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Monsters in the Dark

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Chapter 1: Seeing Things

 

 

Not everyone had a guardian. And the people who did have one didn't usually have one that talked. For a reason Felicity had yet to determine - not that she understood a lot about her strange ability - talking was unusual for the protectors. Only the stronger personalities had ones that talked. Still there were days when she struggled to keep the real conversations separate from the imaginary ones.

No, not imaginary. They were definitely real. Time had proved that to her over and over again. Everyone had a burden to bear. She figured her burden was the sprites. Or fairies. Or guardians. Or protectors. She had never been able to settle on a name.

All she knew was that some people had creatures that followed them around and commented on what that person was doing, others had silent ones that lingered in the background of their lives, and some people did not have one at all. She was the only person who could see them. She knew she wasn't crazy. She knew that they were there. She trusted herself and her senses. But no one else could see them. She had no idea why.

She had always been curious about why some people had the fairies - it was her word choice of the day - and others didn't. Even after years of being around them, pretending not to notice them, living with them, her curiosity had not dimmed.

Her own fairy was as far from happy and magical-looking as possible. She - her fairy could only be feminine, though she was certain her invisible protector did not subscribe to gender roles - was what the casual observer would describe as a monster. She was nine feet tall, with slick, grey skin and looked a bit like the alien from the movie of the same name. Although the monster in Alien was not nearly as scary or intimidating as the creature that watched over her day and night. Sometimes the height and sheer size of her fairy amused her, like when it crouched in the backseat of her Mini or hovered over her shoulder in her small office.

Most of the time, though, she forgot her fairy was there. Unless, of course, the dark ones started hovering. Then her fairy would snarl, drool flecking from her large mouth, and attack. The dark ones would always scatter and recede back into the shadows. The dark ones were the reason she pretended she couldn't she the fairies. She saw them around people a lot. Those people usually died within a day.

She did not want to draw their attention. She did not want them to focus on her. She did not want to be next.

Some days were harder to pretend than others. If she ran into a particularly chatty or scary-looking fairy, she would feel her eyes being slowly drawn to it. It took a lot of willpower and twenty-five years of practice to keep the truth to herself and her eyes on the ceiling or ground. It didn't help that she was prone to babbling. She had found a way to use her babbling as a shield. If she just kept talking, no one would notice she was hiding a secret - no one would notice that her secret freaked her out.

She was still cautious, however, and guarded. Being around people was complicated and more of a challenge for her than it was others. She did not have social anxiety. It would have been better if she had, she sometimes thought. She was lucky, though, that she had been blessed with a talent. It was a very specific talent that did not depend entirely on interacting with people. Computers were solid, easy to understand. Even when they presented a mystery to her, she could unravel them. She just had to be patient and keep her mind focused on the task. They made much more sense than people and the fairies they carried - or didn't carry - around with them.

She liked her tiny office on the twentieth floor, even if it made her laugh to see her fairy crouched over uncomfortably in the corner. The room was dark, unassuming. The servers at her back hummed with the familiar sound of progress and technology. And, more importantly to her, people did not find their way to her office very often. They called her, of course, or complained about their computers crashing via email, but they did not visit very often. She was the one to visit them. Her fellow technicians were the only ones to really pay her attention, but she tended to gravitate towards the ones who did not have a fairy perched on their shoulders. It was less exhausting to be around them, but not being exhausted by someone was not a great way to be friends with them. It meant a whole lot of settling.

She was honest with herself to admit that she was a bit lonely. But if loneliness was the price she had to pay for flying under the radar, she would take it. It meant staying alive and doing what she loved.

The trouble was that she was really, really good at her job. She had worked her ass off to be the best, and Queen Consolidated, particularly Walter Steele, had noticed her skill. They wanted to promote her. The thought scared her. A promotion to a leadership position in the company meant people. It meant giving presentations, working in tandem with other departments, using her skills to push the company into the future. She didn't know if she had it in her.

Felicity was nothing if not brave. The monster at her back was proof of her fierceness, even if most people only generally saw her bubbling, happy light.

"Ms. Smoak?" Walter asked kindly, bringing her attention back to the promotion he had just offered her and the fact that he was waiting for an answer.

His fairy, protector, and guardian, a panther, was curled at his feet comfortably. It was purring slightly as it slept, having barely given the monster as Felicity's shoulder a glance before closing its eyes. It did not see Felicity as a threat. She was glad. She had seen some of the fairies get into a fight before. Their human counterparts never really got along when that happened.

"Sorry...I'm just a bit surprised. Good surprised, not bad surprised, and I'm trying to think your very generous offer through carefully. I don't want to say yes and mean no, though I'd be crazy to say no, wouldn't I? Of course I would." She met his eyes boldly, confidently, though her heart was hammering in her chest at the idea of the duties the job would hold and how it would change the comfortable world she had built up.

"You can have a couple of days to consider it, if you wish," Walter said, his deep voice calm and steady, his hands clasped together over his desk.

"No," Felicity said, realizing in that moment that she did not need the time. She was afraid, but she refused to let her fear run her life. Courage was about facing her fear, right? Her fairy growled slightly in approval. She was not surprised. She always seemed to know what she was thinking.

Walter's eyebrow quirked up slightly at her refusal.

"I'll take the job," Felicity added firmly.

Walter smiled, his eyes, so much like coals in a warm fire, lighting up with pleasure. "Good."

He stood and held his hand out to her. She took it quickly, also standing, and beamed at him. She shook his hand firmly and turned, knowing that he was a busy man and didn't have the time or patience to celebrate her promotion with her.

"My assistant will show you to your new office. I'll give you until the end of the day to get settled in and sort through your predecessor's paperwork before sending you the projects I'm going to want you to oversee and report to me on."

"Yes, sir," she said, wincing a little at the mention of paperwork. She knew for a fact that the man who had so recently retired had not been an organized man. His leftover workload would not be pretty. Her smile returned in force as she rested her hand on the door. "And thank you."

Walter smiled politely at her, and she could almost see him thinking that she would not be thanking him once she saw the task in front of her. She pulled the glass door out of her way, not leaving it open for her fairy as she had done as a child, knowing that boundaries like doors meant little to it, and looked at the woman who was waiting for her. Walter's assistant was in her forties, with a perfectly tailored suit and muted makeup. She was just the sort of person to blend into the background. Felicity got the distinct impression that she preferred it that way. She did not have a fairy. She smiled politely at Felicity and gestured for her to follow her.

They chatted in the elevator but Felicity had no idea later what was said. She was excited, nervous, and just shy of nauseous. She wanted to be alone, to maybe have a panic attack in the privacy of her office, but she knew her time would come. She just had to keep her cool long enough for Walter's assistant to show her to her new office, which was...

Holy crap.

Felicity let out a low whistle and turned a full circle as she stepped inside the office. She had known that her predecessor's office was only three floors below the executive floor, but she was still surprised by how swanky-swank it was. She had never had a reason to visit it before. She had not been the man's favorite person, mainly because she had a habit of correcting him when he was wrong. Which was a lot. Her guardian had spent a lot of time growling at the man's guardian; his guardian had spent a lot of time whimpering.

She took in the view of the skyscrapers along the opposite side of the door, as well as the large desk. She did not have a fancy entryway or an assistant, as Walter did, but the view was fabulous. She was particularly glad that the glass windows were the only part of the office that were see through. The walls on either side of her were painted cream, and the door was metal.

The symbolism of glass walls in business was all well and good, but she did not like the idea of her neighbors catching a glimpse of her trying to cram her lunch into her mouth while working at her station, per her usual ritual. And she definitely did not like the idea of having to constantly avoid looking at her neighbors' fairies and pretending they weren't there. The office was a perfect blend of beauty and privacy, and way better than expected.

"Will you need anything else?" Walter's assistant asked kindly, her conversation with Felicity warming her considerably. Felicity had that effect on people.

"No, thank you," Felicity said. "I can take it from here."

The woman nodded, patted Felicity once on the arm, and then disappeared around the door. Felicity very calmly walked over to the door and slowly slid it shut. She paused and took in the office again. Then, because she was eager to be more excited than nervous, she did an uncoordinated happy dance around the entire office.

Giggling, she sat down on the plush leather chair and let her momentum spin her in a circle, her eyes lingering on the view and the marble floors of her new office. She had her things to collect from her office eighteen floors below her and things to sort out, least of which was the paperwork she saw in the inbox in front of her, but she was willing to give herself a moment to enjoy the fact that her talents, her hard work, and her years of steady practice had finally given her the job of her dreams.

Even the fact that the paperwork situation was worse than she had assumed, and the fact that she had dropped her box of belongings in the elevator when a man's fairy started rambling happily about how the man was imaging her naked, did not deter her good mood. She was humming happily right until the moment she got the memo in her inbox that Walter wanted her to join him in a meeting tomorrow to introduce her to the colleagues she would be working closely with. She also thought it might be his way of easing her into the boardroom without putting pressure on her. She would have hugged him for his consideration if she hadn't thought him not the hugging type, at least not with his employees.

That night, she treated herself to a double helping of mint chip and a new outfit to help her feel more confident in the meeting. She fell asleep to the gentle breathing of her guardian standing watch, content in the knowledge that while her life was moving forward into unknown territory, it didn't mean she had to be afraid. She would find a way to balance her secret life with her dream job. She could manage it. There was always a way.

 

The meeting was set for ten o'clock. It was the perfect time for a meeting, Felicity thought. It was not too early for her brain to be fuzzy and not so late that she was desperate for food. Walter seemed to think of everything. Or else she had gotten lucky with the time.

Despite her eagerness to make a good impression, she was running late. Well, late in Felicity time meant she only had five minutes to get upstairs.

Her paperwork was nothing compared to the need to get her head around the projects Walter wanted to get off the ground. She had a lot of ideas. She had a lot to say. She knew her ideas would have to wait until she had more than a day on the job. She would have to earn respect first. Her arms were full of files so she pressed the call button to the elevator with her elbow. She kept glancing at her watch as she waited, wondering if being on time was considered late for Walter.

She groaned slightly when she saw that the elevator was half full. The clamoring of voices was strengthened by the more animalistic sounds of the guardians surrounding their people inside. Yeah, it was definitely a guardian sort of day. The sounds quieted when the guardians noticed Felicity's protector, then started right back up as Felicity stepped into the space and saw that the floor she was after was already lit up.

She looked at the top of the doors to keep from looking around the small space, a trick she had learned long ago to keep herself from being noticed. It was harder to keep her ears from noticing the sounds around her.

"Such a tight ass. Hot, for a nerd. Maybe librarian chic. We could use her up in so many ways..." a gruff voice overrode the others.

Felicity sighed. She knew it was a guardian and not an actual man speaking, but she knew that guardians always reflected the people they looked after. If the guardian was a creep, so was the man.

"Are you kidding me?" another voice asked. This voice was masculine, rough, as though it had weathered the roughest of seas and come out stronger for it. "She wouldn't willingly get within a hundred feet of your guy's naked dick. She's got way more class than that."

"Oh, so you think your guy has a better chance?" the first voice retorted.

"I think it would be a good idea for you to learn some manners," the second voice replied in a low rumble. "Or we're gonna have a problem."

Felicity titled her head to the side, surprised at the turn the conversation had taken. None of the other guardians she had met seemed to care about censoring what one of the others said. They usually ignored each other and carried on, unless there was a fight that involved both of their people. It was peculiar. There was a low growl from next to her and she realized her thoughts had keyed her guardian into her discomfort.

The second voice, the one that had piqued her interest, spoke again, "And I don't think I'm the only one you're going to have to deal with," he said with an amused chuckle. "You really want to mess with her?"

The silence from the first voice was profound.

"That's what I thought, asshat," the second voice said smugly.

The doors dinged and Felicity jumped, realizing that the car had emptied somewhat as she stood listening to the conversation. She had one floor to go. She moved slightly back to let the others out, her curiosity getting the better of her, and risked a glance to the left. One man, tall, athletic, but with a hungry look to his eye met her eyes immediately. He winked at her in what she assumed he thought was a charming manner and then stepped out. The stubby gnome creature that hovered at his heels looked up at Felicity's guardian with wide eyes. He was the one who had been thinking about her ass. Yuck. She winced when his back was turned and shook her head.

Then her eyes fell on the remaining three people in the car. One was a woman she recognized from fixing her computer. Amanda, she thought. Or Amy. She couldn't remember exactly. She knew she was in charge of the new Applied Sciences division. She liked that very much. Working with another woman would be nice. Hovering above her was a swarm of bright blue butterflies.

The man standing next to her was black, with thick arms, a crisp suit, and a commanding presence. Everything about him, down to his expression and the way he held himself, screamed sardonic and just a little bit sassy. A large bear loomed behind him, seemingly not taking up at any space despite its size. Her first impression of it was that it looked more like the snuggly, teddy bear kind of bear, rather than the maul your face off with its gigantic claws kind of bear.

Finally, her eyes landed on the man in the far corner of the elevator. His hands were gripping the railing lightly and his entire body screamed casual as he leaned back. His suit was grey, and his shirt was open at the collar. Two buttons were undone. He looked like something out of a movie. She knew she was only half right. He was something off of television, the news and tabloids to be exact.

Oliver Queen.

He had returned from the dead two months ago. Two months had passed since Walter, Mrs. Queen, and the youngest Queen had gotten the best news of their lives. She blinked several times as the door slid shut behind her and turned away, not wanting to appear rude. His eyes had not moved at all despite the car emptying. He was studying the floor, seemingly tracing the lines with his eyes.

His guardian was definitely moving. It fluttered around the car curiously, coming closer to her guardian than she had ever seen another one dare. She tried not to flinch when it flew in front of her, but she couldn't help but be impressed with what she saw. It was a dragon, and had the most vivid colors she had ever seen in a guardian. Red, gold, black, and blue mixed together in pattern of brightness and light.

"Please tell me you talk," the dragon guardian said to Felicity's guardian after it was done with its survey of Felicity's face.

Felicity had only heard her guardian speak once - the day the dark ones had almost reached out to claim Felicity. Her guardian had told her to run. And she had. The warning was the only reason she was alive and not another casualty of the fire that had claimed her apartment complex at MIT only seconds later.

Her guardian didn't speak in response, but it did make a low noise that was just shy of being friendly.

"Oh, I see," the dragon guardian said, as if her guardian had actually spoken. He fluttered around and landed on Oliver Queen's shoulders lightly. "I get the feeling we're going to get along just fine."

Felicity almost snorted at that. She had trouble picturing a world where Oliver Queen and her spoke, let alone got along. It seemed as likely as someone from NASA picking her to lead a space walk on the moon.

She looked up at the doors again, willing them to open. When they did, she was the first one out, her new high heels clicking over the ground in a purposeful stride that bellied her profound nerves at what was to come.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: First Impressions

 

 

Her name was definitely Amanda, Felicity decided as the woman she had shared an elevator with caught up to her and started talking. A glance down at her QC badge was enough to let her know that truth. She was ashamed she hadn't remembered; she was so nice and welcoming. She congratulated Felicity on her promotion and kept cracking jokes that had some of the tension disappearing from Felicity's shoulders. Even though the walk between the elevator and conference room was short, it was long enough for Felicity to decide that she truly liked the woman.

She held the door open for her with a smile and was about to step through when she saw that the sardonic man and Oliver Queen were following them. She stepped back, confused that Oliver Queen was actually, willingly, walking into a boardroom, and held the door for him politely. He was having none of that. He put his hand on the glass above her and gestured her inside with a cordial head nod.

"Such a gentleman," the dragon on his shoulder said with a sarcastic flutter of his wings.

Felicity offered a smile by way of thanks and hurried inside. The table was mostly full of men and women in dark suits. Their outfits were all tailored and expensive. She thought the blue, brown, and black made the room look rather boring and drab, but it seemed to be expected. She looked down at her red dress and yellow pumps with a sigh. She stuck out like a sore thumb. But, she liked the dress. It made her happy, and that was all that really mattered.

Her guardian gave another low sound of approval at that.

She sat along the wall, next to a man in a black suit. He looked poised to take notes and was not talking. Everyone else in the room was chattering away, though, so she figured him to be the anomaly. She counted heads - fifteen people in total. She caught sight of Amanda as she sat at the far side of the table next to a man she seemed to know well and then there was Oliver...Oliver Queen had followed her to the seats along the wall. He sat next to her, his thigh brushing against hers, and she shifted in her seat awkwardly. She had never been good at small talk, and casually chitchatting with a man she had only seen on her television felt weird. She did not want to make him uncomfortable.

"God, you are so single-minded," his dragon guardian lamented as Oliver settled into the seat and unbuttoned his jacket to get comfortable. His expression was neutral but Felicity sensed that he was deep in thought. "It's like your mind is on autopilot. If you could hear yourself the way I have to hear yourself, you would be so fucking bored."

Felicity pressed her lips together to keep from laughing. Oliver noticed the moment. He seemed a lot more aware now that he was out of the elevator. She looked away to keep from looking over at him and noticed sardonic man had not followed him into the room. He was waiting outside, his arms crossed in a ready posture she associated with military. Oliver shifted in his seat slightly and tilted his head to survey the side of her face. The heat of his gaze brought goose bumps to her arms.

"Better..." his dragon guardian said in approval.

"Are we ready to get started?" Walter asked, stepping into the room and bringing all his calm and steady charm with him. He nodded at Oliver but didn't seem willing to bring any more attention to Oliver than he was already generating. They were both determined to keep his appearance in the boardroom as under the radar as possible.

"Dude, you are so freaking cool...so nonchalant," the dragon guardian said sarcastically. "Everyone here is eating it up. They are all just so confused...Except her. She doesn't seem to care," his dragon guardian said, fluttering in front of Felicity again.

She resolutely kept her eyes forward, looking into the dragon's eyes, which she was surprised to see were a sharp blue. Her guardian growled in warning at the nearness and the dragon swooped away and calmly went to check out the other guardians in the room. He was predatory and suspicious. It made Felicity curious. He was looking for threats, she realized finally. He was searching for potential enemies. She followed the dragon's path out of the corner of her eye and saw it pause in front of a man with brown hair and a lined face. The man had an air of old money and rich tastes and was watching Walter seriously. A dark mist hovered around his guardian, a snake.

"Oh, I do not trust you," dragon guardian said.

The snake hissed at him hatefully, the dark mist swirling aggressively. The dragon circled the man several times before landing on Oliver's shoulder again with a low growl of warning. The snake turned to watch him, its eyes revealing a darkness that sent a shiver down Felicity's spine.

She willed herself to focus on what was being said by Walter.

"...the numbers seem to be in order for that project to go ahead. I'm looking forward to what you can come up with, but please remember that we are on a rather sensitive deadline," Walter said.

Amanda nodded. "I understand, sir," she said.

"All right, I think we should go ahead with our presentations first, then we can talk them to death. Is that okay with everyone?" Walter asked politely. Everyone knew he wasn't really asking.

"Yes, sir," came the consensus.

Though she meant to take notes on her tablet and be diligent like the man scribbling next to her, Felicity didn't. She had never been a good note taker, not even at school. She remembered more of the facts simply by paying attention, by focusing. Her focus was laser tight as she watched the first presentation. She was shaking her head by the end of the slide show, knowing the project was not a good idea. It was all half thought out theories and leaps in logic. It would cost the company a lot of money and show very little return. She was astonished a minute into it that the man even had a job.

She stopped shaking her head when she realized that both Walter and Oliver Queen were watching her with varying degrees of amusement. She looked down at her tablet and tried to keep the blush off her face. She had to learn to school her thoughts better if she was going to sit in the big girl chair and play with people like Walter Steele.

The next presentation was better. She liked it a lot. It was rough around the edges and squeaked a bit when the man who talked about it turned too quickly to the left, but it was definitely a good idea. She knew she could make it into a great idea given the chance. Oliver shifted slightly when she pressed her lips together in a thought frown. She realized he was still watching her.

The presentations continued. Some were better than others. Amanda was the only one who seemed to really know what she was talking about. She kept her ideas concise and her plans simple. She understood technology and science, and she was not there to showboat or prove to Walter she was capable. She let her work do that.

The only thing that kept Felicity from truly being wrapped up in her words was Oliver Queen's guardian. It kept talking, filling up the pauses and black spaces with sarcasm. It took all her willpower not to turn and shush him when he talked over important facts she wanted to hear or laugh when his jokes were particularly funny.

Finally, the presentations were over and the talking began. She noticed uncomfortably that the man with the snake guardian seemed eager about something. She didn't like the way his eyes were lit up with inner fire. She had the thought that nothing good come from a man like that being happy.

"Ms. Smoak, as our new head of technology, would you care to weigh in on this?" Walter asked politely. The table quieted. All eyes were turned towards her. Most of them were very judgmental. With her bright colors, blonde hair, and thick glasses, she knew exactly what they thought of her - that she was incapable of having thoughts, let alone worthwhile opinions.

So much for easing her into the boardroom. Sink or swim, Smoak, she thought to herself, then winced as she realized that thought probably wasn't appropriate considering who was sitting next to her.

"To be frank, Mr. Steele, I don't think it's a viable option for the company," Felicity said, trying not to offend the man who had presented the idea. "Or any company, for that matter." So much for that. She winced again at her lack of filter, but plowed on resolutely. "It would end up costing QC a lot of money, and you would not see a return on it probably ever."

The man who had presented the idea immediately spoke up, trying to argue the finer points of the idea and talk up his proposal. It took her all of a minute and a half to point out the flaws in the technology, his logic, and dissect the idea back down to the drawing room floor. In fact, she was certain the idea had crawled under the drawing room floor and was currently cowering for mercy.

Oliver Queen shifted next to her again, the fabric of his pants scratching against her leg, as she finished her analytical dissection of the plan. She cut her eyes over to him very briefly. It was enough to let her know that his eyes were the same - dare she think it? - magical blue as the dragon's. They were also thoughtful and intense. He was seeing her. She had a feeling it was in far different light than the way the others were currently looking at her. It was not shocked, offended or stunned that technical words or logic had actually left her mouth. It was...analytical, curious.

The man she had been arguing with closed his mouth, opened it again, and then closed it again. Amanda caught Felicity's eye and gave her a small wink and a nod of approval. Felicity smiled slightly back.

"That settles that, I think," Walter said, and she could tell he was suppressing a proud smile. The vibe in the room told her that some of the others had questioned his judgment when appointing her head of her department. They were all eating their words. "Next..."

After her initial breakdown, the others asked her opinion more often and with far less judgment in their eyes. If there was one thing about business she liked, it was the fact that the bottom line was more important than stereotypes. The suits in the room wanted to save the company money and make money. Her thoughts seemed to be able to do both. She liked the feeling.

"Yeah, I think we'll get along nicely," Oliver's dragon guardian said in a deep rumble.

She couldn't help the small smile that pushed her lips upward at his words.

The meeting came to an end just as Felicity's stomach was starting to rumble. Conversation around the room became general as people caught up and talked about what had been discussed. The man who had been taking notes stood instantly and joined an older man at the table. The man shook hands with Walter and then marched out of the room, the note-taking man on his heels. Several of the others cleared out just as quickly, obviously having to be somewhere else.

Felicity stood, realizing that she had no reason to linger. She didn't know any of the people and the constant noise of conversations, both normal and paranormal, was starting to make her head hurt. She needed food and time to dive into the tech she loved so much. It was the one thing that could make her forget everything.

She reached Walter just as snake man reached him. She hung back, not wanting to look like she was hovering, and listened without trying to look like she was listening as the two spoke.

"We have some very exciting projects in the works," the man said in a raspy voice. It reminded Felicity of dry winds over hot sand. It made her skin crawl. "I particularly like the Juggernaut Project. Six months to get it off the ground, you say?"

"That's our rough estimate," Walter agreed, buttoning his jacket. "If there aren't any setbacks. You know how these things go."

"Yes," the man said. He shook Walter's hand. "We should have lunch this week."

"Certainly. Have Ms. Baker set it up before you leave."

They exchanged pleasantries, then the man was gone. Felicity took the opening, her stomach still twisting with uneasiness. She smiled at Walter a bit shyly. "I hope I didn't overstep any boundaries," she said quietly.

"No, your insight proved invaluable today," Walter said.

Felicity blushed and held her files just a little bit tighter. "Well, I'll let you get back to your CEO-ing," she added.

She started to slip past him when the gnawing in her gut had her turning back around. "Sir?"

Walter looked up at her in a question.

"Who was that man you were just talking to?"

"That's Andrew Hastings," Walter returned. "He's on the board of directors."

"Ah, okay," she said politely and marched to the door without looking back, not wanting him to see how uneasy even the man's name made her.

The door was opened for her by tall, dark, and sardonic. She smiled at him, noticing that his bear of a guardian was just as alert and focused as the man. It did not nap as Walter's panther had. Ever alert, ever ready. Definitely military.

"Thank you," she said.

"You're welcome," was his quiet reply.

"Do you guard all doors, or just this one?" she asked.

She was lingering, but it was only so Andrew Hastings could get into the elevator way the hell ahead of her. She would not want to be in a such a small space next to him. She wouldn't be able to hide her fear.

"I guard all the doors that have him behind them," he said, pointing through the glass.

Felicity followed his finger and saw him pointing at none other than Oliver Queen, who was chatting with Walter. She had slipped out just in time to avoid an awkward conversation with him.

"So...bodyguard?" she asked.

"Bodyguard," he replied with a nod.

"Sounds boring," she said.

"Not with him," he replied with a secretive smile.

"I guess resurrection tends to make a person more interesting than your normal billionaire," she said. She scrunched her nose up when she played her words back in her mind. "Forget I said that."

The man smiled. It was genuine and curious. She noticed that her guardian and his were standing close to one another, almost touching. They were both silent, but she could sense her guardian's approval. Protectiveness came naturally to them both.

"John Diggle," he said, holding his hand out to her.

"Felicity Smoak," she returned, giving the hand a firm shake.

"Maybe I'll see you around," he said.

"Sure," she agreed easily.

She turned and checked the elevator banks. They were empty. She sighed in relief, grateful that John Diggle had been so friendly and generous with his time, and gave the man in question a fluttery goodbye wave.

While waiting for the elevator to return, she watched as Oliver Queen's guardian flew through the glass doors and circled John Diggle's. It landed on the bear with a soft flutter of wings and curled its tail around the bear's neck. She thought that it was a bit like watching two brothers hug.

Interesting. And odd.

Since when were bodyguards so close to their clients?

She jumped a little when the doors slid open and dinged at her. She tore her eyes away from the guardians, and her questions, and focused on a far more important issue: where she was going to go for lunch.

But as she left the building, her thoughts remained focused on a pair of the bluest eyes she had ever seen.

Chapter Text

 

Her new job was an adjustment. There was a lot more paperwork than her old one, and people actually asked her opinions on things, but she liked the challenge. She did not shy away from it. It meant having to pretend that her strange ability wasn't so, well, strange, and awkward at times, but she could definitely get used to the change. It just meant a little bit of extra focus and a whole lot of determination.

By the third day on the job, she was firmly convinced she had found her place in life. The paperwork was boring, sure, and she itched to hack into things as she often did during her free time - she had very little free anything anymore - but she was content. For the first time in forever, she didn't feel like a wallflower, wasn't trying to be a wallflower, and she felt proud over how that fact no longer terrified her.

She was decidedly unprepared for the visit she received that morning, however. She had just finished her first patch of paperwork for the day and was doing a happy dance to celebrate in her chair when she heard a knock on her door. She froze mid dance, knowing she had left the door open.

"Don't stop on account of us. You can shimmy and shake all day, if you want to," a voice she recognized said.

Her heart started thumping wildly in her chest. A second later, she connected eyes with Oliver Queen. His guardian, which had been the one to speak, swooped through the door a second later and landed on her desk. It stretched out its wings to their full width, and then huffed a small circle of smoke into the air. She thought it might have been a silent laugh.

"You need a little help on your rhythm though," the guardian added.

Felicity huffed a little at that, but managed to keep her expression as calm as possible under the circumstances - those circumstances including the very real fact that Oliver Queen had witnessed her celebratory chair dance.

"Felicity Smoak?" he asked. "I'm Oliver Queen," he said, stepping to the threshold of her door but not actually coming inside.

"She knows who you are, you giant, oafish, idiot," his dragon announced to the room. "She's not the one who spent the last five years out of touch with the world."

"Yes, I know who you are, Mr. Queen," Felicity said with a smile, pushing her hair out of her face nervously.

"Mr. Queen was my father," Oliver said, tilting his head at her slightly, his lips pressing together in a way that suggested hidden pain.

"Daddy issues," the dragon added then. "Severe Daddy issues. Freud would be flummoxed. Flummoxed is a good word...more people should use it."

Felicity bit her lip to keep from laughing, then tried to cover the moment. Typically, her brain went with honesty instead of the proper human reaction she should have had. "Yes, but he drowned." She winced and tried to gather her thoughts, pressing the heel of her hand against her forehead in defeat.

"Bullet to the brain, actually," the dragon said, though his tone was no longer amused. "He killed himself so his son could live. It was very heroic, even if Daddy had a bit of a...troubled past."

Felicity's eyes widened in shock at the confession. "Which you do not need me to point out to you," she said quickly, trying to hide her emotion. "And so not the reason you are in my office..."

There was a pause. It felt like an eternity to Felicity. Even Oliver's dragon was quiet as he stared at her. It was really only a couple of seconds. She was surprised and grateful that Oliver neither seemed offended by her words nor eager to punish her for them. He took another step closer to her, his eyes still on her face, and his lips quirked upwards for the briefest of moments.

She was surprised when the dragon added, "His first genuine smile in years. Yay you, you wonderful, awkward, creature."

"I didn't get to introduce myself to you the other day," Oliver said quietly, his voice surprisingly quiet and hushed. It wasn't the husky voice of the dragon, which was strange. Felicity found herself leaning towards him, just to hear him better. Or that was the excuse she gave herself, anyways. "You really seem to know your stuff."

"If by stuff, you mean computers and technology in general, then yes," Felicity said with a proud nod. "I do know plenty of stuff."

"Walter mentioned that you're a bit of a genius when it comes to that stuff," he said, locking on to her displeasure for the word 'stuff' and teasing her with it.

She blushed at the compliment, then smiled at his teasing. "Genius is a bit heavy handed, but who am I to argue with my boss?"

He paused, assessing her again, and she realized it was not sexual or even judgmental. It was that cold, analytical look that told her he was forming conclusions, assessing outcomes and otherwise letting her know that he had more going on below the facade of playboy he had been showing the world for the past two months. She looked back at him just as analytically, wondering what he was up to and why he was in her office.

"She is totally not buying your bullshit," the dragon said in a mock whisper. "This is gonna be so good..." He sat up straighter on her desk and angled his body so he could look at both of them.

"I was told that you might be able to help me with a technical problem," he said. He pulled a fob out of his pocket and showed it to her. "I found this and wanted to give it back to its owner, but it keeps locking me out when I try to log in. I don't know what to do about it, and it seems pretty important."

Felicity's eyes narrowed slightly. She had very little to base her suspicions off, but it felt like he was lying to her. Her thoughts were confirmed a second later.

"Such utter bullshit," the dragon said. "And she's not buying it either, which is awesome. Clearly has a brain to match the beauty. Where'd you find her?" he added to Felicity's guardian.

But Oliver Queen literally had his name on the side of the building she was working in. She couldn't call him out on his lying. It wasn't really her business anyways. He was a mystery, and she liked that very much. The fob he had brought to her was another one.

She held her hand out, her pink nails looking incongruous against the black metal of the fob when he dropped it into her palm, and her fingers formed around it. She looked at it for a second, recognizing the tech and momentarily wondering who would accidently drop something military grade, and then plugged it into her closest computer.

A screen popped up immediately. Definitely encrypted. It would take some time. "This might take me a while," she said.

"How long is a while?" he asked.

"As long as it takes," she replied sharply without thinking, forgetting again that his name was literally on the building she worked in. She tore her eyes away from the screen to apologize and saw him smiling, if ever so slightly.

"Okay," was his reply.

He sat down in the chair on the other side of her desk, his tall, muscular frame filling it out in ways all of her other visitors had not. He was casual, seemingly unaffected. She realized the casualness was a result of being perfectly tuned in to his body. She sensed that he could be very un-casual rather quickly if he wanted to be. Her guardian growled in agreement at the thought, forcing his dragon guardian to turn its head to stare at them both curiously.

"Oh, so you're just gonna...perfect," she added, blowing at the hair that had escaped her ponytail and focusing on the mystery he had dropped in his lap.

Her fingers flew over her keyboard, and her mind went through several solutions at once as she worked. She was focused, steady. She very quickly forgot about Oliver Queen and his surprisingly chatty dragon as she worked. They were nothing compared to the challenge in front of her. She liked it very much that Oliver didn't talk or fill up the space with awkward small talk. He let her work. Even though he didn't trust her to be alone with the fob, at least he didn't distract her.

"You're a naughty little bit of code, aren't you?" she muttered as she tried to work her way around the encryption. "How do you like that? And that?!" A new screen opened up and she smiled triumphantly. "Who's the boss now?" she demanded at her computer.

A throat cleared, and she realized with a jolt that Oliver Queen was definitely still sitting in his chair and he was definitely close enough to hear her make an ass out of herself. Before she could make an excuse, he was moving. He walked around the table and put one hand on the top as he looked over her shoulder.

"Did you get it?"

Her eyes scanned the page that had opened out in front of her. She felt a cold knot settle in her stomach. She had definitely just helped the man who owned her company with something decidedly hinky, and hinky was not a word she used lightly.

"I thought you said you found this?" she asked.

"I did," he said.

"Uh-huh," she said, turning to give him a disbelieving look. His lips quirked up slightly, and he crossed his arms and set his stance. Though he looked amused, he was definitely on edge.

"Yeah, the defensive stance is a great way to convince her you aren't lying, doofus," his dragon piped up from where it had fluttered to the door.

She pointed at the screen, her eyes on Oliver. "Then why does this belong to one of your step-father's competitors?"

"Which one?" he asked, suddenly intense and focused. All of the charm and charisma was missing, replaced with steely determination and cold logic.

"Jacob Milling," she said. "These are plans for..."

Her eyes widened as she moved through the data available to her. It was clear to her that Jacob Milling, owner of Viking Tech was in the process of building something that could easily be transformed into a weapon given the right tweaking.

"What?" he demanded.

"An energy weapon...the energy weapon. It would change the whole scope of weapon manufacturing...if he could even do it. I mean the tech is meant for powering businesses and homes, but there is clear interest in weaponizing it. The ramifications are...terrifying."

"I see," he replied, his eyes lost in thought.

It was clear to Felicity that the information meant more to him than wanting to return a piece of technology to its owner. He was processing, deciding, and he clearly realized he had stayed too long in her office. He held out his hand to her rather swiftly.

"Thank you for your help. I'm sure Mr. Milling will be thrilled to get this back."

Felicity took the hint. She pulled the fob out and handed it to him, her fingers lingering on his warm palm longer than was strictly necessary. She was surprised at the way the warmth made her fingertips tingle. It was alarmingly nice. She snatched her hand away when she realized what she was doing and fought her blush. He paused, then turned away, silently ending the meeting.

"Oliver..." she said quietly, her mind lingering on the plans and the very scary ramifications. She didn't know what he was up to, how he'd come by the fob, or what he planned to do about what he had learned - and he was definitely planning something - but she knew one thing. "Those plans are dangerous. They should not get into the wrong hands. Just...be careful."

"Trust me, sunshine, he can handle himself," his dragon said, though not unkindly.

Oliver didn't reply directly to her warning, but he did nod ever so briefly. She decided to take that as a win. He slipped out of her office silently, and she exhaled sharply. She had no idea what was going on with him, but she was beginning to think there was a lot more to Oliver Queen than what she knew from the news.

Luckily for her, work did not stand still for hinky feelings and worry about the secrets her boss was keeping. She was immediately distracted by a server upgrade and a very sloppy attempt by hackers to break through the firewalls she had designed. She backtracked them easily, then gave security the information. She didn't like turning them in when she spent her time hacking as well, but QC was her company, and no one messed with what was hers. It was a matter of principle.

It wasn't until the next day that the weirdness that was Oliver Queen returned in full force. She had decided to eat lunch out of the office for a change, an attempt to get away from the paperwork. She knew if she stayed she would spend another hour of her lunch working. It had become a nasty habit she really needed to break.

Walking on the street was sometimes a challenge for Felicity. The typical crowds in the business district were not her biggest concern, though the combination of people and their guardians was usually enough to induce a headache. Her problem was that it was harder to escape the dark ones with so many people around. They hung out on the roofs of buildings, in the shadows of alleys, in the middle of the sidewalks. She had to remember to keep walking, not to swerve or wince, and trust her guardian to take care of them for her. Some days were easier than others. Today, with her mind so full of thoughts, was definitely a struggle.

Last night's news did not help. Viking Tech had been broken into by none other than the vigilante, a man who was convinced archery and old -fashioned fist-a-cuffs was a good way to clean up the city. A man who had sprung up out of the ether in the past month. She did not miss the fact that the vigilante had torched their science division when he had never resorted to arson before. She had a good idea that was where they kept any energy weapons in the making - ones that might be used to rival the hydrogen bomb. She estimated that the fire had put Viking Tech back at least three years, if not more.

She was not sorry for the setback. She was curious about how the science wing holding said scary tech had been attacked the same day Oliver Queen had come to her looking for information. It was very, very coincidental. More startling was the fact that she was having trouble caring if her suspicions were correct. She was glad the energy weapon had been destroyed. It was a good thing. She didn't care how it had happened.

She was decidedly weird.

The thought made her smile. Yeah, weird was an understatement. She was still smiling when she looked up and saw someone that instantly chased her smile away. Andrew Hastings was walking into one of the fancy-pants restaurants with Walter Steele. She remembered them making plans earlier in the week, but actually seeing them together made her insides knot up. She didn't like it at all. She paused and willed neither of them to look her way. She was relieved when they disappeared inside the building together, though she wished she could find a way to get Walter away from Hastings. Her dislike of Hasting was strange to have when she had just met him. She had no basis for it. She felt it all the same.

She realized she was still rooted in place a second later and willed herself to move. Staring at the restaurant did no one any good, and it certainly didn't help her stomach. She went to her favorite sandwich/coffee shop and ordered her usual with forced cheerfulness. She went to the booth closest to the back door and sat familiarly. She put her tablet on the table next to her and contemplated running a full search on Andrew Hastings while she ate. It wouldn't be difficult to dig into his life. She'd done harder hacks in high school. Her fingers itched with the impulse. A tiny, baby search couldn't hurt, could it? Screens started popping up on her tablet almost magically as her fingers skimmed the screen.

"Felicity?" a masculine voice called her name. She jerked her hand away from the tablet and looked up. She blinked in surprise when she stared into deep blue. Behind the blue was warm brown.

"Mr. Queen...Mr. Diggle," she said.

"Oliver."

"Digg."

It was cute how they corrected her in tandem, and with similar expressions on their faces. "Aww, that is adorable," she teased them. Digg laughed quietly, while Oliver's lips quirked up slightly and his eyes brightened in what she was coming to see as his version of a laugh.

"They are totally cute," Oliver's dragon added. "You should see them when they're bonding. It's a total bromance sugar rush."

"Do you mind some company?" Oliver added.

Felicity was confused by their appearance but not a rude person by nature. "No," she said simply.

They slid into the booth across from her gracefully, and there was a beat of silence. She figured she had to be the one to fill it. Neither seemed chatty. She shot them an amused look. "I'm trying to figure out what Oliver Queen, billionaire, is doing in my sandwich shop," Felicity said. "Did you get lost?"

"Eating lunch," Oliver said, one eyebrow quirked up in amusement.

"Mmm," she said noncommittally.

"What were you working on?" Oliver asked, gesturing at her tablet with his chin, clearly looking for a change of topic.

"Smooth," his dragon guardian said sarcastically.

The truth came tumbling from her without her permission. "Looking into Andrew Hastings," she said as if it were a particularly natural thing to do. She clamped her lips together in irritation.

"From the company?" Oliver asked.

"I knew I liked you," his dragon said approvingly a second later.

"Yes," she admitted.

"What's there to look at?" Oliver asked.

"I don't trust him," she said simply. "And I really don't trust him with Walter."

Oliver considered that for a solid minute, letting her chew over her food and glanced at Digg, who was looking at her just as seriously.

"What have you found?" Oliver asked.

"Like she's going to just give you what you want that easily...Could you at least try for subtlety?" his dragon demanded in exasperation.

"No family...has a history in investing in weapons. Been with QC for eight years now. He made the majority of his wealth in war. That's as far as I got."

"Oh," Oliver's dragon said in surprise.

"Oh," Oliver parroted. He leaned forward, his eyes catching on hers. "Do you make it a habit of looking into QC's board of directors?" He tried for teasing, but it just came out as serious and interested.

"Only when they creep me way the hell out..." Felicity frowned. "Unless he's, like, a friend of the family or something, in which case, he still freaks me out, but I'm sorry I said how I feel to your face."

Oliver actually laughed this time, a low chuckle that made her heart beat just a little bit faster. Her guardian, which had taken a defensive position next to Diggle's bear, purred slightly in approval.

"Well, that is...interesting," the dragon guardian said, sounding utterly shocked.

"He is definitely not a friend of mine," Oliver said.

"Oh, good," she said in relief.

There was another round of silence. It was not awkward, more speculative and curious. They were all trying to get a feel for another. To Felicity, it felt a lot like a beginning.

"Do you think that you could continue to look into him and maybe let me know what you find? If your instinct is right, I don't want him near Walter either."

Felicity thought he was asking her for more than himself. He had ulterior motives. She had a feeling he wanted to know for the person responsible for burning down Viking Tech. She glanced at Digg, wondering if perhaps he was the source of the vigilante and Oliver was the money behind it. She set her stare on Oliver next, and her thoughts turned to fact that he was muscled - god, he filled out that sweater and those jeans - and had an aura of grace normal people did not have.

"Where'd you go?" Digg asked gently, pulling her into the present again.

"Sorry," she said quickly. "Yes, I will definitely let you know what I find. In fact, if you're free tonight, I can look into him and tell you what I know."

"That soon, huh?" Oliver asked.

"I don't like to waste time," she replied.

"Or talent?" Oliver asked.

"God, your lines are getting worse," the dragon said with a sigh. "Just tell her you think she's beautiful and smart and totally out of your league, and ask her out already. This sidestepping the issue thing because of who you are and your dangerous secret is getting really old. I mean, I get not wanting to tell some people, but she's not them. Can't you see she's different? Of course you can't. You have a head of solid oak. It'd take an axe and a full box of matches to get through to you..."

Felicity's blush was flooding her cheeks. She fought it with effort. "Or talent," she agreed with a smile.

"Okay," he agreed. "How about we meet for dinner? I know a place. We'll pick you up."

"It's a date," she said, then caught herself. "Not like that! Just a date, a meeting of friends, or, well, soon-to-be friends, because we're not quite friends yet. More like friendly acquaintances. Friendly acquaintances who eat and talk about creepy rich dudes."

"You literally have no idea how adorable you are, do you?" the dragon asked.

Oliver was twitching as though he was fighting the urge to smile again. "Digg and I will pick you up at five fifteen."

"Great," she replied, happy he was choosing to ignore yet another ramble.

Digg and Oliver slid out of the booth silently, and Oliver shot her another look loaded with questions, curiosity, and uncertainty. Digg smiled warmly and said goodbye. She waved awkwardly and watched them leave the shop, getting the strangest feeling they had come there for her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: Kidnapped

 

 

She had long ago decided that her gift was not a gift. It wasn't exactly a curse, but it certainly wasn't a gift. It was a something in between - a thing she had been with for so long that resignation and acceptance had settled into her bones.

It was still difficult walking past people crawling with dark ones and saying nothing. It dug little pieces out of her heart and made her want to cry. She wanted to scream at the people the dark ones were gathered around to run, to hide, to do anything but walk to their deaths.

Instead, she focused on the guardians that protected their owners as she walked, some of which were pretty adorable. A cute dog that protected a little girl; a horse that pranced impatiently behind a woman; a lumbering Wookie-like creature that kept trying to pet the dog.

She smiled up at the sky as she walked and tried not to dwell on the fact that Oliver freaking Queen was going to pick her up for dinner. He was definitely using her for information - and it was definitely nice that her brain was the part of her he wanted to use - but it was still cool to think that he could have gone anywhere but had chosen her. She would just have to hope that he had a vested interest in protecting Walter.

Speaking of Walter...

Her heart clenched in her chest as she stopped dead in her tracks on the sidewalk for the second time that day. Dark ones were swirling around the same restaurant she had seen Walter and Hastings walk into. Worse, it looked as though a few of them had already feasted. Ambulances pulled up along the curb and a pair of police officers started pushing people away from the entrance. Felicity didn't have to ask for information. From the protectors and people talking she was able to piece together the truth.

Three gunmen had stormed the restaurant, shot an unknown number of people, and kidnapped someone in the chaos. Bald head, tall, mocha skin, was all she needed to start running. She needed her computers.

She ran all the way to QC, up to the elevator banks, pushed her way inside without hearing the grunts of protest from the others and jammed her palm onto the button for her floor. There were muttered protests and complaints, but she didn't hear them. Her blood was rushing through her ears and her mind was in problem solving mode. She was focused, driven. She had to help. She knew what she could do.

She pushed her way past the doors when she finally reached her level and ran down the marbled hallway, her high heels setting an unfamiliar tempo in her ears. She almost fell when she reached her office, grabbed her door frame to keep from skidding, and then hurried over to her desk. She kicked her heels off indifferently, even as she started typing. Her hands flew across the keyboard as she broke through the firewalls of the city's database.

She searched through all the video footage she could find on the street. She brought up every single camera that could be hacked, having to run through a list of businesses from memory, and focused on finding anything that could help her find Walter.

She hissed in frustration when the video feed brought up a grey, unmarked van with removable plates and masked gunmen that had no distinguishable marks, at least none she could find via the grainy footage.

"Damn you, you first generation, stupid piece of sh-"

"Uh, Felicity?" a voice called from her door.

It was Amanda, probably come to check in on Felicity's thoughts for the Juggernaut Project. She had been doing that a lot, though Felicity was reasonably certain it was just an excuse to check in on her. Amanda was nice like that. More often than not, the conversation veered towards the personal. They were definitely close to friend territory.

"Yes?" she snapped. "Sorry. Yes?"

"Are you okay?" Amanda asked.

Felicity didn't have an honest answer for that, and definitely didn't want to admit that she thought Walter had been kidnapped when even his family didn't know it yet. It would look suspicious.

"You here to talk about Juggernaut?" she asked instead.

"I can come back," Amanda volunteered.

She weighed her choices. "That might be best," she said.

"K," Amanda said. She lingered for a minute, her eyes searching Felicity's face. The butterfly swarm over her head was more intense than normal, mirroring her concern. "I'm here if you need to talk."

"Thanks," Felicity said gratefully, a fleeting smile crossing her face before her eyes landed back on her computer screen.

Amanda nodded and quietly left. Felicity finally sat down in her chair and went to work trying to understand everything that had happened, her mind whirling through possibilities. Certain things made sense to her and other things did not. Why kidnap the CEO of a billion dollar company in broad daylight, in a restaurant in the nice part of town, if not to make a statement? Why kidnap him at all? It made sense to her that Hastings, if he was involved, would want the kidnapping to happen in public and right in front of him. It gave him a perfect alibi. It made her sick.

She realized with a tug on her heartstrings that she would have to dig into Walter as much as she would have to dig into Hastings. There was nothing else to be done. She had to understand them both in order understand the mystery. So, she dug. And she dug. She dug herself straight into a wonderland of holy crap.

"Not good," she said to herself hours later, her mouth opening into a circle and her eyes widening in tandem. "So not good."

She switched between the screens she had pulled up several times. The facts were there, clear as day. All anyone had to do was link them. She was not just anyone. She had a gift for puzzles, for understanding, and it was telling her that Walter had ended up kidnapped because of a very serious plot to take over the world. Well, maybe not the world, but Starling at the very least. It was a plot that somehow linked back to one very matriarchal badass named Moira Dearden Queen.

"Rut-rho," Felicity added for good measure.

And Hastings was involved somehow, but his grimy little paws were better at covering tracks than Moira Queen. It was like Moira didn't care if she was caught. Or she thought her name would protect her.

She kept digging, not noticing as the time slipped away from her, answering vaguely whenever someone came to her door, and otherwise being oblivious to the world around her.

"Hey?" a voice finally broke through her work.

She jumped, startled. She blinked several times to clear the fog around her brain.

"So adorable," Oliver's dragon added warmly.

"Hey," she replied.

She blinked again and realized how broken and sad Oliver looked. His hands were in his pockets and his eyes were weary. It looked like it was taking a lot of effort to keep himself upright. She stood, suddenly concerned, and circled the desk to join him near the door. Without really thinking about it, she put her hand on his forearm and pulled her to the nearest chair. He allowed the touch and the pull without so much as a wrinkle in his brow.

"Are you okay?" she asked him.

He frowned thoughtfully. His eyes brightened with dawning realization a second later. "How do you know?"

She frowned at him. "How do I know what?"

"That I have a reason not to be okay?" he asked back.

"You look like hell," she said honestly, wondering if they were keeping Walter's abduction out of the news.

As if he could read her thoughts he said, "We've managed to keep it out of the press, for now...The board is concerned about the stocks plummeting."

"Fuck them," the dragon added morosely.

"Assholes," Felicity muttered.

Oliver didn't react. His eyes hooded and slightly dangerous, he looked up at her. "So how do you know?"

She wondered how he could read her so easily. Was it because she was a terrible liar?

"I saw him before at the restaurant with Hastings," Felicity said. "And then I heard there was a kidnapping. I put two and two together."

"What have you found?" he asked then, his voice dragging with the weight of exhaustion, pain, and something very close to heartbreak. She sat next to him and was astonished that her hand was on his arm again. She didn't remember moving it.

"Oliver," she tried to find a way to keep him from following through on the violence she heard in the bottom registers of his voice. He needed to be with his family, not doing whatever it was he was contemplating.

"Please," he said, all but the sadness disappearing from his voice.

In that moment she knew that he wasn't using her or manipulating her. He was a boy who had to watch his father commit suicide - a boy who had returned to the city only to be so twisted and scarred by his time away that he had turned to arrow-ing people or having Diggle arrow people. He was a boy who had another member of his family taken from him - a boy who had to watch his family go through more pain.

For once, his dragon was silent.

She sighed.

"Walter was looking into something in his downtime, something I think got him in trouble." She took a deep breath and willed herself to speak. She knew her next words would not go over well. "He was...looking into your mother."

"My mother?" Oliver said, light reappearing in his eyes with her words. There was fear and doubt, but also something else - something a lot like understanding.

"The files he did a really bad job at encrypting indicate that he was looking into her involvement with a list of names...names a very busy vigilante has been, uh, targeting. That was a very unintentional arrow joke. He seemed to think she was up to something not good, and tracked her investments in certain companies. One of those companies was Viking Tech. Walter wasn't exactly a master sleuth, though. I think someone figured out what he was up to, what he was researching, and decided to silence him. And I definitely think Hastings hired the men. I don't have proof on that one."

"You think my mom is working with Andrew Hastings and that it somehow involves a mysterious list Walter was researching, which got him kidnapped," he said dryly.

"He's trying really hard not to believe you," his dragon said in amusement. "Really, really hard."

"It's all right here," Felicity said, gesturing at her computers. "You can look if you want. And the thing is...I think Hastings and your mother...and whoever else - there are always others - are planning something, something very not good, if the technology the vigilante destroyed at Viking is anything to go on. Why else would Mrs. Queen, your mother, I mean, invest in that technology with embezzled money? And more, I think they have something planned with QC...the tech we have here...It could hurt a lot of people."

Oliver's eyes were lidded and his face was stony. His jaw twitched with anger. Then his control slipped and all she saw was the sadness again.

"You need to wipe your computer of all of this," he said. "Everything you found needs to disappear."

"But-" she tried to argue.

"That attack on the restaurant killed three people. Walter is missing, and if you're right, something bad is coming our way, something they think is worth killing for. You don't need to be tied to this...Please."

Her guardian hummed in approval, obviously thinking that he was right to urge caution. She approved of his concern. Felicity was irritated by it. She didn't need anyone to white knight her. She could take care of herself. She was also not stupid. Whatever plot was brewing, it was years in the making. It was not a situation she was used to navigating. It was big time dangerous; it was bullet to the head dangerous. She shivered at the thought of dark ones feasting on her.

"Okay," she agreed. "But Oliver..."

He looked up at her seriously. She was still touching him. She didn't care. The touch grounded her and made him feel less like a Titan destined to smite her.

"I want Walter found. I'm not going to stop looking. I can't."

"You are literally terrifying him right now," the dragon said. "The big, bad vigilante is having a freak out of monumental proportions. For good reason. You're kind of tenacious, and tenacious can be deadly."

At least that had been confirmed for her. Oliver's protector had no reason to lie. Oliver Queen, billionaire, pretend playboy, island survivor, vigilante.

"I know," Oliver replied quietly.

His words hummed in the air around them. They were weighted, carrying with them a thousand meanings, a thousand emotions. Neither of them were really prepared for the weight. Felicity pulled her hand away slowly, and Oliver decided that staring at the floor was far healthier than looking at her.

"So I guess we're trusting you now," the dragon said. "Very seriously trusting you. Of course, you're the kind of person who is entirely trustworthy. He hasn't had great luck with that. But he keeps trying, bless his useless little mind."

Felicity wasn't sure why she did it. She wasn't sure what made her. Perhaps it was the fact that she felt inexplicable trust as well - a trust for the man next to her that went to her marrow. She looked over her shoulder and at the dragon that was standing guard at the door and she smiled.

The dragon blinked once, then twice, then did the one thing that let her know Oliver Queen was definitely a man to be trusted, he ignored the fact that she had as much as admitted to knowing he was there. He was pretending she hadn't smiled. He was willing to protect her. She had no doubt that protectiveness was shared by his human.

Oliver Queen, for all his dangers and secrets, was a person to trust. And she was willing to help him for as long as he needed it, even if it meant wrapping herself in his danger.

Yeah, she was totally screwed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: Danger

 

 

"Oliver?"

A knock came from the door and she jumped slightly. She focused her eyes on the source and saw Digg. Next to him was a dark-haired man she had never seen in person but definitely recognized. Tommy Merlyn, billionaire part two. He was somber, and affected by the kidnapping, but he could not hide his curiosity. He was clearly wondering what his best friend was doing in her office. She was amused and not even slightly surprised when his guardian, a monkey, swung through the door. So, so, fitting.

"Time to go, buddy. Your family is waiting," Tommy added.

Oliver nodded and she sensed an immediate change in him. It was like all of his masks, his layers of self-defense and protection, had fallen down around his face. She was suddenly looking at mixture of someone she understood and a strange man she had never met. She shook her head at the thought. Of course he was a stranger. She'd had all of three conversations with him, none of them long. It made no sense whatsoever for her to feel like she knew him. Maybe it was the legendary Queen charm at play. She knew it was a lie even as she had the thought. It was more than that. She was not interested in finding out what that more was.

"Can I take a rain check on our not-date?" Oliver asked. She didn't know if it was her benefit or Tommy's.

"Of course," she said.

"Thank you," he replied, and she knew he was thanking her for digging up what she had found, for caring about Walter. Even if the truth of his mother's involvement was hard to swallow, he appreciated her looking.

"You're welcome," she replied just as quietly.

"We are so gonna see you again," the dragon added.

Before she really knew what was happening, her office emptied of the two very handsome billionaires and the very sardonic, also handsome, bodyguard that protected one of them, and quiet surrounded her. She stared at the wall for a while, feeling whiplash from the past thirty minutes, then she very purposefully stood and did what Oliver had asked of her. She wiped all traces of her search from her computer. When she was done, she gathered an arm full of paperwork and closed everything down for the night. Her search into Walter meant that she was behind on actual work, and she would be getting very little sleep that night around her tension and worry. She might as well fill the long hours with very necessary work.

When she got home, she threw on her fluffiest pair of socks, her pajamas, and loosened her ponytail so that it wasn't pinching her scalp. She pulled out her ice cream and started eating from the carton as she lowered herself to the floor in front of her coffee table. She turned the TV on and found her favorite comfort show and wearily began sorting through her papers, desperate to keep the last twenty-four hours out of her head.

It would take more than a sugar coma to make her forget, though it definitely helped.

When she woke up the next morning, it was to an aching neck, a piece of paper stuck to her face, and a flickering television screen. She peeled the paper away slowly, groaning as her body let her know, rather bitchily, she thought, that she had slept crouched over her coffee table. She worked out the kinks slowly until she caught sight of the time. She had forty-five minutes to eat, shower, get dressed, put on makeup and drive twenty minutes across town. She was gonna be late.

She jumped up and immediately got busy, skidding a bit in her socks against the hardwood floor as she ran. Her arrival at eight o'clock on the nose was a testament to the modern woman, she proudly thought - or at least it was a testament to skipping breakfast. She was already regretting her day.

It was weird how normal things were when she got the office. She felt like there should be panic in the halls or at least people talking about Walter's abduction. She had forgotten the Queens' ability to keep things under the radar. It took until ten o'clock for the news to break, and then, most of her coworkers acted as if it was no big deal, just another day in the office. It was astonishing; the cold heart of business at work. Of course, most of the people around her had never even met him aside from corporate events, and even then, he had been a public figure from afar, not a man. She hated that more people weren't worried. He was such a good person. He had been so kind to her.

"Do you have the latest estimations?" Amanda asked, popping her head inside the door with a knock.

Felicity held up the paper for her and Amanda came to the desk to retrieve it.

"This looks perfect. Thanks," she said.

Felicity nodded, trying to slog her way through the proposals on her desk, as well as come up with the ideas that Walter had wanted her to dream up. She felt she owed them to him. She wanted his legacy to be something beautiful if he didn't come back. The thought sent a wave of panic through her. She should be doing more to find him. She should be looking for him. It was the practical thing. It was the right thing.

"Have you heard that they're actually letting Oliver Queen stand in for Walter?" Amanda asked. "He seems like a good enough kid, and I know that he's been shadowing Walter for a couple of weeks now, but he's not ready. They think it'll help the stocks from plummeting but I don't see how..."

"He's a Queen," Felicity replied, surprised that Oliver would wrap himself up in the CEO world now of all times. "And that name means money."

"You could be right," Amanda said.

"I usually am," Felicity said with a wicked grin.

"You're lucky I like you so much," Amanda threatened her warmly, and Felicity laughed. "I'll have my end of the reports on your desk by end of the day," she added then.

Felicity nodded again and they chatted for several minutes before Amanda left. Felicity's fingers lingered over her keyboard. She was dying to find out more. She wanted to search for Walter in earnest. She had a feeling it would be a long search, something not easily solved. She had patience. No, she had determination, and that was good enough for now.

Her phone rang ten minutes later. On the other end was a voice she dimly placed as belonging to Walter's secretary. "Could you come up here, please?" the woman asked politely.

"On my way," Felicity said, taking the polite request for what it really was, an order.

It didn't even occur to her that Oliver Queen was the source behind the request until she was in the lobby. She saw him through the glass doors and her heart did a funny little summersault she desperately tried to associate with being called to the boss's office. His dragon was soaring around the room restlessly. It made her think that Oliver was wound up. That was not the way she wanted to see him.

"Go on in," the secretary said. At least the woman had the decency to be distraught about Walter. Her eyes were bloodshot and her nose was red from spending the morning crying. Felicity shot her a warm look for courage and pulled the glass door out of her way quietly.

"You rang?" she asked into the silence on the other side.

"Felicity," he said unnecessarily. She had to wonder if he didn't like the way it rolled off his tongue. She certainly did.

"Oliver," she replied, arching an eyebrow at him. It felt wrong, but he had insisted on her calling him by his first name. She wasn't going to let the fancy office and incredible view scare her off now. He would be Oliver even if he corrected her.

"Oh, you've stepped in it now. He loves sassy," the dragon said, finally settling on the sofa near the door. "Tell him to go screw himself and he'll be drooling at your feet."

Felicity carefully filed that information away for a later date.

"Thank you for coming up," he said.

"Is it really a choice when your boss calls you to his office?" she asked.

He tilted his head at her and didn't reply. She knew he was fighting a smile, though, because the corners were tugging up. "I just wanted to check in with you after last night. I know you and Walter were friends."

"Oh. Um." She narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously then. He was feeding her a partial truth. He was concerned, but that wasn't the reason he had called her up to see him. "I wiped all traces of my search," she reassured him. "And I haven't had the time to look more into Walter's abduction this morning."

He blinked several times in surprise. "I didn't..."

"Uh-huh," she said.

"Totally loves it," his dragon said with a snicker.

He huffed out a little laugh. "I guess I can't sneak anything past you."

She very carefully kept her eyes on his. She wanted to let him know that he really, really, couldn't, but that would only freak him out. So she just smiled. She lost her happiness a moment later.

"What are you really doing up here?" she asked. She paused. "Do I get to ask that? Or are we not friends enough for that? Are we even friends? I don't guess bonding over an abduction really makes you friends with a person."

Oliver closed his eyes and shook his head. She thought he wasn't going to answer, but then he said, "I figured that the best way to keep an eye on Hastings is to be where Walter was. I have a feeling that Hastings had more on his mind than keeping Walter silent when he took him. He wanted the CEO position to be free. Maybe he wanted my mother to take it, maybe he wanted it for himself. Either way, they'll have to go through me now."

Felicity nodded, though she felt a fresh wave of panic. Them going through him was not something that sounded awesome. "Good."

"Last night," he began roughly. He coughed and had to swallow several times before starting again. "Last night, you didn't get any idea what they have in mind, what they're planning, did you?"

"Just that they seem hell bent on destruction," she said. "I have theories."

"I have a feeling you usually do," he said, his amusement in his voice now. That was a new development. She liked it. She took his words as encouragement to continue.

"A weapon like that can be used in a couple of ways - terrorism, pure and simple - spread fear and chaos. Or it can be used for business. You destroy, you build back up, you take in a whole lot of profits if you are prepared for a huge loss of life and property. If they invested in the right places, they would make a killing." She thought about her choice of words. "I didn't mean for it come out like that."

Oliver leaned against his desk, the air of casual back. Damn him for being so handsome and so unaffected by it. "Strangely, the second one bothers me more," he said quietly.

Felicity agreed. "Terrorism is awful, but to kill people just for profit? It is officially bone-chilling."

"Not a safe topic to follow," the dragon warned with humor. "Everyone knows Oliver loves to arrow people in the heart."

Felicity winced and tried to cover it by rubbing her nose. She was certain Oliver noticed. He noticed everything. She started talking again to cover the moment. "Of course any kind of killing isn't awesome." So not the way to change the subject. "Or kidnapping. Another not awesome. Speaking of, have the police found any leads since last night?"

"Nothing. They can't even find what they took him in."

"Oh, a grey van, no plates, no registration," Felicity provided.

Oliver tilted his head at her. It was the only sign that he was impressed.

"Headed south," she added, growing more uncomfortable by the minute. Why couldn't he turn that disconcerting gaze somewhere else?

"Knowledge has never been such a turn on," Oliver's dragon added in a whispery voice. She had a feeling that it was a reiteration of thought. Her cheeks flushed slightly.

"I wanted to point out to you again that this situation is dangerous," Oliver said.

"Don't worry, I have your back," she teased him.

He stilled even more, if that was possible, and captured her eyes with his. He looked startled and just a little bit terrified. He didn't remark on her promise, plowing past it like he did all of her babbles.

"I want you to be careful," he added. "And I want you to know that this hunt for Walter...it might not be over in a week. The people who took him, if it has to do with my mom, if it's what I think it is..."

"They might have taken him for leverage," Felicity said. "And they've covered their tracks well."

"Yes," Oliver agreed.

"I understand," she replied.

"Good," he said.

There was a pause in which her guardian circled the room curiously and Oliver's dragon sent out regular puffs of smoke. Felicity found that she wanted to extend the conversation. She wanted to linger, to hear his voice. She was so stupid.

"How are you guys dealing?" she asked. Maybe not the best way to put him at ease, but it was better than staring at him or his dragon.

"Not well," he admitted honestly.

The honesty startled her a bit, as did the naked pain on his face, but she quickly recovered. He was definitely a man trying to heal. He didn't know who he was or what he stood for, but he was figuring it out, and she was certainly not going to let him think that he couldn't share his demons with her.

"Well, if you need a friendly ear...or shoulder..." she said, then shook her head at herself. Had she really just offered her shoulder to Oliver fucking Queen? What was wrong with her?

Oliver let the awkward moment slide with another quirk of his lips. Before they could say anything else about Walter's abduction, two things happened.

The first, and the more alarming thing, was the dark ones that started crawling through the glass. Oliver's guardian and Felicity's guardian immediately went into protective mode, snarling, snapping and otherwise sending the dark ones reeling. Felicity tried to ignore the commotion. It was a bit like sitting on an airplane and pretending she couldn't hear the drunk man next to her shouting about what a whore his ex-wife was. Not a fun memory.

The second thing that happened was that Tommy Merlyn, in all his playboy, billionaire glory decided to pay his best friend a visit, something about a club Oliver had opened in the glades. She decided to bow out of the room quietly, hoping Tommy didn't notice her enough to think the worst, as men like him tended to do, and definitely hoping the dark ones hadn't come for the reason she knew they had come.

From their body language and hungry eyes, she knew exactly who they were after.

Oliver Queen was in serious danger.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: Shot To The Heart - Or The Shoulder, Really

 

  

Her hands shook. How could they not? The dark ones always made her adrenaline spiral out of control. They made her want to run or cower in a room with no doors or windows. They were a bad omen, and they were hunting Oliver.

She had a very good idea that Oliver was the type of man that danger followed religiously. There were probably whole stages of danger that lit candles in Oliver's name and prayed to him on special days one could only call holidays. It was a religion to the man, obviously, since he enjoyed beating up people and shooting arrows into them. That wasn't exactly a safe past time. Couple that with surviving a sinking boat and an island, he was definitely in the running for some serious issues and life-threatening moments.

He had every right to have dark ones hovering. But seeing them surrounding him, knowing they had caught a scent, frightened her. She wanted to know where the danger was coming from and how to stop it. She wanted to tell him. She knew how crazy it would sound. He would lock her up. He would ignore her usefulness in searching for Walter.

The soft whines coming from behind her let her know that she was not the only one who was worried. Her guardian was concerned for him. She thought it very likely that Oliver was closing in on his last days. There was a rule. It had never been broken. There was a day or two at the most for the dark ones to claim their prize.

Felicity had to do something.

She had no idea what.

She suddenly felt protective of him. She couldn't let his family suffer any more than they already had. She couldn't let him suffer any more. He had been through enough. He may be a little crazy, a little messed up and working through his problems with a bow and arrow rather than a head doctor, but he did not deserve to die.

But why? Why was he different? She had walked past thousands of people who had the dark ones hovering. Not getting involved had saved her life countless of times. Why was she so willing to throw it all away for him? And why did she feel like it would not be worth it to speak up?

She didn't have to look far. Oliver was not trying to live. He would ignore his warning and continue his path. He was surviving, certainly, and making it through his days, but he wasn't living. It was easier to kill those who had nothing to live for. She had seen it firsthand.

She sat down at her desk and willed herself to focus on anything but him. She had work to do. It was important work. The need to warn him rang through her mind again. She could tell him that she'd had a bad feeling, or she could fabricate a piece of paper that said someone was coming for him. She could find a way to get him arrested and locked away for the next three days. There had to be something. But what if her actions led to his death? What if she was responsible for actions that meant he died?

She pulled her computer closer firmly and decidedly split her focus between Walter and her part of the Juggernaut Project, hoping that Oliver had more to live for than she thought he did.

 

"Felicity?" a warm voice interrupted her hours later.

She pulled her eyes away from her computer screen reluctantly. He was standing in her doorway again, looking innocent and just a bit rebellious. She gestured him in and he closed the door behind him firmly. His dragon swooped around the room then landed on her bookcase with only the dullest of thuds.

"I was wondering if you could do another favor for me."

She sighed at him, wondering when he would realize she didn't have a choice. His name was definitely on the side of the building. She realized a second later that she did have a choice. He was giving it to her. She had a feeling he would always give one to her. She deliberated for only half a second.

"Yes," she said.

"Either your girl is insanely trusting, or she is just plain insane," the dragon said conversationally to Felicity's guardian. Her guardian made a low sound of resignation.

A second later, the dark ones started crawling around the door and through the windows. One landed on her desk, its mouth inches from her face. It opened said mouth, drool falling like ghostly water onto her reports as gleaming teeth snarled at her. She latched on to Oliver's eyes, treating them like a lifeline. The pools of blue kept her grounded. Her guardian reached out and swiped one clawed hand at the dark one. It flew away from Felicity and through the window.

"A friend of mine..." Oliver started to say.

Felicity sighed at the coming lie. He huffed a sigh in return and shook his head slightly, as if trying to get his thoughts in order. He had clearly seen her irritation. His lips pressed together as he resisted a smile.

"Can you look up someone for me?" he asked, handing her a slip of paper. "And by look up, I mean..."

"Illegally dig into his information for you?" she asked.

He hesitated. "Yes," he replied.

"All you had to do was ask," she replied with an uptick of her lips.

"Definitely turned on by the sass," his dragon said lazily from where it had wrapped around Oliver's shoulders defensively. "You ought to be so glad that you can't hear his thoughts right now. Boy's a sewer, I swear." The fact that the dragon could make jokes even while surrounded by dark ones made her think it happened a lot.

"I'll keep that in mind," Oliver replied.

He gave her a name and wondered for the briefest of seconds if helping him meant someone's death. She also wondered if her help was the reason the dark ones were circling. She did not enjoy either idea. The need to warn him off rang through her ears. She watched him sit in her chair and tried to figure out how to phrase the warning. Nothing good came to mind.

"How'd you get so good at looking into people?" he asked after a beat.

"A hack is a hack, which sounds vaguely gross when I say it like that," she said. She rallied her train of thought. "Ninety percent of our lives are online. If people didn't want it found, they should keep it out of my reach."

"That is good to know," he said. She smiled as her fingers flew across the keys. Her smile was mischievous. He noticed. He tilted his head to look at her, his eyes suspicious. "Or have you already looked into me? Illegally, I mean."

"Would I do that?" she asked.

"Apparently," he said, gesturing with his chin at her moving hands.

She held up her fingers to measure a tiny distance. "Maybe I looked into you a little. Like, a baby amount," she admitted.

"Only curious, right?" he asked, not sounding offended.

She shrugged. "Wanted to be sure you weren't working with your mom." She huffed another sigh of irritation and wrinkled her nose. She really had a way with sticking her foot in her mouth.

"A punch straight to the gut. You really know how to throw a mean left hook," the dragon drawled.

"I'm sorry...that came out way wrong," she said.

"No, it was the truth, which I appreciate," Oliver said.

She had a feeling he did appreciate it, even if he didn't like it. He was mature enough to see that she hadn't said it to be mean, and that it was a reality they both had to face. While she inexplicably trusted him, that didn't meant they were exactly in friend territory. And it didn't mean that he had proven himself to her yet. It would take more. She wondered if he had it in him to give.

"Thanks," she whispered more to herself than him. He hummed back to let her know he had heard her, then stopped talking entirely.

She definitely knew how to kill the mood in a room. Luckily, her search did not take long. She pointed out the man's past, which was tied to the triad, his financials and where she thought he was hiding now. Oliver walked around the computer to look at her work, then nodded when she gave him her theories. His dragon listened in silence, nearly as serious as Oliver was.

When he had everything he needed, he turned to leave the room. Her warning lingered on her tongue. Instead she said, "Oh, and Oliver?"

He paused at the threshold of her door, blue eyes chilled to ice. She saw the need for violence in them. She wanted to dim that need as much as possible.

"That video of you getting frisky in the hotel in Vegas has been officially scrubbed from the internet. You can thank me in chocolate and red wine."

His eyes widened and he looked adorably flustered for a minute. His dragon was equally startled. Then, the dragon started laughing, filling her office with musical sound. Oliver was a bit slower on the uptake. His lips curled over his lips in disbelief, and then he threw his head back and actually let out a breathy laugh she thought seemed foreign to his body. She smiled back at him, glad that she had been the one to get him to laugh, and gave him an awkward wave as farewell.

Both he and his dragon were still laughing as Oliver made his way back to the elevators. Her smile was massive. She had to shake her head several times to clear it from her face. The thought of the dark ones trailing after Oliver was her source. She cursed herself for not finding a way to warn him.

 

That night, the man she had looked up for Oliver, made a full confession to the police about his involvement with the triad after the vigilante paid him a pointed visit. The vigilante lived, the man she had helped find lived, and Felicity began to wonder if maybe the dark ones liked to hang around Oliver because of his proximity to death. He killed people, and tracking him was an easy way to find fresh blood for the dark ones.

That had to be it.

The twisted feeling in Felicity's gut told her there was more to it than that. There always was.

 

The next day was pretty quiet despite her worry. She did some rudimentary searches on Walter, but there was nothing to find, so she spent the majority of her day catching up on work and brainstorming with Amanda on the Juggernaut Project. It was dark outside before she knew it. It was surprising, as she felt she had just walked into the building. She wasn't complaining, though. It was nice not to have to slog through the day for a change. She left later than normal, wanting to catch up entirely on her projects and not look like an ass to her colleagues. She had only recently gotten the promotion, and she did not want anyone to think she was not pulling her weight.

She was determined to prove to everyone, including herself, that she was capable.

She punched the call button on the elevator, enjoying the silence of the building around her, and waited. As she did, her protector started to whine and growl. It was an unsettling sound that had her clutching her arms around her stomach. She pressed the button several more times in her hurry and the doors finally, mercifully, opened. She pressed the button for the parking level and waited in worried silence as her protector continued to growl and whine.

"It's something bad, isn't it?" Felicity whispered.

Her protector whined in what Felicity took to be a yes. When the doors to the parking level opened, she rushed through them and hurried to her Mini. She didn't pause when she saw a dragon circling overhead. She sped up, her heart in her throat, and unlocked her car with a push of a button.

"Don't be afraid," a voice spoke from her backseat.

She turned and saw the hood of the vigilante. He was keeping his face down and his voice low. She started to reach out to him then thought better of it. A dark one landed on the hood of her car and she jumped.

"Felicity..." Oliver added.

"Are you hurt?" she asked, noticing the hungry look in the dark one's eyes. It definitely smelled blood.

There was a startled pause, then Oliver finally looked up at her. His eyes widened at the look on her face. She was not scared of the vigilante or shocked over his secret identity. She was afraid for him, afraid he had been hurt. It was not the reaction he had been expecting at all.

"Yep, definitely bleeding," Felicity said. "I'm gonna regret this, aren't I?"

He grimaced and put his hand against his shoulder, trying to stem the blood. "Please...take me to Verdant," he said.

The clawing, grappling, and snarling from outside the car told her that both of their protectors were fighting for Oliver's life. They were trying to buy him time. The rest was up to her.

"What about the hospital?" Felicity asked.

"Nowhere else," Oliver said firmly. Then his eyes slid shut and he lost consciousness, collapsing against her back seat with a soft poof.

"So, so gonna regret this," she decided, turning her car on and reversing out of the space. The dark ones followed them, leaping off cars and clawing at Oliver and Felicity's protectors hungrily. Their constant attacks on the front of the car made driving at high speeds tricky and a bit scary. Still she managed to get to the club in one piece, which she attributed to her guardian more than anything.

Trying to get him out of the car was a whole other demon. She couldn't do it. No matter how hard she tried, he was too heavy, too immovable. She was seriously starting to freak by the third tug on his body. She smacked his cheek lightly to get him to wake up and tell her what to do. He didn't respond. His head lolled to the side.

"The code is 1141...Digg should be down there. He'll know what to do. The door is in the hallway on the south side of the club. Go!" Oliver's dragon hissed in her ear, reappearing through the roof.

She pushed her door out of the way and ran into the building. She found the door, which was very poorly hidden, she thought, and typed the code in. The door opened with a beep and she ran down the stairs, almost tripping over herself in her haste. Diggle's bear met her at the steps, its teeth pulled back aggressively, but she ignored it and met Diggle's slightly panicked eyes with her own.

"He's in the car," she said, trusting Diggle would be able to put the pieces together from the fact that she was covered in blood and in what looked like to be a secret lair. She was right. Diggle was running across the room a second later. She turned as he passed her, hot on his heels.

She would have liked to say that she helped Diggle carry Oliver, but that was a lie. Diggle's arms were the size of her head; he didn't need the help. Her contribution was in her protector helping Oliver's and Diggle's keep the dark ones at bay and following Diggle's orders as he worked to save Oliver. She willed her protector to fight harder, to kill all of the dark ones to keep them away from Oliver. She seemed to hear her, clawing at the dark ones with renewed strength and anger at the thought.

She could practically hear the dark ones licking their lips when Oliver's heart stopped but quick thinking and their ferocious protectors kept them at bay.

Then, there was nothing to do but wait. Diggle and her talked a little as the night wore on, about the ramifications of helping him kill people, but he spent the majority of the time watching him, wary of another seizure. She spent the same time upgrading the sorry-looking computers Oliver had placed at his workstation. Working with her hands had always been her distraction.

She winced. Even her thoughts sounded slightly dirty. What was wrong with her?

Slowly, ever so slowly, the dark ones started to slink back into the darkness and disappear. She let out a relieved sigh when they were gone. He was going to be okay.

She watched his chest rise and fall, her eyes lingering on the scars she could see under the dragon that was curled on his chest. The scars were proof that he had been through hell. She didn't pity him at the sight. No, pity was the last thing on her mind.

She was impressed, amazed, and entirely convinced that he had been pushed into a fire and forged into steel through heartbreak, pain, and utter anguish. And now, he was trying to clean up the city. It was not a path many would have taken after enduring so much, even if she didn't agree entirely with his methods. There was bravery in looking past his inner demons to fight for others. There was boldness in doing what he did every night.

When his eyes fluttered open at long last, his heart speeding up ever so slightly, they landed on her first. He tried to look nonchalant, but she could see his gratefulness and relief. He made a sassy comment about not dying that sounded more like his dragon than she had ever heard him before. Maybe near-death experiences brought out the real him?

His dragon yawned and started flying around the cavernous space, stretching out his wings and coming to terms with another close call. Felicity's protector stalked into the shadows to recover from a long, tiring fight. Oliver slowly sat up, his hand on his injured shoulder. Diggle helped him with a hand on his elbow.

"You must have questions," Oliver said.

"Just one," she said.

"Yeah?" he urged her.

"Are you really okay? Because I have to go to the bathroom and I don't want you to die when I'm gone," she said.

He stared at her, his mouth moving as he tried to form words around his surprise. Finally, he picked the one she needed to hear. "Yeah," he said.

"Good," she replied. She hurried past them and ran up the stairs. When she got to the bathroom, her body took a solid minute to come to terms with the fact that she was no longer in panic mode, and then she started to pee. "Oh, thank God," she said in relief, her bladder taking a hell of a long time to empty.

When she walked out of the bathroom - after scrubbing her hands and arms clean of the blood - it was to walk directly into none other than Tommy Merlyn. She squeaked and then laughed at herself.

He grabbed her arms to steady her and frowned in concern. "Holy shit! Are you hurt?" he asked.

She frowned at him. "Hurt?"

"You have blood all over you," he pointed out as if she were particularly stupid.

"Oh. It's not mine," she said.

This made his eyebrows come together in confusion and concern. She realized the scenario she had just panted for him. "And I wasn't in the bathroom cleaning off proof of a murder or anything," she said. "No one is dead. People, are in fact, very much alive. Well the ones I know. I'm pretty certain a person dies every second. Or is it more than that? It's not really a statistic I think about very much. Kinda depressing."

"I know you from somewhere," was his confused reply.

"Yes," she replied, struggling to figure a way out of the situation. She didn't know how much he knew about Oliver's private life, though if Oliver had his secret lair in the basement, Tommy had to know something was up, right?

"The club?" he asked.

"Not really the clubbing type," she said. "Never really liked it. No offense."

"Then where?" he demanded.

"Uh..." She searched for a lie. Nothing came up. "I work at Queen Consolidated," she admitted finally.

"Oh. You're the girl," Tommy said.

"Yes, I do, in fact have woman parts," Felicity replied in confusion.

"No, I mean, yes, of course you do, I mean...you're friends with Oliver," he said.

The way he said friends made her think he didn't mean friends.

"We haven't really gotten to the friends part yet," she said. His return grin was crooked and she shook her head. Her hands flew up in defense as the monkey that had been hanging from the rafters let out a screech of a laugh. "Not like that. Strictly platonic. The closest to any of the bases I've gotten with him is his forearm. Definitely not sexy. Well...maybe not definitely."

The monkey's laughter was not helping her get unflustered. And Tommy's expression was nearly amused. "So why are you covered in blood?" Tommy asked, deciding to cut her a break.

"Because I am a good Samaritan," Felicity said. "And awesome."

"Oliver, huh?" Tommy asked.

She froze, her eyes widening slightly.

"Yeah, that's what I thought..." His expression turned stormy and he marched over to the door that hid Oliver's super-duper secret lair. Really, in a club. She wanted to roll her eyes at his choice, but the anger circling Tommy kept her from it.

Twenty seconds after he started pounding on the door, it opened. Diggle arched an eyebrow at Tommy coolly. Tommy lowered his hand, though his anger was still crawling over his face, and eyed Diggle with something very close to respectful fear.

"I would like to yell at my best friend now," Tommy said tightly.

Diggle considered that for a second, then stepped out of the way. Felicity caught his sardonic uptick of his lips and wondered if he didn't enjoy watching Oliver get yelled at. He seemed to be enjoying something about the situation.

"Oliver Queen!" Tommy raged as he took the stairs two at a time.

He pulled up short when he saw Oliver sitting in the chair next to the computers Felicity had fixed. Oliver was pale and dark bags circled his eyes. He was clearly weak and definitely not recovered yet.

"Christ," Tommy added for good measure.

"Tommy..." Oliver said with a sigh.

Tommy remembered his anger in next beat. He gestured back at Felicity without looking at her. "What the hell are you doing pulling her into your mess?"

Oliver didn't reply.

"He's reaching out to the light in the most awkward way possible. His people skills need help. But...island, remember?" his dragon said instead.

"It's dangerous. And stupid. Do you have any idea what you've done and how-?"

"Yes, I know!" Oliver said, suddenly yelling. Tommy quieted, clearly shocked at Oliver's anger being so vocal. "I know," Oliver repeated softly.

"Guilt City, airfare for one," the dragon said with a long-suffering sigh.

"Stupid, man," Tommy said. "So stupid."

Oliver sighed and didn't reply. Tommy shook his head and spun on his heel. He stopped in front of Felicity and gently put his hands on her shoulders. Felicity was surprised by the touch and the very serious look his monkey protector was giving her. They were both so intense in that moment, all of the playfulness missing.

"What he does is dangerous. It's not fun, or exciting, or anything like the movies. He hurts people, and they hurt him back. His crusade is going to get him and everyone in it killed."

"I understand," Felicity said, understanding the root of his words. He was concerned for her safety. She wasn't going to argue with him when he was being so kind. "Thank you."

He nodded and pulled away from her with a sigh, obviously seeing that she was not so easily frightened off. He marched back up the stairs and slammed the door shut behind him.

"Awkward..." Oliver's dragon said.

"So awkward," Felicity agreed before she stopped herself. She flinched as the words left her mouth but tried to play it off as nothing more than her mind running away from her. "Anyways," she added. "I should get going. I have to be at work in...holy motherboard...an hour. I need to change and shower...definitely shower. This was so the opposite of nice, so please don't do it again," she said, looking at Oliver.

He closed his eyes and shook his head, as though fighting the urge to laugh. She figured he didn't want to laugh when he was busy internally chastising himself for pulling her into his mission. She knew that another part of him thought he had done the right thing. He needed her brain to find Walter, to understand what Hastings was doing and how it tied into his mother. He needed her skills and her expertise. They both knew he would not give it up easily now that he had let her in on his super secret. Or was it his superhero secret?

Felicity reached out and grabbed one of Diggle's massive arms. She gave it a light squeeze, feeling bonded to the man after their night of worrying and saving Oliver's life. He nodded back at her in understanding, and she walked up the stairs without waiting for a reply from Oliver. They needed to talk, and there was a lot she needed to understand, but right now, all she could think about was a shower, a cup of warm coffee, and as much unhealthy comfort food as she could stomach.

Maybe then she could understand why she was not freaking out.

Was it because she wanted to use him right back to find Walter? Was it because she thought he was the only way Walter would make it out alive? Or was it something more? Was it something a lot like feeling completely connected to a killer, a man she should by all rights fear?

Yeah, she was going to need a lot of junk food.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: Non-date

 

 

Oliver did not give her a long time to process. He was smarter than that. It was nearing noon when she heard a knock at her door. The low hum of approval from her guardian told her who it was before she looked up. A second later, Oliver's dragon swooped into the room and landed on Felicity's desk, its tail curling around her monitor. She wanted to smack it away from her precious tech. She settled for sending him a grumpy glare. Oliver pushed back the door ever so slightly

"Felicity?" he said, bringing her eyes to him.

Her eyes widened slightly. He was wearing a charcoal suit that fitted his body perfectly. He wasn't wearing a tie. He didn't need a tie. It was entirely unfair how well the suit hung off him. She was certain there were laws somewhere in the country against the way he looked.

"Oliver," she replied, willing herself to stop checking him out.

He tucked his hands into his pockets and looked around her office curiously. She had added flowers to the room and a bright painting behind her desk. Computer parts were on the table to her left and figurines from her favorite books and movies were on her desk. The light surrounded her and gave her an almost ethereal glow. She had the feeling he was actually seeing her office for the first time.

"Are you really shocked that her office is so bright?" the dragon asked Oliver with a sigh. "Just get to the reason you're here."

"I was wondering if you were willing to have that, uh, non-date now," he said, his face twisting with mortification when he played his words back to himself.

"That looked painful," Felicity said with an amused twinkle in her eyes, though she was willfully keeping herself from grinning. "Do you want me to wait while you rephrase?"

He chuckled quietly and looked down, embarrassed. "No," he said.

He waited patiently for her to answer. She realized they had quite a lot to talk about and they wouldn't have the time in her office. Someone would interrupt them. There was too much to do.

"Lunch?" she asked.

"Yes," he said.

She closed down her programs and locked out her computer. She gathered her purse, phone, tablet, and looked up at him. "Ready?"

He looked very uncertain. Ready did not seem to be in his vocabulary. "Yes."

"Great. Where do you wanna go?"

"I have a place," he said.

"I bet you're used to saying that under different circumstances."

"Oh, he totally is," the dragon said. "He's such a whore. Or, he used to be. Been a bit dry lately. Of course, he's never had great taste in women."

"Which has nothing to do with these circumstances," she said quickly, blushing.

Oliver wisely chose not to answer. He waited for her to leave the room first, careful not to move his injured arm, and followed her into the hall. They caught some funny looks as they walked together, but Felicity knew that it was mainly because people weren't used to seeing Oliver around the office yet. She had a feeling his presence wouldn't be a permanent situation. He would leave as soon as he knew what Hastings and his mother was up to.

The ride down was quiet. Oliver stood next to her in the corner of the car. He didn't shift or maneuver around as the others in the elevator did. He kept his position and everyone moved to accommodate him.

Oliver's dragon flew around the room, chatting with some of the guardians, flirting with an actual, honest-to-god, winged fairy, and otherwise being charming. Oliver was silent, though his body language suggested he was both aware of everyone around her and being very attentive to her. He was angled towards her. He looked almost defensive.

"Yeah I can see how she got the job. Probably had to work her way up to Walter on her knees."

Felicity sighed. She really hated elevators. She looked at the top of the doors and clenched her fists to keep from reacting. She was surprised when Oliver stopped leaning against the rail and quietly switched places with her without touching her. She kept her eyes on the door but she did not miss the way the man who had been to her left moved away or the fact that Oliver's dragon was hovering near the man's guardian. She rolled her eyes even as a small smile pulled at her lips. And, for a minute, the sounds of the guardians around her dimmed. She didn't hear anything beyond the opening and closing of the elevator doors.

She closed her eyes, willing the silence to last just a little bit longer. She opened them again when the doors slid open on her floor and she walked out with the others, hoping that Oliver hadn't noticed her weirdness or her gratefulness towards him for dimming the noise of the other guardians.

She was a little bit surprised to find that Oliver had driven himself into work that morning. His car of choice was a Lexus, and Felicity felt that even sitting on the seat would somehow damage it. The obvious cost had her tensing in her seat as Oliver pulled the car out of the garage.

"Are you okay?" Oliver asked, glancing over at her.

"This car costs more than my apartment," she said. "I don't want to hurt it. I have a way with hurting expensive things."

"I have others," he said.

"Not the way to calm someone down there, buddy," his dragon said from the backseat where it had dared to rest its head only an inch from Felicity's guardian.

Felicity wrinkled her nose at Oliver's comment and looked out the window. Oliver let out a breathy sigh.

"That sounded really pretentious, didn't it?" he asked.

"Super-duper pretentious," Felicity agreed.

"Sorry," he said. "I'm just used to..."

"Being the playboy billionaire," she said. "It's fine. I get it."

"Yeah, and you have no idea how that scares the shit out of him," his dragon piped up.

"Okay," Oliver said quietly.

"So is this part where you explain how your secret needs to stay a secret and your family could be at risk if I say something, and then explain your mission in a solemn, I kill for the city, voice?" Felicity asked.

"Was that one sentence?" Oliver asked.

She frowned. "I think it was."

He chuckled again. She liked doing that to him. She wished she could make him laugh all the time.

"No. I trust you," he said.

"Good," she said.

"But I guess I do owe you an explanation," he said.

"You don't owe me anything," Felicity said.

He turned to look at her, his eyebrows knitted together and his lips pursed suspiciously.

"Don't look at me like that...And watch the road!" she demanded.

"He's shocked that you're not demanding to know what happened to turn him into the vigilante. Tommy wanted to know. Diggle wanted to know. Everyone wants him to talk and share," his dragon said.

"You don't need to tell me why," Felicity added quietly. "I wished that you didn't kill - I think there are ways to be better, to stop the bad guys without putting arrows in them all the time - but I understand that your past and your choices are not mine. What I'm concerned about right now is Walter and stopping Hastings..." She clamped her mouth shut before she could add, "And your mother." Because some things were just awkward to put out there in the world.

Oliver didn't have anything to say to that. She didn't really need him to. They would get into specifics soon enough.

The car was far from silent as they drove across town. Oliver's dragon kept talking, making comments about the sights and making fun of the other guardians he saw through the window. He also spent a good amount of time teasing Felicity's guardian. Her guardian kept growling irritably, but Felicity knew her, knew that she didn't mean it. Oliver's guardian got the same vibe and his mocking tone didn't fade at all the whole ride.

She tried to move as little as possible against the seats as she listened to them interacting behind her. Her tension had faded somewhat from her bones, but it could not disappear entirely with Oliver Queen sitting so close to her. She watched him out of the corner of her eye. He was solid, strong, and looked entirely bewildered. It was actually kind of cute how uncertain he was.

Oliver finally pulled up to the curb and Felicity saw the sign for Big Belly Burger, an odd choice for a billionaire. She let out a relieved sigh as she very slowly moved her legs against the seat to keep from scratching them and got out of the car. She had not been looking forward to a fancy restaurant where the forks had forks. Big Belly was much more her style.

Oliver picked a booth near the row of windows and slid in with all the grace of a man who could kill a person with the twitch of his hand. Felicity flopped on the opposite bench and then scooted over with a couple of ridiculous-looking hops Oliver tried hard not to notice but failed at miserably.

"This is a good pick for our non-date," Felicity congratulated him. "I was half afraid you'd take me somewhere fancy and I'd have to hate you for it."

"You don't like fancy?" he asked in a low rumble of amusement. She didn't know what had amused him about her word choice.

She wrinkled her nose. "I'm trying to branch out, but fancy restaurants are always so...boring. You can't just pop your elbows on the table and eat a damn burger the way mother nature intended."

"Hmm," he said.

"His go-to move is dimly lit restaurants that don't even have price lists," the dragon told her. "All the girls swoon. He doesn't even have to try, the bastard."

Felicity very carefully kept her eyes on Oliver to prevent herself from rolling her eyes. He leaned back in his seat as he played with his menu; it was clear he already knew what he wanted. She looked at her choices, knowing that he wanted to have a serious conversation but she was reluctant to have it at the price of her stomach.

"I know that you don't think I owe you anything," he began haltingly, "which I do, by the way, but I think you deserve an explanation."

"Okay," she said.

"I was given a book with the list you found when digging into Walter. It was given to me by my father," he said. "He told me that it was full of bad people who had poisoned the city."

Before he had shot himself, Felicity added to herself.

"We buried him in the woods," the dragon said sadly. "Like a dog. He deserved better. He didn't deserve to die for us."

"Hastings was on the list. He was the reason I finally started shadowing Walter at QC. I wanted to see what he was up to. How'd you know he was suspicious that first day, anyways? It seemed like he kind of freaked you out that day."

A snake, a shadow, and your guardian telling her the man could not be trusted, Felicity wanted to tell him. She simply shrugged and didn't answer. She didn't want to lie. She never wanted to lie to him.

"I think that the weapon they planned on using, the one that...someone burned down, is somehow connected to the list. When I went to confront my mother about it yesterday..." Oliver said.

"Oh my God," Felicity said. "Your mom shot you?"

Oliver winced at the brutal honesty of her words. His eyes narrowed and he tried to think of a better way to phrase it. He had nothing. "Yes," he said. "Although, to be fair, she shot the hood, not me. She didn't know I was under there."

"Totally has mother issues, too. You know what? He just has issues. Let's leave it at that," the dragon said.

"What was she doing at QC?" Felicity asked.

"Meeting with Hastings," Oliver said.

"Oh," Felicity said.

She wondered where they had been meeting, if she had passed their floor during her exit. It was strange to think that Oliver had been confronting them as she calmly rode the elevator down to the basement.

"I followed her there, tried to convince them to talk. My mother shot me before I could get anywhere."

"Puts a new weight to the phrase family drama," Felicity said lightly.

Oliver choked back a laugh. He leaned forward a second later, his elbows resting on the table, his hands clasped in front of him. His shoulders were hunched, and she saw him pulling away from the side that had been shot. He looked tired, drawn. It was a wonder people at the office hadn't decided he had a terminal illness. He did not look well.

"I'm doing everything in my power to get something on Hastings...to find Walter before I deal with him, but it might take me some time. He's careful."

"I noticed that when I was digging into him," Felicity said.

"Can I take your orders?" a young girl asked them then.

Oliver didn't lean away from Felicity. He kept his place, his eyes only looking to the girl briefly as he ordered and handed her his menu. Felicity hadn't really made up her mind, so she picked the first thing she saw and a chocolate milkshake, knowing she would pay for it later. The girl ghosted away, her rather willowy guardian going with her.

"He seemed interested in one of the projects at QC the day he was there," Felicity said. "His eyes got all pleased and bright. That's never a good thing for a super villain, right?"

"No," Oliver said. "Definitely not."

"I'll go through all of our projects and try to figure out what he wants from them," she said.

"Does this mean you're joining the team?"

"Is it really a team with only two people? Wouldn't it be a duo?" she asked before she stopped herself.

"And they are a hell of a duo. You should see them dance together. Bitches be dancing queens," the dragon added dryly. "Heh, get it? Dancing queens?"

Felicity winced and put her forehead against the cold table with a small thump. "I don't know why the first thing I think of just flies out of my mouth with you. I swear that I don't normally talk this much...or go around correcting people all the time."

Oliver shifted in his seat, probably looking around in embarrassment, she thought, and she thought she heard a breathy chuckle. He cleared his throat twice before speaking. "Are you in?"

That was a loaded question. 'Being in' felt like it would change everything. Her world would shift and morph into something unexpected. She knew joining them came with downsides - the dark ones would be back, maybe for all of them. She would be on the opposite side of the law. The latter didn't seem to bother her much, but it was something to consider.

The upsides were also clear. Maybe they could help people in the city, beat back the darkness and cut through the crime that seemed to be everywhere these days. It was a chance to do good, to be part of something more. It was a chance to be better.

But she couldn't ignore the fact that sometimes when she looked in his eyes all she saw was the cold instincts of five years in hell. He was not a hero, not yet. He killed people on the list. She wasn't interested in helping him do that. Could she find a way to get him to stop? She didn't think so. People never really changed other people by force feeding them opinions. People changed by supporting them no matter what. It also helped when the other person actually wanted to be different. She did not think Oliver was ready to look for another way.

Her biggest problem was that, even when his eyes were cold and murderous, she saw the good underneath. She felt it to her bones, as much as she heard it from his guardian. He was a good man, and he had all the potential to be great one.

And, holy crap, she was in trouble.

"I don't want to help you kill people," she said sternly, lifting her head, straightening her back and squaring her shoulders. She didn't feel very confident looking into his vividly blue eyes, but she could pretend. She had strength enough for that.

His face fell slightly. She had never seen him look so dejected.

"But I will help you save the city...and save Walter," she said.

He tilted his head and a small smile replaced his frown. "Good." He held out his hand. Her smile was slow to dawn. She slid her hand into his, surprised at the warmth and familiar feeling that touching him caused. They shook once, then broke apart, his fingers lingering at her wrist for a second longer than necessary, and hers lingering on his palm.

"Denial is a long-ass river," the dragon murmured from where it was keeping watch on the back of Oliver's seat.

"Will you come to the foundry tonight?" Oliver asked politely. "We have a lot of work to do."

"Yes," she agreed quickly, eagerly.

The girl set their drinks down between them, then slipped away to grab their food. Felicity propped her elbows on the table and took a bite of her burger. She sighed happily, feeling like everything was right with the world at the bite, and felt three pairs of eyes on her. She ignored them all, content to have a moment that was entirely hers.

"So now that you know what happened to me last night," Oliver began in an innocent way that told her he was fishing for information, "I'd like to know something."

"What?" she asked warily, not trusting his tone.

"How'd you get through the foundry door?" he asked.

She set her burger down. Her heart was suddenly racing. She wanted to look at his dragon, but she felt as if they would somehow make it worse. She didn't know what to do. She felt trapped.

"Mayday, mayday, abort conversation," the dragon tried to whisper to Oliver. His words were as useful as talking to a brick wall.

"I, uh..." She would definitely have to lie. While she knew Oliver's secret was dangerous and could get him in trouble, hers got people sent away to the loony bin. She didn't think that Oliver would try to institutionalize her, but he may very well kick her out of his mission and his hunt for Walter. The twisting in her gut told her she wouldn't like that at all. She picked her burger up again and took a big bite. Around a mouthful of food - because she was sexy, damn it - she said, "I hacked it."

"Funny...because according to the camera I have by the door, it looked like you put in the code."

"Is that what it looked like?" she asked.

"Start babbling about hacking the video feeds around the club after you realized who he was...lots of technological jargon. You'll lose him. Apologize, but tell him you had to be sure of him," his dragon said without looking at her.

"Mmm," Oliver said, looking at her suspiciously.

She decided to listen to his dragon. She started talking fast, going on about predictive algorithms, firewalls she planned on putting in place so the cameras couldn't be hacked, the awful, dinosaur setup he'd had in the foundry before, her need to unravel mysteries, and anything, really, that would throw him off the scent.

By the time she was finished, he looked confused, amused, and maybe a little intrigued. She slurped the last of her shake and realized that even Oliver's dragon had fallen silent at her monologue. She felt like a giant idiot, but at least she hadn't admitted to chatting it up with Oliver's imaginary friend. She pulled out her wallet.

That seemed to wake something up in Oliver. "I'm paying," he said.

"No, you're paying half," she said.

"Are you serious?" he asked, looking a bit shocked and confused.

"No one ever offers to pay. I think I might cry," his dragon said. Her guardian gave a little snort of amusement. Traitor.

"Even if this was not a not-date..." She rubbed her forehead. "That made more sense in my head."

"I doubt it," Oliver said at the same time his dragon said, "Doubt it."

It was the first time they had come close to saying the same thing. She liked it. She wondered if that meant Oliver was relaxing around her.

"Point is," she said, making a motion for him to zip it, "I pay my own way. I don't need the dubious chivalry of a bought meal."

"I wasn't trying to be chivalrous," he said.

"Uh-huh," Felicity.

"He totally was," the dragon said, taking delight in egging her on.

She pulled out enough to cover the meal and looked around for the girl. She was standing at the cash register and messing with her phone. Felicity hopped back out of the bench, blushing a little as Oliver pressed his lips together to keep from laughing, and went to pay.

The ride back was not nearly as uncomfortable as the ride there had been. She felt like they had come to an understanding. It ran deep, and neither would have been able to put it into words, but it relaxed them both.

The second they were in QC, Oliver was waylaid by a man in a suit. Felicity recognized him as being part of the Juggernaut Project. She started to walk past them, knowing the man didn't want to talk to her, but the wild look in Oliver's eyes stopped her.

"Boy jumps off buildings for a living and talking business terrifies the shit out of him," his dragon said.

Felicity turned to face Oliver behind the man's back and saw that he was looking at her with wide eyes. The man was asking technical questions Oliver had no idea how to answer. The man was oblivious to Oliver's panic. Felicity didn't want to make Oliver look stupid or bring attention to herself. She mouthed the proper response to Oliver silently. Oliver caught the words immediately. The man bristled at the question and tried to answer it.

"When you have an answer to that question, we can talk about it some more," Oliver said. He held his hand out and the man shook it. Oliver stepped around him and rejoined Felicity.

"Thank you," he said in relief.

"Yep," Felicity agreed.

She looked around awkwardly. She wasn't entirely comfortable being seen with Oliver outside of their offices. From the chatter of the other guardians, plenty of people found it odd. Oliver's reputation meant that some of their thoughts were exactly where she didn't want them to be. It didn't help that he was being all gentlemanly and solicitous.

"Well, there's that," Felicity muttered as they stepped into the elevators.

She weighed the gossip against the conversation and lunch she had shared. They still had a lot to figure out, but she believed in the mission of helping the city, believed in what it might evolve into. She believed in Oliver. She had a feeling she was going to put up with a lot worse than gossip by the time it was all over.

Diggle met them in the elevator. No one else was inside. She was glad. She closed her eyes and took in the silence for a moment, putting them back into the place they had been before they had left the office. Oliver's dragon seemed to understand her need and kept his mouth closed.

It had definitely been a strange day. She had a feeling she would remember it.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: Technical Problems

 

 

Her night had been long. No one could blame her for needing a minute to just close her eyes and relax. She put her forehead on her crossed arms at her desk and her eyes slid shut. Her breathing evened out only five seconds later. Ten seconds after that she was asleep.

She jolted awake an hour later, her knee banging into her desk painfully with her return to consciousness. "Ow," she complained, rubbing at her kneecap. She wiped the spit off her chin and looked at her clock. She groaned. "So not cool," she complained.

Her guardian gave a low growl meant to reassure her, a reminder that she hadn't slept last night and catching up was not bad. She ignored her and looked around groggily. Her phone dinged at her and she picked it up habitually. She saw that she had another message already on it. Both were from Oliver. They made her laugh.

What does any of this mean?

Attached to the message was a ten page report.

No, seriously. I have a meeting in five minutes. I don't know what any of it means. It's all techno babble.

She called him. He picked up instantly. He was as cool and calm as normal, but she thought she sensed his eagerness.

"You are lucky I major in techo and babble," Felicity said.

"So what does it mean?" he asked.

"I can't explain this to you in five minutes. Do you have a bluetooth?"

"I have something better," he said, following her train of thought.

"I'm sure you'll get around to explaining that," Felicity said with a sigh.

"I'm sending it down to you now."

"Are you going to shoot it down here with your bow?" she asked saucily.

He didn't see that as worthy of an answer. He hung up the phone, and she looked at it with a small pout.

"Rude," she said.

Two minutes later, Walter's secretary appeared in her door. She had a large envelope in hand. It looked heavy. She smiled at Felicity and they exchange the usual pleasantries. She held the envelope out to Felicity with a polite smile and left quietly.

Felicity opened the package and snorted when she saw the blank pages. He had stuffed them in there hastily from the way most of them were crinkled. At the bottom of the envelope she saw a small ear bud. She recognized the technology.

"Do you believe in love at first sight?" she asked the ear piece fondly. "Because I do. Though, you could use some serious TLC."

"Uh, Felicity?" a small voice asked.

She jumped when she realized the device was already turned on. She tentatively stuck it in her ear. "For the record...I was flirting with the MKX-098 communication device, not you," she said.

"Felicity!" he said.

Grumpy pants. Right.

"Okay. This is good. I can work with this," Felicity said.

"Mr. Queen, pleasure," she heard through her ear bud. The meeting was starting.

"My first mission with the Starling City vigilante is a meeting between suits. My life is so freaking dangerous right now," Felicity said.

She heard a throat clear and knew it was Oliver's way of focusing her.

"Better not make him laugh. Wants to make a good impression," his dragon said. Well, that was a new one.

It was surprisingly familiar to feed him the information he needed. She looked at it as a dry run for what she expected to happen that night. Oliver was silent far more than she would have been were she in the meeting, but he asked all the right questions thanks to her voice in his ear.

Thirty minutes later, the meeting was over. Oliver's steady breathing was the only other sound on his end.

"I guess I'm going to take my newest piece of tech out before you go to the bathroom," Felicity said. "And I have actual work to do."

"I think you'd be better at this than I am," Oliver replied, sounding strangely cheerful.

"She's better than you at everything," his dragon said.

"Nah," she said.

"I'll see you tonight," he replied.

It sounded like a question.

"Yep," she replied.

His end of the line went silent.

"You really hate the word goodbye, don't you?" she asked to no one.

She slipped the earwig into her jacket, took a moment to think of how weird her week had been, and then, she dove back in to her work, feeling a level of happiness that did not make sense around the drama, confusion, pain and weirdness of the past few days.

When she got to the foundry after a quick dinner, she ran straight into Tommy. She was startled, then realized that she had no reason to be. Tommy managed the club. It made sense that he would be there. From the looks of it, he was getting ready for the Friday night crowd. Her only thought at that was relief that it was the weekend. She would spend the days respectfully not put together and watching old movies in her pajamas. She had earned it.

"I see he convinced you come back," Tommy said, pulling her away from his people with an angry tick of his jaw.

"Not really," Felicity said. "I mean, he didn't convince me of anything. I want to help."

"Help him kill people?" Tommy asked, eyeing her in concern.

"No. I want to help him save them," she said.

Tommy's monkey gave a little screech that sound pretty mocking from where she was standing. Her guardian looked up and bared her teeth in warning. Tommy's monkey disappeared into the shadows. She stepped closer to Tommy and put her hand on his arm. He didn't shy away from the touch. He was used to being touched. He was used to having women flirt with him. He was not Oliver.

"You know he's a good person, or else you would have turned him into the cops already. Loyalty is all well and good, but we both know you wouldn't let him continue if you thought him truly bad. He's struggling to find a way right now. I have faith that he'll find it. And I think you do too. Because what he's doing is worth it. He just needs good people around him to show him the way."

"Like you?" Tommy asked.

"I didn't mean me," she said. "I meant you and Diggle. I'm just here for the toys."

"Liar," Tommy decided.

"He's a billionaire, Tommy," Felicity said. "Billionaire! Lots and lots of toys." She flexed her fingers eagerly.

Tommy laughed - really laughed. He threw his head back and everything. He sobered quickly. "Just be careful."

"I will be," she assured him.

His guardian dared to poke its head out of the shadows at that, giving a low sound Felicity found comforting. She smiled at Tommy and went to the door that separated the club from the lair of badassdom...or whatever Oliver called it.

She punched in the code and started down the stairs. She heard something very close to grunting as she descended. She paused, uncertain if she wanted to see the reason behind the grunting. The possibilities were endless. None that sprang to mind were good.

"Hello?" she called.

"Down here," was Oliver's reply.

His dragon flew up the stairs and circled her. He saw the expression on her face. "Don't worry, he's just exercising."

"Good," she breathed before she had stopped herself. Her guardian growled at her in a warning to keep her mouth shut. Oliver's dragon swooped over her head, as if dying to land on her guardian's shoulder. Instead, it flew back down and out of sight.

Felicity paused again at the sight of Oliver doing a one-armed pushup on the arm that wasn't injured. He was very sweaty. The best part was that he was wonderfully, blissfully, shirtless. Best. Day. Ever.

The last time she had seen him shirtless he had been covered in blood and dying. Definitely not the time to ogle. Now seemed like a much better time. The hardened muscles were punctuated by scars that told more stories of agony and suffering. She was a little surprised to see a tattoo of a dragon on his back. It didn't look anything like Oliver's dragon.

"Should you be doing that?" she asked him when his eyes found hers and she realized she shouldn't be staring. Well, she really should be, as his muscles were a gift to humanity, but it wasn't polite. He might misinterpret her stares as shock at his scars. And while it was a bit startling to see so much of him cut up and abused, she hadn't really noticed the scars. The play of muscles had her attention far more.

"Do you need anything to get started?" he asked, jumping to his feet.

"I'll let you know when I know," she said. "And don't think you can just change the subject, mister. You shouldn't be doing pushups."

"It was just the one arm," he said.

"Isn't he, like, the coolest?" his dragon said sarcastically.

She made sure Oliver was looking at her before she very deliberately rolled her eyes. The door opened behind her and she turned in time to see Diggle coming down the stairs, his bear lumbering after him.

"Hi, Digg," she said.

He nodded at her cordially. She had a feeling it would take more than working with Oliver to really earn his trust. It would take loyalty. She had that in spades. She watched as his guardian moved to stand next to hers. She had feeling her and Diggle would be good friends.

"Should you be doing that?" Digg asked Oliver then, his eyes taking in the obvious signs that he had been working out.

"So much nagging," the dragon said. "Really...Once, he was shot in the side and had to sew himself back up without anesthesia. On a cold, dirty ship anchored in the China Sea. It major sucked."

Felicity's eyes moved to Oliver's side, quickly finding the scar the dragon had been talking about. It felt weird that she knew the story without Oliver actually telling it to her. It was an invasion of privacy.

"Have you found out anything else on Hastings?" Oliver asked Felicity, finding a shirt and pulling it on.

She almost pouted as the skin disappeared from view.

"No," she said. "Been busy. I can dig now."

"That would be good," Oliver replied.

She went over to her computers - she already thought of them as hers after the night she had spent fixing them up - and sat in the chair. She gave it an experimental spin, wanting to know what she was working with, and thought it perfect for celebratory dancing.

She spun one more time and saw Diggle and Oliver watching her. Both men had their arms crossed. Diggle was openly smiling, while Oliver's eyes had brightened noticeably.

"So freaking cute," the dragon said.

Felicity blushed but tried to keep her dignity intact. "I'll let you know if I find anything," she said, dismissing them.

Diggle openly chuckled and Oliver turned away swiftly. Their voices faded into the background as she started working. Though she had fixed his computer, tech she really needed for her searches and hacking was missing. She definitely needed more servers. She started a list between hacks and kept adding to it.

A heated conversation caught her attention at one point.

"We are done discussing this," Oliver said quietly, storming off. His dragon mumbled an apology before swooping after him.

Felicity shot a curious look over her shoulder and saw Diggle. He did not look angry, merely resigned. The conversation had gone exactly the way he had thought it would. Felicity asked him what was going on in a look.

"Just trying to convince him to have another chat with his mother," Diggle said. "Actually to let me have a chat with her. He's kind of protective."

"Even though she's part of an evil plan to take over the world?" she asked.

Diggle shrugged. "None of us ever really think straight when it comes to family."

"I can attest to that," Felicity said darkly.

Her guardian gave a low whine. If Felicity had been alone she would have told her to shut her monster mouth. Instead, she sashayed in her chair thoughtfully.

"He just got them back," she said after a minute. "Five years of wanting to see them and finally, they're there. Only his mom isn't who he thought her to be. That has to be hard. Logic is not exactly what's on his mind right now."

"Which is why I want to talk to her," Diggle said. "A visit by me might be easier on everyone."

"But you can't just walk up to her and be all, 'Tell me about your super evil plot, because, please,'" Felicity said.

"I was planning on wearing the suit when I did it," Diggle said.

"The suit? Oh, the suit!" Felicity said. "Can you even fit into it?"

Diggle smirked, and she turned away before her mouth could even begin to fix that statement. She would just make it worse. Her hands started flying across the keyboard again. She lost all sense of time as she got back in to her work.

"Felicity?"

"Hmmm?" she asked back without looking to see who was talking.

"How can total absorption be that adorable?" a different voice said.

"Felicity?"

"What?" Felicity asked.

"You should go home now."

"Am I not home?" she asked, blinking and looking around.

There was a startled pause. "No."

The foundry slid into focus around her. The light from outside had dimmed and something in the air told her it was late. Oliver was standing on the other side of the table. His dragon was perched next to her monitor. They had both been talking to her.

"You should go home and sleep," Oliver added. "I hear you didn't get much sleep last night."

"Yeah, something about a man who beats up bad guys in a crusade against the evil in Starling getting shot."

"By his mother," the dragon said.

As if she needed the reminder. She was neck deep in her reminder. Accounts, internet history, financial records, everything, was on her computer. Mrs. Queen and Hastings were side by side. Hastings' information was the sparser of the two. He was seriously good at covering his tracks. It was very frustrating to know someone was a super villain and not have proof...or any idea what he was up to.

"The night wasn't all bad," Oliver said very seriously.

"Getting shot wasn't bad?" Felicity asked.

"I've had worse," he replied. It was an attempt at lightness that failed miserably when she saw the memories in his eyes.

"Are you sure you want to play with us?" the dragon asked. "We're awfully damaged."

"Sometimes the best things are a little damaged. The cracks add character," she whispered to herself.

Oliver didn't seem to notice. He was still lost in the past. She was eager to step past the moment. She stood swiftly. The movement brought him back to her in a way her words had not. He focused on her again, but he didn't try to hide the pain from his eyes. He trusted her more than that.

"Are you okay to drive home?"

"Been doing it since I was sixteen," Felicity said happily.

"I'll walk you out," he said.

She started to protest, then realized that they were in the glades and it was late. He probably had a point. She was independent, not stupid.

"Thanks," she said.

"Now I'm suspicious," the dragon said. "She actually agreed." Felicity's guardian made a low sound. The dragon cocked his head to the side. "Good point."

Felicity shook her head to clear the strange, one-sided conversation and smiled up at Oliver. He gestured her to walk ahead of him. The second she was outside, she shivered. It had nothing to do with the chilly air and her bare legs.

The dark ones were lingering. They weren't hovering the way they did when death was coming, but they were watching - really watching. She had never had them staring at her so intensely. It was just the attention she did not want. She figured it came with the territory. It was something else she would have to get used to. She was learning a capacity for change she had not expected in her life.

She kept her eyes directly ahead of her and focused on the warmth of Oliver slightly behind her. She turned when they reached her car and pulled her list out. He took it from her curiously.

"Improvements for the lair of badassdom," she told him.

"I'll get on this," he promised, wincing a little at her description of the foundry.

He opened her door for her, then waited until she started her car before walking away.

It took until the next night for Felicity to realize what working with Oliver Queen really meant. She had not expected it to feel so terrifying and nerve-wracking. She had put her ear piece into her ear, researched the building Oliver planned on infiltrating, and even did a great deal of searching on the man he was hunting. That was not the difficult part.

It was listening to him jumping off buildings, hearing the automatic gunfire that chased him, the tension as Oliver and Diggle coordinated their efforts, the grunting as Oliver fought the guards hand-to-hand, the thwack of the arrows flying through the air that had her heart in her throat.

It was only then that she realized what they were doing was truly, really, dangerous.

Thinking about the danger the vigilante lived through was easy when she didn't have a name to associate with the crusader. She didn't know Oliver all that well yet, but she knew enough of him not to want to see him dead. It hadn't helped matters that the dark ones had been trailing him again, lost wolves looking for blood.

She had wanted to warn him, but he knew he could die at any moment when he put the hood on. He was not stupid, and her warning would go unheard. Instead, she had told him and Diggle to be careful and had offered a small smile of encouragement.

And now she was listening to people get their asses kicked - listening to people potentially die.

Was it worth it? Did the deaths outweigh the good they were doing? How could she convince them there was another way? How to make him stop being so damn singular and focus on doing real good in the city? If they couldn't help Walter yet, if all her leads on the men who had abducted him hadn't panned out, then she at least wanted to feel like they were doing something worthwhile and not just killing people.

She needed a bit of good to steady her.

She turned off her end of sound so they wouldn't hear her whimpering and gasping whenever the violence moved too close and focused on giving them everything they needed. When she had something worthwhile to tell them, she spoke up. Otherwise, she left them to their grim work.

When the sounds finally died down, she un-muted her side of things and listened silently as Oliver threatened the man they had been hunting. The unjustness that he would threaten the man in charge and kill the guards he had hired was not lost on her. When the man refused to give Oliver what he wanted, promised to hunt Oliver down and kill everyone he loved, there was a sharp release of an arrow, followed by a low groan.

Felicity had to take a minute. She braced her hands on the table and breathed deeply as Oliver's dragon filled her ears with regrets and lamentations. It was the only way she knew that Oliver did not enjoy killing the man. But...he had still killed him. He hadn't tried to find information that could get the man arrested. He had killed him for nothing more than being on the list. It didn't feel right.

When Oliver and Diggle got back to the foundry, Felicity was not at her table. She was at the bar, listening to the pounding of the loud music indifferently, her finger playing over the rim of the glass. She wasn't drinking from it, just watching the colors change in the amber liquid and debating whether or not she was a moron for jumping on board with Oliver because she believed in him for an, as of yet, unknown reason.

"He's already pissed you off, huh?" Tommy Merlyn asked, sitting next to her with a smile.

"I don't know if I'm really pissed..." she said. She thought about it. "Well, maybe a little."

Tommy laughed and looked at the dancing people thoughtfully. All he saw were moving bodies having fun. She saw people mingled with shadows and lights, the paranormal swaying with the normal. Darkness was at the tipping point in the club, and she was certain they would all drown in it.

"Still believe he could be great?" Tommy asked.

She sighed, mostly in irritation at herself. "Yeah."

"Then do us all a favor and ride his ass about it. He needs someone to, and he seems to listen to you."

"He doesn't listen to me," she scoffed. "He barely knows me."

"He kinda does," he replied. "At least when he talks about you it seems like he's got your, uh, monologues memorized."

"He talks about me?" she asked.

"Well, a few times...Twice, when I've poked and prodded to make sure he doesn't end up using you like he does everyone else."

"He's not that man anymore," she said. "I don't know who he was back then, but I can see who he is now. He's different."

"He's still a killer," he said.

She couldn't argue with that. The violence was still ringing in her ears.

"You okay?" a voice asked from behind her a minute later. She turned and saw Diggle. He was wearing a brown jacket and black pants. He had casual, storming-a-castle wear down pat.

"I'm processing," Felicity said, holding up her drink.

"We should talk," Diggle said, gesturing toward the door to the lair.

Felicity nodded, shot Tommy an appreciative smile, and followed Diggle back to the foundry. Oliver was standing near her computer, his hood down and his body rigid. Though he wasn't moving, she could sense his anxiousness. Or maybe anxiousness wasn't the right word.

"Do you still love us?" the dragon asked with an obnoxious grin.

"What do you need?" Felicity asked sharply without looking at Oliver. Oliver turned to face her, his eyes widening slightly.

"It's not what you think," Diggle said.

Felicity didn't reply. She merely crossed her arms as her guardian started to growl a warning at Oliver's. His dragon landed in front of her guardian and looked up at her with pleading eyes. She resolutely turned away from them too.

"Felicity?" Oliver all but whispered.

"I knew that you killed people," she said. "I understood it intellectually, it's just...hearing it. You killed him for threatening you!" Her anger was starting to warm her veins. She wanted him to understood exactly what he had done.

"That's not what happened!" Oliver said back, his voice rising a little too.

"Really?!" she said, stepping into his space aggressively. "Because it sounded like it to me!"

"Oliver shot the man because he pulled a pistol out and was about to shoot me," Diggle said, his bear giving a low sound of agreement.

Felicity was not in the mood to be rational. "And all the guards you had to kill on the way to the man?" Felicity asked. "Did you have to kill them, too? Or did they just not matter to you because they were in the way? They came in between you and the list and had to go!"

"They were armed!" Oliver said. "What did you want me to do, go up to them and say please?"

"Hello, Mr. Armed Gunman, can you put your weapon down now, please?" the dragon added.

"You're telling me that with all that training and precision, you had to kill all of them? Or could you simply not be bothered to care to try?" Felicity said.

Oliver moved forward so that they were really close. It felt like he was trying to intimidate her. She set her stance and glared right back at him, daring him to try to scare her. For some reason, she was not afraid of him. She did not fear him, even though she had proof that he was a killer. Maybe it was because she genuinely believed he was a good person. She was only logical when Oliver Queen wasn't involved, apparently.

"It's kill or be killed," he said. "And if I'm going to take care of the names on the list..."

"The goddamn list!" she spat. "Is that all you can think about?!?"

He growled at her. An actual, guttural growl. His jaw clenched and his eyes were blazing with darkness.

"He didn't mean it," his guardian said, trying to diffuse the tension, no longer sassy or light.

"Maybe you should take a step back," Diggle added then, his eyes on Oliver.

Contrarily, Felicity took a step forward. Their bodies were almost pressing against each other. "I get that the list is important to you, but you could be doing so much good for the city! You could actually help people!"

She realized she was shaking with her anger, and her frustration was beating against her chest. She looked over her shoulder and saw that Diggle was in agreement. He didn't believe in Oliver's narrow-minded pursuit of the names on the list either. She also saw that getting Oliver to listen to her was about as likely as getting the floor she was standing on to agree to be reasonable. It was useless. He was so stubborn and willful.

But so was she. She wasn't going to fight a war she didn't agree with, knowing she wasn't heard or listened to by the man doing the killing. She had to have a say. She had to be part of the team rather than a cog in it. Her voice would be heard or she wouldn't be on the team at all. She would not be used.

She held up her hands then in a gesture of frustration and disgust and spun on her heels. She grabbed her bag on the way out, pushed through the door, and marched to her car. She slammed her car door behind her for good measure. She gripped the steering wheel aggressively but didn't leave the parking lot. She was too angry to drive. She didn't want to get into an accident. She needed to calm down first.

Tears that had more to do with frustration than anger started tracking down her cheeks. She could handle anger. She would tremble with rage and speak her mind. It was always the case. Frustration was her enemy, though. It made her feel helpless. She did not like feeling that way. She was self-made, independent, and strong. Helplessness made her feel like she was back in Vegas with limited options and fewer people to help her see there was another way. Her dreams had been the only thing that kept her pushing forward. Lack of options had greeted her at every turn, just like now.

What use was there for a dream of Oliver Queen not being a gigantic asshole? She couldn't see a world where that happened.

"...if you're going to be pissy, you may as well not talk to her...That approach won't work, either. Would you just be genuine, you dumb baby? She has a point and you know it."

Felicity sighed when she heard the voice of the dragon. She considered driving off before Oliver could reach her, but her hands were still shaking, and a part of her wanted to see what he had to say. She was only mildly freaked out when she realized she couldn't see him. He was hiding in the shadows while he deliberated how to approach her. She very seriously considered pressing her middle finger against the glass of her door, but that was childish and she was above that. Right? Her hand twitched.

A second later, a tap came from the passenger side of the car. She didn't look over. "What do you want, Oliver?" she asked.

"Can I come in?" he asked back.

She sighed. It would be so easy to say no. He would leave her alone. He respected personal boundaries. He was such a freaking gentleman, the asshole. She nodded and the door was opened instantly.

There was silence as he folded himself into the passenger seat awkwardly. Oliver was uncomfortable. He didn't know where to begin.

"He's not great with sorry. Never has been. I blame it on his parents. Never made him apologize for anything. He is, though. Sorry, I mean," the dragon said.

Felicity didn't want her apology from the dragon. She wanted it from the man sitting next to her. The dragon seemed to understand that. He crawled over the seat and curled into the seat next to Felicity's guardian.

"You're right," Oliver said tightly.

Felicity finally looked over at him and realized he had changed clothes. He was wearing a charcoal sweater, black jacket, and blue jeans. The handsome bastard.

"I stop thinking about them the moment I step into the hood. It's all about reacting. My reactions have been built up to be less than forgiving. It's instinct. I don't know if all of them deserve to die, but I can't do what I do and limit myself. I'll die."

"It's not a limitation," she said. "Kicking their asses, knocking them out, putting an arrow through their shoulders or legs...those things stop them from coming at you just as well as an arrow through the heart. You just don't want to see it. I don't blame you for protecting Digg or yourself when you have to, and I realize that killing is sometimes necessary to protect yourself, but there's a difference between that and going into a situation expecting to kill everyone in your way."

"I try not to kill them," he said. "I give warnings. I offer chances."

"And I appreciate that," she said. "But I think we can do better."

"How?" he asked.

"We start gathering evidence on these d-bags and/or get confessions out of them. The ones you don't have to defend yourself against can rot in prison."

"If they don't just weasel their way out of trouble."

"You can still steal their money and get them to right their wrongs," she said. "Or whatever. Just let the police deal with them when you've taken what you wanted."

"I'll think about it," he said.

"I know," she replied. While he could be stubborn, he wasn't irrational. He did mull things over. He wanted to be fair. She sensed that from him.

"And in the meantime, how about a compromise?" he asked.

"What kind of compromise?" she asked suspiciously.

He took a deep breath but kept his eyes on hers. "I will split my time between people on the list and people you and Digg think we should go after. So long as I can still..."

"Honor his father's memory," his dragon finished for him.

Felicity considered that. Then, she beamed at him. "Okay."

Oliver blinked at her rapidly, her sudden mood shift surprising him. "Okay?"

"You really are actual sunshine, aren't you?" his dragon asked.

"Yes," Felicity replied, answering both questions at once with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "Where's Digg?"

"Downstairs, poised to come running up here if I hurt your feelings," Oliver said.

"I think he may officially be my favorite person," she said.

Oliver frowned, looking hurt. His dragon laughed. "He's pouting on the inside," the dragon said.

"Call him up here," Felicity said. "We're going for ice cream."

"It's late...and too cold for ice cream," Oliver said. "And I've had a long day."

Felicity stared at him, one eyebrow raised. He may have been able to fight a battalion of armed gunmen without flinching, but he was not brave enough to argue with her when she had that expression on her face. He pulled out his phone and sent a text to Diggle without saying anything else to her. Diggle tapped on her window a minute later, and she rolled it down.

"I am not riding in that clown car," he said firmly. "Come on."

Oliver and Felicity looked at each other and shared a mutual shrug. They followed him to the luxury car he carted Oliver around in. Oliver got into the back without thinking, but Felicity didn't want Diggle to feel like he was working. She got into the passenger seat, feeling a bit amused how the guardians crammed themselves in the back next to Oliver.

Oliver was silent and brooding, his eyes turned towards the city and the lights that flashed past them. Felicity and Diggle were not. They talked and laughed, bonding in an easy way that told Felicity they would be the best of friends.

As they settled into their seats at the ice cream shop, Felicity realized that this was the real beginning. They weren't chasing bad guys or agonizing over moral complexities. They were sharing, laughing - even Oliver occasionally joined in on the fun - and proving to one another that they could balance the light with the dark so long as they were together.

Felicity wasn't stupid. She knew it would be a long road to pull Oliver towards greatness, mainly because he was so obnoxiously stubborn, but his guardian and the sense of goodness she felt when she looked into Oliver's eyes told her to believe. She would keep digging, prodding, and challenging him until the hope turned into reality.

Because she had faith...and because she was a giant idiot, apparently.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: All in a Day's Work

 

 

A month was long enough for Felicity to become so ingrained in Oliver Queen's life that she sometimes forgot that he hadn't been there all along. She was in his ear when he was in meetings, helping him make decisions for the company even as she worked on code and designed new tech to help build the Juggernaut Project. She was in his ear when he went after bad guys, providing technological recon and mischief as needed. She was his source of information in everything.

There were tense days, days when she didn't feel like she could handle the stress, days where all she wanted was to slap Oliver, days where all she saw were the dark ones surrounding them all. But there were never as many dark ones as there had been surrounding Oliver when he had been shot. It didn't take her long to fall in love with her new life. She had the job of her dreams, was helping to turn the city into something better, and had made two best friends, who were protective, fierce, and would die for her in a heartbeat. She had never had anything close to them in her life before. She was glad she had them now. Nothing could pry her away from them.

Around picking out the villains she wanted them to hunt down and managing research on the list of names, Felicity kept a careful eye on Hastings and Mrs. Queen. Neither seemed to be moving, but she had the growing suspicion that darkness was coming for them all.

It had everything to do with the dark ones. She knew it wasn't her imagination that there were more of them on the streets. They were waiting, hungry to feed on whatever violence was coming for them all.

And, before she allowed herself to fall asleep at night, she looked for Walter. Though the search kept turning up with nothing, she refused to give up. He was out there somewhere. She was the only one looking. She would keep looking.

A month was also enough for her to notice a change in Oliver. It was very subtle - she might not have noticed it all had his dragon not been so chatty and willing to point it out to her daily. Oliver was trying harder with them - not to kill, not to tune out Felicity and Diggle, particularly if they were right, not to run off without help, not to be the cold man he had been when he had returned from the island. They were becoming a team. Felicity was sure it would take Oliver a couple more years to come to the conclusion himself, as he was a bit of an idiot, but she liked the change in him. He wasn't a great man yet, but he was taking his first steps on the path to greatness.

A month was also enough for her to become fast friends with Diggle and, surprisingly, Tommy. Though Tommy had nothing to do with their nightly activities, he was always there to talk to her, usually about Oliver, but also about life in general. She listened as he talked about Laurel, his dad, running Verdant, his rocky friendship with Oliver, and he listened as she talked about her work, the bad guys they brought down, and her growing friendship with Oliver and Diggle.

 

"What does that mean?" Oliver hissed at her through the earwig in her ear as she worked in her office. He was in a meeting and totally out of his depth.

"It means he's trying to feed you bullshit about why he's behind schedule. Let him know you aren't buying it," Felicity said absently, only half listening.

She heard Oliver use his CEO voice on the man. It was very intimidating, but not nearly as dark as his Arrow voice.

How weird was her life when she had named her boss' voices?

"You should see this guy. He's in a swimming pool of sweat," Oliver's dragon added a second later. "Tell him to be mean to more people. He's different when he has permission from you. I like it."

Felicity had to bite her lip to keep from saying something in reply, though she did chuckle under her breath.

The meeting ended and Felicity prepared to pull the ear piece out of her ear. He would text if he needed her again, and she was always weary of hearing things she shouldn't. She did not need to hear him in the bathroom or making out or whatever he did when she wasn't around. Before she could pull it, he spoke up again.

"Are you still there?"

"Mostly," she said absently, still focused on the code she was trying to get right. It was being very tricky.

"Lunch?" Oliver asked.

"Hmmm?" she asked.

"Felicity," he said gently. "Lunch?"

His use of her name brought her attention back to him. She was surprised how many different meanings he could put into that one word. It always worked to catch her attention and pull her out of her work. She thought about his offer. They didn't have lunch every day together, but she always liked it when they did. Diggle was usually there, so the conversation ended up with laughter and teasing more often than not. Oliver had loosened up around them enough to actually tease back occasionally now.

She loved it.

"Yes," she agreed.

"Thirty minutes," he said.

"Right," she said.

Thirty minutes later, she was still staring at her computer, her hands flying over the keys as she tried to make the program she was writing come out the way she wanted it to. It was being stupid, and she hated when tech was stubborn. She had enough stubborn in her life, thank you very much.

"I knew you weren't listening," Oliver's voice came from the door.

Felicity looked up in surprise and saw that he was smiling. His hands were tucked into his pant's pockets and one foot was crossed over the other. It was an air of casualness he had to know was disarming and infuriatingly attractive.

His dragon swooped inside and landed on Felicity's guardian's shoulder, something he had been doing more and more lately. Felicity's guardian returned with a low sound of greeting, and Oliver's dragon wrapped his tail around her broad shoulders familiarly.

"Don't look now," his dragon added, "but I think he's teasing you."

"I was listening!" Felicity argued, rising to his teasing. "I just...lost track of time."

"Lunch?" Oliver asked.

"Anyone ever tell you you're bossy?" Felicity asked.

"Part of being CEO," he said.

Felicity laughed and gathered her purse and phone. "You're the CEO? I'm the one who's been making all the decisions for you. I should be CEO."

"It has become alarmingly typical for you to be in my head," he said, gesturing for her to walk ahead of him.

The conversations from the guardians filled her ears the second she was in the hall with him. The gossip was loud and clear.

"She has to be sleeping with him. There's no other explanation."

"What on earth does he see in her? Besides the short skirts, I mean? My girl is so much prettier."

"Guy has the right idea. Hitting that has to be all sorts of fun."

Felicity winced but kept walking, her chin lifted proudly. "I'm surprised you haven't gotten tired of my voice," she said to Oliver lightly.

"Tired of it? He dreams about it," his dragon said.

Oliver didn't reply for a full minute as they waited on the elevator. "Thank you," he finally said. It was so quiet she wasn't sure she heard it.

Felicity turned to look at him in confusion.

"For helping me with the business end of things. I know you don't have to."

She shrugged nonchalantly and the doors slid open. Neither of them were really prepared, nor eager for what was on the other side. Hastings. His snake hissed at Felicity's and Oliver's guardians and curled around Hastings' leg in a defensive posture.

"Mr. Hastings," Oliver said as warmly as he could manage.

"Mr. Queen," Hastings returned with just a hint of contempt.

He was obviously making the point that Oliver did not measure up to his father. Oliver did not miss the silent commentary. His jaw clenched and his eyes darkened. Hastings' eyes slid over Felicity appraisingly. Just as quickly, he dismissed her, obviously not deeming her important.

"I would like to have a meeting with you sometime soon," Hastings said. "There are a few projects that I would like to get your opinion on and some various other business matters we should discuss..."

"You can set it up with my E.A.," Oliver said politely.

"I will," Hastings said.

Oliver's dragon had landed on the floor and was sending puffs of smoke into the Hastings' guardian's face. Felicity's guardian was much more dignified as a low, continuous growl echoed from her body and around the space.

Hastings then started talking about numbers and earnings' reports. He was still talking about it when the doors finally, mercifully, opened. He said goodbye to Oliver, totally ignoring Felicity, who had spent the ride down staring at the doors of the elevator like normal.

"Well, that was awkward," Felicity said.

"He seemed really eager to talk about the projects," Oliver mused.

"Do you think he wants to get some information out of you with that meeting?"

"Or see if I can be turned. If my mother is working with him..." he said.

"I doubt he'll be that obvious," Felicity argued. "Maybe he just wants to push you in a certain direction with a certain project."

"Meeting him might give us a chance to figure out what he's up to," Oliver realized.

"If he doesn't just have you kidnapped first," she said. She wrinkled her nose. "Kidnapped. It's such a stupid word. Who's the kid that's getting napped? And consider napped for a second. It sounds like they're falling asleep, not getting stolen. The only time kidnapped should be used is if an actual, literal kid is taken. Or a goat. Both are kids, and I can respect the term then."

"Do I want to know?" Diggle asked as he joined them near the front doors.

"No," Oliver said with an amused twinkle in his eyes.

"Aw, making him want to laugh while talking about his step-father being missing. You are a talented creature, aren't you?" his dragon teased her.

"Where to?" Diggle asked instead.

"Sandwich?" Felicity asked.

Oliver and Diggle agreed, liking Felicity's favorite lunch spot almost as much as she did. It wasn't fancy, and there were no expectations or curious eyes. People always ignored them. It was their second favorite place after Big Belly.

When they reached the shop, Felicity's stomach dropped and her mouth went dry. She stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes darting around the street. She looked a bit like a trapped animal. That was exactly how she felt.

Dark ones were crawling over the building of her shop. They were eager. There were a lot of them. She couldn't go running into the building and tell everyone they were in danger. She didn't know where the danger was or even if they were in danger today. She suddenly hated her ability. She hated it more than she had hated anything else in her life and she had lived through the 90s.

"Felicity?" Oliver asked softly, returning to her side when he realized she was no longer with him.

The bad feeling in Felicity's gut had grown. She couldn't warn all the people without making herself a target, but she could protect the people closest to her. She could save her friends. It was a gut-wrenching choice. She looked up, searching for Diggle. He was a few feet behind Oliver.

"I don't want to eat here anymore," she told them, her voice a bit shrill. "Let's go somewhere else."

"What is it? What's wrong?" Oliver asked.

Diggle stepped closer, his dark eyes full of brotherly affection and concern. Oliver's eyes were like lasers, dissecting, assessing, probing. She didn't want to be dissected, not right now. She wanted to get away from the damn building and the dark ones that were crawling all over it.

"Don't try to talk," the dragon said in a low whisper. "Just walk away. He'll follow."

Felicity decided the dragon knew best. She put her hand into Oliver's without really thinking about how he would interpret the touch, then reached out and grabbed Diggle's wrist. She pulled them away from the shop.

They made it six doors down from the shop when the world turned to ash, ringing in her ears, and a haze of confusion and chaos. She lost her grip on Diggle, but Oliver's hand tightened around hers. She was pulled to the ground and his body wrapped around hers protectively.

She had no idea how long she stayed like that. She didn't really care. Her senses were too full of drama to be able to put reason to the protection. When the ringing finally dimmed enough to help her hear words again, she was not surprised to hear her name on Oliver's lips.

"I'm fine," she told Oliver, who had taken hold of her face to get her to look up at him. He looked panicked and terrified. He was clearly coming to the conclusion she was hurt. "I'm fine," she repeated.

He helped her stand, the warmth of his body disappearing, and she searched for Diggle. He was closer to the shop than they were and was on one knee. He looked dazed. Oliver was similarly dazed. He had protected her from the worst of the pressure wave. Felicity turned slowly, knowing what had happened but unwilling to believe it.

The shop, her shop, had exploded.

People were screaming; some were running out of the building. Fire raged around the brick and steel. Sirens sounded in the distance. Of course, Oliver's first instinct was to run toward the fire instead of away from it. Felicity was certain that instinct was what made him a hero.

It did nothing for the panic in her chest.

He dropped her hand after giving it a quick squeeze and then pulled off his jacket. He tossed it onto the ground along with his tie to free himself of anything that could encumber him as he ran back to the shop. He jumped over the rubble that separated him from the interior and disappeared. Felicity followed him to the front of the building. It wasn't because she was a hero. It was because she wanted her guardian to help his fend off the dark ones that were feasting. Diggle caught her wrist before she ran inside.

"I'll stay here," she said as her guardian started clawing and biting at the closest dark ones. "Just...help him!"

His bear lumbered into the building first, taking her words at face value. Diggle hesitated, clearly torn between protecting her and helping Oliver.

"Digg...please," she begged, tears in her eyes.

Diggle nodded, pulled his jacket off and wrapped it around her shoulders, and jumped over the debris. Another hero, another person willing to run toward danger. How she loved them both for it.

The fire was still raging. It was not nearly as loud as the sounds of the dark ones feasting and the people's guardians crying out in agony as they lost their fights against them. The pain tore into her soul.

"Please save them, please," she found herself saying over and over again.

A second later, Oliver and Diggle appeared, carrying four people between them, one on each side. Bystanders helped pull them away from the building and lay them out on the sidewalk to get medical attention. Oliver and Diggle disappeared back into the flame and smoke that circled the building. Her guardian kept fighting, trying to give the people inside as much time as they possibly could. It was a delaying action she hoped would make a difference.

They managed to pull five more people out of the building before the smoke took over the shop entirely. Diggle appeared at Felicity's side as she tried to comfort a woman who was mostly hysterical. She looked up at him when she saw that Oliver wasn't there, wide-eyed and fearful.

"He left through the back. Didn't want anyone to make a big deal about him being here and helping people," he said. "Didn't think it would be a good idea."

Felicity nodded in understanding, relief coursing through her. A second later, fire flared out of the building for a second time, sending a blast of heat across Felicity's face.

"We need to pull these people back!" Diggle yelled, taking charge of the scene as police, fire, and ambulance rolled up. "Back!"

People listened to him immediately. He helped the other good Samaritans pull the line of injured people away from the fire, and did what he could for the people until the paramedics could get to them. Felicity felt useless and sickened. The dark ones were hovering around the fire, eager specters to the pain and coming feast around them. They were impatiently waiting for more people to die.

She didn't want to see or hear them claim anyone else. She walked away without considering her options, forgetting about Diggle and the fact that he would want to keep an eye on her after everything that had happened. She couldn't stand to be near the chaos any more. The screaming was still ringing in her ears.

She considered the idea that she was in shock briefly. Definitely shock. She didn't care. She would come down from it when she was far enough away from the building not to hear the guardians screaming in agony as their humans were taken from them. People ran past her on their way to the fire. Some of them bumped into her. She didn't see them, not really. They were a very distant thing.

"You're okay," a voice said in relief. She knew that voice. Oliver's dragon. She stopped and turned toward the dark alley expectantly, her eyes searching for Oliver and the peace he would bring her. Peace was an exaggeration. It was more like comfort.

"Felicity?" Oliver's voice called back, sounding surprise. She saw his dragon near the top of the fire escape. Oliver was on the roof. He stepped into view as she looked up at him.

She took a step into the alley and looked at the fire escape analytically. There was no way in hell her dressed-up ass was getting up those stairs. Oliver obviously came to the same conclusion. He jumped over the edge of the railing, slid down the banister, jumped twice more, then was standing directly in front of her. He looked as calm as if he had stepped out of a parked car.

"Show off," she said, realizing that his presence alone was enough to pull her away from her shock. The thought was not something she cared to examine at that moment.

His lips tugged up ever so slightly, though the concern and worry in his eyes did not waver. "Are you hurt?" he asked her.

She gripped Diggle's jacket around her a little tighter at the question. Hurt? No. Scarred forever? Yes. She shook her head in response to his question, still feeling a bit stunned, and looked down at the ground so she wouldn't have to see his concern for her.

"He's wondering how you knew not to go into the shop...remembering your panic beforehand," his dragon said. "You had better distract him."

"We should get back to the foundry," she said quickly. "I want to find out what happened."

Oliver nodded slowly, his eyes hardening. It was clear he thought the explosion more than just an accident. Shops didn't explode the way that one had. It had been a device of some sort, which meant a person he could hit.

He put his hand on her elbow, and, though he was angry and full of dark need to Hulk-smash things, his touch was very gentle. The touch was proof of the gentleness she had long sensed in him. He guided her back to the street silently. That's when she finally noticed his appearance. He was covered in soot, sweat, and blood. The blood was not his. It did not make her feel better. They walked back to QC without talking.

Oliver's dragon flew ahead of them, giving them plenty of warning when cops or emergency personnel were headed their way. Felicity pulled out her phone and pretended her information was coming from there. Oliver's hand stayed on her elbow the entire time. She wondered if he knew how comforting the touch was, particularly on top of the dark ones that were still running to the building around her. She almost yelped when one of dark ones ran right through her.

Oliver noticed the moment. His hand tightened on her skin and his eyebrows tightened ever so slightly at her weirdness. She ignored him, though she did flush. Finally, they made it to the parking garage and Oliver's ridiculous luxury car. She was not afraid of damaging the seats this time. She didn't care if she was covered in dust and soot. Her mind was focused entirely on the shop. Oliver certainly didn't care about his car. He settled into the seat wearily and started the engine.

They were on the road before she could really process what was happening.

"He's still suspicious," the dragon said. "But he's willing to give you space...for now. Keep him distracted."

Felicity barely heard him. She was more interested in keeping herself from freaking out. She would deal with Oliver when she was okay. She had no idea if 'okay' was going to be anywhere in her wheelhouse again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: Q&A

 

 

Neither of them spoke on the car ride to the foundry or the walk inside. Felicity didn't mind. She went straight to her computers and sat down, the spin of her chair tighter than normal. She didn't have it in her to spin all the way around. One thing she liked about Oliver was that he didn't ever push her to talk. If she wanted to deal with the situation by staying busy, he would let her stay busy. He knew and respected boundaries.

"Police are still clearing the scene. It might take them a while to find the device," Felicity told Oliver ten minutes later. "I have scans running to mine through the video feeds in the area, but it's a long shot. I'll probably have to go through feed by feed to sort it out."

Oliver's way of processing was to exercise. Lots and lots of exercise. The clank of the bar on the salmon ladder falling in to place was followed by a grunt to acknowledge he had heard her. She let her gaze drift up, knowing what she would see there. Him, in all his shirtless glory. It did nothing for her today. The sounds of the explosion were still ringing in her ears.

"Diggle's on his way," was his reply.

"Good," Felicity said. "I could use his help."

Oliver dropped onto the mat and looked at her seriously.

"You almost died today...you and Diggle," the dragon said. "That's what he's thinking about right now. He's thinking about, despite your bossiness and pushiness, how his life has changed for the better this past month because of you. You and Diggle have given him something no one else has since before the island: hope."

Felicity felt a blush creeping over her face. Let him attribute it to her ogling of his abs. That was good. She wasn't ashamed about that. Any sane person would ogle those abs.

"Do you want me to help you?" he asked.

She was startled. It was the first time he had offered to look through data with her. He usually let her do her thing and was content to react - beat people up - when she had news. She considered the dragon's words again. Oliver was clearly freaking out about how close they had come to dying.

"Sure," she agreed with a small smile.

He grabbed his hoodie, pulled it on, and dragged a chair over to her. He sat next to her, the radiating warmth from his post-workout body pressing against her. She leaned over him without thinking and brought up the camera feeds from the west side of the street in front of the cafe on the computer closest to him. She jerked back when she realized she was practically in his lap. He nodded as he looked at the video. Maybe he hadn't noticed her closeness...

"Oh, he definitely noticed that," the dragon said.

Felicity dared to look over and glare at her guardian, wondering if she had given her thoughts away to Oliver's. Her guardian didn't even look at her. Traitor.

Oliver and her sat in companionable silence for another ten minutes. It was long enough for Oliver to find the words he had been chewing over since seeing her in the alley.

"You should probably run away now," the dragon said, perking up defensively.

"It's okay to be afraid," Oliver said quietly as they worked, not taking his eyes off the screen. Felicity likewise kept her eyes glued to the monitor. Neither of them were great at these kinds of discussions.

"I know," she said just as quietly.

"Then why aren't you?" he asked. "You seem so calm."

"I'm not calm. I'm freaking out. Bad. But getting hysterical isn't going to catch the bomber, just like it won't help you focus on what needs to be done. Plus, I'm fairly certain I'm still in shock and that's dulling the panic. So, yay me!"

"Felicity..." he said.

Her leg was shaking with her anxiety. She didn't need this on top of watching a building explode and see people die. Oh god, she had seen so many people die. The rushing of the heat, the stench, the crackling fire, the screams...they were all in her head. They were threatening to drag her under.

"Can we just focus on this, please?" she asked him.

He must have seen her panic and growing fear because he said, "Yes."

"Thank you," she replied.

"I would like to know one thing, though," he said.

"Abort mission, abort mission," the dragon whispered in Oliver's ear.

"How did you that bomb was going to go off?" Oliver asked.

She turned to look at him finally, her mouth agape. "I didn't know a bomb was going to go off!"

It wasn't even a lie.

"But you knew something was wrong," he said. "How?"

This was the exact reason she had isolated herself from people, kept her head down, and never looked up from her work. The second she did, people wanted to know stuff, and she couldn't answer stuff. The dark ones would hunt her. They would stalk her until they made sure she found a situation that could kill her. They would swarm her guardian. They would feast on her blood.

Damn Oliver Queen for making her look up. Damn him and his stupid, worthwhile crusade.

"I don't-"

"They're saying nine dead, another twenty-three injured," Diggle said, walking into the room, oblivious to their conversation. "What have you found?" he asked Felicity.

Felicity turned away from Oliver gratefully. She could kiss Diggle. She really could.

"Saved by the bear," the dragon said.

Diggle's guardian gave a little whine of confusion that would have been adorable had Felicity not been in the middle of a secret panic attack.

"We're trying to see if the videos around the area caught anything," Felicity said quickly.

Oliver's phone buzzed. He looked at it and stood swiftly, uncoiling himself from the chair. "It's Thea. I have to go."

Diggle and Felicity nodded and Oliver tore out of the room as though chased.

"Baby sis be freaking out," the dragon said by way of parting.

"Are you okay?" Diggle asked Felicity gently when Oliver was gone.

"No," Felicity said. She looked down and realized she was still wearing his jacket. "Oh. Here."

He held up her hand for her to keep it and tilted his head to take her in. "You want to talk about it?"

"Double no," Felicity said firmly.

"It's okay to be afraid," Diggle said, his words mirroring Oliver's. "My first explosion..."

"Seriously, no," Felicity said, her voice rising a little.

"Okay," he agreed. "I'm here if you need to talk."

"Thanks." She smiled at him warmly, knowing he really was. It was comforting to have someone in her life she could say anything to. Her guardian stepped a little closer to Diggle's at the thought.

Diggle and her moved through the footage silently then, Felicity monitoring all the police and FBI frequencies and databases for clues. They were still digging through the wreckage. It would take the police some time to find evidence she could hack.

It was dark out when she finally saw something that didn't fit.

"Now, you, mister, are very suspicious," she said to her computer.

Diggle had taken a break to get them food. She had refused to leave, not wanting to take a break with the very real threat that another bomb could go off hanging over her head. Her fingers flew across the keys as she almost habitually broke into the FBI's facial recognition software.

"Such amateurs," she chastised them.

She dropped the picture of the man into the software and let it run, knowing it could take hours for the software to ping. Then, she went searching for the black car she had seen him getting into. What freaked her out the most was how middle America the man looked. He definitely didn't have the word bomber tattooed on his forehead like she had thought he would. But circling the shop twice needlessly and looking altogether hinky was two strikes against him. She was too good to ignore the obvious clues.

"And that...is the third strike," she said as his name and history was pulled up on her computer. "Oh. Not good."

She pulled out her phone and sent Oliver a quick text message. He sent her one back almost instantly to tell her he was on his way. Diggle came down the steps five minutes later, takeout in his hands. She told him she had found something, but he didn't ask questions. They both knew that she would get into details when Oliver arrived. That happened ten minutes later. He was closer than she had suspected.

"Note to self, never return to the scene of a bombing when they are removing the bodies," his dragon said by way introduction.

Felicity winced.

"Sorry," the dragon added softly a second later.

"What did you find?" Oliver asked, striding over to her, all power and grace barely contained.

"Lionel Grace," she said. "I would say that he's a total nut-job, but that would be an understatement...and an insult to nut-jobs. What makes him worse than the typical nut-job was that he's an engineer. He knows his stuff. He knows how to make his bombs scary."

"Why the coffee shop?" Oliver asked.

"I went through all his social media accounts, emails, and computer files for the last year. From what I can tell, he went way off the grid three years ago after his wife left him and started building bombs for, well, not very nice people. The bad guys kept it all hush-hush, but a mention here and there and I was able to piece it together. They can not keep out Felicity Smoak. I am everywhere!"

"Not you too," Diggle grumbled.

"Six months ago, a job went bad. He went into hiding from the baddies," Felicity said.

"So this was a contracted bombing?" Oliver asked.

"I don't think so," she said. "That shop was...I think...That's where he had his first date with his wife. There were some pictures on his hard drive from their first anniversary. They went back there to celebrate."

"Oh that's much worse," Diggle said.

"Maybe not worse than selling his talents out to terrorists, but definitely scary," Felicity said.

"Where is he now?" Oliver asked tightly.

"I'm looking. He's really careful," Felicity said. "No credit cards, no phones, no computer..."

"Give me something," Oliver said, looking entirely antsy and riled up.

"Really, give him something," his dragon recommended.

"I can give you all the places associated with his wife," Felicity said. "And the last place he lived before he went underground, as well as any known associates."

Oliver nodded tightly and went over to pick up his bow and suit. He left them to change and find his focus before he went out on the street.

"You should go with him," Felicity said.

Diggle shook his head. "This is not sharing Oliver we're looking at. This is leave me alone while I clench my teeth Oliver."

"I don't care if he's taking a poop Oliver," Felicity said. "He needs your help. This guy is smart and crazy, my two least favorite traits in a bad guy."

"Yeah," Diggle said. "I guess I'll have to push him for his own good again."

"When do we ever stop?" Felicity asked with a grin.

"Good point," he said.

Oliver marched past them and Diggle stood swiftly to join him. He started to stop, probably to argue, then decided against it. He looked over at Felicity then. She thought he might be taking something from her, or maybe he was trying to give her strength. She wasn't really sure what the look meant and his dragon was smugly - arrogantly? - silent. She smiled at him encouragingly, though her stomach was twisting with worry, and turned back to her computers and her work. If they were going to chase Lionel Grace down, she was going to know everything she could about the places she was about to send them. Their lives were in her hands, and she would be damned if she was going to let them down.

Lionel Grace was smart. Really smart. Did she mention he was smart? He was not hiding anywhere that was even remotely associated with his name. He was a ghost. Hours after they had started their search, they were nowhere closer to him. She put her head against the cold, grey metal of the table and tapped it against the steel repeatedly, not caring that it hurt.

"I can't find Walter, I can't figure out Hastings and Moira, I can't find Lionel. His name is Lionel, damn it! Lionel! I'm being bested by a man named Lionel. He should be singing about how he's not sure he's found the one he's looking for, not hiding from me!"

"Felicity?"

She sighed and sat up, figuring it was just her luck for Oliver to walk in on her when she was talking to herself.

"Yes, Oliver?" she asked calmly, knowing she had to have a red mark on her forehead and looked utterly ridiculous.

"Um..."

She held up a hand. "Don't ask me if I'm okay," she said.

"Okay," he said. There was a pause in which Oliver's dragon snickered at whatever Oliver was thinking. "Are you all right?"

She scowled at Oliver, choosing to ignore his dragon, and shook her head in irritation. "Just go away," she told him.

"Maybe you should go," he said. "Home, I mean. It's been a long day, and I'm pretty sure it's past one in the morning."

"He wants to brood about his failure," the dragon said helpfully. "He can brood with you here, of course, but it makes him sad for you to see it."

She didn't understand why. She desperately wanted to ask why. She couldn't focus on it with everything else fluttering through her brain. She caught Oliver's eyes again, the cold blue having been replaced with warm skies. They reeled her in and the truth came bubbling out of her.

"I don't want to go," she said quietly, looking away from his eyes nervously. "I feel safe here."

There was a thoughtful pause, then she felt movement. She didn't dare look into eyes again. They would unravel her again and make her confess how afraid she was of facing her memories. A part of her thought he already knew. The movement stopped directly in front of her. A second later, a hand appeared on her shoulder. She looked up at him as the warmth seeped through Diggle's jacket, her dress, and onto her skin. There was no avoiding his eyes this time.

"You are always welcome to stay here," Oliver said. His eyes were understanding and full of compassion. He knew what she was going through. A safe harbor in the storm would have made all the difference during his years at war with the world. He could not deny her one now. "I remember you offering me that you would always listen...I want you to know that I feel the same way. I'm here."

"Thanks," she said.

"He's a really good listener," his dragon asked. "Even if he only communicates in grunts most days."

She didn't hear the dragon. She was still focused on Oliver's eyes, feeling the heat of his stare as much as she did his hand. It felt like they were playing tug of war. He would take a little, she would take a little, and neither quite seemed strong enough to pull the other over the imaginary line between them. Oliver threw in the flag first. He took a single step back and released her shoulder. He cleared his throat and looked down at his clothes.

"I'm gonna go..." He trailed off, gesturing vaguely towards where he usually changed, and disappeared into the shadows.

"De.ni.al," his dragon added in parting. "Don't worry. It won't last forever. In eighty, maybe ninety years, he'll figure things out."

Felicity braced herself against the table and shook her head to clear it of the heated gaze Oliver had sent her way. She started back into her search a minute later, needing the distraction of a hunt to bring her out of the heady feeling of looking into Oliver's eyes and thinking that maybe he was really seeing her.

"Where's Diggle?" she asked when he returned dressed in street clothes.

"Sent him home," Oliver said, looking eager to move past the awkwardness of their shared look.

"Oh," she said. She continued typing, digging into the internet for clues while running three programs at once. She felt like all of her searches would come down to time. She was running the best programs she had. She was the best. She would find her new nemesis Lionel very soon. "How about your sister? What was she freaking out about?"

What followed next was the pause to end all pauses. It was the mother pause. It was the pause people talked about when describing impending doom.

"How exactly did you know she was freaking out? Have you hacked my phone?" Oliver asked.

"Hacked your phone," Felicity scoffed even while panicking. "Hacked your phone! What do you take me for?!"

"A hacker," he replied calmly.

"Well, that is just...true," she said. "But no. I don't read your personal messages. I do not want to fall down that particular rabbit hole."

She winced and closed her eyes. Why hadn't she just told him yes? It was the easier explanation. It meant not admitting his loudmouthed dragon of a guardian had told her the truth.

"God, you're such a lovable idiot," his dragon said. "FYI, the lovable part doesn't get rid of the idiot part."

"Then how did you know she was freaking out?" Oliver pressed.

"You said you got a text from her, then you ran out of the room like you had a baddie's head to smash in. I figured she was freaking."

"Oh," he said. He mulled that over.

"Processing...processing...processing...Isn't that what your computer would say at this point?" his dragon asked dryly.

"She was," Oliver said slowly. "She thought she knew someone in the shop."

"Shit! Did she?!" Felicity demanded.

"Her friend changed shifts at the last minute," Oliver said.

"It feels very wrong to say good," Felicity said. "But I'm glad Thea didn't have to go through that. She's been through enough."

Oliver nodded, then cocked his head to the side in what she was beginning to understand was his signature cute but confused move. "Did you just cuss?"

"Is the great Oliver Queen offended by a lady cussing?" Felicity asked back with a smile.

"The not-so-great Oliver Queen is astonished that the amazing IT genius that is Felicity Smoak has dared to cuss when she never has before," Oliver said, actually teasing her.

"I don't like to cuss around my boss," Felicity replied, still sassy.

"And what about around your friends?" Oliver asked, the teasing disappearing and his expression changing to pleading. He was asking her to be his friend. It was very sweet and genuine. She flicked her eyes toward him but didn't dare to get caught in his stare again.

She smiled. "Oh, god. I cuss around my friends all the fucking time."

He blinked several times in surprise. He threw his head back and laughed his husky laugh again. It was a welcome release after a long day spent chasing down non-existent leads and panicking over the idea that a mad bomber was on the loose in their city. Felicity blushed but joined in immediately. She noticed her guardian and Oliver's curled together on the other side of the room. The sight made her heart beat just a little bit faster.

He shook his head and smiled at her warmly. She smiled back and refocused on her searches. "If you need to go home, I'll be fine here," she said after a minute.

He rolled his eyes. "I'm not leaving you."

"This place is a fort...thanks to me," she said. "And you have a busy day tomorrow...Lots of meetings and hunting down a bomber...or whatever else you do when I'm not around."

"I have a cot in the back," he said.

Not the way she had dreamed about seeing Oliver asleep. The thought made her refocus on her computers with an uncomfortable cough. She wanted to do more, but her searches were running through information faster than she possibly process it. Her attempts were more to keep her from feeling useless as she waited for the searches to finish.

"Felicity?" Oliver said after a minute, pulling his chair back over to her.

"Mmmhm?"

"Can you tell me something about yourself?"

"What?" she asked.

"How did that question confuse you?" the dragon asked, smirk implicit in his voice.

"I've realized recently that you're in my head all the time and I don't know all that much about you besides what I..."

"Researched about you via his own bit of hacking and pulling on resources he's not supposed to have," his dragon finished helpfully.

Felicity couldn't get upset about that. She understood his reasoning, and she had done the same thing to him.

"What I've overheard you and Diggle talk about...That doesn't really count. Eavesdropping isn't the same as getting the information from you."

Was it just her, or did he sound just a little bit nervous? She realized it was the first time Mr. Self-Absorbed and Brooding had actually asked about her to her face. It was always business or banter that was fun but far from digging into the personal.

"Aww, he's rattled. Draw out the silence a little. For me?" the dragon said.

Felicity ignored him. "What do you want to know?" she asked.

"Anything you want to tell me," was Oliver's immediate reply.

"There's not a lot to tell," she said with a small shrug.

"I seriously doubt that," he replied.

She smiled slightly, then realized that he was truly pressing for information. There was so much of her past she didn't really like to talk about or share with others. Oliver was not the only one who was guarded.

"You already know that I can be bribed with chocolate and wine, so that's out," she said, stalling a little. "Um...I'm not really very good at this," she admitted. "I mean, I like to talk, but talking about myself gives me the willies, not that I don't like myself or anything, because I do like myself. I think I'm awesome - I'm not afraid to admit it - but it's just like...You know those things in school or in interviews where they ask you talk about yourself? I always just ended up talking about my computers...my favorite builds, specifications and the tech I was most excited about. And I'm sure that's not what people really mean when they ask that question."

Oliver shrugged. "You can about your computers if that's what you want..." He sighed and closed his eyes sleepily. "I'm not exactly a poster child for sharing, so I understand."

"I have noticed that," she said.

His grin was lopsided. "I've noticed you noticing," he said.

"I've noticed you not liking that I'm noticing," she said.

"But you never pry," he said, "which I appreciate."

She was glad he didn't know that she didn't have to pry, that his chatty-ass guardian kept her informed whether she wanted to be or not. He wouldn't like it.

"I won't pry now," he added, starting to stand.

Felicity grabbed his wrist. The first thing, strangely, that popped into her head was the truth of her ability. She quickly pushed the impulse away. "I built my first computer at seven," she said. "I loved her. I named her Gerty. I don't know why. It just seemed like the name to give a computer. I got the parts from a man who worked with my mother. I always felt better when building computers, like I had some kind of control over the world."

Like she couldn't see dark ones and the guardians that hovered over everyone, making normal conversation and relationships sometimes impossible. Seven was the year she had learned to look down to find her peace instead of constantly stumbling over her words when the guardians spoke and trying to cover that she could hear them.

She continued to ramble about her computers for a while. She noticed that Oliver kept his eyes focused on her, his head tilted as he took in the details. He seemed to notice that she was leaving things out, but he didn't say anything. He was good on his word and didn't press.

Her eyes started to slide shut after the conversation had switched from her love of computers to his love of his sister. He was talking about the day Thea got stuck out in a rainstorm in the woods around his house and he 'rescued' her. She called him a hero when he tracked her down, and he had promised to always look out for her. There was no hesitation in him when talking about his sister. It was easy for him to talk about her, even if some moments came with sadness at what he had missed during the five years he was away.

His eyes were also closed as he talked. His voice went from warm to husky and low. Finally, he stopped talking entirely. She opened her eyes groggily and saw that he was breathing deeply. His face was gentle and a small smile tugged as his lips, a memory of sister following him into sleep.

"He's asleep," the dragon said conversationally.

Felicity glanced over at him and some of her sleepiness slipped away. "Can we talk?" she asked quietly.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" the dragon said, looking up from where it was curled across Felicity's guardian's lap. Her guardian didn't like Felicity talking. Felicity could tell from the expression on her face. She was warning Felicity off. Felicity didn't care. She knew from their reactions that there weren't any dark ones around.

"No," she said. "So can we?"

"What do you want to know?" the dragon asked cautiously.

"Why are you here?" she asked him. "Guardians, I mean."

"Don't you think your, um, guardian, would have told you the answer if we could tell you that?" he asked back.

"I don't know. She's not very chatty."

"She speaks when it matters," the dragon said, nuzzling Felicity's guardian slightly. Her guardian ran one monster claw along his body lovingly.

"So you don't know?" Felicity asked sadly.

"We can't tell you," he corrected.

"How can I see you?" she asked.

"That I definitely do not know," he said. "I've never met anyone who could see me before. There have been people who could sense me...sort of. People who were more in tune than the average Joe, but no one who actually saw me. Maybe you've just got better vision than most."

"I wear glasses," she replied.

"That's not what I meant."

"I know," she said with a sigh. Two questions that had always bothered her and she was firmly convinced she would never find answers. She hated unresolved questions. They nagged at her. Maybe some things just didn't have answers. The thought was frustrating.

"I also wanted to ask a favor of you," she said, rubbing at the bridge of her nose.

"What?" he asked.

"Can you not tell me things about his past?" she asked. "I know you are technically him and he is technically you, and that gives you leeway, but it doesn't feel right."

"Is this because you and him had bonding time?" he mocked her.

"No, it's been an issue for a while now," she said. "He can't help that I can see you, and he's obviously a private person..."

"I can't promise you that," the dragon said.

"Why not?" she demanded.

"Because he wants you to know, and I want you to know," he said. "You and Diggle are what's going to pull him back from the edge he's on. He needs you."

"He can have us without you telling me things about him he hasn't volunteered yet," she said. "I mean, I like everything else you say, I just don't want..."

"I'll think about it," he said. He paused. "He's waking up."

Felicity sighed and closed her eyes. She thought about the questions she still wanted to ask. She didn't know if she would ever get so perfect a chance again. Catching Oliver when he was asleep was not an easy task for anyone, let alone her.

"Felicity?" Oliver asked a couple of minutes later.

"Hmmm?" she asked.

"You should get some rest," he said.

"I thought that's what I'm doing," she said.

"On the bed," he said.

"Not the way I imagined you saying that." There was a pause where she mentally slapped herself.

"Not the way he's imagined it, either," the dragon said.

She felt a blush forming. "You promised you would use it." So not helping. "I mean, it's your cot. I'm fine here. You should definitely sleep, on your cot, alone, without me."

"I can sleep on the mat," he offered.

"I'm not letting you white knight me right now, Oliver. I'm not that tired, I won't sleep even if I lay down, and you are clearly about to pass out. So stop arguing with me and get in the damn bed."

"And that is actually very close to how he imagined you saying that," the dragon said.

"Yes, ma'am," he said. His eyes were sparkling and a smile was tugging at his lips.

"Damn straight," she said archly.

He shook his head at her in mock disbelief and stood up slowly. He stretched slightly, his shirt sliding up ever so slightly over his stomach. She turned away quickly, wondering if he was teasing her with the abs, and looked at her computers blindly. He started to talk away, the humor of the moment lingering between them.

"Goodnight, Oliver," she called before he could disappear into the shadows.

He paused and looked over his shoulder at her. "Goodnight," he replied. A second later, her name ghosted back to her. She wasn't certain if he had said it all.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: Breakfast at the Vigilante Cafe

 

 

Felicity couldn't sleep. She didn't even try. She let her searches run and went back to digging through information piece by piece to keep herself from freaking out and dwelling on the explosion.

Oliver's dragon went silent as the morning wore on, letting her work in peace. Felicity could tell that Oliver was in and out of sleep. She didn't bother him and he didn't bother her. It was past dawn when he got up for the last time. He appeared out of the dark silently. She looked up and gave him a small smile before focusing her attention back on her searches.

"I'm making progress," she said. "I've found him online in some forums. He goes by Anarchy...I've tracked his I.P. to several coffee shops around town. One of them was our shop," she added sadly. "The shops are all focused on the west side, though, so I think he might be living in that area. I'm digging through known associates now. Found his ex-wife...I really think someone should go to her, warn her that her crazy ex is targeting places associated with her. Oh, and I pulled up a list of dates and places that were special to the happy couple."

"Good. Now go home," Oliver said.

"I already am," she replied without thinking.

"Be still, my beating heart," the dragon said fondly.

"'Here' doesn't have a warm shower, a change of clothes, or any of the things that girls need for girl things," Oliver pointed out.

"I look that bad, huh?" she joked.

His eyes widened. He looked a little like he was panicking. He rubbed at his thighs twice, as though his palms were sweating, and tried to search for something to say. Felicity looked at him with pursed lips, letting the moment stretch out longer than strictly necessary.

"Oh, now you let him squirm," the dragon said proudly. "I knew you had it in you."

"No...I didn't mean to...I mean..." Oliver stammered.

Felicity started laughing. She couldn't help it. Her giggles surrounded them both. Oliver's eyes widened, then narrowed.

"That was mean," Oliver decided. Felicity kept laughing at him. "So mean..." he added.

"That was awesome," the dragon said with a laugh.

Oliver shook his head at her and pouted a bit. Felicity spun in her chair and stood quickly. She picked up her shoes, which she had kicked off hours ago, and looked up at him more seriously.

"I guess you have a point, though," she said. "My searches will ding on my tablet when they're done, so there's no point in hanging around..."

Outside of needing a place she felt safe and protected from another bombing.

"...when I look like a wet dog," she finished.

Oliver pointed a finger at her, started to say something, then gave up. He rolled his eyes and went to the stairs. He turned abruptly when he reached them. "You need a ride home," he remembered.

"I would prefer that to walking," she agreed.

"Right," he said a bit awkwardly.

"Ask him if that dress makes you look fat while you're at it. Or - oh! - I know, if he thinks you've gained weight," the dragon said.

Tommy was in the club. He was heading out, too. When he caught sight of Felicity, he took her hands in his worriedly. "What happened?"

"Eating lunch comes with risks," Felicity said sadly. "And I just realized I'm starving. Thanks for that..."

"That explosion near QC?" Tommy asked, putting the pieces together.

Felicity nodded. Tommy's eyes moved to Oliver. He was coming to the conclusion it had something to do with him. Felicity squeezed his hand. "It was random. The guy bombed the place because it reminded him of his ex-wife. I'm looking for him, though."

The tension uncoiled from Tommy's face and he shot Oliver an apologetic smile. "Right..." He looked between Oliver and Felicity carefully for a second. He noticed Oliver's protectiveness and the way Felicity tracked him with her eyes as if making sure he was safe. "I was gonna go home and sleep, but I think this deserves breakfast."

"Apparently, I look like hell," Felicity said. "So maybe another time..."

"You can go home and change first," Tommy said. "We'll take you."

"Tommy, I..." She considered his offer. She wasn't quite up to being alone yet. "Oliver has things to do," she said.

"I can do breakfast," Oliver offered quickly.

"Perfect," Tommy grinned. "What are you two standing around for? Come on."

Oliver rolled his eyes at his tone and Felicity chuckled. They followed him out of the club, to Oliver's car. They were on the road within a minute. Tommy started talking about the night, filling Oliver in on the business end of things and sharing funny stories of the night with both of them.

When they got to her apartment, Felicity felt entirely weird. She didn't want Tommy and Oliver to wait outside while she showered and changed. Having them in her house felt weirder. One was rude; the other was awkward. Her choice was clear.

"If either of you even mention the clutter in my living room, I will make so much technological mischief in your lives that you will beg me to make it end. There will be actual tears," she said.

"Tears, huh?" Tommy asked.

"Bitter, salty, tears," Felicity agreed as they got out of the car.

"Noted," Tommy said.

Felicity unlocked her door and went inside, feeling nervous. She had never had two billionaires in her living room before. But mostly, she had never had Oliver Queen in her living room before. She would have remembered that. It would have made her feel a bit like she was going to throw up. Like now.

Tommy smiled as he looked around. He was clearly amused. Oliver looked curious. She noticed the dragon and Tommy's monkey exploring her townhouse together. They were playful and making a lot of noise. Felicity was surprised by how much she liked the noise.

"Feel free to sit down, use my DVR...do not mess with my favorite's list, get drinks, whatever. I'll be back."

Tommy went to the sofa and sat immediately. Oliver stood, his eyes still taking in her clutter, knick-knacks, and art on the wall. She blushed when his eyes found her Robin Hood poster, but she lifted her chin defiantly, daring him to say anything. His lips merely turned up in a sardonic smile. She went to her bathroom then, feeling uncertain about leaving them alone together, getting the feeling they had a way of getting into trouble when alone together.

She took an extra long shower, forgetting about the billionaires in her living room the second the hot water hit her. She put on a dress that had extra swish in the skirt to help with her mood, put the barest of makeup on, and then walked back out to the living room.

Oliver had his feet stretched out in front of him as he sat on her sofa in his typical, casual pose. Tommy had the man-spread thing going on as he leaned forward curiously. He was scrolling through her DVR collection slowly. His monkey and Oliver's dragon were wrestling ferociously around her house. They were playing. There was a lot of complaints and animalistic laughter between them as they fought.

"I'm just sayin', no one has this many superhero shows in their queue without it meaning something," Tommy was saying, laughter in his voice.

"Tommy..." Oliver sighed.

"Come on, man, she obviously has a thing," Tommy said.

"A thing for what?" Felicity asked dangerously.

Tommy jumped slightly. Oliver did not seem the least bit surprised. She was not surprised at his lack of reaction. He always knew who was around him.

"For good TV shows," Tommy said quickly.

"Damn straight," Felicity said.

"Breakfast?" Oliver said with an awkward cough.

"Tommy was making the point that you have a love for superheroes and that Oliver clearly is one. Sort of," the dragon said, pausing the fight with a smack of his tale against Tommy's monkey.

Felicity turned away from them all with a blush and grabbed her bag. "Breakfast," she agreed.

Tommy and Oliver spent some time debating which place they would go to while Felicity listened in amusement. It really was like listening to two children argue. Finally, Oliver said the name of one restaurant in a firm tone that suggested he wasn't really putting it up for debate. Tommy nodded, suddenly completely in agreement because of the tone, and took them to a place that had all the earmarks of being fancy. Felicity scrunched her nose up but didn't argue. She was too tired to care. They parked along the curb and went inside.

Felicity was surprised by the interior. It was casual, comfortable, and very colorful. Brightly colored flowers were on all the tables and on the shelves along the walls. There were vividly painted knick-knacks, ornaments, statues, and baubles on the shelves, along with old books and pictures of landscapes. White tablecloths covered the round tables, and two women were at the counter at the back of the shop. They looked sleepy but cheerful as they welcomed Tommy, Oliver, and Felicity inside.

They sat at a table near the window in silence - Felicity still taking in the decor - and Oliver arched an eyebrow at her. He was clearly asking her if she liked the restaurant. He was making the point that not all fancy restaurants were bad. She ignored him primly, but that was only because it was pretty much the perfect restaurant. She was already in love.

"Ever been here?" Tommy asked.

"No," Felicity said. "It's..." She fought the word. She really did. It escaped her lips without her consent. "Perfect."

"Perfect, huh?" Tommy asked. He looked around as if seeing the decor for the first time. "It kinda reminds me of your apartment," he decided.

"Which was totally the point," the dragon said smugly.

Felicity blushed at the dragon's teasing and studied her menu seriously. "I want everything on here," she announced to the men in front of her.

Oliver pursed his lips and gestured the girl at the back counter over to their table. She looked at him curiously.

"We'll take a little of everything," he told her.

Felicity's eyes widened. "No! I mean..." Inside voice, Felicity. "No. I was just..."

"Black coffee for me...orange juice for him, and whatever smoothie is best for her," Oliver added, talking over her.

The girl nodded and disappeared into the back of the shop. Felicity frowned at him, her eyes narrowed. She didn't like the twinkle in his eyes. He was being mischievous.

"Wipe that look off your face, Mr. Queen," she warned him.

He looked down at the table, a red tint on his cheeks, and chuckled quietly. Tommy looked between them curiously at the laugh. His face took on a mixture of concern, understanding, and excitement at whatever he saw. His monkey made a sound that was a lot like glee.

Twenty minutes later, their table was covered in food, as was the table next to them, and Felicity was somewhere between heaven and hell. Purgatory tasted a lot like chocolate pancakes and looked a lot like Oliver Queen being charming and laughing along with his best friend as they shared childhood stories with her.

It was more sharing with her. Willful sharing. Open sharing. The past two days had brought her more of Oliver's true self than the past month combined. It was a lot to take in. She sucked down her smoothie, cleaning her palette for the eggs she plopped into her mouth next.

"You were really hungry," Tommy said.

Felicity tried to talk around her food, admonishing him for mentioning how much she was eating and otherwise looking ridiculously adorable to both men staring at her, though one man more than the other was staring at her in adoration.

"You would be a lot less scary if you didn't have a mouthful of food," the dragon said. "Though you're still ridiculously cute."

"This is terrifying," Tommy said in mock terror.

"For all the wrong reasons," Oliver agreed with a small smile.

Felicity swallowed her food combatively. Her retort was lost as her tablet beeped from her purse. She pulled it out habitually. A couple of taps later, she was focused.

"Oliver..." she said.

He was instantly serious.

"I think I may have found a way to him. There's a man named Jimmy Hower. He's a criminal jack-of-all-trades. He's got his grubby little paws in all sorts of naughty things. I managed to track my arch-nemesis Lionel to a meeting with him last week. I'm ninety-ninety percent certain that Hower got him supplies for the bomb. He might know where he is now."

Oliver pulled out his wallet and tossed a couple of bills on the table. All of the warmth and teasing were suddenly gone. He had a name and a mission. Cold Oliver had returned. He was already in the green suit; it was just a formality at this point.

"He brought you here to cheer you up," the dragon said softly. "He had a lot of unexpected fun in the process. He really enjoyed this."

Felicity kept her eyes on her tablet, not wanting to see the incongruity between the coldness in Oliver's eyes and the warmth of the dragon's words.

"And we are so gonna kick this guy's ass," the dragon added encouragingly.

"Want me to call Diggle?" Felicity asked quietly.

"No," Oliver said. "I'll be fine."

"Do you at least want me to go back to the foundry?" she asked.

"It won't take me long to have a conversation," Oliver said. "You should go home and get some sleep."

"Not going to happen," Felicity said. She thought about it. "Tommy can take me to the office."

Oliver paused. It looked like he wanted to argue with her, but he was too focused on the coming violence to really focus on his irritation. He nodded tersely and looked at Tommy warningly. "Take care of her?"

"Of course," Tommy said.

Oliver nodded once and left the shop, his dragon swooping out ahead of him. She watched as a pair of dark ones slipped around his car as he started it. His confrontation would definitely be dangerous but at least there wasn't a swarm around him. She slipped her ear piece into her ear, even as she pulled up Hower's location via the GPS on his cell phone.

Felicity fed the location to Oliver and brought up all the camera feeds she could find in the area around Hower. Tommy tapped her on the shoulder to get her to move and she stood. She started to pull out her wallet, but Tommy shook his head. He pointed at the table, where two hundred dollars was sitting. Felicity rolled her eyes.

Billionaires...

Tommy guided her to the curb, all politeness and respectful distance, and a cab stopped in front of them a minute later. Felicity didn't talk much in the cab. She was too busy keeping her eyes on the area around Hower. She could feel Tommy looking over her shoulder and watching her face.

"You're pretty good at this," he said at one point.

"You think so?" she asked.

"Definitely," he replied. "I didn't realize...I mean...I thought he was just using you, but you are clearly enjoying this. Not the whole exploding building part, but definitely the tracking down part."

"I do," she said. "You think he's not sane, but I don't think I really am either."

Her guardian growled at that. She wanted to shush her, but now was not the time. The cab pulled over finally and Tommy helped her get out.

"Will Oliver kill me if I don't walk you up?" he asked.

"Not if I don't tell him, which I won't," Felicity said, looking up at him. He was clearly exhausted, and there was no sense in him babysitting her. She was a grown ass woman, after all.

"Thanks," he said. "Take care."

"I will," she said. "And Tommy?"

He turned back to her. "Do me a favor and avoid the west side for a while...at least until we have our mad bomber."

"I can definitely do that," he agreed with a smile that could charm a thief into giving up his loot. It must be a billionaire thing.

Felicity smiled at him, waved goodbye, and walked into QC, her mind focused on the tablet and the roar of Oliver's motorcycle in her ear. She was distracted the entire way up to her floor. She was glad that no one outside of security and the few more eager employees had reached the building yet. She wouldn't have been able to hold down a conversation if she had wanted to.

She was pulled away from the tablet and the sounds of Oliver by voices in the hallway. She recognized the first voice immediately. She had listened to it a lot during her month of surveillance. Her eyes widened in fear and she stepped behind the nearest door with a bit of stumbling over her heels.

"It's behind schedule, but I think he'll be pleased with the progress," Hastings said.

"He's pleased with results," a woman's voice said. "And he needs it finished in two months."

"I can try to speed things up, but your son isn't making things any easier on us. When we took Walter, it was with the understanding that you would step into the CEO position to manage things."

"I thought it would look...suspicious if I showed up to the office the day after my husband was taken ready for business as usual," the woman replied. Felicity realized that she recognized the second voice from her television. The mention of Walter certainly helped. "Oliver stepped up before I had the chance to make my intentions to take over the company known."

"So tell him you're ready now," Hastings said.

"I've tried," Moira said. "He seems determined. Frankly, it's good to see him like this."

"I don't care about your legacy, Moira. The fact is that he's currently standing between us and The Undertaking. You know what happens to people who get in the way...He takes care of them."

"You don't have to tell me that!" Moira spat. "I am well aware of the way he does business."

"I smell a rat," a different voice said.

It was a low, feline purr. A second later, a giant lioness stepped through the wall to her left. Felicity knew exactly who the guardian belonged to. Moira Queen was entirely too much like a lioness for her to doubt she belonged to her.

Felicity kept her eyes focused on the door as the lioness moved closer, her wide eyes narrowed aggressively. Felicity's guardian stepped between them and spread her mouth in a crazy, scary snarl that would have terrified the bravest of men. The lioness took a cautious step backwards, then another.

"You need to get him under control," Hastings continued on the other side of the door. "Or I will."

"Let's make one thing very clear," Moira said, and the sound of heels on the marble floor stopped. "You are not to touch my son. If you come anywhere near him, or my daughter, I will have your throat slit and your body dumped in the harbor. He only needs one of us to keep an eye on the project, and he and I have a history."

Hastings didn't reply. Felicity had a good idea that he was scared. The footsteps started up again. The lioness slipped through the wall again as the elevator dinged, signaling their departure from the floor.

"Felicity!" Oliver called through her ear piece.

She jumped and looked down at her tablet, wondering what she had missed. "What?" she hissed back.

"There's an alarm. I need you to turn it off," he said.

"Give me a minute," Felicity said, shelving away what she had heard for another time. "There," she added a minute later.

His grunt was her thank you.

She slipped out of the office she had been hiding in and hurried to hers at the far end of the hall. She sat down in her chair and watched tensely as Oliver slipped past the security cameras she had hijacked. A second after she lost him on the cameras, she heard grunts and groans from what she assumed were armed men. She knew the groans did not mean they were dying. Oliver had gotten better about not killing the hired help since their talk. The sounds still set her on edge, though. Every fight did when it involved Oliver. He was better at not killing everyone he came across, but the bad guys were not so kind.

Finally, she heard, "Where's Lionel Grace?" Oliver's voice was a bark, a snarl, something ripped from the darkness.

"Who's Lionel Grace?" a different voice asked fearfully.

There was a grunt and moan.

"Where is he? This is the last time I ask nicely," Oliver said.

"We're so gonna arrow your ass," his dragon added.

"I don't know!" Hower gasped. "He came around last week needing some things. I got them for him. That's all. I swear."

"You're lying," Oliver spat.

"I don't know anything! Please!"

A string tightened and released in Felicity's ear. Hower yelled a second later. Felicity bit her lip to keep from saying anything, though her heart was racing.

"His order is on my laptop! I'll look it up for you. Just don't shoot me again!" Hower said.

"I won't," Oliver said.

The hard sound of bone meeting bone made her jump. Oliver came over the line a second later, "I have his laptop."

"I did, in fact, hear that part of the conversation," Felicity said tightly.

"You can look over it later tonight," he said.

"No way," she said. "We have no idea if Lionel is gonna set another bomb today or not. He needs to be caught right now."

"He'll probably let the heat die down a little before he tries again," Oliver said, his heavier-than-normal breathing telling her he was making a beeline for the outside.

"You think," Felicity chastised him. "Bring it to me here. I'm not asking."

"Bossy is kind of a turn on as well, though sassy is more of one...but mostly you are as a whole," his dragon said.

"It'll probably be at lunch. I have some things to take care of with my family," Oliver said.

His words brought back the conversation she had overheard. She deliberated on what she should say. She decided that waiting for a face-to-face chat was probably better than telling him what she had overheard at a distance. It would land easier, at least.

"I know that silence," Oliver said after a couple of minutes. "What?"

"I'll tell you when I see you," Felicity said, surprised that he could read her silences so well now. What else did he notice?

His reply was to say nothing. Even his dragon was quiet. Recognizing the signs, she pulled out her ear piece and let out a long sigh of relief at catching a lead on Lionel Grace. She just hoped it took them somewhere significant.

Then, her phone, tablet and work computer started buzzing, beeping, and flashing at her.

Another explosion.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12: Research

 

 

"On 5th and Main," Felicity told Diggle, who had found her in her office five minutes ago. She had the newsfeed up, as well as the police scanners. She also had plans for the Juggernaut Project scattered around and paperwork that needed to be filed that day or she would be royally reamed out by her superior, a man with as little hair left as he had patience. On top of not sleeping last night, she was the tiniest bit stressed. On top of that crap soup, she had to watch as the dark ones crawled all over the office building that was plastered on the news.

The past two days major sucked.

A muscle in Diggle's jaw was twitching. His arms were crossed, and his dark eyes were full of anger. Felicity agreed with the anger completely. People in the halls were in full panic mode, worrying if QC would be hit next and freaking out over the news that more people had been killed in their city.

"There's nothing we can do about it," Felicity said.

Diggle didn't pace around or fume silently the way Oliver would have. He simply kept his place across from her stoically, his bear equally as motionless at the door. Her guardian stood next to him quietly. Still, she could tell that Diggle was eager to be moving and doing something useful.

"Maybe we should get that laptop from Oliver now," she offered gently. "You could..."

"I'm on it," Diggle said, turning away eagerly.

"Digg..." she stopped him, a weak smile on her lips. "What you did was really brave...saving all those people."

"We have the corner on brave," Diggle said lightly.

"Still...you were awesome," she said.

"Thanks," he replied.

Felicity refocused on her paperwork, keeping one eye on the computer screen. She managed to get through half of the work when Diggle returned. He was not alone. Oliver and a young woman was with him. The woman looked intrigued. Behind her, a woman of fire stood beautiful and passionate - her guardian. Diggle stood at a respectable distance behind the pair, his hands crossed in front of him.

It took another ten seconds for Felicity to recognize the woman. Thea Queen.

"Ms. Smoak," Oliver said politely. "This laptop has the latest files for the Juggernaut Project."

"Right. Of course, Mr. Queen," she said, holding out her hand impatiently.

"She's pretty...lots of color. Wonder why he had to walk this laptop up here in person. Definitely not because he likes walking. Yeah, not buying it," Thea's guardian added suspiciously.

Felicity looked into Thea's eyes. "Hi," Felicity added.

"This is my sister, Thea," Oliver said a bit nervously.

"Yes, I know," Felicity said with a smile. "It's nice to meet you, Ms. Queen."

"Please...it's Thea," she said.

"Déjà vu, anyone?" Oliver's dragon said.

"Oh, have they done this before?" Thea's guardian asked, floating closer to the dragon with a surge of fire.

"Totally. It was so cute," the dragon said conspiratorially.

Thea's guardian was suddenly eager. "Oh! Set the scene for me. Include lighting, mood, and what they were wearing, please."

"Thea," Felicity agreed warmly. Thea shot her a pointed look and Felicity jumped slightly as she realized she was being rude. Felicity pointed at her chest. "Oh, right, Felicity."

"It was this very office," the dragon said, putting his chin on his claws and looking over at Thea's guardian playfully. "It was a sunny, chilly Wednesday..."

"We'll let you get back to work," Oliver said, starting to pull Thea away.

Thea frowned. "You walked us all the way up here and you say exactly one sentence to her?" she demanded.

"Felicity was wearing a purple and grey dress, with grey pumps that made her legs look sinful - his words, not mine. Her hair was up, and her lips were bright pink," the dragon continued to set the scene for Thea's guardian. "Oliver was wearing his favorite suit. You know the one."

"Oh, this sounds delicious," Thea's guardian said. "Better than his first meeting with Laurel."

"So much better," the dragon agreed.

"She's very busy," Oliver tried to explain to his sister.

"Is she really? Are you really?" Thea asked doubtfully.

"You should have heard his thoughts the first time he really saw her, though. She was wearing a red dress that hugged all the right curves, yellow pumps, and his mind was a total sewer..." the dragon added.

"Ew, no details on that, please," Thea's guardian said. "I'm still traumatized from the birthday incident."

Felicity was starting to get a headache. It was hard to keep the conversations between the people and their guardians separate. Her guardian growled at the pair of guardians chatting so happily behind their humans to get them to shut up. They were unapologetic and unrelenting. Both shrugged at her in the exact same way.

"I am, really," Felicity said apologetically to Thea.

"So, you're saying you just wanted to see her?" Thea asked with a frown.

"Oh, he totally did," Oliver's guardian said. "Diggle could have totally brought the laptop, but she makes him feel better when he's having a hard day. Today counts."

"Awww," Thea's guardian said mockingly.

Oliver closed his eyes briefly, and a vein throbbed alarmingly at his temple. "Thea," he warned.

"Fine," Thea huffed. Her green eyes brightened and she turned to Felicity with a wide smile. "It was nice to meet you."

"You too," Felicity said.

Oliver shot Felicity an apologetic look and ushered Thea out of the room.

"Why didn't you tell me about her before?" Thea's guardian asked at the same time Thea said, "How come I'm just learning about her now?"

Oliver didn't reply. He simply kept urging Thea down the hall, the sounds of her chastising him and him shushing her in embarrassment fading.

Oliver's dragon did not have the same hang up. "It's more fun for you to find out this way."

"You are so annoying," Thea's guardian complained.

Felicity cracked open the laptop as Diggle's soft chuckles floated down the hall to her. The weird visit was immediately drive from her mind. The laptop was encrypted. "Crap on a stick," she muttered.

Her day was just not going to be easy.

She finished her paperwork as she set a program she had built for such annoying instances of aggressively stupid tech to run on the encryption software. Proud of herself for getting through the slog of paperwork, she put it in her outbox and dug into the specs for the Juggernaut tech that Amanda needed by the end of the week. She checked on Lionel Grace as well, running scans to see if he popped up anywhere in the city, feeling like her head was in seventeen different places.

She only looked up when the screen on the laptop switched from black to blue. She was in. She did a celebratory chair dance. It lasted all of ten seconds. Her fingers ran over the keys as she eagerly tried to find her clue.

"Oh, this guy has a lot of hands in a lot of pies, Mr. Naughty Pants," Felicity said. Her hands paused on the keys ruefully. "That sounded way better in my head..."

She scrolled through the files, documents, and financial records carefully. Finally, after an hour of searching, the information she wanted was right in front of her. She pulled out her phone and dialed Oliver's number with a quick swish of her finger across his name.

"I think I've found something...a couple of somethings," she said without any preamble.

She heard the sound of walking and Oliver shutting a door. "What?" he asked softly.

"According to Hower's computer, Lionel had the parts delivered to a warehouse on the west side. The address is 691 Crescent Street."

"On it," Oliver said.

"Wait!" Felicity said.

"What?" he almost growled.

"I think I may have figured out his next target," she said. She didn't wait for him to say anything, knowing it would just irritate him. "The first place was where he had their first date, the second was where his wife worked two years ago, and I think the third might be the church where they got married. Sort of a full circle thing."

"I can't be two places at once," Oliver said.

"I believe that's why you have a very smart, very Yoda-ish partner named John Diggle," Felicity pointed out.

"Right," Oliver agreed sheepishly.

"One day soon you'll realize you're not alone," Felicity said, then cursed herself for saying it. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

"His heart just skipped a beat. Well, not really, because that's arrhythmia and a very seriously condition, but his brain just made this alarming static sound I've never heard before," the dragon said.

"I think someone needs to warn the wife," Felicity plowed on. "Lionel is clearly escalating. He will kill her soon. The cops could put her in protective custody..."

"They don't even know who's doing the bombings yet," Oliver pointed out. "They'll ignore us if we tell them to look out for her."

"You could call Detective Lance and let him know what we've found," Felicity said.

"He won't listen to me," Oliver said. "Or the other me."

"He's a good man, though," Felicity said. "He won't want her to get hurt. You know it's true."

"We'll call Lance if Grace isn't at either of the places you told me about."

"Fine," Felicity said reluctantly, not agreeing with his caution.

"Fine," he said back.

He hung up and she tossed her phone onto her desk irritably. She looked at her laptop, mentally going through everything she had learned. She absently texted the address of the church to Diggle and considered her options. She didn't like the ones Oliver had left her with. She had to do something. She could send an anonymous tip into the police hotline, then go by the woman's house and make sure she was taken into protective custody. That felt safe. She didn't care if Oliver yelled at her. She would yell right back at him. She was right. He was wrong.

She routed the call through fifteen different countries and an encrypted satellite or two and modulated her voice with a piece of tech she had personally designed to leave the tip. When all was said and done, she let them know that Samantha Caulder, previously Grace, was in serious danger.

She closed everything down on her computer after she hung up, gathered her bags and the paperwork, and left her office, locking the door behind her. She took the paperwork to the outbox for the floor and hurried downstairs.

She was at Samantha Caulder's house within twenty minutes. It was exactly the sort of house Felicity had imagined people living in while growing up. Small yard, perfectly manicured, though the green color was dulled by the winter, white paint on the wooden slats of the house, and blue shutters. It was the American dream, save for the tiny fact that it was crawling with dark ones.

Her Mini didn't stick out on a street littered with small, utilitarian cars, which made watching the house easy. She turned the engine off and chewed on her thumbnail absently as she watched the dark ones hissing, snarling, and otherwise being creepy as hell.

An hour after she arrived, a lone cop car pulled up along the curb. It was unmarked but clearly there for Samantha Caulder. Felicity was only slightly surprised that Detective Lance was the one to get out. She had heard of him, of course, and Laurel from Tommy, but she had never seen him. He was scruffy and wiry. He looked like the type of man who could get hit and keep on getting up until he got what he wanted. He was tough. His guardian was tougher. It was something that looked a lot like a troll, but with more rock and hard lines, less slime and drool. Lance was made of stone - his guardian proved it.

Felicity watched anxiously as the dark ones dodged out of the way of Lance's guardian and Lance himself knocked on the front door. The dark ones continued to snarl and snap, but they gave the guardian a wide berth. The woman who answered the door was someone Felicity had only seen in pictures on Facebook and the pictures on her computer. She did not look like the type of person to marry Lionel. Ugh. She still couldn't get used to thinking about his name in tandem to his evil act. Lionel. It was a puppy dog's name - and not even a cool dog's name. More like a molted, flea infested, rat dog that yapped at you and peed everywhere, particularly on the carpet.

Off topic, she chastised herself, her eyes returning to the house.

Detective Lance was inside the house all of fifteen minutes. When he left, he shook Samantha's hand, gave her his card, and nodded at her in parting. He got into his car and pulled away from the curb without so much as a backwards glance.

"What the what?" Felicity demanded.

It took her a minute to figure out what had happened. Lance had told Samantha about the threat on her life and she had turned down protective custody. People could do that, after all. They couldn't be forced into being protected. Oliver hated that truth very much. Felicity briefly considered changing some things around on the woman's computer to make it look like she had committed a crime. Prison was better than getting blown to bits, right?

It took Felicity a long while around her irritation to realize that the dark ones had started to pay her attention as well. She was used to them trailing her sometimes, as her job was very dangerous, but none of them had been so focused on her specifically. They were definitely focusing on her now.

One jumped onto the hood of her car, its black eyes hungry and lustful. She gripped her steering wheel harder to keep from freaking out and refocused on the house. Samantha Caulder was obviously in danger. The dark ones wouldn't be gathered around her if she wasn't. Felicity knew that going into the house and helping Samantha would put her life in danger as well.

She had to risk it.

If Oliver could jump over buildings, fight bad guys, deal with the corruption in the city, and Diggle could do all the same things, then deal with Oliver, she could walk into a woman's house and convince her to hide.

She released a quavering breath, closed her eyes to gather her courage, and pushed her car door open. She marched across the street, trying to act more brave than she felt. It took a lot of effort to keep her eyes focused on the door and not to jump at every dark one that jumped into her path. Her hand hovered over the blue door for a second before it connected. Her next three knocks were much more firm.

"Yes?" Samantha said, her dark brown eyes swimming in front of Felicity's face. The first thing Felicity noticed was that the woman was a mere wisp of a person, and she had no guardian.

Felicity's mouth went dry. All of her logic, her ways of getting through to Samantha, flew out of her head at the sight of her. She couldn't think of a single thing to say that wouldn't sound patently ridiculous.

"Ms. Caulder?" Felicity asked, stalling for time.

"That's right," Samantha said.

"I'm..."

The dark ones moved closer. Her guardian was warning them off, but it was close to being a fight, which was not good...at all. Before she could get more than the stammering beginning of a sentence out, a dark shadow caught her attention from inside the house.

Felicity reached out and grabbed Samantha's hand. "Are you alone in the house?"

"Wh-what?" Samantha asked.

"There's someone in your house!" Felicity hissed.

Samantha looked over her shoulder and saw the shadow as well. She turned back to Felicity, her eyes wide and panicked. It was all the answer Felicity needed. She pulled Samantha over the threshold and tugged her after her. Her car was within sight of her. They just had to get to it.

The dark ones snapped at her heels, trying to drag her back, even though they couldn't touch her, not yet - not until she was closer to dying. Felicity's guardian broke several necks and kicked and punched the ravening pack away, but there was too many of them. She was losing.

Felicity looked over her shoulder and saw a dark blur around the running dark ones. The next thing she knew, she was on the ground, the air knocked out of her.

"You think you can just take her?!" a rough voice asked. "You can't just take what's mine! You must be the cop they sent to take her away from me! I heard it all. I hear everything. You think you can just lock her away and keep her from me without there being consequences?"

She sucked in deep breaths in an attempt to get her wind back. Before she could find her equilibrium, rough hands appeared on her wrists. She tried to twist out of them, but he was stronger and faster. Zip ties appeared around her wrists and ankles a second later. She struggled against them as Samantha went through the same treatment. Samantha was crying hysterically, finally understanding the source of the threat. She was terrified.

She had every right to be.

Felicity was just as scared, but she was also angry. She caught her breath and started yelling, hoping someone on the street would hear her and stop Lionel before they were taken away and blown into tiny pieces.

Getting almost blown up once was enough for Felicity.

Lionel reached down and punched Felicity in the solar plexus. She gasped again, her voice leaving her with the pain. He pulled her into his arms with a grunt and walked her over to a black car she hadn't noticed earlier. Why hadn't she noticed it? It was the same one from the video. Oliver would have noticed it. He tossed her inside. He returned for Samantha, who had been trying to crawl away around her crying.

Samantha slammed into Felicity with a hard roll as he tossed her inside as well. Felicity tried to steady Samantha, but there was only so much she could do with her hands tied behind her back.

It was only when Lionel got in the driver's seat did she notice his guardian. It was a thing of shadow and mist, half dissolved and totally wild. The seed of madness in Lionel was wreaking havoc on it. It was not nearly as scary as the dark ones currently swarming the car.

"I'll teach them to take what's mine..." He considered the situation for a moment. "They must be on to me. This'll get them off my trail. Yeah, it's perfect."

"Excuse me, sir? Mr. Grace? Crazy Pants?" Felicity asked.

Lionel didn't seem to hear her.

"Why don't you just let your wife go and take me?"

"Trying to take what's mine again!" he yelled into the space, making both women jump. Samantha started crying harder. Felicity's heart was in her throat. She had messed up big.

"No, I just think..." Felicity tried to convince him to let Samantha go.

"Shut up!" he roared.

Felicity clamped her mouth shut and slowly tried to switch positions on the seat. It meant a lot of sliding and awkward scooting. Finally she managed to get within view of the back window. It was too much of an opportunity to waste. Lionel was clearly not experienced at taking hostages. He was better at blowing people up than he was at abducting them. She put her face against the window and tried to get the attention of passing traffic. Someone had to see her. Someone had to notice that things were wrong.

"What are you doing?" Lionel demanded. "Stop that!"

He slammed on the brakes and Felicity hit the seat behind him with a dull thud. He leaned back, grabbed her by her ponytail, and slammed his fist into her temple. It was immediate lights out. The last thing she heard before passing out was Samantha sobbing and her guardian growling, snarling, and fighting for her life.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: Search and Rescue

 

 

The floor was cold and unforgiving. It pressed against her hip, shoulder, and head with indifference to the pain it caused her. A groan hummed at the back of her throat as she returned to consciousness. Her hearing was the first of her senses to sort out the chaos of her fritzing brain.

Footsteps crossed the carpet. Something metallic slid into place against something plastic. There was a snap, a twist, and then more footsteps. A hand reached down and lifted her up by her ponytail.

She cried out in pain as her hair pulled from her scalp and finally opened her eyes. Crazy Lionel was looking back at her. "You should have never tried to take what's mine," he said. He made her stand, using her ponytail as his means of getting her to move, and her bare feet hit cold stone.

He released her ponytail, only to force her hands palms up. He pressed a flat, bulky device into her palms and pulled out a pin from the side. Felicity knew enough about technology to recognize it for what it was - a bomb.

"Don't move," Lionel said. "It responds to movement. Built it myself. Took me a year to perfect the technology."

Felicity saw her chance, though the terror was crawling at her belly. "Really? How'd you manage that?"

"It's all about the circuitry. Double layered it back to the motion sensor and hooked it into basically a hard drive that senses the atmospheric pressure. Any shift in it and it goes boom. I haven't really had a chance to use it because it depends on the person being really still when I hand it to them."

"Oh..." His assessment of the tech as a 'hard drive' was a bit, well, wrong. She considered what could process such information in such a small device. "The Virser 7 or the GenTech 080?" Felicity asked.

"You know tech?" Lionel asked. He frowned. "Don't think you can disarm it, though. I have two different fail safes and a complex shield between you and the core." He shook his head. "What am I thinking? You couldn't reach the components even if you did know what you were doing. Your hands are a little preoccupied."

Felicity was staring at the bomb, trying to look at it like a computer - a computer that could explode and kill her within a millisecond. Her hands were shaking a bit from adrenaline. It wasn't enough to set it off, but she was afraid it would get worse. She didn't have a lot of time.

"I have a call to make." Lionel giggled. "While they're chasing after you, I'll be putting an end to my torture once and for all."

He meant by killing his wife. Then, he'd go right back to pimping out his services to whatever asshole that decided bombing people was a viable solution to their problems.

He disappeared into the shadows a second later. Felicity looked around and realized then that she was in a warehouse of some kind. The ceilings were tall and drafty, bouncing sound around her eerily. The windows were cracked, letting in the cold air with a whistle. She looked down curiously and was relieved to see that she was still wearing her jacket. The cold would not help the trembling in her hands, however.

As she looked up, she realized that she was surrounded. The dark ones were in the shadows, waiting. They had stopped trying to fight her guardian, who was hovering protectively at her back. The fact that they had stopped fighting was alarming. It meant they felt like they didn't have to fight. The inevitable was closing in on her.

Her only source of calm was that Lionel was determined to call the cops. He wanted them to help her instead of tracking him. The church he planned to blow up was in the heart of downtown. It would kill a lot of people. She hoped that Diggle was there, that he was still keeping an eye on the building. She hoped that Samantha was safe.

She closed her eyes and tried to make her hands stop shaking. She needed to bring her adrenaline and fear to normal levels. She tried to figure out where she was. That was a good distraction, right? The warehouse made her think she was either in Lionel's hideout or somewhere near it. She wondered if there were a lot of buildings, houses, or apartments nearby. How many people would die when she exploded?

So not helping.

She let her thoughts wander to Diggle and Oliver instead. They kept cycling back to Oliver. Diggle was awesome, but he did not bring the same happiness and sense of peace that thoughts of Oliver did.

It was insanely cute that he had walked the computer up to her office instead of sending Diggle. He didn't treat Diggle like the hired help that hung around to serve him. It was more proof of his goodness, even if he kept it buried under caveman grunts and stony silence. The scene at QC brought the laptop to the front of her mind. She started piecing together facts, drawing conclusions, and otherwise figuring out things that her normal, not-scared-to-almost-death, brain had missed.

She suddenly realized that she knew who had taken Walter. And she had a good idea where he might be. She kept thinking, putting pieces together, and coming to conclusions. Pieces were lining up around her adrenaline-fueled brain. She was surprised that she did her best thinking when scared out of her wits.

"Oh, frack," she said. "I really need to get out of here now."

She opened her eyes and looked down at the bomb in her hands. Lionel had balanced it perfectly between her palms. Moving one hand even a little would trigger the device. If only her guardian wasn't incorporeal and could disable bombs.

"You have a way out of this one?" she asked her guardian quietly.

Her guardian whined.

"You couldn't go find Oliver's guardian and find a way...What am I saying? He wouldn't get the message. He can't hear you or his guardian."

Angry tears welled up in her eyes. No, uh-huh, she warned herself. Tears led to trembling, trembling led to full on shaking, and shaking was the path to the dark side.

Or a really, really big explosion that would turn her bones to dust.

"I'm sorry," a surprisingly soft voice said from behind her. She didn't have to look to know it was her guardian, speaking for the first time in years. She was not shocked. They were both about to die, after all. "I should have protected you better."

"Shh," Felicity said gently. "It's not your fault. It's mine. You know how stubborn I am."

There was no response. Felicity closed her eyes again and willed her body to be a stone, to be as solid and unmovable as the warehouse around her.

"They're coming," her guardian added a minute later. "Hold on...They're coming."

Felicity's eyes flew open at the words. They were coming from farther away than they had been before. Her guardian was to her left. She didn't know who she meant. She didn't really want to know. She wanted whoever it was to run away from her - to flee before she got them all killed. She would never forgive herself if her hands got someone killed.

The trembling was getting worse. The cold was starting to work its magic. If only she could get to the completely numb stage. That would help her be stationary. She would take frostbite over blown to bits.

She heard the dragon way before she heard him, of course. She thought it might have been on purpose. She wondered if her guardian had sent him a message of some kind, a warning to let her know he was there so she didn't jump and drop the bomb.

The dragon was humming the Mighty Mouse theme song. "The cavalry is here, sunshine," he added, swooping into the light that was pouring through the broken windows. He started growling and snapping at the dark ones near Felicity.

"Oliver..." Felicity said in relief.

There was a startled pause in the shadows around her. "Hey," Oliver said, walking very slowly towards her, his eyes firmly on her face. It was like he was afraid to look at the bomb.

"Hey," she returned, trying to look unaffected.

Oliver pushed his hood down so that she could see his face better. He was clearly terrified of the situation, but he was also calm. She didn't know how he balanced the two so well. The muscle that twitched when he was angry was full on throbbing, but he was doing everything in his power to stay calm for her. She appreciated the effort.

"So...funny story," Felicity said nervously. "Got caught by my arch-nemesis while trying to warn his wife. Lionel is a total jackass, by the way. No sense of sanity whatsoever..."

"Felicity," he said gently.

"Oh, don't worry about me," she added lightly. "This happens to me all the time. Total Sunday night ritual."

"It's Wednesday," he said, moving even closer.

"So I skipped a Sunday," she said, her voice trembling.

Oliver started to reach out to her, to take the bomb from her, but she eloquently said, "Ahhhh," and he pulled his hand away swiftly.

"Motion sensitive," she said.

"Oh," Oliver said. Angry-look was replaced by holy-shit-I-don't-know-what-to-do look. "Felicity, I..."

"If I had the proper tools on me, I could disarm it," Felicity said before he could admit to being helpless, knowing how much he hated the feeling. "He explained it to me a little. I think I understand."

"Could you explain it to me?" Oliver asked.

"Maybe..." she said, "but I don't know if we could manage it without jostling it. That's the beauty of a motion-sensitive bomb. Makes it harder to disarm. Let's just hope there are no earthquakes in the near future, huh?"

"Don't even joke about that," Oliver said darkly.

Felicity's hands were starting to shake harder in the cold and with the tension. She wanted to make them stop, but they wouldn't. She was losing control.

"Talk to me!" she urged him.

"What?"

"My mind is racing, and it's making me shake. So...talk to me. Calm me down. You're good at that. Where's Diggle?"

"Diggle is currently taking care of Lionel and his wife. He caught Lionel at the church."

"Is he on comms?" she asked.

"Yeah," Oliver said. Oliver's eyes narrowed as he listened to something only he could hear. Digg was filling him on the situation on his end. "Samantha is safe, and Lionel is out of the picture."

"Oh," Felicity said. She was having a hard time feeling sorry. Being directly involved in the action changed her perspective. "The cops?" she asked then.

"Gathering outside. They're reluctant to come in because of the bomb."

"But not you," Felicity said gratefully.

"I will always come for you," he promised.

She smiled at him. Her expression fell almost instantly. "Have you thought of a way out of this yet?"

"Still working through it," he admitted.

"If we could freeze it..." she said. "We might be able to stop the sensor from registering the change. Of course...that would mean liquid nitrogen, and I don't think my fingers would survive."

"I'm currently out of liquid nitrogen, anyways," Oliver said lightly.

She started to jump as her guardian and Oliver's took out ten dark ones at once with a roar of sound, but caught herself just in time.

"Sorry," the dragon said.

"I'm going to die here," Felicity said, knowing it was true, suddenly feeling helpless and resigned. The dark ones would just keep coming. It was useless. He needed to get out before she gave in. "You should go...Please...go!" she said.

"I'm not going anywhere," Oliver said firmly, stepping as close to her as he could without jostling the bomb. "And stop yelling. You'll drop it."

"Don't tell me what to do!" Felicity said, though she had stopped yelling. "I can yell at you if I want to."

His eyes moved to hers again. They stayed there, reeling her in and comforting her with warm blue. It felt like he was trying to tell her something. She wasn't present enough to know what it was.

"Please go," she said softly. "I can't be responsible for hurting you."

"I'm not leaving," he said firmly but gently.

"The cops are about to send in the bomb robot to see what's up," Oliver's dragon panted from the ceiling near the window.

"The cops are getting ready to send in the bomb robot," Felicity repeated to Oliver, looking at his hood pointedly.

Oliver's hand moved to the fabric automatically at her words, though he looked a bit confused. He trusted her, even if he didn't understand how she knew the bomb robot was coming in.

"I'll be right back," he said before disappearing into the shadows.

A minute later, she heard the unmistakable sound of metal snapping. She winced. Poor thing. It was just a nice little robot doing his job. Then there was the unmistakable sound of arrows flying. He was warning the police off, making them more cautious.

He reappeared in front of her a minute later.

"Poor, dead, robot," she said with a sad sigh.

Oliver ignored her. "There's enough C4 here to blow up this building," he decided.

"And probably the ones next to it," Felicity said.

"Unlikely," Oliver said, shaking his head.

"Sort of likely," she argued.

"I've seen this amount before," he tried again. "Trust me...It's enough to bring this building down but not the others."

"What's around us?" she asked.

"We're at the tracks," he said slowly.

"Oh, god, you have thinking face on. And not the, "I'm gonna be nice and order pizza for Felicity," thinking face. It's the, "I'm gonna do something crazy and hope it works," thinking face," she said.

"Totally right," the dragon said between fighting dark ones. "She has you pegged."

"Trust me?" Oliver asked, his eyes finding hers again.

Felicity nodded immediately.

"Don't move," he warned.

Oliver immediately pulled an arrow out of his quiver. It was an explosive one. Felicity steeled herself for the noise as he released the arrow fluidly. It disappeared into the shadows of the ceiling before exploding. Debris rained down around them but none touched her. She heard another arrow being released, along with the unraveling of rope. She kept her eyes closed until she felt Oliver's finger on her chin.

"This is going to suck, isn't it?" she asked, staring into the blue beseechingly.

"A little," he admitted. He looked up. "This is what we're going to do...I'm going to put my arm around you. Then, when I tell you, you're going to drop the bomb and I'm going to reel us up."

"The odds of outrunning a pressure wave are ridiculously bad," she told him.

"So maybe we'll get lucky," he replied.

She scowled at him, but appreciated the fact that he was being optimistic and not saying last goodbyes or being maudlin. She didn't think she could go into that with him, not without saying something stupid. She had to be absolutely certain she was going to die before that would happen.

"Well, it's been a blast," his dragon added a second later.

She winced at the awfulness of the pun and watched as Oliver frowned at her. The frown left his face when he caught her eyes and he was suddenly all business. Very slowly, he moved so that his front was pressed into her side. He cautiously slipped his left arm around her and set his right hand on the rope with a firm tug.

"If this works, I'm gonna be pissed you Tarzan-ed me," she said.

He smiled. "I can live with that." There was a pause, where she felt his eyes burning into the side of her face. "On three, drop it. Don't toss it up, just drop it."

"Okay," Felicity agreed.

"One..." The dark ones were starting to pour through the broken windows at an alarming rate. "Two..." She closed her eyes, prepared for the idea that Oliver was counting down her last seconds on earth. At least his voice was soothing. Their guardians were fighting for all their worth. She was sorry she had led them to this situation.

"Three!" Oliver yelled, tugging on her.

Felicity kept her eyes closed as she spread her palms. She was already headed towards the gap in the ceiling, Oliver holding her tightly. When the bomb was out of her hands, she turned and wrapped her arms around him tightly. If she was going out, she was going out hugging him. The world owed her that much.

The whoosh of the bomb exploding was very loud and then very quiet. The bomb had taken her hearing from her. She felt the rush of heat and a feeling like she had been smacked in the chest. They tumbled through the air, Oliver's body around hers the only reason they maintained any sort of trajectory.

Fifteen seconds after they had begun, she smacked into something a little more solid. She grunted in pain, rolled, and hit something softer that the roof she had landed on. Oliver.

Hands that were definitely not her own pushed back her hair. They centered themselves on her neck a few seconds later. She didn't know if he was speaking, but his hands were enough to ground her. She grabbed his arm in relief and searched out his eyes. He was on one knee in front of her. His eyes were a bit dazed, but he was alive. He held up a thumb to see if she was okay. He clearly knew she couldn't hear him.

Felicity held up her thumb in response and carefully sat up. The dark sky was warmed by the blazing fire to her right. She saw the massive crane they had swung off of and what remained of the building. The dark ones had already slunk into the shadows.

"Ha! Take that Lionel!" she said, probably too loudly around her lack of hearing, then turned and pressed her face into Oliver's shoulder so that she could cry.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14: Rambling

 

 

Oliver took her to the foundry, because of course that's where she wanted to go. She was stubborn and being willful, and he really couldn't argue with her when she had come so close to dying. She was not above using the raw emotion to get her way. The ringing in her ears had faded somewhat, but it was still there - a very loud reminder of what she had lived through.

Diggle was waiting for her at the door. He wrapped his arms around her instantly, enveloping her upper body. She pressed her face against his shoulder and sniffed away her forming tears. She had already cried on Oliver. She didn't want to scare Diggle, too.

"I thought I'd lost you," Diggle said, pulling back enough to look at her face. "I am not happy about that."

"I'm sorry," Felicity said in a small voice.

"There is a reason Oliver and I do fieldwork," he said.

"Your ginormous arms?" Felicity asked.

"Training," Diggle said firmly.

"Digg..." Oliver said. It was enough to get Diggle to stop and release her.

"Oh, he's definitely going to yell at you later," the dragon said. "If you're lucky, maybe he'll even spank you."

Felicity turned just enough to send the dragon a glare. His tongue forked out in a silent chuckle. She turned away from him pointedly and started to walk down the stairs. She leaned heavily on the railing, her legs feeling wobbly. She started to go to her chair, but Oliver reached out and grabbed her elbow. He guided her to the med table instead. He picked her up with firm hands on her waist and made her sit. He was being silently bossy and concerned. Damn him if it wasn't just a little - totally - hot.

She glared at him for being so officious, but he ignored her. He started cleaning out the gash on her head silently. Her legs kicked against the side of the table restlessly, as they always did when she was at the doctor's office. She was afraid Oliver was about to pull out a needle just to punish her.

She had been punished enough.

"We're back in sewer territory," the dragon piped up. "But only because you look so cute when you glare. It's like a puppy glaring. Now he's thinking about how close he came to losing you, how terrified that makes him feel, how happy he is that you're okay...You know what? There's a lot going on, I'll leave it at that."

"I'm okay," Felicity said quietly then. She latched on to Oliver's wrist lightly and stared up at him. "Thank you for rescuing me."

He shook his head, as if to say that he didn't need to be thanked, and she smiled at him warmly. Diggle cleared his throat next to Oliver and she found his eyes. "Are you okay?" she asked Diggle.

He frowned at her in confusion.

"Oliver said that you were dealing with...that you had to..."

"He had the trigger in his hand," Diggle said. "He didn't give me a choice."

"I'm beginning to understand some of the complexities of your choices," she said softly. "And I'm still sorry that you had to..."

Diggle nodded and gave her hand a quick squeeze.

"But Samantha is okay?"

"Who?" Diggle asked.

"Crazy bomber's wife," she said.

"Yes," he agreed.

"Good," she said. She looked down. "I'm shaking," she said in surprise.

"Shock, or the adrenaline is wearing off," Diggle said.

"Neither sound fun," she said.

Diggle disappeared. A few seconds later, he returned with a blanket Oliver had used several times after missions. He wrapped it around her shoulders as Oliver wiped something that stung on the gash.

"You're really making him process a lot," the dragon said. "His brain hasn't been this busy in years."

"Not saying much," Felicity said dryly.

"What?" Oliver asked.

"Nothing," she replied quickly.

"Hmm," Oliver said, still not looking at her.

"Is your head hurting?" Diggle asked.

"So much hurt," she said with a wince.

"I'll get you something," he said.

"No needles," she said firmly.

He searched through the drawers for a second before pulling out a pill bottle. "No needles," he promised, rattling the bottle in front of her.

He opened the bottle and held out a pill to her. He disappeared and returned with a water bottle. She swallowed the pill, indifferent to what it was, and let the cold water settle into her throat with an eager gasp.

Ten minutes later, she was on cloud nine. She felt like she was floating...or was it dancing? She didn't have it in her to care. She was just happy and relaxed.

"Does this make you Dopey?" the dragon asked in amusement.

"If I'm Dopey, you're Grumpy dwarf," Felicity said.

"Okay...so happy pills make you reply to me. Not talking anymore," the dragon said quickly.

"What?" Oliver asked, stepping in front of her. He looked weird - a bit floaty. Seeing him made her happy.

"I'm Dopey. You're Grumpy."

"Oh...kay," he replied.

"Though your dragon isn't really Grumpy. He's more Sassy dwarf. Or would it be Chatty dwarf? He talks a lot. Which is funny because you talk in caveman grunts and vague pointing. It's no wonder I've gotten so good at reading your expressions. How else am I going to know what you're feeling? Well, unless he tells me."

Her guardian growled at her in warning.

"Oh, hush," she said drunkenly. She blinked owlishly at Oliver. "Don't worry, I know why you don't like to talk. I understand. I always understand, even when I shouldn't. I'm always understanding you. Understand...? Un...DER...stand. That's a weird word, isn't it? What's under the stand? What's over it? Why stand at all? Comprehend makes much more sense. I should know. I'm really smart. Genius-level smart. I got my master's degree at twenty-one. Although, school doesn't make a person smart. It's just a construct, really. I mean, look at you...four colleges gone in the wind and you're still one of the smartest men I know."

"What did you give her?" Oliver asked Diggle, his arms crossed and his expression bewildered as he took her in.

"Oxycotin," he said.

"Huh," Oliver replied with a smile.

"Do you think you could go exercise?" Felicity asked Oliver. "Sans the shirt? I'm asking for a friend, of course."

"How about we take you home?" Diggle said lightly.

"Are we going to float there?" she asked. She blinked several times. "Everything is so fuzzy."

"Yeah," Diggle agreed easily.

"Of course yours happens to be a bear...a big, huggable bear. It could eat my face off, but it wouldn't because it's you. You're so gentle," Felicity said.

"A bear?" Diggle asked Oliver, sounding utterly confused.

Oliver shrugged and stepped forward. He set Felicity down on the ground and her legs instantly gave out on her. She grunted and he caught her before she hit the ground. Walking was clearly not an option. He swept her into his arms instead.

"This is almost as good as shirtless times," she said, snuggling into his chest with a smile.

"Good to know," Oliver replied almost so quietly she didn't hear it.

"You're a good man, Oliver Queen," she said groggily. "One day, you'll be great...You'll be a superhero. You just gotta believe in yourself."

Felicity was asleep before she could hear his reply.

 

The morning was totally being an asshole. Or was it a jerkface? No, definitely a bitch. It was all bright and cheerful, and it was definitely done without her permission. It didn't help that something was beeping. Maybe it was buzzing. Both?

She put her pillow over her ears and pressed down with a groan. Everything hurt. She was certain her toenails were hurting. She wanted to go back to sleep. She had been having a wonderful dream about Oliver carrying her in his arms while she snuggled into him. And he hadn't even complained.

"Shut up!" She threw her pillow toward the beeping and something solid hit the ground with a thud. She didn't look to see what it was. She collapsed on the bed again and tried to bring back the exhaustion. While sore, she felt thoroughly rested.

A knock came from her door a minute later. She popped up and looked at the door as if it were an alien. No one ever knocked at her bedroom door. She noticed two things at once. Her guardian was not in the room with her, which was weird. Secondly, there was a lot of sound coming from her living room. It was a mixture of guardians making noise, her TV running, and something that sounded like plates clinking together.

"Are you okay?" Oliver asked through the door.

Her heart leapt into her throat. It didn't help that she had a serious case of dry mouth. "Huh?" she asked eloquently.

"Felicity..." he said.

"I'm fine," she said back. "Why are you here?"

"We're all here," was his reply.

"Not an answer," she said.

"Keeping an eye on you," he replied. "Do we have to do this through the door?"

"Are you decent? Please say no," his dragon added a second later as he glided through the door unabashedly.

She looked down at her body and saw her pajamas. She didn't remember getting into them. She didn't remember anything, really, beyond Diggle shaking a pill bottle in front of her. She blushed at the thought that she had no idea what she had said to them afterwards. She put her head in her hands and started swearing internally. Then she realized that Oliver was waiting for her to answer.

She tried to jump out of bed, realized that her body just really couldn't move that way, and crawled out instead. She shambled over to the door and slowly opened it.

"I hate my body right now," she groaned. "And I hate you for being the cause."

"For rescuing you?" he asked, looking startled.

"For Tarzan-ing me," she said. "I told you I would be angry about it."

"You did," he agreed. "Tommy and Diggle made breakfast."

"Diggle made breakfast," she corrected.

"Right," Oliver agreed.

"This is surreal," she told him as he politely gestured for her to go first.

Oliver shrugged and followed her to the living room. Diggle was wearing an apron over his suit, though his jacket was hanging off the back of her favorite chair, and was yelling at the TV. Something about a team not playing defense. Tommy was yelling, too. Tommy's monkey was screeching around the room, making a lot of noise and playing with the other guardians, whether they wanted him to or not.

"Why are you here?" Felicity demanded. "I don't need babysitters. And I don't need my house to be taken over by..." she squinted at the television, "football."

"You were almost blown up," Diggle said. "Take the smothering. It's good for you."

"Is that omelet for me?" Felicity asked, looking over hopefully.

He slid the plate closer to her and she took it eagerly. Her stomach was rolling aggressively, telling her it had been a while since she had eaten. She ate at the counter, not wanting to walk more than was necessary. Her bites were so far from being un-dainty that she should have been embarrassed. All she felt was pleasure.

"Diggle, I love you," she said to the big man. "I mean, I would marry you right now if I felt any sort of attraction to you beyond big brother."

"You just want me for my cooking," he said.

"Duh," she replied.

"If that's the case," Tommy interjected, "I can cook a mean prepackaged waffle."

"You have Laurel to disgust with that fact," Felicity pointed out.

"Doesn't mean I don't want to be wanted," Tommy joked.

"Yuck," Felicity replied.

"I can cook," Oliver said lightly.

"Look at him trying to be all nonchalant. Don't you just want to hug him?" his dragon said from where it was wrestling with Tommy's monkey again.

"Cereal?" Felicity scoffed, arching an eyebrow at Oliver.

"I know stuff," Oliver said.

"Sure," Felicity said. She shrugged. "Still marrying Diggle. His arms are bigger."

"She actually went there," Tommy said.

"Ouch. That's got to hurt, man," Diggle added. "Of course, the truth always does."

"I'm not ashamed to admit his arms are bigger," Oliver said. "I can still take him."

Felicity held up her hand. "Before this turns into, uh, ego measuring territory, can we change the subject?"

"Sure," Oliver said.

There was a pause.

"You said some interesting things while drugged out of your mind," Oliver said, his curiosity sparkling in his eyes.

"Okay, let's switch subjects again," Felicity said a bit hysterically. "How long have I been asleep?"

"A full day," Diggle replied.

She blanched and ran back to her room instantly, her body protesting the sudden, aggressive movement. She picked up her phone and realized the beeping was from missed messages and calls. She had missed work. She was going to be so behind, if they didn't just fire her.

She walked back out into the hall, clutching her phone and feeling freaked. "Why didn't you wake me up?" she asked them all.

"Because you needed the sleep," Diggle said calmly.

"And you had a long couple of days...weeks, really," Oliver said.

"It was also fun getting to check in on you while you drooled all over that pillow of yours," the dragon added happily.

"I'm gonna be so behind!" she complained. "Come on, out! I have to get ready for work."

"It's Saturday," Oliver said.

"Oh," she said. "I could still go in..."

"I have a better idea," Tommy said in accompaniment to his monkey's playful laughter.

She groaned.

"Since Oliver and Diggle are coming to my charity event to raise money for the people affected by the bombings, why don't you come as well?"

"What use would I be at a charity event?" Felicity asked. "I'm still paying off my student loans and this apartment. I don't have billions to give away."

"I think you've contributed enough," Tommy said seriously. "It'll be my way of throwing you guys a party for getting that psycho off the streets."

"So it's really a party for Diggle," Felicity pointed out.

"And what kind of friend would you be if you didn't show up?" Tommy asked with mock shame.

"Could have told you that was coming. Saw it from a mile away," the dragon said. "I'm surprised you didn't, Ms. Genius."

"I don't think I'm in the partying mood," she said sadly. The past week was weighing on her. She had a lot to think about and emotions to consider. She felt raw and exposed. Least of her emotions was how much peace and contentment thinking of Oliver had caused.

Oliver turned to face her. He had puppy dog eyes. They were trained on her.

"Brace yourself," the dragon said.

"Please?" Oliver asked.

Damn him. Damn him straight to hell. How could she resist the please? How could she resist it when he said it looking like that?

"I'm definitely marrying Diggle," she huffed irritably.

"Is that a yes?" Tommy asked.

"Yes," she agreed. "Now get out...I have shopping to do, and I can't do that with so much testosterone hovering."

"She isn't so nice post-drug ramble, is she?" Diggle asked. He turned to her playfully. "I had no idea you think of me like a huggable bear that could maul your face off but wouldn't," he said.

Felicity froze and had a moment of complete, unadulterated panic. She was terrified. And the warm, blue eyes that were on her face, assessing, wondering, told her the moment had not gone unnoticed. The only thing that forced her into movement again was the teasing tone in Diggle's words. He would never tease her if he thought her words literal.

She smiled at him and tried to shoo them out. No one listened. It took another hour for them to leave. Tommy and Diggle left first. Oliver lingered by the door when the others were out of sight.

"I'm not happy that you went off to warn Grace's wife without letting me know about it," Oliver told her seriously.

Felicity hung her head. She wasn't proud of that either. "I know. I shouldn't have. I'm sorry."

"I understand your reasoning. But...don't do it again. I was..."

"Unprepared for how terrified he would feel about almost losing you," the dragon said.

"Don't do it again," he repeated.

"I won't," she agreed.

"Thank you," he said quietly.

Her last image before she shut the door was of Oliver's eyes, speculative, uncertain, and deeply curious.

 

She decided very quickly that none of her clothes would do for the party. She went shopping. It took her hours to find the perfect charity party dress and pumps to match. She wouldn't be as fancy as the millionaires and billionaires there, but she would sure as hell look fabulous.

It took a surprising amount of time to find the dress. By the time she had made the last of her purchases, she had to start getting ready for the actual party. She put on her makeup, did her hair in waves of curls, and pulled on the dress last. It hugged her body in all the right places and flared out in others. The flares gave swish to the dress, and the fabric was soft and pliable. It was red, and her heels were black.

Felicity gave a finger snap when she saw herself in the mirror, then giggled at herself. Still laughing, she grabbed her clutch and walked out to her car. She didn't know what the night would bring, but she looked great, she would be surrounded by friends, and it was for a good cause. Maybe it was better to put off thinking about things, like emotions and the past, until later. Anything was better than remembering the bomb resting lightly in her trembling palms.

She shivered as the thought ghosted across her mind. She wasn't certain a party was the best of plans. She could still back out. Then Oliver's puppy dog eyes were in front of her again, pleading for her to come. He would look amazing in his suit. He would probably look better than amazing.

She sighed in defeat and made a compromise with herself. If the party got to be too overwhelming, or she was having trouble pretending to be okay, she would leave. It was a simple fix, really. Showing up was good enough, and no one would make her stay. The party didn't have to scare her. It was just a party.

She nodded happily as she drove away from the curb, glad to have a plan and Oliver Queen in a suit to look forward to.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15: Party

 

 

She parked in her normal spot at Verdant and slipped into the foundry before going upstairs. She didn't need a dramatic entrance, and she needed a minute to prepare herself for the distractions she would face upstairs. She saw plenty of guardians mingled with their humans on the camera feeds, as well as dark ones lingering in the corners. The music wasn't the blaring noise from when the club was open, which was nice, and there was a more refined, sedate air to the festivities. People were all politeness and practically dripping with money.

Felicity did not belong. She could pretend, but she knew it in her heart.

"If I have to go up there, you have to go up there," Diggle said from the stairs.

She sighed. Of course he would realize she was down there. "How bad is it?" she asked.

"No one's paying me any attention," Diggle said. "I'm just the hired help, after all."

"Don't you dare!" Felicity said hotly.

Diggle held up his hand to stop her, a gentle smile on his face. "I don't think that about myself...they do."

"Well, they suck," she said.

"It's not that bad," Diggle said. "Great drinks...great food."

"How great of food?" Felicity asked with narrowed eyes.

"I'll show you," Diggle said, holding out his elbow to her.

Feeling a bit more eager at the thought of the food that waited her, she walked up the stairs and joined him. She took the proffered elbow and let him lead her out into the club. The music was twinkling and the conversation ebbed and flowed around her. She kept her eyes on her feet to keep from staring at the guardians and dark ones around her. Details stood out to her, though. The decor was serious and fancy, reflecting Tommy's years of growing up surrounded by wealth.

"See? Not so bad," Diggle said gently.

Felicity nodded, and he took her over to the bar, where the drinks and food were set up in all their expensive glory. Her eyes lit up at the sight, and she immediately reached out. Diggle laughed at her, though his hand snaked out as well. They sat by the food and talked. It was so easy to talk to him. There was no tension or expectation. She felt comfortable. The wine definitely helped. The two combined made her forget about how only thirty-six hours ago she had held a bomb in her palms. She still found herself rubbing her palms together absently whenever they were empty, the phantom feeling of its weight still lingering.

"Where's Oliver?" Felicity asked after thirty minutes of companionable talking with Diggle. Oliver would make her forget the feeling.

"What am I? Chopped liver?" Diggle teased her.

She put her head on his shoulder lovingly. "Course not," she said.

"He's running late...or arriving fashionably on time. You know how he is," Diggle said.

"Probably picking up his date," Felicity said. "And by picking up..."

"Ah, yes, I know what you meant," Diggle said. "I doubt it, though."

"I don't," she said in a tone that she wished wasn't so judgy.

"Really?" he questioned, giving her his customary sardonic, you're-kind-of-stupid, look.

"Really," she confirmed.

"Huh," Diggle said. It was amazing how full of meaning he could make one word, and he wasn't even trying all that hard.

"If you have something to say, Diggle," Felicity warned him.

"Me?" Diggle replied innocently.

There was a stir near the door then, and Felicity and Diggle turned expectantly. It was the sort of stir that could only be generated by arriving royalty. All three of the Queens had shown up together. Felicity actually gulped when she saw Moira. She was all regal elegance, simple, refined beauty, and practiced grace. She smiled, posed, and otherwise immediately charmed half the room with a look. Her lioness stood at her heels, nearly as graceful and refined. She sniffed and looked at the other guardians in the room with practiced indifference.

Behind Moira was Oliver and Thea. Oliver was wearing a black suit with no tie and Thea was wearing a purple dress that hung off her willowy frame perfectly. Their guardians were far less refined and stationary. Thea's flame guardian fluttered in a zig-zag pattern as it chased Oliver's dragon around the room. They were playing. They looked a lot happier than Oliver and Thea, who had fake smiles plastered on their faces. Even at the distance separating them, Felicity could sense how much effort it took on Oliver's part.

A second after they entered the room, the dark ones crowded through the door, tripping and barreling over each other. Felicity froze, her happy smile at seeing Oliver fading.

Dark ones were following Oliver and his family. Who were they after? Oliver? It seemed likely. She was getting used to the fact that they would be around him every time she looked. The crowd swallowed the Queens a second later and she lost sight of them.

"Are you okay?" Diggle asked. He had been watching her, obviously reading her expressions.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Fine," Felicity said in a voice that did not sound like her own. She realized she was being weird. "The wine is making me a little fuzzy," she added.

"Then I'm cutting you off..." Diggle said. "On top of the pill you took and the head injury..."

Felicity nodded without really hearing him and stood. "I think I need to walk around a bit," she said.

"Want me to come with?" he asked, looking worried.

"And leave all this?" she asked, gesturing at the food. "Don't be a crazy person. This is your party, remember? You might as well enjoy it."

Diggle smiled at her, though she knew he was still concerned. "I'll be here," he said.

Felicity smiled back and pushed away from the bar. She was glad that she was a nobody to the people around her in that moment. No one looked at her. They were all too busy talking to each other or trying to be seen. Her panic went unnoticed. She skirted the edges of the party, her eyes traveling over the entire scene as she searched for the source of the dark ones.

She found Oliver first. Of course she did. He was with his mother. They were chatting with an elderly couple. Oliver had his polite expression plastered on his face. To anyone else, he was interested and engaged. To her, he was bored out of his mind and looking for an escape. His guardian was not at his shoulder. Curious. Even Moira's guardian was missing from her side. Curiouser.

She kept walking slowly around the room. She was near an alcove when she ran straight into Thea Queen. Thea caught Felicity as she stumbled - Felicity managed to hit the younger woman in the boobs before catching her balance - and chuckled. "Easy there, tiger. I'm a man kind of woman," Thea said.

Felicity blushed. "Sorry," Felicity said, blushing at her clumsiness, and the fact that she had groped another woman.

She past Thea as she searched for a way to ease the awkwardness of a boob grab and saw that Thea was surrounded. Moira's guardian was covering her back, Oliver's guardian had the left, and her guardian had the right. Felicity's guardian moved to cover the front, disorienting Felicity for a minute. It was impossible to look around a gigantic alien-monster guardian. The dark ones were clawing, hissing, growling and otherwise trying to get to Thea.

So not good.

"I know you," Thea said then, happily, it seemed.

"Yes," Felicity agreed, stepping a little to the side so she could see Thea.

"So, now you're coming to fundraisers that my brother puts on," Thea said, her eyes narrowing suspiciously.

"Well, Tommy actually put this together, because your brother is good at throwing money at things but not actually planning them."

"He put together Christmas this year," Thea said.

Felicity remembered. They hadn't known each other well, then, but it had struck her how much he had tried to be there for his family. It had reminded her of the good in him. "How much of that did he actually do himself?" she asked, trying to maintain her playfulness around the den of holy crap she was currently surrounded by.

Thea smile ruefully. "He made all the calls for other people to do the actual work," she said.

"Uh-huh," Felicity said.

"So Tommy invited you?" Thea asked.

"Yes," Felicity said.

"How do you know him?" she pressed.

"I do some work here at the club when he needs it," Felicity said. It wasn't even a lie. She had helped Tommy out several times when his POS was acting up or the internet was being moody. She had improved his tech around putting up her surveillance system, and he had been seriously grateful.

"Hmmm," Thea said.

"I'm not sleeping with Oliver," Felicity blurted out, feeling flustered and panicky that the dark ones were so close to them. She needed to keep talking, to keep from staring at them and showing how freaked out she really was. Apparently sex with Oliver was the first thing that popped into her head. Or, rather, the lack thereof. "I don't want you to think that I'm trying to take advantage of him and his post-island...whatever, or that I want to ride my way up to the top via sexual favors. I work hard for what I earn. I'm good at what I do. If I want something, I take it via my brain, not my vagina. Unless of course...I am not finishing that sentence."

"Ah," Thea said, letting Felicity know that she had been thinking exactly along those lines.

"That was an awkward thing to say to a man's baby sister, wasn't it?" Felicity said apologetically. "I just have to hear it at the office all the time because Oliver and I are friends. It's frustrating, and I didn't want to think..."

Why was she so determined that Thea Queen think differently of her again?

"Yeah, being friends with my brother comes with certain expectations when you're female," Thea agreed.

"Mmmhmm," Felicity said distractedly, wondering how she was going to warn Oliver that his sister was in serious danger. How long had the dark ones been hovering? How long did Thea have? Oliver would never believe her if she said she had a bad feeling about Thea. He would promise to keep an eye on her then forget almost instantly without solid evidence. Felicity needed proof. She didn't have any. She had no idea what was going to happen.

"Are you okay?" Thea asked, reaching out and touching Felicity's arm.

"Fine, yes," Felicity said quickly. "Just...remembering."

"You're sweet," Thea decided with a smile. She wrapped her arm around Felicity's forearm and pulled her into the alcove so that they were hidden from the others. The guardians and dark one moved with them. "Do me a favor - talk to me so I don't have to deal with those stuffy idiots out there."

"Okay," Felicity agreed, although nervously.

They talked for longer than Felicity had thought Thea would want to talk to her. Conversation was surprisingly fluid and easy. Thea was open, warm, and welcoming. She didn't babble the way Felicity did, but she did like to talk. Felicity kept her eyes on Thea's face and away from the dark ones circling.

With every word that Thea put out there, every chuckle she drew out of Felicity, every moment Thea's heart was in her eyes, Felicity grew more determined. She would find a way to warn Oliver about the danger. She had to find a way. The woman in front of her could not die because she was afraid of the consequences. She was braver than that.

"There you are," a masculine voice finally cut through their conversation.

Trust it to Oliver to find them in a darkened corner. She was certain he could find her anywhere. He would always find her. He had promised. Thea pulled them out of the shadows with an unashamed smirk.

"Hey," Felicity said, locking her blue eyes with his seriously.

"Hey," he replied lightly before he truly noticed how she looked. A sharp breath caught in his throat. She didn't look that different, did she?

Thea shook her head, though she looked amused. "Hopeless. I'm here, too, you know," she added to Oliver.

Oliver was too busy taking in Felicity to pay his sister's snark any mind. His eyes widened slightly as they traveled over her red dress, curled hair, and glasses-free face. She was beautiful on a good day. This was a very good day. He blinked several times to clear his surprise.

Felicity was having a similar reaction to his suit and the way it made his eyes pop. It was a new one, probably bought just for the party. It was perfectly fitted and, for some reason, she found herself blushing. She had known he would look amazing in the suit. She was just not prepared for that good looking. Maybe his rescue of her had brought some of the attraction to unavoidable levels? The impulse to run her hands along the lapels of his jacket was intense.

Down, girl.

At least he had taken some of the panic away.

"Mom told me to tell you that you promised to mingle," Oliver said, turning to Thea with an awkward cough. His movements were stilted and a little rushed.

"I was mingling," Thea said, "with Felicity."

"There was definite mingling going on...and an accidental boob grab that I am still totally sorry for," Felicity said.

Thea smirked at her brother. "Imagine that...I got felt up by her before you did."

"Thea..." Oliver complained, looking far younger in that moment than Felicity had ever seen him look. Thea shrugged and grabbed Felicity's hand warmly.

"We will talk again. I had a lot of fun getting to know you...and thanks for rescuing me," Thea said.

"All the things back," Felicity said, her eyes pulling away from Oliver reluctantly.

Thea stuck her tongue out at her brother and moved to join their mother with demure grace. It was only as Thea was walking away that she realized none of the guardians had talked. They were serious and focused. Felicity also had the impression that Oliver's dragon hadn't wanted to give away her secret. He was protecting her. The trust she had for Oliver swelled three times in her chest.

"Did Thea say something to upset you?" Oliver asked. He was watching her face. She knew she could not hide the truth from him. He always seemed to know what she was thinking.

"What? No. Of course not. I'm half in love with her already," Felicity said.

"Good...I mean, great," Oliver said. He stepped as close as he dared while in a room surrounded by gossips and busybodies. "But something is wrong, right?" he checked.

She hesitated. She thought of the dark ones that had lingered around him for days. She thought of how close had come to death that day. He had died for ten seconds. And the dark ones around Thea were just as eager, numerous, and bloodthirsty. How could she say nothing? It was Thea - Oliver's Thea. She wasn't a stranger on the street she could pretend to ignore. If Oliver lost his sister, it would crush him. Felicity could not let him lose her.

"Yes," she said.

"What is it?" Oliver asked quietly, his hand sneaking up to her arm.

She didn't reply, her eyes sweeping the room. There were too many guardians who could overhear her confession, too many dark ones that could learn her secret. She couldn't just spit it out and hope to live through the night. It wasn't the right place.

"You know you can tell me anything, right?" Oliver asked then, interpreting her silence wrongly. The hand on her arm was touching bare skin. She wished it wasn't. The warmth was urging the words to spill from her mouth.

"I know," Felicity said. "Just...not here."

"Okay," Oliver said. "The foundry?" he asked.

She thought about it for a second and shook her head. He thought their secret lair safe. It wasn't. There were too many dark corners for the dark ones to hide in and go unnoticed. It was too risky. She needed a room that was fully illuminated but had no places a dark one or guardian could hide. She knew they could walk through walls, but they couldn't hear through them. They had some limitations, thankfully. Felicity turned away from Oliver, decided and firm in her course of action, and gestured for him to follow her. He did so at a discreet distance, not oblivious to the need of keeping prying eyes away from what they were doing.

She opened the door to the room she wanted and he hesitated, clearly confused. Her room of choice was a storage closet. She went inside without looking back and waited impatiently for him to join her. He followed her inside when he saw her look. The door closed behind him with a solid snap.

The room was not large but the door was heavy, solid steel, like the rest of the club. She flicked on the light and was happy to see there were no shadows. It was perfect. She just had to keep the conversation quiet and her thoughts focused.

"This is...cozy," Oliver said, obviously feeling a bit flustered. A few seconds after he closed the door, her guardian drifted through it with his at her side. The dragon landed on her guardian's shoulder and looked at Felicity uncertainly. He clearly didn't think telling Oliver was a good idea. She was glad they had come to watch her back. She had a feeling she would need them.

"I want to preface what's actually wrong with me with something else," Felicity said, a clear memory shocking her with its intensity. She wondered why she hadn't thought of it sooner. Maybe it had something to do with the head trauma and being constantly distracted all day. Or the adrenaline, fear, terror, anxiety, uncertainty of surviving a near-death experience...

"Okay," Oliver said tightly.

"You're freaking him out," the dragon said. "Ease into it."

"First, I think I know who took Walter and what Hastings wants with QC."

Oliver leaned towards her, instantly enthralled. She was whispering to keep her voice from being heard, but that wasn't his reason. He was suddenly very focused on what she had said. His tension radiated between them.

"There were files on that computer you stole from that man selling bomb parts to Lionel - Hower. I didn't link him to Walter at first. I was too busy looking for Lionel to connect the dots. But I had some time after he, uh, left me in the warehouse with a motion-sensitive bomb to draw some conclusions."

"I remember," Oliver said shortly.

"Right," she agreed. "Apparently my brain works really well when I'm terrified. Fun fact, right? I remembered that there was a file on the computer. It was titled simply with the name Bludhaven. It listed a single large payment and several smaller, consecutive payments. The first payment was the day of Walter's abduction. The others were weekly."

"You think they large payment was for abducting him and the smaller ones were for guarding him," Oliver said.

"Yes," Felicity said.

"Where in Bludhaven?" Oliver asked.

"It didn't say exactly, but I have an idea the guards will stand out in the area. It gives us a place to start, at least," Felicity said.

Oliver nodded. "And what does Hastings want with QC?" he asked.

"Juggernaut," she said.

"Juggernaut?" he repeated.

"Think about the capacities for a second. The technology is meant to expand the capabilities of the internet and the tech we currently have on the market, but if you amplify certain smaller, key components, the tech, combined with an energy weapon built by Viking Tech, could be used to completely wipe out the internet in a city, say, the size of Starling. If you coupled it with said energy weapon, you could wipe out physical buildings along with all the tech in the area. The energy stored in the device would be a perfect conduit. Whoever had the solution to get the internet back up and all devices up and running again would make..."

"Millions," Oliver said.

"Trillions," she corrected.

"That is seriously scary," he said.

She nodded. "I also overheard your mom talking to Hastings the other day. Forgot about it until now. Whoops? They mentioned someone else, a man, several times. So they have another partner. Hastings talked about how they were on a timetable and how Walter was kidnapped so Moira could take his place and keep the project on schedule. He threatened you and she went all Mama Lioness on him."

"Okay," Oliver said tensely, coiled and needing to act and move. His inner-vigilante was dying to do something about everything he had learned. "Is that all you wanted to tell me?"

She realized she had been getting the news of their hunts out of the way because he was destined to think her crazy once she said what was coming next. There was no getting around the fact that he would avoid he once he knew the truth. She was well aware of how it would look to him. She wanted the seeds planted for him to find Walter and take down Hastings and Moira before she told him the truth.

She took a deep breath, feeling as terrified, if not more so, as when she had held a bomb in her hands. Oliver leaving her, not believing her, looking at her like she was crazy were all thoughts that might just break her heart. She had been left enough. And he was important to her. He and Diggle had become her best friends in a very short amount of time. There was more to it than that, she knew. Oliver had wormed his way into a special place in her mind - a place that made her smile and feel warm whenever he wasn't being a gigantic douche.

"No," she said, her voice trembling.

His eyebrows knitted together and he tilted his head in confusion. She sucked in another ragged breath, and her hands formed into fists. Her eyes flickered over to the guardians watching her. Her guardian was trying to warn her off with low growls and whines. She did not agree with the thoughts coursing through Felicity's mind. Even Oliver's guardian was shaking his head.

She didn't care. She had to warn him.

"Your sister is in danger," Felicity said tightly. "And if you don't do something, she will most certainly die."

Chapter Text

Chapter 16: Truth Tea Tastes A lot Like Despair

 

 

"How do you know that?" Oliver asked, taking a step closer despite their limited space.

This was it. This was her point of no return. She had to take a running leap towards the edge and hope like hell she had a way to fly.

"Because I..." she floundered with the words.

"Steady," Oliver's guardian said, reminding her to go slow.

"You deal in a world of absolutes," Felicity said after a minute. "If a bad guy is a bad guy, he gets punished. You've honed yourself to be a weapon, to be part of that reality. I've honed myself to be the best technological expert in the country," Felicity said.

"Modest, too," the dragon said dryly.

"We deal in facts and in what we can see on a daily basis. That feels real. But the fact of the matter is, the world is not so absolute. There's a lot of messiness. And there are things that are beyond our comprehension, things that shouldn't be possible according to the laws of nature."

"Trust me, he knows," the dragon said. "He's seen some weird shit."

"Yeah?" Oliver asked, his bright eyes piercing hers. She wondered if this was the last time she would have them do that to her. She wondered if he would be afraid to look her in the eyes because all he saw was craziness.

"One of those things is me," she said simply.

"What are you saying?" Oliver asked, not grasping the depth of her confession.

"The reason I knew that bomb was going to go off in the cafe...the reason I know Thea is in danger now is because I see things."

"Things?" he repeated dully, some of the light leaving his eyes.

Not good. Not good at all.

"Not things. Omens, I guess. Or monsters. Monsters is a good way of describing them. I call them dark ones," Felicity said in a rush. "They lurk around people and buildings where death is imminent. They are seriously lurking around your sister. I don't know how long they've been there, but if you don't keep an eye on her, she's going to die."

There was a pause. Oliver was staring at her. He was very still. The imagery that popped into her head was that of a small animal realizing that a predator had them in their sights. Stillness kept the predator from pouncing. She was right, losing the spark was heartbreaking.

"Oh, boy," the dragon said with a dry puff of smoke. "Tell him about me. He won't believe you without proof."

She hurried to obey, figuring that if anyone could get her through this god-awful confession, it was him. "There are also creatures I am currently calling guardians, though it changes sometimes. Most people have them. Some don't. They are a reflection of people, and they protect their human from the dark ones. Yours is a chatty bastard," Felicity said.

"Hey!" the dragon exclaimed. Her guardian snorted.

Oliver was frowning, clearly uncomfortable and uncertain. Her words weren't enough to bring him to her side yet. He was skeptical. He had every right to be. Admitting to seeing something no one else could see was not a great thing to do.

"I can see you're doubting me - I don't blame you - but I can prove it," she said. "Your guardian is the reason I knew the code to the door to the foundry when you were hurt, the reason I know that you were shot on a cold ship in the North China Sea and were forced to pull the bullet out and sew it up yourself without anesthesia."

Oliver's eyes widened.

"He's the reason that I know that your father..." she really didn't like bringing this up, but it was necessary, "shot himself so you could live."

Oliver took a step back from her, looking totally shocked and slightly frightened.

"It doesn't matter if you don't totally believe what I'm saying," Felicity said. "The only thing I care about is that you protect Thea from whatever is coming for her. You don't have to believe me to keep an eye on her for the next few days. You just have to be her overprotective big brother."

She was close to panicking. The expression on his face told her he thought she was nuts. He was about two seconds away from saying as much. She couldn't stand to hear the words. She had spoken her piece. She had let him know what the reality of the situation was - she had bared her soul to him in a way she had no one else. It was up to him to act now. The situation was out of her hands.

She pushed past him quickly, her eyes on the floor, and left the closet, not listening to the dragon, who called after her as she ran out of the room. He tried to swoop after her, to say whatever was on his mind, but her guardian growled at him. There were too many dark ones and guardians around them to make that safe. He swooped away in defeat and rejoined Thea's guardian. She didn't see Oliver around the others swirling across the room. She doubted he was following her. He had no reason to. The look on his face had suggested complete shock and doubt.

The only thing that kept her from being truly terrified was the fact that Oliver knew how to keep a secret. He wouldn't out her to the dark ones intentionally. She doubted he would even tell Diggle about their conversation. He would brood about it and be stoic and closed off. They were his go-to moves to dealing.

She ran all the way to her car, feeling as if she had just ruined everything, but not regretting it. If she could save Thea with her confession, then it was worth it. She was on the road before she could really process that she had left the club. She was worried that if she sat in her car like last time, to get her emotions and thoughts in order, he would find her. He would try to convince her to get help for her whatever mental illness he thought she had. It would be another unbearable conversation.

She peeled off her shoes when she reached her apartment and walked inside slowly. She tossed the shoes into the corner, along with her clutch, and collapsed on her sofa in defeat.

"Did I do the wrong thing?" she asked her guardian. "Should I have found another way to tell him? Why did I go full-on truth with him? I could have thought of another way..."

Her guardian didn't answer. She hadn't thought she would.

"Maybe I wanted him to know?" she asked after a long, thoughtful pause. "Maybe I actually wanted Oliver freaking Queen to know my dangerous secret...Why? Why would I want that?"

Her guardian started to make a sound that was a lot like a laugh.

"I don't need the peanut gallery act unless you plan on being useful," Felicity said. She groaned and slapped one hand over her eyes. "I am such an idiot! What if he doesn't even look after Thea the way he needs to? What if I just sent him into freak mode and he ignores the warning? What if she dies and knows he could have done something? He'll never forgive himself!"

Her guardian was silent again.

Felicity leaned back against the cushions in defeat, her eyes still closed. She was not particularly proud of the fact that she had run out on Oliver without giving him the chance to speak. She knew it was because she had been afraid. She had never told a soul about her curse. The truth was not liberating. It was terrifying.

Her phone buzzed with a text message. She didn't pick it up or even look at it. She didn't want to see Oliver telling her not to come into work the next day - telling her he would find Walter on his own. She loved both her jobs very much. The idea of not being able to go to either of them was agony.

Ten minutes later, her phone started ringing. She let it ring out. A minute later, it rang again. She ignored it once more and stood defiantly. She went to her bedroom and changed into her pajamas on autopilot. She exhaled once happily, able to finally breathe easier without the fabric constricting her stomach.

She went to her kitchen next and pulled ice cream out of the refrigerator. She turned on her favorite show and ate from the carton slowly, trying to process her thoughts. She kept circling back to the fact that she wanted to be the one who helped Oliver find Walter, stopped Hastings, and continued their work of saving the city, in that order. She was committed to what they did.

She hadn't realized how much until that very moment.

She sighed in defeat as her phone rang again. She tucked it under the cushion of her sofa to dull the noise and turned up the volume on her television. Her eyes kept moving to the windows, though, to be sure the dark ones weren't coming for her. A slip of the tongue would be all they needed. She knew Oliver better than that, but she had spent her entire life living with her secret hanging over her. It was impossible to let the paranoia and fear go.

She was in the middle of another episode of her show when there was a knock on her door. She jumped, looked down at her empty ice cream carton and pajamas, then shrugged. It was probably her neighbor come to irritate her about something ridiculous. She didn't need to dress up for that.

She opened the door without looking through the peephole. She immediately regretted it.

For once, Oliver's dragon had not announced his arrival first. Stupid turncoat. He was perched on Oliver's shoulder and staring at her in concern. She was surprised to see Thea in the car behind Oliver, the dark ones crawling over almost every inch of it. She tore her eyes away from them with effort and refocused on Oliver defensively.

"You're not answering your phone," Oliver said.

Felicity leaned against the doorjamb. It looked defensive and closed off. It was really her attempt to keep from falling over. Her legs didn't seem to be working properly. She didn't say anything. She just looked up at him, wondering, terrified, and completely mesmerized by his eyes.

"You always answer your phone," he added.

Her mouth moved but no sound came out.

"He was worried," the dragon added in a whisper only she could hear. "And don't think I've forgiven you for the chatty bastard comment."

Her lips twitched slightly. "I needed some me time," she said slowly.

"We need to talk," Oliver said.

"So you can tell me that I have head trauma from my recent ordeal?" Felicity said, crossing her arms.

He looked over his shoulder, seemingly searching for something to say. Felicity didn't give him the chance. "Listen, I'm sorry I dumped my crap on you," she said. "And I know how it all sounds. I'm not an idiot. I understand that you can't have me around now that you think I'm crazy. You don't trust me. How could you? I would just prefer it if you didn't say it...I don't know if you noticed, but I've had a hard week, and I just can't deal with this right now."

"You don't understand..." his dragon said quietly.

"Just go away, please," Felicity said sadly.

She turned away swiftly and closed the door in Oliver's face. His expression lingered in her mind. His eyes were wide, and he looked as if he couldn't believe she was reacting the way she was reacting. He hadn't expected her to be so defensive. She was usually so open and cheerful, at least around him and Diggle.

"Felicity..." Oliver called at the same time his dragon poked his head through the door.

Felicity scowled and shooed the dragon away. He took the hint when her guardian growled. He disappeared again, his expression huffy and hurt. She watched through the window as Oliver gave up and turned around. He got back into the car slowly. Thea and him talked for a minute, then the car pulled away from the curb.

She sighed in defeat and decided that her bed was calling her name. She drank just enough wine to get sleepy and collapsed on her bed and snuggled into her thick comforter. She was asleep within minutes, the bliss of being unconscious the only upside to her day.

The next morning, she spent a solid hour moping before she decided that she was better than that. She considered the day she had missed at the office and knew how she could keep herself from dwelling. It was Sunday, which meant QC was empty. She could catch up on her work, settle her affairs before Oliver fired her, and otherwise work her last day in peace. It was the honorable thing to do. It was the right thing. She was a firm believer in doing what was right.

The guards looked at her curiously when she got to the office, but no one said anything as she went through the checkpoint. They were used to people coming in on the weekends. It was the nature of a global business that it was always moving.

She sipped on her coffee absently as rode the elevator up and went to her office. It felt strangely familiar to be in the halls alone. The quiet was warm and everything she liked about her job. QC was as much a home as the foundry had become over the years. It was the first place after college she had felt like she belonged. She sighed when she considered the idea that today was her last day. She shook off the depression and focused on her work. Her desk was practically covered with it.

She sat down and immediately dove into the madness. She looked over the Juggernaut Project with more detail being paid to the specifications, noticing that the project completion estimation date was in two months. That had to be enough time to stop Moira and Hastings. It had to be enough time to keep them from all her hard work.

She slogged through her projects and paperwork, stopping only long enough to order Thai food from the shop on the corner. She worked through lunch, grimly determined to put her affairs in order in a way her predecessor had not.

It was dark out when she finally finished her last bit of paperwork. She gathered the documents purposefully and decided that she had one more stop before she left. She would go to Oliver's office and leave her badge on his desk. She would let him know that he didn't have to fire her. She would make it easy on him. He had enough to deal with without agonizing over that particular choice. She could also drop off her paperwork without waiting for the mail in the morning. It was an efficient two birds, one stone kind of situation.

She took the elevator up to his office and stepped out, feeling a thousand miles away from the building. Maybe not a thousand miles - just the distance that separated her from Oliver. She immediately stopped walking at the scene that was playing in front of her. She went from startled to confused to terrified in a matter of seconds.

Thea Queen was pressed against the marble wall next to the elevator bank and was peeking around the glass. Dark ones were everywhere in the hall. Thea's guardian looked exhausted, and was pressed into the corner next to Thea. At the other end of the hallway, a man in black had his bow raised and an arrow ready to fire. Felicity started forward, intending on dragging Thea into the elevator with her, but she was not fast enough.

Oliver, however, was.

A green arrow knocked the black one from the bow and the man in black turned expectantly, meeting Oliver's charge with unexpected grace. Felicity was certain that Oliver could handle that end of the situation very well. She lunged forward and grabbed Thea's arm. Thea yelped and tried to pull her hand away instinctively. She noticed the fighting figures of the man in black and Oliver a second later. Her jaw went slack and she froze.

Felicity started to pull Thea into the office, but Thea stopped her. "No!" she hissed fearfully.

Felicity looked around the corner curiously and saw Moira and Hastings. They were in deep discussion and hadn't noticed the fight yet. It was only a matter of time. Thea had been watching them from her place near the elevators. Felicity didn't know what that was about, but going inside was as bad as hanging around the man in black while he and Oliver had an archer's duel.

The elevator was her only option. She pulled Thea back and pushed the button as arrows flew past them too close for comfort. Felicity pressed Thea behind her as she impatiently waited for the doors to open again. She felt exposed, weak. She really wanted not to be in the middle of an arrow fight.

The doors mercifully slid open two seconds later and Felicity pushed Thea inside aggressively. Thea stumbled back, her hand clutching at Felicity, and Felicity fell after her in a confused mess of arms and legs. Felicity untangled herself from Thea and jumped up. She practically punched the door-close button in her haste. The doors shut far slower than they had opened and Felicity collapsed on the floor in relief. She pressed the button to her floor out of habit.

Thea was shaking and crying, though the dark ones had stopped tracking her. Her guardian sat next to her tiredly, looking relieved and pleased with Felicity. The blazing warmth looked brighter than normal to Felicity. Felicity moved over to Thea and put her arm around the woman cautiously. They didn't speak as the doors opened with a ding again. Felicity considered her options as she stared at her familiar hall. They needed to leave the building. She needed to take Thea somewhere safe. Her office didn't cut it.

She pressed the button for the garage level, hoping that no one was following them or paying attention to the elevators. It felt like it took forever to reach their floor. She kept her arm around Thea, who continued to cry and shake. When the doors opened for the final time, Felicity gently pulled Thea up and led her to her car.

"No, this is what déjà vu feels like," Felicity said as she peeled out of her space and hurried to the exit, a flash of Oliver in her back seat momentarily distracting her.

"What?" Thea asked, wiping at her nose.

"Nothing," Felicity said. "I'm going to take you to the...club, Verdant, and have Mr. Diggle pick you up. You'll be safe with him."

"Okay," Thea said, her voice trembling.

Loaded silence fell between them. Felicity broke it first.

"What were you doing there?" Felicity asked.

"I was..." Thea inhaled sharply. "Can you keep a secret?"

"Yes, definitely," Felicity said, pressing her lips together to keep from laughing at the absurdity of that question.

"You shouldn't trust her," Thea's guardian said in Thea's ear. "Being sweet and bubbly doesn't make her worthy of your secret."

"I think my mom and Mr. Hastings are planning something," Thea said.

"Wh-what?" Felicity asked, taken aback. She had not expected Thea to take her along that path.

"They keep meeting and acting all secretive...and I overheard them talking about a weapon of some kind...after mentioning my father's boat had been blown up, not sunk by the storm like everyone thinks. I've been trying to figure this whole thing out for the past month, ever since I heard them," Thea said.

"You've been digging into your own mother?" Felicity asked incredulously.

The Queens definitely had some things to work on.

"Mommy issues," Thea's guardian said, reminding Felicity of the dragon.

"She's not the person people think she is," Thea said darkly. "She's manipulative and greedy. She would kill someone if she thought it meant getting what she wanted."

"She also trust issues," Thea's guardian added, shaking her head at her human. "Lots and lots of issues."

"Billionaires," Felicity muttered. "Okay, I'll tell you what, we will figure this out," she promised. "I'm very good at computers and solving mysteries. I know how to look things up. We will get the answers you need together."

"You mean it?" Thea asked.

"Seriously?" her guardian parroted disbelievingly.

"Yes," Felicity said, "but you have to listen to me and do what I say. You have to let me take care of things. This situation is clearly dangerous...You almost just got an arrow to the brainpan, in case you missed it, so I don't want you involved anymore."

"But..." Thea tried to argue.

"This is not up for discussion," Felicity said firmly. "If you don't let me take care of the search, I will find a way to cancel all of your credit cards and lock you out of your accounts for as long as I please. Then, I will tell your brother."

She knew Thea was much more frightened of the second threat.

"Did you really just threaten me?" Thea asked.

"To keep you safe," Felicity agreed sheepishly.

Thea stared at her for a minute, then she started laughing - a strange, unusual thing around the violence they had just lived through. Felicity smiled, glad she had managed to make Thea laugh at least. It brought the first wave of happiness Felicity had felt since telling Oliver the truth.

They pulled up to Verdant a few minutes later and Felicity turned the engine off. She looked over at Thea seriously. "I really do need you to trust me to handle it, though," Felicity said seriously. "I have some experience with this type of thing."

"Really?" Thea asked.

"I may have a little bit of a history as a hacker," Felicity said. "And using that hackerness to get bad people arrested."

And sometimes arrowed. But that was neither here nor there.

"That is so badass," Thea said in admiration.

"Maybe a little," Felicity admitted. "Come on. I texted Diggle. He should be here in a few minutes."

"Right," Thea agreed.

"We like you," her guardian added softly.

They waited at the bar for Diggle to arrive. Tommy wasn't in yet, but Felicity had the keys to the door, so she left herself in. Thea obviously found it strange that Felicity had keys, but she didn't say anything. They talked more about what Thea had found, which wasn't a whole lot outside of a few suspicious conversations, and then Diggle arrived.

"Ms. Queen...Ms. Smoak," he said with a courteous nod.

"I don't want to go back to my house," Thea announced to them sternly. "Not after tonight." Her lips trembled slightly and she searched out Felicity's eyes fearfully. "Do you think...? Do you think my mom sent that man to kill me?"

"I don't know," Felicity admitted.

"At least you're honest," Thea said. "No one is ever honest with me."

The admission tore at Felicity's heartstrings. She was such a softie.

"You can go to my house," Felicity offered. "Mr. Diggle can watch over you there for tonight."

She looked at Diggle for affirmation and he nodded. She tossed her keys at Diggle and he caught them fluidly. "Ms. Queen," he gestured for Thea to walk ahead of him.

"Thea," Thea corrected in what appeared to be a habitual manner.

"He totally does that on purpose," her guardian said in resignation.

"Hmm," was Diggle's reply.

Thea popped off the seat and started to walk to the door with Diggle. She turned just as quickly and gave Felicity a tight hug. Felicity patted her back awkwardly, wondering what kind of hug was best to give a person who had just been shot at with arrows while eavesdropping on her mom, who was potentially evil. Maybe that made greeting cards for that? Thea released her before she could make up her mind.

The silence of the club filled her ears when she was gone, then she remembered that Oliver was fighting an skilled archer, who was the definition of scary. He needed her help, probably more than ever. She ran down to the foundry, stumbling twice, and put her ear piece in with trembling hands. Oliver was swearing on the other end of the device. His swears were colorful, loud, and not entirely in English.

"Oliver?" she asked.

He stopped swearing. It was the only sign he was listening.

"Thea is with Diggle. He's taking her to my apartment. What do you need?"

"Nothing, I'm on my way back now. Have the med-kit ready."

"How bad is it?" she asked.

"Bad enough," he grunted.

She didn't ask him again, knowing he wouldn't answer her. He didn't waste time answering things that would get answered on their own eventually. His guardian was also silent, a very bad sign. The injuries had to be worse than he was letting on. She hurried to the medical table and pulled out everything she could think of to patch him up. When she heard his bike turn off in her ear, she ran over to meet him at the side door. He practically fell into her arms once the door was open.

"Ompf!" she complained.

He tried to take some of the weight back onto his feet, but he couldn't. He didn't have the strength. The walk over to the table was the longest one of her life. Pure adrenaline was the only thing that kept them both upright. When they reached the shiny table, Oliver fell against it roughly. Her hands on his waist was the only thing that kept him from falling. He rolled onto the steel with an agonized grunt. The most Felicity could do to help him was raise his feet off the floor. He looked up at the ceiling unseeingly, and she noticed blood coming from several places on his body, not to mention the injuries on his face and what looked like a mild concussion worthy wound at the crown of his head. She unzipped his suit and searched for the larger injuries. She would worry about a concussion after she was certain he wasn't about to bleed to death.

"I should have called Diggle back!" she complained.

"Watching Thea," Oliver said groggily. "She's in danger."

Felicity wanted to tell him that the dark ones had left her, but he had his own dark ones lingering. She clamped her mouth shut, knowing that making him feel better could wait, and cut off the black shirt he had on underneath the green leather. There were marks in his shoulders that suggested he had been arrowed and his entire left torso was turning black and blue.

She felt along the ribs, trying to remember what Diggle had said about cracks verses breaks. Oliver did not like the touch. He yelled, and she looked at him apologetically. "I don't think any ribs are broken," she said.

She rolled him over slowly and started tending to the arrow wounds. They didn't look too deep, the suit catching the majority of the damage. She stopped the bleeding and put strips across them to hold the skin together, not trusting herself to sew anything up. She would hack all over the place first. She put sterile bandages over the wounds and then moved back to look at the ribs.

"We should probably wrap these, right? You know what? I'll ask Diggle."

She went to her phone and texted him. He immediately called her, clearly on high alert.

"Cracked ribs, some arrows in his back, cuts on his face and a contusion on the crown of his head, I don't know what else. He's breathing okay, and he seems a bit dazed," Felicity said before he could ask what was wrong. "Should I wrap the ribs?"

"Yes," Diggle said. "And he might have a concussion. He needs a doctor."

"You really think he'll go to the doctor?" Felicity asked.

"The answer is no," Oliver's guardian said from next to her. "Absolutely not."

"He might not have a choice," Diggle said.

"Well, I can't force him," Felicity said. "He's bigger than I am."

"I'll come over there," Diggle said.

"Thea is more important right now," Felicity said. "You know he'd never..."

"Right. Fine," Diggle said. "If he starts throwing up, complaining of dizziness, his memory seems impaired..."

"I've WebMD'd the symptoms of a concussion before," Felicity said. "I work with you two, remember?"

"Oh, right," he said brightly.

"Shut it," she replied. She read into the silence on his end. "He'll be okay," she promised. "I'll look after him."

"I know," he replied. "I'm here if you need me."

"Always," she agreed.

They hung up and she went back over to Oliver. "Diggle says I have to wrap them. You're not gonna like it," she said gently.

He grunted in acknowledgment and continued to stare at the ceiling. She urged him to sit up, and he did, his muscles tensing painfully with the movement. He winced and she saw how much effort it took not to cry out again. He was a master of pain at this point, though. She wrapped his torso with a thick bandage and handed him his grey sweatshirt when she was done. She helped him pull it on, touching more skin than she was used to with him, and then twirled away from him with an awkward spin. Oliver's guardian landed on his lap and curled around Oliver protectively.

Now that the drama was over, she was certain he would have questions - he would have words to say. She couldn't escape them now. She couldn't leave him when he had been potentially concussed. It could be deadly.

Her night was so not going to be fun.

Chapter Text

Chapter 17: A Cave Man Speaks

 

 

Felicity sat down in her chair and turned to her computers, her babies, and started working, trying to find any mention of an archer in black or any cameras around QC that could tell her which way the man had gone.

He was a ghost. He was just as adapt as Oliver was at going unnoticed in the city. She really wanted to find something on him, and not just because it meant catching a man who had hurt Oliver. It meant prolonging her time on the team. It meant being useful for just a little bit longer.

"Thank you," Oliver said, surprising her.

She paused in her search, her fingers perched on the keys, but didn't look back at him. She frowned thoughtfully, trying to think of what she had done that would warrant an actual Oliver Queen thank you.

"For looking after Thea," Oliver added, sensing her confusion.

"For protecting the baby sister with your life," the dragon added.

She thought about scoffing, about saying she didn't really do all that much, but it was Oliver. He would see through her; he would know that she was glad she had been able to do something to help.

"What were you doing up there?" he pressed. Though his words were slow to form, his mind was clearly still logical and moving along the quicker side of things.

"I went to finish up my paperwork and get everything in order...then...I thought I would turn my badge into your office to keep you from having to fire me," she admitted slowly.

"Why would I fire you?" he asked, sounding genuinely perplexed.

She tried to see the dark ones that had moved to the shadows. She couldn't be sure if they were listening or not. "You know..."

Her eyes flickered to the dragon and her own guardian for confirmation they were not alone. The smallest of headshakes from the dragon told her they were alone. The dark ones had retreated when Oliver had showed signs of improving. She plowed on recklessly.

"For what I told you yesterday."

The silence that followed that statement was profoundly disturbing to Felicity. She squirmed, fidgeted, sweated, and otherwise revealed how nervous she was. She had no way to prepare for this level of awkwardness. When he broke the silence, she almost thanked him.

"I know that you and Diggle think I'm a self-absorbed caveman who communicates through grunts and pointing," Oliver said.

"I don't-" she tried to argue.

"But I do notice things," Oliver talked over her. "I notice you."

"He notices you so freaking much. Like the happy dances you do when you catch a break, and the way you touch your glasses when you're nervous, or the fast blinking you do when you're trying to get over your shock...Right now for instance..." his dragon added.

Oliver seemed to be thinking along the same lines as his dragon. Or was it the other way around?

"I notice the way you always look up during elevator rides, as if avoiding looking at the other people inside. The same can be said of when you're in any small space, really. I've seen you wince when someone is looking at you suggestively, as though you know exactly what they're thinking. I've noticed the way you sometimes seem to be listening to two conversations at once but holding back your thoughts on one of them. I see how you look pained when there are a lot of people in a room, as though you're listening to twice the amount of noise. I've noticed how you always know when I'm around even though I know for certain you can't see or hear me yet."

"Ego. So much ego," she told him.

He ignored her, though his lips did twitch ever so slightly. "I know that you weren't surprised about me being the vigilante, and I know you lied about knowing the code into the foundry. I also know that you sometimes respond to me as if you know exactly what I'm thinking. Sometimes you've slipped up and answered me directly when I haven't said anything and tried to cover it by babbling."

"What are you saying, Oliver?" Felicity asked quietly.

"I'm saying that I'm not shocked that you can see the things you say you can see. All the hints and clues just add up," he said seriously.

Felicity found his eyes, looking for the lie. She didn't find one. Sincerity and warmth were reflected back at her. The light was back. It was shining for her. "You believe me?" she asked.

"I've always believed in you," he said.

"Oh my goodness, my little dragon heart is just about to burst," his dragon said, putting one paw over his heart.

"Everything you do, you do well," Oliver said, his eyes still holding on to hers. "You were born impressive is all I really got from your confession. And I'm glad you trusted me enough to tell me the truth. I have a feeling it was dangerous for you to do so. The trust...I'm honored."

She nodded, hope - and something a lot lighter and brighter - beating in her chest, then bit her lip uncertainly. "I don't know how you're so calm about this..."

"You're ability is not the strangest one I've come across," he said seriously.

"There was a girl in Russia who could-" the dragon started to say but he was interrupted by Oliver.

"And you told me that very dangerous truth in order to save Thea's life. You risked your well-being for hers. I will never be able to thank you enough for that," Oliver finished.

Tears were threatening the rest of her face with sobbing. She felt relieved, terrified, and completely overwhelmed. He believed her. She was glad she was sitting down for his words. She wished she could sit down even more. Was there an extra sitting mode she could switch on?

"You believe me," was all she could think to say.

He didn't reply. His eyes said everything. He seemed to recognize something in the depths of her eyes. He recognized the power of her secret. It was recognition that linked them both in a way neither were ready to recognize.

"You've never told anyone before, have you?" he asked slowly.

"For reals?" his dragon asked, startled.

She shook her head slowly, feeling a bit embarrassed at the confession, though she didn't really understand why.

"That's..." Oliver tried to form his thoughts into a coherent sentence.

"A lot to process," Felicity offered.

Oliver looked down at his hands and winced as his...everything hurt. He considered his next words carefully. "Why'd you run away from me after?" he asked finally.

"You hurt his feelings," the dragon said. "And mine."

"I didn't want to see the repulsion," Felicity said. "I didn't want to see the thought enter your head that I was a crazy person. I was running away from you kicking me out of this," she spread her hands to take in the room, "world before you could actually say the words. I was afraid."

"Of course you're crazy, you help him fight criminals in the basement of a musty steel factory," the dragon said. "Normal is not where it's at with you."

"You should have trusted me more," Oliver said a bit darkly, the hurt creeping into his tone.

"I trusted you enough to tell you something even my family doesn't know," Felicity retorted.

"Fair enough," Oliver replied, knowing he had no right to act indignant when she had confessed so much to him.

"Yes," Felicity agreed.

"What's...?" he stopped himself. He seemed conflicted, as though he didn't know what to say or how to say it. She knew how weird it all had to be for him, and the number of questions he had were probably astronomically high.

"You can ask me anything," Felicity said. "It's not like I have anything to hide now."

"My guardian? What is it?" Oliver asked.

"A dragon," Felicity said.

"A handsome dragon," the dragon interjected.

"With red, gold, and blue colors...red and gold being more prominent. Sort of frumpy, unless you squint your eyes," Felicity said, a smile tugging at her lips.

"Beautiful, damn it!" the dragon said, immediately indignant. "I am a mother frickin' legend in my world!"

Oliver had a look in his eyes like he knew she was listening to something he couldn't hear. The look was strangely comforting. It was nice that she didn't have to pretend around him. All of their secrets were laid bare between them. It was a lot like being naked, without the beauty of his abs. It was still beautiful, though, for an entirely different reason.

"Okay, he's kind of beautiful," Felicity conceded with an eye roll. "He talks a lot, way more than you do...Oh my god, he never shuts up."

"I am eloquent, woman, refined. I speak words of wisdom! My words should make you tremble with knowledge!" the dragon said. He guardian pet it on the head reassuringly, obviously humoring him.

"He's arrogant, cocky...loves to sass. I mean, loves it. Makes me think that you like it, too," Felicity said.

Oliver's eyes were suddenly a warm blue, and he was fighting a smirk.

"He's protective, gets along with my guardian and Diggle's really well," she said. "Whenever he's with Tommy or Thea, he's in play mode, though with Tommy it's usually a wrestling match, and with Thea it's chasing and running around. He flirts with me a lot and seems to have a thing for getting the last word in."

Oliver went unnaturally still, looking startled. No matter how much he wanted to, he could not hide his expressions from her. "Flirts with you?" he demanded.

"The last word in?" the dragon demanded.

"Yeah," she agreed, shooting the dragon an amused look. She realized how it sounded and quickly moved to correct any misunderstandings. "Don't worry, I know it's just a hangover from your playboy days. I don't take it seriously." She giggled and looked more warmly at the dragon. It was impossible not to feel attached to someone who was always complimenting her. "He's always saying how cute I am, how much he likes me, how smart I am, that your mind is a bit of a sewer when I do things like twirl in my chair, wear this one red dress in particular, or smile at you, which I'm sure is just him being mischievous. I totally don't take offense. He calls me sunshine sometimes...I think he compliments me probably a hundred times a day."

"Please, I compliment you much more than that," the dragon said. "Also, you are so, so wrong about so much."

"That's, uh..." Oliver looked a little lost for words, and, if she wasn't mistaken, a blush was on his cheeks.

"I didn't mean to embarrass you!" she said quickly. "It's just...you wanted to know what he was like and I just have how he treats me personally..."

"It's fine," Oliver said just as quickly. "I just wasn't prepared for...that."

"I don't think anyone is really prepared for that," she said just a little bit sadly.

He caught her eyes again, and she saw compassion and empathy. He knew how if felt to hold the dark secrets in. They tore at a person's insides. The understanding that shot between them was a relief for Felicity.

"He used to tell me things about your past," she added more somberly, "but I asked him to stop. I don't want to know what happened to you unless you tell me."

The silence between them was charged with the weight of their heated stare. It was another game of tug of war. This time, they were both dangerously close to crossing the imaginary line.

"Thank you," Oliver said finally, tearing his eyes away from hers.

She nodded and sighed. "It feels so weird to talk about this," she admitted. "I feel like my whole world is spiraling out of control with one confession. Sharing a secret like this is...huge for me."

"That's the way I felt about bringing you and Diggle into this," Oliver said. "But I took a leap, and it paid off."

"I suppose," she said.

"Although, I guess I didn't really tell you my secret," he said ruefully.

"Technically, you did," she said. "Just not the physical you."

"Not the same thing," Oliver said firmly.

She shrugged.

"What about the dark ones?" he asked.

"I don't know what they are. Heck, I don't know what the guardians are or why I can see them. I just know that the dark ones feed off death, and if they ever knew that I could see them, they would hunt me down. They would follow me. They would find a moment when I was at my weakest and they would swarm my guardian. I would die."

Oliver nodded. It was easy for him to nod calmly. He had never seen the dark ones. He didn't know how terrifying they were.

"So I should never talk about it unless you tell me it's okay," Oliver decided.

"That would be nice," Felicity said with a small smile.

The silence that stretched between them was thoughtful and weighted with the truths Felicity had unloaded on him. She realized that his calm was helping her to stay calm. She was not freaking out nearly as much as she had been. She realized then how stupid it had been to run away from him. Oliver was not just anyone. He was her Oliver. And she trusted him to have her back no matter the situation.

"What about Thea, Diggle, and Tommy?" Oliver asked, pushing away the seriousness with a firm toss.

"Thea's guardian is a woman made of fire. Beautiful, elegant, passionate but totally made of flames. I guess you and her both burn hot?" Felicity said, thinking it strange both of them had fire oriented guardians. "Lots of emotions there," she added without thinking, not noticing that he was blushing again. He allowed her to continue without interjecting. "Diggle's guardian is a bear."

"A big, cuddly bear that could maul your face off but wouldn't?" Oliver asked.

"I can't believe I actually said that to him!" she complained.

"Don't worry. It was adorable," Oliver said. He looked shocked directly after, as if the words had slipped out.

"Ha! I am so rubbing off on him!" the dragon said smugly.

Felicity chuckled. "Thanks. I think? Is adorable good?" She shrugged, then smiled as she considered the last person on Oliver's list. "And Tommy's guardian is...a monkey."

Oliver threw his head back and laughed, really laughed. He immediately groaned and winced as he realized how bad of a idea laughing really was. She winced with him, knowing the pain from his ribs couldn't have been fun.

"Why don't you lie down?" Felicity asked.

"I don't think I'll be comfortable in any position," Oliver said.

"Then take something and go to sleep," Felicity said. "Though, I think Thea will probably want to hear from you first."

"Right," Oliver agreed. "I should go to her."

He started to push off the table, pain firing in the depths of his eyes again.

"And tell her what, exactly?" Felicity asked, standing and holding a hand out to stop him. "That you fell down the stairs seven or eight times? You look like you just got out of a fight with a similarly skilled archer. Which you did. Just recently. If you recall."

"I do remember, thanks," Oliver said.

"He definitely remembers the arrows," his dragon said.

"So call her," Felicity said.

Oliver sighed. "I seriously don't know at what point you became the boss of me," he lamented.

Felicity put her hands on her hips and arched an eyebrow at him. He held his hand out for his phone in defeat. She slapped it into his palm and moved away so that she wasn't eavesdropping on the conversation. She had overheard enough about him, thank you very much.

She wrapped her arms around her stomach as she walked off, considering everything he had said to her. She still couldn't wrap her head around him knowing her secret. His secret was not normal but it was grounded in reality; hers was far from normal. His was equally as dangerous as hers was, but at least it didn't include monsters. And he had taken it so calmly. She didn't know if it was an act or not. Maybe he had freaked out last night, which meant he could be collected now. Or maybe he didn't care about her ability. It would only have been a problem for him if she hadn't said something about Thea or used her power in the name of evil.

Her guardian gave a throaty chuckle at that idea. Felicity smiled back at her in agreement and continued to pace in the dark shadows of the foundry, her thoughts whirling like a processor at full capacity.

"Felicity?" Oliver called finally.

She stepped out of the darkness and saw that he was leaning against the med table. She went to him, balancing his wobbliness with a firm hand on his elbow.

"You are seriously stubborn," she chastised him gently.

"Is Thea safe?" Oliver asked.

"The dark ones left her," she confirmed.

"Then I need to go after Walter. I was waiting until I knew she was okay to follow through on the information you gave me. Once I know he's safe, I'm going after my mother," Oliver decided.

"Oliver..." she said.

"Thea was almost killed because of her. For all we know, she sent that dark archer to kill her."

"She wouldn't do that," Felicity said.

"There's a lot of things I don't know about my mother," Oliver said. "So many things she's capable of that I never assumed..."

"True. She's a bit scary. And she has that look that could melt stone. I mean, Medusa would be afraid of her. But I think she loves you and Thea."

Oliver didn't reply. He was being stubborn and willful.

"And you are in no shape to rescue anybody," Felicity pointed out, urging him to sit in her chair.

"I have to find Walter," Oliver said repeated stubbornly. "I can't let him die, too."

"You know how much I want him found," Felicity reminded him. "I've wanted it more than anything for over a month. He's a friend. But if you go in there like this, you'll die and he'll still be kidnapped...Ugh. I really hate that word."

"So, what? I leave him?" Oliver demanded.

"No," Felicity said. "We don't know exactly where he is in Bludhaven. Tomorrow, Digg can go and do reconnaissance. He knows what to look for. We'll find out which building Walter is in, how many guards they have, what room they're keeping Walter in, all of it. Then, when you feel better, you and him can storm the shit out of the place."

Oliver hesitated, obviously not liking the idea of waiting any longer, and then nodded.

"See? You should listen to the genius more often," she said smugly.

"I'm the one with the ego?" Oliver demanded.

"So much ego," the dragon added. She wasn't sure if he meant her or Oliver.

Felicity started pushing her chair, with Oliver in it, toward the cot in the back. He tried to put the brakes down with his heels, but she shot him a look of pure anger and he relented. She helped him get into the bed, wincing every time he did, and then returned with a pill and a bottled water.

"Sleep," she urged him. "If you don't at least resemble someone living tomorrow, everyone at QC will know something's up."

He groaned.

"Screw QC," his dragon said.

"No, not screw QC," Felicity said without thinking. "Now, more than ever, we have to protect it from Hastings and your mother. We have to find a way to stop them, and we can't do that if you sit out the day."

"My dragon tell you that thought?" Oliver asked, looking a bit freaked but still trying to be cool about the weirdness.

"Yep," she said.

"Traitor," Oliver replied sleepily.

"Moi?" the dragon said lazily, settling onto Oliver's chest companionably.

"Night," Felicity said with a smile, walking away from them.

The return goodnight was said twice by two very different voices. The one that was quiet, soft, and weighted with pain was the one that sent a warm, happy shiver down her spine.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18: Blackmail

 

 

She spent the night keeping an eye on Oliver. She sent Diggle regular updates and told him to tell Thea she was spending the night researching Hastings and Moira to keep her from wondering where she was or why she wasn't returning to her apartment.

It wasn't even a lie.

Between tasking a satellite to look for anything hinky in Bludhaven, which was hinky central - yay her - she kept digging. She knew what they were after, but she couldn't prove it. It was frustrating. Maybe if she could dig up incriminating evidence, she could get them arrested before they committed the biggest act of business-oriented terrorism the world had ever seen. Evidence was not so easy to find.

It was as infuriating as the whole situation was confusing.

What could possibly drive a person to that point? How could they be so willing to put so many lives at risk for a profit? When had the bottom line become more important than the heart line?

Wow, terror was great for Felicity's inner poet.

When her eyes started to get heavy, she made a bed on the mats Oliver used to spar on with Diggle. They weren't exactly comfortable, but it was better than sleeping hunched over her desk. She was close enough to see Oliver, who was knocked out cold from the pill, his mouth hanging open and his deep breaths filling the space, but far enough away that he didn't think she was trying anything funny.

A minute after her head hit the pillow, she was out. She woke up to a warm hand on her shoulder. She jumped, feeling as if she had somehow let Diggle down, and saw the man himself smiling down at her. He put his hand to her elbow and helped her sit. He was crouched down in front of her, his suit jacket missing and his collar undone. He looked exhausted.

"Did you get any sleep?" Felicity asked.

"Wanted to be sure Thea was safe," Diggle said with a shrug. "How's our boy?"

Felicity's eyes moved to Oliver's sleeping form. "I think he's okay. Should you have left Thea?"

"She's at school," Diggle said. "I have one of my men keeping an eye on her, though she absolutely refused to let us follow her around inside."

"She could have missed school for one day," Felicity said.

"It's important for teenagers to have a routine," Diggle said, a smile pulling at his lips.

"And you were tired of babysitting?" Felicity guessed.

"She's a good kid," Diggle said. "Slept in your room last night. I make no guarantees about the state of it this morning. You know billionaires...never have to clean up after themselves."

"No, that's all they do," Felicity retorted, then winced. "That was mean."

"But accurate," Oliver's voice floated over to them.

"How are you feeling?" Diggle asked.

"I'm fine," he replied shortly, which was Oliver code for in searing pain but not eager to talk about because talking hurt his soul. "Have you got around to telling Diggle about your plan?"

"He literally just woke me up," Felicity said.

"Yeah?" Oliver questioned in a way that suggested she stop making excuses.

Felicity sighed irritably. "Screw you," she replied, remembering the dragon's words from a month ago with an impish smile.

"Oh. My. God. So hot," the dragon said, perking up.

Oliver blinked at her rapidly.

She grinned at him and let Diggle help her to her feet. "I will tell him while we go get breakfast. If you're not still here and recovering when we get back, there will be hell to pay."

Oliver didn't respond. He was still trying to get his thoughts in order.

 

Diggle left after breakfast to do reconnaissance while Felicity tried to decide what to do about her boss. She could send him packing, but he still looked like he had gotten run over by a truck. He obviously couldn't drive himself home. She somehow didn't think it would look right for her to drive him home in her Mini.

"What do we do with you?" Felicity asked.

"Huh?" Oliver asked eloquently, his eyebrows knitting together in confusion.

"You need to go home and get cleaned up and get ready for the office. And I need to do the same thing. Separately! Do you want me to drive you home?"

"I can manage," he said.

"Really? Because your expression is somewhere between constipation and oh god kill me now."

"Nothing new," his dragon said.

Oliver shrugged. The expression on his face suggested he immediately regretted it. He slowly stood from the chair and started to leave the foundry. He turned back around, words fighting their way to the surface of his mouth. She could tell that he was trying to express to her all his gratefulness and appreciation of her trust again.

"I know," Felicity said kindly. "It's okay. Go on..."

He hesitated then turned and left the lair, his dragon swooping ahead of him somberly. She left ten minutes after him, her ear piece tucked in her ear to keep contact with Diggle in case he needed her. She didn't like him searching out the people who had abducted Walter. She definitely didn't like him doing the search alone. She only took it out when she showered. Diggle complained about the crunch of her cereal against his eardrum, but she ignored him with a, "Big baby."

Oliver was late to work, but that neither new nor dramatic. He put his earwig in as well when he finally got to his office. It was strange to be connected to them both while in the office, but it calmed her down and reassured her. Her boys were safe. She had almost lost Oliver last night, but he was safe. He was okay.

She was calm right until the moment Hastings walked into her office. Her eyes widened, then narrowed. She took a full second to get her expression under control. It was a second Hastings didn't notice. He was too busy taking in her office. He was looking for clues to understand Felicity. The happy colors and knick-knacks told him she was a non-threat.

"Mr. Hastings," she said, standing and smoothing down her skirt nervously. "What are you doing down here? Or up here? I guess it depends on your perspective whether it's up or down..."

Oliver's response was immediate. "On my way down."

Hastings's snake slid up her desk and coiled in front of her. She ignored it as it hissed at her. Her guardian reached out and put one claw around its neck. Its hiss turned into a choking cough.

"I was told that you are spearheading the new technology for the Juggernaut Project," Hastings said coldly.

"You were told correctly," she said just as coldly.

"I have some improvements for the project, as well an elevated timetable," he announced.

"Why, exactly, are you bringing this to me?" Felicity asked.

Hastings smiled. It was oily, evil, and told her he thought he could manipulate her. He thought he could walk all over her. She was used to people thinking that about her. She had spent her life dealing with men who thought her not capable of her job or worthy of her intellect - men who tried to explain computers to her because she obviously couldn't understand them half as well, men who never saw past her vagina and boobs. Basically, idiots.

"You've been clocking in a lot of hours lately," Hastings said. "Working so late can be...bad for your health."

His meaning was obvious. He knew that she had been at QC last night. He knew about Thea and the archer. He would kill her if she didn't agree to what he was suggesting. It was blackmail. No, it was coercion 101. Work for him or die. Message received loud and clear.

"You will make these modifications, and you will hurry the development of this component for the Juggernaut Project, or you will find that my associate in black won't miss a second time," Hastings said, setting blueprints on the table in front of her.

Felicity gripped the table as both Diggle and Oliver made masculine sounds of protectiveness and anger. Oliver's guardian was waxing eloquent about the way Oliver was going to rip out Hastings' insides. Felicity, however, was thinking. She was thinking really hard. She didn't like being coerced by anyone, let alone such a misogynistic asshole, but she also saw it for what it was: an opportunity.

"Okay," she agreed.

"Okay?" Oliver asked, sounding shocked and uncertain.

"I'll do whatever you say," Felicity said, letting her fear make her voice tremble. "Just, please, don't hurt me."

"Felicity..." Oliver warned, sensing her train of thought and not liking it.

"That depends on you," Hastings said, looking smug and confident.

"Get her out of there!" Diggle almost yelled at Oliver.

Hastings turned and breezed out of the office as if he owned the place, which he almost, kind of, did. Her fingers were red from where she was gripping the table, and her heart was racing. They were the only signs of her freak-out. Her guardian finally released the snake and it slithered away eagerly, coughing and hurriedly trying to catch up to its human.

Felicity was still in thinking mode. The ideas knocking around her brain wasn't much of a plan, but it was better than they had only five minutes ago. She was practically on the inside. Hastings was depending on her to get the component up and running. He needed her skills to make things work for him. She could answer her questions from such a place of power - like why they needed the tech so soon if Oliver had torched the energy weapon Viking Tech had built. Well, it had technically been an energy weapon in potential.

A minute later, Oliver slipped into her office and closed the door with a firm snap. He was clearly not happy. He was all hard angles and radiating tension as he looked at her.

"Are you crazy?" his dragon asked. She had a feeling it was Oliver's thought.

"I'm not crazy," she said.

"A little crazy," his dragon said.

Oliver sighed. "You're not doing this," he said.

"It's not your choice," she replied. "And it's already done. So stupid going all grr and you're not good enough to play with the bad guys, and figure out how we can take advantage of this."

Oliver moved around the desk and forced her to face him with a touch on her elbow. He put the same hand on her shoulder a second later. His hard eyes had dimmed to soft. "It has nothing to do with you not being good enough, Felicity. Hastings, the archer...my mother...they are neck deep in a plot to kill people. They are wrapped in whatever reason the father gave me his book. They will not be polite before they kill you. They will just kill you."

"Then I'm lucky I have you and Diggle to watch my back," she said.

"Tell her no!" Diggle said.

Felicity smiled up at Oliver, who had a mixture of a scowl and a seriously panicked look on his face. "Have you found anything in Bludhaven yet, Diggle?" she asked calmly.

"Do not change the subject!" Diggle warned her.

"It's important we find Walter before we stop Hastings," Felicity said. "So, please, stay focused."

"Stay focused! Stay focused?!" Diggle said. "Woman, can you hear yourself?!"

"So dramatic," Felicity said. "Oliver, tell him to stay focused."

"Digg..." Oliver said with a sigh.

"Are you actually considering it?" Diggle demanded incredulously. "You almost died last night, and you really think that it's a good idea to...?"

"What do you want me to do, Diggle, tie her up?" Oliver asked.

"Sounds kind of fun," his dragon added with a smirk.

"Not gonna happen," Felicity said from between clenched teeth.

"The best thing we can do is have her back," Oliver continued. "Because she's going to do this whether we want her to or not."

Diggle was silent for a long minute. "We are not done talking about this," he said by way of goodbye.

Felicity stared Oliver down, feeling a bit like she was on the Serengeti and Oliver was a lion, or a hyena, or some clawed, sharp-toothed animal that wanted to gnaw her face off. If she blinked or turned her head, it would all be over.

"Was there something else you needed?" she asked him coolly.

He raised one finger, as if about to speak, changed his mind, then narrowed his eyes. He leaned towards her, filling her space with his rather large, warm presence. He said everything he needed to say with the look. He did not like her tone. He didn't like that she was being so flippant with her life. He hated that she had been in the same room with Hastings and threatened. He was scared that she would die. And he was entirely uncertain that they were doing the right thing.

He looked away first and pointed at the designs Hastings had left on her desk. "Tell me what he wants you to do," Oliver commanded.

Felicity knew better than to argue, though she was seriously not in love with the tone of bossiness he was using on her. She unrolled the plans and looked at them for a minute, assessing, coming to terms with the nuisances of the changes Hastings wanted her to implement.

"He's interested in two things," Felicity said, pulling her mind away from Oliver's loaded stare instantly as her brain connected to the nuances of the technology.

"Please, share with the class," the dragon said.

"What?" Oliver asked impatiently.

She showed him the first page. "Kay. This one here is the tech that's going to enhance the world, if I do say so myself. It's basically an amplifier. I told you about that before. He wants me to put a switch, in easy terms, basically, that can stop amplifying tech and create uh-oh for the city. This other thing is also part of the Juggernaut Project. It's a little thing, really, but it...Oh."

"Oh sounds bad," Oliver said.

"Oh sounds worse with that look on your face," the dragon said.

"It's a meaningless, tiny thing, unless you want your battery to last a really long time...a battery that could, say, be used for a hell of a surge on an energy weapon of holy-crap proportions. He wants me to modify the component so the battery can have a quick blast of power rather than last forever. So...yeah."

"And the timeline?" Oliver asked.

"Two months," Felicity said.

"He won't get that long," Oliver said darkly.

"It concerns me that they're acting business as usual about this," Felicity said.

Oliver didn't say anything. She tentatively put her hand on his forearm. She knew he wouldn't like what she was about to say. She hoped the touch would cushion her words a little. He found her eyes. She was surprised at the intensity she saw there.

"Maybe its time you let Diggle have a conversation with your mom."

His eyes slammed shut. She didn't know if it was from irritation or acceptance. She knew Diggle was listening. The silence was loaded. They were both invested in Oliver's response.

"I can't think about this right now," Oliver said. "After we have Walter..."

"Okay," Felicity said, taking it as a win. At least he wasn't swearing at her or walking out in irritation. Maybe he did listen to her, after all. Huh.

"He knows he has to talk to her," the dragon said. "He will. He's just being a big baby right now."

"That's not surprising," she muttered, looking back down at the papers in her hand.

Oliver's eyes narrowed and he touched his ear, muting the sound. He gestured for her to do the same. "What did he just say?" he demanded of Felicity.

Her face scrunched up in reluctance and hesitation. "Something about you and being a big baby...It's not important."

His lips twitched slightly. "I see."

"He just swore at me!" his dragon complained.

"You deserve it," Felicity said.

"He heard that?" Oliver asked smugly.

"Yeah, but I'd be careful. You're playing with fire. You never know when he might say a thought you don't want him to say," Felicity pointed out.

"Like the fact that he's thought about kissing you," the dragon said. "And not just because you're pretty. You are pretty, of course. No, it's because he genuinely likes you, is attracted to you, even if he's in denial."

Felicity felt her stomach drop. Or was it floating? Butterflies? No, that was ridiculous. Something was going on with her stomach that wasn't healthy. The air settling in her lungs was definitely different, too. Weird.

"Like now," she said, her lungs starting to labor harder at the weird air settling in them. "Definitely now."

Oliver's eyes widened. He backed up slowly, looking a bit like a caged animal. "I'm not going to ask," he said.

"Good idea," Felicity said.

"I have them occasionally," he replied, tucking his hands in his pockets. He hesitated at the door, his eyes lingering on the papers in her hands. He didn't say whatever was on his mind. She knew it was about Hastings. She smiled at him, knowing he could see through it to the fear, and he nodded as if to say, "Yeah, I can definitely see through you." Words were not needed for any of it.

He left a second later, his dragon flying over his head. She turned her ear piece back on absently, feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything going on.

"Weird. Ass. Day," she said to herself.

The responding chuckles came from both Diggle and Oliver. She rolled her eyes absently and sat down, her thoughts returning to Hastings and what he wanted from her. She was glad he had come to threaten her and not someone else. She could outthink him. Tech was her world. It was her life. He had picked the wrong person to intimidate. He wouldn't see the truth until it was too late. She was certain she could blindside him.

So, she planned, she formulated, and she came up with ways to make Hastings regret the fact that he had ever messed with her city and her friends.


Chapter Text

Chapter 19: A Daring Rescue

 

 

Impatience ran in the Queen family. Felicity was unlucky enough to experience it twice in one day. Two days after Hastings came to her office, she had another visitor. Thea Queen's guardian preceded her. She was all the warning Felicity needed. She took a deep breath as the guardian started talking about Felicity's office. Thirty seconds later, there was a knock at her door.

"Come in!" Felicity called.

Thea breezed inside with all the command of someone twice her age. She smiled at Felicity warmly.

"This is...unexpected," Felicity said.

"Just wanted to come by and check on you, and say thanks for being so cool...about letting me stay at your place the other night, I hope I left everything the way you like it."

Thea had left Felicity's apartment cleaner than it had begun. Felicity was definitely not going to complain.

"Yes," Felicity said.

"And I wanted to make sure you were safe," Thea said.

Her guardian sat on the edge of her desk, crossed her legs, pretended like she had a hat on by running her finger along an imaginary rim. "I'm here for answers, see? I'm gonna get the truth outta you one way or another. So spill the beans, doll, or you'll be talkin' to the fishes, kapeesh?"

So Thea obviously had a thing for old gangster movies.

"I appreciate the concern," Felicity said. "It's very cool of you to come down here to check on me. And as far as the real reason you're here..." She deliberated what she could tell Thea. "I've managed to get close to Hastings and his operation. Well...he's using me to get what he wants. I'm close to figuring out what they're up to, though."

"Oh! You've done all that it in three days?" Thea asked.

"I'm a badass," Felicity, her elbow slipping on her desk. She tried to recover, but just ended up missing again. She settled for putting her hands in her lap.

"Yeah, I'm getting that vibe from you," Thea said, not missing the moment.

"We're all doomed," her guardian said dryly.

Felicity wrinkled her nose and searched for a change of subject. Oliver would not be happy to know that his baby sister was in her office after nearly getting impaled with an arrow three days ago, in the very same building nonetheless. Thea was still hunting for the truth. She was tenacious. She was going to get herself killed.

"You promise me that you aren't following your mom or Hastings around any more?" Felicity asked. "You promise that you're just coming to me?"

"I haven't even told my brother," Thea said. "He's been making an effort to be around me more, which I really appreciate, and I don't want to ruin that by him getting all growly."

"He does do that," Felicity agreed with a nod.

"I just want them stopped," Thea said. "Whatever they're doing, it isn't right. My mother she can't...she can't get away with it."

"We won't let her," Felicity said. "I promise."

"What've you found so far about what they're planning?" Thea asked.

"Oh...domestic terrorism," Felicity said.

Thea's eyes widened. "My mom is a terrorist?"

"Not yet," Felicity said. "Not if we stop her."

"Right," Thea said.

"And I'm not certain that it's a good idea for you to come to my office. If Hastings finds out...You were almost killed by that dark archer. That doesn't need to happen again because we're too lazy to be cautious."

"So we can't be friends, then?" Thea asked.

"Be our friend?" her guardian said with a flutter of her fire dress.

"We can be friends, just not at the office. I know you want news, but not here. Not when we're not certain how many people Hastings and your mom have threatened or paid off to spy for them."

Thea looked frightened. Finally. She was starting to understand the seriousness of the situation. Felicity thought flying arrows would have done that for her. Apparently not.

"How am I supposed to know what's up?" Thea asked.

She thought through her options. Finally, she decided that having a quick line to Thea was a good idea. And the phone Felicity had built had GPS that was already linked to her tracking software. She opened a few drawers and found the phone. She pulled it out and programmed her number into it.

"This phone is encrypted," Felicity said, holding it out to her. "Please don't use it to order pizzas."

"Cool," Thea said, slipping the phone into her purse. "I feel like a spy."

"You have a better wardrobe than Bond," Felicity said.

Thea smiled. "I'm prettier, too."

"Hmmm, I don't know...Between you and Sean Connery? You might have some competition."

"Please..." Thea said with a little headshake. "I could take him down."

Felicity laughed. "Somehow, I think you're right."

"Don't doubt that feeling," Thea said. She looked back at the door, feeling the weight of what they were doing. She was suddenly nervous and uncertain. "I should probably go."

Felicity stood and held out her hand to help Thea stand, an idea forming in her mind. She took Thea by the elbow, opened her door again, and gently guided her out into the hall. "I can build anything, you want, Thea," she said in a voice just loud enough to carry to her neighbors, "but I don't really know if that kind of tech is what your brother would want for his birthday."

Thea caught on instantly. "But who else can say they bought their brother a one-of-a-kind piece of technology? It'll be a Smoak original."

"True, but I think you should maybe go with something a little bit more personal."

"The only things he really likes are secrets and women," her guardian added tightly. "And Thea, of course, when he isn't trying to be her dad."

"What? A hug and a smile?" Thea asked. "I thought you knew that billionaires buy the affections of others."

The had reached the elevators. Felicity pressed the call button, snorting at Thea's statement but trying to hold in her laughter so the others wouldn't think they were closer than they appeared.

"I will build whatever you want me to build, but give it some thought. Call me if you need anything else," Felicity said, her eyes filling with seriousness.

Thea nodded, smiled slightly, then stepped into the waiting elevator gracefully. She pressed the button for Oliver's floor, and Felicity knew she was going to visit her brother before she left. That was good. Let people associate her visit with him.

Felicity left the elevator bank and was stopped almost immediately by a coworker. "Was that Thea Queen?" a woman named Marcy asked. Her guardian was a two-faced woman. Not exactly reassuring.

"It was," Felicity agreed.

"What did she want?" Marcy asked.

"Present for her brother's birthday," Felicity said with a shrug.

"Then she should go buy one," Marcy said. "This may be her family's company, but we aren't here to drop everything because she shows decides on a whim to use us as her personal shoppers."

"Mmmhmm," Felicity said, jaw clenching angrily. "Are you done with the TPS reports yet?"

"No..."

"I need them on my desk by five," Felicity said.

"But I-"

"Thanks!" Felicity added brightly, ending the discussion with a tightlipped smile. Marcy turned away, looking a bit pale.

It was good to be boss.

Felicity was about to leave for lunch when her phone lit up with five messages in rapid succession. They were from Oliver and Diggle, all commands to get to the foundry as soon as possible. She looked down at her stomach with a sad pout.

"Sorry, little guy," she said, patting her belly regretfully.

She typed a group message. I'M COMING!!

She hoped the caps lock would make them stop messaging her. It did. She slipped her phone into her purse and pulled out her earwig out of habit. She slipped it in and did a quick check to see if anyone was there. She was greeted with silence.

The drive to foundry did not take long. She may have been hurrying a little.

Oliver was at her desk. No, he was sitting in her chair. Not his chair; not Diggle's chair. Her chair. She frowned in irritation. She didn't play with his salmon ladder or his bow. He shouldn't mess with her chair, or her computers, in return. It was only right.

It was weird how much the space - and the chair - now felt like hers.

Oliver turned, saw her expression, read it correctly, and immediately pushed off against the armrests. His dragon was flying overhead, restless and full of energy. Sounds from the dark told her that the dark ones were hovering close by. That, coupled with the seriousness in Oliver's eyes, told her he was about to do something stupid.

"I think I may have found Walter," Diggle said, cutting to the chase. He marched around her desk and stood next to Oliver, creating a triangle with their bodies. It felt like they were in a pre-game huddle, the way people who played in the sports did.

"May have, or definitely did?" Felicity asked.

Diggle handed her a camera. She thumbed through the images. They were of a brick building that did not look like the sort of place happy families lived. It was rundown and crawling with armed guards.

"Kind of weird for an apartment complex to have guards carrying Scorpion Evos," Diggle said.

"Is that a boy band of some kind?" Felicity asked in confusion.

"Submachine guns," Diggle said, his lips twitching ever so slightly.

"Oh," she replied. "Very weird," she agreed.

"Two guards at every door," Diggle said. "Rotating shifts so that someone always has eyes on. I counted twelve more inside, plus closed-circuit video cameras. Whoever is keeping him, they spared no expense."

"Well, if Mrs. Queen had him abducted, she can afford it," Felicity said. She winced. "No offense," she added helplessly to Oliver.

He ignored her words. She was grateful.

"I could take one door, but the rest would come running immediately," Diggle said. "There's no way I can sneak in."

"So we split their attention," Oliver said, crossing his arms.

Felicity scowled up at him. He continued to ignore her. She was less happy about it this time.

"You are gonna pay for that later, dumbass," the dragon's voice drifted down to them. She knew he was talking to Oliver.

"Can you even lift your arms over your head?" Felicity asked fiercely.

"I don't need to," Oliver said darkly. "Just here." He raised his arms to bow height, pretending to knock an imaginary arrow.

Her scowl deepened.

"So much trouble," his dragon added.

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Felicity asked. "You're telling me you want to rescue Walter at half your usual skill...that you want to go up against twenty armed guards and whatever else? How is that a good idea?"

"It's not up for discussion," Oliver said, his voice rising a little.

"It is definitely up for discussion!" Felicity said. "Because it is a stupid idea and stupid ideas should be discussed before they get people killed!"

"It's my choice!" Oliver said.

"This is not helping," Diggle said. "Take a pause."

"You mean it's your choice to get killed, or it's your choice to leave your sister to a mother who may have had something to do with the attempt on her life?!"

Felicity was starting to get loud. She didn't care. She would make him listen to her. She would get through that wall of stubborn.

"Leave Thea out of this!" Oliver yelled back.

"One of us has to think about her!"

"So you want me to leave Walter to die?!" Oliver asked.

"No!" She was appalled by the thought. It startled her.

"We are doing this my way, Felicity! This is my mission, my team! You seem to be confused as to who is in charge down here!"

He was gritting his teeth, and a vein was throbbing at his temple. He was running his thumb and index together, as if seriously considering grabbing his bow.

She took a single step closer to him, daring him to look away. They were back to their tug of war, only it was less fun. It was laced with the very real threat of dying. And, of course, Oliver Queen being a gigantic dick-face.

"I'm not confused," Felicity said, suddenly quiet and icy. "You've made my position to you perfectly clear."

Used in the boardroom. Used in the foundry. Babbles tolerated. Strange ability acknowledged and filed away for future use, when it was convenient to him. Tech guru he took advantage of. Not a partner. She wasn't even sure if they were really friends.

She turned and walked away from him before she said the things on her mind. It would just hurt his feelings, and she was not cruel by nature. She didn't like for her anger to get a hold of her thoughts. Claiming space was better than being nasty with him.

She didn't go far. The mission was looming. If she left them alone, they would go in without her and get killed. They would not have the support they really needed. She couldn't ignore the fact that she could potentially keep them alive. Oliver didn't appreciate her place on the team, but she did. She knew her value. It wasn't easy, it wasn't always great, but she was invaluable to their missions. If only Oliver could see the same truth.

She heard Diggle and Oliver talking behind her. She tuned them out and went to the farthest edge of the foundry from her desk. She leaned against one of the metal beams and tried to get her temper under control. The dark ones clamoring around her did not help. It just added an undercurrent of terror that made her think she was right to be angry. He was close to dying. She was right to warn him off.

Oliver did not let her stew for long. He found her with his eerie sense of always knowing where she was.

"I didn't mean it," he said. "I'm just...wound up."

She turned to look at him, not saying anything. Not the apology she wanted or needed. Her arms were crossed and her posture was the definition of defensive. She was cursing him in the silences of her mind, and she was glad that he couldn't hear her thoughts.

He saw enough from her expression.

"I didn't," he repeated more firmly. "You and Diggle...I couldn't do this without you. I couldn't even begin to tell you how much your help..." He caught himself. Typical Oliver. Always teetering on the edge of how he felt but never allowing himself to leap. Stupid, dumb, idiot.

She glared at him. She wasn't in the mood to deal with his emotional constipation. Either he say something meaningful or leave her alone.

"I rely on you," he said simply, surprising her. "And I was wrong. This isn't about my mission to honor my father anymore. It's more than that. That is because of you. You were the one who pointed me towards helping people instead of only avenging my father. Without you, I would still be..."

"A lost puppy," his guardian said.

"Lost," Oliver said, his heart in his eyes. "You and Diggle are my friends...my partners. I need you for more than this mission or getting through board meetings without panicking."

Some of her tension dissolved with his words. She didn't know if it was because he was really good at using the puppy dogs and looking so attractive while pleading with her, or because she was a total pushover.

She knew in her heart it was neither. It was because of the emotion and honesty she saw in him. He was taking another step towards greatness.

"But you're still going with Diggle," Felicity said.

"I have to," he replied.

"Then I guess I don't have a choice," Felicity said.

"You always have a choice. Every single day," Oliver said.

"Yeah," she agreed. "And I'll choose you every time."

She let that linger for a minute, her eyes on his, then she passed him silently and returned to her computers. She knew a part of him was freaking out over the emotion; another part of him had seriously enjoyed her words. She had seen the truth in his face.

She sat down at her chair and her fingers started moving across the keys at lightning speed. "What's the address?" she asked Diggle.

He told her, and she pulled up everything she could about the area. She even tasked a satellite to keep an eye on the building. She was seriously racking up the mileage when it came to the satellites.

"The roof seems like a good entry point," Felicity said. She fluttered her hand uselessly as she pointed. "You could Krav Maga your way up the building."

"Uh, not even close," Diggle said, "but good try." He leaned over her shoulder and pointed one thick finger at the screen. "The ground level has the most number of guards. Climbing might be the only way. Even if I could snipe them, they would lock the building down before I got three shots off..."

"Stealth approach, ninja style," Felicity agreed with a nod.

"If we can even get close. That building is pretty much a fort," Diggle said. "They picked a good defensive position."

"They aren't expecting the vigilante and his..." Felicity cocked her head at Diggle.

"Black driver?" Diggle asked.

"The Dark Avenger?" Felicity wrinkled her nose. "Um. Oh. The Dark Soldier! The Liberator, because you liberate them from their evilness. Ugh. Muscles! Ha. No, that sucks, too. Yoda? Um. That's taken..."

"Felicity..." Diggle said.

"What? You need a name."

"Diggle works," he said.

"It's not very superhero-y," she said.

"We're not superheroes," Diggle said. "We're just a couple of regular guys."

"That's what makes you super," she said warmly.

Diggle smiled and walked over to the armory. He put enough weapons on his body to please a battalion and went upstairs, phone in hand. She figured he wanted to get the van ready for the assault and make other last minute preparations. Oliver stepped out of the shadows a couple of minutes later. He was already wearing his suit. His movements were stiff and forced, but his face was stoic.

She pointed out to him everything she had found on the building without looking at him. She knew from the expression on his face that he was going into war. She wanted to remind him not to kill everyone there, but the words wouldn't come. They had Walter. If Oliver was going in there injured, she wanted him to do everything he could to survive. Did that make her a bad person? She was having trouble caring in that moment. So the reminder got stuck in her throat, and her eyes pleaded with him to be careful.

"I'll bring him back," the dragon whispered when Felicity stopped talking.

Oliver turned away from her and snapped up his bow and quiver gracefully. He marched toward the stairs, his thoughts already on the mission. She didn't mean to, but she suddenly found herself standing.

"Bring Walter home," she said. He paused, knowing there was more. "And be careful."

He nodded once, a promise she took seriously. He was gone a second later, the dark ones bounding after him eagerly. She exhaled sharply and went back to her computers. Oliver and Diggle were both crackling in her ear now. They talked tactics for several minutes, then she heard the van start. She tracked their GPS devices to the south and into Bludhaven.

"How does it look?" Diggle asked her thirty minutes later.

Oliver usually asked that question, so she figured he was afraid of another argument, or else her words had seriously embarrassed him.

"Nothing's changed," Felicity said. "You look clear."

"Copy," Diggle said.

She watched on thermal imaging as two lone figures started crawling up the back of a nearby building. She lost them quickly against the heat of the building, but the lack of movement from the guards told her they were okay.

Spots started dancing in front of her eyes. She was holding her breath. She let it out explosively and started chewing on her thumbnail as the monitored the situation. She didn't know which was worse - the before the fighting or the actual fighting. Both were pretty terrible.

Their labored breathing and the creak of leather were her only links to them. She listened in silence, not wanting to startle them when they were in ninja mode, and waited expectantly.

"On the roof," Diggle breathed. "Crossing over now."

She leaned forward, her heart thumping wildly in her chest. She monitored everything in front of her, wishing she had eyes on the cameras inside the building. She couldn't help them at all. The thought was irritating.

There was a soft thump of two feet landing on steel then a gasp and a grunt. Felicity watched on the monitor as one heat signature overtook a guard. She didn't know if it was Oliver or Diggle.

There was another round of silence, quickly followed by a door opening. She knew the plan. They would split up once inside to optimize their chances of finding Walter quickly. It felt like a stupid plan, but she saw the necessity of it. She also knew that both men had red in their eyes. They were on a warpath. She almost pitied the guards who got in way.

She jumped every single time she heard the unmistakable sounds of flesh on flesh and man fighting man. She decided that whoever hired the guards were incredibly sexist. Surely a woman could guard Walter just as well?

Off topic, she chastised herself.

She flinched again as a low moan followed what sounded like a firm smash into a wall. She had no idea if Diggle or Oliver was the source. Both of them were in her ear at once.

Then, there was silence. Dreadful, heart-wrenching, silence. She didn't dare speak, in fear that one of them wouldn't answer. Let them say something, anything, she found herself pleading. Don't make her ask.

"Nothing on this level," Diggle said.

"This one is clear," Oliver said. "Headed down."

"Copy," Diggle said.

She started holding her breath for another reason when the clear signs of them still being alive reached her. Would they find Walter? Was it all a ruse? Was he really dead? Had Diggle and Oliver just risked their lives for a ghost?

"This one is clear," Diggle said.

"Mine too," Oliver said.

They had one more level. Felicity could almost feel Oliver's growing desperation. He had the same sick feeling in his gut she had. She listened as they kicked more doors down, their breathing slowly evening out as they came down from their fights.

Finally, "Mr. Steele?" Oliver asked, his voice changed by his voice modifier.

Felicity let out a happy gasp, her heart speeding up because of joy rather than anxiety. She heard Oliver call him several more times, then Walter answered. She listened, riveted, as they pulled him out of the building and drove him to the hospital. She pulled her ear piece out in relief, tossed it in front of her, and felt tears slide down her face.

They had found him. He was alive.

She looked around the foundry and realized she wanted to be in area with more light. She needed to be in a space that enhanced the happy bubble in her chest. She stood and went upstairs, knowing that leaving the building wasn't a good idea. She always waited for Oliver and Diggle to return before leaving, to make sure she wasn't needed by either.

She sat at the bar and felt the tears continue to track down her face. She was not surprised when Tommy sat down next to her. "It's a bit early for you, isn't it?" she asked conversationally.

"Inventory," he said. "It sucks," he added.

He inspected her face seriously, his monkey moving so that he was directly in front of Felicity. It's warm eyes took in her face and one paw reached out to touch her.

"I'm fine," Felicity said before Tommy could ask. "These are happy tears."

"Oh. Good," Tommy said. "I think."

"They found him," Felicity whispered.

"Who?" Tommy asked with a frown.

"Walter," she said.

"Walter?" he repeated, sounding absolutely confused.

"Yeah," she said.

"Walter-Walter?" Tommy asked. "Oliver's Walter?"

"I don't know if either of them would like that description," Felicity said. "But yes."

"That's great!" Tommy said. "Moira and Thea will be ecstatic!" He started to pull out his phone, but she caught his wrist.

"The hospital doesn't even know yet. You certainly don't," she told him.

"Oh. Right," Tommy agreed. "Secrets suck."

"Yes," she said, the happy tears still tracking down her face. She was grateful for Oliver's violence in the moment. It meant a friend was alive. She looked over at Tommy. He wasn't who she wanted to be hugging, but he was kind, generous, and always had a laugh. She figured she might as well ask. "Can I hug you?"

"Of course," Tommy said immediately, jumping up.

She laughed and wrapped her arms around him. He pressed into her, giving her all the warmth and support in his body. She hoped Laurel appreciated the awesomeness that was his hug, because he was really good at it.

"I know it's not exactly the person you want to be hugging," Tommy said with a small laugh. "But we both know how he is about that these days."

"He hugs people," Felicity said without thinking. "Just not me."

"Mmmhmmm," Tommy said knowingly. Smug bastard.

She flinched as she realized the unintentional confession he had pulled from her. "You're evil," she added.

"Thank you," he said demurely.

She pushed him away with a laugh and wiped her tears away. The tension of the past month was uncoiling from her chest. Well, some of it. She still had Hastings and Moira lurking, but Walter was alive. He was safe. Oliver and Diggle had done it.

The only pieces left were the ones that meant stopping Hastings and Moira from using Felicity's company to do evil things. She had to find a way to bring them down. Oliver and Diggle could help a little, she supposed.

"I'm just so relieved," Felicity confessed. "A part of me thought..."

Tommy nodded. "He's okay, though. You found him."

She sat back down at the bar and stared at her hands. "I did," she said happily. "Now if only I could stop the people responsible."

Tommy sat next to her and angled his body so that he was looking at her. He cocked his head and narrowed his eyes. "You know who it is, don't you?"

She didn't reply.

"Who?" he asked darkly.

"Oliver is going to take care of it," Felicity said quickly. Thea was already involved. She didn't Tommy in the middle of it, too.

"That's not what I asked you," Tommy said.

"I don't want you mixed up in this," Felicity said.

"You are," he pointed out. "And what I'm gonna do about it? My idea of getting into a fight is throwing a few punches before the other guy pulverizes my face. I'm no Oliver."

"Thea's messed up in it, and she almost died," Felicity said.

"Thea?!" he demanded, looking terrified.

"See my point?" she asked.

"What's going on?" Tommy demanded.

"I don't-"

"Please...trust me," Tommy said. "I have no intention of running off and trying to be a vigilante. Oliver has that covered. I am just so sick of secrets. They're everywhere I turn. With Oliver, with Laurel, with my father, with me...Please."

His monkey made a low sound that was a lot like pleading.

"Fine," Felicity said. She filled him in on everything they had learned, the list, Hastings, Moira, the incident with Thea, and the fact that Hastings had threatened Felicity into helping him.

He alternated between shock, anger, and disgust. "Oliver..." he began.

"This is not his fault, so don't even," Felicity said. "I think it would have happened with or without him. With him, we know the truth and I have someone to watch my back. Two people, really," she said.

"I have trouble believing that Moira..." He shook his head. "No, she and my dad are thick as thieves. I can believe it. Also, Hastings, yeah, that guy is a tool."

"You know Hastings?" Felicity asked.

"Of course," Tommy said. "He and Moira and a bunch of others come over to my dad's house on a regular basis. Dad always scheduled the meetings for when he thought I was either out or unconscious, but I'm not an idiot, and I haven't been that crazy since before..."

Oliver was drowned at sea.

"Right," she agreed. Her heart was pitter-pattering in her chest uncomfortably. Facts were starting to leap out at her. The conversation she had overheard between Moira and Hastings was sliding into place. Had they been talking about Malcolm Merlyn? Was he the third conspirator? Merlyn Global and Queen Consolidated were the two largest companies in Starling. What would happen if they managed to simultaneously wipe out the competition and make the entire city dependent on their companies?

They would own everything.

They weren't just trying to earn a profit. They were looking for control. They would own the city if they planned things right. It would be theirs completely. They would be king and queen of Starling. Malcolm Merlyn, Tommy's father, was in on the plot. She was suddenly certain.

"Uh-oh," she said.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20: Conclusions

 

 

"What?" Tommy asked, looking confused.

"Logic is a bitch," Felicity confessed.

Tommy laughed uncertainly. "Okay?"

"Moira and Hastings are definitely planning to blow up the city and take control of the repair efforts via buying property and sublimating all tech with the components they want me to build. I also overheard Moira and Hastings talking about another man, someone who is in charge of the entire plot...Their words made me think he has more say over what happens than they do, at least. And lastly, you admit that your father has Moira and Hastings over on a regular basis? Let me guess, some of those people you saw have been on the list of people the vigilante has gone after?"

Tommy pushed away from the bar and took several steps back. "No," he said. "No, no, no..."

"I don't have proof," Felicity told him swiftly. "I don't know for certain. It's just me putting pieces together...in a totally logical way."

Tommy spun and started pacing, his expression angry and fierce. She figured the anger was directed towards her. She left him alone, braced for his yelling, quietly trying to figure out if control of the city was really Malcolm's endgame.

"He would do it," Tommy said finally. "I would like to say that my mother's death changed him, but that's a lie. He's always been a greedy bastard. He has this way of thinking he can change everything around him just by trying. To him, killing thousands would mean nothing if he got what he wanted."

"Tommy..." Felicity said sadly.

"I have no illusions about him," Tommy said. "To think he's capable of...this, though."

"I know," she said.

His eyes brightened with an idea. "Maybe we can get proof," he said.

"Oh, no. I don't like where this is going," she said.

"I can get that proof," he added. "I can take it to Detective Lance. He can get people to listen to him."

"That sounds like a ridiculously bad idea," Felicity said.

"Because my name isn't Oliver Queen?" Tommy asked.

"Because Malcolm is your father, and it's complicated. And, yes, you're right. You're not a ninja. The man who was at QC, the one who almost killed Thea, he was a really good fighter. Oliver almost died."

But she saw in him determination and reluctance to be silent when something so obviously bad was going on around him. She was surprised that the look on his face reminded her of Thea. They were similar in their need to do good, to stop their respective parents from blowing up the city for profit.

"I'm already working on something," Felicity said. "We don't need to walk into the lion's den quite yet."

"Sounds to me like you're already in the lion's den, curled up around the lion, and feeding him mice when he's not looking," Tommy said.

"Maybe a little." Felicity sighed. "We should talk to Oliver first."

Tommy scowled.

"You know it's the right call," Felicity said.

Tommy finally stopped pacing. He put his face in his hand. Slowly, he nodded. He sat down next to her again. They waited in tense silence for Diggle and Oliver to return. Felicity felt strange at having a buoyant lightness at saving Walter in her chest and anxious butterflies in her stomach at what she had learned about Malcolm.

When Oliver and Diggle came through the door, they were equal parts exhausted and pleased with themselves. Oliver was limping and holding his chest as Diggle and he supported each other through the door.

Felicity jumped up when she saw them. "How bad is it?" she asked.

"It's fine," Oliver said.

"Nothing bedrest can't cure," Diggle assured her.

"And lots of pills. Lots and lots of pills," the dragon said.

She helped them sit at the bar next to Tommy, feeling protective of them. Tommy teased Oliver and Diggle about looking like wet dogs, then he went around the bar and poured them both a double. They took the drinks eagerly.

They were quiet for a little while, then Felicity spoke up, "Walter?"

"Dehydration was the most serious medical issue," Diggle said. "He's going to be fine."

She nodded in relief.

It took Tommy all of a minute to launch into what they had figured out. Felicity winced as he started speaking, and then sighed in resignation. She would have definitely waited until Oliver could at least walk normally to tell him the truth. Tommy laid everything out in a way she knew Oliver respected. Tommy may not have known Oliver entirely for the man he was now, but he saw enough of him to instinctively understand Oliver's need for a lack of bullshit.

Oliver's eyes kept flicking to hers. He was looking for the truth, searching for confirmation that Tommy wasn't kidding. For once, Oliver's dragon and Tommy's monkey were sitting calmly on the bar next to one another. They were also staring at Felicity. It was very disconcerting. She noticed that the dark ones were still lingering.

Her guardian made a low sound, a promise to protect her. It was all Felicity needed to know that she was already in deep with the plan. She couldn't back out now, not even if the dark ones were looking at her like she was their next meal.

"Trying to get information from Malcolm might be as useful as trying to get information from QC," Oliver said. "If he has been involved this whole time, he has to be careful to keep everything below the radar."

"He wouldn't want the plot to blow back on him," Felicity agreed.

"It still doesn't make sense," Oliver said. "Why is there a deadline? What do they hope to accomplish? I destroyed their research and the device."

"Unless you didn't," Felicity said thoughtfully.

"I did. I checked," Oliver said.

"Maybe you destroyed what they were allowing people to see," Felicity said. "Maybe you destroyed a decoy."

Oliver considered it. "A decoy certainly explains why there was hardly a stutter from them after the fire. They didn't even break their stride..."

"And it explains why they want my components so badly. Once they have them, all they need to do is put them in place and watch the world burn."

"Wouldn't they want to be out of town when it happened?" Oliver asked. "Maybe their itineraries can tell us something."

Felicity frowned back at him. "I can check, of course, but I don't think they'll be stupid enough to flee the city right before it explodes. It'll look too hinky. This energy weapon isn't nuclear or anything. It has a definite range of efficacy. They probably plan on placing it in a certain area and being far enough away that they won't be hurt by it. It'll flatten anything within a twelve mile radius, best guess, with the pulse, and take out the power, internet, etc, with my modifications, in the whole city, because I'm awesome, and my tech mojo is scary when used for evil."

"They wouldn't want QC or Merlyn Global damaged," Oliver said. "And they certainly wouldn't want their houses damaged."

"That rules out the north and west," Felicity said.

"Bludhaven, the arts district, the suburbs to the east, and, of course, the glades."

"My father just closed down my mother's clinic in the glades," Tommy said.

"That's it," Felicity said, pulling up a map on her phone and showing it to Oliver. "If I were them, I would position it on the outskirts of the glades to keep the damage to the business district to a minimum. All along here and here." She pointed at the screen thoughtfully.

"That's a lot of ground to cover," Oliver said, leaning in closer than she thought was strictly normal. She was definitely not going to complain.

"Which is why you should let me finish my tech," she said mischievously.

"No way," Oliver said.

"Don't be a baby," Felicity said.

The dragon snickered.

"Excuse me?" Oliver demanded.

"You think I'm stupid?" Felicity asked. "I wouldn't give them something that would actually hurt the city. I would give them something that will fry their device and lead us straight to them, however."

Oliver considered that, the warmth of his body still pressing against her right side. She liked him there. She liked him touching her. It was not a new development, but the realization of how much she liked it certainly was.

Oh, boy.

"How long until you have it done?" Oliver asked.

"I was delaying because of everything with Walter and you getting your ass handed to you, but if I really applied myself, if I had no distractions...a week," Felicity said.

"I wouldn't really say 'ass handed to him...'" his dragon started to argue. Her guardian snorted, and he stuck his tongue out at her in retaliation.

Oliver stared at her for a long time - or else it only felt like a long time to her. It was that heated thing again, full of fire and passion. She had never been looked at like that before. Passion, sure, but never so much respect and trust.

Double uh-oh.

"Are they always like this?" Tommy asked Diggle, a smirk playing on his lips.

"Yes," Diggle said with a sigh at the same time the dragon replied with, "Yep."

"So cute," Tommy teased.

"Whatever," Diggle replied indifferently.

Felicity blushed and reached over for the last of Oliver's drink. She downed it before she pushed away from the bar and spun on her heel.

"I guess I should get busy. I'll be at QC building a quasi-bomb if anyone needs me," she said.

"Diggle will go with you," Oliver said.

"And how will I explain your bodyguard suddenly shadowing me?" Felicity asked.

Oliver shrugged; he didn't care about explanations, just keeping her safe. Felicity rolled her eyes. "I'll be fine. And you need to get cleaned up and ready to see your family. You know they'll be calling you soon."

Oliver sighed in defeat and put his head on his arms, which were perched on the bar. He grumbled something she couldn't hear, and she was smart enough not to press him for details.

"Bye!" she called as she walked downstairs to collect her things and leave.

 

When news broke of Walter being found by the vigilante, Felicity was still in her office working. Amanda stopped by, her eyes wide and her butterflies fluttering overhead wildly.

"Did you hear about Walter?" she asked.

"Yeah," Felicity agreed. "Crazy, right?"

"Unbelievable," Amanda said. "Do you think he'll be coming back to QC now?"

"I don't think he's really thought that far ahead," Felicity said. "I'm sure he's just glad he's alive."

"Right," Amanda agreed, looking abashed. But Walter was a friend of hers, Felicity understood.

Amanda got along with Oliver well, but Walter was more CEO material, and they both knew it. Felicity felt her stomach drop a little at the thought that she would no longer be in Oliver's ear as he sat through meetings. She liked making those decisions. She liked listening and learning. She liked the strategy and being on the exciting end of new tech. She also just really liked Oliver. Any time she got to spend with him made her happy.

Because she was really dumb, apparently.

Strangely, her guardian was silent at that thought.

"What are you working on?" Amanda asked then.

"Juggernaut," Felicity said.

"When it's done, we're going to own the tech world," Amanda gushed. "We're going to change lives."

"I hope so," Felicity replied.

They talked for twenty more minutes, Felicity pulling the conversation away from Juggernaut. Amanda left calmer than she had arrived.

Felicity wouldn't have left the office at all if Diggle hadn't showed up at eight with a pointed expression and a no-nonsense demeanor. He was driving her home whether she wanted to be driven home or not. She didn't even try to argue with him. She took her projects with her and quietly followed him down to the garage.

"Are you and Oliver a thing now?" Diggle asked when they were on the road.

"That is so not a conversation we are having right now...or ever," Felicity said.

"Be careful," he said. "That's all I have to say about it."

"I know why you'd say that," Felicity said. "And I appreciate it. The only thing between us, though, is my unique skill set." She frowned. "That sounded weird, didn't it?"

"A little," he admitted.

That was the end of the conversation, but it made her wonder if there was something on Oliver's end that Diggle was seeing and she was not. She pushed the thought away almost as instantly. It may have been fun to consider, and she would definitely think about it in the quiet times before bed, but she had enough to deal with without dwelling on the enigma that was Oliver Queen.

 

Despite the fact that Felicity was neck deep in an evil plot to overthrow Starling City, or whatever the point was, crime stopped for no one, unless that someone was Oliver Queen or John Diggle. Their side missions of fighting crime continued.

She refused to let them go into danger without her, and she still had to do her work at QC or risk looking suspicious and putting a lot of people behind schedule. She was reduced to working on the tech for the bomb during her meals, mornings, and at night around missions.

Oliver had to spend a lot of his time either in the office - with her in his ear, of course - or with his family. He was protective of Walter. There was no telling what Moira or Hastings might do to him next. He had no way of knowing if they would kill him. She understood his cautiousness, and she was grateful to him for it. She liked the idea of Walter having Oliver as an ally.

There was no talk if Walter was going to return to the company at all that week. They were letting him recover. Felicity hoped he didn't return until after the situation was taken care of and the only job risks he had to face were paper cuts and heart attacks from stress.

Okay, so the last one didn't sound so great.

With such distractions and long days and nights, it took her longer than she had assumed it would take. By a day. "Finished," she announced, marching into the foundry and holding up a case for Oliver to see.

"He was just thinking about you," the dragon said by way of greeting, swooping off the salmon ladder and landing on her guardian's shoulder.

Oliver's eyes brightened with a light that seemed rather too dazzling to be because she had finished her work. She smiled at him, glad she had solved the problem and happy to see him so happy. She did a celebratory twirl and held the case up like a trophy.

Oliver's expression darkened as he considered the implications of her words. He leaned back in his chair; he had been cautious not to sit in her chair since the first time. He was thoughtful and remorseful as he considered their options. It was an expression that told her he was caught between the past and the present.

"Before we give it to them, we need to know how deep this cancer goes," Oliver said.

She set the case down on the table and turned to look at him, seeing that he had more to say.

"When my father gave me the book, I thought the names were simply people he had done business with - associates who he had helped hurt and steal from people. I thought he wanted me to fix what he had done to those innocent people. I didn't think it was this...big. He was part of an attempt to blow up the city. My mother is still part of this."

She had an opinion about the reason his father's boat went down, but she didn't share it. It didn't matter.

"He decided to pull out, though...he had regrets. He was atoning for his sins as much as he was trying to save me when he shot himself. And my mother had him killed. She murdered him...and me, or so she thought," Oliver said.

"Serious Mommy issues," the dragon said sadly.

"How do I stop them without killing her?" he asked.

She pulled her chair next to him and grabbed his hand, wanting to offer him something more than a sympathetic stare. He turned his hand very slowly in hers, so that their palms were touching. She gave his hand a light squeeze. She was surprised when he squeezed back.

He was silent then, and she realized it was her time to speak.

"I don't know," she admitted. "The important thing right now is that we stop them. We can worry about the rest later. We will figure it out. Together."

He stared at her, gauging his emotions and the intensity of her words. He didn't find anything lacking on the second part at least. His grip on her tightened and he nodded.

"My boy would walk into a fire for you," the dragon said. "Or a building that's about to explode...Whatever."

Oliver's eyebrows tightened ever so slightly as her eyes darted over to the dragon. He seemed to realize that his guardian was saying something to her. He wasn't certain he wanted to hear it. He asked her with a look if the dark ones were around. She nodded and he kept the question to himself, though she did smile a little. That just made the worry in his eyes grow.

"So...the tech," Felicity said, clearing her throat and pulling her hand out of Oliver's. She tried not to stare at his hands as she turned to grab the case. Now that she knew how they felt in hers, she was screwed. Totally spoiled on all other hands for life. "What do you want me to do about it?"

"I guess we need to contact Hastings and set up a drop off," Oliver said.

"That sounds potentially deadly," Felicity said.

"Yeah, he'll probably want to get rid of you when he has what he wants," Oliver said. "Which is why I'll be there."

"We can't kill him before he gets the tech," she said. "The whole point is to sabotage the bomb and track it so we can destroy it for good."

"I'll do what I have to," Oliver said tightly.

"Let's just see if we can't make him run before you put any arrows in him," she said.

"We'll set it up for tomorrow," Oliver said. "That gives us plenty of time to prepare."

"If you say so," she said nervously.

He leaned forward, taking her hand in his again before she knew what was really happening. She loved the warmth and the pressure. They were entirely reassuring. Or maybe that was just Oliver. He had a way of knowing how to touch her that went beyond a man being used to being with a woman. It was more personal than that.

"Did you see how smooth that was?" the dragon asked, impressed with his human.

"We can find another way," Oliver assured her, his thumb sliding over the fleshy part of her hand between her thumb and forefinger.

"There is no other way," she said. "This is my plan. I will see it through. It's just..." she gulped, "scarier than I thought it would be."

"I'll be there the whole time," Oliver said.

"I know," she agreed. She smiled at him, filling the foundry with light, hope, and joy. "Let's get this guy."

Chapter Text

Chapter 21: Meet and Greet

 

 

Contacting Hastings wasn't the problem. The knowledge that he would kill her when he had what he wanted was what had the words catching in her throat. She sent him a message through his secretary, vague enough that no one but him would understand the meaning. He called her phone an hour later and arranged for her to meet him at the docks.

"Nice and creepy," she said when he had hung up the phone.

Ten o'clock rolled around that night before she could really process what she had agreed to. She stood at the docks, next to a giant warehouse, pacing and trying not to let her eyes linger on the dark ones, or bring attention to the dragon that was hovering in the dark. The fact that she knew exactly where Oliver was brought her relief. It was the only thing that calmed her. Well, him and the running shoes she had thought to wear. If she was going to run for her life, she was going to do it with proper arch support.

She did not believe in doing things half way.

The metal case was in her left hand, while her right hand was curled into a fist. She was tense, coiled, ready to run, fight, or yell. All three would probably end up happening.

Hastings had told her not to be late. The same rule did not apply to him. Ten minutes after ten o'clock and he was still missing. She didn't like the anticipation. Yeah, that was definitely the worst part of the new life she had found - the waiting for explosions and fisticuffs was awful. At least in the action part things were happening and she wasn't worrying about all the possible outcomes. Act, react, hope to survive.

Headlights in the distance made her stop pacing. She had not driven her car to the docks. She had parked a safe distance away and walked, not wanting to link anything back to her should the proverbial shit hit the fan. Hastings was not nearly as concerned about staying on the down low. He was arrogant and cocky. His driver pulled to a slow stop a foot from her and jumped out professionally. He politely opened the back door for Hastings.

So much politeness. She thought that might have been the worst thing about the situation. It was infuriating how polite the bad guys were as they stabbed her and the city in the back.

Hastings stepped out, his snake uncoiling from his body but remaining at his side defensively. It had learned its lesson from the last time it had met Felicity's guardian. Felicity wanted to smile at its obvious fear, but she had bigger problems. Hastings was all oily politeness and suave evil as he met her at the front of the car. The driver did not get back inside. Instead, he moved around the front, his eyes trained on her. The bulge of his jacket told her he was carrying a pistol.

Would he be the one to kill her?

"You wouldn't be trying to cheat me, would you?" Hastings asked without any preamble as he looked down at Felicity with all the arrogance of a man who thought he had what he wanted.

"So I can die?" Felicity asked.

"They told me that this wasn't possible for another two months," Hastings pointed out.

"I'm the best," Felicity said without any trace of false modesty. She wasn't bragging. She had simply worked her ass off to be better.

Hastings didn't look like he believed her possible of being the best. To him, she was just a stupid girl who had gotten in his way. She could not be nearly as smart as she claimed. She decided that talking to him wasn't getting them anywhere. She held the case out to him and he took it curiously. He opened it, and his eyes widened.

"If this doesn't work..." he said slowly.

"It'll work," Felicity said. Just not the way you want it to, she amended silently. She saw the doubt on his face. He still didn't believe or understand. "I don't want to die. I have no reason to lie to you. Just, please, take it and leave me alone."

Hastings snapped the case shut and smiled at her. His guardian hissed.

"It was nice doing business with you, Ms. Smoak," he added politely.

Felicity tensed expectantly, knowing the moment she had been dreading had arrived. The driver pulled out his pistol and just as instantly it was torn out of his hand, an arrow replacing it. The blood spurted around the black shaft. He screamed, dropping to his knees in pain, and Felicity spun on her heels and started running as another arrow knocked the case from Hastings' hands. Hastings scrambled to pick it back up again, finding a pistol on the man who had fallen. He started shooting into the dark as Felicity ran for her life. More arrows soared toward Hastings. He jumped into the car and peeled away from the docks.

A dark hand appeared from an opening. The owner of the hand pulled her inside the warehouse and she screamed.

"It's just me," Diggle added. His bear whined soothingly, telling her everything was okay.

She put her hand on her chest. "That was stupid. So stupid," she complained.

"It was your idea," Diggle said.

"Tell me not to have any more ideas," she replied. "I might listen to you."

"No you won't," Diggle replied.

"Yeah, I'm stupid that way," she said.

Diggle reached out and touched her right arm gently. She was startled to see a patch of red. Hastings had managed to graze her with one of the bullets.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, feeling bile rise into her throat. "That's...gross."

"Come on," Diggle said, sirens in the distance letting them know they were running out of time. He pulled her to the opposite end of the warehouse, around stacked goods and barrels that smelled suspiciously like day-old tuna. Not one of her most glamorous nights on the town.

When they reached her car, Diggle got in the driver's seat, grumbling about toy cars and grown men not fitting into them. Felicity kept her hand pressed against her arm. The blood wasn't pouring out, but it was enough to make her feel pale. Could a person feel pale? She definitely did.

"I don't want any of the funny pills when we get back," she added. "I need to be focused."

"Okay," Diggle agreed easily.

"Hastings is headed for the south part of town," Oliver added in her ear, the roar of his motorcycle dimmed by his helmet. She could sense his worry. It was in every syllable. He wouldn't ask her how she was directly. She knew him well enough to know that by now. But the question was in his words regardless.

"I'm fine, Oliver," she added for his benefit. "It's a scratch. I just have a complete aversion to blood being on the outside of me. It makes me queasy."

His silence was full of anger. It told her that her words weren't working.

"He's thinking about punching Hastings in the face right now," the dragon piped up. "Repeatedly...violently."

"I'll drop Felicity off and I'll come join you," Diggle added to Oliver.

"They won't do anything tonight," Felicity said.

"How do you know?" Diggle asked.

"It'll take them a day or so, depending on how good their techy person is, to install my modifications. I mean, the person they have couldn't be too good, or they would have finished the modifications themselves. Which sounds awful, but they are working for evil sociopaths. No offense, Oliver."

"Some taken," his dragon returned.

Oliver grunted noncommittally.

When they reached the foundry, Diggle immediately marched her over to the table and patched her up, though he didn't manhandle her the way Oliver had. His bear stood as close to her as the table and her hovering guardian would allow.

"Won't even have a scar," Diggle reassured her.

"Mmm," Felicity managed, her fingers twitching with the need to be working. Her eyes were firmly planted on the computer. Diggle noticed. He shook his head, but she knew he admired her determination and loyalty. He helped her jump off the table with a hand on her elbow and she hurried over to her computers eagerly. She tracked Oliver's GPS first.

"They're in a building just outside of town. From there, they could take out Bludhaven, the glades, the entire south side. We're talking twenty to fifty thousand people," Felicity mused as she brought up the map.

"They won't," Diggle said. "Your, whatever you did, is going to work."

"Right," Felicity agreed, trying to keep a handle on her control. "Yeah..."

"The building is heavily guarded and the security system is top of the line," Oliver breathed a second later. "No way I'm getting in there."

"We don't need to break in," Felicity reminded him.

"Right," he agreed tightly in his vigilante voice.

"Next stage of the plan, finding a way to implicate them all in the attempt to blow up Starling," Felicity said, cracking her knuckles. "You are all about to be dazzled by my magic. I'm gonna knock your socks off...if you have socks on. What do you even wear with those boots of yours? Kevlar ankle weights?"

"Felicity..." Oliver said in that same voice, though she could tell he was fighting a smile.

"Definite sunshine," his dragon added.

"Shutting up," Felicity added, her fingers already creating havoc in Hastings' life. He was first because, duh. She was careful to keep all of her mischief away from anything that had to do with QC. She wouldn't let him tainting her company more than he already had. "Suck on this...and this...and some of this," she muttered to herself as she worked her magic.

Oliver actually chuckled, a rarity when he was working. She ignored him, though a happy bubble inflated in her chest, and continued to sew her seeds of destruction and create so much trouble for Hastings that he would never be able to rise above it. The last thing she did was take the majority of his money and transfer it into an Interpol flagged bank account that had links to terrorists. "And definitely some of that, dirtbag," Felicity said finally.

"Dirtbag?" Diggle asked. "What is this, a 1970s cop film?"

"I'm too female to be in one of those," she said absently. "At least as the protagonist."

"Maybe," he said.

"All done with him," she said happily.

"Did you take all his money?" Diggle asked.

"He transferred it to terrorists, Diggle," she said in her most matter-of-fact voice. "I didn't take anything...I left him a dollar so he can get a chocolate bar or something."

"Where did you come from?" Diggle asked in awe.

"Vegas, baby," she replied. She held up a hand to stop him from replying. "That was a general baby and in no way a come on."

Diggle shook his head and didn't reply. She was glad that both of her boys were so good at ignoring her when she wanted them to.

She considered her next course of action. Moira and Malcolm were different than Hastings. First, they were billionaires and smart enough to have their assets diversified and their money in several different banks. Some of those banks were seriously un-hack-able without actually being inside them. She didn't want to mess with their money, anyways. Thea, Oliver and Tommy would inherit it from their respective crazy-pants parents when all was said and done. She had no intention of coming between them and that money. But she could manipulate things to make Malcolm look very, very guilty and the Queens less so.

"Sorry, Tommy," she muttered as she started futzing with the records she had initially found on Mrs. Queen and dragging Malcolm's name into the mix and removing Moira's.

Then, she set up automated alerts to be sent out with the press of a button if anything about her hacks changed.

"Being evil is exhausting," Felicity said, rubbing at her neck.

"I think it has more to do with the fact that you've been working non-stop for the past week," Diggle said.

"Maybe," she agreed.

"Go home," he added. "I can manage things here."

"I'd rather stay here," she said.

"Then at least catch some shuteye on the cot," Diggle compromised.

"You're a mother hen," she chastised him.

"Dare we say...Mama bear?" the dragon asked through her ear piece.

Felicity snorted, then caught herself. She dug into the skin on her neck again, her fingers threading over the tight tendons and aching muscles. "You may have a point, though."

"I usually do," Diggle said.

"Wake me up if he does something stupid," she said.

"I can hear you," Oliver protested.

"You know us so well," his dragon added.

"Okay," Diggle agreed, ignoring Oliver.

Felicity stretched on the cot, surprised at how much it smelled like Oliver and not the musty foundry, and was asleep exactly one minute later.

She woke up to silence for once. It was blissful. There were no emergencies or someone needing her immediate attention. She sighed happily and put her hand over her eyes to keep the light from reaching her. It wasn't as bright as it normally was, but it was bright enough to be distracting. Her breathing evened out. She was nearly asleep again when she heard the soft footsteps crossing over to her.

That was new.

She jerked her body up and saw that she was not in her bedroom like she had thought. She was still in the foundry. She flushed at the thought that she had spent all night in Oliver's cot. She knew that he had been avoiding going home because of his mother's role in trying to destroy everything Oliver held dear. His mom probably thought he had a girlfriend...or lots of girlfriends. Felicity had no idea if he did. It didn't seem like he had a lot of time for women, but they didn't tell each other everything. She was very much okay with that. She did not want to know about his conquests. Her stomach felt queasy just thinking about it.

Her eyes found Oliver's almost immediately. "Oh. It's you," she said.

"Did I wake you up?" he asked.

"Yep," she said with a teasing smile.

"Sorry," he said. "I was just..." He searched for the proper explanation.

"He was totally sneaking a peek. You look so peaceful when you sleep," the dragon said.

Felicity would have retorted had it not been for the dark ones. She clamped her lips together and looked at Oliver searchingly. She didn't torture him with the silence again, though. She knew he wasn't good with words. She pushed the blanket back and let her bare feet touch the cold concrete.

"Sorry about taking your bed," she said. "I didn't mean to sleep all night."

"You needed it," he said.

"Did you sleep?" she asked sternly.

"Two hours," the dragon said.

"Yes," Oliver replied.

Felicity's eyes narrowed and Oliver seemed to realize that she had an unauthorized access to the truth. He didn't try to change his story, though. His words weren't technically a lie.

"I was just heading out," Oliver said. "I have plans with Thea this morning before work."

Felicity nodded.

"Do you want me to walk you to your car?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I have some things to check on before I leave."

He smiled for the briefest of seconds, tucking his hands in his pockets, and started to back away. Her eyes flickered around the space in what she hoped was a casual thing. She didn't linger on the dark ones, but they definitely had her attention. She also hoped that Oliver caught on to her meaning.

"Be careful," she said.

His eyes narrowed ever so slightly, and he nodded in understanding. He had taken the warning to heart. He would be cautious. She smiled at him in parting, wanting their goodbye to be warm and not loaded with the knowledge of impending danger. He smiled back, looking as if he couldn't help himself, and then was gone.

"Like a ninja," she muttered to herself.

"Damn straight," the dragon's voice drifted back to her.

She almost laughed again. She pressed her lips together and stood. She stretched out the kinks from a night spent on a lumpy cot, then walked over to her computers. She made sure everything was running to her satisfaction. Then, she went home to get ready for her day. She briefly considered calling in sick, but she knew she couldn't. The weekend was tomorrow. The situation with Moira, Hastings, and Malcolm would hopefully be resolved by the end of it. She would rest then.

She just needed patience.

She had no idea how sideways everything could go in that same amount of time.

Chapter Text

Chapter 22: A Pointed Discussion

 

 

Her day was absurdly normal. By the time five o'clock rolled around, she felt like her previous night was something out of a dream. Playing super spy didn't feel real. A phone call snapped her out of her very normal thoughts of work.

She recognized the number immediately.

"Thea? Are you okay?" she asked, her guardian whining in concern behind her.

"Something's wrong," Thea said.

"What?" Felicity demanded, feeling a wave of panic.

"My mom has been acting funny all day. First, Oliver and her had this long talk and she came out of her room crying...Then, she told me not to leave the house today and acted freaked when I argued with her. She seemed panicked, and she never panics. I think they might be doing...you know."

"I fixed it so no one will get hurt," Felicity told her, trying to calm down the hysterics she heard in Thea's tone.

"You did?" Thea asked.

"How?" her guardian added.

"Where are you?" Felicity asked, a sinking feeling growing in the pit of her stomach.

"I'm in the glades with my...friend," Thea provided.

"Can you meet me somewhere?" Felicity asked, the fear clawing its way into her heart.

"I thought you didn't want to be seen together?" Thea asked.

Felicity didn't want Thea anywhere near the glades, just in case. She was confident her tech would work, but smug people got other people killed. She was not as certain as she wanted Diggle and Oliver to think. She had learned that nothing in life was guaranteed.

"It'll be over tonight," Felicity assured her. "And I'll feel better if you're with me."

"I can come to your apartment," Thea said. "Is it...is it okay if my friend comes with me?"

"Sure. Of course," Felicity said agreed quickly.

Felicity was almost running to her car now. She couldn't explain the feeling in her gut or the sense that she was not as clever as she thought. They were firmly entrenched in every movement, however, silently telling her that she needed to be careful.

When she drove out onto the street from the parking garage, she realized the source of her anxiety. The dark ones she had been noticing for over a month were practically sprinting towards the south. There were more of them than she had ever seen at once. They had not left town as she had assumed they would.

But she had stopped the bomb. Or she would stop it whenever they turned it on. She didn't know if they had tried to turn it on yet. She had no way of proving that she had stopped it other than Diggle and Oliver, who had been sharing the duties of keeping an eye on the warehouse. She pressed speed dial on her phone.

"Is everything okay?" she asked Diggle.

"There's been movement," Diggle said. "I think they're planning on setting it off soon."

"I have a bad feeling," Felicity said.

Diggle trusted her gut feeling instantly. "You don't think the technology you designed will work?"

"It will," she said. She hesitated. "I think it will. I just. Moira and Malcolm didn't get to be billionaires by being stupid."

"I trust your brain, and I trust you," Diggle said. "If you tell me what you did will break the bomb, then it will."

His voice was calm and soothing. It did nothing to quiet her fear. It held none of its typical power. It didn't help that she could hear Diggle's guardian growling and roaring at the dark ones in the background of their conversation.

"Keep your eyes open," Felicity said uneasily.

"Always," Diggle said.

They hung up, and she sped to her townhouse. Thea was waiting for her by the front door. A man, boy - man-boy? - was with her. He had dark hair, piercing eyes, and was wearing a red sweatshirt. He was the same height as Thea and looked rather grumpy. His guardian was a black wolf, lean and hungry-looking.

"Thea," Felicity said in relief, grabbing her arm. She did not miss that the dark ones were all around them, but then they were everywhere in the city. It made it impossible to tell who was in the most danger. It was entirely possible everyone was.

"You look freaked," Thea said, her voice trembling slightly.

"You look more than freaked," her guardian said. "You look like you've seen a..." she trailed away thoughtfully, thankfully not finishing her sentence.

"Come on. Inside," Felicity said.

She all but shoved them inside and locked the door behind them. She told them to sit and poured them drinks nervously, her eyes constantly darting to the windows and doors.

"I take it back...You are really freaked," Thea said.

"I just want everything to go right," Felicity said.

Thea nodded in agreement and focused her attention on the man-boy next to her. He was named Roy, and they were clearly more than friends. Their guardians curled around each other in a very loving, tender way. Only Thea's talked, but that didn't deter her. She happily talked enough for everyone in the room. Felicity was not going to be the one to tell Oliver what she had found about his baby sister's love life. No way she was running down that particular uh-oh of nuh-uh.

She made them all dinner and sent several texts to both Diggle and Oliver. They both responded immediately, Oliver mentioning that he had talked to his mother but she had pretended not to know anything. She had gone cold and distant instead, telling him to back off with not very subtle threats. Felicity felt her heart break for him.

"God. My mom keeps texting me," Thea complained.

This brought Thea back to her attention.

"What's she saying?" Felicity asked.

"Asking where I am," Thea said with a shrug. "I guess she doesn't want me die during the massive explosion she has planned."

"Mother of the year," her guardian added angrily.

"At least she cares enough to make sure you're okay..." Felicity said.

As she said it, two things happened. The power cut off, plunging them in near total darkness, and the door burst open with a loud slam. She didn't have time to process what was happening before a dark shape was suddenly in front of her. Roy and Thea were shouting, using their phones as lights. The man - and it was definitely a man - turned and she saw the unmistakable outline of a bow. Acting on instinct, she grabbed his shoulder and pushed him sharply as he released an arrow. It changed his aim, but not enough. It landed in Roy with a dull thud. Felicity groaned in pain as the man's hand formed around her throat in retaliation.

The world turned dark. Her last thought before she passed out was that she really, really hated the word kidnapped.

 

Her mouth was dry and a headache was throbbing under her eyes. Her eyes fluttered open when she realized she was not dead. That was the good news. The bad news was that she was currently not dead in a room full of bad. Her eyes caught on a shape in front of her. When she realized what it was, nausea drifted up her throat. She swallowed several times to force it back down.

Hastings was very dead. Three arrows were poking out from his chest, and his eyes were open and staring at the ceiling. Four dark ones were on top of him, his blood on their mouths as they feasted. His guardian was dead next to him.

Felicity's hands were not bound, so it was easy for her to push off the ground and take better stock of her surroundings. She adjusted her glasses habitually and tried to figure out what was going on. That's when she spotted the energy weapon. The device would have been pretty to her had it not been so terrifying. It was still smoking. They had clearly turned it on; it had just as clearly not worked. She stared at it in confusion. It should have blown up more than that. The entire warehouse should have disappeared.

A whimper from behind her told her she was not alone. She glanced over her shoulder, noticing narrow, dark rows of technical gadgets and weapons that stretched off into the distance. Weird, but not important. Thea was curled in a ball. She was slowly coming around.

"Sorry about the mess," a voice said, cutting through Felicity's confusion and concern.

She turned to face the energy weapon again, her eyes wide. The man in black, the dark archer who had almost killed Oliver, was Malcolm Merlyn.

He obviously had some issues to work on. A therapist would clearly do him some good.

It was only then that Felicity realized her guardian wasn't near her. She heard her a second later. Felicity looked up and saw her guardian perched on the top of one of the shelves, fighting what looked to be a very large falcon. Made sense that Malcolm Merlyn's guardian was a bird of prey.

Malcolm gestured down at Hastings. "Imagine my delight when Mr. Hastings came to me and said that he could advance our timeline. I was thrilled, of course. Who wouldn't be? Progress is money, after all."

Felicity didn't reply. She glared at him, waiting for him to get to the reason she was in a warehouse with a giant energy bomb. She really hated the villain monologue. Malcolm smiled at her, his eyes full-on crazy. Were crazy eyes actually a thing? She had never seen them out of the movies.

"The thing is, I have a lot riding on this situation, and I am not prepared to let a little IT rat with more smarts than common sense get IN MY WAY!" he yelled at her.

Yep, crazy eyes were a thing.

She jumped at his yell. Behind her, she heard Thea whimper. Thea's guardian was already yelling obscenities at him. Her word choices were surprisingly grown up and unsurprisingly eloquent.

Malcolm moved closer to her, looking a bit like a child excited at the prospect of Christmas. Except he was a giant madman, with abilities to match Oliver and a profound love for things that went blowy-uppy.

He grabbed Felicity by the upper arm and pulled her over to the device. "Fix it!" he commanded. "You have one hour, or I am putting an arrow into Thea Queen," he said.

He raised his bow and knocked an arrow against it fluidly. He pointed the arrow with perfect aim at Thea's forehead, his eyes firmly on Felicity's face. Felicity felt a strange mixture of hope and fear. Maybe she could trick him somehow. Tech was her world, after all.

"I can hear you thinking," Malcolm said. "Don't." He snapped his fingers, summoning someone. "I have thought of everything."

Felicity felt her heart drop when a woman walked around one of the aisles. She was smart, beautiful, and had butterflies circling her head.

"Amanda?" Felicity whispered in shock.

Amanda wouldn't look at her. She kept her eyes on Malcolm, waiting for him to get to the point.

"Why?" Felicity wanted to know.

"Money," Malcolm said. "Everyone has a price. Yours happens to be Thea right now."

"You're the reason the bomb didn't blow up?" Felicity asked Amanda. She shook her head at the wrongness of her statement. "I mean you're the reason it didn't blow up all the way." She frowned. There was no real way to say it that made sense.

Amanda merely nodded, her eyes still on Malcolm. Felicity felt so betrayed. But, mostly, she was really, really pissed.

"Apparently, she's not as smart as you, but she knows enough about technology to know if you're being bad," Malcolm added. He lowered his bow, and Felicity released a breath she hadn't realized she had been holding in. Thea was having a similar reaction behind her. Malcolm marched over to Thea and chained her hands to the metal shelving unit with a zip tie. "Stay," he commanded to Thea. "Move," Malcolm added to Felicity.

Felicity didn't hesitate. She had seen enough of Malcolm to know that he did not mess around. He would kill them all. The dead body of Hastings was proof he was willing to cross that line, at least. She was shaking from head to toe, but she managed to shed her shoes, stumble to her feet, and cross over to the device. Amanda moved with her, her eyes curious. It was a look Felicity had noticed when they were working through a problem together.

"How'd you manage to adapt the battery?" Amanda asked.

Felicity sniffed and glared defiantly at her. She wasn't going to have a conversation with the woman. They weren't friends. That ship had sailed the moment Amanda had stepped out of the shadows.

Felicity started pulling components from the bomb to assess the damage. She was meticulous as she laid the wires out on the cold floor. Her mind was working on two very different planes.

Had Diggle or Oliver seen her get dragged into the building? Were they still watching? Had Malcolm snuck her and Thea in? Were they coming? Oliver had promised to always come for her.

The other part of her was working through various ways to keep Malcolm from getting his way. Like Hastings, he would take what he wanted and kill them all once he had it. The faster she worked, the quicker they died. He had given her an hour. She could feel the minutes ticking down until her life ended.

She wiped at the sweat that was pouring down her face and kept working through her options. Malcolm was right. Amanda wasn't as good as Felicity was. There had to be a way to slip something past her. Maybe if she could modify the bomb to...Oh. Overloaded it as it built charge would be dangerous. It would most likely kill them all. It was that or thousands of people would die.

Was this how Oliver felt all the time? Weighing the good of the city against his own life? It was terrifying. She suddenly understood his determination and the sacrifice he was willing to make. She knew because she felt it in her bones.

Malcolm paced behind Felicity like a caged tiger as she worked. Above them all, his falcon continued to fight her guardian. Thea's guardian fought the dark ones off with fire and grace. The sounds of violence threatened to tear her away from her work. Only years of self-control kept her focused. It was strange to hear so much aggression and have the people around her be so still.

Her hands moved over the components familiarly. She had studied the blueprints. She knew the tech in front of her. She was glad she had looked it over. It meant buying Thea time.

As the minutes ticked on, she began to feel as though Oliver wasn't coming to save her. He wasn't going to swoop in and make the bad man go away. And even if he did, there was no guarantee he would win. Malcolm was meaner and more experienced. Oliver was still recovering from their last encounter. It would end in disaster.

She would have to take care of Thea and herself on her own. She had no idea how. She had never been in such a weird, craptastic situation before. Her hands kept moving, even as she processed, planned, plotted, and tried to find any way out of the situation. The guilt was clenching in her gut. If she hadn't ticked him, Malcolm would have come after them and Thea would still be safe.

Malcolm disappeared at one point, the voices that drifted over to her telling her that there were more guards around the warehouse - another obstacle to deal with. Thea was crying, but she let Felicity work, knowing it was the only thing keeping them both alive. She tugged and twisted her hands, searching for a way to free them from her bonds. Amanda didn't pay her any attention. She was staring at Felicity's hands as she worked as though they were magic. They kind of were.

They were nearing the forty-five minute mark when Malcolm returned. He was starting to get impatient. She didn't know what he expected. She was working as fast as humanly possible, but a lot of the bomb was fried.

"I need wires and two circuit boards," Felicity told him. "These are dead."

"Get them," Malcolm told Amanda. She nodded and hurried away to find what Felicity needed.

"Are you really willing to kill so many people just for money?" Felicity asked finally. She had been fighting the question since first seeing him.

"I'm willing to kill so many for control over the city," Malcolm said. "Starling has turned into a sewer, a breeding ground for corruption, decay, and filth. It's dying. I'm going to rebuild it from the ashes better than it ever was. I'm going to bring light to the darkness."

Crazy eyes were a little worse now. Not a good sign.

"By killing thousands," Felicity said.

"Every war has a cost," Malcolm said.

"Those aren't soldiers you're trying to kill. They're innocent people, like your wife."

"Don't you DARE mention my wife!" he screamed.

Felicity flinched and returned to her work. Wife. Trigger for super-duper crazy eyes. Right.

Amanda returned a minute later with the connectors, circuits, and wires she needed. She went back to work, hoping against hope that her half-baked plan actually came through with a Hail Mary sort of miracle...and she was Jewish. She was so desperate she was hoping for a miracle from another religion.

"Malcolm?" a new voice interjected into the mix.

Felicity paused in her work, Thea looked up, and even the dark ones stilled. The woman who had spoken had that much freaking presence. Moira Queen walked around one of the shelves and stopped dead in her tracks. She took in the scene with wide eyes. Felicity noticed her hands shaking slightly.

"What is this?!" she demanded when she caught sight of Thea. Her eyes barely paused on Felicity.

"It was necessary," Malcolm said sympathetically, as though trying to cushion the blow.

"Necessary?" Moira asked. "As necessary as killing Robert and sending Oliver to hell on that island?"

Ah, so Malcolm had been the cause, not Moira. That made more sense.

"Yes," Malcolm said simply.

"Release my daughter," Moira demanded. Malcolm's expression told her no. "We're supposed to be partners in this. I focused all of the resources at QC on this, I've helped you more than anyone else has, even after you killed my husband. I believe in what we're doing, but you can't have my daughter, too. You can't have her!"

Malcolm raised his bow impatiently, arrow pointed at Moira's heart, and Moira clamped her lips closed. She had obviously not expected such a violent reaction to her words. He must have spent more time being charming than evil with her, Felicity thought - or else their friendship had blinded Moira to the truth.

Felicity looked up as a screeching filled her ears. The falcon was circling the warehouse. It had broken away from her guardian. She saw why. The dark ones that were surrounding them were so numerous she was having trouble seeing the ceiling. Malcolm's guardian didn't know who to fight: Felicity's guardian or the dark ones. Both were eager to kill the bird.

"I am not here to negotiate with you," Malcolm said tightly. "I will let her go when Ms. Smoak is done with her work."

"We both know you won't," Moira said. "She's seen your face. This plan only works if our names stay out of it."

Malcolm smiled. Felicity's hands went numb. She had known Malcolm planned on killing her, but to have the words out there, to have them said, made the panic grow in her chest. This was not going to end well.

"I can guarantee you that she won't say anything," Moira said. "I will see to it personally."

Thea was crying, but she was still full of passion. "You're both monsters! You'd let all those people die! And for what? Money?! You're evil!" Her eyes moved to her mother. "I hate you!"

Moira's lioness had been circling Thea, fending off the dark ones. She paused at the vehemence in Thea's voice, but she did not stop protecting her. Nothing could stop her from looking out for her baby girl, much like her human.

Malcolm's smile grew, though his arrow was still pointed at Moira. "So much passion. She's definitely your daughter."

Moira took a step forward, her hands raised. "Please."

"I can't take the risk," Malcolm said softly. "I'm sorry, Moira." He really did sound sorry. Felicity had not expected him to sound so contrite. Malcolm's attention moved back to Felicity as she watched the weird scene unfold in front of her. Amanda was equally entranced by the drama. "You only have fifteen minutes left."

"You want me to work my hardest so you can kill me when I'm finished?" Felicity asked.

"Compromise, then," Malcolm said thoughtfully, looking between Moira and Felicity. "I will let Thea leave with Moira if you finish. If you can promise me you will keep her quiet," he added to Moira.

Moira nodded, her eyes flickering to Felicity. Felicity was surprised by the pleading in Moira's eyes. She may have been evil, but she definitely loved Thea. Crap. It was hard to hate someone who had that much love in her eyes. Hard, but not impossible.

"Fine," Felicity said, her voice trembling.

Felicity went back to work, her fingers moving through the wires purposefully. Amanda turned back to watch, and Felicity felt the added pressure of having all of them staring at her. Everything depended on her. She couldn't let Thea down.

"You two will come with me when the bomb is finished," Malcolm said to Moira. "Better safe than sorry."

"Whatever you want," Moira said swiftly.

Felicity wasn't surprised that Moira was willing to feed her to the vultures. She was nothing to Moira. At least Thea would be safe.

Where the hell was Oliver?

She slid her glasses up her sweaty nose for the thousandth time since starting on the bomb and connected the last wire. The bomb immediately hummed to life and lit up blue. Felicity took a step back, her heart hammering against her chest and her stomach dropping unpleasantly. Her guardian gave a low whine from where it was currently being overrun by dark ones.

Her time was out.

Malcolm's smile was pleased. He raised his bow again and pointed it at Amanda. He released the arrow smoothly. It landed in her chest with a wet sound, and she hit the ground with a thump. Felicity reached out to her, but it was clear that Amanda was already dead. Malcolm raised his bow again and Felicity froze. Her guardian started to scream in anger and pain. She was being overrun by dark ones. Felicity closed her eyes, not wanting to watch as her guardian, her friend, was taken from her.

She opened them again when she heard a sharp thwack, followed by Moira's gasp. The arrow had been knocked out of Malcolm's hand by a green one. Felicity's heart leapt in her chest. The relief was followed by pure joy when she heard a voice she could have recognized anywhere.

"The cavalry be here!" the dragon announced, swooping in front of her.

Oliver.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23: Staying Alive

 

 

The violent sounds in the distance told her that Diggle was around as well. He was fighting the guards that Oliver had left in his wake. They had come to stop Malcolm. They had come to save her.

Her boys would always find her. She was sorry to have doubted them.

Felicity stumbled away from Malcolm as he raised his bow to face the threat that was Oliver. He released an arrow quickly and Felicity saw a dark shape of a man drop down from one of the shelves. Oliver had dodged the arrow smoothly. She would have definitely not been able to do the same. He was moving closer to Malcolm as he fired arrow after arrow. They were close to having a full-on fight. She knew it was an insanely bad idea to stick around and let Malcolm use her or Thea as hostages. They had to get out.

She turned expectantly and saw that Moira was reaching out to Thea. Thea scrambled as far back from her as possible while being restrained, turning her face away from her mother in anger and shame. Moira looked helpless and weak, nothing like the matriarch who had so long intimidated Felicity.

Felicity brushed past her and knelt in front of Thea. Thea turned to her as if Felicity was the only thing keeping her sane. Felicity smiled at her, knowing the smile didn't quite look right around her panic, and touched the zip tie at Thea's wrists.

"I need a knife," Felicity muttered.

Thea's wrists were red from tugging at her restraints, and her mascara was running down her face, but she looked determined. She had far more bravery than Felicity would have assumed she had before meeting her. "This is warehouse full of weapons," Thea pointed out a bit sardonically, her sarcasm marred by her trembling voice.

"Don't sass," Felicity said back, trying to relieve some of the tension.

"Three rows over, there are a whole slew of pointy objects..." the dragon said as he joined Felicity's guardian in the fight against Malcolm's falcon.

Felicity jumped to her feet and ran in the direction he had indicated. She heard gunfire from Diggle's end of things, and arrows flying from Oliver's side of the fight. He was fighting for his life against the evilest of men. She wanted to help him, but she knew her skill set was nothing like his. It was why they worked. They had complementary talents; combined, no bad guy stood a chance. But hers gravitated towards technological badassry. Too, he needed a clear head to win. He needed to know his sister was safe before he really committed to the fight. She could give him that.

She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw the aisle the dragon had pointed out. Pointy things had been putting it blandly. There were swords, knifes, axes, cleavers, sickles...the list went on, for quite a ways.

"Whoa."

It took her a second to get over her shock at seeing so many weapons of death in front of her. She lurched forward when she realized she was wasting time and grabbed the nearest thing that didn't look like it would kill her just to lift it - a giant knife. She ran back to Thea.

Strangely, the only thing she could think about as she ran was that she wasn't supposed to run with knives.

It was possible she was insane.

Moira was standing on the other side of the aisle from Thea, her pleading eyes on her daughter. Tears were tracking down her face. Thea breathed out a relieved sigh when Felicity reappeared. Felicity knew it wasn't because she had come back armed with a giant knife. Thea was eager not to talk to her mother - she was eager not to be in the same stratosphere as her mother. Felicity was a buffer.

Felicity released Thea from the shelving unit with a quick cut of the knife on the plastic. Thea instantly threw her arms around Felicity's neck and sobbed into her shoulder.

"Come on," Felicity said, pulling Thea to her feet. "Let's get out of here."

"Yeah," Thea agreed, peeking over her shoulder to where Oliver and Malcolm were in a duel to end all duels. The crashing of shelves and the slamming of bone was brutal. It was clear Oliver did not need their help. He would win or he would lose, and neither outcome would involve them.

As they regained their feet, Thea still clutching at Felicity, the bomb that had so recently come back to life beeped. Felicity turned immediately at the sound, her heart hammering against her chest. The display on the front of the very scary, very dangerous bomb lit up with numbers. Two minutes started ticking down.

How had that happened?

"Oh," Felicity said, her eyes wide.

"Was that an, 'Oh! I left my oven on?' or, 'Oh, we're all gonna die?'" Thea asked shakily, her eyes also on the bomb.

There was no way Felicity could diffuse the bomb in two minutes. It was impossible. The fail safes were too complex. They would all die first.

"Run!" Felicity said, grabbing Thea's hand and pulling her down the aisle. Moira ran after them, her heels clattering against the stone floor loudly. Felicity realized very quickly that she had no idea where they were and that the warehouse was a lot bigger than she thought.

Her guardian, Thea's guardian, and Moira's guardian protected their running retreat. The dark ones leapt over them, scrambling to get a good lock on Felicity and the others. They wanted her blood more than ever. Her near escape had infuriated them.

"She has no idea where she's going," the lioness said in exasperation as they ran.

"At least she's not evil," Thea's guardian retorted. "At least she gives a damn!"

"You're going the wrong way," Moira spoke up. "The exit is to the left."

Felicity didn't like Moira, but she wasn't so surrounded by hatred to ignore her. She had walked into the warehouse on her own freewill. Felicity had not. She adjusted her course, her bare feet slapping against the cold floor with her increased pace.

Felicity had to immediately swerve into another aisle when three armed men appeared at the end of row. Bullets started peppering the space around them. A second later, a large bear lumbered into her range of vision. More bullets sounded nearby as Diggle faced the three gunmen down.

"Diggle! The bomb is set to go off in a minute!" Felicity yelled as she ran. "Get out! Now!"

She wanted to tell him to tell Oliver, but she couldn't say his name in front of Thea and Moira. They didn't know his secret. She trusted Diggle to spread the news. He was smart. He would make sure Oliver got out.

More grunts and groaning met her ears as Diggle continued to fight. He called back, telling her to run and that he had heard her. His mission seemed to be to get to Oliver. She had no idea what was going on with Oliver and Malcolm. She hoped she had the chance to find out.

They ran past the shelves finally and into a large, open area. Above them, was a balcony with a metal door and an exit sign casting red over everything. They had to run up the stairs to get to the door, their only way out. Not exactly awesome.

More gunshots came from behind them, and two men fell from the balcony. She looked over her shoulder, but she didn't see anyone. She knew it was Diggle watching out for them even as he moved to help Oliver. He was definitely multitasking. She was afraid it would get him killed.

The metal under Thea's boots and Moira's heels clanged loudly. The steps rattled, and the railing teetered alarmingly. She was half convinced the stairs would give out on them before the bomb exploded. Felicity was counting the seconds in her head. She wanted Diggle to make a run for it. She needed Oliver to get out and leave the fight.

She couldn't worry about them until Thea was safe. She knew her role in the mission. She knew what was most important to Oliver.

Felicity opened the door for Thea. The fresh air hit her face like a chilly, welcome, balm. They were almost out. She could taste freedom. It carried with it the salty tang of fear. At that exact moment, the world decided to send a great, big, suck it in Felicity's direction.

She had overloaded the device, but she had forgotten the supercharged battery she had modified. The explosion was far larger than it was supposed to be. And they were out of time.

The detonation began with a sound like a train colliding, or possibly the world breaking in half. The energy wave was headed straight for them. Moira reacted before Felicity or Thea did. She pushed Thea through the door with a scream, sending the younger woman reeling onto the hard ground of the exterior.

"Run!" Moira screamed as a pressure wave of pure energy hit them with a whoosh.

Thea was thrown back from the wave as the building around them started to buckle. That was the thing about an energy bomb that Felicity found equally parts fascinating and terrifying. It's destruction was not with fire and heat. It was colder than that. It was in force expanding, atoms bending. The building could not handle the pressure wave against the steel. Everything started to bend inwards, toward the bomb, as if magnetized. The balcony collapsed under them. The only thing that kept Felicity from falling was her hand on the metal door.

She watched in horror as Moira fell next to her. It felt like it was all happening very quickly and very slowly at once. Felicity reached out with her spare hand, dangling precariously and grazing Moira's fingertips with hers as Thea scrambled back to the broken door to make a grab for her mother. Moira's eyes were wide and fearful as she tumbled down into the darkness below. Felicity watched in horror.

A second later, the rest of the building collapsed around them. Felicity's lifeline went with the rest of the structure. It tore from the wall and sent her tumbling. She started to fall, but Thea's hands appeared around her wrist.

The wind was knocked out of Felicity as she hit something metal in front of her, but at least she wasn't falling to certain doom. Like Moira. Oh, god.

"I can't hold you!" Thea cried.

Felicity looked over her shoulder and saw that the warehouse was a mess of broken rubble and twisted metal. Small fires had broken out around the large space. She felt like something inside of her chest had snapped and fluttered away.

Diggle. Oliver.

Were they under all that?

"Felicity! You need to help me!" Thea said.

Felicity was jolted back to the present as she slipped slightly in Thea's grip.

"You're really strong," Felicity said. She was definitely slipping back into shock. It was strange how familiar it was.

"Not helping!" Thea said through gritted teeth.

"Is she serious?" Thea's guardian added to Felicity's guardian as she sent a burst of fire at a dark one trying to crawl up Felicity's leg. Her guardian ignored the question. Instead, she whined and tried to reach out to Felicity, wanting to pull her up. Her claws passed straight through Felicity's body. Felicity shivered slightly and looked into her guardian's eyes fearfully.

"That won't help," Thea's guardian said passionately. "Fight! Help me! Protect her!"

That call brought her guardian back to her senses. It also brought Felicity back to hers. She was slipping. She was going to fall. She couldn't just give up. She never gave up. She never surrendered. And now she was quoting movies in her head. She tried to pull herself up via Thea's hand. All the movement did was pull Thea closer to the edge that had formed where the wall and door had once stood.

Thea was crying again. She was trembling and desperate. "I can't! I can't! Please don't! Please!"

Felicity's wrist slipped out of Thea's hands. She fell backwards, much as Moira had, her guardian falling with her, the dark ones tearing at her clothes and hair. The sound of their hunger was in her ears. They were closer than they ever had been before. There was no fighting. There was no surviving.

It was over.

She closed her eyes. She didn't want to see her death coming from her. She would feel it soon enough.

Something hard and firm hit her a second later. The rush of air that followed and filled her ears was something she recognized. She had heard that rush before. It had been in a different warehouse, right after a bomb had blown up. Her fingers formed around the solid thing that had hit her, her body turning instinctively into the warmth.

"You're safe," Oliver's dragon comforted her in her ear.

The surge of happiness at hearing that voice was only matched by the joy she felt at knowing that Oliver's arms were around her. They were warm and steady. They would always be there when she needed them. He had saved her again. "Oliver," she whispered in relief.

She opened her eyes and saw that they were swaying on a black rope. Oliver's arms were the only thing that kept her from falling. She looked up and saw the rope was hanging over the same spot Felicity had been clutching at Thea. Thea was looking down at them, her eyes wide with shock and concern.

"You really need to stop playing around with explosives," Oliver said in her ear so that Thea couldn't hear.

She laughed, and he grunted painfully as she slipped a little in his arms. Her arms tightened around his neck and she squeaked in fright. "Have I ever told you I don't like heights?"

"Please don't throw up on him," his dragon said. "Seriously. Please? That would be good for no one."

"Hang on," Oliver said tightly, pain, fear, and sadness in his voice.

"I will definitely not be letting go," she retorted. "Though we're going to have another conversation about you Tarzan-ing me."

Oliver pushed a button on his bow and they were slowly reeled up by the line. She put her face into his shoulder and closed her eyes. Before she could take stock of the fact that she was dangling over a precipice of doom, she felt solid ground under her.

She opened her eyes again at the feeling, then she clutched at the asphalt gratefully. She crawled away from the edge and Oliver collapsed next to her. He was panting and clearly hurt. The fight with Malcolm had almost taken him from her again. She saw blood on his suit. She didn't know how bad it all was.

She couldn't focus on that yet. Not yet. She had to know.

"Diggle?" Felicity whispered.

"I'm here," Diggle said. He reached down and pulled Oliver up as though Oliver were a doll. His arms really were ginormous. "We have to go. Come on."

Felicity sat up with his words and was immediately met by Thea. She collapsed into Felicity's arms, shaking and crying. "My mother's dead!" she sobbed. "She's dead! She died saving me and I told her I hated her!"

Felicity watched sadly as Oliver's dragon wrapped itself around Thea's guardian. He put his chin on her blazing shoulder and they both wept for the loss. Oliver seemed numb and disoriented. She knew he was shocked by Thea's words. Felicity wrapped her arms tighter around Thea, wishing she could do the same thing for Oliver, to comfort him the way he needed comfort, and let her own tears leak over.

"Felicity..." Diggle added urgently, the sirens increasing in the distance.

Felicity pulled Thea up gently, and they ran away from the destruction of the warehouse. They stopped only when they reached the black van Felicity recognized as Diggle's.

Thea was inconsolable. Felicity held on to her as Oliver leaned against the passenger door aimlessly. Diggle took Thea to the hospital, where Felicity learned Roy was recovering from the arrow to the chest. Her push against Malcolm had been enough to put the arrow into his lung rather than his heart.

Felicity stayed with Thea at the hospital, figuring someone needed to. Oliver was not in the mindset he needed to be in to offer comfort. Not yet. He needed some time. And he had Diggle. Thea had no one.

The terror in Moira's eyes flashing in front of Felicity again as they waited in the ER. She shivered and held Thea's hand a little tighter. She wondered if she would ever get the image out of her head. Thea had stopped crying, but she looked nearly as numb as Oliver. Numbness meant less tears, but it didn't seem healthy.

Felicity, however, felt nearly as numb. On top of the violence, anguish, and awfulness of the night, she was in a hospital. She hated hospitals. They were a breeding ground for the dark ones. They added to the panic and sadness in her chest. All around her, more people were being claimed by them. She stared at her bare feet, trying to get the image of Moira and Amanda dying out of her head, trying to forget the whoosh and the slap in the chest as the bomb had exploded, trying to pretend she couldn't feel the death around her.

Who would have thought that Lionel's bomb was a warm up to something far worse?

She couldn't deny that it had been her hands to repair the bomb that had taken Moira. She had meant for it to explode at the right time, but she had not meant for so many people to get caught up in it. How had it gone off? Had she made a mistake? Was Moira's death her fault? Had she orphaned Oliver and Thea?

How could Oliver ever forgive her?

They were sitting on the hard, plastic chairs for twenty minutes when the activity in the hospital went from calm to frantic. Nurses and doctors started running out through the doors and supplies were ordered and brought to the large room in anticipation of a large amount of people arriving.

"What's going on?" Felicity asked a passing nurse.

"An explosion of some kind to the east," she said.

Felicity's eyes widened, and her heart turned to lead in her chest. She had missed something. The fact that the power was still on told her that it wasn't the energy weapon, but any explosion was bad, no matter how it was swung. Thea turned to her, the numbness fading to terror, and Felicity felt her heart break all over again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 24: Recovery

 

 

Oliver came to the hospital without Diggle. He was limping, and his face was covered in bruises and abrasions, but he was wearing normal clothes. It looked like it took a lot of effort to move.

"What happened to you?" Thea demanded.

"I was caught in the explosion to the east," he said hollowly.

"Oh my god!" Thea said, realizing she had almost lost him too, and collapsed into his arms sobbing.

He held her for a long while, his dragon curled around his shoulders protectively. He was clearly turned inwards, protecting himself from the pain. Thea's guardian started stroking the dragon, obviously needing the comfort of touch. Felicity's guardian hovered at their backs, keeping the other guardians and dark ones away from them, offering them protection from the world around them. Felicity stood far enough away from them not to infringe on their moment, but she wished she could do more.

As if the thought drew him to her, Oliver's eyes opened. They immediately found hers. She tried to share all of her compassion and strength with him. She wanted him to take whatever he needed from her. He must have read the emotions in her eyes because he suddenly looked grateful. Their stare was supercharged and weighted with things unsaid.

Thea's arms slipped away from Oliver when the doctor came out to join them. The woman assured them that Roy was going to be okay, and they followed her to the private room set aside for Roy. The doctor didn't have time to coddle Thea as she dropped her off in the room. The injured were pouring into the ER. They needed her attention.

Oliver pulled Felicity out of the room as the wounded started being rushed inside. He kept pulling on her until they were in the parking lot and sheltered by a large truck that could have only belonged to a Bubba.

There was a pause as Felicity tried to find a way to apologize to Oliver for the bomb that had taken away his mother - to apologize for missing the second bomb. Before she could say anything, he swept her up in his arms. She was not only surprised by the closeness and intimacy of the act, but also by the intensity of the hug. It was like she was the only solid thing for him in the entire world.

She froze for a second at the strangeness of the situation, then snaked her arms under his and held him even tighter. He pressed his body into hers, his arms crushing her to him. His nose came to rest in the crook of her neck. His breaths tickled her skin and made her acutely aware of the fact that she was still alive.

"Finally!" Oliver's dragon said from where it had flown onto her guardian's shoulder.

"I'm sorry," Felicity whispered.

"No, no, no," the dragon said. "Don't start with the apologies. Hug him, kiss him, then smile at him. That order. Don't complicate things."

She ignored him.

"If I hadn't fixed the bomb...I don't even know what happened...how it turned on, or what I did wrong...And I knew the dark ones were lingering. I saw that they were hanging around town...more of them than ever before. I was arrogant. I thought I had won. I ignored all the signs. It's my fault." Tears were starting to trail down her face. She felt exhausted, terrified, and so sick of herself. She didn't even want to be in her own body any more. She wanted to drift away and not look at the choices that had led to such horrible consequences.

Oliver pulled back so that he could look at her. His hands moved to either side of her face. The pressure brought her back from some of her grief. She realized how selfish she was being.

"What am I talking about? I'm such an idiot. You just lost your mother and I'm having my own little pity party and babbling at you. It's stupid. I'm stupid. I'm sorry."

Oliver was still staring at her. She wished he would say something. She doubted he would. He was much better at acting and doing. She didn't blame him for being the way he was, but her nerves were stretched thin and she was just so exhausted.

"It don't take a word...Not a single word...Go on and kiss the girl," Oliver's dragon sang lightly into Oliver's ear encouragingly.

Felicity's eyes moved to Oliver's lips with the dragon's words. She couldn't help herself. She had never had Oliver so close to her, holding her face and looking at her intensely. She had fantasized about kissing him. She was only human, and he was insanely attractive, after all. But it felt like more than obliging a fantasy now. If he kissed her, it would mean something. It would be a beginning. She wasn't certain if either of them were ready for it.

Oliver's thumb ran across her cheek again. He was closer now, searching her face and her eyes. She met his eyes with hers again, wondering what he was thinking and if he would cross the line she wanted him to cross. He moved even closer, his eyes softening. He didn't kiss her, though. She figured it was probably for the best. Emotions running high, mind not in the right frame, that sort of thing. She still swore silently at the missed opportunity.

"None of this is your fault, Felicity," he said quietly. "Malcolm turned that bomb on. He turned both of them on. It was his fault."

"He did?" she asked.

Oliver looked down at his feet, remembering. "He wasn't willing to take the chance that he would lose. Wanted to get his way, even if he lost the fight. I guess he kind of did." His eyes moved back up to her, still impossibly soft and vulnerable.

"I didn't know he had another bomb," she said. "Why didn't I know?"

"Because you don't know everything, no one does," Oliver said. "And you're the reason that it wasn't much worse. His second bomb was not an energy one. Diggle and I think it...We think it might have been some of Grace's. We think he had more bombings planned."

"Lionel?" Felicity demanded. Her arch-nemesis was back to bite her in the ass.

"We never did find where he was holed up...and Malcolm was clearly skilled at tracking people down. He probably saw the explosives as an opportunity to increase the confusion and chaos...and they would be tied back to Grace, not him," Oliver said.

"Too bad he didn't have an outlet for his smarts like, I don't know, business," Oliver's dragon said dryly.

"And he's...?" Felicity asked.

"Dead," Oliver confirmed. His eyes told her that he had killed him. "I don't know how I'm going to tell Tommy."

"With honesty and compassion," Felicity said.

"That sounds more like you," Oliver replied softly.

"He beat me to the punch," his dragon said, sounding surprised and proud of his human.

"You sell yourself short," Felicity told him seriously, putting one hand over Oliver's heart. Why couldn't he see he had goodness inside? Why couldn't he see what she saw? Why was that so difficult for him?

And was it her imagination, or was he looking at her lips now? And why wasn't he letting her go? Oliver was not the type of person to linger in intimacy, not with her. What was causing this?

Then it hit her.

His mother's death, almost dying himself, relief that she hadn't died - they were all making him emotional and irrational. She didn't want him to kiss her because he was freaking out. She needed him to kiss her because he liked her. She wanted him to like her the way she - very stupidly - liked him. She wouldn't settle for anything less.

"Oliver?" she asked.

His name seemed to pull him out of his daze. His eyes moved back to hers and he blinked several times in surprise, as if he hadn't realized they were standing so close. He seemed to realize what he was doing; he also seemed to realize he wasn't in the right frame of mind to be kissing her. He was still hovering in shocked territory.

She was surprised - very, very surprised - by the promise she saw in his eyes as he looked down at her. It was the promise of later, not never. He wasn't closing the door on her. She hadn't expected so much from the look. She licked her lips at the thought and his eyes were drawn down again.

"You are making it really difficult for him to remember why he shouldn't kiss you right now," the dragon said. "I don't agree with any of his reasons, by the way."

Oliver's eyes narrowed as he watched her face. "What did he just say?"

Felicity shook her head. There was no way in hell she was repeating that.

"I'm sure it was true," Oliver said quietly.

Felicity's eyes widened, and Oliver sighed. The breath hit her lips. Damn him for being so close and warm and everything she wanted in that moment.

"Please don't take the blame for Malcolm," Oliver added then, dropping his hands down to her shoulders and releasing some of the tension between them. "You...you're..."

"Wonderful, amazing, ridiculously beautiful, everything that could make him happy forever, sweet, kind, smart, sassy..." the dragon started listing things for her.

"You're perfect," Oliver said.

Felicity smiled at him, surprised and pleased that he had managed to say that much. "Thanks. You're...pretty perfect, too."

"I don't-"

"Take the compliment, Oliver," Felicity said with a sigh.

"Thank you," he replied instantly, a mischievous smirk on his stupidly perfect lips.

"Good," she said with a bossy sniff.

They both smiled, laughter beyond them after such a difficult night. Oliver's expression fell a second later, and she saw the boy who had just lost his mother, the man who had gone through hell, and someone who may just be ready to slowly start accepting the light within himself. It would take time and effort, but he was getting there. She was willing to wait.

"What now?" she asked, unsurprised by the weight of the question as it left her.

"I'm taking you home," Oliver said. "Then I'm coming back to be with Thea and her," his jaw did angry clench, "boyfriend."

"Knew about that, huh?" she asked, relieved she hadn't spilled the beans.

Oliver grunted.

"If he survives, don't kill him," Felicity said. "He's really nice when he isn't being grumpy...Kind of reminds me of someone else that way."

"There is no power on earth that will make him like his baby sister's boyfriend," the dragon said. "None."

"Thea needs me right now," Oliver added. It was almost an apology. It was like he was trying to explain why he couldn't stay with her.

"I get that," Felicity said.

He nodded.

"You always do get him, don't you?" the dragon asked.

Oliver reached down and slipped his hand into hers. It was another line crossed. She didn't care, not even a little. She leaned into the grip, her arm pressing against his as she sought out the comfort only he could give.

True to his word, he took her home. He left only after lingering longer than was strictly necessary. She closed the door behind him and put her back against the door. There was a lot to process, a lot to obsess about - including all the things she could have done differently. The one thought that kept intruding was the promise in Oliver's eyes before he had stepped back from the edge they had both stepped up to.

"Do you think he likes me?" she asked her guardian. "Why am I thinking about that right now? What's wrong with me? There are so many other things to think about right now, including my near-death experience...So...Do you think he likes me, or was it just a gut reaction from both of us almost dying?"

Her guardian stared at Felicity. Felicity thought she had never seen her look more exasperated. For the first time in her entire life, her guardian rolled her eyes at Felicity and walked away.

"I'm serious!" Felicity called.

Her guardian ignored her and disappeared into a room off the hall.

After a long shower to get the night off her skin, Felicity crawled into bed and curled into the tiniest of balls. She had never seen more evil and darkness in her life, yet she still felt hopeful. Oliver had protected the city, as much as he was able. He had prevented the catastrophe from reaching monumental proportions. People had died, certainly, but he had stopped Malcolm. He had done the impossible. And Diggle and her had helped. The three of them together had saved the city in a way they had not saved it before. They had pulled the city back from the brink.

It was then that she realized Oliver's reason for his crusade had ended. The need for his father's book was over. What happened now? What would Oliver do? She doubted he had thought that far ahead, but the idea of packing everything in and giving it all up was not a happy one. She had been with Oliver and his crusade for a month and half. It was enough to fall in love with the work. It was enough to fall in love with...

"Oh, frack," she said to her dark room, her eyes popping open in shock. Surely her brain was just fritzing into stupid territory after a long day spent getting threatened and blown up. She couldn't possibly be falling in love. That was stupid.

Her guardian started laughing, the chuckles filling her room with noise.

"Shut it," she commanded with a huff, tucking her comforter under her chin with an irritated tug.

She wanted to deny the realization, but him staring down at her as though he wanted nothing more than to kiss her was the only thing that got her to sleep around the chaos of her other thoughts.

 

Diggle came by her apartment before any sane person would even really call it morning. She was certain that the daylight through her windows was shining just to mess with her head. It should definitely still be dark out. She didn't complain as she normally would have, however. Instead, she paid him back for cooking her breakfast post-Lionel by making him pancakes.

They ate on her sofa and talked about everything that had happened. It was therapeutic for both. The only thing Felicity didn't mention was the fact that she had almost kissed Oliver Queen behind a pickup truck that had actually carried a bumper sticker that said, "Ass Kickin' Redneck," complete with Rebel flag.

Diggle didn't leave her all day. She had the feeling he need reassurance that she was alive as much as she needed the same thing. They laughed, talked, she cried twice, and they otherwise came to terms with the fact that they had come very close to losing it all.

She knew it wouldn't be the last time.

He left only when it was time for bed. The next morning, he texted but didn't show up again. They were both coming down off the holy-shit-we-almost-died high they had been riding. Felicity spent her Sunday wrapped in a blanket and watching old movies and avoiding the news. Every time she saw the reports, her stomach clenched and she lost all feeling in her extremities.

The bomb had been Lionel's entire collection, or so it seemed. She didn't know how Malcolm had tracked it down, but the damage had been extreme. Seventy dead, another hundred injured or in critical condition. They weren't certain if five more would survive the day.

All because she had missed something.

The thought irritated her. No, she had done her best. She had tried everything in her power to stop Malcolm, Hastings, and Moira. She had worked her ass off to stop what they had called The Undertaking. Oliver was right, there was no sense in blaming herself. It did, however, make her determined never to make such a mistake again. She would never be so sloppy or assume she knew everything. She had learned her lesson.

It was via text with Diggle that she learned that Malcolm's plan had gone a little deeper than she had discovered previously. The energy bomb had been placed in what Diggle called an A.R.G.U.S. warehouse. She had never heard of A.R.G.U.S. before, but he had explained they were part of the military. Malcolm trying to frame them for the explosion was devious and just a little bit scary. He had been trying to turn Starling against them as part of his power play. It would have worked.

At least it explained all the weapons. She had been worried the warehouse was some giant torture factory, where Malcolm practiced his hobby of killing people in private. Knowing it was someone else's torture factory was only mildly less disturbing.

Oliver didn't call her or text at all. She hadn't expected him to. He had a lot to deal with. He had plans to make, things to come to terms with, conversations to have with people in his life, and a whole list of things she did not envy him for having to put up with around suddenly finding himself an orphan. She wanted to help him, but she didn't know how. Their worlds were so different. She was an outsider looking in.

Diggle texted her on Monday morning that he was going to pick her up for Moira's funeral, which was scheduled that day. They got into a brief argument about her desire to go into work, but she won in the end. She was more stubborn than he was. He ended up agreeing to pick her up at QC instead.

The entire building was full of gossip when she got into work. Everyone had an opinion about what had happened. People were scared; they were afraid of losing their jobs nearly as much as they were terrified that another explosion was coming. A lot of her coworkers had not come in at all, wanting to be with their families. Felicity didn't blame them.

She wanted to see her family as well, but Oliver and Diggle were busy. QC was the next best thing.

She went to her office, still feeling like everything around her was off-kilter. It would take a while for the world to settle right again. She sat down at her desk and started going through her paperwork, wondering what the authorities would find and if they would be able to tie anything back to QC. She had been careful, but careful apparently wasn't enough. She could have missed something.

She wondered if the company would flounder with the lack of leadership. Walter had not come back. Oliver was mourning, and the board was full aimless people. The company was nearing the teetering point. She wanted to help it.

Maybe she could.

Her fingers paused over the keys at her computer as she tried to come to a decision about her half-baked idea, then decided that she had to do something. She might be an outsider looking in, but she could help Oliver in one way. It was a way she had been helping him for weeks. She sent out several emails, pretending they came from Oliver's CEO email. She arranged meetings, organized people, and otherwise tried to sound like him as she wrangled order out of the chaos.

She was stepping across a line, but if she couldn't be there for him when he was mourning, then she would be there for him at the company. It was the least she could do. The emails seemed to do the trick. Department heads started relaying her commands around the various floors. Soon, it was business as usual. The gossip didn't stop, but at least people were working again.

She smiled, thinking that being boss wasn't so hard, and focused on her work until it was time for Diggle to pick her up. She met him out front. He was wearing a black suit to match her dress and seemed more jovial than the last time they had talked. His bear sat on his hindquarters and practically grinned at her when she met his eyes. She needed the visual, particularly considering where she was headed.

Moira's funeral was attended by family friends and family only. Oliver sat on the front row with Walter and Thea. He stared at his shoes the entire time, his hands clasped in front of him. His dragon remained looped around Thea's guardian, offering her what comfort he could. Tommy was sitting on the other side of Thea with Laurel, looking nearly as lost as Oliver. She caught Tommy glancing over at Oliver often, as if searching for a way to get through the chaos that had found them both.

They were forever linked by what their parents had done. They would never be able to wash the stain away from their names over what their parents had done, not entirely. And only Tommy and Oliver would know what really happened. Felicity's hacking skills had meant that Moira's reputation remained unblemished to outsiders, while Malcolm's did not. To the police, it looked as though Malcolm had planted spies at QC to steal their technology for the failed terrorist plot, and Moira had died trying to stop him. Tommy seemed to be taking it stoically, already knowing the kind of man his father was, but she was still sorry for adding to the crap he had to deal with. Merlyn Global was in a freefall, and Tommy's name was being dragged through the mud in the press.

Felicity and Diggle started to walk back to the car when the service was over, intending to go to the reception, but a voice stopped them. "Felicity...Diggle," Oliver said.

"Please don't go," his dragon said. He landed on Felicity's guardian and gave Felicity a serious look. "You are not going to like what he has in his head."

They turned and waited for Oliver to catch up to them. He was still moving slowly, his body not yet recovered from his fight with Malcolm. His expression was haunted, and his eyes were still lost.

"How are you holding up?" Diggle asked, clapping Oliver on the shoulder.

Oliver shrugged. The shrug was the most he could manage of his emotions. He didn't know how he felt. Diggle and Felicity could respect that. "Can I talk to you two a minute?"

"Of course," Diggle said.

Oliver led them away from the mourners. He stopped next to a marble mausoleum and looked at them seriously. "I'm leaving," he said.

"Told you that you wouldn't like it," the dragon said with a sigh as Felicity felt her stomach clench unpleasantly.

Oliver sensed their confusion and disapproval. "I need some time to think," he said.

"He needs to think about so much," his dragon agreed. "The least of which is how stupid he is that he's running away from the best thing that ever happened to him."

"For how long?" Diggle asked.

"I don't know," Oliver admitted. His eyes moved to Felicity. "I'll come back."

"Good, because if you don't, I'll come for you," Felicity said.

"Ditto," Diggle said.

Oliver held his hand out to Diggle. "John," he said.

"Oliver," Diggle replied, shaking his hand in a way that seemed to Felicity very much like how two brothers would shake hands.

Oliver turned to Felicity next. She thought he would shake her hand as well, since they were out in public and Diggle was only three feet from her, but Oliver was feeling bolder than that. He swept her into another hug. This one carried the weight of desperation. It was like he wanted to take a piece of her with him and he thought holding her tight would do it. He released her quickly, not letting the hug linger as he might have had they not been in public.

Stupid public, and their stupid prying eyes.

"Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on him," the dragon said.

"I know," Felicity whispered.

Oliver heard but he didn't comment. He knew she wasn't talking to him. He took several steps back and took them both in for a minute. Then, ever casual, he tucked his hands into his pockets and walked away from them.

Chapter Text

Chapter 25: Beginning Again

 

 

Watching Oliver leave was hard, but she knew in her gut, no, to the very core of who she was, that he hadn't been saying goodbye. He had been saying later. She could handle later.

What she couldn't handle was him leaving without giving her the chance to yell at him for his duplicitous, underhanded, maniacal, boneheaded act, when he was god knows where doing god knows what with god knows who.

His evil plot all began with Walter.

She was working in her office, feeling sad, conflicted, and tired, but looking forward to her lunch date with Thea, who was taking a break from tending to Roy, when she heard a knock on the door.

"I'm not late, Thea!" Felicity demanded, not looking up, her mind still on work. "You're early!"

A second later, a panther walked through the wall and sat down next to the guest chair. Oh. She had just yelled at her boss.

"Ms. Smoak?" Walter asked politely.

Felicity sprang out of her seat, surprised the force of the move didn't fling her across the room, and sprinted to the door. She flung it back and smiled up at Walter, feeling embarrassed and a little breathless. It wasn't everyday her boss visited her in her office.

"Mr. Steele!" she said. "I'm so happy to see you. I haven't had a chance to ask how you were since the hospital..."

"I'm well, thank you," he replied. "May I come in? I'd like to have a word with you."

She noticed him tapping a manila envelope with his forefinger. The mystery of the envelope instantly intrigued her. It also made her stomach shift uncomfortably. Were envelopes ever good news, particularly when delivered by her boss straight to her office door?

"Oh, god, you're firing me." She slumped against her door.

Walter's eyes widened in surprise. "No," he replied. "But I think it best if we discuss this in private."

"Right. Of course. Sorry," she said.

She stepped out of the way, then carefully closed the door behind him. She did not want the others to overhear their discussion and gossip about it. She wiped her sweaty hands off on her skirt as Walter settled into the chair the panther had sat next to. She sat across from him, feeling as though the dynamic was very off. He should be where she was sitting. The reverse was just inherently wrong.

"Did Oliver tell you of my intent to step down from the CEO position?" Walter asked slowly.

She frowned. "No, he didn't," she said. The uneasy feeling was back. Walter leaving was not a good idea. QC was still a mess. It needed strong leadership. Hacking Oliver's emails wouldn't cut it for long. The company needed someone present, strong, and smart to spearhead it.

"Well, I am. After everything that happened with Moira...Queen Consolidated no longer feels like the best fit. It's time for me to move on."

"We'll miss you, sir," she said quietly.

"I'm not going far," he said. "Starling National Bank has offered me a position."

"Congratulations," she said.

He inclined his head politely and slipped the mysterious envelope onto her desk. The urge to take it from him and rip it open was strong. She had to remind herself that she had manners and was an adult. Mostly.

"Oliver spent a great deal of time talking to me yesterday before he left," Walter said. "He told me everything you've done for the company, including protecting it from the authorities currently investigating Malcolm Merlyn's business for proof of terrorism."

She flushed. Why on earth would Oliver tell Walter that? Was he mad? Walter was an honest man. He would turn her in. Was that what the papers were? Was he hoping for a signed confession?

"Such loyalty to the company is rare, Ms. Smoak. Being able to manage the company is even rarer," Walter said. "It seems you have both in spades."

"I'm sorry to be blunt, Mr. Steele, but is there is a chase you could cut to?" Felicity said. "All you're doing right now is making me feel like I'm going to throw up."

Walter smiled. "Right. Of course."

Thankfully, mercifully, he finally opened the envelope. Inside were a bunch of documents. He handed them to her. It took her a very short amount of time to realize what they were. She very carefully set the page she was reading down and crossed her hands on top of the stack. She was proud of herself for not running out of the room screaming. She was adulting the situation big time.

"Mr. Steele," she said, her voice sounding strained, "are these documents an attempt at you appointing me as your replacement?"

"No, they are a job offer," Walter said. "One that comes from Oliver."

"I have a job," Felicity said.

"And now you have a chance to have a say in what technology gets built here...and you wouldn't even have to rely on the tech department the way I do to make your decisions. What does it say when a money man is in charge of a technological company and he can't even understand the things it builds?" Walter asked with a little shake of his head.

"This is..." She searched for a word that would explain the utter ridiculousness of the situation. None came to mind. It was Oliver being spontaneous and not thinking through the consequences. "This is crazy," she decided.

"After giving it some thought, I can see his point," Walter said. "You may be young, but you know what you're doing." He smiled at her. "And I will, of course, help you however you need help."

"You...I..." Then she gave up. She seriously just gave up. She put her head on her arms and took a deep breath, feeling out of her depth. Running a billion dollar company had never even crossed her mind in all of her wildest dreams. It felt wildly ridiculous. She had been doing it for over a month without a single hitch.

"Ms. Smoak?" Walter asked kindly.

"I'm thinking through it," she said, her voice muffled by her desk.

"Ah," he said politely.

"It's just until Oliver gets back, right?" she asked.

"That is a topic you will have to discuss with him," Walter said with a shrug.

She thought about it some more. The chance to protect Oliver's company was appealing. The thought that she could also do some very real good with the Applied Sciences Center was even more appealing. She had so many ideas, and wanted to encourage the good ones she saw in her colleagues. She could push projects forward that other people in charge had been too limited to see the good in.

"I'll do it," she said, suddenly decided. She looked up and straightened in her chair, trying to look powerful. She felt like a kid sitting at the adult table.

Walter's return smile was encouraging and warm. He liked that she wasn't backing down. She liked that he had faith in her. It made her feel braver. They spent the rest of the time until lunch talking details and signing paperwork. Her appointment wouldn't go into effect until next week. Then, she would have to meet everyone and make nice with the board. It would be a lot of talking and things she did not feel prepared for.

If only Oliver Queen hadn't forced her out of her comfort zone so many weeks ago...

She knew that she was glad he had. She was grateful. And she was willing to acknowledge that she could deal with sexist, chatty, annoying guardians and their humans if it meant doing the things she loved. She had found the fire and determination to work around the monsters in the dark.

No more hiding. No more running. She would fight. She would keep fighting for what she wanted. Oliver had woken that part of herself up.

 

During her first month as CEO of Queen Consolidated, there was a lot of gossip and incredulity. She heard it all through the guardians that surrounded her almost constantly. She could not avoid them now that she was so much in the public's eye. It meant hearing things she did not want to hear. It meant attention she had avoided her entire life. She met it all with a lifted chin and a firm gaze. She would never look down again.

No one could believe that she was worthy of the position. They were sort of right. She had no experience outside of being in Oliver Queen's ear during meetings. But her coworkers' thinking was always along the lines of her using her body instead of mind to take control of the company.

By the end of her first month as super-head-boss, as she called herself in her head, the gossip had ended. A quiet turnover in staff had helped tremendously with that particular annoyance. Working her way up through the corporate ladder meant that she knew who was useless to the company and who was good for it. She encouraged the good ones to bring her their ideas and hired exciting talent she had been keeping an eye on for a long time.

It also helped that her gift for seeing and hearing guardians could weed out secrets faster than someone normal could. People who were icky and duplicitous went away fairly quickly. She was not ashamed of that fact. She was no longer afraid of her talent, or for using it for the greater good. Plus, being boss meant she had to have some perks, like deciding to surround herself with people who didn't think the worst of her.

Three months in and everyone had forgotten that Felicity Smoak was not qualified to be CEO. Profits were up, losses were low, and the technological world was buzzing about the exciting new tech that was emerging from her company - or Oliver's company. Whatever. She no longer relied on Walter to get her through certain decisions. Her guardian had stopped whining at her quite so often, as the job had come with a boost in confidence and self-love.

The fourth month marked the unveiling of the new projects she had spearheaded and the board practically begged her to stay forever.

The only thing that didn't change during those four months was the fact that she consistently felt like something was missing. It was not hard to find what that something was. The hole was shaped like Oliver, and felt a lot like being lovesick.

She was lucky that her job was so time consuming. It meant she only thought about him when she was brushing her teeth in the morning, or driving herself to work, or sitting at stop lights, or riding the elevator up to the office, remembering how he had always been so protective of her in the elevator, thinking of him when she had a pause between meetings, or when she was eating lunch, or the quiet moments before she drifted off to sleep at night.

Okay, so she still thought about him a lot, but it would have been twice as ridiculous had she not had so much to do.

Her months weren't just full of being super-head-boss, either. Diggle and her had continued what Oliver had left off. Diggle was her muscles on the street instead of Oliver, but the mission was the same. Protect people. Watch over the city. Nothing as epic as The Undertaking happened again, but they did stop muggers, would-be rapists, and murderers from hurting innocent people. The sense of accomplishment was warm and always helped her sleep at night.

It didn't feel the same without Oliver. It would never feel the same, but she had both of the jobs she loved at her fingertips. She was still fighting. She had never felt more in control of her life.

Thea Queen and her feisty guardian quickly became permanent fixtures in her life. Thea was different from her brother in so many ways, but Felicity saw plenty of ways they were alike. It was enough for them to get along really well. They were friends before Felicity even knew how Thea had managed to work her way into her life. Felicity had absolutely no reason to complain.

Tommy was also constantly around. She helped him keep the club from the vultures circling after his father's disgrace, helped distance him from the company business, which was going under, protected his money and assets, and listened whenever he needed to talk. They clicked as friends, and it was nice to have an adult to talk to who wasn't involved in saving the city but knew about it all the same. He, above all others, she could talk to about Oliver. He didn't judge. He was angry for her that Oliver had left. He was the first person to realize that she had an epic crush of crazy-stupid proportions.

Diggle was more than a friend. He was family, and they looked out for each other every single day. He insisted on working as her bodyguard, though she hated how people looked at him with a passion. He wouldn't take no for an answer, however, and, admittedly, having him around her always made her feel better. He and his bear were her armor.

The urge to hunt Oliver down grew with every day. Diggle and her were getting close to their tipping point. She wouldn't be able to keep herself from going after him for too much longer. How long did a man need to get over what had happened? How long until he realized there were people in his life who wanted him to come home? How long until he understood that the city needed him?

She was having a rare, quiet day at home when everything changed in her life once again. It was all Oliver Queen's fault.

It was Sunday, and she had decided to forgo being an adult for spending the day in her pajamas. Thoughts of projects and deadlines had finally caved in to movies about heroes saving the day. So what if she had a thing for heroes? That wasn't criminal. It was even perfectly normal. It didn't matter if all of them made her think of a man who dressed up in green leather - one who seemed to be fond of Tarzan-ing her.

She knew someone was at her door before he could announce himself to her. Her source was the rush of movement through the far wall, followed by the flapping of wings. She jumped, startled at the intrusion, and tracked the movement suspiciously.

She froze at the sight of the dragon soaring around her living room as if he always did that very same thing. He was casual, calm, and a sight for sore eyes.

"No need to look so surprised," the dragon said, landing on her guardian's shoulder with a soft poof of air. Her guardian instantly reached out and brought the dragon into her arms. She hugged him tightly. The dragon grunted from the force of the hug, but looked at Felicity playfully. "I know I'm sexy, sunshine, no need to stare."

She jumped up with his words, realizing she wasn't hallucinating. She went to her door and saw Oliver on the other side through the peephole. He had his head pressed into his palm, as though he didn't know exactly what he was doing at her door. Or maybe he was trying to get his thoughts in order.

"Never seen him more terrified in my life," the dragon said. "And he's been through some things."

Felicity snorted. That was officially the understatement of the year.

Her hand reached out to the doorknob without her permission. She didn't care how excited she looked or if he needed time to get his thoughts in order. She only cared about seeing his face and filling the Oliver-shaped void in her chest.

She flung the door open, her eyes bright and her cheeks flushed. He jumped and took a single step back from the door in surprise. He looked up in surprise, his eyes taking in the brightness she brought with her - it was in the sparkle in her eyes and the smile on her face - the tension leaving his face immediately. Without thinking, she launched herself at him, pulling him into a fierce hug.

"You are such an idiot," she told him, holding him tightly. "Such a goddamn idiot."

He chuckled in her ear.

She pulled away and looked at him, her hands resting on his shoulders tightly. She suddenly understood the appeal of holding onto shoulders. They were definitely a good place for her hands to stay, but maybe that was only because they were his shoulders. The thought was forced to the back of her mind as she took him in.

She was surprised by the differences in him. They weren't physical, not really. The changes were in his eyes - the light that seemed brighter than normal as he looked at her - and the way he held himself. He was still a tightly coiled spring, but it was a spring that had learned a little about applying pressure at the right time instead of being ready to pounce at every moment. He looked...better balanced. She glanced over her shoulder and realized with a jolt that his dragon's colors were brighter than she remembered.

"Hey," he said as he looked back at her.

"Hey," she replied.

"Can I come in?" he asked nervously, clearly expecting her to be angry with him.

"Yeah. Sure. Sorry. Just needed to get my hug quota in for the year. Thea's been picking up most of the slack, but Tommy and Diggle put in their fair share."

"Thea?" Oliver questioned with a smile.

"Yep," she agreed. "Apparently witnessing a massive explosion and a parent die is something that brings people together...And I totally mentioned your dead mother ten seconds into you returning," Felicity said, closing her eyes and sighing at her stupidity.

"Yeah, you did," Oliver said, a laugh in his voice. She opened her eyes suspiciously. Yep, definite laughter. Double weird.

"You are super sexy with your mad pickup skills," his dragon said blandly.

"Shut it," Felicity said to the dragon.

"Huh?" Oliver asked.

"Your dragon is mocking me," she said, turning to him again.

"That doesn't sound very nice of him," Oliver said.

"Nice of you," Felicity corrected. "He's part of you, technically."

"I would never mock you," he said seriously.

Felicity didn't know quite how to interpret that. She did a funny little twirl, feeling awkward suddenly at having him in her home, particularly while she was in her pajamas and definitely un-showered. It was not the way she had daydreamed about the reunion. There had been a lot more kissing and touching of the abs in those dreams.

"How was Lian Yu?" she asked as her twirl brought her back around to him.

He looked startled.

"Did you really think that I wouldn't track you down, Oliver?" she asked. "It's what I do."

He sighed, and then smiled at her. "I should have known."

"If you had left it much longer, I would have kept my word and come after you."

"I'm glad I returned first, then," he said.

"And did you find what you were looking for?" she asked hopefully.

"He found so much more than he was looking for," the dragon said. "He found you."

Felicity's heart dropped into her stomach. That was probably not good or healthy. It kept fluttering there, though, telling her that she desperately wanted to believe the dragon wasn't just flirting with her like old times.

"I did," Oliver agreed seriously. He gathered his thoughts for a second before speaking very slowly. "I realized that the last time I came home, I was lost. This time, I realized that I had found myself along the way and hadn't realized it. The people in my life helped find me. I know that now."

"Diggle has the affect on people," she said lightly.

"He does," Oliver agreed. "And so do you."

"We try," she said, wishing that she could step back into his arms and feel them around her, warm and steady. It was hard enough not devouring him with every single look she directed his way. When had that become a problem for her?

As if he could hear her thought, he stepped closer to her. There was only a foot of distance between them. He caught her eyes, clearly searching for something. She didn't know what he wanted, but she was willing to let him find it. She was willing to let him look for as long as he needed to. She was surprised that the familiar sense of tug of war was back. Only it was different. It felt a lot like they had somehow met each other at the line and were about to step over it together.

"You're still sunshine, do you know that? It was something he didn't forget at all when he was looking through his inner demons and kung fu-ing them with the agility of a three-legged elephant. Seriously, he is not great at the inner-demons thing. It's a handicap."

Felicity smiled.

"He's talking again, isn't he?" Oliver asked, his eyes not leaving hers. Was the man even blinking?

"Yeah," she agreed.

"This is a little strange for me," Oliver admitted, making her stomach drop uncomfortably. He thought it strange? He had no idea. Could he not accept it? "I've never had to compete for a girl's attention with myself before."

She laughed, feeling the tension uncoil. "It's hard to tell what's more charming...the snarky sass of the dragon or the brooding manpain of the man."

"I can see the appeal of both," Oliver said seriously.

Felicity shook her head at him mockingly. She felt like they were in uncharted waters, but she wasn't sure what the waters meant or if he was ready to walk into the deep end with her. He had a lot of issues, and she had promised herself patience. She decided a change of topic was in order.

"Did you see Thea yet?" she asked, gesturing for him to follow her to the sofa.

Oliver sat gracefully, his body angled towards her. Damn him for still being so artfully casual and collected. His jeans and simple t-shirt looked twice as amazing on him than they should have. And he was sitting on her sofa, with no one else around to distract either of them. It was not good for her self-control. Oliver shifted slightly before answering.

"No, not yet."

"We came straight from the airport to see you," the dragon said.

Felicity pushed her glasses up her nose anxiously and tried to will herself to un-hear that comment. She didn't want Oliver to see her excitement and fear.

"Actually, I just came from the airport," Oliver said, obviously not believing in giving her a break.

"That's...cool," she said.

Ironic, since she was the last thing from it. She winced and Oliver smiled, his eyes lighting up with his mirth. "Yeah," Oliver agreed.

"You are so nonchalant, girl," the dragon said. "I'm soooo impressed."

The teasing left Oliver's face and he scooted just a little bit closer to her. His fingertips grazed her knee. She wondered if it was done on purpose. She willed him to do it again.

"I had a lot of time to think on the island," Oliver said.

"Being surrounded by trees and rocks does that to a man," his dragon added.

"I found some clarity along the way," Oliver added.

"He can see clearly now, the rain is gone," the dragon said.

Felicity held up one finger to Oliver, who paused. She turned to look at the dragon. "Hush," she warned him.

"Yes, ma'am," the dragon said.

Oliver's lips twitched, but he didn't lose his seriousness. "I realized that I came back the first time with a mission. Instead, I found a purpose. You and Diggle gave it to me. Helping people, being better, doing something more than just righting my father's wrongs...It all felt right. I want to continue doing that."

"Good," Felicity said. "Diggle and I are so on board with that."

"Good," he said, blowing out a long breath. It may have been her imagination, but he seemed nervous suddenly. "I also realized something else..."

He didn't finish his sentence.

"Don't leave me hanging," Felicity said gently when the pause got near awkward territory.

"I like you," Oliver said.

"Hallelujah!" the dragon said, doing a victory lap around the living room before returning to Felicity's guardian with a smug expression on his face.

"And I would like it very much if you would go to dinner with me sometime soon," Oliver said. "And not as a not-date. A real date. Just you and me."

Felicity stared at him. Honestly, how else was she supposed to react to Oliver freaking Queen nervous and antsy as he asked her out? He stared at her, looking as if he fully expected her to say no.

"Definitely not the time to leave him hanging," the dragon said seriously.

Felicity smiled, her heart hammering in her chest wildly, but her mind firmly decided on her answer. "I would like that," she said.

"Really?" Oliver asked.

"Really, really," Felicity said.

"Seriously?" Oliver checked.

She laughed and closed the distance between their hands. She felt like that was okay now he had asked her out, even if it was scary to touch him so intimately. She squeezed his hands once. "Yes," she assured him.

She started to pull away from him, but he stopped her with one hand on hers. "When?" he asked eagerly.

"I think I might cry," the dragon said, wiping at his face playfully. Felicity's guardian chuckled quietly. "Hey, if you could see how happy he is in that stupid brain of his, you would too."

"As soon as humanly possible," Felicity answered Oliver firmly.

"Tonight?" he said.

"Sure," she agreed quickly.

"I mean, the level of hope beating around his battered, little heart is about a 8.9 on the Richter scale. I don't even know who he is right now," the dragon said.

"I'll pick you up at seven," Oliver said.

"This is the weirdest day of my life," Felicity said.

"You were held at arrow point by a mad man bent on mass destruction," Oliver's dragon said.

Really didn't need that memory.

"I somehow doubt that," Oliver said, his expression suggesting he was thinking about her talent.

She laughed and looked down at their joined hands. She was equal parts terrified and joyful. She knew they were both taking a big leap, but it was better to leap than to stay stationary for the rest of their lives. She knew he was equal parts hurting and healing, and it would take more than hope to get around both of their hang ups, but she felt like figuring it out would be worth it. He was worth it.

"I should, uh, go before..." Oliver trailed off.

"He kisses you senseless," the dragon finished.

Felicity blushed, then thought senseless kissing didn't sound like a bad way to spend an afternoon.

"He finished that thought, didn't he?" Oliver asked with a resigned sigh.

"Uh, yeah," Felicity agreed.

Oliver had the nerve not to look ashamed at all. But he was also clearly trying to do things properly. She could handle proper - up to a point. He pulled his hands out of Felicity's slowly.

"I should check in with Thea...and Diggle...and Tommy," he said, sounding like he was trying to convince himself more than her.

"He also has plans to make, and a suit to buy, not to mention the reservations...Such a list," the dragon said.

"Okay," Felicity agreed easily.

Oliver reached out and cupped her cheek, and all of her calm faded. She looked up at him with a small smile, loving that she finally didn't have to wonder if the touch was platonic or not. The way he was looking at her was definitely not friend territory. She was surprised he couldn't see her pulse jumping out of her neck like it did in the cartoons.

"I'll see you at seven," Oliver added then, his voice weighted with the best kind of tension - tension that meant he was thinking about kissing her again.

She nodded slowly, mesmerized a bit by his sharp, blue eyes, and he pulled away from her. She walked him to the door. He was gone five seconds later. She put her back against the door when it was closed and looked up at the ceiling.

"Oh my ever-loving god, what just happened?" she asked the room, shock moving through her.

Her guardian merely huffed a laugh.

Felicity felt herself slowly freaking out as she thought about her wardrobe and the fact that she only had five hours to figure things out, because she was going on a date with Oliver Queen. Oliver Queen was taking her out. Not as friends. Not as a not-date. A real date. One that he wanted. He, being Oliver Queen. The vigilante who wanted to become a hero. The man who was willing to build himself back up, though it was easier to let himself fall. The man she knew had greatness in him. That man was going on a date with her. Oliver Queen.

She was so going to screw it up.

The first thing she did was wash off the stink of her day, then she went to her closet and fretted. She didn't know what to wear on a date with him. It was like picking out her favorite processor. Sure, the XK10 was faster, but it bogged down with gaming. The RF9 was slower, but it could run more programs at once...and she was getting off topic.

She settled on red, wanting to remind him of the first time he had seen her, and then spent the rest of her time alternating between getting ready and freaking out. If she had a brown bag anywhere in her townhouse, she would have been hyperventilating in to it. What she did have was a guardian. She kept talking to her, trying to keep herself from freaking out. Her guardian listened in amused silence.

Diggle, followed by Thea and Tommy, texted her about Oliver's return. They all felt the need to warn her. She didn't know why. Maybe she knew why a little. Was her crush on him that obvious?

Oliver was early. That was perfectly okay with her. She tried to play it cool and actually wait for him to knock before answering, though his dragon announced himself with a "Ta-da!" One look at Oliver's face told her he wasn't deceived.

She lost track of his reaction as she noticed what he was wearing. The suit was expensive, fitted, and a dark grey. It was paired with a white shirt and the collar was open. He was beautiful. His look was nearly as spectacular as the one he had during workout times.

"You look..." Oliver struggled, his voice a bit strangled.

"Super hot," the dragon said.

"Nice," Oliver finished lamely.

"Total sewer," the dragon added with a smirk.

"So, I have to tell you that I've been warned," Felicity said to Oliver, trying to move past her blush.

"Warned?" Oliver asked.

"That dimly lit restaurants are your go-to moves for impressing a date," Felicity said.

"I guess I can't slip anything past you," Oliver said.

"You can if you want to..." She actually jumped as the words left her mouth. "Oh my god! I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I meant...No, not even gonna try to explain it."

Oliver's eyes had widened. Then he grinned. Finally, he laughed. "Good to know," he said.

"Sewer is being kind. I was being kind before," the dragon said. "And it looks like he's not alone anymore."

Oliver stepped closer then and offered her his arm. She took it eagerly and he walked her back to the fancy car she no longer feared.

"So, I hear you've been promoted," Oliver said casually as they drove away from her townhouse.

"I did hear something about that," Felicity said.

"I also hear it's working out for you pretty well," he said just a little bit too smugly for Felicity's liking.

"Yep," she agreed. "Whoever decided the promotion was a good idea made a big mistake."

"Really?" he asked, eyebrows narrowing.

"Yeah. There's no way in hell he's getting my company back now."

"Your company?" Oliver demanded.

"You could share and hyphenate," the dragon said. "Smoak-Queen Consolidated. Oh, maybe we should hold off on the hyphenating until the wed-"

"She's my baby now," Felicity interjected. "While you were playing cave man, I was ruling the world."

"I have a feeling the power has gone to your head," Oliver said.

She laughed. "Maybe a little." She frowned as she considered her options. She had known she was just keeping his place for him until he returned. The appointment had never meant to be permanent. "Seriously, though, just let me know when you want to take things over...I just need a little time to get things in order."

"Huh?" Oliver asked, looking confused.

"I get that my appointment wasn't permanent. It's your company," Felicity said.

"I don't mind just having my name on the building," Oliver said. "You can be CEO, I can be owner, and we can both be partners in crime."

"But you-"

His hand landed on her wrist, pulling her eyes to him. "There's a reason I wanted you to be CEO. You're good at it. I know better than to mess with a good thing."

"God, no you don't," the dragon said in resignation.

Oliver smiled ruefully. "I'm learning to, at least."

Felicity considered that. She smiled at him playfully. "Good, 'cause I wasn't really happy about handing things over to you. At all."

"That just means you're smart," Oliver said.

Felicity nodded seriously and he grinned. She could definitely get used to this version of him. He was trying harder. He was fighting the darkness. It seemed easier than before for him. He was getting better at allowing himself the joy. The months had made a definite difference.

Oliver took her to a white building that screamed turn of the century. He walked her inside, her arm in his again, and over to a small elevator hidden in an alcove. It was guarded by an unassuming man in a suit. The man took one look at Oliver and stepped out of the way. The metal gate had to be manually closed by hand, and the man rode up with them. When they reached the top, he opened the gate for them and offered Oliver a polite smile in parting.

Felicity stepped out onto the roof and felt her jaw drop. They were surrounded by flowers and sunshine. The flowers dripped from the walls, clung to each other in dazzling displays, and made the air heady and sweet. The flowers circled the roof, the arches, and accentuated the square tables elegantly. The view of the Starling skyline beyond the glass ledge of the roof was magnificent. Couples sat at the tables around them, but there was a certain feeling of casualness to the setting. Maybe the fresh air and sunshine made them feel more relaxed? It didn't feel like a typical fancy restaurant.

A woman was waiting for them. She knew Oliver by name and led them over to a table with the best view of the city. The woman left them after taking their drink orders, and Felicity silently begged her guardian to take Oliver's away. She didn't mind him being around, but she wanted a conversation that belonged only to the man in front of her, like two normal people on a first date. Her guardian obliged and disappeared with the dragon behind a row of flowers. She couldn't hear either of them.

Alone at last.

Felicity looked out over the city to get her racing heart under control. "Don't think this view will make me let you pay for my half of dinner," she warned playfully.

"We'll see," he replied.

She smirked, a challenge, and he smiled back.

"Felicity..." he said thoughtfully, looking nervous again. She turned, giving him her full attention. "I'm broken," he admitted in a small voice.

"You're cracked, not broken," she said softly. "And those cracks are part of what makes you, you. I like that person."

"I'm not an easy person to be around," he said.

"I'm not either," she said.

"I'm stubborn and willful."

"So am I."

"And I can't guarantee you that I won't hurt you," he said.

"I can't either. No one can," she said.

"I'm not even really sure who I'm becoming," he said.

"I do," she said. "A hero."

He cocked his head to side, clearly not believing her.

"You protect the city with a bow and arrow," Felicity said. "And I see creatures no one else can see. Nothing about this will be simple, but I'm willing to see where it goes. I don't need promises from you, Oliver...I just need you to keep trying."

Oliver nodded, his eyes sparkling with the inner light again. It was warm, inviting, and she had absolutely no reason to pull away this time. He had an expression on his face like he thought he didn't deserve her; she had an expression on her face that said she was ready to fall. They were both finally standing on the edge. Together.

Their words seemed to unlock the tension between them. They had found a way around the awkwardness. She was glad.

Felicity was slightly surprised at how easy it was to talk to him as they ate their very expensive meal. It was the first time both of them were completely unburdened and open. There was nothing to hide, nothing weighing them down. She watched in amazement every time he laughed; warmth pooled in her stomach every single time he looked at her like he was dying of thirst and she was water. It was definitely a look she could get used to.

They sat at the table far longer than anyone else around them did. No one bothered them, though, and their conversation continued until the setting sun had turned to darkness. Stringed lights overhead added sparkle to the scene once night fell, making the mood more romantic. She felt closer to him, as if the night was purposefully closing the gap between them.

He told her a few stories from the island, sobering them for a while, and she explained what growing up with her talent was like. Then, they were back to the sassy banter and laughter. Finally, it was time to go. Felicity wished it didn't have to end.

It was the perfect date.

True to her word, she paid for her half of the meal. Oliver was equal parts annoyed and happy at that fact. She ignored his pouting and focused on keeping the last three hours of her life in her mind forever.

Their guardians joined them at the elevator. The dragon didn't speak. Her guardian had warned him to keep his mouth shut. Felicity smiled and wrapped her hand around Oliver's arm again. She put her head against him a second later, feeling a little sleepy from the wine and food. He took a deep breath, as if such a simple gesture had startled him.

When they got back to the car, neither spoke. It was the comfortable silence of two people who knew each other very well. But there was also a definite charge to the air. It tingled and burned. Felicity found herself shifting awkwardly as she thought about where that charge could take them.

When he pulled up to her apartment, she unbuckled her seatbelt reluctantly.

"Look how sad she looks," the dragon said. "It's ridiculously cute how she thinks he wants the night to be over."

Her guardian growled a warning. The dragon made a motion like he was zipping his mouth closed. Though his words hummed against his scaly lips as he continued to talk to himself.

Oliver got out and quickly hurried around to her side to get her door. She took his hand when he offered it to her, and was grateful when he didn't pull away as they walked to her door. She still felt a little sleepy, but it was wearing off with the realization that they were potentially nearing kiss territory. She really, really, wanted to be near kiss territory.

"So...How awful was the babbling tonight on a scale of one to the Babel Stones?" Felicity asked, putting her key into her lock with a playful smile.

Oliver frowned, as if seriously considering it. "Hmm...I'd have to say in was in the  ridiculously cute range," he said.

She looked over at Oliver in surprise, her eyebrows lifting up. That was something his dragon would say. She liked it. She saw his guardian attempt a fist bump with her guardian. Her guardian pulled him through the door with an eye roll. Felicity smiled, feeling warm all over.

Oliver stepped closer to her, filling her space with his warmth. She willed herself to keep staring at his eyes and not drop them down to his lips. She wasn't having much luck.

"Thank you," Oliver said then.

"For what?" Felicity asked.

"Being you," he said simply.

He reached up and pushed back a stray strand of her hair, which she had left down for a change, and then his hand settled on her neck. She watched as his eyes darted down to her lips again. She willed him to read her eagerness in her eyes.

He did.

He leaned towards her slowly, giving her time to back out if she wanted to. That was so not happening.

She closed the remaining distance between them, and their lips finally touched. The kiss was gentle, sweet, and perfectly executed by Oliver. She had never imagined he was that good at kissing. She was not upset to have underestimate him. His lips formed around hers, lightly at first, then more with more demanding need and pressure.

From inside her townhouse, she heard a yell, "BEST. DAY. EVER!"

Oliver pulled back, clearly eager to take the kiss into passionate territory, but still trying to be a gentleman. She just itched to kiss him again. She wanted to keep kissing him forever.

"Whoa," she said breathlessly.

"Mmm," he agreed, holding her close to him with one hand on her hip and the other at her neck. Her hands were clutching at his chest. She was reluctant to move them. She liked being able to touch what she had so long admired.

She looked up at him through her eyelashes, knowing they had just started something new with the kiss. She wondered how many beginnings they would get. This felt like the best one.

He leaned towards her again, his nose bumping hers playfully, as his lips moved just an inch from hers. He wanted to kiss her again. She wanted to kiss him inside, where the neighbors couldn't see them. She blindly reached over and turned the key in the lock. She shoved the door out of her way and met his lips again forcefully. She walked them into her living room, and he closed her door with a kick. She pressed him against her door a second later, her hands on the lapels of his jacket. She was being bossy; he didn't seem to mind.

The kiss quickly moved out of sweet and gentle and into passion territory. He grabbed her face to bring her face closer to his and she wrapped her arms around his waist possessively.

She groaned happily into his mouth. That only seemed to make him want to kiss her harder.

Then, her phone buzzed. A second later, Oliver's beeped.

Felicity pulled away from him reluctantly, feeling breathless, lightheaded, and tingly all over. Oliver started kissing her cheek, jaw, and neck. That was good, too, she decided. Her phone buzzed again. She huffed out a sigh of irritation and pulled it out of her bag. She read the message several times before her eyes could focus on the words.

"It's Diggle. There's a situation at the docks. Triad," Felicity said.

Oliver nodded, his top lip grazing her bottom one. He still had his eyes closed. He caught her lips in his several more times, slowly, gently, clearly enjoying himself. Her eyes closed again as she tried to remember the urgency. Her phone buzzed again.

"The docks?" she questioned.

Oliver sighed irritably. He finally pulled away enough to make her thoughts return to logic territory. He brushed her cheek lightly with his thumb and smiled at her. "I am not done with this conversation," he said.

Felicity nodded in agreement. She broke away from him, regretting the loss of heat, then took her hand in his. "Let's go be heroes," she said.

Oliver's smile was tentative but passionately happy. They walked back out into the night, the emotions between them alternating between panic at the leap they had made and complete joy at making it together.

"Don't think this moment isn't going in my memoirs!" the dragons said as he swooped overhead. "The moment Oliver Queen had his true love's kiss is something that will earn me trillions. Trillions, you hear?" Felicity's guardian smacked him on the back of his head and he added, "Ow!" sounding incredibly hurt and offended.

Felicity caught Oliver's eyes again as he helped her into the car. She smiled at him warmly, still feeling flushed, the ghost of his lips on hers making her feel lightheaded. He smiled back, looking just as affected. Good.

In that moment, she knew that everything was exactly the way it was supposed to be. Everything felt right. Danger was part of their lives. It would always be part of who they were. The dark ones would never leave them alone. They would always linger in the shadows, waiting for them to misstep. She would see them until the end of her days, but they would face them together, as a team. They would keep fighting. They would keep finding a way to protect the people in their city.

They were partners - more than partners, really - and their purpose was finally clear. She pitied anyone who got in their way.