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The Company of Intelligent Women

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“Nothing is so necessary for a young man as the company of intelligent women.”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

 

Felicity leaned back carefully in the large whirlpool tub and sighed.

“You okay in there?” Lyla called out from the bedroom.

“Yeah,” she grunted as she rubbed her shoulder wearily.

The other woman walked into the room, her own hair damp as she toweled it dry. She smiled down at her and raised an eyebrow at her pained expression, “Need some help?”

Felicity looked at her for a second before grimacing, “If I say yes are you going to think I’m a wimp?”

Lyla offered her a sympathetic look, “What do you need me to do?”

“I really want to wash my hair but it hurts to lift my arms,” she whined.

“Okay, I got this,” the other woman chuckled and motioned for her to sit up as she pushed back the sleeves of her thick bathrobe and reached for the hand shower, “Close your eyes.”

Felicity did as she asked and sighed as the almost scalding hot water cascaded over her hair and face. Lyla then cut off the water and lathered up the shampoo in her hands before methodically scrubbing it through her hair starting at her scalp.

“Oh yeah,” Felicity moaned.

“Feels good, huh?” the other woman asked in amusement.

“If you ever feel like giving up the whole spy thing you should totally become a shampoo specialist,” she agreed.

“A shampoo specialist, huh?”

“Well, I was going to say a ‘shampoo girl’ but that sounded too patronizing and sexist whereas a ‘shampoo specialist’ sounds kind of bad ass,” she admitted.

“Lyla Michaels, former soldier, ex-spy, and current ‘shampoo specialist’ for the Bratva,” the other woman intoned wryly before picking up the hand shower once more. “Close your eyes and lean your head back,” she instructed as she began to rinse out her hair. “Do you want me to condition it, too?”

“It’s that or walk into Queen Consolidated tomorrow looking like a frizzed out poodle.”

“You know, I always wanted curly hair like yours when I was a kid,” she said as she put down the hand shower once more and began to work the conditioner through her hair.

“You would’ve hated it,” Felicity told her as she practically purred with pleasure. “It tangles, dries out, breaks, and frizzes at the first sign of humidity. Oh, and it’s impossible to get out of the bathroom without having to use a ton of product on your hair first. At least with straight hair all you have to do is wash it and go.”

“I guess the grass is always greener on the other side then,” Lyla agreed as she piled her conditioner drenched hair up on top of her head. “While that soaks in do you want me to wash your back?”

“Could you?” Felicity asked gratefully.

“Yeah, I want to check it out anyway,” Lyla told her as she reached for a washcloth and began lathering it up, “Lean forward.”

Felicity leaned forward painfully then hissed as Lyla began to carefully wash her back starting near her shoulder.

“You okay?” the other woman asked with a sympathetic wince.

“Yeah, it’s just really sore,” she admitted. “How bad does it look?”

“Well, it looks like you took a .45 to the back of your vest then bounced off a marble floor a couple of times like a rubber ball,” Lyla told her as she carefully ran the washcloth down her spine and across her shoulders.

“That good, huh?” she asked with a grimace.

Lyla nodded, “You’re definitely bruised all to hell and back. You’re lucky you didn’t break your scapula at that range.”

“I didn’t really have much of an option,” she told her.

“I disagree; you could’ve let me take the bullet,” the other woman said lightly but there was still a note of censure in her undertone. “I had a vest on, too, you know? Not to mention the fact that, technically, I’m the one who’s supposed to be protecting you, not the other way around.”

“He had you lined up for a headshot and you and Helena were too busy with those other guys to notice,” Felicity argued wearily.

“I know,” Lyla said although she still didn’t sound happy about it. She put aside the washcloth and gently urged her to sit back before rising to her feet, “Are you going to need help getting out when you’re done?”

“Probably,” she said disgruntledly. “I probably should’ve taken a shower but I just really wanted to soak.”

Lyla gave her a crooked grin and flipped on the jets and heater before reaching for a towel to dry her hands, “Enjoy your soak then because after you get out of the tub I get to grease you down with arnica before icing down that shoulder.”

Felicity pulled a face at that, “Why is it when you bruise something they always make you ice it when it feels like what you should be doing is using a heating pad instead?”

“Because heat feels better but ice reduces swelling,” she said matter-of-factly as she sat down at the vanity and began poking around. “Do you have any more of those nail buffer things that are spongy? I tore a nail while we were interrogating those Algerian guys and I think I left the one you gave me back at the hotel.”

“The four sided ones?” she asked as she began carefully scrubbing her skin. “Yeah, I have a ton of them in the drawer."

Lyla slid the drawer open and pursed her lips, “Ooh, in that case I’m stealing a couple of these things. And maybe some of these tweezers, too. Jeez, how many tweezers does one person need anyway?” she asked pulling out several. “Why did you buy so many?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even remember buying most of them; they just multiply in the drawer like rabbits. Go ahead and take as many as you want,” Felicity invited as she continued to wash herself.

After a few minutes of scrubbing she rinsed off then lay back to relax in the warm water as she listened to the rhythmic sound of Lyla buffing her nails

She closed her eyes and breathed out slowly before asking, “So what do you make of the intel we got from the Algerians?”

“About their Quraci connection?” Lyla asked absently. “God, these buffer doohickeys are incredible,” she said examining her shiny nails under the light. “It’s like you don’t even need nail polish.”

Felicity hummed in the affirmative, “That and that ‘terrorists for hire’ group they mentioned…”

“Onslaught,” Lyla supplied.

“They made it sound like an anti-Suicide Squad,” she said cracking her eyes open slightly, “Why would Waller be funneling intel and weaponry to a group of terrorists looking to bring down ARGUS?”

“She wouldn’t,” the other woman said broodingly as she continued to buff her nails into a high shine, “Unless, of course, she’s either running a fundraiser or trying to burn the place to the ground so she can rise from the ashes later on.”

“Or maybe she’s a turncoat who got tired of living on a civil servant’s paycheck so she sold her country out to the highest bidder?” she suggested but Lyla immediately shook her head.

“Amanda Waller is many things; evil, heartless, a true sociopath, but she’s also a patriot, even if her version of patriotism is twisted beyond all recognition. No, I think Amanda is using the Algerians and their connection to the Quraci to extend her reach. She wants Project X to work but Oversight has been grumbling about the Suicide Squad for a while now. If a new group shows up, one no one but the Suicide Squad is prepared to take on…” she gave her a meaningful look and Felicity nodded.

“Then they’ll basically write her a blank check and let her do whatever the hell she wants without interference,” Felicity finished for her wryly. “So she burned you because she figured you’d make the connection and ruin her ‘fundraiser’?”

Lyla sighed, “I’m guessing. She’s not wrong either; I’ve done some questionable stuff for Waller over the years, a lot of which kept me up at night, but I did it because I was able to convince myself it was for the greater good. Funding terrorists to attack American interests in order to further Waller’s agenda though? No, no way. What about you?” she asked curiously, “Have you had a chance to go through the laptop yet?”

She nodded, “It’s not enough to take Waller down but it’s a start.”

“Anything you can use for your end in there?”

Felicity’s mouth tightened and she lifted her good arm to leverage herself into a sitting position, “A little, not a lot,” she grunted.

“Need help?” Lyla asked.

She shook her head before looking up at her, “I recognized the coding and I can say with 100% certainty that the Calculator was definitely the hacker helping the Algerians bypass the bank’s security but he’s a ghost now. Any information I could get from the laptop is pretty much useless.”

“So it was a waste of time then?” the other woman asked grimly.

“No, I mean we stopped the bad guys and since I was able to isolate the Calculator’s virus code it’ll make it easier to pin him down the next time. Also, we seized his hard assets, which is good but not great. Now that we have the bearer bonds and the gold we intercepted from the Algerians along with the other stuff from the vault, he’ll have to rely on digital funds which means he’s more vulnerable.”

“Because if you can find his accounts and hack in you can bankrupt him,” Lyla supplied.

“Yup, if I can find them anyway,” she said with a grimace, “After all, I don’t even know the man’s real name, only that it’s not Noah Kuttler. However, it wasn’t a complete waste of time and, if nothing else, it gave Helena the opportunity to add to her skill set by robbing not one bank, but two, both in the same day.”

“Well, we didn’t ‘rob’ the first bank as much as we stole someone’s identity then moved the stuff from one vault to another in order to bait the trap,” the other woman said dryly.

“Yeah, well, Helena still got to play dress up and pretend to be an infamous jewel thief so she’s happy,” Felicity said with a half-shrug, being mindful of her still throbbing shoulder.

“She won’t be when she gets back to Gotham and Catwoman comes after her looking for her cut of the gold and jewels Helena stole in her name,” Lyla said with a smirk.

“I think she can handle it,” she said dismissively, “Just in case though, I made sure to set aside a portion of the take and had it shipped to the penthouse so Helena could hand it over as a peace offering while Anatoly takes care of the rest of it. No, the only real downside is that now the Calculator knows for sure that we’re gunning for him.”

“He might not,” the other woman argued. “After all, that was one of the reasons we set it up to look like a bank heist and pinned the blame on Catwoman.”

“Yeah, and that’s why dad is planning on throwing him off our trail by fencing the art and jewelry through brokers who aren’t connected to Bratva but it wouldn’t take much for him to figure out that the brunette in the oversized sunglasses wasn’t Selena Kyle,” she pointed out. “Helena and Selena are of similar build and coloring but the Calculator is going to be paranoid now, especially since we were able to get close enough to find his vault. Chances are he’s probably going to do some digging and when he finds out that Catwoman robbed the MoMA in Gotham the same night she was supposedly in Paris stealing from him, then he’s going to go underground until he can figure out who’s after him and why. Well, at least until he gets the urge to build up his war chest again but that could take months.”

“At least we put a hurt on him that he won’t easily recover from, not to mention the fact that we snagged some really pretty baubles,” Lyla said teasingly as she reached into Felicity’s jewelry box and held up one of the necklaces she kept aside for herself.

“I actually didn’t steal those, they were already mine,” she said with a hint of bitterness. “Well, actually they were my mom’s; she inherited them from her great-grandmother who managed to hide them from the Nazis when she fled Germany. Noah stole them from her just before he abandoned us along with all our money and anything else of value he could find.”

“Oh,” the other woman examined them more closely, “Well, I’m glad you got them back. Actually, I’m surprised he kept them all these years. Of course, it looks like some of the larger stones are missing on a few of these,” Lyla said as she lifted up a cocktail ring that was missing its center stone before reaching for a necklace and holding it up to her throat in front of the mirror.

“That’s why I kept back a few extra for parts. I’m not sure but I think the center stone on that ring used to be a sapphire,” Felicity tilted her chin indicating the gorgeous diamond and sapphire necklace Lyla was admiring.

The other woman picked up the ring again and compared the two, “Well, I’m not jeweler but just from eyeballing it I think it could work,” she hummed in agreement.

“Just in case I made sure to hold back a few with different cuts and stones so the jeweler can pick and choose which ones he thinks will work best.”

Lyla raised an eyebrow at her, “Here’s a dumb question but how are you going to find a jeweler in Starling who won’t ask a lot of questions about where this stuff came from? This necklace alone has got to be worth a few million easy.”

“The Bratva has a guy here,” she said as she rolled her neck with a wince. “Mr. Marchak at Abramovich Jewelers on the corner of Balent and Duffy. He helps the local brotherhood out every once in a while and does excellent work, especially when it comes to recutting and resetting stones in a hurry.”

“Naturally,” Lyla said wryly. “And how are you going to explain to your mom how you came across this stuff in the first place?”

“I’m not, my dad is handling that part,” Felicity said with a yawn. “The story we came up with is that he’d had feelers out on the jewelry for years and, when he got a hit on eBay, he bought what was left and had them reset as a surprise that way if I’m wrong about the color or cut of the stones we’re covered.”

“eBay?” she asked dubiously.

“My mom doesn’t even know how to use Google much less eBay. She considers online shopping to be ‘cheating’ and says the only people who do that sort of thing are lazy shut-ins who need to get off the couch and shop like regular people do.”

Lyla laughed at that, “Seriously? Well, that does sound like something your mom would say.”

“Oh yeah, but then again this is the same woman refers to marathon shopping through the mall in six inch heels as ‘going to the gym’,” she said wryly.

The other woman raised an eyebrow at that, “She’s not wrong. I’ve been shopping with your mother and—hey, remember that weekend when she took us all to Aviapark in Moscow?” she asked pointedly. "That thing was, what; the size of thirty-six football fields? And she took us through that entire thing…uh,” she wrinkled her nose, “Damn, I know it had to be at least three times. All I know is that I walked so much that I must’ve lost ten pounds easy; it was more exhausting than boot camp. Even Helena was bitching about her feet and you know how she shops,” she huffed. “I’m surprised we ever got around to robbing those banks because the minute we landed she headed straight for the Champs-Elysées for a Parisian mall crawl to end all mall crawls—with the exception of your mom’s mall crawls, of course,” she corrected herself. “As for me, I am not a shopper; never have been, never will be. I am what your mom would call a lazy online couch potato but, if I was a shopper, then Donna would’ve cured me of it because, I swear to God, when we got home my blisters had blisters. How your mother lives in Louboutin’s 24/7 is beyond me.”

Felicity nodded ruefully, “Don’t ask me, I’m her daughter and even I don’t know how she does it. Anyway, the backstory is going to be that the guy who originally received the jewelry was a pawn shop owner near Vegas and, after he died, his daughter found the old settings and stuff in the attic. She assumed it was all costume jewelry or paste which is why she listed it online for practically nothing. I know it sounds thin as hell but my mom will eat it up, trust me,” she said rolling her eyes. “She’ll be dining out on that story for years and, by the time she’s done, it’ll sound like some Hollywood movie about concentration camp survivors who fight the system in order to recover their stolen jewelry and art collections then fancast Reece Witherspoon into the title role since ‘they look almost exactly alike’.”

“Or you could just tell her the truth or something close to it,” Lyla suggested. “Your mom’s a pretty tough lady; I think she could handle it, especially given the fact that she’s managed to tame the most feared and respected pakhan in all of Bratva.”

“Yeah, well, my mom is tough and she’s a lot smarter than most people give her credit for, but not when it comes to Noah Kuttler—or whatever his real name is,” she said darkly. “She knows for a fact that, daughter or no, he’d sell me out in a heartbeat. Hell, he’s already done it!” she reminded her. “He left us both to be tortured and killed knowing that, even if we did survive, we’d probably be taken across the border in the trunk of a car before being sold to some human trafficking ring just to pay off his debts!” Felicity’s voice shook slightly as the anger she still felt towards her biological father burned through her.

She took a calming breath before speaking again.

“If she found out that I was this close to that son of a bitch she’d have an all-out meltdown—and that’s skipping the part where he shot me in the back at close range. If I told her about that then she’d have my dad call his buddy, Putin, to ‘borrow’ a nuclear missile so she could drop it on his head,” she shook her head ruefully and sighed, “No, as much as I hate to lie to my mom, it’s for the best. My mom gets her family’s legacy back along with a story she can tell for years, I get my revenge, and my dad gets to reap the rewards. I just hope my mom doesn’t decide to share the details afterwards,” she added wryly.

Lyla wrinkled her nose in sympathy, “Ew.”

“Yeah,” she huffed. “Besides, her birthday is coming up soon and I’m pretty sure I can get the jeweler to do something else with what’s left over; maybe have him make her a matching bracelet and some earrings. I might even have a few things made for myself. Hell, the son of a bitch owes me something considering the fact that he never paid any child support. Oh, and that he sold me down the river to cover his own ass, didn’t see me for sixteen years, then shot me,” she said sarcastically before looking up at her with a humorless grin, “Hey, do you think my sperm donor would care if he knew that the person he shot was his own kid?”

“Well, to be fair, he wasn’t actually aiming for you, he was aiming for me. Also, you did have a mask on so there’s no way he could’ve recognized you anyway,” Lyla said as she deftly side-stepped the question. “Ready to get out of the tub so we can put some arnica and ice on that shoulder?”

“Yeah,” Felicity said reluctantly as she pulled the plug then winced as the other woman helped her up carefully. “Getting shot sucks,” she said as the other woman handed her a towel before leading her to the vanity.

“If you think this hurts, try it without the vest sometime,” the other woman said as she carefully patted the area around the bruising dry, “And no, it is not like in the movies where the big strong hero shakes it off and keeps going or takes one in the shoulder and calls it a ‘flesh wound’ because it’s ‘just’ a through and through. They never take into account stuff like bruising, the burns that result from the hot bullet piercing through skin, or how much damage the shockwave from the impact can do to the body, not to mention the fact that a ‘through and through’ means that you have two wounds to treat; an entry wound and an exit wound and an exit wound is always a hell of a lot bigger than the entry wound,” she said wryly. “They don’t design bullets to leave neat little holes, after all. Bullets are intended to kill, not wound, which is why they’re designed to mushroom or splinter on impact.”

“So, in other words, I should just stop bitching about a few bruises and just be grateful I had on my vest?” Felicity said with a gasp followed by a sharp hiss as Lyla began to rub the cold cream on her shoulder blade.

She hummed, “Probably.” When she was done she wiped her hands on a small towel and hitched her chin toward the bedroom, “Go lay down on the bed and I’ll get the ice pack.”

Felicity pulled a face at that even as she did as the other woman told her, “Okay,” she said with a grunt as she slowly made her way into the next room.

“You can have a heating pad after, I promise,” Lyla said with an amused expression as she headed into the kitchen, returning a minute or so later with a large flat cold pack in hand.

Felicity loosened the towel and rolled onto her stomach, bunching a pillow under her head to get comfortable, “How long until I get my heating pad?”

“Twenty minutes,” the other woman answered and Felicity moaned. “You’ll thank me later, trust me. That reminds me, I need to get you your meds,” she said as she laid the cold pack over her shoulder then headed to the bathroom.

“Nothing that will make me feel groggy tomorrow,” Felicity called out.

“How’s Vicoprofen sound?” Lyla called back. “It’ll knock out the pain but leave you fairly alert and help with the inflammation.”

“Okay,” she said reluctantly.

“I know you hate taking pain meds because you’re a total control freak about that stuff but, trust me, you’re going to need it if you want to get any sleep tonight,” Lyla told her as she strode back into the room. “The only thing I’m worried about is that this stuff tends to be hard on your stomach and you didn’t eat that much at dinner. Do you want me to head into the kitchen and make you a snack real quick?”

“I’m fine,” she said reaching for the pill and popping it in her mouth before washing it down with a swig of water from the bottle the other woman handed her. “I ate half a quesadilla and some soup; it should be enough.”

Lyla gave her a skeptical look, “If you say so but, just in case, there’s ginger ale in the fridge if you get sick.”

Felicity suddenly had the urge to say, ‘Okay, mom,’ and, despite the discomfort it caused her, couldn’t help but chuckle at that.

“What’s so funny?” Lyla asked in amusement as she sat next to her in the bed and picked up her tablet to scroll through it.

“I was just thinking that you’d make a great mom someday,” she told her.

“Me?” Lyla asked.

“Yeah,” she said stifling another yawn as she turned her head to look at her. “Did you and Dig ever talk about it; having kids?”

She shook her head, “Johnny and I…our marriage was…I don’t know,” she frowned as she lowered her tablet. “We were married in the middle of a warzone so it was all adrenaline and seizing the moment for us. Kids are the kind of thing people plan for when bullets aren’t flying through the air and we were never good at the lulls that came in between.” She turned to her and grimaced, “I mean, we were great when we had something we could team up to fight against but neither of us were ever good at living like normal people. I always thought I’d have kids someday though,” she admitted.

Felicity smiled at that, “Yeah?”

Lyla nodded, “Two; a boy and a girl. We’d get a house in the ‘burbs and I’d retire from the field and take a desk job while Johnny did the stay at home dad thing until they were old enough to go to school and then he’d get a job teaching and coach Little League on the weekends.”

Felicity looked at her in surprise, “Dig wanted to be a teacher?”

“Yeah, he actually majored in education in college,” she told her.

“Wow, I would’ve thought he would be more interested in law enforcement or something in the medical field.”

“Nope, his plan was to eventually leave the Army and return to Starling so he could teach inner city kids,” Lyla said fondly. “He and his brother grew up in the Glades so he knew how desperate they were for good teachers. He always claimed that was the plan, that he saw us settling down, doing the whole family thing someday, but he didn’t. If he did then he wouldn’t have kept reenlisting every time his tour was up.”

“What about you? Did you ever want to just be ‘normal’ or was the whole nuclear family thing just a pipedream for you, as well?” she asked curiously.

“If I wanted to be normal than the last thing I would’ve done is join ARGUS the second I left the Rangers,” Lyla said wryly as she picked up the tablet once more.

“Do you regret it; joining ARGUS, I mean?”

The other woman paused as she appeared to mull that over for a moment, “Yes and no,” she admitted. “I regret how it ended and the fact that my joining ARGUS is what probably put the final nail in the coffin for my marriage but I don’t regret the fact that I helped save lives and protected my country.”

“But was it worth it?” she asked.

Lyla took a deep breath and let it out slowly before hitching her head slightly to the side, “I don’t know yet. Ask me after I nail Waller’s ass to the wall and I might have an answer for you then. What about you?”

“What about me?” Felicity asked neutrally as she turned her head and shut her eyes.

“Is this really worth it, joining Oliver’s mission as Ghost Fox, getting married, getting shot at; is nailing your dad really worth all this?”

“The Calculator isn’t my dad, Anatoly is my dad; that other guy just happened to loan me a few strands of his DNA, that’s all,” Felicity said automatically as she turned to look at her once more.

“You know what I mean,” Lyla said patiently.

“Ask me after I turn that son of a bitch over to the Bratva and I’ll tell you then,” she said paraphrasing the other woman’s words.

“Do you really think you’ll be able to do that?” the other woman asked with a skeptical expression, “You know what the Bratva will do to him once they have him in their custody—if, of course, they don’t wind up striking a deal with one of the other organizations and letting him go. If that happens then you’ll have put yourself through all this for nothing.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Felicity said darkly as she shifted on the bed. “I plan on turning him over to my dad to deal with personally. However, if I did think that was a possibility, I wouldn’t bother turning him in at all; I’d end it myself.”

Lyla hummed noncommittally at that but the expression on the other woman’s face said it all.

“You don’t think I could do it?” Felicity challenged.

“Do I think you could pull the trigger if you had to?” Lyla returned. “Sure.”

“You don’t sound sure,” she pointed out.

Lyla sighed and dropped her tablet on her lap once more, “Okay, you want my honest opinion?”

“Yeah.”

“I think you’re one of the most bad ass women I’ve ever met. I mean, your brain alone is freaking terrifying. Your tech skills are so far beyond anything I’ve ever seen in or outside of ARGUS it isn’t even funny but it’s not just about what you can do with tech that makes you so bad ass; it’s your skill as a tactician that really puts you over the top,” she said without even a hint of irony. “Your dad likes to say that you think ten steps ahead but that is so far off the mark it isn’t funny. Hell, I’ve been trained to think ten steps ahead. Waller…I may hate that bitch, but if I was ten steps ahead of most people, then she was twenty. You though, you’re miles ahead of either of us.”

“But?” she prompted.

“But you don’t have a soldier’s instincts,” Lyla told her.

Her eyebrows drew together in consternation, “What do you mean?”

“It’s not meant to be an insult, it just is what it is,” Lyla assured her. “You’ve been trained to assess a situation then act based on the information you’ve been given. You’re a thinker and you’re constantly weighing your options before acting, and you don’t look at someone and register them as a ‘target’; you see them as people. A soldier though, while he or she is trained in risk assessment and knows how to process intel, relies heavily on instinct and muscle memory. They’re also trained to not see human beings when they aim and fire their weapons; they see targets, and that’s why you jumped in front of the bullet rather than take the shot when you had the chance.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying,” Felicity said with a frown. “Are you saying that I hesitated to shoot because he was my sperm donor, because I didn’t; I just jumped. I wasn’t even thinking about that.”

“I know,” she assured her. “I’m merely pointing out that your first instinct was to save my life by sacrificing yourself while a soldier’s first instinct would’ve been to save my life but by taking the shot, not by jumping in the path of the bullet.”

“So I was wrong for saving you?” Felicity asked taking umbrage.

“Basically yes,” the other woman nodded. At Felicity’s huff of outrage she grinned, “No, you weren’t ‘wrong’ for why you did what you did; it was actually incredibly brave, but it was also reckless and foolish,” she said firmly. “The smart play would’ve been to shoot the fucker the second you saw him getting ready to line up his shot which is what Helena or I would’ve done. Then again, we’re used to being in that kind of situation so that instinct to shoot comes automatically. You’re not as used to being in the field or handling a weapon that isn’t a keyboard so it never even occurred to you to fire your gun or kill the shooter, instead you instinctively jumped in the trajectory path of the bullet to save me because I was who you were really focusing on. While that was bad ass as hell, it was also stupid.”

“Thank you for that,” she said wryly.

“Eh, you’re paying for it now,” Lyla said dismissively. “Just be grateful you have the opportunity to pay for it with a few aches and pains because a couple of inches to the left and he would’ve missed the vest and gotten you in the brain stem and then you’d be on an operating room table in Paris while some ghoul in hospital scrubs harvested your organs.”

“That’s not fair,” Felicity said sullenly. “Besides organ donation is the gift of life.”

“Cute,” she said wryly.

“For the record though, I won’t hesitate a second time,” Felicity said seriously. “If I ever come face to face with him again, sperm donor or no, I will bring him in even if it means dragging him home in a body bag.”

Lyla nodded, “I never said you wouldn’t, I also never said you hesitated; I merely pointed out that your first instinct was to put yourself in the line of fire rather than pull the trigger and that’s something we need to work on before there’s a next time. After all, it’s my job to take a bullet for you, not the other way around, okay?”

She nodded slightly and Lyla glanced at the clock before gesturing for her to sit up, “Okay, heating pad time,” she said helping her into a sitting position before getting off the bed and heading to her dresser. “Do you want pj’s or a nightgown?”

“Nightgown,” she said reluctantly. Pajamas were warmer but she wanted to wear something loose that wouldn’t put pressure on her back. “I wish I didn’t have to go to work tomorrow,” she grumbled as Lyla helped slip the loose cotton gown over her head.

“So call in sick,” she said off-handedly before unrolling the large heating pad on the nightstand and plugging it in. “I assume you’re sleeping on your stomach?”

“Not much choice,” she said bad-temperedly as she tugged down the covers. “Seriously though, this fracking hurts,” she whined miserably as she crawled into the bed.

“Goddamn right it hurts,” Lyla huffed as she laid the heavy heating pad over her shoulder and turned it on. “You got shot. Vest or not that shit hurts.”

“Yeah, I know that, and I know you said it’s not like the movies where people just jump up and get on with their day after getting shot, but I still feel like I’m being a big whiny baby,” Felicity complained as she snuggled down into her pillow then looked up at the other woman. “I mean, Oliver gets shot and beat up all the time and he just slaps a bandage on it and keeps going. All I have is a bruise and I’m miserable.”

“First off, this isn’t just a ‘bruise’ and you are not being a baby because you’re in pain and asking for help,” Lyla said firmly. “In fact, I’m surprised that Bratva doctor we saw in Paris didn’t send you to the hospital for x-rays because, not only did you take a blast from a hand canon at fairly close range, but you took a running leap then landed hard; so hard you actually bounced a couple of times. I’m pretty sure you did fracture a rib or two because both your shoulders, your back, and your entire left side is like one giant hematoma.”

She grimaced, “Well, all I know is that, first chance I get, I’m looking into designing better body armor; some with cushioning and air bags because this is bullshit.”

“Vests are designed to stop bullets from ripping through your body, not for cushioning falls against hard marble floors,” Lyla told her for the umpteenth time.

“Well, they should,” she pouted.

“You know, it’s not too late to change your mind about going in tomorrow,” Lyla reminded her. “We could always tell Oliver and the board that you ate a bad snail on your ‘girl’s only’ honeymoon or something.”

Her nose wrinkled at that and she snorted, “Right. No, I need to be there. Besides, if it was Oliver who got shot he’d be there.”

“The reason Oliver can shake off bullet wounds and cracked ribs like they’re papercuts is because he’s a macho idiot with a crazy death wish,” Lyla said acerbically. “Seriously, I’ve known guys like him before, I met a shit ton of them when I was in the military, and guess what? None of them made it home; know why?”

She sighed, “Why?”

“Because they were all so caught up in proving how tough they were that they wound up getting themselves killed, that’s why,” she said with a hard look.

“Oliver’s not like that,” Felicity defended weakly.

“No, he’s worse because he thinks he deserves to be punished so he pushes himself to the limits of human endurance and beyond. That’s not noble, or brave, or tough; that’s stupid and stupid people who aren’t afraid to get hurt or die are dangerous,” she said looking at her steadily. “He’s just a human being. He doesn’t have special powers, he’s not a robot, and no matter how much training he’s had, the human body is designed to only be able to take so much damage before it shuts down. Pushing yourself to keep going when it is clearly telling you that you need to stop not only puts your life in jeopardy but the lives of the people around you as well. Your teammates depend on your reaction time, your ability to concentrate and keep your mind in the game. I wouldn’t even go out on patrol with a guy who had a bad head cold much less one who had an open bullet wound; not unless I had absolutely no other choice. Fear of pain and death aren’t signs of weakness, Felicity; it’s your brain telling you to stop because this is a bad idea.”

“I’m not fighting tomorrow, just going to a few meetings,” Felicity objected grumpily.

“Yeah, but you are going to need to keep your wits about you and if you’re more focused on your pain than what’s being said around the table then you could miss something. Your choice but if I were you I’d call in and I wouldn’t think twice about it,” Lyla shrugged as she sat down on the edge of the bed. “Hell, unless the world was ending and I was the only person who could stop it, if I were you I’d stay in bed for a week; maybe even two depending on what was on Netflix that month.”

“I can’t,” Felicity said as she tried to get comfortable. “I need to be there to make a strong showing but…” she let out a pent up breath, “maybe I’ll go home early. After all, I may be the CTO but you’re the COO and CFO so you’re the one who’s going to be carrying most of the weight at the meeting.”

“Fine, but if it gets to be too much—“

“I’ll say I had a bad falafel or something for lunch,” she grumbled.

Lyla leaned back against the headboard and looked down at her, “What about Ghost Fox; is she going to call in, too, or what?”

“I don’t know yet. It’s been over a week since Ghost Fox made an appearance so I probably should log in but I haven’t decided yet. I’ll wait and see how I feel tomorrow,” she said with a wince as she tried to roll over onto her side. “Damn it, there is no way I’m going to be able to sleep on my stomach. I’m a side sleeper; I just can’t get comfortable that way.”

“Until the meds kick in you aren’t getting comfortable no matter what,” Lyla said frankly.

“You are the least sympathetic person ever,” Felicity complained.

“Hey, I washed your hair and patched up your boo boos; that’s plenty sympathetic if you ask me. I even made you my nana’s homemade taco soup and jalapeno popper quesadillas. If it had been Helena she would’ve just tossed a tube of Ben Gay and a couple of takeout menus into the room and let you fend for yourself.”

“That reminds me, I really need to introduce you to the concept of matzo ball soup and grilled cheese,” she muttered to herself.

Lyla gave her a slightly wounded look, “I thought you said you liked it?”

“I did,” she assured her, “I’m just not sure that adding indigestion on top of everything else was a good idea.”

“You’ll live,” she said unsympathetically. “Quick question since we’re waiting for your meds to kick in anyway; when are you planning to come clean with Oliver about being Ghost Fox?”

Felicity paused at that, “Honestly? I don’t know. I might not tell him at all, to be frank about it. After all, it’s not really information he needs.”

“Right,” Lyla snorted.

“It’s not,” she insisted. “What will telling him accomplish?”

“It’ll probably piss him off, for one,” the other woman said wryly.

“Exactly, and I really don’t feel like dealing with it—especially since I know for a fact that without me he’d be dead by now,” Felicity grumbled.

“Yeah, but he’s not going to see it that way, he’s just going to see it as you lying to him for the last year and a half,” Lyla said with a sympathetic grimace.

“Which is bullshit!” Felicity exclaimed. “I saved his ass plenty of times so he has no right to accuse me of anything much less lying to him. I mean, does he go around telling people his secret identity? No. He even slept with people and never told them who he was.”

“You did marry him without telling him though,” the other woman pointed out.

“Yeah, but I didn’t sleep with him,” she emphasized. “He told Helena but he never told McKenna and he definitely hasn’t told Laurel so he has no room to talk. Also, this whole ‘marriage’ thing was his idea, not mine, so...”

Lyla threw her an incredulous look, “Okay, you have a point with the whole secret identity thing but we both know you had this whole marriage thing planned for a while now.”

“No, I had a plan, one of several, that were based around different scenarios one of which was that Oliver would approach my dad asking for a loan that he knew he couldn’t give him without there being some kind of marriage agreement attached beforehand.”

“You’re saying Oliver knew your dad would mention marriage before he approached him?” the other woman asked dubiously.

Felicity nodded, “Oliver was in Bratva long enough to know how things work in our world. When my dad brought up the marriage thing, Oliver didn’t even blink; he just sighed and said he and his mom would fly down the next week to work out the details.”

Her eyes narrowed at that, “Wait, we were in Gotham when Oliver talked to your dad so how do you know how he reacted?”

“He called from the lair workstation and when he made the call to my dad I got an alert so I turned on the cameras while I listened in,” she said blithely.

Lyla pointed at her, “If you do decide to confess the whole secret identity thing, do yourself a favor and leave that part out of it.”

“Hopefully that won’t be an issue since, like I said, I have enough on my plate right now without having to worry about Oliver’s manpain bullshit,” she grumped.

“No shit you have enough on your plate,” the other woman warned her. “Being CTO isn’t exactly 9 to 5, you know. It wouldn’t surprise me if between the two of us we’re in the office a good sixty to seventy hours a week, plus travel, business dinners, and you still have the network to take care of, Smoak Tech, and our own mission. Are you really going to try to juggle all that while leading a double life as a vigilante hacker, too? And how the hell are you planning on keeping this from Oliver if you don’t tell him? You have got to sleep sometime, Felicity. As it is you barely get five hours a night--I should know since I’m usually up all night with you, but something is going to have to give if you want this to work.”

Felicity carefully rolled onto some pillows and made a grateful noise as Lyla helped her adjust the heating pad before speaking, “First off, the network is taken care of. I put Sergei in charge and he should have no problems but, if he does, he knows how to contact me. The same goes for Smoak Tech; it should be fine but if anything comes up I can email, Skype, or if worse comes to worst, hop a plane and be there in less than eight hours. Besides, I have a plan in the works that should solve that.”

The corners of her mouth twisted into a sardonic grin, “Naturally, and what, pray tell, is this ‘plan’ of yours?”

“Well, it’s not a plan as much as it’s a possible plan,” Felicity said carefully.

“Yeah, and you know how much I love it when you get those so what is it?” she demanded in a no-nonsense tone.

“I’m saving it as a surprise,” she said carelessly.

“Oh fabulous, last time you had a plan like that we spent the night setting charges,” the other woman said grimly.

“Well, we’re not blowing anything up this time so you don’t have anything to worry about,” she assured her.

Lyla held up her finger and scowled at her, “For the record, whenever you get that look on your face and say things like, ‘don’t worry about it’, my ulcer starts acting up.”

“It’s probably from all that spicy food you eat,” she said in a deadpan.

“Hilarious,” the other woman returned sarcastically.

“Seriously, it’s nothing bad or potentially dangerous,” she promised. “Even if it doesn’t pan out though, now that we’ve entered into a limited partnership with QC and I finally managed to snag Curtis Holt out from under Palmer Tech, I can run them both at the same time. As for our mission…” she grimaced, “At the moment our mission is Oliver. More specifically, our mission is to keep Oliver alive and his family’s business intact until Anatoly can name him his heir in front of the Family of Eleven so, for now, I’m going to focus on QC and let Tommy do the majority of the heavy lifting when it comes to Team Arrow.”

Lyla raised a skeptical eyebrow at that, “So you’re giving up Ghost Fox and retiring from Team Arrow?”

“No, I can’t quit altogether,” she denied immediately, “However, Ghost Fox is going to let them know that with me being here in Starling, she needs to take over the facility in Russia. I’ll head over to Verdant within the next couple of days to upgrade the computers and install the new equipment and then, hopefully, Tommy will be able to handle it on his own. On a part time basis at least; I’ll still check in on them every once in a while but the new system is pretty user friendly. I designed it around the upgraded VR visor I made for him so he should have everything under control once he gets used to it.”

“One thing; when you say ‘you’ll check in on them’ do you mean ‘you’ or Ghost Fox?”

“Both,” she said with a frown, “Ghost Fox will check in every once in a while or handle coms if things get hairy but Felicity will be there as well whenever I need to add equipment or do something that Tommy can’t do.” At the look Lyla was giving her she rolled her eyes, “Yeah, I know, I’m talking in the third person again but you asked.”

“I didn’t ask you to talk like you have some kind of mental condition,” she tossed back. “So, since you’re planning on keeping this Ghost Fox persona in play, I take it that you’re never planning on letting the hubby know your secret identity? So what if Oliver needs to talk to both of you at the same time or what if he demands to speak to her in person? Are you just going to kill her off and tell him she died or something?”

“Maybe, I don’t know. And stop calling him that,” Felicity said tightening her lips in irritation. “It was annoying when Helena did it but when you call him that it just sounds creepy.”

“What else should I call him; ‘Mr. Queen’ perhaps?” Lyla asked teasingly.

She gave the other woman a longsuffering look, “You know why I did that.”

“Yeah, to keep him off balance while keeping your own head straight,” Lyla said easily. “It was a good strategy for the first official meet and greet but that’s not going to work for you long term and you know that—or at least you should know that. What are you going to do when Ghost Fox’s feelings for Oliver carry over into the daytime when Felicity Smoak is working cheek by jowl beside her new and very sexy ‘husband’--who, if I’m not mistaken, was throwing some very interested looks her way back in Russia?” she hummed smugly.

“That wasn’t interest, that was loathing,” Felicity returned flatly. “Oliver has zero interest in me as a human being. In fact, I don’t even register as ‘human’ to him at all; I was the human equivalent of that tiny little Styrofoam cup of coleslaw they throw in the box whenever you buy a two piece meal at KFC.”

Lyla laughed at that, “What?”

“Yeah, no one ever eats that crap; they just toss it in there like a punishment or something when all you really want is the chicken and mashed potatoes. So, yeah; I was human coleslaw,” she said disparagingly.

“That’s a healthy attitude to have about your new husband; ‘I’m his human coleslaw bride’,” she snorted. “Also that was not loathing, that was ‘eventually I’m going to have angry sex with you’ eyes.”

She groaned and shut her eyes tight, “I am not planning on having angry sex with Oliver Queen, okay? I’m not planning on having sex with him period!”

“You might not be planning on it but, trust me, angry sex isn’t something anyone ever ‘plans’ for. As my mother used to say, many a bundle of joy was conceived during unplanned angry, panty ripping, up against the wall sex so, if I were you, I’d get my birth control prescription renewed because, from what I hear, Oliver can get a little sloppy about condom usage,” she smirked.

Felicity let out a huff at that, “Oh, that was so wrong. Also, I think we may have been separated at birth because your mom sounds a lot like my mom.”

“True,” Lyla said letting out a small chuckle. “But back to the angry panty ripping sex; I would suggest that when you go to the pharmacy you also pick up a pack of condoms and keep them close. Not to impugn Oliver’s STD status but his mom did admit to paying off three girls who said he knocked them up. That tells me that this guy’s fascination with Russian roulette began way before he ever joined Bratva.”

“Oliver has been tested since returning from the island, many times in fact—not that I care because, again, I will not be sleeping with him,” she said firmly. “That said, I will remind you that while the old playboy version of Oliver Queen was something of a man slut, two of those girls were lying.”

“So his mother claimed but, even if she was telling the truth, one wasn’t. Speaking of, are we going to ignore the fact that Moira is totally planning on killing that girl sooner rather than later?”

“No.”

“So what’s the plan?”

“The plan?” she asked as she rolled back onto her stomach and tried folding her arms under her head experimentally.

“What are we going to do about your mother-in-law from hell?” Lyla asked pointedly. “You know the one that has legendary assassins who are allegedly immortal on speed dial?”

“I don’t know that we need to do anything yet.”

“Bullshit,” the other woman snorted. “You forget I’ve known you long enough to know that you had at least a half a dozen plans in place for dealing with Moira long before we even stepped into that meeting. I also know that you weren’t just testing Oliver when you dropped that bombshell about his kid; you were gauging Moira’s reaction and seeing how she handled Oliver.”

“True,” she agreed neutrally.

“So what’s our play?” Lyla asked curiously. “Are we going to protect the mother, allow Moira make her move and let the chips fall where they may, or take her out now quickly and cleanly and save ourselves a lot of trouble later? For the record, I vote for option number three because if she does kill this woman and gets hold of that kid then that will definitely complicate things. And I’m not just talking about the mission here; not only will you have to ‘really’ be married to Oliver for the rest of your life, but it also means that she’ll be looking to get rid of you next so that lifelong commitment you agreed to will be as short as possible.”

“She’s already looking for a way to get rid of me. In fact, I’m surprised that she hasn’t already phoned her good friend Ra’s al Ghul to see if he’d be willing to make her son into a widower.”

Lyla gave her a look, “How do you know she hasn’t?”

“Because I have a program monitoring all her incoming and outgoing communications and set up an alert that’s keyed to certain phrases and IP addresses,” she explained. “The League does almost all their internet based business through this really lame looking gardening blog. It’s encrypted but I broke through in less than five minutes then created a spyware program that records all of the chats and traces the user’s locations. I doubt she’ll go that route though since Moira is a creature of habit who doesn’t like getting her hands dirty, not when she has people for that sort of thing. She’s used the same information broker for years and, as it so happens, that guy uses our network to conduct his business. Either way, if Moira contacts the League on her own or asks him to set up a hit with me as the target, I’ll know about it.”

“Doesn’t mean she can’t change her habits or have one of her buddies from Tempest set the hit up for her,” the other woman pointed out.

Felicity gave up on trying to get comfortable and sat up with a wince, “True and, to be honest, I gave some serious thought to taking Moira out of play permanently,” she said not even bothering to be coy about it. “She’s dangerous, well-connected, and she knows how to manipulate Oliver a little too well for my tastes so I’d be an idiot if I didn’t consider it.”

“No kidding,” Lyla agreed wryly. “The Arrow might be a bad ass but Oliver Queen is a total mama’s boy. The question is, if you take her out, how are you going to keep him from going off the rails afterwards?”

“The only way I can which is by taking her out of play without killing her,” she said easily.

The other woman raised an eyebrow at that, “And how, pray tell, do you plan on doing that?”

“Already did it,” she said with a stifled yawn. “I have it on good authority that a guy named Mark Francis who’s the CFO of Kardak Holdings had dinner two nights ago with Moira and her ex-husband, Walter Steele, to discuss the possibility of her running for mayor.”

“Mayor?” she repeated dubiously. “Are you shitting me? Even if she did run there’s no way in hell she could get elected; not after the thing with the Undertaking and her son’s ex trying to implicate her as an accessory.”

“Maybe, maybe not. Moira said it herself; she’s political royalty so she’ll get at least some votes no matter what. Whether she wins or not isn’t the point though. The fact that someone wants her to run is.”

“So you’re distracting her from killing Oliver’s baby mama and complicating things for us by playing into her ego?” Lyla said slowly. “That’s a good idea but it won’t buy you a lot of time, especially when she doesn’t get elected because no one in their right mind would vote for that woman.”

“You’d be surprised,” she said wryly. “Besides, even if she doesn’t win, it’ll buy me a few months at least.”

“And then what?”

“And then I’m hoping that she’ll either have conveniently lost interest in Samantha Clayton and her son or that we’ll be able to find some other way to distract her.”

“Or we could just kill her and get it over with because you can’t seriously think that running for mayor will make her forget she has a grandson—or that her ‘beautiful boy’ is married to the ‘human equivalent of coleslaw’?” Lyla asked dubiously, “Nuh uh, no way; she is going to try to clear the board ASAP.”

“Trust me, I am very aware of what Moira is capable of and how she thinks, so while Moira would love to make Oliver a widower and his son an orphan, the only thing she wants more than that is to make everyone forget about her connection to the Undertaking. Laurel did a real number on her rep and she’s still reeling from it. She’s already been politely ‘asked’ to resign from several foundations because no matter what the DA said, everyone still knows or suspects that she was involved with Malcolm. It also won’t take long before someone points out that Robert and Moira were both natural blue-eyed blonds as is Oliver, while Thea is a brunette and looks exactly like both Tommy and his father right down to her blue-green eyes. Now, you could argue that she might be an ancestral throwback or point out that Oliver is more of an ash blonde and that Thea’s hair color is only a few shades darker than his own but, once those whispers start, it’s just a matter of time before someone brings up the fact that when Thea famously fell off her horse during a televised youth equestrian event, Malcolm had to rush back from a business trip so he and Tommy could donate blood because no one else in her immediate family shared her blood type.”

“And, once that happens, people will realize that Moira plus Malcolm equals a bouncing baby girl whose bio-dad is not Robert Queen,” Lyla concluded.

“Exactly,” Felicity nodded. “It’s why Moira paid off her OB/Gyn right after Laurel spouted off during that press conference. She knows how people in their circle like to talk and the DA is chomping at the bit for any excuse to go after her. She hated having to eat crow over that crap storm and Laurel especially would love the chance to be vindicated so she could get her old job back. Becoming mayor wouldn’t just give her leverage with the DA, but it would raise her TVQ with the public immensely. Trust me, there is nothing Moira wouldn’t do if it meant erasing all that from the public’s minds and burying it forever.”

“I’m still not buying it,” the other woman said wryly. “There is no way Moira could possibly think that anyone in this town will ever forget that she was almost indicted for terrorism and five hundred and two counts of murder. Or, for that matter, that Laurel Lance, her son’s ex-girlfriend and former ‘member of the family’, stood in front of a hundred news cameras and stated categorically that Moira was guilty and the only reason they couldn’t indict her was because someone, namely the ‘Hood’, destroyed the evidence.”

“Yeah, they really should’ve fired her for that alone…even though everything she said was true,” Felicity said slowly. “Still, Moira is all about image. It’s the reason why she dropped the multi-million dollar slander suit she threatened to bring against the DA’s office on the condition that they cleared her name of any connection to the Undertaking and agreed to have Laurel publicly censured.”

“Yeah, that didn’t help smooth things over with her son’s ex, that’s for sure,” Lyla said with a huff.

“Yeah, well, it was a stupid move on Laurel’s part,” she said dismissively. “While it might have been the truth, and while I can sort of admire her passion for justice, she should know by now not to let her mouth write checks her ass can’t cash.”

“That is true,” the other woman agreed. “Plus, you know that Donner guy totally put her up to that,” she said with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh yeah,” Felicity snorted. “I mean, it was obvious. That guy practically pushed her in front of the podium and handed her the mic then, the second the shit hit the fan, he threw her under the bus so he could further his own career at the expense of hers. That said, she was the one driving that bus so if she got screwed then she only has herself to blame for it.”

“That’s a little cold, don’t you think? Not to mention anti-feminist,” Lyla chastised lightly.

“How is expecting someone to take responsibility for their own actions ‘anti-feminist’?” she argued. “The way I see it, just because I’m a feminist and she’s a woman that does not mean I have to blindly support her or pretend like she’s a victim when she’s the one making her own decisions and choosing to act without thinking things through. And that press conference wasn’t a one-time deal either; she does it all the time,” she said with a grimace. “How many times did Dig and I wind up in a screaming match with Oliver because he abandoned the mission in order to chase after Laurel because she threw herself into a situation without taking into account the consequences of her actions? She’s an intelligent woman, okay? I’ll give her that and I’ll also give her credit for being a crusader for all things good in the world, but you also have to use some common sense every once in a while, too.”

“You’re still pissed about the Tommy thing,” Lyla said knowing.

“Goddamn right I’m pissed,” she huffed.

“But do you really have a right to be?” the other woman questioned.

“Yes, I do,” Felicity said firmly. “Lyla, I contacted both Laurel and her father after we found out that Merlyn was going to set off the Markov device. Oliver warned her, her father warned her, Tommy warned her; I warned her multiple times. Hell, I broke into every news station and radio broadcast and announced to the entire city that Malcolm Merlyn was the Dark Archer and that he was planning on setting off a device in the Glades and that people needed to evacuate immediately. I then picked up a cell phone and told her that I worked with the Arrow and warned her to stay out of the Glades,” she emphasized, “And yet, after all that, she still ran back there into a burning building, for files. Not people, not a box of kittens; files. Files that were already backed up to the Cloud, by the way.”

“Here we go,” Lyla muttered to herself but she ignored her.

“I mean, I get that she’s a lawyer and not a computer tech but she uses one every single day and she knows for a fact that when Tommy donated all that money and equipment to CNRI that everything they saved to the Cloud was backed up to an off-site server,” she let that sink in for a beat, “Why, in this day and age, would she think she had to save paper files? And even if there were no back-ups, what in those files was of such vital importance that it was worth risking her life and the lives of the people around her? She didn’t think, Lyla! She just ran inside with no thought to her own life or the lives of the emergency workers who were trying to save people and who would have to run in after her. It was like, because someone told her not to do it, she had to prove them wrong and do it anyway. Who does that?” she demanded. “Who says to themselves that, ‘Oh, you say I can’t run into this burning building while the entire city is crumbling all around me? Well, I’ll show you!’?“ she said mockingly causing the other woman to snicker.

“I know I shouldn’t laugh because it’s really not funny, but still…” Lyla said shaking her head.

“Yeah, I know, and it’s not funny; it’s a goddamn tragedy of epic proportions disguised as a brain fart,” Felicity said flatly. “That’s the only explanation for going after files during a citywide emergency that I can come up with but, whatever her reasoning was, all I know is that she certainly didn’t take Tommy’s safety into consideration and, as a consequence to that, he lost his eyesight and may never be able to regain full function of his legs again and yet she has never taken responsibility for any of that. Instead, she turned it around and decided that it was the ‘Hood’s’ fault for not saving him fast enough, or his team’s fault for not stopping both devices, or Tommy’s fault for going in after her to begin with. The one person she doesn’t blame is herself. Wait, I take that back,” she said holding up her hand, “She does sort of blame herself but only for the fact that she ‘hurt her friend’, Tommy, by sleeping with Oliver even though, according to her, it wasn’t really ‘cheating’ since they were already broken up for all of a week and, according to her, Tommy felt that ‘they should be together’.”

“Ouch,” Lyla said with a wince. “How do you know about that though? Did Oliver tell you?”

“No, she did,” she huffed. “Oliver still had his coms in when he rushed down there even though he was in civvies and both Tommy and I got to hear her entire speech.”

“Yikes,” the other woman breathed. “Now that’s cold.”

“Yeah, well, to be fair she had no idea that Tommy was listening in but still, it’s just one more example of how the women in Oliver’s life like to rewrite history to suit their own purposes so tell me again how me not letting her off the hook makes me a bad feminist. Where is the Gloria Steinem or Betty Friedan quote saying that I have to pretend that actions don’t have consequences just because the person making those decisions is a woman or that I have to pretend that the truth doesn’t exist just because someone who has a vagina can’t handle it?”

She shook her head and reminded herself that now was not the time to rant about Laurel. Still, she couldn’t help but add, “After all, the point of being a feminist is to promote equality between the sexes and I’d be saying the exact same thing if Laurel was a man.”

“Hey, you’re preaching to the choir here,” Lyla assured her. “It’s the reason why both Helena and I brought up the fact that, if we were going all in on this plan, Laurel had to be out of the picture. She’s too goddamn dangerous and too much of a distraction where Oliver’s concerned. Actually, she’s not all that great for Tommy’s mental state either, not to mention the threat she is to everyone else on the team including Johnny. By the way, what’s your plan for her because you and I both know that, no matter what Oliver says, the minute she ‘needs’ him again, he’ll go off-book to run after her.”

Felicity blew out a frustrated breath, “I don’t know. I had a few ideas but they’ve all fallen through so far.”

“Like what?” Lyla asked curiously.

“Tommy once mentioned that Laurel had a job offer from a firm in San Francisco that she turned down because her dad guilted her into staying in Starling City. There’s another firm near there in Coast City that handles a lot of our West Coast business--”

“Clark and King?” Lyla asked.

“Yeah,” she nodded. “I spoke to Bill Clark who said that Marcia, his law partner, helps fund a pro-bono firm very similar to CNRI there. They mostly handle stuff like bankruptcies and social security disability claims but Clark and King is a huge firm with a lot of different divisions and offices all across the country. They handle everything from corporate law to criminal law so he said she could get her an interview there with Mark Shaw, the head of their pro-bono team, or if she wanted to leave California altogether they had an opening for a junior associate in their criminal law firm in Metropolis.”

“And?” the other woman prompted.

“They both contacted her, said that she came highly recommended and asked if she’d like to send in a resume and come in for an interview, even offered to fly her up there on their dime, but she turned them down,” she shrugged.

“Maybe she thought it was fake?” Lyla offered. “After all, two law firms calling her out of the blue like that, offering to roll out the red carpet after she got fired and was nearly disbarred…?”

“It wasn’t completely out of the blue,” Felicity denied. “I had Bill call Joanne de la Vega, Laurel’s former co-worker, at her new firm, Wethersby & Stone. I heard from Tommy that Laurel had gone to Joanne to ask her for a job but that the firm wouldn’t hire her due to the fact that one of the partners was on the Bar Association committee and made it clear that, even though she managed to hang on to her license by the skin of her teeth, she would not be working for them or for any other firm associated with them, period. That was one of the reasons she made that scene in Verdant afterwards,” she said shaking her head and grimacing. “Anyway, Bill had done business with Ephraim Stone in the past so he built on that and brought up the pro bono firm Marcia King founded. He said that he’d heard the bad news that CNRI wouldn’t be reopened due to budget cuts and that Ephraim had mentioned to him that she was one of the people who ran it. He asked if she needed any help finding jobs for her clerical staff or knew of any talented attorneys who would be willing to relocate and Joanne immediately brought up Laurel’s name and recommended her for the position. I thought it was the perfect solution since her mom lives pretty close to there and she can’t find work here, but she told him that she wasn’t interested.”

“Huh,” she frowned, “So what are you going to do now?”

“Nothing, I did my part already,” Felicity told her. “I arranged for her to get a new start and salvage her career but she chose to remain here, presumably because she’s still clinging to the idea of eventually getting back with Oliver since she’s officially erased her relationship with Tommy from her mind and relegated him to the status of ‘friend’.”

“Yeah, you’re probably not wrong about that one,” Lyla said slowly, “Fuck if I’d go there after a guy cheated on me with my own sister but whatever. So what are you going to do if she and Oliver do fall back into bad habits?”

“He knows what I’ll do; I warned him of what could happen if she got too close, so the rest is up to him,” she shrugged slightly then winced as her muscles pulled uncomfortably in protest.

Lyla gave her a shrewd look, “I don’t buy that. You have got to have another plan in the works, admit it.”

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you but I don’t,” she said with another wince as she shifted on the bed. “Oliver’s choices are his own so if he wants to put his life on the line or jeopardize everything over this woman then I wash my hands of it.”

“Meaning what? That you’d kill her or have your dad order her to be taken out?” the other woman asked skeptically.

“No, of course not!” Felicity said with a withering glare, “Taking out Laurel wouldn’t accomplish anything except to completely alienate Oliver and, even if we pull out of the deal, we may still need him on our side later on. Even my dad knows that which is why the worst he’d ever do is revoke Oliver’s position as a captain and exile him from Bratva; what he wouldn’t do though is kill Laurel. However, just because my dad won’t make a move against her, that doesn’t mean the other brothers wouldn’t. Oliver knows that and he also knows that if he does choose to go there that we’ll pull our financial support and I’ll dissolve the marriage. Once that happens, while Anatoly wouldn’t go after her, he also wouldn’t protect her and that once Oliver loses his position within Bratva, there will be no way he could pull rank on the people who would.”

“Yeah, but that was just a bluff, right?” Lyla asked uncertainly. “You wouldn’t actually divorce him or let your dad kick him out of the brotherhood, would you? At least not until you had the Calculator in Bratva custody?”

“In a heartbeat,” she said flatly, “When I criticized Laurel for not accepting the consequences for her actions that applies to everyone, not just her. Oliver is a grown man who has had ample warning about what will happen if he breaks our agreement and you should know by now that I never bluff. I meant what I said at that meeting; if Oliver chooses to jeopardize the lives of his team and family over Laurel then I will have no other choice but to pull out.”

“Even if it means taking a huge financial loss and possibly giving up on finding the Calculator?” she pressed.

“There are other, less messy, ways to get what we want even if it takes longer to get it and it’s worth the financial hit if it means keeping ourselves and the brotherhood safe,” Felicity told her. “Besides, in order for this to work eventually Oliver is going to have to be told why we’re doing this; you know it and I know it. As much as I’d like to keep the truth to myself, eventually he’s going to move beyond his own immediate concerns and start asking questions like why I want to get to the Family of Eleven and what I hope to accomplish when, as a woman, I can’t serve on the council. While Oliver may be more than a little self-involved at times, he’s not stupid. He’ll realize sooner or later that, even if I can get him to the Family of Eleven in hopes of using him as my puppet, I have to realize that he doesn‘t want to become pakhan much less be part of a worldwide criminal conspiracy. He’ll also realize that, even though we carefully went through everything at that meeting, we created a pretty big loophole for him to find by emphasizing the fact that, once all the papers were signed, there would be no going back and adding things later.”

“The loophole being in regards to his continued position within Bratva and the fact that neither you nor your dad ever made him agree to become Anatoly’s heir or join the council in the first place,” the other woman supplied.

“Exactly,” she nodded. “Once that starts rolling around his brain, he’ll start to wonder how I plan on using what amounts to a one-shot longshot to my advantage and ask what my angle is but if I can’t trust him to use the right head in the field, then I can’t trust him to help us either making this whole plan is a bust from the get-go.”

“So, in a way, washing your hands of the situation and letting Oliver handle Laurel is a test to see if you can trust him without exposing yourself or your plans?” the other woman opined.

“Basically.”

“See, I knew you had to have another angle,” Lyla said smugly. “There is no way you would simply give up just because she turned down one job offer unless you had a reason for it.”

“Fine, you win; you had it all figured out because you know me better than anybody else, happy now?” Felicity said sarcastically.

“Aww, you do love me!” the other woman cooed. “We should get matching tattoos or one of those break apart heart necklaces that say ‘Best Friends Forever’!”

“Hilarious, now back to what we were saying before all this Laurel talk led us on a wild goose chase,” she grumbled with a dismissive gesture, “Moira really isn’t all that hard to figure out. You heard her in the meeting; she was less concerned about the fact that her son dresses up in a hood at night and kills people than she was about allowing a woman into her family who might not be up to her social standards,” she said dryly. “She even referred to her son’s mission as a ‘hobby’ for God’s sake.”

Lyla raised her eyebrows at that, “Yeah, that was definitely fucked up. I’m just glad I wasn’t drinking when she said that or I probably would’ve spewed tea all over her for that one.”

“You and me both,” Felicity agreed ruefully. “Still, as big of a snob as Moira is, that’s not what really drives her. Even when she joined Malcolm Merlyn’s Undertaking, it wasn’t about money or class warfare, it was about protecting her family and their legacy. She also shares this kind of selective amnesia with her son, the same one he shares with Laurel. They all tend to want to forget things when they become inconvenient and they all like to rewrite history to suit their own egos so having an illegitimate Queen heir and his mother turn up out of the blue would be fairly inconvenient, wouldn’t you say?” she asked knowingly. “It’s the reason why you and I both know that, as it stands, Samantha Clayton has a big huge countdown clock hanging over her head. However, now that Moira has the opportunity to change her brand and rehabilitate her image, as long as Samantha stays on her side of the fence and doesn’t come looking for a hand out, I think that she could easily be convinced to let sleeping dogs lie.”

“Yeah, but you can’t know that for sure and that’s a huge gamble to take with an innocent woman’s life while simply killing Moira would make a hell of a lot more sense,” Lyla pointed out. “Moira is from a very privileged background. She even referred to herself as ‘royalty’ for Christ’s sake and did it with a straight face,” she said with a meaningful look, “That tells me that this is a woman who honestly believes that she’s above the law and that no one can touch her.”

“True, and me covering for her by erasing all the evidence that Malcolm Merlyn set up to implicate her in his crimes probably didn’t help matters any but I’m willing to roll the dice and say that there’s no way Moira would risk another scandal while running for office and having a girl turn up dead and her kid being Oliver’s would definitely set tongues to wagging. Same thing if she convinced Oliver to take her to court; as long as Moira is in the running for mayor she won’t pursue Samantha Clayton or her son and, even if she loses the race, she’ll be still riding that high of being the almost and possible future mayor of Starling,” she said with a smirk. “After all, political races are like opening a bag of chips; you can’t stop at just one. Once Moira catches the political bug, win or lose, she won’t want to risk ruining her reputation again by stirring up trouble.”

“What if you’re wrong?” she asked again. “You’ll give it another shot by offering to fund her race for the senate instead?”

“Why not?” she shrugged, “Hell, if it will keep her distracted and out of my hair, I’ll keep dumping money into her war chest until she can buy her way into the White House. God knows I have plenty of cash and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s money well spent if it gets me what I want.”

“What about Oliver? Even if you do succeed in distracting his mom, he’s not going to simply forget he has a kid out there.”

“I know Oliver,” she said dryly. “He might be curious about the boy but he’s also looking for any excuse he can find to avoid dealing with all of this.”

Lyla appeared to absorb that for a moment before speaking again, “Okay, it’s a good plan but how do you know she’ll take this guy up on his offer? After all, Laurel turned down the job offer you arranged for her, what’s to stop Moira from doing the same?”

In response Felicity reached for her phone and handed it to Lyla who read the text she showed her out loud.

Dinner went well, M & W on board—Mark.” She looked up at her, “I take it that ‘Mark’ is ‘Mark Francis’ and I’m assuming, therefore, that he’s in the brotherhood and that Kardak Holdings is a Bratva front?”

“Mark isn’t Bratva but he is a Bratva associate and loyal employee. As for Kardak Holdings, it’s mostly just a clearing house for Bratva funds but they have a lot of pull with the local government. Technically though, it’s a subsidiary of K&S Investments.”

“Which means you own it,” Lyla said slowly. “So how long have you been planning this? You couldn’t have pulled all this off in less than a month.”

“I’ve known for a while that my dad wanted to arrange something between me and Oliver and that it would be a good idea to have a few fail safes in place, just in case.”

“And just how long have you known about your dad’s ‘plans’ for you and Oliver?” she asked her.

“Almost five years, give or take,” Felicity frowned. “Well, more like four and a half.”

“Four and a half years?” Lyla repeated in disbelief, “And what about Samantha Clayton; how long have you known about her?”

“About the same,” she admitted.

Lyla stared at her blankly, “Okay, you’re going to have to start giving with some details here because you never told me this part.”

“I told you some of it.”

“You told me that your sperm donor was some kind of mastermind for hire and that you were after him because he basically signed you and your mom’s death warrants when you were a kid. What you didn’t tell me is that you’d been planning on bringing Oliver into this for almost five years now or that you’d had eyes on him and his family that entire time.”

“That’s because I didn’t plan on bringing him into this, not at first anyway,” she corrected her, “All I did was cover my bets just in case.”

She stared at her incredulously, “Cover your bets? God, you really are from Vegas, aren’t you?”

“Damn straight,” Felicity said with a grin before sobering slightly, “When my father first returned from the island, he told me what happened there and about Oliver Queen. It was also around that time that the Calculator popped back up on the Bratva’s radar but, before dad could get to him, he was deemed ‘untouchable’ by the Family of Eleven. Neither I nor my dad had any idea that Oliver was going to pop up in Russia out of the blue or that he’d be joining the brotherhood, much less that we’d be ‘married’ five years later. At that point all my father wanted to do was distract me by saying that he felt he owed Oliver a blood debt then asked me to try tracking him down.”

“Distract you from what? Tracking down the Calculator?” she asked curiously.

“Among other things,” she said wryly. “Going after the Calculator in defiance of the Family of Eleven was a big part of it though. I knew what my dad was doing, of course. Still, as long as Noah, or whatever his real name is, was being hidden from sight by the Family of Eleven I couldn’t do anything about that anyway so I decided to take my dad’s little game of ‘Where’s Waldo’ and show him what I could do when I was feeling really motivated.”

“He didn’t already know?” Lyla asked with a snort.

“Not then, no,” she said shaking her head. “He knew I was a genius but you have to remember that I had just turned seventeen when my dad disappeared and I was only a few months shy of eighteen when we finally located him and the other survivors on Lian Yu. On my dad’s orders, the men scoured the island for any sign of Oliver but shortly after landing there they got word that ARGUS had troops en route so they had to abandon the search. When my dad got back to Russia he immediately wanted to start the search again but things were kind of…unstable within the organization so he set me on his trail instead.”

“Unstable?” she repeated, “How so?”

“At that time my father wasn’t pakhan,” she said shifting once more to get comfortable. “He was a captain who occupied one of the two spots closest to the then pakhan known as the ‘two spies’.”

“Like Béka, that Hungarian guy who calls himself your dad’s ‘Eye of Providence’…whatever that means?” Lyla asked.

“No, Béka doesn’t hold an ‘official’ title within Bratva. He’s kind of my dad’s sleeper agent,” Felicity said wryly. “Everyone outside of our intimate circle thinks Béka is just my dad’s personal chef so that he can keep an eye on everyone and everything without anyone noticing, hence his title, ‘the Eye of Providence’ or the pakhan’s ‘all-seeing eye’.”

“That explains a lot,” Lyla said shaking her head slightly. “I was wondering why he spent so much time in the kitchen.”

“Yeah, well, he likes to cook and also happens to have a thing for our housekeeper, Galina so he spends a lot of time in there. He also makes a mean Chicken Paprikas with Homemade Spaetzle,” she shrugged. “Anyway, the ‘two spies’ are basically the two highest ranking captains under the pakhan and the other guy, Kovar, turned out to be the one who ‘arranged’ for my father to be lost at sea in the first place. We had no proof at the time but this other man’s ultimate goal was to first eliminate my father and take over his organization and then to overthrow the pakhan—not that the old pakhan was such a peach either,” she said quickly. “His name was Gregor and he was dirty as hell, too. In fact, he went from being my dad’s friend who protected us and later ordered him to kill Kovar, to striking a deal with that guy to take my dad out instead. Back then though Gregor was still acting as our shield and was willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that my father wasn’t the one running things as long as I kept the money rolling in. Time was running out though because Kovar was spreading rumors about Anatoly being either dead or missing and kept making overtures about wanting to meet up with my dad to discuss a marriage between our two families. And, to add more crap to the already heaping crap pile, another high ranking member of the Bratva, a captain named Viktor Dopud, decided to get in on the action and made ‘inquiries’ as well.”

“So these guys both wanted to marry you?” Lyla said in disgust. “Wouldn’t they have been around your father’s age if they were both captains?”

“Actually Viktor was a couple of years younger than my dad while Kovar was ten years older. Either way it was gross, especially since I’d never laid eyes on either one of them in my life,” she said mirroring the other woman’s expression.

“Then why were they both asking about you? I get that Kovar was trying to draw out your dad but what was Dopud’s deal?””

“He hated Kovar and wanted to piss him off,” she grimaced. “I guess he thought giving him some ‘romantic’ competition would get under his skin but it didn’t work. Kovar didn’t actually give a crap about marrying me; like you said, he just wanted to flush my dad out to see if he really was alive and, if he wasn’t, he wanted to ‘inherit’ control of his organization through me. Dopud cared even less about me than Kovar did. He hated women, hated foreigners--especially Americans, so the last thing he’d want is an American wife who was educated there and raised with American sensibilities. Neither of them saw me as a human being or even knew what I looked like, what my skills were; nothing. I doubt they even knew my name, just that Anatoly had a daughter who was of ‘marrying age’,” she said rolling her eyes. “All they cared about was using me as a weapon against the other; Kovar wanted to use me against my dad so he could seize control of the information network and become pakhan, while Viktor just wanted to be an asshole. From what I hear Kovar was basically a butcher who got off on hacking people to ribbons, and Dopud ran the local fighting pits and brothels if that tells you something about his character, so I’m pretty sure that even if I had been forced to marry one of them that I wouldn’t have survived past the honeymoon. Still, both men were starting something of a bidding war and demanding to speak with Anatoly on the matter so the pakhan came to me in secret and basically told me that my dad needed to either show up at the next meeting of the Brother’s Circle or he’d have no choice but to declare him dead and appoint another captain in his place which would be either Kovar or Dopud. Once that happened then they would basically ‘inherit’ me and my mom and, since we had no male relatives to protect us, they could do whatever they wanted with us. Either way I was screwed; literally,” she said darkly.

“What about Misha and Yuri along with your uncles?” Lyla asked with a frown. “Couldn’t they have stopped them?”

She shook her head, “Both Pyotr and Alexi were in the States and the boys were there as well; Misha was away studying at Harvard with Daniil and Iosef at NYU. Yuri lived with us but he was way too old to fight a war against his pakhan and two of the most powerful captains in the organization next to Anatoly. Alexi was already on the outs with Gregor which is why he was stuck in Starling running a Bratva chop shop to begin with. It was basically a punishment. I’m not sure what happened exactly but, instead of promoting Alexi to captain, he basically demoted him then exiled him to Starling instead. Yuri could’ve sent for Pyotr and the boys, however no one in Russia would take his claim to Anatoly’s place seriously since he’d been living in the US for decades. Our only option then would’ve been to leave Russia and go to Gotham to live with Pyotr or join Alexi and his family in Starling City but it’s unlikely they would’ve given us that choice, especially since they already put in a bid to marry me and therefore inherit Anatoly’s seat through ‘legitimate’ means.”

“And you were only seventeen when this was going on?” she asked horrified. “Jesus, you must’ve been terrified.”

“Not terrified; pissed,” Felicity said firmly. “This wasn’t the 1800’s and there was no way in hell I was going to marry some old man at seventeen just because my dad’s boss ordered me to. Since I was no longer worried about Kovar or anyone else finding out my dad was missing, I threw everything I had behind finding him. In the meantime I made plans to blow the whole thing up just in case I didn’t find him—and by ‘blow up’ I mean blow the fuckers up, as in sky high,” she stated emphatically.

“Literally?” Lyla asked carefully. “You were going to kill Kovar and Dopud?”

“Oh I wasn’t just going to kill them, I was going to kill everybody,” she chuckled darkly. “Remember, not too many people in Bratva knew what I could do, most still don’t, and even the ones who think they know are just fooling themselves because I have always been my dad’s secret weapon,” she said firmly. “My dad has been grooming me since I was seven years old to help him lead Bratva so, while I may have looked like a pretty little daddy’s girl to a guy like Gregor and the rest of them, what they forgot was that my ‘daddy’ was Anatoly Knyazev, the KGBeast; the most feared assassin the Bratva has ever known, so the idea of killing a bunch of guys in order to save myself and my mom really didn’t faze me.”

Felicity looked at her, “I know you think I don’t have a soldier’s instincts but, while I may not be the kind of person who can shoot first and think later, that doesn’t mean I’m afraid to get bloody. One of the first things my dad taught me was this Tolstoy quote, ‘Which is worse? The wolf who cries before eating the lamb or the wolf who does not?’,” she paused for a moment. “In other words, it doesn’t matter whether you feel guilty for taking a life or don’t feel guilty about taking a life, the wolf has to eat so the lamb has to die just like you have to do whatever it takes to survive even if that means killing someone else. Even if I did feel bad about killing a bunch of people my back was to the wall so I was fully prepared to hack a drone on a kill chain and take out the whole bunch of them at the meeting of the Brother’s Circle if I couldn’t get my dad there in time. That’s not an exaggeration either. After all, I knew when the meeting was, where it was being held, and who would be there. I even had the codes for a Russian drone at a base near Krasnoyarsk where the meeting was being held on standby. I planned on hacking the drone, sending it straight to the location to drop its payload then, before the smoke cleared and the Russian military caught on to the fact that one of their birds went rogue, I was going to shut the rest of Bratva down so that no one could ever come after us. I could do it, too. I ran the network; that meant I could choke out their money sources, drain their accounts, and expose the entire organization with just the click of a mouse. I was then planning on placing the official blame for the attack on Serbian terrorists while leaving a breadcrumb trail that led straight to the Tambov Gang’s doorstep. They would’ve believed it because, even though we were in an official ‘cease fire’, the Tambov’s had been trying to muscle in on the Bratva for years. After that match was lit, I was then planning on taking my mom out of Russia to our safe house in Switzerland where no one would ever find us. Luckily for the captains attending that meeting though, just before the clock ran out, I managed to find a clue about where my dad was when I happened to hack into ARGUS.”

“You just ‘happened’ to hack into ARGUS?” Lyla said dubiously.

“I was ‘borrowing’ one of their spy satellites to look for my dad and noticed that they had it trained on a little no name island in the North China Sea. I got curious so I did some digging and that’s when I found files on ARGUS’s operations there along with the names of my dad and several other people. It turns out that Kovar turned my dad over to ARGUS and they were keeping him there illegally. The plan was to bring down a plane carrying the head of the Triad and then have my dad and a high ranking Chinese general by the name of Yeo Fei arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism. Not only would it have caused an international incident between the US and both the Russian and Chinese governments, but it would’ve sparked off a war between the Bratva and the Triad. We got him and the other survivors out before ARGUS could stage their ‘rescue’ and he came home just in time to show the other captains he was very much alive and to officially turn down both Dopud and Kovar’s offers of marriage,” she said with a humorless smile.

Lyla shook her head, “And how did they react to that?”

“Not well and it sparked off something of a mini war between the three of them so my dad sent me and my mom away and, let me tell you, my mom was not happy about that,” she said ruefully. “Her loud voice came out during that discussion big time. After all, my dad had been missing for the better part of a year, came home weighing almost thirty pounds lighter and covered in fresh burn wounds and scars, and the first thing he did after he hugged us was send us both packing for another seven months. Both of us wanted to stay and help but my dad insisted. He said it was too dangerous for us there and he needed to know we were safe so he could do what he needed to do. So, after a lot of arguing, my mom agreed to leave Russia and spend the next several months holed up in their home in Switzerland while I went back to the States to get my MBA at Harvard. Dad wanted me to go with her to Switzerland so it would be harder for them to find me but I argued that if mom and I both disappeared that it might tip Kovar off. Besides, I was safe in the States. My dad arranged for his old friend, Pyotr Leonov, to provide me with protection while I was there so I practically had an entire army of huge hulking Russian dudes with tattoos guarding me 24/7.”

“Pyotr Leonov?” she said slowly. “As in 'Uncle Pyotr'? So is he really your uncle or just a family friend?” she asked.

“He’s actually a cousin technically but Russians tend to mix things up that way. Basically any older male relative or family friend is either an 'uncle' or a 'grandfather' which is why Yuri is 'grandpa' or 'dyed' to everyone here and Ivan is my 'uncle' even though we aren't really related. Pyotr is Yuri's son and Misha’s dad and Alexi Leonov is his older brother. Alexi is also business partners with Pyotr and, in addition to running his own crew here, he provides us with men to watch over Kardak’s construction sites and act as enforcers and bodyguards whenever the need arises. Oh, and if you think Alexi and his crew look intimidating, you should’ve seen Pyotr’s guys,” she smirked, “Let me tell you, when you’ve got two guys who look like they pick their teeth with the bones of Hell’s Angels sitting beside you, no one pesters you for your notes or argues about stuff like seating assignments.”

“Okay, but if you were in Boston and Oliver was still missing and presumed dead, then why bother to look for him much less keep tabs on his family?” the other woman asked with a frown.

“What else was I going to do? My dad had pretty much shut me out of any and all Bratva business because he didn’t want anyone coming after me so I was feeling pretty useless, not to mention angry and frustrated because I wanted to be by my dad’s side and I couldn’t. My only friends were a bunch of Bratva soldiers who scared away anyone else my own age, especially boys, and who were more interested in watching the game or playing cards than keeping me entertained. Therefore, because I wasn’t allowed to help him the way I wanted to and couldn’t distract myself with normal stuff most college kids get to experience like dating or going to parties, I concentrated instead on figuring out what happened to his friend. Besides, I felt like I owed ARGUS some payback for keeping my dad in that hellhole for months so I wanted to take them down as well. I suspected that if he were still alive then he was in their custody but I couldn’t find anything. Whatever they had him involved in it was completely off book and since I was getting no love there, I looked first into Oliver’s background and then into his mother’s background and financial records hoping to find some kind of preliminary paper trail. After all, if he was alive and not in ARGUS hands then he needed money, right? That’s when I first stumbled across the Tempest accounts.”

Felicity offered her a level look, “Mind you, at the time I didn’t know what they were; I just assumed it was Moira’s ‘rainy day fund’ she used whenever she needed to pay someone off like a cop to overlook her son’s partying or to hire someone to get rid of her husband’s girlfriends. In fact, when I found the references to Samantha Clayton and saw the amount of money written out to her I assumed that she was one of Robert’s girls who was being paid off in order to avoid a sexual harassment or paternity suit, possibly both, until I looked closer and realized that, while she’d had no discernable contact with Robert, she did go to school with Oliver. I also noted that the first check Moira had written out to her coincided with her one visit to Starling City around ten weeks after he enrolled in Stanford and that the second check was uncashed but postdated so that the payout would fall around the same time that she gave birth to her son. Even if I hadn’t hacked into her attorney’s firm and found all the NDA’s and agreements she signed, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that Oliver had gotten her pregnant and that his mother paid her off. What I didn’t know at the time was whether or not Oliver wanted to be part of his son’s life since she only made one phone call to his home after leaving Starling and they had no further contact since she gave birth after the Gambit sank. All I knew was that William existed and that Oliver was most likely aware of the fact that he was his father since she made several calls to his cell phone just before cashing the first check. Still, knowledge is power and I knew that if Oliver was alive then he might be tempted to see his son so I had Kardak Holdings hire her. I needed to keep a close eye on her and I figured that would be the easiest way to do it.”

“You thought buying an entire company was an easy way to keep an eye on Oliver’s baby mama?” the other woman asked skeptically.

“I didn’t have to buy it, I already owned it, and Kardak Holdings was never a real company,” she told her. “It was a shell corps based outside of Greece that the Bratva used for purchasing property and moving funds around.”

“And no one ever caught on to the fact that it wasn’t a real company?” Lyla asked with a frown.

“Why would they?” she asked her. “The laws regulating US real estate deals are virtually non-existent.”

“What about Homeland and the Patriot act? Since 9/11 the US government requires mortgage lenders to do thorough background checks on their customers and report all bank transactions above five thousand dollars or more,” she pointed out.

Felicity smirked at that despite her discomfort, “Yes, but money launderers don’t borrow money for mortgages, they pay in cash. Not only that but LLC’s aren’t required to disclose their ownership to anyone thanks to deregulation and, as a bonus, real estate and insurance brokerages can legally declare themselves to be private ‘banks’. In 2008, bank specialists in New York estimated that out of a total of 1,350 banks located in Gotham and throughout the greater New York area, only three hundred of them were ‘real banks’ and that the rest were, and I quote, ‘little more than treasuries for big businessmen or entities engaged in criminal activity such as money laundering’. They even went so far as to refer to the Bratva as the Bank of Gotham’s ‘local partners’,” she smirked at that.

“I take it that’s true?” Lyla asked wryly.

“Not at all,” Felicity assured her. “Those figures are way off. It’s got to be at least…” she mulled that over, “1, 450 Bratva controlled banks located throughout Gotham and the greater New York area.”

She chuckled at that and shook her head, “Damn, why hasn’t your buddy, Batman, done something about that by now? Or, I don’t know, the federal government?”

“Well, in Batman’s case, he tends not to care too much about white collar crime,” she said dismissively. “He’s more of a two fisted type who prefers his criminals a little more earthy and low rent. I could go into this whole psychological profile I have of the Bat starting with the fact that, like Oliver, he’s a rich, white, male born into privilege so, even as he battles for the little guy, he still sees the world from an ivory tower prospective. Then again, it could be the fact that he uses the same loopholes to launder money for his mission so busting us would mean exposing himself.”

“Interesting take on that,” the other woman said slowly.

Felicity grinned, “Thank you. As to your other question, the reason the feds don’t jump in and arrest everybody is because what we’re doing is perfectly legal, remember?” she said pointedly. “The real question you should be asking is why is it legal in the first place and the answer is because, even though we take plenty with one hand, we also give back with the other. Believe it or not, not all crime is bad for the economy. Yes, we’re responsible for the loss of billions of dollars each year to private corporations and other institutions but,” she began to tick off her points with her fingers, “we’re driving the market by buying and renovating houses during an economic downturn, we renovate those houses creating jobs and therefore putting money back into the local economy, and we turn those houses and tenement buildings into everything from low cost housing to high-end condos giving people decent places to live and increasing property values. Why would they want to mess with us and I haven’t even mentioned yet the fact that we pay taxes on all of it.”

“Yeah, but even you aren’t comfortable with everything the Bratva is into,” Lyla said pointedly. “The drugs, the prostitution…” she said leadingly.

She shifted in the bed once more, “Okay, you have a point. I never said the brotherhood was straight out of Disney and if the government shut down the Bratva, yeah; you’d get some hookers and drugs off the street, but the vast majority of our current money comes from gray market banking and real estate so they turn a blind eye for the most part. There’s a reason why you rarely hear the Bratva mentioned in the news and why you hardly ever hear about a brother getting busted. The last time the FBI went hard after the Bratva was in the 90’s with Semion Mogilevich and his crew and where are they now, I ask you? In Moscow having dinner once a week with Putin at his private supper club,” she said pointedly. “They even arrested him once for tax evasion in 2008 even though he’d just stolen over $10 billion dollars in a banking scheme and was accused of running a murder for hire ring as well as engaging in both drug and human trafficking. They then immediately let him go with their apologies saying, ‘the charges against him are not of a particularly grave nature’ and never once attempted to add charges of either murder or trafficking, nor did they bring it up again for almost a year,” she let that sink in a moment. “The next time he showed up on the FBI’s Most Wanted list was in October of 2009 and that’s when they dropped the ‘tax evasion’ angle and tried charging him for crimes ranging from fraud to human trafficking to murder for hire. He was never arrested or formally charged though and by December of 2015 he was permanently removed from the list because the FBI stated that he ‘no longer met list criteria’ and, in spite of the warrants issued against him, they are fully aware of the fact that he still lives freely in Moscow and have never once tried to come after him. Now you tell me; if we were as big a threat to the US economy and national security as all these law enforcement and government talking heads claim, then why haven’t they done anything to stop us?”

“Okay, you got me there,” Lyla conceded reluctantly.

“You see things from a law enforcement point of view and I get that,” Felicity said waving her off. “You’re not wrong; we are the bad guys, but they’re the ones giving us the opportunity to be the bad guys because the same loopholes we use are being used by the supposed ‘good guys’, too. The whole deregulation and private banking thing? That’s a huge loophole that the Bratva and other groups have been able to take advantage of—especially when the whole transaction is just one LLC with undisclosed ownership using their own private bank to buy property from another LLC with undisclosed ownership and paying with cash. In this case, instead of running smack dab into the Patriot Act and SWIFT regulations, we’re disguising that by buying and selling real estate using cash and reporting the proceeds as profit.”

Lyla nodded, “Okay so, getting back to how all that affects us and our thing, K&S, meaning you, ‘buy’ Kardak, then Kardak ‘buys’ some property that they sell Smoak Tech, and then Smoak Tech sells that back to K&S or some other shell corp K&S owns, but no one actually really buys anything because it’s all the same company.”

“Exactly,” she nodded, “And, in the meantime, the money keeps ‘moving’ from one private bank to another when, really, all you’re doing is adding to what’s already there, and the price tag goes up enabling us to launder even more money. Also, keep in mind, real estate has an arbitrary value. If I wanted to, I could buy an acre of worthless swamp land, slap a two million dollar price tag on it, and it would be perfectly legal. If someone then wants to buy that swamp for what I’m asking for then that’s perfectly legal as well. Then, after they buy it, they could slap a four million dollar price tag on that land and sell it to someone else and no one would say ‘boo’. Truth be told, it’s even neater than hiding the money in an offshore account which is why the Australian government recently tried to create a new government commission to stop ‘gangsters’ like us from purchasing property along the Gold Coast but even they admitted it’s a futile effort. After all, there’s no way to trace the sale if the buyer is paying cash and using an LLC to cover their tracks. If they really wanted to stop us then all they’d have to do is change the law. Same thing in this country; half the high rises in Miami alone were bought and built by cocaine money coming in through Columbia and it’s been that way since the ‘70’s so this is not a new concept,” she reasoned. “And while the SEC and IRS require due diligence in looking at the source of funds when it comes to business transactions like investments or mortgage lending practices, when it comes to cash transactions involving real estate they’re a bit more…flexible, especially if you’re over-reporting the value of property and thus paying more taxes as a result instead of under-reporting the value to get away with paying less.”

“Huh, that’s pretty slick actually,” she mused. “It’s kind of like the real estate version of a shell game.”

“Exactly. Technically though I didn’t ‘buy’ Kardak and open an office here and in Central City to launder money, I did it so I could keep an eye out for Oliver as a favor to my dad,” Felicity explained. “It’s also not like it was a huge investment on my part. Officially it’s a real estate brokerage and investment company specializing in corporate spaces and construction. Mark Francis was already working with some of our construction companies as the head money man so I simply ‘hired’ him on as Kardak’s CFO then consolidated our various real estate holdings and construction companies under one banner.”

“And again, no one noticed?” the other woman pressed.

“Why would they? Big companies swallow up little companies all the time,” she shrugged. “Besides, while some of these companies were ‘real’, most of them only existed on paper so having Kardak ‘buy’ them then reduce their nonexistent workforce and redistribute their nonexistent holdings only increased their legitimacy. I was even able to thank Leonov and his crew by creating pension funds for them and was able to send out severance checks to our ‘laid off’ workers who could then turn around and claim unemployment and social security benefits for a job they never had in the first place. It didn’t even take all that long to get it done. We already had corporate offices set up as a front to run the various ‘businesses’; all we really needed to do was file some paperwork and buy a new sign. Once that was done, I made sure Mark headhunted Samantha to work as a real estate broker for our brand new Central City branch then instructed him to open an account with Starling National and invest company funds in Queen Consolidated in order to get close to Moira and her new husband.”

“So what it all comes down to, after all that, is that the Bratva is funding Moira’s campaign for mayor,” she said drolly.

“Uh huh, and no matter how much she winds up costing me, I’ll make it all back and then some,” she said with a grin. “Besides the obvious profits we get through money laundering there’s also government subsidies, tax breaks, the rent we collect, along with the money coming in from our legitimate companies. We’re even in the middle of rebuilding several tenement buildings in the Glades that will be used for low-income housing and are subsidized by the federal government so, not only are we getting paid to launder that money, but we’re getting paid by the government to do it, then paid again after the building is completed through both tax breaks and HUD. And every bit of it is perfectly legal,” she emphasized. “Not one law is being broken.”

Lyla shook her head, “Damn girl, you really are something else. You know, I knew about some of this but ARGUS doesn’t usually deal with this kind of stuff. We leave stuff like what you’re talking about to the FBI while we concentrate on…?” she squinted slightly as she searched for the right words.

“Bigger things like undermining the economy of other countries and preventing them from smuggling nuclear weapons into the US?” Felicity interjected wryly.

“Basically, yeah,” the other woman shrugged. “But now I can’t help but wonder if ARGUS should’ve been focusing their attention a little closer to home because, damn; you are terrifying, you know that?”

“I try,” she said rearranging her pillows again. “You know, I think I need another pill because the one you gave me isn’t working.”

“You don’t need another pill,” Lyla said firmly. “It’ll kick in soon; you just have to be patient. I swear, one minute you’re acting like John Wayne and trying to tough it out and the next minute you’re asking me to help you OD,” she snorted. “In the meantime, when are you planning on telling Oliver about all this?”

Felicity looked at her askance, “Why would I tell Oliver about any of this?”

“I mean, maybe not about funding his mom’s campaign or about your whole money laundering thing but you are going to tell him you’re Ghost Fox, right?” she asked curiously.

Felicity let out a breath and sighed, “Like I said, I haven’t decided if I’m doing that yet.”

Lyla paused at that before pursing her lips slightly, “It’s your choice, and I’m not saying I disagree with it, but you’ve been working with his team for over a year and you are married to the guy.”

“We’re not married,” Felicity denied immediately. “I mean we are but we aren’t. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement that allows us both to reach our goals, that’s all. Oliver gets to keep his family from losing their company and going broke and I get to ride his coattails all the way to the Family of Eleven so I can take down the Calculator once and for all. In fact, all of us need Oliver right now but I don’t see you confessing to Dig about your part in all this.”

“Yeah but to be fair Johnny is my ex-husband, not my husband husband, and I didn’t say that I disagree with you; I’m simply saying that, even if you don’t think of him as being your husband, he is your partner and you are going to have to build up some trust between the two of you eventually. Well, he’s Ghost Fox’s partner anyway and in a lot of ways sharing a mission with someone is more intimate than being married to them,” she amended. “Believe me, I know what I’m talking about,” she said ruefully. “Johnny and I were good as gold when we were on-mission and covering each other’s six, it was when we tried being married without the constant threat of death that things got tough.”

“Yeah, but Oliver and I don’t have a relationship; we’re not even friends,” she argued. “We’d never even met each other until a week ago.”

“You might not have met him but Ghost Fox has known him for a while and he shared a lot of very intimate things with her—you—“ she grimaced, “Now you’ve got me doing it.”

“So what you’re saying is that I’m cheating on my husband by letting him form an emotional attachment with another woman who is…me?” she said slowly.

“Okay, now you’re really fucking with my Zen,” Lyla said disgruntledly.

“Look, let me make it simple for you; Ghost Fox was my way of keeping Oliver alive and getting the information I needed to get us to this point. And before you accuse me of using him or manipulating this situation to my advantage, let me remind you that Oliver is the one who initiated all of this. All I did was wait for it to happen,” she reminded her.

“So you’re saying that you knew for sure that Oliver would eventually come to Anatoly for a loan? Even without you having to step in and manipulate the situation to your advantage?” Lyla asked skeptically.

“I knew the odds were in my favor that he would,” Felicity said with a firm nod.

The other woman raised an eyebrow at that, “How?”

“Because I’ve seen the numbers, the real numbers, and numbers don’t lie. Remember, I’ve been buying up stock in QC through various shell corps for almost five years now,” she said with a pointed look. “Not huge blocks of stocks like what Stellmoor is doing; I never intended to launch a hostile takeover or anything, I just wanted to have a few stocks as an ace up my sleeve just in case.”

Lyla’s eyebrows drew together at that, “So? What does buying up some stocks have to do with Oliver’s family going broke? Wouldn’t that help their bottom line?”

“It would but I didn’t buy that many and QC’s stocks have been overinflated for years,” she emphasized. “Even before I started buying shares, Robert Queen had been manipulating the price of his company’s stock in order to cover up the fact that the company was in real trouble and that his family was damn near destitute—for billionaires anyway,” she amended. “He went so far as to transfer ownership of their homes, art collection, and everything else of value to the company so he could afford to pay his tax bill and keep up with the insurance. He shut down most of his factories in the Glades so he could raid the pension funds in order to keep the rest of the company afloat then outsourced those jobs to China where he could pay his workers something like a quarter an hour and no benefits. Then, for his Russian interests, he went to the Bratva and purchased workers for his mining company in the Urals.”

Lyla’s eyes widened slightly at that, “Robert Queen bought slaves to work his copper mines?”

“The copper mines, iron mines, and even several diamond mines that he kept secret so he could funnel that money back into the company without having to disclose where it came from. He even bought factory workers for his aluminum manufacturing facility in Siberia,” she confirmed. “After all, why wouldn’t he? Paying three hundred dollars a head for indentured workers made a hell of a lot more sense than actually paying them a salary that included benefits. He didn’t even have to worry about safety regulations or keeping them alive because, if they died, he could just buy new ones.”

“That’s monstrous,” the other woman said, her eyebrows drawing together in anger.

“I agree and so does my dad which is why we don’t deal in human trafficking but we also don’t get in the way of those who do because, frankly, most of those workers voluntarily sell themselves to the Bratva either to settle a debt or to guarantee a loan,” she reasoned. “Again, I’m not saying that we’re the good guys; we’re criminals and that’s a fact, but our world is very different from yours and the people who place themselves in indentured servitude know what they’re getting into. Once they pay their debts then they’re free to leave.”

“But does that ever happen?” the other woman pressed.

She sighed, “Every once in a while, however most don’t. Instead they just get in deeper and deeper until they can never get out from under their debt but that, again, is a choice,” she said firmly. “Right or wrong, fair or unfair, everyone makes the choice to either be the wolf or the lamb and, if you choose to be the lamb, then eventually you'll be eaten by the wolf and, if you're the wolf, then it makes no sense to cry about the lamb because your belly still has to be filled. That’s just the way it is,” she said dismissively.

“That’s a pretty cold attitude,” Lyla pointed out. “I never expected you of all people to say something like that.”

“I never said I didn’t feel sorry for those people or that I liked the fact that things like this go on within our world but the truth is the truth,” Felicity reiterated. “Had Anatoly not saved us I probably would’ve been sold to a brothel or to some factory overseas where I would’ve been expected to pay off the debt my sperm donor owed the brotherhood so I do feel sorry for those people and, if I could, I’d stop all of it, but I can’t. Even if I could, the Bratva aren’t the only ones out there who engage in human trafficking. Every country in the world, including this one, engages in human trafficking; China and Africa especially. That’s not an excuse but it is the truth and I’d be a hypocrite if I pretended otherwise. And I will remind you that ARGUS didn’t exactly give the members of the Suicide Squad a choice in serving their country either.”

“That’s not the same thing,” Lyla denied immediately. “They were criminals.”

“Was Oliver a criminal when Waller renditioned him?” she asked arching an eyebrow. “I’m fairly certain that if you asked Oliver he’d tell you that he never ‘volunteered’ to have his family’s lives threatened or agreed to become an ARGUS agent. How is Amanda Waller forcing US citizens to become her personal assassination squad any better than what the Bratva is doing? At least when we ‘buy’ people we give them a chance to earn back their freedom and, while we may not exactly be warm and fuzzy about it, we also don’t put bombs in their spines.”

The other woman’s lips thinned at that before she nodded reluctantly, “Okay, you have a point about Waller but, as for the rest of it, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

“Fair enough but again, neither my nor my father’s organization has ever or will ever deal in human trafficking or drugs,” she reminded her. “Assassination and murder for hire, yes, arms dealing, yes, money laundering, yes, but Anatoly has always drawn the line at drugs and the selling of human lives, not because he necessarily looks down on it--even though he does,” she emphasized, “but because it’s messy and draws too much attention. The business we do makes four and five times more profit for the organization with little to no risk attached which is why we’ve grown as powerful as we have. While the drugs will always exist as will vice and the rest of it, as we grow in our successes the rest of the brotherhood will see that and begin to follow suit. We’re already seeing a huge shift within the organization. More and more of the individual cells are turning their attention towards more ‘legitimate’ means of making money in an effort to become more like us because the whole point of what we’re doing is to maximize profit while minimizing risk and no one wants to bring heat down on the brotherhood or usher in a return of the drug fueled gang wars of the 90’s where brothers fought brothers over territory. The internet and global economics are a wide-open space with room for everyone and, while I’m not saying that I’m a hero or claiming that what I do is some kind of subversive vigilante mission to transform the Bratva from within, the fact that things are changing speaks for itself.”

Lyla remained silent for a moment as she considered her words, “Well, you’ll never make me a fan of the Bratva but…” she grimaced.

“Just keep focusing on the fact that the more successful we are the closer we’ll be to bringing down Waller and changing the Bratva from within,” she suggested. “It won’t happen overnight and there will always be parts of it that will never sit right but—“

“The wolf has to eat, got it,” she agreed grimly. “Waller used to say something similar, she said, ‘There are people in the world who deal only in extremes and it would be naive to think that anything less than extreme measures will stop them. Sometimes bravery isn't enough. Sometimes the world requires us to be bold whatever the personal cost,’” she shrugged, “Of course your way of saying it was a lot shorter not to mention more poetic but I get what you’re saying.”

“I don’t know how I feel about you comparing me to Amanda Waller seeing how you feel about her but I’ll take it,” Felicity said with a grin. “Anyway, back to what we were saying. After Robert Queen died and Walter Steele took over, everything changed. Remember, a lot of the stuff Robert was into overseas was completely off-book so Merlyn took those over with no one to oppose him because no one else knew about them. As a result, without all that mystery money keeping QC afloat, stock prices dropped dramatically. Walter Steele was a good businessman but there was only so much he could do. He was also extremely ethical so, instead of doing what Robert did, he tried fixing the company the ‘right way’ by scrapping the plans for the proposed Applied Sciences division until they could afford it and cutting back anywhere he could. It wasn’t enough though which is why Moira made the risky decision to sell off a huge chunk of their shares. Before Robert died they owned 75% of the company and now they own 40%--and that’s after putting themselves in hock up to their eyeteeth. Long story short, the writing was on the wall long before Lian Yu happened so sooner or later Oliver was either going to ask for a favor or he and his family were going to lose the company, if not to Stellmoor, then to some other group of corporate raiders.”

“So if you had all this insider information on Robert then why didn’t you just buy all of the stocks so that couldn’t happen?” she asked curiously.

“Because I didn’t need to,” she said dryly. “In fact, if I’d done that I would’ve been working against my own best interests.”

“How so?” Lyla asked as she leaned back against the headboard with a frown.

“The only thing I’d get by buying up controlling interest in QC would be the company and I don’t want the company,” she said firmly. “What I want is Oliver, or rather his position as captain. If I own his company then there’s no deal to be made in that. In fact, they’d be better off if I did own the company because I’d make sure it turned a profit which would increase the value of their stocks along with their personal fortune and Oliver, since he doesn’t give a crap about becoming a businessman, would simply allow someone else to do all the heavy lifting while he continued to use the proceeds from his trust to fund his mission. However, Stellmoor is a vulture capitalist firm that buys depressed companies and strips them bare before shutting them down. If Stellmoor got hold of QC, everything his family built would be destroyed and, thanks to Robert, they’d even lose the house. Since Stellmoor started gobbling up shares, the Queens have been doing their best to get over the 51% mark with no success. Then again, so has Stellmoor but neither of them can get to that magic number because, now that I purchased the 10% of shares owned by Starling National, I now own, altogether, 20% of the company. That’s a lot but it’s nowhere near controlling interest—“

“Until you combine it with the Queen’s 40%,” she finished.

“Right,” she nodded.

“That still doesn’t fully explain everything,” she pointed out. “Not only was that a huge gamble on your part but, as far as I know, the Queens aren’t aware that you own 20% of the company; they still think you only control the 10% they put up as collateral after you paid off their loan.”

“True and, if all goes well, I might even wind up with Stellmoor’s other forty percent by the time I’m done.”

“Oliver is going to feel pretty betrayed when he finds that out, don’t you think?” Lyla asked pointedly.

“Why would he feel betrayed?” she scoffed. “Once he finds out that, thanks to me, his family has 60% of the bargaining power I’d think he’d be feeling pretty damn grateful. He’ll be even more grateful if I do manage to make a deal with Stellmoor to get the other forty percent because I’ll sell those shares back to him as well. Once he has the funds to pay for them, of course,” she added. “Again, I’m not running a charity here.”

“You and I both know that’s not how that’s going to work,” Lyla said wryly. “It’s going to make him put up walls and trust you even less than he does now. If you compound that by not telling him about Ghost Fox and he somehow finds out on his own, then it’ll feel like you stabbed him in the back then used his corpse as a human shield.”

“And you think that me coming out of the blue and telling him that I’m Ghost Fox will make him trust me even more?” she asked dubiously. “Especially since, by admitting that, I’d also be admitting to him that most of the information I unloaded on him at the meeting came directly from him and his team. He’s not going to care that they’re the ones who volunteered all of it to a perfect stranger whose name they didn’t even know and that I never manipulated them into saying anything; all he’s going to see is that I lied to him and used what he said to Ghost Fox in private against him. Besides, I don’t need him to trust or even like me,” she said firmly. “In fact, the less time he spends around me or likes me the better.”

Lyla hummed skeptically, “And why’s that?”

“Because Oliver is a man who is easily distracted by women,” Felicity said without hesitation. “He fixates on the women in his life, especially the ones who refuse to coddle him, and I don’t want him distracted because he’s trying to figure me out or form a connection. I want him focused on being the Arrow and a Bratva captain; those are the parts of his personality I need on my side, not Oliver Queen, the guy who views any woman who isn’t interested in him as a mountain that must be climbed and conquered then left behind once he plants his flag.”

“You are so full of shit,” she scoffed. “You and I both know that’s not how you feel about Oliver. I’ve eavesdropped on some of your late night conversations with the guy and I know for a fact that you have a thing for him and it’s definitely mutual. He might not know who Ghost Fox is but it’s obvious to me he wouldn’t mind figuring it out. I also know you feel the same way which is one of the biggest reasons why you kept driving him up the wall with that ‘Mr. Queen’ stuff.”

“I was trying to create some professional distance between us, that’s all,” she denied.

“Maybe, but I also think you were avoiding calling him Oliver so you wouldn’t slip up and say something that would tip him off because part of you wants to know what would happen if all that unresolved sexual tension finally had a chance to get resolved once and for all,” she said with a smirk.

“You know, for a former spy you’re a real yenta sometimes,” Felicity snapped in frustration as she punched down her pillow with a huff.

“Gotcha!” she said with a triumphant grin.

“Would you go away? Go back to your own room,” Felicity said bad-temperedly as she carefully lay back on the bed again and winced.

“Okay, crabby pants, nighty night,” Lyla said with a jaunty little wave as she walked out of the room.

“And another thing, next time someone tries to shoot you I’m not jumping in front of the bullet to save you!”

“Promises, promises!”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Lyla whispered as they entered the conference room at QC.

“I’m fine,” she assured her quietly.

The other woman took in her strained expression skeptically and scowled, “I knew I should’ve made you take something stronger than just some OTC pain relievers before leaving the house. At the very least you should’ve taken the muscle relaxers I offered you.”

“I’ll be fine,” she repeated. “Besides, like you said, I need to be alert and those things make it hard to concentrate.”

“You know what else makes it hard to concentrate? Pain,” she said wryly.

Felicity shot her an annoyed look, “Seriously, you’re starting to sound like my mother and that isn’t a compliment.”

“Okay, it’s your choice so if you want to be miserable then that’s up to you,” Lyla said broadly as she went into full yenta mode, hand gestures and all, before offering her a grin, “Seriously though, if it gets to be too much then we’ll tell people that you have the stomach flu and have Misha and Ivan take you home,” she said and the two hulking guards flanking them nodded.

“Then how are you getting home?” Felicity asked with a frown.

“I can just hail a cab; no biggie,” the other woman said dismissively.

“No, Ms. Michaels,” Misha, the guard closest to her said quietly, “We are under orders to watch over you as well, especially with the recent attacks. If Felichka is unwell then Ivan and I will take her home and remain with her there while Evgeny and Gavriil stay with you. When you are ready to return home, just call Iosif and he will return with the town car.”

“Don’t call me that,” Felicity glowered at him, “You’re like a year older than I am.”

“You are still smaller than I am, Malen'kaya zolotaya rybka,” Misha said playfully.

She held her hand up and gave him a disgusted look, “Not at work, okay? Both Oliver and that Rochev woman speak fluent Russian and the last thing I need is for you to slip up and call me that in front of them; it’ll totally blow any creditability I have,” she scowled before muttering, “I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to let Dyadya Pyotr put you on my protective detail.”

“What does that mean; rybka?” Lyla asked with a furrowed brow. “I’m only asking because I want to say ‘fish’ but that can’t be right, can it?”

“Unfortunately you heard right; it’s ‘little goldfish’,” she told her with a scowl. “Don’t ask; it’s a Russian thing.”

“It was her favorite bedtime story as a child; Pushkin’s Tale of the Fisherman and the Golden Fish,” Ivan stepped up next to Misha to explain. “She would beg to hear it over and over again—which I know as I have been with you ever since you were practically a baby and my decisions are what has kept you safe for all of these years,” he reminded Felicity pointedly.

“I was seven, not a baby, and I’m not seven anymore,” Felicity said sternly to the two of them. “And while Lyla and I appreciate all you do for us, you have to let us do our jobs as well.”

“And I don’t need the town car,” the other woman insisted turning to Ivan.

Ivan Vasilyevich, even though he was nearly sixty, was just as broad of shoulder and heavily muscled as his much younger second-in command. He was also just as striking as Misha despite being more than twice his age, the lines in his face, his deep set dark eyes, and the silvery strands of grey threaded through his inky black hair only served to make him appear even more virile as they gave him an air of authority that the blond, blue-eyed Misha, with his easy grin and youthful good looks, simply did not yet possess. That wasn’t to say that Misha was any less handsome or intimidating in his own way.

Both men stood around 6’4” and were built like linebackers, their muscles straining against the fabric of the well-tailored suits they wore. In fact, if it weren’t for the slight bulge of the gun holsters under their arms, they’d look like a couple of very successful businessmen in their three thousand dollar bespoke Italian suits and hand-tooled leather shoes. What really gave them away though was the sentinel-like aura that they gave off, their eyes always on the move as they remained vigilant over their charges. While that made them very good bodyguards, it could also be incredibly annoying at times, especially when combined with the fact that both men had known her since she was a little girl, Ivan as her official bodyguard and ‘nanny’ and Misha as her slightly older cousin and ‘big brother’ who felt that part of his duties was to tease her unmercifully and be as annoying as possible.

Apparently Lyla felt the same way because she turned a jaundiced eye towards both men as she spoke, “I was a captain in the Rangers for God’s sake and a top field agent in ARGUS so I am more than capable of taking care of myself. If I need to leave, I can call an Uber or a cab or something.”

“The town car is armored,” the older man reminded her in a thick Russian accent. “Given your military service and intelligence, I am sure you realize that with these ridiculous ‘Hoodies’ running about shooting at people it is best to be safer than sorry.”

“It’s ‘Hoods’ not ‘Hoodies’ and the expression is ‘better safe than sorry’,” Lyla corrected him with a slight pout disguised as a scowl.

“That is what I said, ‘it is better to be safer than sorry’,” he said cantankerously.

“Fine, I’ll wait for the town car,” she conceded reluctantly although it obviously pained her to do so, “Anything else before we go inside?”

“Misha and I were able to do a walkthrough of the building before you arrived,” Ivan said with a stony expression.

“Not good, huh?” Lyla said with a grimace.

“The security here is execrable,” the tall dark haired Russian spat, his mouth tightening in annoyance.

“How bad is it?”

“Bad; much worse than we thought. As we went from floor to floor not one person asked us for ID or bothered to glance at our visitor’s passes,” Misha agreed.

“These so-called security officers are all fat and lazy and more occupied with swilling coffee and stuffing their faces with vending machine food than doing their jobs,” Ivan bit out. “They’re all greedy lecherous pigs feeding at the company trough before wallowing lazily in their own filth and incompetence!”

Lyla raised an eyebrow at that, “Wow, that’s some…vivid imagery.”

The other man harrumphed and crossed his arms over his chest with a stubborn expression, “Upon entering the building one of the maintenance workers set off the metal detectors and the ‘guard’ who was supposed to be on duty just waved him through so he could continue to chat up a pretty girl.”

The younger man nodded, “Then we went through as well and the metal detectors again went off because of our side arms. I was going to show the guard our identification and permits but—“

“He did not even bother to look--again!” the older man growled. “He just said that the machine was, how did he call it? ‘On the fritz’.” His cheeks reddened with fury, “They should all be fired! If this was Russia they would all be beaten like dogs and then fired!” he said in a harsh undertone.

“Well, we don’t beat people like dogs here,” Lyla said dryly. “Actually we look down on beating dogs like dogs here as well so I would avoid using that expression if I were you.”

“Because of the PETA people,” Misha offered then shrugged. “I saw an ad in a magazine where the women were all naked in the snow and angry about fur coats.”

Right, keep playing that ‘I’m Russian and therefore uneducated in your Western ways’ shtick because she’s never going to fall for it,” Felicity scoffed at him.

“I am Russian and she might fall for it,” Misha threw back with a slight scowl.

“No, she won’t,” Lyla said flatly.

“That’s just because Felichka’s jealousy is preventing you from seeing how good we could be together,” Misha argued.

“No, that’s all you,” the other woman assured him.

“And I’m not jealous,” Felicity argued. “I’m simply pointing out the fact that you were born here and you don’t even have an accent so there’s no way she’s ever going to fall for that whole, ‘I’m a poor Russian boy, please educate me’ thing you used on all the girls back in college.”

“She would if you’d stop bringing it up,” he said, his mouth tightening in annoyance.

“Again, no I wouldn’t,” Lyla told him.

He ignored her, “And just because I don’t have an accent that doesn’t necessarily mean I understand why a bunch of women running around naked in the snow would stop people from wearing fur coats.”

“I’ll bet if they were running about naked during a Russian winter, they would change their minds quickly about that,” Ivan grumbled. “They’d be grateful for any coat even if they had to skin the bear themselves.”

“Unfortunately you are right, moy drug,” Misha agreed with a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he affected a pronounced Russian accent. “It is a shame that Russian winters are not warmer and that we do not have this PETA where we are from, eh?”

“Right,” Lyla said in a deadpan before sighing, “We knew that given the company’s financial situation that the first thing they’d likely cut back on was their security personnel but you’d think with all the recent threats and attacks that they would be a bit more on top of things, at least in the lobby.” She shook her head, “Just one more thing to add to the list. For now did you put extra security in the lobby and on the floor?”

“I did,” Ivan nodded. “Evgeny and Gavriil are on the executive elevator while Yefim and Zakhar are covering the lobby. Iosif and Daniil will remain with the cars in the parking garage just in case we need to leave quickly.”

“It’s a simple meeting; we’re not storming the beach here so I think we’ll be fine,” Felicity huffed.

Ivan gave her a rebuking look, “And what of the incident just two weeks ago with those thugs in the ridiculous costumes shooting at people? I suppose those people they shot thought it was just a party and that they would not be in danger either, huh? Well, they know better now, don’t they?” His jaw clenched in anger, “No, if it were up to me, after seeing the state of their security, I would not allow either of you to remain here any longer than necessary. I have seen shopping malls with better security than this building!”

“That’s a burn,” Lyla murmured.

Felicity grimaced, “Ivanych...”

“No, golubushka, I have a bad feeling and my feelings have never been wrong,” he warned her. “Perhaps this is just as you think, and I am being overly cautious, but it is paying attention to these things that has allowed me to keep you safe all these years I do not like the way these…lenivyye amerikantsy go about their business,” he said grimly. “If Tolya saw the way they were protecting his daughter he would have many harsh words for whoever it is in charge of this building’s security,” the older man finished with a scowl.

Misha cleared his throat, his lips quirking upwards slightly, “On Ivan’s suggestion, I called down to the house and Yuri offered to send more men if you think it is necessary. We can even have my uncle send some men up from his garage as it’s not that far from here. They could be here in…fifteen minutes? Maybe less?” he offered looking between Lyla and Ivan. “We could have them secure the perimeter and maybe slip on some maintenance uniforms to blend in with the staff.”

“It is not a bad idea,” Ivan conceded.

Ivanych, no; I honestly don’t think that’s necessary,” Felicity insisted.

Lyla nodded, “Felicity’s right. Look, I’m not saying your concerns aren’t founded and we will be addressing all of them with the board on Friday so I definitely want you and your men to go through this place top to bottom then report what you find. I want to know where the holes are in their security, what’s working, what isn’t working, along with suggestions on how we can improve things even if that means firing people or hiring an outside security company.”

“We could bring in some of Leonov’s people like Misha suggested since he’s local,” Ivan said with a determined look.

Misha nodded, “My uncle could pull some of his security crews off the construction site and put them here until my dad can send over some of his own crew from Gotham.”

“That’s not a bad suggestion but I’m not sure how the Queens would react to the idea of turning their building’s security over to the Bratva,” Lyla said dryly. “We’ll discuss it with Oliver however. Until then, Felicity is already planning on going through their IT department with a fine-toothed comb so, after we’re settled in, Misha can stay close to Felicity while you and I will meet with the head of building security and I’ll have him take you through everything,” she said looking Ivan directly in the eye, “Now, that said, given the nasty tumble Felicity took down the stairs the other day, I don’t blame you for being a bit overprotective and I know you’re worried about her, but no one is going to attack us at the meeting, I promise.”

“Speaking of which, I still do not understand how this ‘tumble’ happened,” the older man said eyeing both women suspiciously. “I also do not understand why I was not informed of this ‘tumble’ until after the fact.”

“Because I knew you would overreact, dyadya, and it was just a few bruises,” Felicity said looking up at him innocently. “As for your concerns about our safety, like Lyla said; while I’m sure you are right about everything and that these issues need to be brought to Oliver and his mother’s attention, it’s the first day for all of us so it’s natural to be a bit on edge. You were the same way whenever the new school year would start, remember?” she pointed out. “From the time I was seven all the way up through college and graduate school, you would always get paranoid on the first day like someone was going to jump out of the shadows and grab me.”

“Yes, I am very on edge—and the reason I acted like someone could grab you when you were a little girl is because that was a very real worry,” he pointed out in a similar tone. “You were the daughter of an important man so I had to be on the lookout for kidnappers and perverts and things.”

“It was in Zhukovka, which is the Beverly Hills of Moscow, at the same private school Masha and Katya Putin attended and they had better security than the Kremlin,” she said dryly. “Oh, and I would also like to point out that even though Masha and Katya had bodyguards as well, they at least tried to give them space while you’d practically pull your gun if the kid next to me tried to take my crayons.”

“It does not matter where it was or how fancy the school; low-life thugs and deviants are everywhere,” Ivan grumbled as he looked around them with narrowed eyes, “In fact, I am fairly certain that I heard people having sex in one of the offices we passed, either that or they were watching some of that pornografiya on their computers,” he spat and the three of them bit their lips as the older man continued his rant, “They are supposed to be at work! In what sort of place is such behavior allowed, I ask you? This entire building is little more than a poorly secured brothel. I tell you that your father would not approve of you working here!”

“Alright-y then,” Lyla said turning to face both men and offering a grumbling Ivan a pat on the arm before leading him towards the door, “You and Misha should stay on the lookout for kidnappers and rapacious office workers while Felicity and I stay here and wait for our meeting to start then afterwards we can address your concerns with the head of building security, alright? Great.” As Misha walked past she murmured, “Do us all a favor and get him a cup of coffee, okay?”

The tall blond man grinned at her cheekily as he affected a thick Russian accent once more, “I will even get him a donut. Perhaps I should get you one as well, ah?”

“Thanks for the thought but my ass definitely doesn’t need the carbs or the sugar,” she said wryly.

“I don’t think one donut would hurt. Besides,” Misha leaned forward with a flirtatious grin as his voice deepened, “Russian men, like myself, have big hands so we need something equally big and plump to grab onto, yes?”

“You know, that would be very flattering if it wasn’t for the fact that you just referred to my ass as both ‘big’ and ‘plump’. The accent is a nice touch though,” Lyla told him.

“Fine but, for the record, there’s nothing wrong with big or plump,” he said with twinkling eyes. “It means juicy and soft like a really ripe peach. We should go on a picnic sometime, maybe eat a peach or two. I hear they’re in season?”

“You heard wrong. Now go babysit your boss, Romeo, and next time try your moves on someone your own age,” she said pushing him out the door as well.

“Yes, but older women are like fine wine…” Misha told her as she shut the door behind him.

“Yeah, yeah; like I’ve never heard that one before,” she said with a snort.

Felicity grinned as she noted how, despite rejecting his advances, the other woman’s eyes lingered on the bodyguard’s muscular backside as he joined his supervisor on the other side of the double doors.

“Shut up,” Lyla scoffed at her as she moved to sit down at the empty table.

“I didn’t say anything,” Felicity said innocently.

“You didn’t have to. Besides, as pretty as he is to look at, I prefer my men to be a little more well done and he’s at least fifteen years younger than me,” she said with an eye roll.

“More like fourteen and nowadays it’s cool to be a cougar.”

The other woman shot her a dirty look, “Hey, I’m thirty-eight; that hardly makes me a cougar!”

“Did you know that technically you’re old enough to be my mom?” Felicity asked mischievously.

“Only if I got knocked up when I was in middle school,” she returned with a glare. She watched as Felicity carefully eased herself down into one of the chairs near the end of the table. “You okay?”

“Yeah, just sore,” she said tightly before letting out a deep breath. She straightened her well-fitted blazer and winced, “Also I’m kind of regretting the whole sleek power suit look not to mention the heels. It looks professional and hides the bruises and stuff but I probably should’ve gone with something less ‘Queen of the Boardroom’ and more ‘Queen of Comfort’ however I didn’t think sweatpants and bunny slippers would cut it at work.”

Lyla eyed her in concern, “You gonna make it or do you want to just call it now and let me handle the meeting alone?”

“I’ll make it,” she assured her as she forced herself to relax. “It was just kind of a rough night; I didn’t sleep for crap because I kept tossing and turning from trying to roll over onto my bad side—not that I have a good side,” Felicity said ruefully, “It feels like I was sandwiched between a cement mixer and a dump truck.”

“Half of that was probably nerves because it’s the first day,” Lyla nodded while keeping her eyes trained on her. “When we get home you should try soaking in the tub again with some Epsom salts and then I’ll give you another pain pill and maybe a muscle relaxer to help with the cramping in your ribs. The doctor also prescribed you some Ambien if you need it.”

“Jeez, opiates, muscle relaxers, and sleeping pills; planning on putting me into a coma?” she asked sarcastically even though she was secretly looking forward to it.

“At least you’d get some sleep,” Lyla retorted as she took the tablet Felicity handed her and began to scroll through it. “Hell, add about six naked football players and some tequila to that and it’d be like my high school prom. Now that was a helluva fun night,” she added distractedly.

“That was way more than I needed to know,” Felicity said shaking her head as she turned on her own tablet and began going through her emails. “You ready to run through the PowerPoint one more time?”

“Yeah, let me pull out my laptop so we can set up the projector in case we need it,” she said reaching for her briefcase.

They spent the next several minutes going over their notes as they waited for the meeting to start. They made sure to arrive nearly an hour and a half early so her security detail could do a thorough walkthrough while she and Lyla took their time settling in. It was perhaps a little excessive but coming into work early was a habit of hers, one that Lyla happened to share. Granted, she generally didn’t go into the office as early as she had that morning but she’d found over the years that coming in thirty to forty-five minutes before the day ‘officially’ began gave her just enough time to drink a cup of coffee, snack on a bagel or two, and collect her thoughts without having to feel rushed.

Besides, arriving to the conference room long before anyone else got there was a psychological power play designed to establish dominance, pure and simple. Oliver was notoriously late for everything—unless, of course, he was hooded up, but she knew his mother would be with him and that Moira would be keeping him on schedule. That meant he would arrive at least fifteen to twenty minutes early so she wanted to look relaxed and settled in before either of them got there. She also had her people stop off for a large selection of bagels and breakfast pastries and put on a pot of coffee.

That was a power play as well as it was designed to show that she’d made the room her own and that, despite the fact that the Queen name was on the outside of the building, the conference room was her house and they were all her guests. While Oliver probably wouldn’t notice the subtle marking of her territory, she knew Moira would, and she wanted to remind her that she was someone who didn’t intimidate easily and therefore shouldn’t be underestimated.

Around two cups of coffee and a cheese Danish later, a small group of people consisting of two women and a man approached the clear glass doors of the conference room.

“What do you know, they were even earlier than you thought they’d be,” Lyla said barely glancing up from her laptop as she munched on her bagel.

“That’s not them,” she said brushing the crumbs off her suit as she noted the stern faced woman in the red dress, the same woman who was visibly agitated by the fact that she and her associates were being made to show their passes to Ivan and Misha before they could enter the room. “If I’m not mistaken, that’s Isabel Rochev.”

The other woman pulled a face at that before closing the lid on her laptop and setting aside her own breakfast snack, “Forty-five minutes early; nice, and she looks about as charming in real life as her dossier would suggest.”

“You did get their names, right? The first thing I’m doing after we take over is fire those two idiots,” Isabel snapped to one of her two flunkies as she strode into the room. “Who posts security guards on an empty conference room anyway? They were probably just looking for a place to take a nap or something.” She stopped short as her eyes fell on them, “I’m sorry but this is a private meeting so you ladies will have to take your coffee clutch elsewhere.”

“Yup, I was right,” Lyla said in a low voice before rising to her feet, “Actually I’m here for the same meeting you are, Ms. Rochev.”

The stone faced woman merely arched an eyebrow at that, “And you are?”

“Lyla Michaels, COO and temporary CFO of Queen Consolidated,” she said extending her hand in greeting.

Rather than take her hand, Isabel’s eyes drifted over her form dismissively before her lips tipped upwards ever so slightly, “I don’t think so.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure that’s what it says on my employee ID,” she said evenly.

“I meant that you can’t be COO or CFO since those are positions that would have to be approved by the board and since I am currently in control of the majority of the stock in this company, I think I would know if you were an executive here,” she said coolly.

“And I think that you may want to recheck your math, Ms. Rochev, since last I heard your company only controls forty percent of the stock in this company and that’s not a majority of anything,” Lyla said with an equally icy demeanor even though her expression never changed.

“For the moment perhaps, but by close of business on Friday I will be in possession of sixty percent of the stock in this company and, if Oliver Queen and his mother know what’s good for them, they’ll turn over their remaining forty percent as well.” Isabel flicked her eyes towards Felicity, “Coffee, black, two sugars.” Several beats passed and the other woman slowly set her gaze upon her, “Didn’t you hear what I said?”

“I did, I’m just not sure why you said it to me,” Felicity replied evenly. “However, if you’re thirsty there’s a fresh pot over in the corner plus bagels, croissants, and few different kinds of pastries if you have a sweet tooth. I highly recommend the raspberry and cream cheese ones, by the way. Oh, and if you’re getting a cup for yourself I wouldn’t mind a refill; cream and sugar, thanks,” she said holding out her own cup.

Isabel let out a harsh chuckle at that, her mouth curving upwards into a cold smile, “And you are?”

“Felicity Smoak, QC’s current CTO,” she said putting down her cup.

“Yet another executive I did not hire and whose name I’m not familiar with. Fantastic,” she said tightly as she turned to one of her ever silent minions with an icy glare causing him to practically quake in his boots.

At that moment both Oliver and his mother entered the boardroom with Dig in tow.

“You’re all…early,” Oliver said haltingly before turning to his mother, “Really, really early. Either that or we’re late? The meeting was scheduled for 8:30, right?” he asked in confusion as he turned back to them.

Isabel opened her mouth to speak but Lyla cut her off at the pass.

“Actually Ms. Rochev was forty-five minutes early,” Lyla said with a pleasant smile pasted on her face.

“Ah,” Oliver said uncertainly before turning to Felicity, “And how long have you been here?”

“Oh, just long enough to have a cup of coffee and introduce ourselves to the lovely and charming Ms. Rochev.”

Isabel’s expression hardened, “Excuse me?”

Felicity blinked up at her innocently, “I meant that as a compliment.”

Isabel cleared her throat and gestured for them to take a seat, “Since we’re all here shall we get started?”

“Certainly,” Moira said with a hate-filled glare as she sat in the seat opposite from her.

Isabel’s gaze flickered slightly towards the other woman but, instead of acknowledging her, she turned her full attention towards Oliver instead, “I understand that you’re planning on requesting that the board appoint you as CEO?”

“And where did you hear that?” Moira asked pointedly.

“I have my sources,” Isabel said enigmatically, her attention still on Oliver even though his mother was the one speaking. “Is it true?”

“It is, and since he is a Queen and this company is his legacy, it’s only natural that he be appointed CEO,” Moira continued while Oliver remained silent.

Ignoring her once more, Isabel took a quick breath before speaking, her cold dark eyes fixed on his.

“Since you’ve chosen to trade in your career as a trust fund playboy to become CEO, I’ll be frank,” she said with a hard look. “I own forty percent of the stock in your company; you own forty percent of the stock in your company. In two days’ time, after I speak to your board, they will release the ten percent of stock in their control and I will buy it giving me fifty percent of this company. In addition, I have a deal already set in motion that will give me the final ten percent of outstanding shares which means that I will have in my possession sixty percent of this company by week's end.”

She paused to allow that to sink in for a moment, “Now, I realize that you majored in dropping out of college so let me put this in terms you can understand: Just like there are some people in this world who are winners,” she smiled as if placing herself in that category, “and some are losers,” she said with a pointed look in his direction, “companies rise and fall, as well, Mr. Queen, and your company has fallen.”

“Wow, that was dramatic,” Felicity said wryly, “Wildly inaccurate and insulting but dramatic.”

“Excuse me?” Isabel asked sharply as she turned to her.

“What Ms. Smoak is referring to is the fact that, while you get points for style and execution, you’re a little short on charm and facts, not to mention lousy at math,” Lyla drawled as she began to hand out folders to each of the people sitting at the table.

“How so?” the other woman said with a smirk as she ignored the folder in front of her.

“Because you won’t be buying those stocks from the board since they’ve already been purchased by someone else,” she answered.

“By whom?” she asked imperiously before turning to Oliver once more, “I’m assuming not by you since I doubt you have that much money in your trust fund and I seriously doubt some angel investor swooped down in the eleventh hour to buy them for you.”

“Actually, that’s exactly what happened,” Felicity said with a crooked grin.

Isabel’s head whipped around as she stared at her in disbelief, “Excuse me?”

Lyla gestured pointedly at her packet before opening her own folder, “You might want to take a look.”

Isabel’s mouth tightened and she opened her folder with jerky movements before scowling, “K&S Investments. Never heard of them.”

“Too bad, it’s a great company if I do say so myself,” Felicity said blithely.

Lyla hummed in agreement, “K&S Investments owns several key technology and software firms but they don’t have access to the kind of high tech manufacturing facilities Queen Consolidated does so they have offered to partner with them through the new Applied Sciences division we will be renaming ‘Q-Core’ so that they can bring their products to market. In exchange for this, they paid off the debts held by Starling National Bank and purchased the shares Queen Consolidated used to guarantee the loan.”

“Fine,” Isabel said coolly as she closed her folder. “Still, that’s only ten percent. Even if you were to combine your shares with those held by the Queen family, which would be a mistake, by the way,” she added as an aside, “Stellmoor will still have fifty percent of the stocks which would make us equals.”

“I’m afraid your math is still off,” Felicity said wrinkling her nose slightly. “See, K&S doesn’t own ten percent of the shares; they own twenty.” As all eyes turned to her in stunned silence, she tapped her finger against the folder, “It’s all in the packet.”

“That’s impossible,” Isabel said darkly.

“I’m afraid it’s very possible,” Lyla said wryly. “And while your offer to buy those shares from K&S for ten percent above market value was generous, I’m afraid we’ll be turning you down.”

Her eyes flashed angrily at that, “We?”

“Yes, see the reason you were unaware of the identities of myself and Ms. Smoak was probably because this is our first day,” Lyla said with a pleasant smile. “Ms. Smoak and I actually represent K&S, as in Knyazev & Smoak Investments, and as part of our agreement with both Queen Consolidated and the Queen family, I was placed in the position of COO and CFO until we can find a replacement for the latter while she was made CTO.”

“That sort of decision would have to be made by the board and since I own a significant stake in this company and was not informed that a vote was taking place that would make this ‘merger’ of yours illegal,” Isabel said angrily.

Moira’s eyes hardened, “I wasn’t aware that you were a corporate attorney, Ms. Rochev, but if you are then I would suggest you use your legal ‘skills’ to sue whatever fly by night school you attended because the board did vote and they did accept the limited partnership with both K&S Investments and Smoak Technologies.”

“Knyazev & Smoak Investments and Smoak Technologies?” her dark eyes lit upon Felicity, “And I take it the fact that you share the same name isn’t a coincidence?”

“No, it’s not,” Felicity said simply.

Isabel let out a humorless chuckle, “Wow, so does your daddy know that you sank billions of dollars into a fading company just to land yourself a boyfriend?”

Oliver’s eyebrows drew together at that, “Pardon me?”

“You heard me, Mr. Queen,” Isabel said with mock sweetness, “I’d heard you were something of a Lothario but I had no idea your bedroom skills were this effective.”

“And I wasn’t aware that hostile takeovers were this hostile,” Oliver snapped back.

“Tell you what, Ms. Smoak,” Isabel said turning to her and disregarding him for the moment, “I’ll make you a deal; I’ll pay twenty-five percent above market value for all your shares and maybe, if you’re lucky, daddy will be so happy that he got his money back he won’t cut off your trust fund.”

“What makes you think I have a trust fund, Ms. Rochev, or that I answer to anyone but myself?” Felicity asked curiously. “Better yet, answer me this: You strike me as a fairly savvy and confident businesswoman.” She paused and swept her eyes over the other woman’s figure, “Of course, looks can be deceiving but, giving you the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume that’s the case,” Isabel stiffened at that but she continued, “And yet the first thing you assumed when you walked through those conference room doors was that, because we were women, we were embroiled in a…what did you call it?” she frowned, “Oh yes; a coffee clutch like we were a couple of low level employees slacking off on the job despite the fact that Ms. Michaels and myself were obviously there for this meeting.”

Isabel opened her mouth for a quick retort but Felicity held up a finger to stop her, “I’m not done,” she said with a hard look. “Then, after Ms. Michaels introduced herself, you barked out your coffee order to me without so much as sparing me a glance because you automatically assumed that I must be the secretary. Yet despite being proven wrong in your assumptions about me, not once but twice, you have now decided that in order for me to invest in this company that I must somehow be desperate to ‘land a man’. You also assumed, erroneously I might add, that I possess no money or accomplishments of my own but that I, again, must rely on a ‘daddy’, as you called it, to hand me a trust fund.”

“Why would someone with billions of dollars to invest in a dying company take a job as a CTO then?” the other woman asked cuttingly.

“Because I’m a very hands-on businesswoman but I still have my own companies to run and only intend to remain here in Starling until I’m sure Q-Core is up and running and my people have things well in hand,” she said easily. “Now that I’ve answered your question, why not answer mine?”

“You haven’t asked me a question yet,” Isabel pointed out coldly.

“Right, let me do that now, then. My question is this: Why would a woman who is the VP of Acquisitions of a major company automatically assume that any woman holding an executive title equal or better than her own must have been handed it through nepotism or because she was unable to earn it based on her own merits outside of the bedroom?”

“I believe I can answer that question,” Moira said staring unblinkingly into Isabel’s shark-like gaze.

“I believe I can as well and, I must say, the answer I’ve come up with is quite disappointing,” Felicity hummed in agreement while Oliver shifted uncomfortably as he and the two corporate flunkies she brought with her shared a telling look.

Isabel’s face darkened as she leaned towards her slightly, her voice dropping to a more confidential level, “I don’t know what ‘deal’ you signed with the Queens but I promise you, it won’t stand up in court.”

“It will actually,” Lyla took over in a bored tone. “Executive boards make deals all the time and, as the agreement our two companies entered into is a limited partnership and not a merger, they weren’t required to notify their shareholders ahead of time. However, if you would like to discuss this with the board you’re more than welcome to but I’m fairly certain that even with forty percent of the voting stock you’ll lose. See, most boards prefer to partner with companies who are motivated to help them succeed so they can make money, not lose it, and if there’s one thing our company is good at it’s making money whereas the only thing your company does is shut them down before gutting them,” she said confidently.

“We have no intentions of gutting Queen Consolidated,” Isabel said coldly. “We intend to take it over and I will then be put in charge of running it.”

“Well, you can try selling that story to the board but I seriously doubt that their vote will swing your way no matter how much you pinkie swear not to sell them down the river given your company’s history of screwing over all the other companies you’ve said that to, especially since you represent a foreign investment company that is required by federal law to divest their American interests within a set number of years.”

“We’ll see,” the other woman said enigmatically.

“We’ll see what?” Felicity asked curiously, “If the law changes before Friday or if the board will break the contract they signed with us thus opening this company up to costly litigation?”

“Not to mention the fact that they’d be leaving themselves vulnerable federal prosecution since voting to sell out to a foreign company whose intentions are to strip QC bare and raid the pension funds of their employees would be in direct violation of the agreement they signed when appointed to the board along with being a violation of SEC regulations?” Lyla took a deep breath and turned to Felicity, “Wow, that was a mouthful.”

“It certainly was,” Felicity agreed. “For a minute there it was like you were channeling me.”

“I promise you, if it’s the last thing we do, we will have this company under our management by Friday at the latest,” Isabel said darkly as she ignored their playful banter.

“You might be right but just in case it doesn’t work out for you,” Lyla tossed another folder in front of the other woman, “That is an offer to buy out all the shares in Queen Consolidated held by your company. We’ll offer your employers the same deal you just offered us; twenty-five percent above market value. Have your board of directors look it over and get back to us so we can work out the details.”

“No need,” she said shoving the packet back towards her, “We won’t be taking your offer.”

Lyla arched an eyebrow at that, “I’m afraid as a mere VP you don’t have the authority to make that decision.”

“I have been given full authority by my CEO and the board of Stellmoor International to do whatever it takes to get this company under my control,” Isabel said tightly.

“Regardless, please inform your employers that we prefer to do business with the person who’s actually in charge; or at least one who knows how to behave in a professional manner,” she looked down at her tablet and made a quick notation before glancing up at her, “If that’s all, Ms. Rochev, we’ll see you at the meeting on Friday.”

Isabel rose from her chair and set her hands on the table as she eyed Lyla angrily, “Keep in mind, Ms. Michaels, I still own forty percent of this company while you and your employers only own twenty.”

Lyla looked up at her and smiled, “And keep in mind, Ms. Rochev, that you don’t actually own any stocks in this company, Stellmoor International does.”

“And I represent Stellmoor International,” she said as if playing her trump card causing Felicity to chuckle, “I’m sorry, do you find that amusing?” she asked turning to her.

“I do actually,” Felicity confirmed. “I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t given the fact that it’s fairly obvious to me that, despite your status as a VP in your company, you really have no idea what you’re doing or how business works in the real world as opposed to…well, whatever TV show you were watching before coming here today.”

Lyla snickered at that causing Isabel to bristle indignantly while Moira’s lips tipped up in a triumphant grin.

“Really?” she sneered, “And what exactly led you to that conclusion?”

“The fact that you keep harping on this whole ‘forty percent’ share business for one thing,” she said with a smirk. “You seem to think that having a large percentage of our shares means you own the company somehow.”

“I do own the company, forty percent of it,” Isabel retorted.

“I won’t bother to again remind you that your company owns those shares since you obviously don’t want to hear that so, instead, let’s pretend for a minute that you do,” Felicity said reasonably. “Now that we’re past that, and since you must’ve been absent the day they taught this at whatever school you got your MBA from, allow me to explain to you how things work in the real world and what it is your forty percent actually buys you.”

At that Isabel’s cheeks grew ruddy with a combination of anger and embarrassment.

“What forty percent buys you is a voice at the table; a loud voice, but just a voice,” she said in a patronizing tone, her words paced as if speaking to a particularly dim child, “You get to give your opinion, maybe throw your weight around a little, but all you really get to do is be heard, but not necessarily obeyed,” she said pointedly. “If you want to be obeyed then your best bet is to start your own company and appoint an advisory board who would have no real power to change policy but only exist to offer the Chief Executive Officer their opinions. QC, however, has an executive board of directors so, even if you tried leveraging your forty percent to pull off a boardroom coup, it wouldn’t work because they have very strict guidelines they must follow when carrying out their duties.”

“I am very aware of what a managing board of directors does, Ms. Smoak,” she bit out.

“I don’t think you do because, if you did, you’d know that shareholders, even the ones who hold a majority share, do not control the company nor do they have a say in the day to day running of the company,” she said in an almost pitying tone causing the other woman to visibly seethe with anger. “What shareholders do is invest in the company, share in the profits, and vote for members of the board. Occasionally there may be some sort of special vote that has a direct impact on the direction of the company but, for the most part, even if you owned ninety-nine percent of the shares, you couldn’t just walk into the room ala Alexis Carrington and tell the board members that they had to bend to your will or else. No, in order to have real power in the way a business is run, this one in particular, you would have to be made a member of the board.”

“Which I fully intend on doing this Friday,” the other woman announced.

“You can’t,” Lyla said drolly.

“Oh, and why not?” she asked haughtily.

“Well, for one thing, there’s the fact that—“ Lyla began but Felicity waved her off.

“Let me; please,” she said offering the other woman a wink before clearing her throat, “Because, Ms. Rochev, having a board seat still won’t give you absolute control,” she explained. “Also board members only deal with broad management topics and not with the day to day running of the company; that’s what the CEO, COO, CFO, and CTO do along with their management team. See, it’s a system of checks and balances so in order to have any real power in Queen Consolidated you would have to be both a majority stock holder and hold an executive position within the company, neither of which are possible in your case.”

“Maybe not yet, but after I speak to the board on Friday and request to be made a member of the board and CEO of this company, I will be,” Isabel said firmly. “You don’t honestly believe that ‘legacy’ nonsense will sway the board to appoint you as CEO, do you?” she turned a nasty glare towards Oliver and his mother. “I don’t care if your name is on the side of the building. Your mother’s mismanagement along with her connection to the Undertaking when combined with your antics in the press pretty much guarantees that will never happen.”

“Yeah, you’re still not getting it,” Felicity said with a poorly concealed grin, “That’s okay though; live and learn. I’ll just let you figure it out for yourself at the board meeting. In the meantime, since you’re so adamant that your forty percent of shares means something, I’ll remind you that the people on this side of the table personally control a combined sixty percent of the company and hold executive positions not only within the company but on the board itself. Once you and your employers do the math I think you’ll both quickly realize that your forty percent isn’t nearly as significant as you’d like to think it is.”

“And you seem to think that your measly twenty percent means more than my forty percent!” the woman scowled.

“Well, to be fair, she actually owns her twenty percent whereas you just like thinking that you do,” Lyla said wryly causing Isabel to round on her angrily.

“I’ve had enough of this!” Isabel announced as she got up from her seat. She picked up the packet in front of her and practically threw it in Felicity’s face, “You can keep your offer because we won’t be selling our shares to you or anyone else and, once I get on the board, I’ll make certain that--!”

At that moment there was some activity outside the doors as both Ivan and Misha touched their ear pieces and began barking out orders to the two men near the executive elevators.

“What’s going on?” Oliver asked as he stood at alert while Dig unholstered his sidearm and walked over to the doors as well.

Felichka, Ms. Michaels; you need to come with me now,” Misha ordered as he stepped inside the conference room, his normally affable expression making way for a far more serious one.

“What’s going on?” Dig demanded.

“There’s been a security breach in the lobby,” he told them. “We need to take the stairs, now,” he said grimly as he looked to the two women.

“Let’s go; just leave everything behind and we’ll get it later,” Lyla said automatically reaching for Felicity’s arm to help her up before hurrying them both towards Misha.

“Wait, what kind of ‘breach’?” Isabel asked stepping between them and the bodyguard.

“You need to move out of the way,” the Russian ordered her.

“No, not until I find out what’s going on!” she said purposefully barring their way.

“Lady, move it or I will knock you on your bony ass!” Lyla said angrily.

“Touch me and I’ll sue!” she declared imperiously.

“We don’t have time for this,” Misha said shoving Isabel out of the way forcefully causing her to fall against Oliver with a muffled ‘oomph!’ before reaching for Lyla and Felicity.

Before he could pull them through the door though, the sound of automatic gunfire and yelling echoed from down the hall as three men burst into sight, all of them dressed in hooded tactical gear and carrying a variety of weapons including .9mm handguns, shotguns, compound bows, and AK-47 assault rifles.

“Oliver Queen, you have failed this city!” one of the men shouted before firing his shotgun causing glass to shatter all around them.

“Get down!” Dig ordered.

Oliver ducked his head and pushed Isabel ahead of him and out the door.

“Oliver!” Moira screamed as Dig grabbed her and shoved her under the conference table before laying down suppression fire.

“Go!” Misha stepped in front of them and shoved them towards the doors as well before firing his weapon towards the intruders.

“Fall back!” Dig shouted. “Oliver, go! Go, go, go, go!”

Oliver seemed torn for a second as he looked first towards his mother and Diggle and then to the women who were all covering their heads as glass continued to rain down.

“Listen to him, Oliver—go!” Moira shouted as she popped up from under the table to hurl Lyla’s laptop towards the gunmen causing them to scatter.

Oliver ducked down and ran towards the other women prompting one of the gunmen to call out, “Queen’s getting away—go! Move!”

He crowded near Lyla and shouted, “I’ll lead them away! Take Felicity into my mom’s office and lock the door!”

“Okay—damn it!” she cursed as one of either Diggle’s or Misha’s bullets made it past one of the gunman’s body armor and caused his finger to spasm on the trigger sending out a spray of gunfire that shattered the bank of floor to ceiling windows behind them.

Oliver moved past them to draw their fire while Lyla, Isabel, and Felicity all ducked down behind a couch. Lyla then reached under her skirt for her sidearm that was tucked into a garter holster as Isabel stared at her in surprise.

She ignored the other woman as she spoke directly to Felicity, “This couch is about two seconds from being shredded like toilet paper so I’m going to count to three and then I want you to do like Oliver said and head for the panic room in Moira’s office. Do you remember where it is?”

“Yeah, behind the filing cabinet on the far wall; what about you?” Felicity asked in alarm.

“I can take care of myself,” she told her as she pulled back the slide on her Glock, “On three; one, two…three!”

Isabel ran ahead of Felicity as Lyla began to fire her weapon behind them. Just as they were about to pass Oliver who was ducked down behind a large metal pillar, Isabel turned and Felicity screamed in pain as the other woman shoved her injured shoulder hard causing Oliver to turn to her in alarm. Unable to catch herself, she fell out of the shattered window as Isabel continued to run towards Moira’s office.

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Oliver saw Felicity begin to fall and, without even stopping to think about it, grabbed the chain to the vertical blinds and immediately launched himself out the window grabbing her by the wrist the second her feet left the ground. She screamed again as both of them fell through the air until the sudden jerk of the cord sent them careening towards the building. Oliver kicked out as hard as he could causing the second bank of windows to shatter and released Felicity as soon as they crossed the threshold.

Their combined momentum caused them to crash into a metal desk then skid across the slick marble floor before rolling to a stop.

For a few seconds Oliver just lay there stunned as he did a quick inventory of all his body parts. He would definitely be feeling it the next day but, other than a few cuts and bruises, he was fine. He turned to look for Felicity who was laying on her side, her glasses askew, and her hair obscuring most of her face.

“Felicity?” he asked worriedly reaching for her. When she didn’t answer he cupped her cheek and brushed the hair off her face, “Hey!” he said louder as he first checked her pulse then removed her glasses and tossed them aside so he could check her pupils.

He noted the red smear of blood on her temple and began to slap her cheek gently, “Felicity, open your eyes.”

Nothing.

He rose painfully to his feet and lifted her at the same time before glancing around him. They were in an empty office on what he assumed was the 58th or 59th floor but, ashamed to say, he wasn’t familiar enough with the building to know what department they were in or where they could safely hide until either Dig or the police could find them.

Taking a chance he carried her to the door and peeked outside into the empty corridor before heading down the hall. He could still hear the muffled sounds of gunfire from above them but the floor they were on was silent as a tomb. Then again, it wasn’t quite eight o’clock in the morning yet so, chances were, most of the office workers had yet to arrive.

That was actually a good thing; less people meant less collateral damage but it did beg to ask the question of how the ‘Hoods’ knew they would be there so early and on which floor they were holding the meeting—or even that there was going to be a meeting at all since it wasn’t like they sent out a press release or anything. He also wondered why they seemed to single him out as the target specifically and not his mother.

Not that he wanted them to go after his mother but the Hoods whole MO was to go after the people they felt were responsible for the Undertaking and Moira was the one publicly accused of colluding with Malcolm, not him. As far as the world knew, the only thing Oliver Queen was guilty of was cheating on his girlfriend six years ago and selling overpriced drinks at his club.

A few doors down he found an unlocked room and ducked inside.

“Must be the marketing department,” he murmured to himself taking in the rolls of glossy paper hanging from the walls. That meant they were only one floor down from the executive offices so the gunmen wouldn’t have to look far to find them.

He looked around the room quickly knowing that time was not on their side. The Hoods probably knew by now that they’d survived the jump so they only had a few minutes at best.

The room was rather large but felt small, almost claustrophobically so thanks to the large print copiers used to make banners and posters along with all the other office equipment and work tables. It had a fairly sturdy lock on the door though which he engaged one handed before looking for somewhere comfortable to place Felicity while he barricaded them inside.

He noticed a supply closet at the far end of the room and a second door that was cracked open just enough that he could tell it was a small washroom. He hurried over to the tiny bathroom and put her down then shut the door just in case. He then hurried back into the room and turned one of the large tables onto its side. He pushed it firmly against the door then unplugged a large copier and rolled it against the upturned table locking the wheels in place.

It wouldn’t stop them for long but it would slow the bullets if they fired their weapons through the door.

As soon as he was done he went back to where Felicity lay slumped against the cabinet under the sink and tried to revive her once more.

“Felicity, if you can hear me open your eyes,” he called out as he gently patted her cheek, once again noting the blood on her temple from the head injury she received either from the monitor that was sitting on the desk or from when they hit the floor, “Felicity!”

Again, no response.

He stood up and grabbed a wad of paper towels wetting them under the cool water before wiping the blood off her face carefully so he could better assess her wounds. It was a nasty bump for sure but it wasn’t bad enough to knock her out, at least not in his experience anyway, but that wasn’t saying much. His pain threshold was probably a hell of a lot higher than hers so if she did get clipped by a bullet or shot--

“Wait,” he said out loud as he rolled her over slightly and scanned for more blood that would indicate she’d been shot but, other than some cuts on her legs from the broken glass she seemed fine.

Another thought occurred to him then; when he grabbed her he wasn’t exactly gentle and the jerk from the cord might’ve wrenched her shoulder from the socket. He grimaced at the thought, knowing firsthand how painful a dislocated shoulder could be. If that was what happened then it was no wonder she fainted. He ran his fingers over her shoulder testing the bones.

Nothing, no obvious deformities that he could ascertain through her clothes anyway.

Her jacket was kind of snug though so it could be keeping the shoulder in place, he thought.

He debated removing her jacket knowing that if her shoulder was dislocated then the jacket would help keep it somewhat in place but he also knew that the tissues around it would begin to swell. If they were stuck there for a while, the swelling could cut off her circulation causing permanent damage or make it harder to pop it back into place later leading to surgery. Besides, if he had to pop it back into place then it was best to do it while she was unconscious.

He unbuttoned it carefully and eased it down her shoulders exposing her bare arms to his gaze.

“Shit,” he muttered taking in the bruised skin of her upper arm along with the deep bruises to her forearm where he’d grabbed her. No cuts though, he noted. Her jacket had at least saved her from that.

He gripped the shoulder joint and worked it slightly before deciding it wasn’t dislocated but it was obviously a near miss. Most likely she had separated it and he wouldn’t be surprised if she’d torn her rotator cuff or fractured her arm.

Still, while he was sorry for hurting her it was that or let her plunge sixty floors to her death and he was pretty sure she’d rather be in a cast and sling for a few weeks than in a coffin.

He reached behind her dress and eased the zipper down to look at her back. The surprising amount of bruising he saw made his eyebrows draw together in confusion.

What the hell did she hit? There was no way all that was caused from the fall.

“Felicity!” he said in a louder voice but still got no response from her. “Okay, come on,” he said as he got back onto his feet and carried her into the supply closet so they could stretch out a bit more. As soon as he got inside he put her back down on the floor and locked the door.

He looked around for something to barricade that door like he had the one leading into the corridor but most of the shelves were filled with things like boxes of highlighters and staples. He spotted a stack of metal chairs and jammed one under the door knob. It wouldn’t do much but it was something.

He sat down on the floor beside her and carefully put her head in his lap to keep her comfortable before reaching into his pocket for his phone. There were no messages or calls from Dig yet which…well, it could mean anything really. The fact that there was nothing yet worried him though and he was especially concerned for his mother.

He dialed 9-1-1 and immediately a woman’s voice came on the line.

“Starling City 911, what is your emergency?”

“This is Oliver Queen,” he said quietly as he kept an ear out for the Hoods, “I’m in the Queen Consolidated Building in the financial district. At least three men in body armor and automatic weapons entered the sixtieth floor of the building and began shooting.”

“Is anyone hurt?” the operator asked briskly.

“Yes, at least one person was hurt but I don’t know about anyone else. I’m guessing ‘yes’ though since the shooting began in the lobby,” he said grimly. “Look, I’m on the 59th floor in the marketing department holed up in the copy room with a woman who was injured in the attack. She’s unconscious and not responding.”

“Was she shot?”

“No, but she has a lot of bruising to her shoulder and back, and she hit her head pretty hard.”

“Is she breathing and can you check her pulse?” the dispatcher asked calmly but urgently.

He turned the phone on speaker and set it down beside them before checking her pulse again and making sure her breathing was okay.

“Her breathing and pulse seem normal for now but those guys are probably going to burst through those doors at any minute,” he told her. “I locked the door and barricaded us inside but you need to send a SWAT team and anyone else you can think of because these guys are armed to the teeth. They have on body armor and are carrying everything from AK-47 assault rifles, to combat bows, to…every other damn thing you can think of,” he said shortly. “I have reason to believe that these men are the same ones who attacked the Glades fundraiser and murdered the mayor so the police need to get here now.”

“We have several units already en route,” she assured him and he could hear the click of her keyboard in the background. “You said that there were three men; could you identify them? Did you see their faces or did they call each other by name?”

“No, they had on dark hoods along with tactical goggles, body armor, and masks that covered the bottom half of their faces,” he said with a grimace. “I also don’t know how many there were altogether. I only saw three but there could be more scattered throughout the building. Look, I need to get off of here; my mother is still upstairs--”

“Understood, sir, but I need you to stay on the line with me. We need to know what's going on so that we can help you and the rest of the people there. Is the injured woman still breathing alright? Does it appear labored?”

He rubbed a hand over his mouth in frustration before sighing, “No, she’s fine; her breathing is steady, she’s just unconscious.”

“Can you lift her shirt to see if she has any injuries to her chest area or obvious deformities to her ribcage?”

Oliver faltered at that for a moment, “What?”

“I need you to make sure she doesn’t have any penetrating injuries and tell me if it looks like she might have internal bleeding or broken ribs.”

“Okay,” he said clearing his throat before easing down the front of her dress and exposing her to the waist. He ignored the very lacy and sheer bra she had on and ran his gaze over her nearly naked form as clinically as he could manage. He then carefully tested her ribs with his hand, keeping his fingers (and his eyes) below her bra line. “I think she might have a fractured rib or two but there’s no obvious bruising to her torso; all of the damage seems confined to her upper back near her shoulder blades and the bump on her head.”

“What about her neck? Any sign of injury?”

“No, no neck injuries as far as I can tell but she hasn’t regained consciousness or moved on her own yet.”

“Keep her warm and try not to move her neck if you can avoid it. Keep her as still as possible and let me know if she begins to shake like she’s having a seizure or shows signs of going into shock.”

“Okay,” he said easing her back down so her head rested on his lap once more. He probably should’ve laid her flat on the ground but, while he knew that the dispatcher was worried that she may have injured her spine, he was fairly certain it was okay and he wanted to keep her comfortable. Still, just in case, he didn’t bother pulling her dress back up since he didn’t want to jostle her any more than necessary. Instead he removed his jacket and covered her with it to keep her warm.

“We have paramedics and police en route; do you know how many people are in the building besides the gunmen?”

“No,” he said trying to think as he loosened his tie and unbuttoned the first couple of buttons on his shirt, “I know there were some security guards in the lobby, at least two who are Queen Consolidated employees and two private security guards along with a few employees that I saw milling around the halls when I first came in but I don’t know how many are in the building altogether. When the gunmen attacked there were at least twelve people, including myself, on the sixtieth floor; two personal security guards stationed near the elevator, two more on the door to the conference room, and eight people inside the room itself including my own body guard. None of our personal security were in uniform but they were armed so please inform the police to only fire on the guys wearing hoods, okay?”

He never thought he’d say that with a straight face, Oliver thought ruefully.

“Do you know the names of all the people present?”

“Listen, I get why this is important but I really need to find out if my mother’s okay,” he said impatiently.

“There are several officers on the scene now but I don’t know if all of the gunmen have been subdued so I need you to stay where you are,” she said firmly. “The police are aware of your location and as soon as it’s safe, they will come for you, I promise.”

Christ, this is frustrating, he thought to himself. What he really wanted to do was head back upstairs and take down the gunmen himself, maybe even get hold of one of the bows they were carrying, but he couldn’t afford to expose himself as the Hood--Arrow, he corrected mentally.

He was still getting used to the name. Ghost Fox started calling him that since his handle in Russia had been ‘Luchnik’, or ‘Archer’. She changed it to ‘Arrow’ because she felt, in her words, that the ‘Hood’ was a little too reminiscent of the other less flattering nickname he’d received after joining the Bratva, ‘Kapot’, which translated to ‘car hood’ in English.

After she started to use the name regularly over the coms, Dig and Tommy followed suit so he decided to simply go with it.

Besides, he liked the sound of it a lot better than ‘The Hood’ especially now that a bunch of rogue vigilantes were using it to murder people in his name.

“Fine, I’ll stay put,” he told the dispatcher reluctantly.

Even though everything in him rebelled against the thought of pretending to be simply ‘Oliver Queen’, an ordinary guy who couldn’t take on several armed gunmen emptyhanded, he couldn’t risk exposing himself, especially not with policemen inside the building, nor could he leave Felicity alone and unprotected while she was unable to defend herself.

“Do you know the names of everyone present when the gunmen attacked?” she repeated.

He ran his hand over Felicity’s hair, smoothing it back from her face, and sighed, “No, not everyone. I know that, besides myself, there was my mother, Moira Queen, and our body guard, John Diggle. There was also our COO, Lyla Michaels, and three representatives from Stellmoor International, Isabel Rochev and two others, a man and a woman whose names I don’t know, and four other personal security guards all dressed in dark suits with visitor’s badges pinned to their lapels; two at the door and two just outside the room.”

“Anyone else?”

“Yes, uh, Felicity Smoak, our CTO,” he said looking down at her. “She’s with me in the supply closet.”

“Is her head wound still bleeding?” the dispatcher asked.

“No, it appears to have stopped. The only other blood I can see is from some minor cuts and scrapes due to the broken glass and I already told you about the bruising on her shoulder. I think she may have fractured her arm or separated her shoulder in the fall.”

“She fell? Did she fall while running away or…?”

“No, she fell out of the window,” he confirmed, “We both did.”

“Out of the window…from the sixtieth floor?” the dispatcher repeated in disbelief.

“Yeah, but we only fell about fifteen feet or so. I grabbed the pull chain on the blinds and we crashed through the window onto the floor below.” He grimaced, “That’s actually how she hurt her arm although the landing didn’t do either of us much good. I think she got the head injury when we crashed into a desk then landed on the floor.”

“Um, okay, uh…I think I need a supervisor--now,” he heard the dispatcher say quietly to someone on her end before speaking to him again, “Um, her neck; do you have anything to stabilize it with?”

“Her neck seems fine, it’s just her shoulder and the blow she took to the head,” he told her a bit impatiently. “It all happened pretty fast and I could be wrong but her head wound doesn’t look too serious. I think she hurt it on the computer monitor that was on the desk and not on the floor because the bleeding was minimal and there’s just a small bump so…”

“Okay,” she cleared her throat and he could hear the clacking of keys once more, “What about you, sir; are you hurt?”

“Just a few bruises and scratches; nothing big. How much longer before the paramedics arrive?” he asked. “I’m getting worried because, even though her head isn’t bleeding anymore, Ms. Smoak still hasn’t regained consciousness yet.”

“I’ll let you know as soon as I find out, sir. The police are still clearing the building so, until they’re sure it’s safe, the paramedics can’t go in but it shouldn’t be long.”

“Oliver…” Felicity said weakly.

“Hey,” he said softly looking down at her. “She’s awake,” he said to the dispatcher.

“Good, keep her talking and make sure she stays calm, also try to keep her still. The line is going to go silent while I communicate everything to the police and paramedics but I’m not hanging up, I’m merely muting my end of the call so if you need anything I’m still here.”

“Got it,” he looked down at her worriedly said he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, “Are you okay?”

“No,” she croaked out. “Everything hurts. Where’s Lyla?”

“She’s still upstairs,” Oliver told her.

“Is she okay?” she slurred, her eyes blinking lazily.

“I don’t know,” he said grimly.

She frowned blearily, “Someone pushed me out of a window.”

“Isabel Rochev,” he said ruefully, his lips quirking up wryly. “She must’ve shoved you out of her way and you fell.”

“What a fucking bitch,” she garbled before closing her eyes again.

“Hey, no; stay awake!” he ordered patting her cheeks again.

“Sir, is everything alright?”

“Yeah, hang on,” he told the dispatcher, “Felicity, you need to stay awake!”

“Everything hurts,” she groaned. “Isabel shoved me out of the window. God, she’s a bitch.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said wryly. “They’re sending some paramedics now.”

“Is she still conscious?” the dispatcher asked.

“Yeah, but she keeps trying to close her eyes and repeating herself though,” Oliver told her.

“That’s normal with a concussion. Try to keep her awake; talk to her and keep asking questions even if she keeps repeating the same thing over and over.”

“Got it,” Oliver said as he rubbed his thumb along her cheekbone and carefully turned her head towards him, “Hey, so…um, how’s your day going so far?” he joked.

She blinked up at him, “Not good. I’m never coming back to Paris ever again because this honeymoon sucks!” she slurred adamantly.

He couldn’t help but chuckle about that, “Yeah, I agree; especially seeing as I wasn’t even invited on our ‘honeymoon’ but my ex-girlfriend was.”

“You’re lucky you stayed behind ‘cause Paris people are just as rude as people say they are,” she said with a disgruntled moue. “They shoot guns at you and throw you out of windows.”

“That didn’t happen in Paris; that happened in the conference room,” he said dryly.

“Whatever,” she said in a breezy drunk way, “I still think this honeymoon sucks but at least you got to go skydiving. Or is it free-basing?” she mused shakily. “No, that’s when you smoke crack.” She narrowed her eyes at him, “You don’t smoke crack, do you?”

“No, back before the island I smoked a lot of stuff but never crack,” he said with a smile.

“Base jumping,” she said suddenly.

“Yep, base jumping,” he nodded. “That’s pretty much what we did alright.”

Felicity gazed up at him, her eyes clearing slightly, “You jumped out of the window and caught me.”

“I did,” he nodded again.

“Why aren’t we dead?” she asked, her eyebrows drawing together in confusion.

He cleared his throat with a sheepish expression, “Well, I grabbed the pull chain on the vertical blinds on the way down so…”

“Vertical blinds?” she repeated, her brow furrowing at that. “Like the kind that have that thin little cord that always gets uneven and makes the blinds all bunch together on one side?”

“Yeah,” he said guiltily.

“Those must be some really good quality blinds. I have to find out the name of those things so I can buy some for my apartment.”

He chuckled again, “Wow, I have to say, having your bell rung brings out the best in you.”

“I can be even better than this without the bell ringing,” she said with an adorable pout.

“Promise?” he asked softly and she hummed once more.

“In fact, people tell me I’m good like all the time. Lots and lots of people. They tell me I’m the best they ever had…” Felicity hummed dreamily with a dopey smile then frowned, “You know I didn’t mean that in a slutty way, right? Not that I’m a slut-shamer,” she said seriously then paused, her forehead wrinkling once more, “Except with Isabel; I don’t mind calling her a slut because that bitch pushed me out of a window.”

He snorted as he shook his head in amusement, “Well, if it’s of any comfort, I doubt she pushed you on purpose.”

“No, it was definitely on purpose but if it makes you feel better I won’t call her a bitch anymore. Not out loud anyway but I still get to call her that in my head, okay? But shh! Don’t tell anybody because I’m a feminist and feminists aren’t supposed to say that stuff…even when it’s true,” she said seriously.

“I promise I won’t tell anybody,” he said solemnly.

“Oliver?” she asked suddenly.

“Hmm?” he hummed.

“Don’t sleep with that slutty bitch Isabel…even though I’m not supposed to tell you that she’s a slut and a bitch. Also, I’m not allowed to tell you that you can’t sleep with her since that would make me sound jealous and I’m totally not jealous so just pretend that I never told you not to sleep with her but don’t sleep with her anyway,” she said with a frown.

“Okay, but for the record, I wasn’t planning on sleeping with her even before you mentioned it,” he said wryly.

“Good, because don’t. Even though I’m not jealous, I don’t like her, and it would be really, really wrong,” she said firmly. “She was mean to you, and she threw me out of a window, plus it would be gross for lots and lots of other really good reasons that I can’t tell you about like the fact that she sucks hard and not in the way that you probably like girls to suck hard,” she scowled, her eyelids fluttering as she fought to stay awake.

“Okay, wow,” Oliver said trying not to burst into laughter.

“Not that I’m judging you for that,” she assured him. “I hear most guys like girls who suck. Not in the ‘you suck!’ context but in the ‘oral sex’ kind of way. I don’t do that though. At least I haven’t yet but I might someday. Depends,” she rambled.

He stared at her in surprise for a moment before deciding, ‘What the hell?’

“Depends on what exactly?” he asked curiously.

The dispatcher’s voice came over the line, “Sir, we just got word that the police are on-site and that the building has been cleared. We’re sending an officer to your location now. Please stay on the line and do not open the door until we can confirm it’s safe.”

“What about the paramedics?” he asked quickly, his mind focusing on the task at hand.

“They should be on their way as well.”

“Do you know if my mother is alright? Was anyone else hurt or…” he let his words trail off as he waited pensively.

“I don’t know, sir. All I know is that we received several calls from Queen Consolidated requesting police assistance but I don’t have any other information than that. Police are on the scene though and as soon as I hear anything about your mother I’ll be sure to pass it on.”

His jaw tightened and he shifted Felicity closer to him, “Thank you. Please let me know as soon as you find out.”

“My head still hurts and my body feels like owwwww,” she whined.

“I know it does. You probably have a mild to moderate concussion; you banged it pretty hard after we crashed through the window and were out for a good five minutes or so,” he said quietly as he continued to stroke her hair soothingly.

“Getting shot sucks,” she informed him flatly.

“You were shot?” he asked in alarm as he checked her over once more.

“Yeah, while I was on our honeymoon in Paris,” she murmured sleepily as she turned to snuggled further into his stomach. “I told you it sucked there. The rude Paris terrorists came inside and started shooting and then I got shot and fell down really hard but that was okay because I was bulletproof.”

He gave a breathy chuckle at that, “Felicity, that isn’t what happened. This isn’t Paris, it’s Starling, and you didn’t get shot, you just bumped your head.”

“I did get shot in Paris,” she insisted, “That’s why my shoulder hurts.”

“No, I’m the reason your shoulder hurts,” he said feeling a flush of guilt. “I wrenched it pretty hard when I grabbed you and tossed you through the other window.”

Felicity frowned up at him as she reached up a shaky hand to cup his cheek tenderly, “Oliver, you need to stop feeling so guilty all the time. It isn’t healthy. Stop being a crying wolf and just eat the lamb because guilt won’t fill your stomach; it just makes your tummy hurt.”

He let out a breath and shook his head ruefully, “Okay, whatever you say.” He let out a small chuckle, “Damn, remind me to take you out for drinks sometime because you are one pleasant drunk, you know that?”

“I’m always pleasant,” she retorted, her eyes closing. “I’m a very nice person.”

“Eyes open, okay?” he said jostling her slightly and causing her to frown up at him with an annoyed expression.

“But I’m tired,” she whined.

Oliver gave her a sympathetic smile, “I know but you still need to stay awake until the EMT’s get here.”

“But I didn’t get any sleep last night because the stupid Calculator shot me.”

“What?” he asked in confusion.

She nodded, “The Calculator was going to shoot Lyla because she tried taking his money but I jumped and he shot me instead,” she explained. “Plus there were these other rude Paris people shooting at us and I didn’t even get to eat any real French food because Lyla made some kind of taco soup that gave me heartburn.” She frowned at that, “She told me to tell you I ate a bad snail but it was really her cooking that did it. It was good, just way too spicy. Her pot roast is a lot better though.”

Oliver’s eyebrows drew together in confusion, “Okay…”

“Oh, and I got some jewelry while I was there,” she said smugly. “I took it from the Calculator even though he didn’t want me to have it.”

“You took jewelry from a calculator?” he repeated.

She hummed in the affirmative, “Yup, I went to the bank and got a bunch of money and found some jewelry. It was really nice jewelry, too; millions and millions of dollars-worth. I’m going to give it to my mom as a present.”

“That’s nice,” he said in bemusement. “Well, at least you got to do some shopping then.”

“Not really but Helena did. She bought a ton of clothes and shoes but I didn’t get to go because I robbed the Calculator at the bank and got shot. I did buy the Eiffel Tower for you but I don’t have it on me,” she said with a disappointed moue. “It’s in my purse upstairs with the rude Paris people and that bitch Isabel.”

He tightened his lips and tried his best to keep a straight face, “Wow, so you bought me the Eiffel Tower and have it in your purse? That must be a really big purse.”

“It’s just a normal sized purse actually. I would’ve gotten you something better, like a tie or something because I usually give really good gifts, but then the Calculator shot me because he didn’t want me to take his money,” she said apologetically. “Also, Lyla said we should have sex.”

His eyebrows shot up to his hairline, “Lyla said you should have sex with a calculator?”

“No, that would be gross! Having sex with the Calculator would be like having sex with my dad even though he isn’t my dad. Well, he is my dad but he isn’t my dad because my dad is my dad,” she said taking umbrage.

Oliver blinked at that, “So your dad is the calculator?”

She gave him a chastising look, “No, the Calculator isn’t my dad, my dad is my dad, remember?”

“You’re right, I’m sorry. I got confused for a second there; the calculator is definitely not your dad,” he said carefully.

“Thank you,” Felicity said seemingly mollified, “Back to what I was saying, Lyla said I should have sex with you because we have unresolved sexual tension. Do you think we have unresolved sexual tension?”

“Oh, I see,” he grinned, “I don’t know, what do you think?”

Felicity’s brow furrowed as she appeared to mull that over for a moment, “I told her you don’t have unresolved sexual tension with me because you don’t know me, you only know the other me and you’ve never even met the other me so how can we have sex if we’ve never met?”

“I’d like to get to know you,” he said not even bothering to sort through her nonsensical ramble. “I especially like the fact that you’re finally calling me ‘Oliver’ instead of ‘Mr. Queen’. Even if it took a blow to the head to get us to this point,” he added ruefully.

“Oops,” she said wide-eyed, “I’m sorry, it was an accident.”

“It’s okay, you can keep calling me Oliver; I want you to,” he said warmly.

“I’m not allowed though,” she said seriously.

He smoothed his hand over her hair again, “Why not?”

She gave him a dejected look, “Because then I might start to like you on accident.”

He paused at that for a second, “Is that a bad thing?”

She hummed.

“Why?”

“Because then I would get confused because I already like you and it would mean liking you twice as much and this isn’t supposed to be real,” she said forlornly.

“It could be real,” he offered hesitantly, “At the very least we could be friends; maybe not now but someday? Maybe even more than that?” He frowned, “I don’t know. This isn’t exactly something I planned for…not that—not that you planned for it either,” he conceded, “And you’re right; I don’t know you and you don’t know me but…but it kind of feels like I do at the same time and I don’t know why. And I want to like you; I really do, and I trust you, even though that doesn’t make sense. All I can think of is that your dad used to talk about you so maybe that’s why I feel connected to you? Or maybe not? It’s weird because I didn’t want to like you, or rather, I didn’t really consider whether or not I would like you but I do…even though you obviously don’t like me,” he said with a grimace.

Oliver shook his head and let out a pent up breath, “Or you didn’t until you hit your head. God, I’m so fucking confused. This whole thing is nuts, all of it, but…but we’re here and we’re going to be together for a long time, probably for the next ten years or more, so maybe…maybe if we got to know each other better and gave it a chance, really tried to make it work, then maybe being married to each other wouldn’t be such a bad thing, would it?”

She frowned up at him, “Are you asking me or yourself?”

“Both,” he admitted with a soft curving of his lips.

Felicity reached up and traced his smile lightly with her fingertips causing his breath to catch in his chest, “You should smile more,” she told him. “It makes you look pretty. Not ‘pretty like a girl’ pretty but man-pretty.” She smiled up at him, “And it makes your eyes crinkle at the corners,” she hummed tracing the fine lines near his eyes. “I like when they crinkle. They should do it all the time.”

“Yeah?” he said softly. “Well, maybe if you and I got to know each other better they would?”

“No,” she said with a surprisingly melancholy expression.

“Why not?” he asked again.

“Because this is the real me and you only like me when I’m not me,” she said seriously.

“I like this you,” he countered. “In fact, I think I could learn to like this you a lot. I only wish I could see more of this you when you weren’t loopy from a blow to the head. I even kind of like the other you, too.”

“No, you don’t,” she said sadly.

“Hey, I get to decide who I do and don’t like, okay?” he scolded gently.

“Do you really like me?” she asked hopefully. “Even when I’m me and not somebody else who’s also me but not?”

He chuckled, “Yeah, I really do. I like you even when you’re being the you that won’t call me by my first name and who completely slapped down Isabel Rochev in that conference room. She was kind of bad ass, not to mention hot, but I prefer the one who does call me by my name and talks to me like I’m a human being and not a waste of her time so maybe you can be this you more often?” he asked hopefully.

“I wish I could, that would be nice,” she said with a contented purr as she leaned into the hand that was still stroking her hair gently. “That feels nice,” she made a contented noise, “I wish this was real.”

“It is real,” he assured her.

“Are you sure?” she asked, her brow suddenly crinkling in apprehension.

“Positive,” he said playfully then frowned as she raised her hand to feel the top of her head, “Are you okay?”

“I don’t know, can you look and see if I have a tail?” she asked seriously.

He burst out in laughter, “What?”

“Do I have a tail and ears?” she repeated with a slightly worried expression.

“Um, no tail; you do still have ears though,” he murmured as he traced the shell of her ear softly, then examined the odd lightning shaped bar piercing there curiously.

“Do they look like people ears?” she asked wide-eyed.

“Yep, they just look like normal people ears to me,” he chuckled. “What’s this for?”

“That’s my tracker,” she hummed as he rubbed his thumb over it. “Dyadya gave it to me. It helps me find my way home in case I ever get lost.”

“Good to know,” he said as he ran his eyes over her features once more and continued to comb his fingers through her silky hair gently.

“I like when you do that,” she purred.

Oliver grinned down at her, “You do?”

“Uh huh,” she nodded sleepily, “It makes my head feel better like last night when Lyla washed my hair in the bathtub.”

“Wait, what?” he asked startled.

“Yeah, she washed my back, too, and it felt really, really good,” she hummed.

Oliver’s eyebrows drew together at that, “Huh. Well, that explains a lot,” he muttered.

At that moment his phone pinged with a text from Diggle just as someone began to bang on the door.

“Mr. Queen! This is the police; are you alright in there?”

“We are now,” he called out.

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The EMT’s tried to argue with him about going to the hospital but, as much as he was tempted to go if only to watch over Felicity, he needed to check on his mother and the others first.

After he watched them load her up in the gurney, he hurried upstairs to find his mother and Isabel in a staring contest as both women squared off with one another.

“I want her arrested for attempted murder,” his mother insisted.

“Mom,” he called out to her and she immediately turned and hurried towards him.

“Oh my beautiful boy!” she cried out as she wrapped her arms around him. She pulled back and cupped his cheeks worriedly, “I thought my heart was going to stop when I saw you fall.” She rounded on Isabel once more and pointed an accusing finger her way, “That woman deliberately pushed my son and Ms. Smoak out of the window! I want her arrested! For all we know she was in on it with these Hood people!”

“Ma’am, please…” one of the officers said soothingly.

“No! She tried to kill my son!” she insisted.

“She’s insane!” Isabel snapped. “I did no such thing!”

“Oliver, tell them what she did; that woman deliberately shoved Felicity out of the window and, when you tried to catch her, you both fell—tell them!” she ordered.

“Is that true, sir?” one of the detectives asked.

Oliver grimaced, “Yes it’s true that while attempting to get away from the gunmen, Ms. Rochev shoved Ms. Smoak out of the way and she fell from the window—“

“I told you! Arrest her!” Moira sang out triumphantly.

“But--!” he said giving his mother a stern look, “It was an accident. Ms. Rochev just panicked and she shoved her by accident.”

“It wasn’t on accident, Oliver, it was on purpose!” his mother insisted with a scowl. “I saw her do it!”

“That’s a lie and if you repeat that or accuse me of plotting with those Hood people again, I will sue you for slander,” Isabel spat turning her hate-filled gaze towards both of them.

“How else could they know about the meeting?” his mother demanded.

“Maybe one of your many disgruntled employees leaked it?” the other woman retorted. “After all, you did murder over five hundred people, maybe they were attempting to get some payback just like these so-called ‘Hoods’?”

“My mother didn’t murder anyone,” Oliver insisted stepping between the two women.

“Right,” Isabel drawled. “And I’m sure that the reason your girlfriend got on national television and accused her of conspiring with Malcolm Merlyn was because she was still angry over you sleeping with her sister. You and your mother have a tendency to bring out the worst in people, don’t you?”

“Apparently so,” he agreed with a pointed look.

“The meeting was scheduled for 8:30, we all arrived nearly forty minutes or better before that, and yet the gunmen not only knew when and where the meeting was taking place but specifically targeted my son!” his mother insisted. “Not only that but you knew I was planning on stepping down and naming my son as CEO—even though that was not common knowledge, and when you found out that Ms. Smoak was the one who bought the remaining shares, effectively preventing your takeover from going through, you shoved her out of the window! Now tell me that sounds like an accident!” she demanded as she turned to one of the detectives.

“You’re insane!” Isabel returned furiously.

“Okay, hang on,” Detective Lance stepped through the fray of cops, EMT’s, and firemen crowding the room and looked between all of them, “Okay, so what’s going on here?”

“What’s going on is after I take this company, I’m going to sue that woman for every last penny she has,” Isabel said in an icy registry.

“Okay, duly noted,” Lance said wryly before turning to Moira, “And what about you?”

“Detective Lance,” she began in a regal tone.

“It’s patrolman now actually,” he said indicating his uniform.

“Detective, patrolman; whatever,” she said making a dismissive gesture, “The point is that this…woman,” she spat, “was working with the Hoods to kill me and my son so she could steal our company and, when she couldn’t, she attempted to murder Ms. Smoak by shoving her from an open window.”

“And who is Ms. Smoak?” Lance asked looking around.

“Felicity Smoak is the new CTO of Queen Consolidated,” Lyla answered as she stepped forward along with Dig.

“And where is Ms. Smoak now?” the (former) detective asked.

“The hospital,” Oliver told him. “She hurt her shoulder and hit her head in the fall.”

“The fall from this window?” The older man stepped towards the now cordoned off window and pointed, “And you went out the window, too?” he asked Oliver.

“I tried to save her but then we both went over. Luckily, I managed to reach out and grab the pull chain on the blinds to stop us from falling and then swung us into the office on the floor below,” he said slowly.

The other man looked at the now bent and mangled blinds before offering him a wry look, “Guess all that time spent livin’ in the jungle paid off, huh? Maybe you should consider renaming yourself ‘Tarzan’.” He turned to Isabel, “So Ms…?”

“Rochev,” she offered irritably.

He nodded, “And what exactly do you do here?”

“I’m the Vice President of Acquisitions for Stellmoor International,” she told him impatiently.

“And, as a VP of whatever, do you regularly go around shoving people out of windows? As a standard business practice I mean,” he asked her.

“It was an accident,” she bit out tersely. “Are you arresting me or can I go?”

“Depends on what the detective in charge says; I’m just a patrolman,” he said wryly.

“Then why am I even talking to you?” Isabel said with a huff of disgust.

“Well, for one thing, he’s asking some pretty good questions, that’s why,” one of the detectives said stepping up to join them.

Isabel scowled, “Who are you?”

“Detective Byron Jones,” he offered politely while flashing a toothy grin. “Now back to what Officer Lance was asking you earlier; did you or did you not deliberately shove Ms. Smoak out of the window?”

“No, I did not shove Ms. Smoak out of the window nor was I somehow connected to those terrorists who burst in here,” she growled. “If I accidently bumped into Ms. Smoak while attempting to escape, then it was probably due to the fact that someone was firing a machine gun at me and I was trying to avoid getting shot; happy now? Can I go?”

“Have you given your statement to the other officers yet?” the detective asked calmly.

“Yes,” she bit out.

“Then you can go,” he said easily. “Just make sure to leave a card with one of the officers so that we can contact you if we need any further information.”

“What no warnings about me not leaving town?” Isabel sneered contemptuously as she picked up her briefcase and adjusted her handbag on her arm.

The dark skinned detective gave her another toothy grin as he straightened his thick horn-rimmed glasses, “Why, do you think there’s any reason we should?”

Isabel glared at him, “If you have any further questions I’m staying across the street at the Marchioness and I’ll be in town for the foreseeable future. After all, I still have to meet with the board on Friday—“

“You won’t be meeting with anyone, not here you won’t,” Moira said firmly as she stepped forward. She pointed an accusing finger towards Isabel, “That woman is banned from this building, do you hear me? If you people won’t arrest her for trying to murder Ms. Smoak and my son, then if she steps so much as one foot on Queen Consolidated property I’ll have her arrested for trespassing!”

“You can’t do that!” Isabel sneered at her, “I own forty percent of the stock in this company!”

“Actually you don’t,” Lyla said stepping forward. She had an icepack being held against her forearm by an ACE bandage but, other than that, she seemed fine. She turned to Lance, “Ms. Rochev doesn’t work here nor does she personally own any stock in this company, so if you could please have your officers escort her off the premises we’d appreciate it.”

“Escort me off the premises?” She gave a harsh chuckle at that, “I don’t think so,”

“Well, if I were you I’d get used to the idea because our CEO and primary shareholder wants you to leave, therefore you can officially consider yourself banned from these premises, Ms. Rochev,” Lyla returned coldly before glancing at Lance once more, “We’ll have our legal department apply to the court for a TRO but, in the meantime,” her eyes settled back on the other woman, “I’m sure a company as large as Stellmoor International has more than one capable employee on its payroll so please inform your employers to send someone else as you won’t be in attendance at that meeting.”

“You don’t get to decide that,” Isabel said tightly.

“Actually I do,” Lyla told her. “Or rather Mrs. Queen does since she owns the building. In any case, please notify your superiors that you’ve been told not to return and to send someone else in your place.”

“That’s not going to happen,” she spat.

Lyla shrugged, “Then I guess your company won’t be represented at the board meeting then.”

“I will sue you if you try to keep me from that meeting,” she warned her.

“Sue away,” Lyla smirked. “I doubt you’ll win though because, as I said, we’re not banning your company from attending.” She cleared her throat before speaking forcefully enough to gain the attention of the few people around them who were not already riveted by the tense scene playing out between their CEO and the other woman, “Ms. Rochev, I must inform you that Queen Consolidated has a zero tolerance policy in place when it comes to workplace violence and you are believed by Mrs. Queen, the property owner of record, to present a clear and present danger to the safety of her family as well as those under her employ not only because of the unprofessional behavior you’ve shown thus far toward both Ms. Smoak and the rest of the Queen family, but for the alleged assault against Ms. Smoak.”

“I didn’t assault anyone!” the other woman insisted, her expression livid. “Even if I did shove her, which I did not, it was on accident!”

“It doesn’t matter,” Lyla shrugged. “The fact remains that you laid hands on one of our employees therefore causing physical harm and endangering her life and, according to our zero tolerance policy--which, by the way, has been in place here at Queen Consolidated since 2001,” she added as an aside, “the question of whether that act of violence was intentional or unintentional is irrelevant.”

She tightened her lips and bit out, “This is ridiculous! This won’t stand up in court and the board will fire all of you once I tell them about how you attempted to have me removed from the premises!”

“I doubt that since they’re the ones who voted in the zero tolerance guidelines which clearly state that ‘any physical contact between individuals that causes harm or the potential of harm will be considered grounds for termination and/or permanent expulsion from Queen Consolidated property’. Therefore, as per our policies, you are officially banned from ever entering these premises again. That said, you are welcome to file a formal protest with the board but you will have to do so through an intermediary or through your attorneys as you will not be allowed to return while this matter is under review. We do understand however that Stellmoor International has a legitimate right to be represented at the board meeting so your company is more than welcome to send another representative, just as long as that representative isn’t you.”

Isabel looked ready to spit nails as she seethed with anger, “This is the most unprofessional behavior I’ve ever seen in my life!”

“You know who else’s behavior could be described as grossly unprofessional? Yours,” Moira said with a triumphant glare, “From the minute you walked in here and accused Ms. Smoak of sleeping with my son because you were angry about the fact that she bought those shares before you could, to the moment you deliberately shoved her out of the window because she stopped your bid to take over this company, your behavior has been both unprofessional and reprehensible in every way imaginable.”

“Actually her unprofessional behavior came way before that when she told Felicity to get her a cup of coffee without so much as bothering to ask who she was,” Lyla said dryly. “In any case, I feel it would be best if your company sent another representative so, if you won’t make the request, then I will. Just know, Ms. Rochev, that—again, you are hereby permanently banned from the premises or from having any contact with Ms. Smoak or any other member of the Queen family, and that we will be informing your employers as well as our attorneys about this matter.”

“You’re going to regret crossing me,” she said looking Lyla dead in the eye. “When I’m done with you and your company, there will be nothing left.”

“Is that a threat?” Moira asked in a dangerous tone.

“It’s a promise,” Isabel said meeting her stare unflinchingly.

“Really?” Moira said with a triumphant smirk. “I’d like to see you keep that promise, Ms. Rochev.”

“Oh, you will,” she said in an icy registry. “And feel free to give Ms. Smoak my wishes for a speedy recovery. Also, please let her know that by the time my attorneys and I are done with her, accidentally getting ‘shoved’ out of a window will be the least of her problems.”

“How is that not a threat?” Moira demanded turning to the officers. “She practically admitted that she intended to do Ms. Smoak harm! Why aren’t you arresting her?”

“Okay, I think we all need to calm down here--” Jones began in an attempt to intervene but was ignored.

“I never once admitted anything of the sort. Also, that wasn’t a threat,” Isabel said with another upturn of her lips as she looked to Lyla, “That was merely a statement of fact.”

“Honey, little piece of advice,” Lyla said stepping forward and returning her glare with one of her own, “I’ve been threatened before, and by way scarier bitches than you, and I’m still here, so you might want to take that into consideration before making threats or issuing ‘facts’ that we both know you can’t back up.” She turned to Lance and the other detective, “Fair warning boys, you better get her out of here or break out the handcuffs because it’s about to get real.”

“She means it,” Dig said seriously as he looked to Lance. “Believe me, I know; I was once married to her.”

Lance cleared his throat and waved over another uniformed officer, “Hey Pete, mind seeing the lady out?”

“No need,” Isabel spat without shifting her hate-filled gaze off the other two women, “Try to keep me from that meeting and I’ll see you in court. Move!” she ordered her two associates as she turned on her heels and marched out the door to the elevator.

“Yeah, she’s a real sweetheart,” Lance said sarcastically as he watched her progress out of the room.

“I can’t believe you didn’t arrest her,” Moira said looking between the two officers. “I saw the whole thing, I tell you! She deliberately turned to Felicity then shoved her as hard as she could out of the window! There’s even video evidence of it, I believe. Frank! Frank, come here and tell these officers about the security footage,” she called out as she waved over QC’s head of security, Frank Harris.

The harried looking man walked over and turned to the officers, “I turned over copies of all the surveillance files to your officers earlier so whatever you need should be on there.”

“Mrs. Queen, even if the video does show Ms. Rochev shoving Ms. Smoak out of her way and her falling out of the window as a result, I doubt the DA will file any charges since her lawyers are going to argue that she was fleeing for her life and that no intent to harm existed,” Detective Jones told her.

“But she had a motive for wanting her dead, just as she had a motive to hurt my son, and she practically stated that she intended to try again!” Moira insisted before turning to Lance, “Detective, I know our families have had a difficult history with one another but this isn’t just about my family, this is about Ms. Smoak’s safety as well.”

“Again, it’s just ‘Officer’ Lance now,” he reminded her before looking between her and Oliver, “However, if it would make you feel better we could get a statement from Ms. Smoak. She’s at Starling Gen, right?”

“I believe so, yes,” Oliver confirmed.

“Oh God, I forgot to ask; is Felicity alright?” his mother asked worriedly.

“She cracked her head pretty good and hurt her shoulder when she bounced off the desk onto the floor but I think she’ll be okay,” Oliver assured her.

Lyla winced, “She bounced off a desk onto the floor? Which shoulder?”

“The right one,” he told her causing her to flinch again.

“That’s not good,” she muttered.

“Yeah, well, when I grabbed her I wasn’t exactly in any position to be gentle so there’s a good chance she separated her shoulder and maybe even fractured something,” he said with a guilty expression. “She also told the EMT’s that her ribs hurt so she might’ve cracked them when we hit the desk, that or she hurt herself when we sort of bounced then rolled across the floor.”

“Oh crap,” Lyla breathed with a pained expression as she rubbed her fingers over her furrowed brow. “Yeah, she’s definitely going to need some Epsom salts tonight, not to mention a few ice packs, and a shit load of pain killers.”

“Oh my goodness, that poor girl,” Moira tutted.

“It could’ve been worse,” Oliver reminded them. “To be honest though, she didn’t seem that bothered by her injuries until the EMT’s started jostling her around, In fact, up until they arrived she was actually pretty relaxed and calm. Of course, she was also pretty out of it. She kept telling me a calculator shot her because she broke the bank buying some jewelry for her mom while she was in Paris,” he chuckled. “Oh, and she also told me that she bought the Eiffel Tower for me as a gift and that it was in her purse and that, um, you guys took a bath together last night and that you washed her hair for her,” he said while eyeing Lyla curiously.

“What?” Diggle sputtered incredulously, “Lyla?”

“Yeah, that’s weird,” Lyla burst out with a startled laugh. “Jeez, I wonder where she got that from, huh?”

His mother’s eyebrows drew together in confusion, “That is strange.”

“Well, she did have a concussion,” Oliver shrugged relaxing slightly.

“Oliver’s right, concussions make people say some strange stuff sometimes,” Lyla said with another forced chuckle.

“Yeah, I once answered a call where the victim of a carjacking got hit over the head. The guy kept going on and on about how he had a bunch of chickens in his car and he was worried that the carjackers would eat them,” Detective Jones mused. “Turns out he stopped off at Church’s for a ten piece just before they jacked him at the red light. It was weird; he’d just had his sixty thousand dollar Benz stolen but he was more worried about fifteen bucks worth of take-out.” He frowned, “‘Course they do have really good chicken there, helluva lot better than Popeye’s, and those honey butter biscuits are downright addictive.” The detective turned to Moira, “I realize that you probably don’t eat a lot of fast food but you might want to check them out sometime.”

“That’s very fascinating,” Lance said sarcastically.

“Watch it, patrolman; I outrank you now, remember?” Jones tossed back.

Lance turned to look between Oliver and his mother, “So who is this Ms. Smoak person? I’m getting the impression that you guys knew her before all this business stuff, especially since Ms. Michaels here made it sound like she was part of the family?”

“Well, that’s because Felicity practically is a member of our family as she and her parents have been friends of ours for years,” Moira lied smoothly. “My husband, Robert, and Felicity’s father had frequent business dealings with one another and we grew quite close as a result.”

“Really?” Lance said with a nod, “And her last name is ‘Smoak’?”

“Felicity Smoak, yes,” Oliver told him.

The other man looked at him suspiciously, “I knew a guy by the last name ‘Smoak’ once. His family was from Germany, said his last name originated from somewhere in Bavaria.”

“That’s…fascinating,” Oliver said in confusion.

“The point is it isn’t a Russian name and yet all of her bodyguards are Russian. In fact, one of my guys told me that when she saw her bodyguards being loaded up into the ambulances she started crying and calling out for her ‘dada’. The older fella who was there got upset and told the EMT’s that he was her uncle and insisted on riding in the same ambulance with her, while the two drivers claimed she was their cousin, and the bodyguard who was up here with you said she was his little sister; why is that?” Lance asked with a pointed look.

“Because Felicity grew up there,” his mother told him impatiently. “Felicity and her mother, Donna, are both American but moved to Russia after Donna remarried a Russian man who formally adopted Felicity when she was seven. She considers him to be her father but she uses her mother’s maiden name for business purposes.”

“And what name does she use when she isn’t doing business?” Lance asked wryly.

“Knyazev,” Lyla answered for them. “Her father’s name is Anatoly Knyazev and he’s a prominent businessman in Russia as well as a former diplomat.”

“Diplomat, huh?” Lance said neutrally.

“It would explain all the muscle along with the diplomatic papers they showed us when we asked about the concealed weapons,” Jones said quietly.

Lyla cleared her throat, “As I said, both Anatoly Knyazev and his wife, Donna, are very important people in Russia and there have been kidnapping attempts in the past so Felicity is surrounded by bodyguards 24/7.”

“Who also happen to all be related to her and who she calls ‘dada’?” Lance asked skeptically.

“Colonel Ivan Vasilyevich, formerly of the Russian FSS, isn’t her uncle by blood but he’s been the head of her security team since she was seven years old so she calls him ‘Dyadya Ivanych’ or simply ‘dyadya’ which is Russian for ‘uncle’,” Lyla explained. “Michael or Misha Leonov is actually her cousin through her father’s side of the family. They were raised almost as brother and sister from the time they were little and his father, Pyotr Leonov, owns the security company that provides her with protection whenever she comes to the US. They are an extremely large and tight knit family so he placed his son on her detail because he was worried about all the violent attacks that have been happening here and wanted to reassure her father that she had people he could trust looking out for her. The other guards are somehow either related to the Leonov family or distant cousins of the Knyazevs so, yes, she has guards and drivers that all happen to be related to her,” she shrugged.

“I realize it sounds unusual, detective, but it’s actually part of their culture,” Moira interjected. “Unmarried girls of Felicity’s class in Russia aren’t allowed to keep company with men unless they’re related to them. In fact, Felicity has never been alone with a man unless accompanied by either a male relative or a female ‘chaperone’. It sounds horribly old fashioned and somewhat oppressive to Western ears, I know, but Anatoly and his family are very old world in the way they do things and he’s especially protective of Felicity as she’s his only child.”

“If he’s that old fashioned then I’m surprised he’d let her come all the way to Starling City to become your, what was it? CTO?” he asked with a skeptical look in his eye.

“Just because her father is understandably protective of her, that doesn’t mean he keeps her under lock and key. She isn’t a prisoner, detective,” Moira objected. “Felicity happens to be a very successful businesswoman in her own right and she’s extremely independent despite the number of guards that surround her. She chooses to observe her family’s customs as a matter of honor, not because she’s some sort of victim of subjugation or anything. Also there is the fact that the Knyazevs are some of the richest people in all of Russia. In fact, they’re some of the richest people in the world so it’s understandable that she would have several armed security guards protecting her at all times.”

“Then why haven’t I ever heard of them?” Lance asked acerbically.

“Because Mr. Knyazev is an extremely private person and is especially vigilant about keeping his family’s name out of the press,” Lyla answered for her. “As I said, there have been kidnapping and extortion attempts as well as threats against the family in the past. That’s the reason she uses her mother’s maiden name when she’s here in the States; to avoid the spotlight and the dangers that come with it. Also, assigning relatives to her security team wasn’t done simply for reasons of tradition or modesty, it was done that way because Mr. Knyazev as well as Colonel Vasilyevich both felt that, given Felicity’s need to remain anonymous, these men would be more protective of her privacy and less likely to leak her location to the press or collude with her kidnappers. Speaking of, I would appreciate it if you could avoid putting her name down in your reports as ‘Felicity Knyazev’ or make any mention of her father?” she asked in a more confidential tone, “I know it sounds like I’m trying to cover something up but if it got out that Felicity Knyazev, daughter of the billionaire industrialist and former Representative and Liaison Officer of the Ministry of the Interior, Anatoly Knyazev--who, by the way, is a two time recipient of the Hero of the Russian Federation medal for extraordinary service to his country-- was attacked by armed gunman and tossed out of a window, it could cause an international incident.”

‘Hero of the Russian Federation’? You seriously expect us to fall for that line of bullshit?” Lance said with a snort.

Lyla took her phone out of her pocket and scrolled through it before handing it to the two officers.

“Is that…Vladimir Putin?” Jones asked squinting at the screen.

“Yep, and the bronze star he’s attaching to Mr. Knyazev’s lapel is actually the highest honor a Russian citizen can receive. It’s basically the same thing as our Presidential Medal of Honor. Also that blonde lady there is Felicity’s mother, Donna Knyazev,” she said pointing her out. The entire group, including Oliver, glanced over the detective’s shoulder curiously, “She’s great, by the way; very nice lady and a really devoted mom. And that’s Felicity beside them talking with President Putin’s daughters, Masha and Katya. They went to school together,” Lyla said wryly. “Actually the whole family is close since Putin and Anatoly served in the military together and have since remained close personal friends, if you know what I mean.”

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Lance grumbled. Jones glanced at him nervously causing the other man to heave a disgruntled sigh, “Fine, we won’t put anything in the file about her Russian connection since it’s not really relevant to the case. Besides, I couldn’t spell ‘Knyazev’ if I tried.”

“So was anyone else hurt?” Oliver asked changing the subject.

“Both of the Russians in the lobby took some bullets; one is in critical condition with a collapsed lung and a belly wound but the other one should make it. The security guards working for you guys weren’t so lucky though. Both of them took rounds to the chest. They were still breathing when the EMT’s got to them but it didn’t look good,” Lance said with a grimace. “That Misha or Mike, whatever his name, Leonov took one to the leg and the older guy, ‘Uncle Ivan’, caught one to the shoulder but he should be good, too--once he stops bitching and carrying on anyway,” he added in a grumble. “I will say that he had some pretty choice words for the head of your building security over there,” he nodded towards Harris who was talking to another detective across the room. “At one point I thought he was going to wrap his good hand around that guy’s throat and, in his words, ‘beat him like the family pig’ whatever the hell that means.”

“What about the Hoods? Did your guys catch them?” Oliver asked.

Lance leaned back on his heels, “Nope.”

“So they’re still out there?” he asked grimly.

The other man shook his head, “Nope; they’re dead, all of ‘em. Apparently your bodyguard, Mr. Diggle, along with the Russians took them all out before we even got here. The two in the lobby…” he flipped open his notepad and read the names aloud, “Yefim Ku—ah crap,” he scowled and sounded the name out carefully, “Kuz-net-sov and Zakhar E-gor-chen-kov ganked one in the lobby before taking a few rounds themselves. The two on the elevator, Ev-jenny? Is that right? Sounds like a girl’s name,” he mumbled to himself. “Whatever, that guy and his brother, GavGav-ri-il Semenov, got off a few rounds but only caught their body armor before they went down but the other two, Big Brother Mike and Uncle Ivan--sorry Ee-vaughn,” he said exaggerating the pronunciation of the older man’s name, “took out the three up here.”

He looked up from his notepad, “There was one other guy with the Hoods, a getaway driver. He was waiting for them with the van in the parking garage but he must’ve had some kind of com unit or a radio on because as soon as the shooting started he left his vehicle and ran for the elevator to join his buddies. Unfortunately for him though, there were two more Russians in the garage with him; Joseph and Daniel Leonov. Since they have first names I can actually pronounce and the same last name as Michael Leonov, I’m assuming they’re related. Anyway, they managed to put him down before he even got a shot off.”

“They aren’t being charged with anything, are they?” Lyla asked in concern.

“Depends on what the DA says but I doubt it,” Jones told her. “These guys all had permits for the pieces they were carrying, including the two drivers, and all were acting in self-defense.”

“Mostly anyway,” Lance added wryly. “However, considering the fact that these Hood guys killed the mayor a couple of weekss ago and took a few potshots at him as well, he’ll probably give them all medals instead.”

“But are you sure that’s all of them?” Oliver pressed.

“That’s all that showed up here anyway,” Lance shrugged. “We checked the security tapes and five was all we counted but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a hundred more waiting in the wings.” He smirked at Oliver, “I mean, let’s face it, there’s still a lot of people in this city ready to don a hood and go gunning for one-percenters—your family especially.”

Moira gave him an imperious glare, “Meaning what, detective?”

“Meaning that just because the DA made a statement that no evidence exists that says you were in cahoots with Merlyn, there’s still a lot of people who believe that you either paid somebody off or have the kinds of connections that could make stuff like that go away—not that I’d believe those sorts of rumors myself, but still,” he added insincerely. “Oh, and it’s just ‘Officer’ Lance now, remember?”

Before Moira could offer a blistering retort, Jones spoke up.

“At the Glades benefit there were only two gunmen and a driver so it’s very possible that they brought their whole crew today,” the detective told them. “We’ll know more once we ID them. Officer Lance?” he said pointedly before hitching his head towards the door.

“Well,” Lance said tightening his lips ruefully, “If you people have nothing else to add, I’ll be over there getting my ass chewed out.”

As soon as Lance was out of earshot, Oliver turned to his mother, “If you guys have this all in hand, Diggle and I should probably go to the hospital and check on Felicity.”

“Oliver, you can’t just leave,” his mother insisted. “You have a responsibility as the CEO of this company to show people that you will not be intimidated by these…gun wielding terrorists.”

“I also have a responsibility to Felicity and her father to make sure she’s okay. Also, I’m not the CEO yet; you are,” he reminded her quietly.

“Whatever the case, Felicity can wait. I’m sure the doctors are keeping her busy doing x-rays, CAT scans, MRI’s…” she made a dismissive gesture, “It always takes hours to get through all those tests so I doubt they’ll even have a room ready for her yet. I understand why you want to get to her though so I’ll tell you what; after we meet with Amelia in PR and the people on our crisis management team, we’ll both go. We’ll even stop by the florist and pick up a nice arrangement for her, maybe a small gift? Oh, we could even get her some of that chocolate covered peanut brittle your sister likes? It never fails to cheer up your sister when she’s not feeling well, what do you think?” Moira offered brightly.

“I think that Felicity is allergic to peanuts and if you tried feeding that to her she’d die,” Lyla said in a deadpan.

Oliver frowned, “She is?”

She hummed, “Yup, it’s actually in her HR file which I’m pretty sure was emailed to both of you last week.”

“I haven’t actually gotten around to checking my work email yet,” Oliver admitted sheepishly. “This was actually my first day.”

Lyla nodded then turned towards Moira who gave an innocent shrug.

“It must’ve slipped my mind what with everything else going on,” the older woman said apologetically. “Now that you’ve said something though, it won’t slip my mind again; I promise. After all, keeping Felicity safe is our highest priority and, as I said to the detective, we’re family now and family comes first to us, right Oliver?” she prompted as she threaded her arm through his.

“We’ll make sure not to feed her peanuts,” Oliver said drolly ignoring his mother. “Any other allergies we should know of?”

“None that will kill her,” Lyla said, “You know, like you said; technically you’re not CEO yet so it probably wouldn’t hurt if you and Johnny went to the hospital to look after Felicity until the police release her security team. I’ll call our attorneys but I imagine that it’ll still take a couple of hours to get everyone’s statements and they’ll be taking both Ivan and Misha into surgery so, speaking for myself, I’d feel better if she wasn’t alone right now, especially since we have no idea if there are any more Hoods out there.”

“What about you?” Dig asked looking pointedly down at her arm.

“I’m fine, it’s just a scrape,” she said holding up her arm. “Besides, I need to be here since I’m both COO and CFO and the PR department will most likely want us to issue a joint statement. We may even have to schedule a press conference later this afternoon. Given the amount of media attention that this is likely going to attract, I think it would be best if Oliver was examined by a doctor as well, don’t you?” she asked Moira. “After all, if he was a normal employee who’d been shot at before crashing through two windows to the floor below, HR would be all over us if we didn’t insist he get a ‘cleared for duty’ form signed before returning to work. Also there’s the insurance issue to think about; they did a lot of damage and our Global policy may or may not pay out if we don’t get everyone involved cleared by a physician.”

“I’m fine,” he said firmly but his mother cut him off.

“Actually, it might be best if you did get checked out—for insurance reasons if nothing else,” Moira agreed. “Go be with Felicity. I’m sure that Ms. Michaels will I have everything well in hand until you return.”

“And make sure to get that form signed,” Lyla added for good measure.

“Yes, definitely don’t forget the form,” his mother said firmly. “We’re probably going to have to call in extra people to help in HR, plus we still need to call in legal and call in the insurance adjustors…” she muttered to herself as she looked over the sheer amount of damage surrounding her.

“Okay,” he said kissing his mother on the cheek before mouthing ‘thank you’ to Lyla who responded with a knowing grin.

“Are we really going straight to the hospital or are we going to the club first?” Diggle asked quietly as they headed out the door.

“Club first then I’ll go to the hospital later. I’m betting this thing has already hit the news so, knowing Tommy, once he realized that neither of us were picking up or answering his texts he would’ve immediately called Roy to come pick him up so they both should already be there. Just in case though, once we leave here we’ll call to see if we need to swing by the house to pick him up.”

“I hear what you’re saying, man; I just don’t know if we should be leaving Felicity unprotected right now,” Dig said slowly. “Lyla had a point; chances are the police are going to spend the next few hours interrogating her security team so we should probably split up. One of us could go to the club and the other could stay with her.”

“Yeah, but she doesn’t really know you,” Oliver pointed out.

“Exactly,” the other man said with raised eyebrows, “Which is why you should go be with your ‘wife’ while I coordinate with the rest of the team and let you know what we find.”

“No, both of us should meet Tommy at the club just in case he does find something that way we can move on it. As for Felicity, the Hoods weren’t targeting her so she’ll be fine.”

Dig looked at him skeptically, “How do you know?”

“I know because they were after me, remember?” he pointed out. “Like I said, she’ll be fine. Chances are the police already have a guard on her room anyway. There’s no way they’d leave her unprotected until they were sure all of the Hoods were dead, especially after that story Lyla told Lance. Besides, Mom was right and she’s probably having tests done so before I go over there I want to see if Ghost Fox and Tommy can get anything on the men who stormed the conference room. Also, we need to ask Ghost Fox to get everything she can on Isabel Rochev,” he told him.

Diggle raised an eyebrow at that, “You think she really did try to shove Felicity out of the window on purpose?”

“Honestly? No,” Oliver said with a scowl, “While there may have been some sliver of payback or petty revenge at work in response to Felicity’s guard shoving her out of the way just before the attack, I honestly think most of what happened was born out of sheer panic. That said, something about her had my mother rattled and it had nothing to do with the company. No, whatever had her going after Isabel it was personal and I want to know what that is.”

“You could always just ask her?” the other man suggested.

He gave him a rueful look, “Have you met my mother?”

Dig shook his head, “You have a point.”

Chapter Text

“My head is fucking killing me,” Felicity groaned as she opened her eyes slowly.

“I imagine so considering you took a pretty good knock to it.”

Felicity turned to see Oliver grinning in amusement.

“Why are you doing here?” she asked groggily as she took in his slightly disheveled appearance.

“Where else would I be?” he asked dryly, “After all, I am your husband is this is technically still our honeymoon, right?”

“Please don’t make me laugh,” she pleaded as she pressed her hand against her forehead. “God, I need drugs; everything hurts. Where’s Lyla?” she asked shutting her eyes tight against the glare of the sunlight that streamed through the blinds.

This was like the worst wine hangover ever and she hadn’t had so much as a drop of alcohol.

She ran her hands over the covers and felt around blindly before huffing in frustration.

Oliver frowned, “I’m guessing she’s still at work. What are you looking for?”

“The thing—the clicker thing they have in the hospital that sends the good drugs into your…whatever that thing is called,” she said pointing up at her IV. “Normally my vocabulary is pretty extensive but at the minute I can’t really think straight since it feels like someone used my head as a drum.”

“The nurse should be here with some meds in a minute,” he assured her.

“Are you sure?” she asked opening her eyes blearily. “Maybe we should hit a call button or get someone, namely you, to run out to the nurse’s station and do a whole ‘Terms of Endearment’ thing until I get the good stuff, what do you say?”

“I say ‘no’ and the nurse popped in not more than a minute before you woke up to say she was bringing you more meds,” he said drolly. “Nice movie reference though; a little dated but appropriate. Even I got that one and my sister says I’m ‘pop culture illiterate’.”

Felicity rubbed her temples and groaned, “It’s one of my mom’s favorite PMS movies. She always watches it when she feels like some mother/daughter bonding while crying hysterically for no reason. Every time she cues it up on Netflix, my dad runs out of the room to his study and locks the door for two hours. Speaking of, please tell me you didn’t call my parents and tell them I was in the hospital?”

His eyes shut tight at that and he grimaced, “No, I didn’t, but I probably should have. Damn, when Anatoly finds out I didn’t call him right after the attack he’s going to be pissed.”

“No, don’t call him,” she said firmly. “Hopefully no one else has called them either because the last thing I need is my mother showing up and dragging my father with her.”

“They’re going to find out,” Oliver said matter-of-factly. “The attack was all over the news.”

Felicity shut her own eyes as she willed the throbbing in her brain to stop, “I’ll call them myself after I get out of here.”

Oliver tilted his head slightly as he looked on skeptically, “You sure about that?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” she sighed irritably. “Seriously, do not call them. I want to be the one to explain it to them, no one else, that way I can minimize the fallout.”

“Fallout? You think he’ll pull out of the deal?” he asked sharply.

“No, but he might be tempted to send an army of brothers here to protect me and I do not have the time or the patience to be put on lockdown at the moment. I especially don’t have the patience to deal with babysitting thirty armed men who do nothing all day but talk about sports and stink up my house because they all smoke like chimneys,” she said wryly before cracking one eye to look at him, “Speaking of my boys, is everyone okay?”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “It was touch and go for a couple of your security guys but they all made it out of surgery with flying colors.”

She breathed a sigh of relief before tensing again, “What about Lyla and your mom?”

“Both fine; everyone else is fine, too. Besides your security team, the two guards in the lobby also made it. One is in ICU but the doctors said he should make a full recovery,” he took a breath and rubbed his hand over his hair wearily, “Luckily it was before the building officially opened so the only people there were some early birds who were all in their offices and some maintenance people who were packing up for the night so no one else got hurt.”

“Fantastic, hopefully we won’t get sued then,” she said in relief, “And the gunmen? Are they in jail or did they get away?”

“Neither, they’re all dead,” he said grimly, “As far as we know anyway. All five men including their getaway driver were killed by Dig and your security guys but we don’t know if that was all of them or if they still have a few members of their group waiting in the wings.”

She frowned, “Group?”

He nodded, “From what Tommy and the cops were able to figure out, they were all members of a support group for families who lost loved ones in the Glades disaster. All five men were also military vets which explains the firepower and body armor as well. Tommy tried to get Ghost Fox to help him look into it further but she was unavailable.” He gave her a curious look, “Do you know why Ghost Fox isn’t answering any of Tommy’s texts or messages?”

“No, especially since I’ve been unconscious for the last—wait, how long have I been out?” she asked with a furrowed brow.

“When I got here you were still asleep and it’s...” he glanced at his watch, “a little after three so probably most of the day. It was just normal sleep though, you didn’t pass out again or anything,” he assured her. “According to the nurse, the doctor gave you something for the pain and nausea and you conked right out. Not to change the subject but can you get in touch with Ghost Fox?”

Felicity flushed and tried her best not to let her feelings get hurt by the fact that he was being all brisk and businesslike and hadn’t even bothered to ask her how she was feeling…even though she just told him how she was feeling.

Don’t be such a drama queen, she told herself sternly. After all, it was the same way she probably would’ve treated him if their roles were reversed.

Actually, no, it wasn’t. Even if she was trying to maintain some emotional distance because of their situation she still would’ve asked how she was feeling. Then again, it’s not like they were friends or anything—well, he wasn’t friends with this her but, yeah, it still stung a bit.

She cast her eyes around the room quickly and again felt a flair of hurt because there were no flowers or anything, not even a fresh pitcher of ice water at her bedside. Heck, even when she got her wisdom teeth out her dad sent her a huge bouquet of flowers and a ton of balloons but she gets tossed out of a window and she doesn’t even get water?

That sucks, she thought glowering at him.

Oh well, suck it up. He probably just got there and Lyla would be coming by soon, she reminded herself. She was just feeling emotional because of the concussion, that’s all. Oliver wasn’t being mean to her or anything. Actually he was being extremely polite considering the fact that he was in Arrow mode and, when he was in the zone, his head on the mission and nothing else. Besides, showing concern for her wellbeing would indicate that he cared about her as a person and there was nothing personal between them; just business.

She looked at him resentfully and frowned.

Still, he couldn’t even spring for a can of off-brand ginger ale or a sickly looking philodendron? Hell, she’d settle for a half-inflated Mylar balloon at that point.

As much as she hated to admit it, and as much as she absolutely didn’t want her there, she kind of missed her mom. Whenever she or her dad got sick, Donna went all out; balloons, stuffed animals, fluffy blankets, and homemade soup she thankfully let their cook prepare for them because adding food poisoning on top of whatever they already had would be bad.

She closed her eyes and sighed, letting her head fall back on the pillow.

If her mom were there the entire room would be filled with sunshine and the smell of her perfume as she stroked her hair and fluffed her pillows, she thought sadly. Even her dad would sometimes malinger a little just so he could take advantage of the ‘Donna Healing Vibes’ as her mom would say.

“Did you fall asleep again or something?” Oliver asked a little impatiently.

“No, just um…” Felicity closed her eyes so she could get her shit together and not embarrass herself by tearing up or worse. “Just trying to get my thoughts in order,” she said with another sigh before looking up at him. “At the moment, no, I can’t get in touch with Ghost Fox. However, once I can see straight and have my tablet in hand though, yes, I can. Hey, is there any way you could get me some ice water or a ginger ale? Maybe a Sprite?” she asked hopefully.

“The nurse will be here in a minute, I’m sure she’ll bring you something then. I have your purse though if you want to call her?” he offered.

She looked at him in confusion, “The nurse?”

“No, Ghost Fox,” he said with a grimace.

“Oh,” she said licking her dry lips, “Um, I’m pretty sure my phone is either trapped under a bunch of debris or chock full of bullet holes right now.”

“No, it’s definitely in your purse, I checked,” he told her.

Felicity turned to him in irritation, “You went through my bag?” she asked with a scowl.

“Yes, but only to get your ID and insurance information for the nurse. What? You think I was trying to steal your wallet or something?” he tossed back.

“Actually I thought you might’ve gone through my phone looking for nude selfies,” she retorted gesturing for him to hand over her bag.

“I tried but I didn’t have your password,” Oliver smirked at that as he placed it next to her, “However, just out of curiosity, if I had gotten in would I have found any nude selfies?”

“Guess you’ll never know now, huh?” she said acerbically as she pulled out her phone and scrolled through her texts and missed calls. Oliver leaned forward to peer at her phone and she glared at him while placing her phone face down on her chest, “Do you mind?”

“Not at all,” he said blithely not moving. He waited a beat or two before sighing and backing off, “Fine.”

She selected Sergei’s handle and shot him an encrypted text to let him know she needed him to cover for Ghost Fox for the next day or two and to get in touch with Tommy ASAP. Hopefully he’d do it without complaint but she doubted it. Even though the other hacker practically begged to be allowed to fill in for her every once in a while so he could play ‘real life masked superhero games’, he was as mercurial as his handle ‘Koschei the Deathless’ would imply and had a tendency to be something of a pain in the ass—especially when it came to doing anyone favors.

Then again, so was his demonic namesake.

In Slavic mythology, Koschei was a powerful demon, best known in Western culture as the entity that turned a vain and spoiled prince into a frog and commanded that he remain as such until some kindhearted princess kissed him. The demonic Koschei, while not necessarily evil, was a mischievous spirit, similar to a djinn, and was always playing an angle. For instance, he never granted wishes without making sure they bit his poor victim on the ass later.

That was Sergei to a ‘T’. Even if it was something he wanted to do you’d better be ready to pony up because, according to him, nothing was free…unless you were a fellow hacker and, even then, you paid for it in coding.

Which was exactly what he asked for less than two seconds after getting her text.

‘Fine, but I want your crack for my Crack, princess,’ he wrote out in Cyrillic.

‘Do your handlers know you’re on the pipe now?’ she wrote back sarcastically.

‘Darling, the only pipe I’m interested in belongs to my Cracker Jack.’

“Ew,” she said under breath. Oliver looked up hopefully but she waved him off, ‘This obsession you have with hacking into Oracle’s mainframe just so you can hopefully see Batman naked is sick. Actually the really sick part is that you refer to him as your ‘Cracker Jack’. I’m starting to call him that in my head now all thanks to you.’

‘Wait, did you see his nutty caramel goodness and not send me a screenshot? I swear to all the gods of Mount Google that if you kept my Cracker Jack from me I will fuck with Mr. Green’s GPS and send him into a fucking wall.’

‘Calm your bone, Koschei; I did not steal your Cracker Jack nor did I partake of his ‘nutty goodness’,’ she texted back with a shudder, ‘I’ll send some breadcrumbs to his backdoor ASAP.’

‘In that case you’re forgiven, princess. BTW, the dirty pun really sold it.’

‘I threw that in just for you. I still don’t know why you want it though. Why in the hell would Batman be sitting at his terminal naked anyway?’

‘Why wouldn’t he be? I’m naked right now.’

“On that note I am out of here,” she muttered as she typed.

While Sergei was a bit twisted, he was also a very cool guy…if a bit hard to take at times. He was also a master hacker who was in a very elite class that only a precious few belonged to like herself, Oracle, and a few others including the Calculator. He’d also only ever been caught once and that was by Felicity herself.

For a hacker to do hacks so clean that he could slip in and out of a firewall without leaving a trace was a rare gift indeed. Even Felicity’s hacks weren’t pristine 100% of the time but, while he was the ultimate cyber cat burglar, her firewalls were legendary and she could break into any system, even though she was, at times, less than elegant about it.

When he broke into her system, he set off her false firewall tricking him into thinking that he’d hacked into the Bratva’s servers. While he was rooting around looking for a way to steal money and information, she traced his location while several of her men surrounded his underground bunker to take him in.

And it wasn’t easy finding him either. When she caught him, not only had he been bouncing his signal off of five continents and using a Virtual LAN, he’d been living in an abandoned underground KGB numbers station in Siberia with a completely anonymous DSL link up that he jury rigged from Cold War parts and an old TV satellite dish. Despite all that though, she had his location pinpointed in less than five minutes and managed to scramble guys from the local brotherhood who were on him in less than twenty-five minutes. When they were in place she contacted him in her avatar form to let him know that his egg was captured and it was time to pay up. At first Sergei was convinced her men were going to kill him for trying to steal from them but she surprised him by offering him a job instead.

That was another reason Koschei respected her; not only did she catch him and spare his life, but she also got the ‘egg’ reference.

It helped that when she was a little girl her dad would teach her Russian by reading her all the classic fairy tales like Pushkin’s story of ‘The Fisherman and the Golden Fish’ or Alexander Afanasyev’s ‘Russian Fairy Tales’ or ‘Narodnye Russkie Skazki’.

Her favorite one was ‘Marya Morevna’ or the story of ‘The Death of Koschei the Deathless’. It was about a lonely man named Ivan Tsarevitch who had three sisters; Princess Marya, Princess Olga, and Princess Anna. His parents die and tell him to give his sister’s hands in marriage to the first men who come to woo them and he winds up marrying them to three wizards who come to him in various forms; a falcon, an eagle, and a raven, and all arrive on the heels of a powerful storm like forces of nature.

After his sisters leave him though, he grows lonely and decides to get them back. As he journeys to find them he comes across a field of dead soldiers who were all defeated by a warrior princess named Princess Marya Morevna.

Her father used to call her that. ‘You are my little warrior princess,’ he would tell her. She especially loved the story because, not only was the princess the one who went to war and fought, but Ivan was the one who stayed home to clean house and do the cooking.

Anyway, in the story Marya tells Ivan not to look in the closet while she’s gone to war but he does it anyway and finds Koschei chained to the wall where he’d been Princess Marya’s prisoner for ten years. The demon tricks him into releasing him and then captures the princess and carries her away. Ivan must then journey to find his wife and meets each of his sisters along with several other fantastic figures including Baba Yaga until finally meeting up with Koschei and defeating him.

It wasn’t easy to defeat the demon either. Koschei, like the hacker who took his identity, was an entity who couldn’t be killed by conventional means as his soul was separate from his body and hidden inside a needle, which was in an egg, which was in a duck, which was in a hare that lived inside an iron chest that was buried under a green oak tree on the island of Buyan which was described in legends as a mysterious island with the ability to appear and disappear with the changing of the tides. As long as his soul was safe, Koschei could not die, but capture his egg, and he was yours to command.

It was actually a pretty cool handle, not to mention appropriate considering that he was a hacker who lived inside of cyberspace and was so elusive that he’d never been caught. To further his connection to the character, his avatar was of a skeletal figure that was pretty much a rip off of Jack from ‘A Nightmare Before Christmas’ because ‘Koschei’ in the old Krivichi dialect actually translated to ‘skeleton’ and ‘Koschei the Deathless’ was a popular figure in Slavic folklore and often appeared in Russian fairy-tales as a tall skeletal demon.

In real life, however, Sergei was far from skeletal although he did still live in an underground bunker in the middle of nowhere, only he traded the one in Siberia for a much nicer one on a private island near Bali.

After his initial shock and awe had worn off, Sergei immediately went into negotiation mode and Felicity, knowing exactly what he was worth, gladly paid up and relocated him to a private island where he was given everything his demonic little heart asked for and more and, in return, she got to claim the force of nature that was Koschei the Deathless as her own.

It was a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Most of the time.

Often though she was convinced Koschei, like his namesake, got the better end of the deal. For example, while she technically owned it, Felicity had never actually been to the compound Sergei now called his home. While she was left to juggle multiple companies, the Bratva, and Oliver’s mission, he got to live out his days in the lap of luxury with a small army of Bratva soldiers who brought him whatever he wanted and protected him 24/7. The only downside to living in a tropical paradise, at least according to him, was that he weighed around four hundred pounds and couldn’t swim. He used to joke that he couldn’t even get a tan because he was afraid someone would mistake him for a beached whale and try to roll him back into the ocean causing him to drown.

Still, while his humor was self-deprecating to say the least, Sergei was definitely not depressed nor did he suffer from low self-esteem. In fact, he was very proud of all his accomplishments, especially his latest one which was the strict diet and exercise program that had him dropping as much as five pounds or more a week. Being in Bali and having access to better food as well as the warm tropical climate and a squadron of personal trainers who liked to work out shirtless had given him the inspiration he needed to let his ‘inner ripped gay man’ out.

While she was happy for him, it was also the reason she preferred to communicate with him by text most of the time because all he ever wanted to talk about (besides someday becoming Batman’s new Robin and having sex with him) was how she should go on the Paleo diet and how much weight he’d dropped as a result…which inevitably led to him telling her all about his obsession with all things coconut since coconut was apparently some kind of low glycemic superfood.

That’s all he talked about: coconut oil, coconut flour, coconut sugar; there was only so much of that she could take, especially when he would remark that she should start eating more coconut since she could stand to lose a few pounds especially around the hips.

Every time he’d put his bitchy hat on she was tempted to ship him a case of his favorite coconut raspberry snack cakes just to screw with him. She didn’t though because that would be mean.

And also because, at the moment, he was running the entire network for her and she wouldn’t put it past him to gum up the works for a day or two in retaliation for ruining his diet and therefore delaying the moment when he would be able to seduce Batman with his six pack abs.

“Hey, is there any way I could talk to her for a minute?” Oliver asked suddenly, interrupting her train of thought.

“What?” she frowned looking up from her phone.

He gestured towards it, “I just wanted to talk to her for a minute or two if that’s okay?”

“That wasn’t Ghost Fox, it’s another hacker I know,” she said finishing up her text and locking the phone down before tucking it back in her purse.

“Another hacker?” he asked with a scowl as his eyebrows drew together in irritation. “I don’t need another hacker, I need Ghost Fox.”

“She’s unavailable at the moment,” Felicity said slowly. “However, Koschei is covering for her for the next several days and he’s more than familiar with you and your team so he should be able to handle whatever you need.”

“You exposed my team to some hacker I don’t know?” he demanded angrily.

“Relax, Mr. Queen, Koschei is Ghost Fox’s partner and my second in command so your secrets are safe,” she said firmly.

“I still don’t like the idea of some stranger knowing my identity as well as the identities of my people,” Oliver said stubbornly.

“Koschei is the reason why more people don’t know your identity,” she explained wearily. “His specialty is covering up people’s tracks and erasing their existence from the web. When it comes to digital wetwork he’s the best there is which is why when she needed to take time off I asked him to help out your team.”

His frowned deepened at that, “Why did Ghost Fox need to take time off?”

What she wanted to say is, ‘Because some obsessed bitch who used to fuck your dad up, down, and sideways tossed me out of a window.’

What she wound up saying though was, “Personal reasons.”

“What kind of ‘personal reasons’?” he demanded.

Felicity’s eyebrows drew together in irritation, “The personal kind. Why do you care anyway?”

“I care because she’s my friend,” he said in affront. “If she’s hurt or in some kind of trouble I’d like to help. If nothing else I’d at least like to know if she’s okay.”

Well, that’s ironic considering you couldn’t even get her a glass of frickin’ water a minute ago, Felicity thought angrily.

“You don’t even know her,” she huffed.

“I know her well enough,” he retorted. “Where is she and when is she coming back?”

“None of your business and probably in a week or so, maybe a bit longer depending,” Felicity bit out.

She was starting to get really sick and tired of his attitude. Ever since she woke up he’d basically been interrogating her and demanding she do stuff for him from her hospital bed and yet no ginger ale, no balloons and, most importantly, not one shred of concern over the fact that she was in the hospital because she was trying to save his stupid company.

Asshole.

Oliver stalked towards her, his face a mask of anger at that point, “Depending on what?”

“Depending on if she even feels like coming back—which, I can tell you, is probably not happening anytime soon!” she threw back.

He frowned pensively, “Why? Where is she?”

“Again, that’s none of your business but since I know you don’t want to hear that all I can say is that she’s resting,” Felicity said bad-temperedly.

Or trying to anyway, she silently added for her own benefit.

“Resting?” he repeated in confusion, “As in she’s on vacation?”

“Exactly,” Felicity lied.

Because if this was a vacation then it was going down in the books as the worst one ever—and that included the time when her family went to Morocco and she wound up eating something that made bad things come out of pretty much every hole in her body.

Well, okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad, she conceded, but getting tossed out a window was a close second for sure.

“Since when does the Bratva let its members take vacations?” he asked skeptically.

“Ghost Fox isn’t a member of Bratva—neither am I or Koschei, for that matter,” she reminded him. “She’s an independent contractor in my employ and, unlike the Bratva, my people take vacations occasionally. As for where she is, she’s…” she paused for a moment as she tried to think of something to tell him but the concussion along with her other injuries was making that difficult.

“Look, just tell me. I won’t expose her or attempt to contact her, I promise,” Oliver said impatiently.

“No,” she said flatly.

“What? Are you afraid I’ll try to seduce her away from your little Bratva operation?” he asked acerbically.

Felicity snorted at that, “You couldn’t even if you tried.”

“What does that mean?” he asked suspiciously before his eyes darkened in anger, “She is still alive, isn’t she?”

“Of course she’s--! What do you think; that I killed her or something?” She shut her eyes tight and pointed to the door angrily, “Enough! Just get out because I’m done with you. It’s been a shitty day, my head is killing me, my whole body is throbbing like one giant bruise and, right now, all I want is some morphine and a goddamn ginger ale but all you’ve done since I woke up is grill me over this—crap!”

“Okay, look, I’m sorry,” Oliver said quickly as he made a calming gesture, “I’m just a little on edge because we can’t find much on these guys and then there’s the thing with Tommy not being able to get a response from Ghost Fox…” he shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair with a grimace, “Look, like you said it’s been a long day and I just want to know where she is and if she’s okay.”

If she wasn’t pissed by the fact that he had yet to show any sort of concern for her well-being, she’d almost be touched by that.

Still…

“The island of Buyan, happy now?” she told him just to give him something because why the fuck not?

Now if only it were true, she thought to herself. She could definitely use a vacation, one where she didn’t get shot in the back or tossed out of a window, and Bali sounded nice. Seemed a shame to own a tropical island and never once go visit it and God knows she wouldn’t mind taking off for a few weeks even if it meant hanging out with a perpetually naked fat gay man and eating nothing but coconuts while spying on Batman in hopes of seeing the prize in his Cracker Jack box.

Yes, this was how low she had sunk.

His brow furrowed at that, “Where is the island of Buyan? Is that somewhere near China?”

“Bali actually,” she said flippantly. “However, before you get any ideas, you should know that Buyan isn’t on any map nor do they have phone service or the internet,” she continued just for the hell of it.

Although if Sergei even heard her joking about that, he’d probably crash the network to punish her for blasphemy.

Oliver looked at her skeptically, “What is it, some kind of deserted island?”

“Not deserted, just private,” she told him. “It’s a place where I send my people to unplug from the world for a few weeks so they don’t burn out.”

Because unplugging from the world sounded right up her alley at that moment. It would be worth the psychological scars of seeing Sergei’s penis if it meant turning off her brain for a while.

“You own a private island?” he asked dubiously.

“I own three islands actually,” she shrugged. It was true, she did. One of the benefits of owning a real estate investment company as a front was the fact that you got to buy a lot of prime real estate that you could continually sell back to yourself. The fact that private islands tended to cost upwards of five million dollars or better made them perfect for that very purpose which is why a lot of people, not just her, did it.

Lyla referred to it as a ‘real estate shell game’ and it was really. Sometimes, just to break up the monotony, she’d get up with some other wealthy Bratva member or outside group and they’d trade them back and forth like baseball cards. A lot of the islands they bought were near the Philippines, Thailand, or Vietnam where they could be purchased for as little as $300k or less then developed and sold for millions.

One of the reasons they went for so cheap was because there was no easy way to bring in things like electricity or other modern conveniences but a lot of the Bratva’s investments were in clean energy such as solar panels, wind turbines, etc. It was a surprising fact but true and, because of that, it was easier for them to develop those properties and resell them for ten times or more than what they paid for them.

Most of the time they were just properties to her but the island Sergei lived on was different. It was the only one she never gambled with since he was comfortable there and she figured that as long as he was happy, the Bratva was happy.

Oliver’s face cleared at that although he still looked a little perturbed around the edges, “And you’re sure there’s no way you can contact her?”

“I’m sure,” she said grumpily. “Is there anything else I can help you with? Otherwise, Mr. Queen, I suggest you go do whatever it is you need to do since Koschei has probably contacted your friend, Mr. Merlyn, by now.”

“Right,” Oliver said heading for the door before turning to her with a frown, “And it’s ‘Oliver’, not ‘Mr. Queen’.”

“It may be but I feel more comfortable with ‘Mr. Queen’, thank you,” she said with a wince as she attempted to fix her pillow.

Even her bruises had bruises now. Literally.

“But you called me by my first name earlier, remember?” he said with a pointed look.

“No, I didn’t,” she denied immediately as she willed him to just leave.

“You did,” he insisted. “Back at QC, after we crashed into that office, you called me ‘Oliver’.”

“Yes, well, I also had a head injury, so…” she shrugged, “Take it with a grain of salt. Now, goodbye, Mr. Queen and have a nice night,” she said dismissively as she shifted in the bed and tried her best to telepathically summon the nurse with her morphine.

He offered her a wry look, “I’m saying that, while I realize why you would want to remain professional in the office, I would prefer it if you could call me by my first name when it’s just the two of us.”

“Why should I?” she asked churlishly as she gave up trying to get comfortable and glared at him.

Okay, so maybe she was being a baby but, damn it, she just woke up with a throbbing headache and all Oliver--Mr. Queen--wanted to do was grill her about where her alter ego went on her vacation.

Again, it was childish but fuck it.

“God, you are such a pain in the ass,” he muttered before countering with, “Because it’s my name and I asked you to?”

She glowered at him, “Mr. Queen is your name, too, now goodbye!”

Jesus, couldn’t the guy get a hint and just go? Fuck!

“Actually, it’s my father’s name,” he shot back.

“Yeah, but he’s dead--,” she blanched at that and attempted to roll back her words, “I meant that he drowned and you didn’t…which isn’t--ah...crap.” She flushed crimson and cleared her throat, “What I meant to say was that since ‘Queen’ is your surname and you have a penis, your name is ‘Mr. Queen’ as well. Not that I should be commenting on your penis but since you have a penis and not a vagina, I can’t very well refer to you as Ms. Queen, now can I?” Her eyebrows drew together at that, “Actually, I suppose I could if you identified as a woman even if you were still biologically male but since I’m assuming that you aren’t transgendered…”

Oliver interrupted her by bursting out in laughter causing her embarrassment to deepen even further.

“Sorry, I guess the concussion is affecting me more than I thought,” she said stiffly as she attempted to salvage a little bit of dignity. “The point is—“

“The point is that there is absolutely no good reason why you can’t call me ‘Oliver’ when it’s just us,” he said in amusement.

“Well, you’ve never called me ‘Felicity’ either,” she shot back.

“Yes, I have,” he snorted.

“You may have referred to me by my given name when speaking with other people, but you’ve never actually called me by my first name…to me. Ever,” she added awkwardly.

Felicity,” he said drawing out the syllables of her name deliberately causing a reluctant flutter in the pit of her stomach even though she really, really, really, wanted to hate him at that moment.

“What?” she snapped back.

“When we’re not at work, would you please call me ‘Oliver’ and not ‘Mr. Queen’?” he asked with a confident smirk that just made his stupid face look even more handsome.

The jerk.

“I’ll think about it,” she scowled at him knowing she was beaten but unwilling to concede out of principle.

“For the record you were a lot more pleasant right after you got your bell rung. Maybe you should think about getting hit on the head more often,” he grumbled with an exasperated huff. He started to leave but stopped suddenly and turned around, “I almost forgot,” he said reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small gift box.

Her mouth opened slightly in surprise as she accepted the beautifully wrapped gift from him, “You got me a present? From Tiffany’s?” she noted recognizing the distinctive blue box. “Thank you,” she said looking up at him. “This is…this is too much.” Her voice softened as she stared at it and she felt her eyes begin to tear up slightly at the gesture, “I don’t even know what to say,” she shook her head and chuckled a little damply, “I didn’t even know they had a Tiffany’s here.”

“Uh, that’s because they don’t,” he said suddenly looking discomfited, “And, also, that’s not from me; it’s from Tommy.”

Oh.

She cleared her throat and got her emotions back under control before looking up at him, “Oh, um, I see. Wow, I can’t believe Tommy got me a gift. That was…that was really nice of him,” she said sincerely as she nodded to herself. “Most people would just send flowers or a few ‘Get Well Soon’ balloons but this is—“ she let out a breath, “Wow, um, please tell him thank you for me and let him know how much I appreciate the gesture.”

“No, it’s not that kind of present,” he began.

“It’s not a wedding present is it?” she asked curiously. “Because that would be kind of weird given the circumstances and I don’t think Tiffany’s sells housewares and toaster ovens.” She shook the box gently, “I wonder what it is? It might be earrings or a necklace… Ooh, maybe it’s a charm bracelet?” she started to open it but he stopped her by placing his hand over hers then drawing it back just as quickly.

“No, it’s not actually for you,” he said uncomfortably as he stuffed his hands in his pockets and grimaced. “It’s uh, actually it’s for Ghost Fox.”

She froze, “Oh.”

“Yeah, he wanted to get her something as a thank you for the VR visor,” he said in chagrin. “I meant to give it to you to pass onto her when we were in Russia but, uh, you left before I could.”

“I see,” Felicity said quietly before putting it aside and pasting a smile on her face, “I’m sure she’ll love it. Oh and, um, speaking of gifts--” she reached in her purse and pulled out a small gift baggie, “Here.”

“What’s this?” he asked looking down at the bag and peering inside, “An Eiffel Tower pencil sharpener,” he said slowly as he pulled it out to examine it.

“Yeah, well, Helena made that joke about getting you one as a souvenir from our honeymoon so when I was in the airport leaving Paris I noticed it at the Duty Free and thought you might get a kick out of it,” she said with a shrug.

“Thanks,” he said awkwardly.

She waved him off, “It’s nothing, just a little gag gift; no big deal. Just let, uh, Mr. Merlyn know that I’ll be sending his gift to Ghost Fox first thing tomorrow and that she should get it within the next couple of days.”

Oliver shifted on his feet uncomfortably, “I’ll let him know. Actually, I…I should probably apologize to you.”

She looked up at him in confusion, “What for? Yelling at me and badgering me while I was in my sick bed?”

“That and because I should’ve gotten you something as well,” he said looking embarrassed. “You know, some flowers or something. If you want I could head down to the gift shop and see what they have?”

“That’s not necessary,” she said with as friendly a smile as she could muster.

“No, I mean if you want some flowers for your room—“

“No, I don’t need them,” she said firmly. “I’m probably going to be released soon anyway and, besides, I’m…um, allergic,” she fibbed.

“Oh,” Oliver frowned at that. “Do you want some magazines instead or something to eat? I know from experience that the food here sucks so just tell me what you want and I’ll have it delivered or I could have Diggle pick something up and bring it to you?”

Felicity’s cheeks flushed at that but she did her best to play it off, “No, like I said I don’t expect to be here much longer anyway,” she said in as casual a tone as she could muster. “They’ll probably release me later tonight so…”

Oliver gave her a dubious look, “I don’t think they’ll release you tonight; not with a concussion.”

“It’s not that bad,” she scoffed. “You said it yourself; it’s just a mild concussion. If they don’t release me tonight then they’ll probably send me home first thing in the morning.”

“I never said you had a mild concussion,” he pointed out. “Actually, you suffered a grade II concussion and passed out for almost five minutes. Between that and your shoulder they’ll probably want to keep you in the hospital for at least a couple of days.”

“We’ll see,” she said knowing that there was no way she was staying there any longer than she had to. In fact, as soon as she got him out of her room she was checking herself out of there so she could ugly cry in the privacy of her own home where no one could see her blow snot bubbles out of her nose.

Except Lyla. Lyla could see the snot bubbles but only if she brought her ice cream laced with Vicodin.

“Like I said though, I’m fine,” Felicity said brightly. “I know you have your own thing to get to so if I need anything I can have one of my people bring it to me, no need to bother Mr. Diggle.”

“Okay then, uh, I should probably go. Um, when I left Tommy was running searches, so…” Oliver shifted his stance before hitching his thumb towards the door.

“Sure, and thanks for stopping by and for the whole catching me thing. Next time someone pushes me out of a window I’ll know just who to call,” she said jokingly.

“Yeah, okay, um, you’re welcome. Well…” he huffed with a slight wave before turning to leave. He hadn’t even taken a step yet when he frowned and turned back to her, “You know she didn’t actually push you out of the window on purpose, right?”

Felicity’s eyebrows drew together as she stared at him blankly, “What?”

“Isabel; she didn’t push you out of the window, it was an accident,” he said slowly.

“Seriously?” she said flatly.

‘When the hell did Oliver become this big of an asshole?’ she thought to herself in disbelief.

For almost a year and a half she had been talking to this man every single night as Ghost Fox. She’d heard his most intimate thoughts, saved him time and time again and, not that she’d ever admit it to Lyla but, yeah, she kind of, sort of fell a little bit in love with the quiet, sensitive soul Oliver Queen kept hidden under the hood, but now…

She stared at him blankly.

‘This is why people tell you to never meet your heroes and never date people you meet over the internet…not that they were dating or anything; just married to each other, but still,’ Felicity thought wanly.

Oliver shrugged, “What, you think she shoved you out of the window on purpose?”

“You don’t?” she asked him slowly.

“No, of course not!” he huffed.

Her jaw fell open slightly at that before she bit her lip and nodded with a hum, “Yeah, you’re right; she was definitely not trying to push me out of the window on purpose.”

He relaxed slightly and nodded as well, “Okay then.”

“No, the whole,” she clucked her tongue and made a shoving gesture with her hands, “followed by the freefall from sixty stories up was just an accident.”

He shot her a perturbed look, “It was an accident.”

“That’s what I said,” she agreed.

“Fine,” he grumbled before turning to leave.

“No, she was probably trying to shove me into the line of fire but the whole pushing me out of a window was just a happy accident,” Felicity added blithely.

He rounded on her with a scowl, “What is with you and my mother seriously? It was an accident!”

“O-kay,” she returned sarcastically.

He stepped toward the bed, his mouth twisted in irritation, “People were firing automatic weapons, running, screaming, glass was flying everywhere so she panicked and shoved you out of her way so she could escape. While that doesn’t say much for her character, it’s a pretty human reaction to have, don’t you think?”

She narrowed her eyes at him and folded her lips, “No, no I don’t,” she said in a deadpan. “No, see,” she framed her hands in a helpless gesture as her eyebrows drew together in consternation, “People, when they’re in ‘panic mode’, might shove someone aside who is in front of them or beside them; what they don’t do is turn around to the person behind them and use all of their body weight to shove them out of an open window before running in the opposite direction.”

He blinked at that and shifted uncomfortably, “But that’s not what happened,” he said carefully.

“Are you asking me or telling me?” she asked noting the uncertainty in his tone.

“I’m…” he stumbled for a moment before frowning again, “If that had happened I would’ve seen it.”

“Again, are you asking me or—“

“I’m telling you I would’ve seen it!” he insisted.

“How?”

His eyebrows drew together in confusion, “What?”

“How would you have seen it?” she asked pointedly.

“Because I was right there,” Oliver insisted.

“No, you weren’t,” she returned.

“Yes, I was!” he scoffed.

Felicity took a deep breath before offering him a tight smile, “Think about it.”

“I am thinking about it. I was…” he faltered then frowned.

“You were in front of us, remember? And by ‘front’ I mean we were here,” she placed Tommy’s present in her lap then pointed to her purse that was several inches in front and to the side of the box, “and you were there,” she reminded him.

Oliver blinked at that, “No…”

“Yes…” she said mockingly. “Okay, first Misha came in and told us there was a disturbance in the lobby and we needed to go, remember?”

He shrugged, “Yeah, and?”

“And then Isabel got up and deliberately prevented us from leaving,” she said leadingly.

“No, that’s—she got up and demanded to know what was happening,” he said firmly.

“Yeah, after she blocked Misha from taking us out of there and when he asked her to move she refused so he had to push her out of the way.” She let that sink in for a moment before continuing, “Then the gunmen crashed through the doors, did their version of your whole, ‘You have failed this city’ shtick—“

He gave her an affronted look at that, “Shtick?”

She ignored him, “—and then the bullets started flying. You grabbed Isabel and pushed her out of the door ahead of you leaving us, meaning me and Lyla, behind.”

Oliver offered her a guilty look, “I just acted and she was the one closest to me; I didn’t leave you behind on purpose.”

“It’s fine,” she waved him off. “After all, like you said, she was closest, right? Plus, she was a major stock holder and it probably wouldn’t look good to the board if you saved the person with only twenty percent of the shares instead of the person with forty,” Felicity joked and his mouth tightened at that but she continued, “Anyway, you then put yourself between the gunmen and Isabel then looked for your mom who told you to go.”

“Yeah,” he said slowly.

Felicity nodded, “You then ran ahead to draw their fire. Misha told us to go so Lyla and I ran after the two of you and all three of us ducked behind a couch. Following me so far?”

“Yes,” he bit out irritably.

“Lyla took out her gun and told me to run to your mom’s office and to get inside the safe room. As soon as she started firing, Isabel ran towards the office with me in the rear. Just before we got to the pillar you were using for cover, the gunmen opened fire and broke the glass behind us.”

Oliver’s brow furrowed slightly, “I remember that part.”

“You moved further in facing the gunmen to distract them and that’s when Isabel turned, looked at me, and shoved me out of the open window as hard as she could. I screamed, lost my footing, and that’s when you turned and saw me go down,” she said easily. “In other words, you couldn’t have seen it because you were focused on the Hoods the entire time whereas, like you said, your mom was focused on you and since I was behind you...” she gave him a pointed look.

He stopped at that, his eyes narrowing, “So you’re saying that my mom was right and…?”

“And that Isabel tried to kill me on purpose?” she finished for him with a nod, “Yup, although she might not have been working directly with the Hoods. Instead she probably just tipped them off about the meeting in order to get you out of the way, or them showing up was just a huge coincidence and her attempt on my life may have simply been a crime of opportunity; either way you cut it, it’s attempted murder. So did they arrest her or what?”

Oliver licked his lips then bobbed his head awkwardly, “Uh, well…”

Her face fell at that, “They didn’t arrest her?”

“No,” he told her.

“Why not?”

“Hmm?” he hummed raising his eyebrows questioningly.

“Why didn’t they arrest her?” she repeated. “There was security footage, right? Witnesses…? You said your mom told them she tried to kill me so why isn’t she in jail? Do I need to press charges or make a statement first; what?”

Oliver tightened his lips and ran his hand over his scruff before blowing out a harsh breath, “They didn’t arrest her because my mom was the only one who saw it clearly. Or so she says anyway,” he muttered.

Felicity frowned, “So they didn’t believe her?”

“No,” he said after a moment’s pause.

“Because of the Undertaking thing or…?” she asked in confusion.

“No, it had nothing to do with that,” he said quickly.

“Why then?”

Oliver shifted uneasily, “Uh, well, first off they said that it was unlikely that the DA would prosecute because he’d say that, given the circumstances, she could argue that she simply panicked and there was no intent to do harm.”

Felicity’s eyebrows drew together at that, “But she shoved me out of a window, like planted her feet and shoved me. What about the security footage?”

“There…there is no security footage, none that would show Isabel allegedly shoving you anyway,” he said reluctantly.

“Allegedly?” she repeated.

He grimaced, “What I meant to say is that…you know what? Never mind. The point is that after I told him what my mom accused Isabel of, Tommy checked the footage but he said the angle was off so, while they could see the gunmen enter the room and open fire, the area near the window was in a blind spot. After all, it’s not a high traffic area and the windows there weren’t designed to open so…yeah,” he said clearing his throat.

“Oh,” her face fell at that, “So all they had was your mom’s word against Isabel’s?”

“Basically,” he nodded, “And…”

She looked up at him curiously, “And?”

Oliver hesitated for a moment before speaking, “And when they asked me to corroborate her story I told them it was an accident and that she didn’t do it on purpose.” He then looked up at her silently, his eyes filled with remorse, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

Felicity went numb at that as she stared at him in disbelief, “But you didn’t see it so how…why would you tell them that when you weren’t…?”

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I just assumed—“

She cut him off, “Assumed?”

He blinked at that before steeling himself, “Yeah, I just assumed my mother was confused and Isabel kept saying that she shoved you on accident, so—“

“So you believed the woman who is trying to steal your company, a perfect stranger, more than your own mother?” she asked slowly. “And then you defended this woman in front of the police even though your mother told you that she tried to kill me. Even though she had means, motive, and opportunity, and an eye witness said she did it, you took Isabel Rochev’s side and told the police that you witnessed something you never saw.”

It wasn’t a question.

“No!” Oliver said immediately before backtracking, “I mean yes, but not—it wasn’t like that,” he insisted. “Just let me explain,” he began in a more reasonable tone.

“You don’t have to,” she said quietly, her mind going a little blank and she simply gave up.

‘She gave up’; that was the only way she had of describing the numbness in her face and the buzzing in her ears.

She. Gave. Up.

“Look, I’m—I’m sorry, at the time it just didn’t make sense to me,” he said quickly. “After all, she just met you like, what? Five, ten minutes before the Hoods showed up? She didn’t even know you were going to be there so what motive would she have to want to kill you?” he asked pointedly.

Felicity gave him a pitying look, “Well, there is the several billions of dollars she and her company could stand to lose if their takeover fell through, not to mention the fact that she made a point of saying that after they took over she’d be the one running Queen Consolidated. I mean, I know money isn’t as sexy a motive as vengeance or world domination via earthquake machines but…”

Oliver gave her an aggrieved look at that, “I’ll look into it, okay? In the meantime, if it makes you feel any better, my mom had her banned from the premises,” he offered guiltily. “Also, I’ll—I’ll go to the police and tell them what really happened. I can change my statement and explain—“

“You can’t,” she said wearily.

“Of course, I can,” he objected.

She shook her head, “It won’t do any good. If you go to the police to change your statement then it’ll look like you’re lying in order to frame Isabel and protect your company. Not only won’t she be prosecuted but the DA can go after you and your mom for trying to file a false report and then Isabel will use that to strengthen her position with the board.”

His expression tightened at that, “Okay, then we’ll get Ghost Fox or that guy, what’s his name?”

“Koschei,” she offered quietly.

“Koschei,” he nodded, “I intend on having Koschei get me all the information he has on Isabel Rochev and if she did try to kill you, then the Arrow—“

She looked up at him curiously, “If? Don’t you mean ‘allegedly’?”

He faltered at that, “Uh, I mean, if…” he blew out a harsh breath and shook his head, “If there is any connection between Isabel and the Hoods then we’ll find it and bring her to justice, I promise,” he said firmly, his jaw set.

“You don’t have to do that,” she told him steeling her resolve and allowing the numbness she was feeling to wash through her. “Actually, you can’t do that, not after Laurel accused your mom of using the Arrow as her personal assassin and errand boy. If you go after the woman attempting to launch a hostile takeover against QC hooded up then it will just add more fuel to the fire and give the DA cause to relaunch his investigation against her.”

“I don’t care,” Oliver argued. “If this woman purposefully targeted you then I need to make sure she pays for that.”

“No, you don’t. It’s my problem, not yours, so I’ll take it from here,” she sighed. “There’s no need for you to worry about it.”

His eyebrows drew together in consternation, “Of course it’s my problem, I promised your father I’d take care of you.”

“No, you didn’t,” she said calmly.

“I did,” he insisted.

“No, you didn’t,” Felicity said with a tight smile, “Nor would he ever ask you to because my father knows that I can take care of myself.”

Oliver stepped forward with a frown, “When we got married it was implied that—“

“There was no marriage, Mr. Queen,” she reminded him politely. “When we forged this agreement I made sure to stress two things: The first was that this ‘marriage’ was a limited partnership with set parameters and the only thing you owed me is what we both agreed to. Unless it’s in writing or was brought up during the negotiations, you don’t owe me anything. The second was that we’re nothing to each other except co-workers; I am not your wife or your responsibility. Even if this was a true marriage and I considered you to be my husband, I can fight my own battles. I’ve been on my own for a long time. I run a multi-billion dollar corporation and investment company, I run my own crew, and I even ran my father’s organization when he was away, so I can more than take care of myself. I don’t need a hero or a husband to save me but thank you. Also there’s no need for Koschei to collect information on Ms. Rochev as I’ve already found everything there is to find.”

He blinked at her in surprise, “Okay, well, um, if you could send that information to Tommy—“

“The information in that dossier is for my eyes only since I’m the one who is going to handle things with Ms. Rochev from here. Like I said, there’s no need for you to concern yourself any further with this matter as I have everything under control, but thank you,” she said firmly.

“No, I will handle this because it’s my responsibility,” he said immediately. “Now tell me what you know about Isabel Rochev and how she’s connected to my mother because I know there’s something she’s not telling me.” His jaw tightened angrily, “There was way too much animosity between them for this to just be about business, even with billions of dollars at play. I know my mother and that was personal.”

“Look, if you want to know about Isabel Rochev’s connection to your family then you need to speak to your mother about it, not me,” she continued without bothering to argue about it.

“I’m not asking her though, I’m asking you; what do you know about my mother’s connection to Ms. Rochev?” he asked sharply.

“Only what I was able to uncover through my own research but I’m sure your mother could tell you more,” she said easily.

“Tell me what you found,” he insisted.

“No,” she smiled politely once more causing his jaw to clench in response. “I will give you a hint though.”

“A hint?” he bit out.

She hummed, “You might want to look over your father’s ledger once more and, after you do, bring it to your mother then ask her how she knows Isabel Rochev. Now if you don’t mind, Mr. Queen, I’m very tired so I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave but thank you so much for stopping by. I know how busy you are--”

“Cut the polite bullshit already and tell me what you know!” he demanded before stalking towards her until he was practically looming over her. “I’m not leaving here until you do so talk!”

“Goodnight, Mr. Queen,” she said as she lay back against her pillow and forced her body to relax while pretending to ignore the sounds of his breathing and the shuffling of his feet as he stared down at her.

A minute or so later she heard Oliver turn and walk out of the room, his irritation obvious as he shut the door behind him with more force than necessary.

She waited several more seconds before opening her eyes on the off chance that he would return but, once she was sure he was gone she sat up painfully and reached for her phone. The second it picked up she began to speak, “Yuri?”

“Felichka,” the older man said quickly, “Are you alright? If you need I can be back to you now.”

“You were here before?” she asked shakily, the emotions she’d been keeping under control burbling forth as her eyes began to tear up.

“Of course I was!” he insisted. “I have been gone…no more than forty-five minutes,” he said after a quick pause. “I left just after your husband came to sit with you so I could collect Iosif and Daniil. The politsiya have had them in questioning all day. Did he not tell you?”

“No. No, he didn’t mention it,” she sniffled, unable to help herself.

“Are you alright?” he asked again, “Where is your husband? Put him on the phone so I can talk to him.”

“He’s not here, he left,” she said brokenly before clearing her throat. “It’s fine though,” she said in a stronger voice, “He had more important matters to see to so I told him to go.”

“He left you alone? Did he leave you a guard at least?” Yuri asked in umbrage.

“No, but that’s okay; I’m perfectly safe here in the hospital,” she said firmly as she shook it off and brushed away her tears with her fingers.

“No, is not okay!” the older man insisted. “The politsiya pulled the man they sent to watch over you hours ago and he knew this! Why would he leave you unprotected? If he were going to leave then he should have left his man to watch you or called me then waited for my return. At the very least he could have had Alexi send some men from his garage! This does not make for good sense,” he grumbled.

“It is fine, Yuri; like I said, it was my decision, and if there was any chance of me being attacked again then the police wouldn’t have pulled the guard,” she reasoned.

“Politsiya,” he spat in Russian, “In this country all they are good for is eating donuts and handing out parking tickets!” There was a muffled sound as he spoke to someone in the room with him, “Yes, I talk about you! I have diplomatic papers say you release my boys but still I wait here forty-five minutes!”

There was a brief pause and she could hear who she thought might be Lance speaking but she couldn’t make out what he was saying.

“Yes, they kill those men and you know why? Because my boys did their job, that’s why! They protect Felichka like they supposed to—that their job! Maybe if you do your job better then they would not have to do it for you but, because you don’t do nothing but sit on your asses all day, these thugs bring guns and earthquaking machines into the city to kill innocent people until my boys they stop them! Maybe my boys should be politsiya instead of you, huh? Maybe instead of trying to blame my boys you should be thanking them and throwing them parade!”

There were some more angry voices in the back ground and this time Felicity was fairly certain it was Lance doing the speaking.

“What, you going to arrest me for that? Go ahead then, arrest me and then I sue your ass! I can say anything I want in this country even to the politsiya! Is free country and I got green card!”

There was another pause and the sardonic tones of another man’s voice in the background.

Yuri snorted at him, “Disturbing peace? Up your ass with that disturbing peace! You think I afraid of American jail? Three meals a day and color TV with clean sheets and no wife to yell at me? I want to go to jail! Is vacation for me! Fuck you and your American jail! If you don’t want me disturbing your peace or like how I speak, then go and bring my boys to me so that way I leave and you can go back to peacefully stuffing your useless face and writing your tickets! Kakógo khúya ty yeshcho tut stoísh'? Podvín' zhópu! Go!” He made a grumbling noise before muttering, “Ebaniy urod….bah!” He sighed then added in a calmer tone, “Pardon my language, Felichka. I don’t mean to say bad things where you can hear but this cop, he act like he don’t understand the words I say; like he deaf or something!” he said raising his voice again, presumably so the cop in question would hear it. “He so stupid he don’t even understand the simple English!”

“That’s okay,” she said wryly.

There was another brief pause before Yuri lowered his voice to a more confidential level, “As for what I telling you, we do not rely on politsiya to protect what is ours; we take care of our own. This is the way it has always been and you know this, Felichka! More importantly, your husband is kapitan so he especially should know this! And also, what kind of man does not show up for hours when his wife is in hospital then only comes by for brief visit then leaves again without seeing that she is kept safe? Where is he to go that is more important, eh? You his wife, his family! Also, you Tolya’s daughter! What kind of kapitan sends away the guard of his pakhan’s daughter then leaves her alone? This is outrage and if your father knew--!”

“Enough,” Felicity said firmly. “I told Oliver to leave because I didn’t need him here. He didn’t abandon me,” she stressed, ignoring the hollow feeling in her chest as she spoke. “Besides, they’re releasing me now so there was no need for him to stay or call in anyone. Speaking of which, I’m going to need you to swing by the house and bring me something to change into. Something loose and comfortable, it doesn’t have to be much. Just have Valentina pack me a set of pajamas and a robe along with some slippers since we’ll be going straight home.”

“They are releasing you already?” the older man asked in surprise. “But Felichka, you have serious injury and then there was the fall you took on the stairs a few days ago and then today with the guns and the falling out of window. I tell the doctor about this and he say you have broken bones in your ribs and that you hurt your head. He say your brain got hurt and called it con-coos…? Ah, what is word?“

“Concussion, but it’s fine,” she assured him. “It was very mild and my ribs are just fractured; they said all I need are some bandages and rest,” she lied.

The truth was that she had no idea what the doctor said because she hadn’t seen one but he didn’t need to know that.

“When can you be here?” she asked instead.

“Twenty minutes, I think, but if it take longer then I just go anyway and the boys can find their own way home. They got money, they take cab. If not then they got feet, they can walk,” Yuri said still sounding concerned. “I will also call Baba and have her meet us there with the clothes so she can help you dress.”

“Thank you,” she said quietly. “Also, um, has anyone called my parents yet to tell them what happened?”

“No,” he said grimly, “I assumed your husband would have done so since what happened was his responsibility but I see I was wrong. I will call your father now.”

“No, I will,” she told him.

“Felichka, perhaps you should allow me do this for you,” he said slowly. “I believe it would be better for me to talk to Tolya father to father on this matter. You have done enough, your father and I, we will fix this.”

Which was code for, ‘After I speak to Anatoly, Oliver won’t have to worry about visiting you in the hospital anymore because he’ll be dead and you’ll be a widow.’

To say that Yuri was not a fan of Oliver’s was an understatement.

This wasn’t a new phenomenon either. Yuri had never liked Oliver and he strongly disagreed with Anatoly’s decision to arrange a marriage between the two of them. If Felicity had to marry anyone, Yuri would’ve preferred he marry her off to Misha or one of his other grandsons, Iosif or Daniil, instead. After all, they got on well and there was no ‘blood’ between them since she was adopted, so there was nothing to stop them from marrying. Even if there were blood relations, it wasn’t unusual for cousins to marry within Bratva, and besides, they weren’t even that closely related.

Yuri was technically Anatoly’s second cousin on his mother’s side even though he called him his ‘uncle’, making Misha and the boys her third or fourth cousins at best. However, one thing Russians did best (other than vodka and winning the Winter Olympics) was know how to complicate family relationships.

Anatoly called his cousins, Alexi and Pyotr, his ‘brothers’, not just because they were all Bratva, but because Valentina and Yuri had taken him in as a young man after his mother died and treated him as their own son making Yuri her ‘grandpa’ or ‘dyed’ and Valentina her ‘grandma’ or ‘baba’. It also made Misha the closest thing she had to a brother since his father, her ‘Uncle’ Pyotr, had sent him to live with them in Russia after his mother had died. Since he’d lived with them since he was eight years old, he even called her parents ‘mama’ and ‘papa’ so there was no way she would ever agree to marry him in a million years. As for Iosef and Daniil, they were close but not so close it would feel like she was committing incest by kissing them but, as handsome as they were and as much as she loved them, they were both pigs when it came to women so no, just no.

Still, Yuri didn’t simply disapprove of Oliver just because he wasn’t ‘one of them’, meaning ‘family’. Even back in Russia when he first laid eyes on Oliver he hadn’t trusted him. It was unlikely that the two men had ever interacted much since he and his wife had accompanied her mom to Switzerland while Ivan traveled with her to the States, but somewhere in there he’d briefly traveled back to Russia and caught a glimpse of Oliver and he hadn’t liked what he saw. For that matter, neither had his son, Alexi, after he met Oliver when he returned to Starling last year but she was pretty sure his opinion of Oliver was colored more by his father’s opinions of him and his reputation in the tabloids than anything else.

It wasn’t really Oliver’s fault though. Yuri, like many old men, was set in his ways and had his fair share of prejudices so most of it came from the fact that Oliver was a non-Russian who was being given unprecedented access to Bratva. He didn’t trust him but he did trust her father so he’d remained silent. That didn’t mean, however, that he liked the idea of Anatoly allowing this inostranets to marry his daughter even though both Felicity and her mother were technically foreigners as well. They escaped that label though since Donna was naturally beautiful and charming and made Anatoly happier than he’d been in years and, because Felicity was barely seven when they married, she was young enough that she’d melded into their family seamlessly.

Even so, according to Valentina, Yuri had been willing to give Oliver another chance after they married. In his mind, once the bond was made, it cancelled out all of his previous opinions of Oliver and earned him the chance for a clean slate. However, the fact that they weren’t acting married and Oliver had yet to formally introduce himself to her family or invite her to a single family gathering and publicly declare that she was his wife? Not to mention the fact that they were maintaining separate houses, even though Oliver lived in what was basically a castle, had the older man both confused and infuriated on her behalf. He felt it meant that Oliver was ‘ashamed’ of her and therefore ‘hiding’ her from his family like she was his mistress and not a wife. To a man like Yuri that was tantamount to declaring her a piece of lowborn trash and the rest of them ‘poor relations’ who were unworthy to be seated at the same table as him even though he was the one who came to Anatoly with his hand out. When he didn’t rush to her side while she was in the hospital only to then leave her unprotected?

Well, that only made it worse because it basically confirmed the fact that the only reason Oliver married her was for Anatoly’s money so he couldn’t care less if she lived or died.

She couldn’t let Yuri tell her father all that even though, technically, it was the truth.

“I will speak to my father, no one else,” she said firmly, knowing exactly what the older man would say if he got to Anatoly before she did. “I appreciate your concerns but this is something I have to do myself.”

“I know you are strong woman, Felichka, but in many ways you are still young girl with soft heart and such conversations are for old men like us to have alone,” he insisted mulishly.

“And while I understand why you feel that way and that what you’re saying is coming from a place of love, I am not speaking as your Felichka right now but as the head of this organization. No one is to speak to my father about this incident but me, understood?” she said in a no-nonsense tone. “That said, I do appreciate your concern, dyed, and while I am grateful for it, Oliver has done nothing wrong. He hasn’t been abusive or neglectful, and he wasn’t at fault for what happened today. Oliver didn’t ‘let’ those gunmen shoot at me and, when I fell, he dove out of a sixtieth story window to catch me,” she pointed out. “I would think that alone would prove to you that he isn’t using or abusing me or the trust my father has placed in him.”

“He still left you unprotected after you were attacked and did not come to you for many hours,” the old man insisted.

“He didn’t abandon me or leave me unprotected. The men who attacked us were after him, not me, and all of them are dead. As to the reason why he didn’t come to me immediately, it was because he was trying to track them down and make sure they were all taken care of,” she said smoothly. “In other words, he was doing his duty as both a husband and captain, dyed. Even after he knew I was safe, he offered his protection but I refused it. I told him to leave and when he offered to have Mr. Diggle, his bodyguard, come to the hospital, I said ‘no’. It was my choice, just as it was my choice to marry him. Now, please; do not call my father and instruct the boys to do the same because, as the leader of this organization, it is my duty to speak to him on this matter and no one else’s.”

There was a pause before Yuri spoke again, “Very well, if you are sure then I will do as you ask and leave it to you,” he said in a slightly hurt but respectful tone. “I am on my way now.”

“Thank you, dyed, and I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings or be disrespectful just now, you know that, right?” she said quietly.

“I know, and there is no need to apologize, vnoochka. You are strong leader like your papa and I proud of you,” he responded in a far warmer tone. “We will be there soon.”

Just as she hung up a nurse came bustling through the door pushing a cart, “Oh you’re awake,” she smiled.

“Yes,” Felicity smiled back politely. “About the IV—“

“Are you in pain?” the nurse asked sympathetically. “We’ll take care of that right after I check your blood pressure and--” she said reaching for her pressure cuff but Felicity stopped her.

She stopped her, “No, that won’t be necessary, I just need you to disconnect the IV and bring me my discharge papers.”

The nurse looked at her askance and chuckled in confusion, “Ma’am, you can’t leave just yet.”

“I can,” she told her. “Just disconnect the IV and bring me the papers then let me know where I can settle up my bill.”

“Ms. Smoak, the doctor won’t release you in your condition,” the other woman said slowly. “You’ve had a serious head injury along with blunt force trauma…”

“Then I’ll sign myself out AMA so please just disconnect the IV,” she said briskly but with a polite expression.

The other woman’s eyebrows drew together in consternation as the smile dropped from her face, “Ma’am, I can’t do that without the doctor’s permission and he’s seeing other patients right now.”

“There has to be more than one doctor in this hospital, correct? If not then surely you have a hospital administrator that can bring me the AMA forms I requested?” she asked her.

“There is but—“

“Then have one of them bring me those forms, thank you,” she said easily.

“Ma’am, you cannot leave the hospital,” she said firmly.

She leveled her gaze on her, “I’m sorry, did the hospital get a court order?”

“Court order?” the other woman repeated in confusion.

“Yes, to keep me here against my will, like some sort of 72 hour hold thing?” Felicity asked carefully. “If that’s the case then I will be happy to call my attorney and he can have the judge rescind the order and file an injunction against the hospital.” The nurse gawped at that and she smiled, “No court order then? Good, now please let them know that they have twenty minutes otherwise I’m leaving whether they bring me the discharge papers or not,” she continued in the same polite and upbeat tone before carefully lifting the clear tape holding the butterfly shaped IV cannula to the back of her hand.

“You can’t do that!” the nurse said in alarm.

“Either you do it or I will,” she said calmly as she grabbed the tubing and looked at her expectantly.

The nurse shifted on her feet uneasily before scowling at her and disconnecting the IV with jerky movements. As soon as she was done she gave her another perturbed look and said, “I’ll go get the doctor.”

“Thank you,” Felicity said getting up carefully to go to the bathroom and ignoring the grumbling nurse as she made her way out of the room.