely did not want to ever ask Anatoly for a favor, particularly one of this magnitude, because he knew that no matter how fond the Russian was of him, there was always a cost attached. In this case that cost was marriage.

Still Oliver had agreed because, even though the last thing he ever wanted was to drag an innocent girl into his world, he had to protect his family. His only comfort had been the fact that this was Anatoly’s little podsolnechnik; his sweet faced little sunflower who had been accepted into MIT when she was only twelve years old. She was more than intelligent, she’d been raised within Bratva for most of her life so she understood what being part of the brotherhood meant and, according to Anatoly, she was resourceful and ran her own company, one that made the organization billions of dollars per year.

She was also aware of the fact that he was the Arrow which was another bonus. Oliver wasn’t exactly happy when Anatoly revealed that bit but, again, she was the pakhan’s daughter which meant she could keep a secret so he let it go. Still he had to admit it was a good thing. He could go into this relationship, as unconventional as it was, with all of his cards laid out and no secrets between them. She could serve as part of his cover, help reform his pre-island playboy image, and she was a built-in alibi whenever he needed one.

The final reason he agreed was because it was an arranged marriage; a business agreement, one based purely on reason instead of emotion. He swore to himself after everything that happened with Laurel that he would never again be with someone he could really care about. He even told that to Ghost Fox the night in the lair after Laurel showed up to Verdant drunk.

“I just think that given what I do I can’t afford to be with someone I could really care about,” he told her.

“So you’re just going to, what? Have random sex with strangers?” Ghost Fox asked dryly.

“No, too risky.”

“They do have condoms, you know,” she reminded him.

He rolled his eyes, “I meant in terms of my scars and tattoos. I can’t risk exposing myself to a bunch of random people like that. Also, I’m not really interested in backsliding into Ollie Queen territory.”

“So, what? You’re planning on joining an online dating site for vigilantes looking to score? Ooh, we could call it ‘Vigilante Flagrante’ and make you up a profile that says, ‘Bratva captain slash anti-hero with intimacy issues seeks femme fatale to tug on his bow string. Wanna check out my arrow? If so then let my quiver, make you quiver!’” she intoned comically making him laugh despite himself.

“That’s not a bad idea but I’m not quite that desperate yet,” he said shaking his head in amusement. “All I know is that I can’t be Oliver Queen and the Arrow and I can’t be with someone I care about because, at best, I have to lie to them and, at worst, I wind up putting them in the line of fire. Maybe I should just be with women who are so focused on sleeping with Oliver Queen they won’t care about anything else?”

“Well, if you ask me, I think…I think that you deserve better than that,” she said quietly.

“You do, huh?” he teased.

“I do. I think you deserve to be with someone who sees you for exactly who you are, good and bad, and who is willing to be with you, all of you; the Bratva captain, the Arrow, even Oliver Queen, because they’re all still you. Not only that but you should be with someone willing to fight for what they want just as much as they want to you to fight for what you want.”

“Most of the women I’ve been with were fighters in their own way,” he said wryly. “Laurel fought to save the world, Helena fought against her father’s organization, McKenna was a cop fighting for justice, and Sara even shared the mission with me for a while. Fighting was never our problem; the problem was that we were all so used to fighting that we didn’t know how to stop even with each other.”

“That’s not what I meant. You shouldn’t choose someone just because they’re willing to fight, or because they can fight, or even because what they’re fighting for is noble or somehow relatable to your own fight. I’m saying that you deserve to be with someone who is willing to fight for you and that you deserve to fight for someone worth fighting for.”

Bringing himself back to the present he looked at her carefully, “So this is a ‘hard limit’ for you?”

“Yes,” she nodded.

“And if I say that I’ll end negotiations here and now unless I’m given some say over how you run your business; specifically in regards to Helena and that she not be allowed to remain in your employ?” he asked.

“Then I’d say we’re done here,” she said in the exact same tone.

He had to admit that walking away was a little tempting. While he didn’t expect her to agree to, as she said, become his personal ‘broodmare’ the second the ink was dry on the marriage certificate, the idea of being stuck with someone like her for the rest of his life was more than a little daunting. He also wasn’t happy about the fact that she was so adamant about keeping Helena close or that Helena had so firmly attached herself to her.

He may not know who Felicity ‘Smoak’ was but he knew Helena Bertinelli well enough to know she only aligned herself with people she knew shared her goals, so what ‘goal’ was it these two women shared? Three, really, since Lyla was part of it as well.

Not knowing that bothered him, it made his fingers itch in a way that usually had him putting on his hood. It definitely wasn’t the kind of feeling that had most grooms sprinting down the aisle, that’s for sure.

Then again, the idea of a partnership based on pure reason and total disclosure sort of appealed to him. There were no messy feelings at play here and if he had to be married to someone, then at least he could be married to a woman who he wouldn’t have to lie to or explain what it was he did at night.

That was one of the reasons he agreed to consider it in the first place. Just consider it; not necessarily that he’d go through with it but now…

For some inexplicable reason he found himself not wanting to take the out she offered him. He should; like his mother said earlier, this whole situation was a bit insane and Helena’s presence only highlighted that but, at the same time, he found himself drawn to this woman.

He didn’t know why, she was definitely attractive but that wasn’t it. It also wasn’t just to save his family’s company either. Maybe it was because she seemed so damn familiar for some reason? Every time she’d loose the cool businesswoman façade and trade quips with Helena or Lyla something would ping his memory but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it…

Maybe that was why he kept sneaking glances at her despite the tension he felt due to the recent revelations about his son.

And that reminder took his mind off his ‘intended bride’ and made his stomach twist unpleasantly.

His son. He had a son. His mother had paid off Samantha to lie about the miscarriage and now there was a little boy out there named William who was his son.

What did she even call him? Will? Willy? Billy? Liam?

Did he like sports? Was he more of a baseball fan or a football fan? Did he play hockey?

Did he have his blond hair and blue eyes or dark hair and eyes like his mom?

He only vaguely remembered Samantha to be honest but he did recall that she had long brown hair and looked very similar to Laurel with the exception of her large, doe-like brown eyes. She’d reminded him of Laurel in her attitude as well but, then again, Oliver had always been attracted to a certain type of woman; tall, leggy, brunette, with a take charge attitude that were just a little cool to the touch. He enjoyed the challenge that particular type of woman brought to the table and, as Tommy used to say, “The bitchier they are, the better the sex.”

Then again, Tommy had always accused him of being a ‘secret submissive’ in the bedroom, that or having mommy issues because he always fell for women who liked to push him around a little, but that wasn’t it. He just preferred to be with someone who could take care of herself and didn’t expect much out of him in return. It was the same reason why some people were dog people and some were cat people; some people liked dogs because they liked to be petted and needed constant attention and others liked cats because, other than demanding the occasional rub or two, they could take care of themselves.

Oliver, in that regard, was a cat person.

He wanted to be unburdened by responsibility so he chose to be with the kind of girls who let him stroke their fur every once in a while before letting him do whatever the hell he wanted because they had their own stuff going on.

That was another concern he’d had when he agreed to meet with Felicity; that he’d have to take care of her and that she’d be completely dependent on him for everything. He had neither the time nor the energy to devote himself to that sort of relationship, even on a part-time basis, so when Anatoly described her as a confident businesswoman he’d been somewhat relieved but that didn’t mean he expected her to come armed to the teeth with legal documents and his crazy ex-girlfriend in tow. He certainly didn’t expect her to reveal the fact that he had a son with the casualness of someone discussing the weather and that whatever relationship he would have with his son in the future would depend entirely on her.

Now that he knew William existed, this meeting was no longer about negotiating for money or stock, it wasn’t even about Helena or the annoyance he felt at her presence; it was about a boy he’d never met but whose entire future depended on the choice he’d be making within the next few seconds.

Yes or no?

Give up or keep going?

It was then when he finally understood why Felicity brought Helena with her and why she was taking such a hard line now; it was a test. Helena was a pressure point for him and he was already on the razor’s edge after the reveal about his son. She was testing him to see if he’d fight or break so he needed to treat this meeting like he was planning a mission and leave the emotions at the door.

“I’m not leaving the table,” he side-eyed Helena, “I’m here because I need to save my family’s legacy, not just for my mother and sister, but for my son.” His gaze settled on Felicity, “To be clear, I don’t like that Helena is your employee but, as you said, she’s your business, not mine. However, to borrow another one of your lines, if she becomes my business…” he gave her a steady look.

“She won’t,” Felicity returned.

“Good,” he nodded.

She mirrored his response with a bow of her head, “So we can consider this matter settled then?”

“For now.” He leaned forward slightly, “However, just to be clear, I’m not done fighting; just making a strategic retreat. I still don’t trust Helena even if you do so I can’t guarantee that I won’t have a reason to bring this point up again. That said, I’m not here to fight over Helena; I’m fighting for what matters to me which is my family and my family’s legacy.”

“Got it,” she agreed, her lips twitching upwards.

Something about her reaction cut through the grim fog he was under and he had to fight the urge to bask in that little bit of warmth shining from her eyes.

It was like that small smile was her way of telling him that he passed the first portion of her test with flying colors and he, in response, felt a giddy flush of emotion like a kid who’d been given a gold star by his teacher.

As insignificant as the moment was, it was enough to make the world melt away for all of a split second until his mother’s measured and businesslike tones brought him out of that smile and back into reality.

“Just to clarify, the only reason Oliver is being asked to marry your daughter is so he can receive the financial assistance we need in order to save our company and guarantee the loan, correct?” she asked carefully.

“Basically yes,” Anatoly said with a nod.

“So what happens if we pay off the loan in full and buy back our shares?” she asked him. “If Oliver and Felicity do not have children or consummate the marriage, and if he agrees to end his association with your organization, would he then be able to ask for a divorce?”

“No, there is no divorce in Bratva,” Anatoly said firmly.

“Papa,” Felicity objected.

Anatoly offered her a long-suffering look, “Milaya…”

“Just listen—!“

“No!” he said stubbornly. “This is not how a marriage should begin! People should not discuss divorce as if it is some sort of inevitability before the vows are even spoken. They should put their energies towards making the marriage work, not into how they can end it with as little trouble as possible.”

Felicity looked at her father with a raised eyebrow, “You have been spending way too much time with mom. That or you’re doing your whole ‘Russian Romanticist’ thing again and, if that’s the case, I’ll remind you that even Tolstoy knew that arranged marriages never work out. I mean, look at Anna Karenina; everybody was cheating on everybody else in that thing and they were all miserable. Oh, and plus she dies at the end by throwing herself under a train. You don’t want me to wind up a miserable Russian pancake, now do you?” she asked teasingly.

“This is not something to joke about and your mother and Tolstoy have nothing to do with this,” he said sternly, “I’m saying this because it is the truth; marriage is for life—period.” His mouth drew downwards into a scowl, “I knew that letting you convince me to read you Tolstoy before bed was a mistake.”

“I was seven!” she snorted. “Plus I wanted to stay up late so…”

“Aha! Now she admits it,” he said looking to Moira as if to say, ‘See? I argue with my kid, too.’

Despite everything going on Oliver had to fight the urge to break out in a grin. Who was this woman? She had Anatoly Knyazev, legendary KGB assassin and the most feared pakhan in all of Bratva wrapped around her little finger.

He felt his lips twitch upwards at that. It was like she was a dozen different women stuffed inside a tiny little blonde frame. When she first walked in she was cold as ice and all business then, just when he was beginning to get a handle on her, she switched to kind and sympathetic only to lull him into a false sense of security when she went back to being an ice queen, but now she was acting like the girl Anatoly spoke about, his sweet faced little sunflower.

Goddamn, she was adorable.

Now if only she would stay that way, he thought ruefully.

Normally ‘adorable’ wasn’t his thing but it was a hell of a lot better than her ‘businesswoman/Bratva daughter’ routine. He liked women who were a little hard around the edges but not that hard. However, even if it wasn’t his usual thing, he had a feeling that he could get used to adorable, especially if he was going to be spending the next several years staring at it from across the breakfast table.

Maybe this whole marriage deal wouldn’t be so bad after all?

“Ms. Smoak already anticipated that this might come up during negotiations so she drew up a proposal,” Lyla said opening her briefcase once again and handing each of them a folder.

“What is this?” Oliver asked with a frown.

“Now I know you won’t like it but just listen,” Felicity said to her father before turning to the rest of them. “Here’s my proposal; Oliver and I get married—“

“Yes,” Anatoly said with a scowl.

She gave him a chastising look, “Lyla and I take our places within the company along with Oliver and we do our best to get you out of the red so you can start making a profit again and pay off your loan. I figure it should take five years max.”

“Five years?” Moira repeated with a dubious look. “We’re talking about upwards of thirty billion dollars.”

“That’s for the stocks and the loan and buying out Stellmoor; this is just the loan and that’s only around eight billion but I think the stocks are doable as well,” she told her as she gestured for them to flip open their folders. “Now, my father has already agreed to defer charging interest your loan payments for five years because we’re ‘family’,” she said using air quotes.

Anatoly shot her a perturbed look, “Once you and Oliver are married you will be family, not this—“ he mimicked her gesture with a huff.

“Give me a minute,” she said patiently before continuing, “Now, here’s what I’m thinking; in addition to deferring interest on the loan payments, my father will agree to funnel his share of the profits back into the company until it stabilizes. What I’m thinking is instead of paying back the loan in regular intervals and reimbursing him for the money he put back into the company, you put that money into an escrow account that won’t be touched by either party for five years so that you only have to pay when you can afford it. This way when the loan comes due, you can make a balloon payment and pay it all off at once without having to strain either your personal finances or the company’s.”

Oliver raised an eyebrow at that, “But what if we can’t make that big of a balloon payment when the time comes?”

“That won’t be a problem,” she assured him, “but, just in case I’m wrong, I’ll pay off the loan then buy the outstanding shares from my dad personally. In other words, I’ll become your creditor instead.”

“So if you pay him and he gets the money in the account, does that mean we owe double?” Oliver asked skeptically.

“No, it means that I pay my dad for the full amount owed and buy back the shares. The only change to the original terms would be that you would have an additional five years to pay off the loan only, instead of transferring the money to him, you’d make the final balloon payment to me instead.”

“During which time we would remain married?” he asked carefully.

She nodded, “Until the loan is paid off in full we would remain partners, yes.”

“Again, just to be absolutely clear; if we can’t pay off the loan in five years then we would have to remain married for another five years, meaning that we would be married for ten years altogether?”

She nodded, “Exactly.”

“And you can afford that?” Moira asked dubiously.

Anatoly smiled at her, “Mrs. Queen, I mentioned my daughter runs her own company, yes?”

Her eyebrows drew together at that, “Yes, but I was under the impression that it was a small software start-up based out of Gotham.”

“Not quite,” Felicity said with a grin. “We’re actually a bit bigger than we appear. We make tens of billions of dollars a year for the Bratva through something called ‘gray banking’ and that’s only one aspect of the work I do.”

Moira looked between them, “Money laundering.”

“Not quite,” Felicity said off-handedly. “Money laundering is illegal but gray banking isn’t...sort of. Not to be glib but it’s a gray area. Gray banking refers to the electronic transfers of vast amounts of funds between banking institutions by bypassing SWIFT regulations. This allows people who have a lot of money through…not necessarily legal means get their money where they need it or enables large corporations to bypass certain, some would say, unfair tax laws. It’s complicated but still technically legal and my company makes money by getting a cut of that.”

“So legal money laundering then?” Moira said dryly.

“Basically,” she shrugged. “The point is that I have the funds I need to guarantee your loan. Also, in addition to gray banking, my company also produces security software.”

“So you’re saying that the same people who steal information are also the ones protecting it?” Oliver said wryly.

“Sometimes it takes a thief to catch a thief,” she said easily. “We actually have contracts with several large corporations all over the world and even some governments including the US.”

“The United States government?” Oliver repeated in disbelief.

“How do you think organizations like ARGUS hide their funds and remain in the shadows?” she asked him with a smirk. “Do you honestly think that some government trained hack that got his degree online could do what I do? Please. That’s the main reason Waller wants to rendition me and mine and put bombs in our necks; so she won’t have to dedicate such a huge chunk of her yearly budget to us anymore. Prisoners don’t draw salaries, Mr. Queen.”

“That does sound like something Amanda would do,” he admitted ruefully.

“And you’re how old? Barely twenty-three?” Moira arched an eyebrow at that, “I’m sorry but, while I have no doubt that you’ve achieved some success with this, you’ve only been out of college for all of, what? A year? Two? Trust me, my dear, no matter how rich or clever you think you are, fortunes can shift wildly within a single year much less five. I’ve had to learn that the hard way.”

“Mrs. Queen, perhaps Oliver didn’t tell you this by my daughter entered MIT when she was twelve,” Anatoly told her with a smug look.

His mother blinked at that, “Twelve?”

He nodded, “By the time she was fifteen she was in graduate school where she earned two master’s degrees in cyber security and computer science. She was planning on getting her PhD but shortly before the beginning of the term I was lost at sea.” He looked at her for a moment, “Bratva is a brotherhood, a family, but not a very sentimental one. Had any of the other captains outside of my own intimate circle discovered that I was missing and presumed dead, they would’ve moved in and taken my territory and everything I owned. At best my family would’ve been left with nothing, at worst my wife and my daughter would have been treated as the spoils of war. Felicity would’ve been married off to some boyevik or captain’s son and my wife, after a period of mourning, would be expected to remarry within the brotherhood as well. That did not happen because Felicity, at only seventeen years old, took charge and ran my entire organization on her own while sending out search parties in secret to try to locate me. Only my most trusted advisers knew this and, if anyone else found out what she was doing, they didn’t say anything because in the year that I was lost, my organization under Felicity’s guidance brought in profits upwards of five billion dollars per month.”

Moira’s mouth fell open slightly, “Per month?”

He nodded, “She revolutionized the way Bratva does business. Not since Mogilevich in ’98 had the organization seen so much profit and most of it was done legally, even if the funds she started with were less than clean. She also expanded our legitimate business interests in ways none of us could imagine and invested in companies that have helped us increase our territory like never before. After I came home my second actually joked that maybe I should have stayed lost at sea a bit longer. In any case, after I returned, Felicity went back to school but, instead of returning to MIT for her PhD, she got her MBA in business at Harvard instead.”

“Class of 2009,” Felicity supplied.

“If my daughter says she can do something then you should believe her,” Anatoly concluded proudly.

“And yet Bratva still doesn’t allow women into the brotherhood,” Felicity said pointedly.

“We are Russians,” he shrugged. “We are all stuck in the past and slow to embrace change but, if I could, I would make you my successor in a heartbeat. Actually, that was why I wanted this marriage to happen.” He looked to Oliver, “I know that you do not want to be a captain or a CEO; it does not take a genius like my daughter to see this but, with Felicity by your side, you could do both and still devote yourself to this mission of yours. Felicity will take care of the business and run the organization while you act as a…what is it called in English?” he frowned for a moment.

“Figurehead,” Felicity supplied.

The older man nodded, “Ah, yes; figurehead. That way, when the time comes, I could name you as the new pakhan but it would be Felicity acting in your stead.”

“So that’s the real reason you agreed to give us the money and insisted on the marriage,” Oliver said wryly.

He shrugged, “Eh, there were other reasons, too, but basically, yes. You are a good man, I know this, and I knew you would be good to my daughter. I also knew that you would see the sense of this and not attempt to get in her way just as she would allow you to do what it is you do. But, in order for this to happen, there must be a marriage, not a business deal followed by a divorce,” he said with a stern look that he directed towards his daughter. “Do not think that I do not know what it is this plan of yours is leading up to.”

“So wait,” Oliver said looking between them, “once the loan is paid off, whether it’s in five years or ten…?”

“There would be no need to guarantee it anymore,” she said impishly.

“Gotcha,” he nodded.

“No ‘gotcha’, I do not like this ‘gotcha’,” Anatoly grumbled. “Marriage should not have a time limit. Once Oliver is pakhan then he will be pakhan forever just as when you are married, you would be married forever.”

“You know, Oliver went to Harvard,” Moira said suddenly.

Oliver threw his mother a confounded look at that non sequitur, “What?”

“You did; you went to Harvard,” she said defensively.

He shook his head, “I also went to Yale, Princeton, and Stanford but didn’t graduate from any of them, so what?”

“Yes, but the point is that you got in,” she said emphatically before turning to Anatoly, “Oliver is extremely intelligent but he’s never been good at sitting still and he’s more of a hands-on learner. I always suspected that he had ADHD or some sort of dyslexia because he was so good at picking up languages and building things but he could never focus in a classroom setting. I wanted to have him tested but his father was against it.”

“Mom!” Oliver hissed in embarrassment.

She waved him off as she spoke to Anatoly, “I’m just saying that, even though Oliver doesn’t have an MBA and this…hobby of his with the arrows and hood thing takes up a lot of his free time, that doesn’t mean he can’t be a great CEO.”

“Hobby?” he repeated to himself incredulously.

“He could also do this other thing you were talking about; being the pakhan,” she continued. “Let’s face it, this Arrow…thing can’t last forever.” Moira turned to him, “Darling, I’m not saying that you aren’t doing a lot of good and helping people is fine but being a ‘masked superhero’ is not the sort of career path I ever envisioned for you,” she said to him in a pacifying tone.

“But being one of the top leaders of the world’s largest criminal organization is,” he returned wryly.

“Well no, but all I’ve ever really wanted for you is to be successful at something you’re good at and enjoy. Now, I will admit that I was shocked and a little taken aback when I found out that, in addition to being this Hood—Arrow---person,” she grimaced, “you were a captain in the Bratva but that was before I met Mr. Knyazev and his lovely daughter, “ she paused to smile at them both before turning back to him, “Now that I’ve met them and they’ve explained some of what it is that they do, my opinion of that has changed.”

“It changed, huh?” Oliver said dubiously.

“Well, yes,” she said with a slight frown. “I’ll admit that I’m still a bit worried about the illegal aspects of it all but that doesn’t mean that I’m not still proud of you and all that you’ve accomplished within their organization so far. Being a captain is quite an accomplishment, yes?” she asked Anatoly.

“Very much so,” the older man agreed with an amused expression.

She turned back to him, “See? And I do think that the whole family aspect of the Bratva is quite nice; the ideals of loyalty, brotherhood, strong family values and such, and since you’re already in the Bratva anyway, as I see it, you might as well be the best Bratva captain you can be,” she shrugged. “Besides, as Mr. Knyazev said, a lot of the business they do isn’t illegal at all and the parts that are…” she shrugged and made a dismissive gesture, “Well, every successful business cuts corners every once in a while so who are we to judge? After all, your great-grandfather was a rum runner for the Irish mob during Prohibition and your grandfather still grew up to become a two-term governor.”

“I really like your mother. She is a very pragmatic woman,” Anatoly said with a grin.

“Great-grandpa worked for the Irish mob?” Oliver said slowly, “You always said that was just a rumor. You even sued that writer over the book he wrote on Grandpa Jonas because of that.”

“And I won,” she said blithely.

“But you sued him for libel and wound up destroying the man’s career and now you’re saying it was true?” he asked pointedly.

“Well, just because it’s true that doesn’t mean he could write about it,” his mother said defensively. “After all, there are some things that should be kept within the family.”

Oliver looked around them pointedly but his mother waved him off.

“Oh please,” Moira scoffed, “you and Felicity are getting married, as I see it that makes everyone here family.”

“I agree,” Anatoly said triumphantly.

“That said, I do think we should at least hear Felicity out,” Moira said offering a smile to the younger blonde. “After all, while I would love nothing more than to have our two families become one, asking our children to commit to a lifetime together as part of a business deal is a bit much. Why not give them time to decide for themselves if this is what they really want?”

Anatoly appeared to mull that over for a moment, “So you are proposing that we suspend these negotiations until after my daughter and your son become better acquainted? I’m not saying I disagree, but I was under the impression that this takeover threat was imminent?”

“You misunderstand,” Moira said quickly, “What I meant was that we should proceed as planned but that Oliver and Felicity should be allowed to take their time getting to know one another until settling into a life together.”

Anatoly gave her a small, knowing grin, “Mrs. Queen, as I’ve explained, I cannot make this type of an investment unless Oliver is my son-in-law.”

“She’s not saying we shouldn’t get married, papa,” Felicity told him, “Merely that we shouldn’t be forced to stay married if things don’t work out between us.”

“Exactly!” Moira agreed with a grateful look.

“Marriage is about working out such problems,” he dismissed.

“How about this? We do everything we agreed to; the Queens agree to pay back the loan without interest within five years, blah blah blah, and until all of that is settled, Mr. Queen and I will remain married.”

Oliver shot her a perturbed look, not because he didn’t like the idea, but because she insisted on calling him, ‘Mr. Queen’ for some reason.

He frowned at that as he smoothed his hand over his beard, “And what happens after five years?”

Felicity took a deep breath, “If the loan is paid off and all of the profits are returned to you then Mr. Queen and I should be allowed to get a…” she fumbled for a second, “dispense with the agreement,” she said carefully. “If not then we remain married for another five years and, when the matter is settled, Mr. Queen and I will decide how we should proceed from there.”

“Oliver,” he spoke up.

She turned to him with a frown, “What?”

“My name,” he said tersely, “It’s Oliver.”

“I’m aware of that,” she said blankly before turning to her father once more, “The point is that, when the time comes, it should be our decision.”

“No, it should not be your decision because I do not like that plan,” Anatoly said stubbornly.

“You said that the only reason you couldn’t simply give them the money was because they weren’t family, correct?” she asked pointedly.

“Darling, if you get a divorce then you would no longer be able to marry within Bratva,” Anatoly said in measured tones. “You know this.”

“First off, who says I want to marry within the Bratva?” Felicity said pointedly. “Secondly, we both know that not every Bratva wife came to her husband a lily white virgin no matter what anyone might claim otherwise.”

The older man held up his hand in an ‘aha’ gesture, “So you are saying that you do intend on consummating this relationship.”

“No papa, I’m saying that I might not choose to get married ever, especially not to a member of the brotherhood and, given his history with women, I seriously doubt Mr. Queen is all that eager to marry me either,” she said wryly. “Not only that but--and I’m neither confirming or denying the fact that I may or may not have an intact hymen because that is my business and no one else’s,” she said casting a disparaging look towards Oliver, “But if I was to get married then I would hope my future husband would care about me as a person and not about whether or not I was a virgin.”

Anatoly’s face flushed a bright red, “I do not want to hear this! This is not the sort of thing a daughter should say before her father!”

“Please,” she said dryly, “Mom has said way worse things with both of us in the room and you never even blinked. I’m just saying that if some ‘proud son of Bratva’ came sniffing around for a virgin bride--and again I’m neither confirming or denying my state of ‘purity’,” she said with another pointed look towards Oliver, “--demanding I be examined or whatever because he was uninterested in buying ‘used goods’, I’d tell him to go straight to hell. I’m sorry but if I ever do get married for real, it won’t be to some knuckle-dragging misogynistic idiot named Boris who expects me to cook him borscht every night and stay barefoot and pregnant. As such, whether I’m divorced or not shouldn’t matter. And before you go all medieval father on me again I’ll remind you that mom had been previously married and was raising a seven year old daughter alone when you met and the two of you were perfectly happy together.”

“Your mother and I were different,” he said stubbornly. “I was already a widower and your mother…” he cleared his throat, “The point is that we are not you.”

“Exactly,” she said triumphantly, “Therefore this should be our decision which means that once the debt is cleared, if Ol—Mr. Queen and I decide to divorce then no one else should be allowed to dictate otherwise.”

“Seriously, you can call me Oliver,” he said catching her slip but she ignored him.

“But what about my plans for you?” he asked. “What about me naming Oliver as my successor so you can run the organization in his place? No one will allow a woman to run Bratva and you know this.”

“My son could still—“ Moira began.

“No!” Anatoly said firmly, “If Oliver divorced my daughter after taking my place then it would bring shame upon our family. It would look as though he manipulated me and used my daughter to get what he wanted before tossing her out like trash. I would lose everything!”

“Okay, so what if, in exchange for a divorce, Mr. Queen agrees to leave Bratva?” Felicity asked him.

Oliver sat up a little straighter at that, “You know as well as I do that no one ever leaves the brotherhood. Also, Anatoly has a point about his and your reputation being harmed if we were to get a divorce.”

“See? Oliver talks sense,” Anatoly said triumphantly.

Felicity scowled at him as if to say, ‘Whose side are you on?’ before continuing, “So, then we’d make sure that neither my father’s reputation nor my ‘marriageability status’ was harmed.”

“And how would we do that?” he asked her.

“Yes, how would you do that?” her father demanded as well.

Felicity’s lips quirked upwards in a smirk, “We’ll get an annulment on the basis that the marriage was never consummated.”

“No one is going to believe that we were married for five or ten years and never once had sex,” Oliver said wryly.

“They will if we claim that we were unable to consummate the marriage or produce children due to a medical condition—your medical condition,” she said with almost malevolent glee as Helena snorted beside her. “That or you could tell them you had a revelation about your sexual preferences.”

“No one who knows me is going to believe that,” he huffed. “Not that I’m proud of it but, thanks to the tabloids, everyone knows exactly how well my ‘equipment’ works and exactly who I like to use it on, thank you.”

“Maybe but that was before the island,” she pointed out. “The only women you’ve been with since returning are Helena, a policewoman named McKenna Hall, Laurel Lance, and her sister, Sara. Helena and you were never made public obviously due to the fact that her father was a known mobster. McKenna kept her relationship with you quiet as well due to the fact that you were a suspect in the vigilante investigation. Sara is still considered to be dead; only her family knows that she’s still alive and she left to rejoin the League of Assassins only a few weeks after her return. As for Laurel, why on earth would she risk public backlash by telling the world that she had sex with you after you returned from the island? Before the island you had an affair with her sister and after your return she was in a relationship with Tommy Merlyn. She’d have to admit that, not only did she take back the man who cheated on her with countless women including her own sister, but that she cheated on her boyfriend, the man who lost his eyesight trying to save her from a burning building.”

“How the hell do you know all that?” he asked in disbelief, “Also, she didn’t cheat on him; technically they were broken up at the time,” he muttered, his cheeks flushed with shame.

“For how long? One week; two?” she snorted. “And, to make matters worse, the second time she slept with you was less than a week after the Undertaking when Tommy was still in ICU in critical condition. Do you really think that a woman like Laurel, one whose dream is to someday take public office, is going to admit that to anyone much less the press?”

Oliver faltered for a moment before scowling at her, “Again, how in the hell do you know all that? No one knows about that! I never told anyone that I was with Laurel after the Undertaking and I sure as hell know she wouldn’t say anything so where are you getting your information?” he demanded.

“Hello!” Helena smirked as she wiggled her fingers at him mockingly.

“And how did you find out?” he spat out. “You were in prison at the time!”

“Laurel’s a lawyer,” she shrugged. “Lawyers represent criminals, criminals go to prison, prison is on ‘hurry up and wait time’ so you’ve got a bunch of bored and pissed off lawyers hanging around bitching and moaning because they have shit to do like drink lattes and golf, prisoners eavesdrop because we’re bored as fuck, too, and in prison the only thing there is to do is gossip so…” She grinned, “Swear to God, Ollie; you and Laurel’s merry go round was like a real life soap opera to the girls at Blackgate. That was all anyone could talk about for months—that and whether or not Big Sally was going to get it on with the new guard or if she was finally going to give into the UST that had been building for weeks between her and Crazy Mary in laundry.”

“So what happened?” Lyla asked curiously.

“I don’t know,” Helena said with a frown, “I escaped before I could find out.” She sighed, “Sometimes I miss prison.”

Oliver glared at her before turning back to Felicity, “Fine, but how did you know about Laurel and Sara?”

“I have my ways,” Felicity said enigmatically. “The point is that if you want out of this free and clear then you can’t do it and still keep one foot in the door. That means you’ll have to agree to go along with an annulment based on the fact that you were unable to perform your ‘manly’ duties that way my father can release you from the brotherhood and still save face.”

“Yeah, but what about my ‘face’?” he grumbled before scowling at her once more, “And what about after the divorce? What if I meet someone and get remarried and we have children, what then? Am I supposed to pretend that my wife is a beard or that my children aren’t really mine?”

“No, if anyone asks--and I doubt any of the brothers are going to be following you that closely after you resign, but if they do, then you can just say you had an operation, or went to one of those Born Again Christian re-education camps, or that they invented some kind of miracle pill because, by then, it won’t matter,” she said easily. “Just don’t go spreading your seed until after the divorce and we’ll be fine.”

“I’m not doing that,” Oliver said flatly.

“You should at least consider it, dear,” Moira proffered.

He gaped at his mother, “Seriously? You want me to tell people that I—that I couldn’t…” he struggled for a moment, “You know, with my wife?”

“What about the outstanding shares?” his mother asked ignoring him. “Originally we had hoped to be able to buy back the shares you planned on purchasing on our behalf so what happens if we are able to pay back the loan and turn over the escrow account but can’t buy back the shares?”

“Then I’ll buy them like I said and you can buy them from me when you’re ready,” she said easily.

“But would Oliver still be able to ask for a divorce?” Moira asked.

“I don’t see why not—“ Felicity began only to have Anatoly cut her off.

“No!” he said firmly. “If Oliver divorces my daughter, even if he takes full responsibility for the divorce and leaves the Bratva, then she keeps the shares.”

“If you’re worried about it being a community property issue, Helena and I already made sure to put a clause in the pre-nup that states everyone leaves with what they came with and that any property or stocks Felicity buys or is given are hers alone after the divorce and the same goes for Oliver,” Lyla offered.

“What I mean is that if Oliver does this then my daughter should not have to give him anything more,” Anatoly said stubbornly.

“Papa…” Felicity sighed.

“No, this is not what I wanted,” he insisted.

“Papa, I love you but, frankly, I don’t really give a crap about what you wanted,” Felicity said wearily.

The older man turned to her with a hurt expression, “You would talk to your father like this?”

“Yes, especially since he’s currently acting like his head is stuck up his butt,” she said without pause.

Anatoly turned to Moira as if seeking moral support, “Do you see this? Do you see how she treats me?”

“Well, they are adults…” the other woman said weakly.

“If I buy the stocks from you for full market value then they are my stocks,” Felicity said firmly. “I own them so I can do whatever I want with them even if it means giving them to back to the Queens free and clear. I’m not planning on doing that however,” she added looking to Oliver, “I’m not doing this out of the goodness of my heart so you’re paying me back, period.”

“Noted,” he said dourly, still seething over the fact that this woman who he, for all of a split second, actually thought was somewhat attractive, expected him to announce to the world that he was either a closet case or his dick was broken. “Here’s a question; what if we can’t afford to buy back the stocks?”

Felicity’s eyebrows drew together at that, “What do you mean; like ever?”

“Well, we are talking about several billion dollars here, so yes,” he told her.

“Then you buy what you can and I keep the rest.”

“And then what?” he asked pointedly. “If we divorce then what’s to stop you from selling them to another group like Stellmoor?”

“Nothing,” she said simply. “Like I said, I paid for them so they’re my stocks.”

“And we’re just supposed to accept that?” he asked with a scowl.

“Once we divorce and I become just another investor you won’t really have any other choice but to accept it,” she returned.

“So what if I choose not to ask for the divorce and decide to remain married to you until we can buy back those shares?”

“You’re assuming that you’re the only one here with the power to end our agreement,” Felicity said with a chuckle. “Remember, the only reason I agreed to do this in the first place was as a favor to my father and so that, later on, I could run his organization with you acting as my public persona. If you divorce me then I can’t do that which means my only reason for honoring this contract is to see to it my father gets the money he’s owed. Once he gets that and you leave Bratva then I have no incentive to stay married to you or to give you back your shares. In other words, Mr. Queen, you can’t have it both ways.”

“So what’s to stop you from initiating divorce proceedings the second the loan is paid off and running away with our shares? Or me from suing for those shares and claiming that they're marital property after the divorce?” he demanded.

“The pre-nup for one,” Lyla said dryly.

“Pre-nups can be overturned in court,” Oliver pointed out. “Especially if I’m arguing that there was never a real marriage to begin with since, by then, I’ll either be gay or impotent.”

Felicity rolled her eyes at him, “Look, I doubt that’s going to be an issue since this is not a real marriage,” she emphasized. “Contentious divorces happen because love somehow turned to hate but there is no love here; it’s business. I would like to remind you though that I’m only here because you initiated these proceedings. I can still walk out and all that I’ll be losing is a few hours and the cost of some jet fuel. If you don’t like the terms of this agreement, then you’re welcome to do the same and then you and your mother can figure out this Stellmoor problem on your own. No one is forcing you to stay just like no one is forcing me to be here. My father asked me to come to this meeting but I’m not here because I’m some meek daughter of Bratva or because I love my father so much that I would simply throw my life away on a stranger with a less than stellar reputation when it comes to women. Believe it or not, it’s never been my goal to marry someone with a reputation for cheating who screws their girlfriend’s sister or steals their best friend’s girl—especially knowing that it’s the same girl in both cases and that he’s still keeping her on the back-burner for a rainy day.”

Oliver flinched at that, “I’m not keeping Laurel on the ‘back-burner’,” he bit out.

“I don’t care,” Felicity said rolling her eyes at him. “Your personal life holds zero interest for me, Mr. Queen. I’m a businesswoman first and foremost and this, Mr. Queen, is a business deal. I may be here partly as a favor to my father but I’m mostly here to make money,” she emphasized, “and I’m willing to take a chance on you because I’m still a Vegas girl at heart despite living most of my life here in Russia.”

Oliver raised an eyebrow at that, “A Vegas girl?”

She hummed, “I was born there and, before my mom met my dad, I practically grew up in the casinos while she worked as a cocktail waitress. Gambling is in my blood and I enjoy rolling the dice every once in a while and, most of the time, it pays off. I’m hoping you will, too.”

That explains the lack of an accent, Oliver thought to himself.

“So what is it you’re betting will happen here? Specifically, that is,” he asked curiously. “I know you said you’re in this to make money but if all we’re doing is paying your father back and buying back our shares at market price then what’s your stake in this--other than the salary you’ll be drawing as CTO?”

“My stake in this is that I’m betting you get yourself killed and I wind up raking in the entire pot as your merry widow, not to mention the life insurance,” she said in a deadpan.

He offered her a humorless smile, “Then what’s to stop you from simply killing me to get what you want?”

“Nothing,” Felicity said with a shrug. “However, if I really wanted to take everything you own I wouldn’t have to kill you; I could just buy the stocks and your outstanding loans from the bank and foreclose on everything you own since we both know this takeover has you leveraged to the hilt. No muss, no fuss, and I wouldn’t have even had to hop a plane; I could’ve handled the whole thing in the comfort of my apartment in Gotham while lounging around in my pjs,” she said with an easygoing smile. “That isn’t what I’m really after here though,” she continued in a more serious tone. “I don’t want your company or your family name; I want your reputation as a captain with the Bratva so I can do what it is I was born to do which is lead my father’s organization. See, what I really want is not to just be pakhan; I want to be Krestniy Otets for the Family of Eleven even if I have to rule them through you,” Felicity let that sink in for a moment, “And my gamble is that I can get you to that point before the clock runs out be it through death or divorce.”

“What is the Family of Eleven?” Moira asked in confusion as she looked around the room.

“The Family of Eleven is a council of the most powerful leaders of every branch of organized crime in the world,” Lyla told her.

“Even most of the law enforcement types think it’s just a legend,” Helena added.

“But it’s not?” the older woman surmised.

“No,” Anatoly told her. “Once a year all the leaders come together; the Bratva, Tariel Oniani and Ded Khasan, the Italians with both the Camorra leader as well as the leader of La Cosa Nostra, both leaders of the Yakuza, one from the Gokudo sect and the other from Bōryokudan, Los Zetas’ jefe would be there as well as the Triad representative and others. All in all, twenty groups are selected to take part in the council and, once there, they elect a Krestniy Otets, or ‘Godfather’, to lead them.”

“Lead them to do what and if it’s called the ‘Family of Eleven’ then why are there twenty groups?” Moira asked with a frown.

“It’s kind of a joke,” Helena told her.

“A joke?” the other woman said skeptically.

She nodded, “Have you ever seen someone with a prison tat on their arm of the number ‘13 ½’?” she asked.

“No, but then again I don’t spend a lot of time around tattooed criminals,” Moira said then cleared her throat, “No offense.”

Helena smirked, “Right. Anyway, what it stands for is ‘twelve jurors, one judge, and a half-assed verdict’; 13 ½, get it?”

“Very amusing but what does that have to do with this other thing?” she asked dryly.

“The Family of Eleven is convened mainly to handle disputes within the various organizations,” Lyla explained for her. “They call themselves the ‘Family of Eleven’ because the leaders act as the jury with the Krestniy Otets leading the meeting and functioning as judge but, because they are criminals, they don’t like using those terms so they call themselves a ‘family’ with an incomplete ‘jury’ which would lead to a mistrial.“

“So instead of a 13 ½ fuck up it’s a hung jury,” Helena chuckled.

His mother turned to him, “Is that true?”

“I have no idea,” he said with a grimace.

“So why would you want to become this…?” she faltered.

Krestniy Otets,” Felicity supplied, “Because they don’t just handle disputes. Once the disputes are settled, then each of the leaders of the various syndicates get together to form alliances and make deals with the Krestniy Otets acting as the mediator. That would put me in a position to influence every single major organized crime syndicate in the world; it’s like the ultimate networking opportunity.”

“And you want to make Oliver into this person?” Moira said with a calculating expression.

Felicity nodded, “With me there to guide him on what to say and do, of course. But I can’t do that if we aren’t married,” she said turning to Oliver. “Therefore keeping you alive is in my best interest since only a pakhan can be appointed to the council and I can’t lead as a widow any more than I could lead as an unmarried woman. Bratva is a brotherhood, the ultimate old boys club; no women allowed,” she said letting her tongue roll over the syllables enticingly. “So, if you do divorce me or if I divorce you before that happens then I have no more incentive to keep you and your family afloat, now do I?”

“My daughter, the genius,” Anatoly said proudly as he turned to Moira. “You see now why I think she would make a wonderful pakhan someday; always thinking ten steps ahead.”

“Yes, she is very bright,” the other woman agreed immediately.

“So, in other words, I have no choice here, do I?” Oliver asked with a brittle smile. “Even if I do manage to pay Anatoly back and save the company within the five or even ten year time frame we agreed on, if I divorce you or you divorce me before I buy back those stocks, then I could still lose it all and I will have wasted years of my life in the process.”

“Like I said, it’s a gamble and, as we both know, the odds always favor the house,” she said, her expression never shifting from one of blithe indifference. “On the plus side though, I think you know better than anyone that a lot can happen in five years so who knows? Maybe we can turn this whole thing around and you can pay off the loans early then begin buying back your stock so that by the time we call in the divorce lawyers everything will be pretty much settled and done. I won’t get to be pakhan and you won’t be a captain anymore but we’ll both be a lot richer than we were when we started and you can go back to your old life of seducing women and arrowing people while I go back to mine.”

“Or maybe we’ll fall hopelessly in love and live happily ever after?” he threw back sarcastically.

“Doubtful since I intend to keep as much distance between us as I possibly can because--and not to sound judgmental here, but the whole sister swapping thing? Ew,” her mouth pulled down in a disgusted moue.

Oliver flushed at the reminder of his not so brilliant past once more, “That was six years ago and I’ve changed a lot since then.” Helena snorted rudely at that and he shot a glare her way, “Despite what you may have heard.”

“I warned you this would happen when you started up with the Lance girl again,” his mother muttered as she leaned towards him slightly.

“Laurel or Sara?” he asked taken aback.

“Both, but to be honest I’d just as soon prefer that you’d never gotten involved with either of them in the first place. I knew I should have prevented you from getting serious with Laurel when the two of you were still in high school but your father assured me it would all blow over by the time you got to college,” she grumbled, “Naturally he was wrong. As usual,” she added in a disgruntled undertone.

Oliver gave her a sullen look, “I thought you liked Laurel. Before she tried to have you indicted for murder, that is,” he corrected.

“I liked her better than any of the other girlfriends of yours I’d met,” she corrected then grimaced, “Then again, she was the only girlfriend of yours I’d ever met who didn’t come to me with her hand out asking me to pay her some exorbitant amount of money in order to keep her from releasing a pornographic sex tape of the two of you to the internet or worse; sue you for paternity because she claimed you got her pregnant during a one night stand.”

“We’re still going to talk about that later,” he warned her in a low growl. “I can’t believe you paid someone to hide my child from me.”

His mother merely lifted an elegantly arched eyebrow at that, “Which time?”

Oliver faltered at that, “There was more than one?”

“There were three but that’s including the Clayton girl.” At Oliver’s stricken expression she sighed and laid her hand on his arm in a comforting gesture, “Oliver, I love you but you were a very challenging child, especially as a teenager. If it’s of any comfort though, I didn’t actually pay the other two off. The private detective I hired found out fairly quickly that the other two girls were lying. In fact, one of them had never even met you and the other claimed you got her pregnant while you weren’t even in the same country. The only reason I agreed to give the Clayton girl money is because I knew there was a possibility that the child was yours but I can’t be sure since the girl negotiated for two million with the second check payable after the birth but failed to hold up her end of the deal.”

“Her end?” he repeated in confusion.

“She refused the paternity test.”

Oliver allowed that to sink in for a moment before asking, “So he might not be mine after all?”

“Like I said, I don’t know,” she grimaced. “I had my accountant pay all her medical expenses and our lawyers draw up an agreement that a paternity test be conducted after the birth. In exchange for agreeing to that I released the funds for the first check to her so she wouldn’t take us to court or sell her story to the newspapers.”

“You paid a million dollars for that?” he asked skeptically.

“Oliver, do you know how much it would’ve cost us to fight this in attorney’s fees alone?” she asked with raised eyebrows. “This girl would get someone like Gloria Allred to represent her and the judge, seeing that we were billionaires and she was a poor student pregnant with your child, would make us pay her legal fees as well as our own whether she was telling the truth or not—and that’s not even taking to account the loss in profits we’d suffer due to bad publicity. Believe me, a million dollars was getting off cheap,” she huffed. “I even agreed to release the funds immediately on the condition that she’d sign a nondisclosure agreement.”

“Look, if you don’t believe me I’ll show you all the agreements she signed when we get home,” she offered at his wary expression. “It’s all laid out very clearly: She agreed to allow us to pre-pay for her prenatal appointments and set up the paternity test ahead of time. She expressed a desire to return home to Central City for the remainder of the pregnancy but that meant leaving in the middle of the semester and abandoning a full scholarship at SCU as well as moving expenses. The million dollars was meant to be used to pay for all that along with her silence in regards to who the father of her child was until after the matter was settled. I also instructed her to use some of the funds to buy or lease a new vehicle as well as a home in a safe neighborhood rather than living in the dorms. The funds for the second check weren’t to be made available to her until after the child was proven to be yours followed by a monthly child support of five thousand dollars per month until he or she started school. After which, we would agree to pay for his education and her support would increase to ten thousand dollars per month but she never got back in contact with us. After the boy was born I had our lawyers contact her instead but she never responded. I can only assume it’s because she discovered the child wasn’t yours and was afraid that if she admitted it I’d demand repayment.”

“You never told me though,” he said pointedly, ignoring the fact that the other people in the room were avidly listening in on their conversation, “Not before or after the island. I’ve been home more than a year and you never told me about any of this!”

Moira’s face fell slightly, “By the time she had the baby, you and your father were gone and I was…well,” she sighed. “I assumed that the girl had been lying so I let it go because I was too lost in grief to pursue the matter. When you came home I didn’t say anything because, frankly, I’d forgotten about it.”

“You forgot?” he asked incredulously.

“Oliver, I didn’t think it was your child so, yes, I forgot,” she insisted. “As far as I was concerned it was just some greedy little tramp trying to make a buck off my son’s name so I pushed her out of my mind. I promise you though that, even though I thought you were gone, had I any reason to believe that your son was out there, I would’ve fought for custody. I would’ve moved heaven and Earth to keep that baby if for no other reason than to preserve a piece of you. I probably should’ve gone further with it than I did though,” she said guiltily. “Even if the boy turned out not to be yours, it was fairly obvious to me that the girl was far too young and immature to raise a child on her own and she proved that when she lied and told you she had a miscarriage.”

“But you knew she didn’t lose the baby,” he said accusingly.

“How could I?” she asked with a hurt expression. “Oliver, I only knew she said she lost the baby after you said something and I didn’t discover that she didn’t lose it until much, much later. What? Do you think I paid her to lie to you and say she lost the baby? Why would I do that?”

“I don’t…” he swallowed.

“Sweetheart,” she said slowly as she turned in her chair to face him, “if I was going to pay the girl off like that I would’ve just given her money to terminate and been done with it. I certainly wouldn’t have gone through all the trouble of having her sign multiple documents including one for a paternity test if I intended to hide your son from you. When she called to say she lost the baby my first thought was that she was either telling the truth or she’d had an abortion. Either way, I didn’t want you hurt any more than you already were and I considered it money well spent if it meant she was out of our lives forever.”

“But you said you stopped payment on the second check after he was born so that means you knew she gave birth to a son,” he reminded her.

“I did, yes, but that was months later when you were already presumed dead,” she reminded him. “Keep in mind that I had just lost you and your father so, right or wrong, that girl was the last thing on my mind especially since I suspected that she’d had an abortion. I didn’t find out otherwise until the technician called to say she left the hospital after refusing the paternity test. I then had our lawyers contact her to set up another paternity test, this one at a private clinic at our expense, but she never responded to any of the letters we sent. I had the lawyers then notify her that unless she responded we’d close out the account we set up for her medical and living expenses and stop payment on the second check. The very same day she received the letter she withdrew the remaining money in that account so we notified the bank that if she tried to cash the second check to stop payment. The lawyers wanted me to sue for breach of contract to get back the money I’d already spent on all this but I refused. I was barely able to get out of bed much less go to court over whether or not my dead son got some mercenary little tramp pregnant. The tabloids would’ve had a field day, especially since all they could talk about was how you’d run off with Laurel’s sister, and the Lances along with the families of the crew of the Gambit were already suing us; I simply couldn’t handle yet another scandal or lawsuit. I just couldn’t.”

“The Lances sued us?” he asked in surprise.

“Of course, they sued us, Oliver,” she said impatiently. “How do you think Dinah Lance was able to afford to fly off to Asia every other week to conduct her own search for her daughter? Do you honestly think she could afford all that on a college professor’s salary? The insurance company paid for the rest of it but I wound up paying the Lances another $2.5 million due to the fact that you’d absconded with their daughter without permission and she died as a result. ”

“Laurel never said anything,” he said numbly.

“Why would she?” Moira snorted. “Besides, it’s not like she’d see it as any great windfall even if it did pay off her student loans and allow her to live in a nice apartment even though she worked for a free legal clinic.”

He paused at that. He never asked Laurel how she managed to afford the condo she lived in or how she managed to drive around in a fairly new BMW even though she worked for a nonprofit. Now that he thought about it though, it made sense.

Oliver shook off his unsettling thoughts and tried another tack, “Okay, but what about Samantha?”

“What about her?” his mother asked.

“You made her out to be someone who purposefully targeted me in order to get a payday and that wasn’t the Samantha I knew. The woman I remember never would’ve done any of that.”

“But I, the mother who raised you and spent years protecting our family, would pay some poor innocent girl off and abandon my only grandchild after losing my husband and son and never attempt to make contact with him?” she demanded angrily.

“I didn’t say that—“ he protested.

“Then what are you saying?” she asked him irritably. “Use your head, for God’s sake, Oliver! She was a drunk girl you met one time at a frat party and had sex with,” she said with a contemptuous huff, “I seriously doubt that you knew her well enough to judge her character based off an acquaintance of how long; a couple of hours at best?” she said caustically. “And yet here you are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a…” her mouth tightened and she bit her tongue, “To the kind of woman that would go up to a man she did not know and have unprotected sex with him resulting in a pregnancy that netted her, altogether, around $1.2 million dollars, the same woman who refused a paternity test, when you aren’t willing to do the same for me; your mother, someone you’ve literally known your entire life.”

He blanched at that, “I’m sorry.”

“You should be,” Moira said in a hurt tone. Her expression softened then and she took a calming breath, “I know this year has been hard on us, the last few months in particular, but trust me, son; the girl I met knew exactly what it was she wanted. Her first words to me were, ‘I’m here to speak to your son about how he intends to take care of our child’. The very same day, right after I handed her two checks and had her sign the NDA’s, she called you just as I was about to inform you of what happened to say she lost the baby, something we both now know to be a lie. Now I ask you, does that sound like an innocent naïf who I somehow bullied into silence by forcing her to accept a check for a million dollars or does it sound like some girl who got herself in trouble and decided to take a gamble that the father was the son of a billionaire and not some campus Romeo burdened with student loans and living off ramen noodle soup?”

Oliver let out a harsh breath and nodded, “You’re right; I’m sorry, mom.”

“It’s okay,” she said grudgingly. “After all, as I said I haven’t exactly given you a lot of reasons to trust me lately so I don’t blame you for jumping to the wrong conclusion. To be honest, I would like to settle this matter once and for all. I want to contact our attorneys when we get home and file suit against her.” He began to protest but she waved him off, “I don’t care about the money. I know I painted her as a money grubbing grifter but, if you say she’s innocent, then I believe you. I’m sure that she did what she did out of desperation and used it to provide for her son,” she said broadly, “I’ll even agree to drop the matter and let her keep the money as long as she gives us a DNA sample to prove that you are not the father. However, if you are the father, then I would like for us to look into suing for full physical custody so I could get to know my grandson. This woman has robbed both of us of his presence in our lives for five years and she needs to pay for that.”

“Mom…” he began but she waved him off once more and turned her attention to Anatoly instead.

“If this boy is Oliver’s then he’ll want his son with him or, at the very least, shared custody but I doubt the mother will simply hand him over or agree to a paternity test without a court order. If we wind up having to take this woman to court, how will that affect our agreement?”

“It is our policy to not have our members faces splashed all over the tabloids but, in this case, such a thing is inevitable,” he said discontentedly before leaning back in his chair and mulling it over a bit before speaking again, “If Oliver wishes to take custody of his son and fight it out in court then I will support this. In exchange though, I want his marriage to my daughter made public and for her to be known as ‘Felicity Queen’.”

“What?” Oliver and Felicity said at the same time.

“Also they must live together as man and wife,” he added firmly. “No more talk of medical problems or of Oliver liking boys. No, everyone must believe that they are man and wife in the truest sense.”

“Papa, that doesn’t make any sense,” Felicity objected.

“It makes lots of sense,” the older man disagreed. “Not only would being married to a good woman help Oliver get custody of his son while painting him as a man who is not afraid to fight for his family, but it would show both the organization and the world that you are a formidable team, one where the wife acts as her husband’s greatest ally. Besides, children have a way of drawing couples together,” he said with a benevolent smile, “Do that and I will agree to everything including the five year grace period on the loan.”

“But then we’d be stuck together--forever,” Felicity said flatly.

“This is true,” the older man said with a pleased expression.

“I have a question,” Moira asked, “Should this not go to court because the mother winds up dying somehow and Oliver takes custody of his son, would they still have to go public? Also, if Oliver did get custody of his son due to the mother’s unfortunate passing, would Felicity be expected to adopt him or could he remain the sole parent thereby allowing them to divorce once the five years are up?”

Oliver looked at her with a frown, “What?”

His mother looked at him haughtily, “Do I really need to repeat myself?”

He gave her a mildly disgusted look, “No, but--why would you even ask something like that?”

“It’s a legitimate question, Oliver. After all, people die all the time,” his mother said with an impatient scowl before turning back to Anatoly. “So, as I was saying, if this girl is killed in, say, a car accident or by some other means, thereby avoiding a potentially messy custody battle, what would our options be?”

Oliver gave her an incredulous look, “Mom, are you seriously suggesting we murder Samantha in order to avoid going to court?”

“Did I say anything about murdering anyone?” she asked taken aback. “Good Lord, Oliver, what must you think of me? Honestly!”

“What the hell else am I supposed to think?” he demanded.

“We just had this long conversation where Mr. Knyazev told us that if you and Samantha came to some shared custody agreement that the boy would be allowed to visit but no one ever said anything about what would happen if the boy’s mother died and he became orphaned,” his mother said reasonably. “What was said though was that if you took a mistress and had a child with her that Felicity, as your wife, would have to adopt them in order to bring them into your home. I’m simply asking that if the worst were to happen, would the same rules apply to William. After all, Felicity already agreed to allow him and his mother to visit but no one ever brought up whether or not William would be allowed to live with you full time if you somehow gained custody or if Felicity would be expected to adopt him.”

His jaw tightened at that, “Seriously?”

“Yes seriously! Darling, you really need to start paying attention to these things instead of directing all of your energy towards these ‘sins’ I’ve apparently committed against you.” She gave him a hurt look, “Really Oliver, one would think I was a monster, especially since my own son has, in the span of a single conversation, accused me of everything from hiding his own child from him to attempting to murder the child’s mother.”

Oliver shot her a look that said he clearly wasn’t buying it but, luckily, Anatoly stepped in to answer her question before he could say what he was thinking out loud.

Especially since what he was thinking began with reminding his mother of the role she had in the Undertaking and ended with ‘bullshit’.

“Actually Mrs. Queen, this is not as uncommon a situation as you would think,” the older man began. “There have been times when a member of the brotherhood has taken a mistress who is not of Bratva and that a child came from such a union. In these cases, the child’s mother would obviously retain physical custody and not have contact with the family but, if for some reason the woman dies and the child is left orphaned, there are actually a few options the man and his wife may take in regards to what happens to them.”

“And they are?” she prompted.

“The first and best solution is, of course, to have the wife adopt the child as her own. This is not always the case, however, as it takes a very strong woman to knowingly accept a child born out of her husband’s infidelity,” he told her.

“In Bratva, despite what you may have heard, women have a lot of power, especially in the home,” Felicity added. “I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying that goes, ‘The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world’? Well, the brotherhood takes that very much to heart--despite the fact that women aren’t allowed to join their ranks,” she added with a sideways glance towards her father.

“This is true,” Anatoly agreed. “Every Bratva man was first raised and taught by his mother and most, if not all, have a strong bond with their mothers as a result. It is the duty of a Bratva wife to support her husband and to produce strong, healthy children and nurture in them the ideals of loyalty and family. It is a foolish man who would ever abuse his wife and children because, even if the other brothers did not step in, as my lovely wife often tells me, ‘I know where you sleep’,” he said meaningfully.

He smiled as Moira politely chuckled at that before continuing, “It is a bit macabre but is true; what sane man would hurt the woman who has the unwavering loyalty of his children, who cooks his food, pours his drinks, and shares his bed, especially when this woman was born and raised Bratva and most likely has an entire family filled with brothers, uncles, and male cousins who could easily dispose of a body with just a phone call? Now I am not saying that every Bratva man is a loving husband and father,” he warned, his smile fading slightly. “The brotherhood is filled with hard men, some who have done terrible things and continue to do them every day, but the vast majority of us are family men; not animals. We do bad things, terrible things, things that even I am uncomfortable with which is why my people do not engage in such matters, but all of us in the brotherhood, no matter what it is they do, still follow certain laws and one of our greatest laws is to protect our homes and families. The wife is the center of the home, she is the one who gives her husband comfort and wisdom, her womb is where his future generations will spring from so, while he may be the head of the household, it is she who rules it.”

He took a moment to look between Oliver and Moira, “If a man has a child outside of marriage and brings that child to his wife, it is she and not the husband who decides where that child shall go. If she rejects this child and her husband then forces it upon her, then he would be a fool because it is not he who will raise it but her. If this is a spiteful or resentful wife then, at worst, she could cause physical harm to the child, at best she could reject the child and the house would be divided. There would be no rest and no peace for anyone, especially the child itself, so if the wife says the child cannot stay then Bratva law says the child must be sent to live elsewhere. If the man disputes this then she can go to his pakhan and have this enforced and he will decide where the child goes.”

“What does that mean though? Where would the child go?” Moira asked carefully.

“If the child has relatives outside of the organization or if the child is too old to be taught our ways then they are sent there,” he told her. “If they have no other relatives or are, as I said, too old or unruly, then they are often sent to boarding school so that they can live well and be educated away from the family.”

Moira frowned at that, “What do you mean by ‘too old’? This boy, if I recall correctly, is no more than five or six years old, I believe. Would he be considered ‘too old’ or…?”

Felicity stepped in, “What he means is that if the child were a teenager who the father felt might potentially expose the brotherhood to scrutiny in an act of rebellion, say by tweeting Bratva secrets to the world or bugging his father’s study and putting it on Facebook because he was angry about having to adhere to a curfew, then the parent is obligated to put the safety of the organization first.”

Anatoly nodded, “In Bratva the brotherhood is first, family second, and everything else is third. If a wife betrays Bratva, if a child betrays Bratva, then the man must be loyal to Bratva even if it means sacrificing all else in the process. I do not believe though that this would be the case with Oliver’s child,” he said soothingly at Moira’s troubled expression. “The boy is five, still a baby really, and could easily be molded into a loyal member of the brotherhood. Felicity was seven when I married her mother, highly advanced for her age, and look at her now,” he said proudly as he turned to her. “A child of that age would be no trouble I am sure of it; especially with a father like Oliver to teach him.”

Oliver shifted uncomfortably at that but said nothing. His mother, though, frowned before asking, “But what if Felicity, for whatever reason, decides not to adopt William?”

“I believe I’m the most qualified person to answer that and if Oliver wanted his son with him then I wouldn’t have a problem adopting the boy,” Felicity said dryly.

“But, once my daughter makes this boy her own, then divorce is off the table--permanently,” Anatoly said firmly. “The boy would be hers, just as if she gave birth to him, and Oliver would then be obligated to remain loyal to both the brotherhood and his family for the rest of his life. The only way he could leave them is by death or abandonment and, if that happened, he would be hunted down and executed as a traitor and the boy would remain in the custody of his mother which would then be my daughter.” At the older woman’s expression of alarm he gave an apologetic shrug, “I’m sorry if hearing this upsets you but, as I said before, there is no divorce in Bratva.”

“That’s fine,” Moira said uncomfortably. “You said that if my son or Felicity chose not to adopt him or bring him into their home that they could be sent to other family members,” she said slowly, “What if I agreed to take custody of the boy instead? Would Oliver and Felicity still be able to divorce then?”

Anatoly gave her a patient look, “As I understand it, Oliver lives in your home, yes?”

“He does but your daughter said that she has no plans to move in with my son after marriage,” she parried.

“His home would still be considered her home whether she lives there or not,” Lyla said with a sympathetic look.

“So you’re saying that Felicity would have complete control over who I do and don’t allow into my home even though she doesn’t live there?” Oliver asked skeptically.

Lyla nodded, “So you couldn’t take a live-in mistress or set up a girlfriend and kids as the presumed Mrs. Queen and, even though you could argue that it’s your mother’s home or move out to your own place, the Bratva would see it as your home since you are your father’s only living male heir.”

“Do I get the same control over where Felicity lives?” he demanded with a scowl.

“Yes, Mr. Queen, you do,” Felicity answered for herself. “Bratva law states that as a married woman living separately from her husband I am not allowed to entertain male visitors who are not family unless you are present or we’re being chaperoned by another member of the family. ‘Family’, by the way, also includes trusted members of our crew such as bodyguards and soldiers above a certain rank and, even then, I have to have at least one female family member or member of the staff living with me in the same home which is why Lyla will be staying with me in Starling City and Helena will be with me in Gotham.”

“But what’s to stop someone from having an affair with one of their bodyguards?” Moira asked skeptically then added, “I mean, just because you have another woman living in the house acting as a chaperone that doesn’t mean she can be there at all times--not that I’m implying you ever would, but still; she has to sleep some time, correct? Also, what about when you travel, or go to work, or go shopping? If people want to cheat on their spouses, trust me; they will find a way not to get caught no matter how many eyes are watching them.”

“This is true but if a man is found to have been with the wife of a superior then he will be put to death,” Anatoly told her. “This, of course, does not mean a man would not risk death to be with a beautiful woman, or that a female family member would not lie to protect the wife, but it would not just be their lives at stake.”

Moira’s eyes took on a curious glint, “So the wife would die, too?”

Anatoly nodded, “The woman, yes, but also the chaperone who told the lie, the guards who did not report the suspicious activity and allowed the man entry into the home, and the man’s wife, children, father, mother, sisters,” he paused to take a sip of tea before continuing, “brothers, and all of his extended family members as well. As the lovely Miss Bertinelli explained earlier, the reason the Bratva are so feared is because when we cut out the rot on the tree, Mrs. Queen, we start at the root and do not stop until the entire tree is destroyed and laid to ash. It is the only way to know for sure that the disease will not be spread.”

“I see,” she said gravely.

He nodded and took another sip from his cup before setting it down on the saucer, “This is why false accusations are not tolerated within our organization. If someone speaks an untruth about another, then they are made an example of.”

“And by example he means—“ Helena ran her thumb over her throat with a slick hiss.

“I assumed that was what he meant,” Moira said uncomfortably.

“What it comes down to is that marriage is a partnership,” Felicity said looking between them. “In this case it is a business partnership,” she emphasized as her gaze settled on him. “I really have no interest in your personal life, Mr. Queen, and I seriously doubt you have any in mine and I’m fine with that. I’m not interested in becoming Mrs. Oliver Queen; I’m here because I have a goal, just as you do, and marrying you is a way to meet my goals. If you want to take a mistress, you may; all I ask is that you be discreet and don’t do anything stupid like sleep with a journalist doing an exposé or an ADA looking to bust you for anything she can find because, once upon a time, you did her dirty and she’s been looking for payback ever since. Basically just avoid getting involved with any more crusading drama queens if you could.”

“No pun intended,” Lyla said wryly.

“Although that really is a good name for Ollie’s revolving door fan club: ‘Ollie Queen’s Drama Queens’,” Helena gestured broadly in emphasis. “We could make t-shirts.”

“I don’t do that anymore,” Oliver objected in an aggrieved tone. “While I have dated since my return, I’ve only been with four women and I never cheated on any of them while we were together.”

“And just how long did these ‘serious relationships’ last?” Helena asked with a smirk, “We were together for what; two weeks, three? Did the rest of your dates get the gold star treatment or was it just long enough to get the job done before offering them a jaunty wave and a promise of, ‘I’ll call you tomorrow’?”

Oliver gritted his teeth together and was about to let loose with a scathing reply before Felicity stepped in.

“I didn’t mean to impugn your honor, Mr. Queen. I understand how the press, especially in your case, tends to distort the truth to suit their readers, I’m just asking that you be more…um, cautious in regards to the company you keep,” she amended.

“Cautious,” he repeated tetchily.

Felicity grimaced apologetically, “I’m honestly not trying to insult you, I really am, but to be frank you tend to…”

He gave her a narrowed look, “Tend to what?”

“Flirt with danger. Literally. Especially if it’s a brunette,” Lyla said easily.

Helena nodded ruefully, “I can attest to that.”

“Again; I left my playboy days behind me a long time ago,” Oliver said angrily.

“Actually, to be honest, I would prefer that you did go back to your man-whore days,” Felicity told him. “It’s your tendency to get into these serious relationships that go from zero to sixty that are the problem, especially since the women you seem most drawn to are always the ones most capable of causing you irreparable harm.”

“You don’t know anything about my personal life,” Oliver objected strongly. “Just because you know a few names does not mean you have all the facts!”

“Here’s a few facts,” Lyla said flipping open another folder and picking up a glossy stack of photos, “Here are surveillance photos of ADA Laurel Lance leading a manhunt for the Hood,” she plopped them down on the coffee table in front of him. “McKenna Hall, the policewoman who was investigating the Hood and any possible ties you might have to him who was injured in the line of duty by—“

“Helena,” Oliver supplied throwing the woman in question a hateful glare.

“Yeah, I’ll admit it; that was my bad,” she admitted with a regretful sigh.

“You nearly crippled her for life,” he bit out.

“What can I say? I had a lot of anger issues I was working through,” she said with a slightly sheepish expression.

He looked at her incredulously, “Anger issues?”

“In my defense, since my dad’s been gone I’ve been doing much better, plus I’ve been taking anger management classes,” she said in a deadpan.

“Helena Bertinelli,” Lyla said flatly as she plopped some more pictures down, “That one speaks for itself.”

“I’ve made some mistakes in my personal life and I’ve apologized for that--” Oliver began heatedly.

“I’m not asking you to apologize, Mr. Queen, I’m simply asking that you to stop making the same mistakes over and over again,” Felicity said soothingly. “I’m also not asking you to become a monk or anything. In fact, as I said before, a return to at least some of your old patterns might even be helpful. At least if you showed up with a different girl on your arm every time a paparazzo snapped your picture it would prove to everyone that you weren’t serious about anyone except your wife. It sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but the brotherhood would view those types of women as mere entertainment and could dismiss your activities with them as meaningless. If you are seen with the same woman though; especially if that woman were in a position to cause either of us some sort of harm, then we would have a problem.”

“So you’re saying you don’t care if I cheat on you, just that I do it with lots of different women and not one particular woman. Oh, and that the woman I pick be some kind of oblivious airhead who is only interested in cheap sex,” he said sarcastically. “Wow, where were you when I was in high school?”

“College,” she answered without hesitation. “And when you were in college I was in graduate school.”

“Right,” he said tersely.

Felicity smirked at him, “Mr. Queen, what I expect from you and our ‘marriage’ isn’t all that complicated. All I want is for you to make smart decisions and live your life while I live mine and for both of us to enjoy our lives as separately and discreetly as possible.”

Anatoly made a disgruntled noise at that but she ignored him.

“While we will be seeing each other quite frequently, in the beginning anyway, most if not all of our encounters will be at work as colleagues. There will be no romantic lunches or dinners, no small talk in the elevator where you ask me if I picked up your dry cleaning or I comment that the toilet in the guest bath kept running all night long, and there is absolutely no need for either of us to inform the other of every move we make,” she said easily. “We don’t even have to know where the other person lives.”

“What about protection?” Oliver threw back.

“I would hope that you would use protection, especially in this day and age,” she told him.

“No, I meant your protection. What I do is dangerous, Ms. Smoak,” he said using the same pointed inflection with her name as she did his. “I’d like to at least know where you are as my enemies may target you or you may need my help at some point.”

“If I need someone to fix a leak under my sink I can call a plumber. If I need to kill a spider I’ll use a shoe. If someone threatens me, I have bodyguards with me 24/7, so what help do you think I’d need from you?” she asked, her eyebrows drawing together in bewilderment.

He let out an irritated huff, “I’d still like to know where you are; where you’re staying, your travel plans, et cetera.”

“Fine, I’ll make sure to list my address in my HR file and if I go out of town then I would, of course, inform you about my travel plans as you are my immediate supervisor at work, but I don’t feel it’s necessary to offer you a detailed report of my every move. Unless it has to do with official company business, you don’t need to know anything about me,” she said firmly. “I also don’t need to know the details of your life, nor do I feel the need to ‘check in’ with you every five minutes as if we were in an actual relationship and I thought you would be interested or concerned for my safety.”

Oliver gave her a pointed look at that, “Who says I wouldn’t be concerned with your safety?”

She, in turn, merely offered him a sardonic twist of her lips before continuing, “We’re not friends, Mr. Queen. Even if you were interested in becoming friends, I’m not; I already have plenty. A piece of paper may bind us together for a period of so many years but you are not my husband. You are merely my non-romantic, very platonic, business partner. I will not be friending you on Facebook or tweeting with you about what I had for lunch, we will not be sharing Instagrams or spending our evenings reminiscing over our childhoods together. While it is important that both of us remember that this contract between us exists, my hope is that it eventually fades into the background and that, in time, any memory you may have of me being your ‘wife’ disappears entirely.”

Again her father made a disparaging huff but all she did was cut her eyes to him in warning before addressing Oliver once more, “Look, I can turn QC around within the next eighteen months. I’ll bet the farm on that and, once that happens, I plan to appoint another CTO in my place; one that I know can do the job and that you’ll be comfortable with at the helm. After that I plan to return to Gotham so I can get back to my own company. If everything goes smoothly, we would then only have to see each other for the occasional board meeting. Maybe…I don’t know; once every month or two, maybe less,” she said pursing her lips, “But most of our interactions would be via email or Skype, or we would likely communicate through Lyla. That means that as long as you resist impregnating anyone and remain vigilant about the health and wellbeing of your child’s mother,” she tossed a wry look towards Moira, “we should be able to get through this with the bare minimum of contact and no complications.”

Oliver stared at her impassively, “And what if, at the end of the five or ten years, I decide not to leave Bratva or ask for a divorce?”

“Then, depending on my own feelings on the matter, we can stay married and nothing about the way we’ve handled ourselves up to that point would change,” she told him.

“But what about children?” he asked. “My mother has asked this several times and you’ve given me multiple answers in regards to my ‘options’, I know, but what if one or both of us wants children; wouldn’t we have to share a home then?”

“Not necessarily,” she frowned seeming to mull it over. “We’d have to decide then but if we wanted a child then we could work out some sort of custody arrangement.”

“I know you told me I was welcome to discreetly ‘spread my seed’ if I wanted a child, but what happens if, one day, you wanted a biological child; one that was both yours and mine?” he prodded.

“That’s why they invented FedEx and turkey basters,” she said poker-faced causing Helena to snicker.

“What does this mean, ‘turkey basters’?” Anatoly asked Lyla in a confused hush.

“Um, well…” the other woman shifted uncomfortably.

“And what if it gets out that we’re married?” he continued as he gauged her reaction.

Not that she was giving him much, he admitted disgruntledly.

“Would you move into my home then?” he pressed.

“Why? Are you looking to split the rent or something?” Felicity asked impatiently.

“That was a good one,” Helena murmured.

“No, I’m asking because if I do wind up being married to you for the rest of my life then, at some point, it would be nice if we could at least be friends, share a house; be married,” he said peevishly.

“I’d really prefer to avoid that,” she said drolly. “However, to answer your question, if it does get out that we’re married, or if we decide to extend this partnership, then no; I would not move in with you. I just can’t see that ever happening, sorry.”

His brow furrowed at that, “Why not?”

“Power, Mr. Queen,” she said easily.

“Power?” he repeated with a frown, “Whose power; yours?”

“No, yours,” she told him. “Maybe you can’t understand this because you’re a man, or maybe don’t see it because you’re privileged, but Queen Manor is your home ground, not mine, which means if I moved into your family home you would have some perceived power over me and I find that unacceptable.”

“Married people live together,” he argued. “If we wind up getting into this for the long haul then, at some point, I would want you to move in with me, just as I would want to be able to acknowledge you as my wife in public and have children.”

“Business associates don’t live together and raise children; husbands and wives live together and raise children,” she corrected him.

He offered her a cool smile of his own, “Which is what we are, or rather what we will be. More importantly, it’s what the world would see us as if our marriage does become common knowledge.”

“Fine,” Felicity conceded wearily, “If that happens then you can move in with me.”

“Where?” he asked her, “And don’t say Gotham or Russia because I can’t leave Starling; my family is there and so is my mission.”

“I meant Starling,” she said irritably. “I purchased the old Kord building six months ago and had it refurbished. You can move in there.”

“You mean the one with the clock tower?” Oliver asked with a frown. “That building is in the Glades.”

She nodded, “It is but it remained fairly unscathed after the earthquake and, because of the location, I was able to buy it for a steal,” she said with a self-satisfied grin.

He gave her a suspicious look, “What would prompt you to buy property in Starling six months ago when I approached your father about this only two weeks ago?”

“Easy on the paranoia, big guy,” she said wryly. “I occasionally have business in Starling City and I wanted a more secure place to stay than a hotel, especially with terrorists trying to take down the city and masked vigilantes running around,” she gave him a sardonic look. “I called a realtor, told them what I was looking for, and they mentioned that the Kord Building was for sale at a pretty good price.”

“Really?” he said skeptically.

She gave him a pointed look, “In case you didn’t know, there aren’t a lot of clock towers for sale these days so I bought it. I figured that even if I didn’t wind up using it, I could flip it fairly easily since it was a unique property. I had the top floors converted into a private residence and the lobby and first few floors made into office space. The rest of the floors were converted into apartments for visiting guests and staff. If we are ‘outed’ somehow, then I would probably suggest we move into that building with you taking one of the apartments under mine. Access to the building is limited and it has underground parking so no one would ever find out that we were living separately.”

“It’s still a dangerous area,” he emphasized.

“I may not look it, Mr. Queen, but I’m Bratva through and through and the last thing I’m afraid of is living in a bad neighborhood,” Felicity said wryly. “If anything, it’s the neighborhood that should be worried about me.”

“Got that right,” Helena piped up.

Oliver nodded grimly, “Noted. So if the Q&A is done then when and how are we doing this?”

“Just sign these here,” Lyla said flipping through the pages and pointing.

He was fairly certain that he was going to have a bad case of writer’s cramp before they were done and occasionally Oliver and his mother would ask for clarification on one thing or the other but it all went fairly quickly after that.

Once the last page was initialed and signed he stretched out his fingers wearily and asked, “Is that it?”

“That’s it,” Lyla told him as she handed the final page to Felicity who signed it before passing it and the pen to Helena, and Helena, in turn, passed it to her father for his signature as well.

“So now that the license and things are out of the way, when and where is the wedding going to take place?” Moira asked. “I know you said it wouldn’t be a lavish ceremony or anything but I assume we will have to go to some sort of city hall or church, correct?”

“Nope, that was it,” Lyla said looking over the paper they handed back before signing it as well and tucking it into the folder.

“Wait, so we’re married?” Oliver asked in surprise.

“Yep,” she said with a nod before she, Felicity, and Helena all rose from their seats and began gathering their things.

“Finally!” Helena exclaimed as she stretched. “God, why do weddings always take so long?”

“At least it wasn’t a Catholic wedding,” Lyla pointed out wearily. “Not only is my Latin rusty as hell but, after three tours and five years with ARGUS, my knees can’t handle what my ex used to call ‘calisthenics for Jesus’ anymore.”

“Hey, watch the Jesus talk; if my mother asks it was a Jewish wedding minus the glass breaking because she would kill us if we broke one of her Waterford crystal wine glasses,” Felicity corrected her. “She doesn’t even drink out of them, she just points to them and tells people that Steve Wynn sent those to her as a wedding present because she used to work for him at the Bellagio and that he broke down in tears when she left because she was the best cocktail waitress he ever had.”

“Is that true?” Lyla asked curiously.

“About Steve Wynn or about if she was his best cocktail waitress?” Helena frowned.

“Both.”

Felicity shrugged, “I don’t know but she says it is so I just nod along and save myself a lot of time and trouble.”

Moira looked around in confusion, “But…there were no vows or officiant? No rings?”

“I’m not a big fan of rings since I do a lot of typing,” Felicity told her as she put on her coat, “Also, Lyla was the officiant while you and Helena were the witnesses and my dad got to give away the bride.”

“That’s the real reason she brought me here in the first place,” Helena told Oliver with an evil grin, “I was the maid of honor—or the best man; your pick.”

“As for the vows and things, they’re not really necessary,” Lyla told them. “All they really needed to do is sign the marriage certificate which I will be filing today. However, if it will make you feel better…” she reached for one of the vases of flowers scattered around the room and handed a delicate pink rose to Felicity who, in turn, tossed it towards Helena.

“Thanks,” the other woman said before tucking it behind her ear. “I always did want to be the girl who caught the bouquet.”

“Where are you going?” Oliver asked as both he and his mother rose from their seats and stared in disbelief as the women headed out the door.

“Us?” Felicity asked as she turned to him with a grin, “I decided to go to Paris for the honeymoon and Lyla and Helena wanted to come along for the ride.”

“Don’t worry though; we’re planning on taking lots of pictures. It’ll be like you were right there with us, I promise. Oh, and I’ll be sure to get you one of those pencil sharpeners in the shape of the Eiffel Tower, bye!” Helena waved at him as she left out.

“I’ll be sure to send you a copy of all the paperwork along with a copy of the marriage certificate. See you in Starling City,” Lyla told them as she followed the other two women out the door.

“Is she really just leaving?” Moira asked looking between Anatoly and Oliver in disbelief.

“Of course she is,” Anatoly said grumpily as he reached into his desk for a bottle of vodka and three tumblers. He poured three generous servings before offering each of them a glass, “To a long and happy marriage, my friends. Prochnost!”

Prochnost,” Oliver agreed.

‘I have a feeling I’m going to need it.’