It was an unbearable flight to Nanda Parbat.
Every part of Laurel burned with shame to be sharing a jet with her sister’s killer. Knowing that they needed Malcolm Merlyn’s help, that they couldn’t save Oliver or the city without him, didn’t bank the fires at all. Knowing that he was their only chance to save Nyssa from whatever her father had in store for her.
Because of this, Laurel took the seat on the jet farthest from Malcolm. The others gave her a wide berth until Felicity plopped down in the seat next to her and unceremoniously tucked her legs under her. She rested her head on Laurel’s shoulder. “If I stare at my tablet for another minute, I am going to throw myself off the plane. Please talk to me so I can stop playing the ten thousand things that can go wrong in a loop in my head.”
“I’m not sure I’m good for conversation right now,” Laurel said.
Felicity grimaced. “Oh, sorry. I can leave you alone.”
“No, it’s fine. Please, stay.”
Felicity seemed to think it over for a minute. She shifted in the seat, getting more comfortable.
Obligingly, Laurel forced herself to relax. These little displays from Felicity had become almost commonplace after Diggle’s wedding. In the past few months they’d gone from hesitant friends and teammates to instinctually supporting each other—with a great deal more affection. Felicity was usually the one to initiate things, bumping her elbow into Laurel’s side, hooking their arms together while they walked, or simply hugging her in greeting. And Laurel, cut off from her father with her sister gone and mother long ago having abandoned her, found that she was practically starved for casual touch. It was almost pathetic how needy she sometimes felt.
So now when Felicity cuddled up to her, Laurel pushed some of her bad mood aside and absently reached up to toy with her friend’s hair. Felicity tilted her head, almost imperiously, toward Laurel’s hand. Laurel almost wanted to laugh as she stroked Felicity’s hair. She could be so much like a cat sometimes.
“What’s that smile for?” Felicity asked.
They faced impossible odds when they landed. Several uneasy allies against an army, one possibly led by a man close to all of them. Laurel had no idea what to expect—had Oliver truly lost his mind? Would they be able to stop the plane? Would the League simply be waiting to kill them, as the “Assassins” in their title would indicate?
She pushed the fear aside. “You should get some sleep,” she told Felicity. “It’s still a long flight.”
“You should, too.”
“I—can’t. Not with him here.” Laurel pasted on what she hoped was a brave smile. “But no reason for both of us to suffer. Get some sleep. Use me as a pillow, if you want.”
Felicity popped up the armrest between their seats. She curled up—again like a cat—and settled in with her head in Laurel’s lap. After a few seconds she grumbled and repositioned herself. “I need lazier friends. All of you are hard muscle. It’s not comfy.”
“So sorry for my rocking bod,” Laurel said, and Felicity laughed.
Before long, Felicity’s breath evened out and she went lax. Laurel carefully stretched and wrangled a blanket over her, making sure not to wake her. Across the cabin, she met Malcolm’s eyes. He raised an eyebrow at Felicity sleeping in her lap then at Laurel herself.
Laurel glared, and turned her attention back to the window, fury burning in her chest. She’d brokered deals that gave repugnant criminals sentences far more lenient than they deserved. That injustice—for the greater good—had led to so many restless nights. And it had nothing on the self-loathing coursing through her now.
If Sara could see her now, all but breaking bread with her killer, she would be so disappointed.
Felicity made a noise in her sleep and wriggled to get more comfortable. She groped around until she found Laurel’s hand—which she tucked under her chin like a security blanket. It was, to put it frankly, adorable. She had her fingers wrapped around the leather cuff, with absolutely no idea what lay underneath.
In the time Oliver had been away, leaving the team to carry on without him and find their rhythm again, the circuit board feather had grown more intricate. Maybe it was because she’d stopped fighting against the idea that Felicity could be her soulmate. Maybe it was because they’d been through hell together lately and that had tightened whatever bonds existed. Either way, she didn’t mind. The guilt, however, gnawed away at her. The mark might be on her skin, but it belonged just as much to Felicity. Felicity, who’d probably spent countless hours daydreaming about soulmarks. The longer Laurel put off telling her, the worse it would be when she inevitably found out.
But every time Laurel moved to share, her courage withered.
This was entirely new territory for her, and Felicity was fresh from a relationship with Ray. It made sense to take her time and make sure. Maybe the increased contact was simply a touch-starved Felicity replacing what she’d lost with a close friend. Or maybe the soulmark wasn’t one-sided. Either way, Felicity’s friendship mattered more than ever, so Laurel really, really did not want to screw any of this up.
Besides, there was a strong chance they wouldn’t even survive the next twelve hours. If they didn’t stop Ra’s al Ghul, it wouldn’t even matter.
Cold comfort, at best.
Half an hour before they were due to land, Felicity woke up and began the final checks on her tablet, barely sparing Laurel a glance. Laurel let her work in silence—or as silent as Felicity, who tended to mutter to herself even during an intense hacking session, could get—while she steeled her own nerves for the upcoming fight. At the fifteen minute warning, she picked her way to the private cabin to change into her armor. She pulled on the first layer, leaving the jacket on the bed, and held a staring contest with her mask and the wig. The entire League of Assassins had to know who she was by now. What did it even matter?
She had just stuffed the wig back in her kit bag when a soft knock sounded at the door. Felicity poked her head in. “Tatsu says we’ll have a hike when we land, so I’ve been sent back to remind you to put on sunscreen and—what’s that on your arm? Did you get a tattoo?”
Laurel jolted, her gaze snapping to her wrist. The cuff had been pushed up her arm so that the edge of the soulmark peeked out.
Casually, she nudged the cuff back into place, hoping her hand didn’t shake with the cold terror suffusing her. “It’s a feather,” she said. Not technically a lie.
“Why is it covered up? Can I see it?” Felicity asked.
“I—” Laurel cast about for an excuse. She was about to blurt out that the tattoo artist had done a terrible job, but she was saved by Diggle showing up to let them know the plane was about to land and that he needed Felicity to confirm a few last minute details for him.
Felicity followed him out, though she did cast one quizzical look at Laurel as she left.
Laurel pulled on her jacket and buckled into her armor, but she had to admit that the nerves weren’t entirely to blame on the battle ahead.
~ * ~ * ~
By the time they were escorted into the main chamber of Nanda Parbat, Laurel’s left arm felt as though she’d plunged it straight into a brazier of burning coals. She walked toward the back of the group, teeth gritted, arm tucked close to her midsection. If the guards noticed dripping blood, they didn’t comment.
She’d peeked at the wound a few times on the forced march into the headquarters, but she didn’t dare get a better look. One of the assassins had sliced the back of her arm when she’d followed Felicity to provide cover. Though she’d managed to winch some of the buckles on her sleeve closed to apply pressure, she could feel the warm slide of blood down her arm and onto her wrist, right over the soulmark.
When Oliver—god, his eyes were so empty of the Oliver Laurel knew—looked at in the line, Laurel slid her arm behind her back. She did let out a hiss of pain when a guard grabbed her by the elbow to march her into the cell. She covered by demanding to speak with Nyssa.
No answer, of course. At this point, she wasn’t even sure the guards could talk. Laurel kept her teeth gritted, hoping her friend and trainer was safe.
In the cell, her vision went briefly white when they clapped manacles around her wrist. Laurel hoped she seemed casual as she took a seat on one of the stones, but it felt like more like collapsing. She needed to tend her arm, she knew. It was growing worse by the minute.
But the cut sliced near the soulmark and no way in hell was she letting Malcolm Merlyn see that. Laurel angled her body away and applied pressure to her arm. She gritted her teeth harder.
“I can’t believe Nyssa would agree to marry him,” Felicity said.
“I don’t really think there was much agreeing,” Diggle said in a bitter voice.
“We need to focus on getting out of here alive,” Merlyn said.
“Is that…even a remote possibility?” Ray asked nervously.
Laurel tuned the rest of them out. Her hand shook as she unbuckled some of the straps on her sleeve.
“Wait a second,” she heard Felicity say. “Laurel, what’s wrong with your—”
The door to the cell slammed open. In short order, Diggle was taken off by one set of guards and Malcolm—shouting in Arabic—by another. Laurel kept her jaw clenched and her wound out of sight of the guards.
The minute Malcolm and the guards had vanished, Laurel cleared her throat. “So, funny story, I got sliced pretty bad.”
Felicity dropped an oath Laurel hadn’t heard since law school and scrambled over. “Oh—oh, damn, that’s a lot of blood. Laurel—hell, there’s so much blood. And you’re really pale.”
She reached for Laurel’s sleeve, to push it back, and Laurel instinctively tensed and pulled her arm away.
This was not how she wanted Felicity to discover the soulmark.
But Felicity actually tsked at her, like she was Oliver or something. “Laurel. You’re obviously hurt. Just let me look.”
There was, Laurel saw, absolutely no way of hiding it. And her arm hurt so badly. So she held her arm out, and waited.
“God, they really got you,” Felicity said in a rush. “Why didn’t you say something sooner?”
“It’s not deep,” Laurel said.
“Help me with her sleeve?” Felicity asked Ray, who’d been hovering worriedly behind her. “You don’t have a first aid kit on you, do you? Laurel, stay with us, please don’t pass out.”
“I’m not even dizzy, Felicity. It’s fine.”
“Still, this looks bad. Seriously, you should have said something!”
“Let’s maybe patch her up before the guards come back,” Ray said. “That’s who you’re worried about noticing, right?” He looked at Laurel, a line between his eyebrows.
“Not exactly,” Laurel said, and she grimaced as they ripped her sleeve. That would take forever to repair. She would have to send Cisco an apology fruit basket if they made it out of this in one piece—though things weren’t looking too hopeful at the moment.
Felicity continued to scold as they applied as much first aid as they could to Laurel’s arm. She didn’t seem to require an actual response, and Laurel figured it helped her to have somebody to berate, so she let her attention drift in and out. In the end, they tore off strips of Felicity’s hoodie for makeshift bandages, layering those on while she gritted her teeth and did a few breathing exercises she’d picked up at the single yoga class she’d managed to attend in the past few months.
She didn’t dare look at her wrist, where she could see a good inch of the soulmark that wasn’t hidden beneath the manacle.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Felicity asked again. “That could’ve been super serious, Laurel. It still might be, if we don’t convince the guards for basic supplies allowed to us by the Geneva Convention.” She raised her voice for the last bit, directed at the cell door.
“I don’t think these guys follow the Geneva Convention,” Ray said. “My nanotech could clean that right up. If we get out of here.”
“Th-thanks,” Laurel said, carefully moving her arm.
“Nice ink, by the way,” Ray said. “Seriously cool design.”
Laurel’s stomach dropped. “Thank you,” she said what she hoped was a casual voice. She knew he was just being people-pleasing affable Ray, but she kind of wanted to kick him.
“Ink? Oh, right, your tattoo!” Felicity perked up slightly in spite of the worried pall across her face. “I didn’t get to see it earlier. May I?”
It took every ounce of willpower Laurel had left not to yank her arm and wrist behind her. Instead, she gave in to the inevitable and held out her arm.
Ray eagerly leaned in closer. “The feather’s because you’re the Canary?”
“Seemed fitting,” Laurel said, using the excuse of blood loss to lean back against the column.
“The colors are really pretty,” Felicity said, sounding genuinely impressed. Laurel swiftly stole a look at her; Felicity had her fingers resting lightly on the manacle, and her face didn’t portray any sense of understanding. She patted Laurel’s thigh.
She thought it was just a tattoo.
“I’m going to go ask the guard for a first aid kit, or whatever the Nanda Parbat equivalent is. God, I hope it’s not leeches,” Felicity said, and Laurel grimaced.
As Felicity climbed to her feet and walked toward the cell door, Ray—after glancing at Laurel for permission—gently lifted her arm. “What’s this pattern? It’s really intricate—oh, circuit board. Neat. Bringing the Canary into the digital age?”
“That’s definitely one interpretation,” Laurel said.
She saw Felicity’s shoulders tense, and the woman stop in her tracks. She looked over her shoulder with a puzzled frown.
And the cell door slammed open, making all of them except Tatsu jump. As Diggle stumbled back into the cell and Felicity shouted at the guards for medical supplies, Laurel leaned back against a column and closed her eyes.
This truly was it. Felicity was a literal genius, and it didn’t even take one of those to see why Laurel might be evasive over a tattoo. Why she might not want a sworn enemy to see what was supposed to be a simple bit of ink. What a circuit board feather might mean.
Where did that leave them now? Laurel had no idea.
She heard shuffling on either side of her. “How is she?” Diggle said.
“I’m fine, though this stings like a bitch, so if you’ve got any grand rescue plans, now would be a great time,” Laurel said without opening her eyes.
“Sorry, I left them in my other coat,” Diggle said.
And then Laurel felt the manacle on her wrist move slightly. She opened her eyes to see that Felicity had eased it down so that it hid the soulmark from sight. Surprised, she met Felicity’s gaze, which seemed to radiate alarm. Her eyes had gone almost comically wide, and her throat worked.
Tatsu, Laurel noticed, was regarding both of them with interest. Laurel braced for the questions to come.
But Felicity just turned to Diggle. “Please tell me Oliver has some plan to get us out of here.”
Diggle only shook his head, grimly. All hope had faded from his face.
“Fine. That’s…fine. We’ll just have to do it ourselves.” Felicity met Laurel’s gaze, not looking away. “We’re going to get out of here. And when we do, this team needs to talk. About a lot of things.”
Then she turned away, leaving Laurel in utter confusion.
~ * ~ * ~
Dying sucked. Dying and knowing that she’d been betrayed by Oliver was even worse.
Worst of all, Laurel had time to think as she collapsed to the ground in a coughing fit, feeling the virus seize her muscles, was that she hadn’t told Felicity ages ago. She should have taken the chance, and damn the consequences. As black overtook her vision, she curled up, clutching her wrist. Her last vision was of Felicity, chained up on the other side of the cell, meeting her eyes before they both passed out.
~ * ~ * ~
On the flight back to Star City, Felicity stayed on the other side of the plane. Not once did she look at Laurel, who spent the flight ineffectually stitching up her sleeve and worrying over Nyssa. Any calls she placed to her father went straight to voicemail. Not that she expected that to work, but it burned. After the third, she nearly threw her phone at the seat opposite in disgust.
“No luck?” a quiet voice asked, making her jolt.
“God, warn a girl, will you?” Laurel released her death grip on the arm rest. “I don’t really want to die of a heart attack.”
“Sorry.” Felicity gingerly sat down next to her—keeping a healthy distance this time, Laurel noted with a sinking stomach.
“It’s fine. We’re all a little on edge.”
“Um…” Felicity’s gaze flicked down to Laurel’s wrist, which she’d once again covered with Sara’s cuff.
Laurel instinctively glanced toward Malcolm, who was once again meditating near the front of the plane.
Puzzled, Felicity peered that way as well—and then understanding seemed to dawn. She leaned forward and spoke in a low voice. “I guess I see why you weren’t in a hurry to tell us you’d nearly sliced your arm off.”
“That’s a little dramatic, don’t you think? It’s a fairly shallow cut,” Laurel said, frowning.
“It worked out. I didn’t want him to know.”
“Yeah, he’s apparently not alone in that, is he?” Felicity frowned.
Laurel winced. “I don’t think now’s a good time to get into that.”
“Or ever, apparently, as it really didn’t look like you were going to tell me at all.” Felicity scowled. “But never mind that, we have other problems. I wanted to check over your arm.”
“It’s fine. I already cleaned it up earlier with the medkit. It barely even hurts anymore.”
“Felicity, it’s fine,” Laurel said, scowling back at her. “Also, it’s my arm, I think I would know whether it’s okay or not.”
She wasn’t entirely talking about the cut on her arm, she realized.
And Felicity seemed to know that, for she held Laurel’s gaze for a long, simmering moment, clearly annoyed. Then she rolled her eyes and stalked off, muttering about how vigilantes were all alike. Laurel wasn’t sure she liked that much, as being compared to Oliver tended to rankle, but at least Felicity had retreated to the other side of the plane, giving her some much needed space.
If this was any sort of victory, it felt like a hollow one. Laurel sagged back against the seat and stubbornly returned to work on her sleeve. She did not look Felicity’s way even once.
God, this was a mess.
~ * ~ * ~
And of course Oliver wasn’t a traitor.
An asshole? Sure. That much was obvious from the way Diggle nearly laid him out flat. But secretly he had been on their side all along. The helter-skelter plans he had devised with Malcolm Merlyn showed just how much Ra’s and his men had backed everybody into a corner. Laurel could appreciate that much. But now that everything was out in the open, she could admit his betrayal still stung. Hope also didn’t seem to be in great abundance among the team. They’d been outsmarted by Ra’s: fractured by broken trust; Roy had faked his death; Nyssa had lost her heritage. And there was no way in hell they could physically fight a pathogen.
But why let a little thing like semantics stop them?
“Can you talk to your father?” Oliver asked her directly. He was considerate enough to wince, but not thoughtful enough to send anybody else on his task. “We’re going to need police backup to canvas all of Star City.”
The last thing she wanted to do right now, with everything so raw, was confront the man who she’d hurt—and who had lashed back at her in turn—for months. But Laurel nodded and pulled on her jacket. “I’ll do my best,” she said, as she knew better than to promise anything where her father was concerned.
“Good, then everybody has their orders.” Oliver looked at each of them in turn. Laurel wasn’t the only one who glared back. “Good luck.”
Laurel exchanged an eye-roll with Diggle and turned away without glancing in Felicity’s direction. Since their tiny dust-up on the plane, they’d avoided each other.
She wasn’t surprised when Nyssa fell into step next to her. “How’re you doing?” she asked her friend, quietly.
“I have had better days,” was Nyssa’s neutral reply.
She’d always had a thing for well-crafted understatement.
“God, I need a drink,” Laurel said, and Nyssa’s face radiated alarm for a split-second. “But I’ll settle for a burger on the way. You hungry?”
“I believe the term Americans would use here is ‘starved.’”
“Works for me. I need to get my car keys from my locker, so—”
“Laurel! Wait up!” Heels clicked along the tile in the hallway as they both turned to see Felicity hurrying along toward them.
“I shall wait in the car,” Nyssa said.
“Okay. The combination on my locker is—”
“I do not require it.” And Nyssa sauntered off.
Laurel had only a second or so to wonder if Nyssa worked at it or if being that unsettling came naturally to her, before Felicity arrived, a little out of breath. She nearly careened into Laurel in her hurry, and possibly would have fallen over if Laurel hadn’t grabbed her arms with an alarmed, “Whoa! What’s the matter?”
“Matter? Huh? Oh—oh, nothing.” Felicity flushed and stepped back out of reach. She looked at Laurel’s wrist and away just as quickly. “I just—I didn’t want what I said to you on the plane to be the last thing. Just, like, in case. Not that I don’t have the utmost faith in you, I totally do, but as this year has more than proved, bad stuff happens and you can never really know, you know?”
“Know what?” Laurel asked, as the words had tumbled out on top of each other in a rush.
“Just know.” Felicity’s flush darkened. “None of this is coming out right, which is the story of my life. Look, just—we have so much to talk about. Just be safe out there, okay? Um, don’t die.”
And Laurel found herself jerked into a hug that was as strong as it was short. She blinked and Felicity was scurrying away, the back of her neck bright red.
“Hey!” she called back before she could stop herself. Felicity turned, still walking. “The same goes for you, too, you know.”
“Thanks!” The grin Felicity flashed at her as she vanished around the corner could light up entire city blocks.
~ * ~ * ~
Eight hours later, Laurel gritted her teeth and lowered herself into an ice bath. It turned out literally saving the world didn’t even factor in: injuries sustained in the fight hurt just as bad after saving thousands from a killer virus as they did after a humiliating loss.
Which was downright rude, but not much she could do about it.
She blew out her breath at the cutting shock of cold before she deliberately relaxed her muscles in the frigid water. The city was safe. Nyssa was safe. Even Oliver was safe. Ra’s al Ghul had been defeated, things with her father somewhat aired out if not entirely fixed. She’d earned this chance to kick back and tune out and deliberately not think about anything.
Easy enough to do when she had the base to herself. Diggle had gone home to Lyla and Baby Sara, Thea had vanished somewhere to brood—Laurel planned to track her down later—she had no idea where Felicity had vanished to, and Oliver was packing to leave. He had asked Felicity to go with him so maybe she’d changed her mind and was packing.
Laurel didn’t really want to think about that.
Using the ice machine to fill the base tub seemed like way less work than stopping to buy ice on her way home, so Laurel had done that. She let her head rest on the back of the tub and half-closed her eyes. The slosh of water and ice lapping against the sides of the Jacuzzi tub lulled her into a doze.
“Uh…how naked are you in there?” Felicity’s voice from the doorway made her lift her head, and smile in spite of herself. Felicity had her hand over her eyes.
“Per the base’s ‘no nudity rules,’ I’ve got a sports bra on, and shorts,” she said. “If you can’t handle the sight of naked abs, you picked the wrong team.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” Felicity hovered in the doorway for a long moment, hand still over her eyes, and Laurel watched her seem to literally decide whether to stay or go. Not that Laurel blamed her: Laurel’s own stomach had suddenly tied itself in knots.
Evidently, the more courageous part of Felicity won, for she lowered her hand and picked her way across the base. She’d traded her Nanda Parbat attire for a cute pencil skirt and a polka-dotted top. Only when she drew closer did Laurel see that the polka dots were actually butterflies. She hesitated and took a seat next to the tub, her eyes on the wrist that Laurel had left uncovered.
Later had arrived.
“May I?” Felicity asked.
Laurel, not sure she trusted her voice, nodded.
It felt different than Ray or Nyssa observing the mark. For one thing, the mere brush of Felicity’s fingertips triggered tiny electrical pulses through her arm and shoulder. While Ray had looked intrigued and Nyssa coolly interested, Felicity seemed more awestruck.
“You know, I really thought I had hallucinated it,” Felicity said, tracing a finger along the feather’s spine. Laurel shivered, and tried to blame the ice bath. “It was pretty dark in that dungeon. It’s circuit board. Just like you said at the wedding, only you weren’t talking about Oliver.”
Laurel nodded again. “It had already come in by then. Not…as detailed.”
“God, and these colors.” Felicity shook her head. “I guess this means you’re my soulmate.”
“Well, you’re certainly mine,” Laurel said. “I don’t know if it goes both ways.”
“Can it?” Felicity finally met her gaze and smiled, and Laurel promptly forgot to breathe. “I’d really like it to.”
“I—ah—” Her brain suddenly refused to cooperate. “What about Oliver?”
Felicity blinked. “What about him?”
“You—he—” Why were there no words? “Look, there were some very pining looks thrown around. It was not subtle. At all.”
A slow grin began to spread over Felicity’s face. “Were you jealous?”
“Because you sound jealous. Just a little bit.” Felicity tapped a finger against her lips, looking contemplative. “You know, it’s probably a little mean to be flattered, but I think I am.”
Laurel groaned and contemplated ducking her entire head under the water. “Sure, be flattered. You know, these last few months have been…confusing. I didn’t even really believe in soulmarks and then all of a sudden, I’ve got one. For my best friend—another woman. I’ve never been attracted to women before, but my soulmate is a woman, and now I don’t even know if I’m gay, or straight, or what. I don’t know what I am.”
Felicity pursed her lips. “Are you sure?”
“I just told you I’m not.”
“Hmm. I think your soul might be.” When Laurel gave her an exasperated look, Felicity laughed. “I’m not trying to be all mystic or whatever, I swear. It’s just that your soulmark happens to be the colors of the bisexual flag.”
“Bisexual? Like Sara?” Laurel asked. She lifted her wrist to frown at the soulmark. Months before, the thought of being anything but straight had nearly sent her into a towering panic. But now, perhaps, she shared an identity with Sara, one more little connection.
“Of course,” Felicity said, “no one really knows how these marks work. The colors could be coming from me.” Laurel’s gaze cut to her, and she smirked. “What? You didn’t suspect anything? Not even when I kept accidentally hitting on everybody, no matter their gender?”
“You’re magnetic. It’s a kind of magic with everyone you meet,” Laurel said. It was one of her favorite things about Felicity, actually. “I guess I just thought that since you and Ray—and you and Oliver…”
“Huh. Yeah, I can see that. Oliver and I did have something, once upon a time. It literally blew up in our faces.” Felicity shrugged, and Laurel froze as she scooted closer, her eyes sparkling. After the last few weeks of sheer misery, it felt like a light in the darkness, and she didn’t know whether to trust it. “Maybe I could have had something with Oliver again, but see, there was this stunningly gorgeous teammate of mine—you should see her, she is seriously cute—who just kept popping up in my life with food, and making me laugh, and debating things—”
“Arguing, you mean,” Laurel said.
“She’s a lawyer, it’s part of the charm. And she always made me feel special, even when she was exposed to the genuine horror that was my goth phase.”
“That picture was incredibly cute, though.”
Felicity let out a put-upon sigh. “I do occasionally question her taste.”
Laurel flicked water at her, and she yelped, holding her hands up in a time out gesture.
“I didn’t make you feel special,” Laurel said. “You are special. The sheer force of you made a fancy magic doodle manifest on my skin. That’s talent.”
“What can I say? I’m magnetic.”
“You are.” And damn if self-confidence didn’t look amazing on her. Laurel wanted nothing more than to play along, to smile back and just flirt—she’d missed this so much—but the sinking feeling in her stomach refused to go away. “Are you still mad I didn’t show you? I know you love soulmarks.”
“Are you kidding? Soulmarks are terrifying. You’re literally wearing your heart on your sleeve with absolutely no guarantee the other person feels the same way. I’m impressed you didn’t take off running when I figured it out.”
“Manacles,” Laurel said.
“Massive blood loss, too.”
“Oh, if you’re going to be pedantic about it.” Felicity wrinkled her nose. “I really am sorry about what I said on the plane. Like, I thought about it and I realized: I might not have showed you ever if it had been me. So I totally get it. Not that brave either.”
Laurel eyed her. “I don’t know. You seem plenty brave right now.”
“I have literal, colorful, and very detailed proof you like me.” Felicity grinned. “It gives me a little bit of an edge.”
But as much bravado as she projected, Laurel could still see the way Felicity’s thumbs twitched, never stilling, and how her chin trembled just slightly. Felicity was as nervous as she was. That, more than anything she had actually said, sent a wave of sudden calm through Laurel.
“Hey. Come here.” Laurel reached out with her dry arm.
Felicity immediately wrapped her fingers around Laurel’s wrist, thumb tracing the spine of the feather as she leaned in. Compared to the icy water, she felt like a furnace. The kiss was slow at first, both of them hesitant, until Felicity changed the angle. She slid her fingers into Laurel’s hair, tugging a little. Amused—and ridiculously turned on—Laurel kissed her back with just as much fervor. She touched Felicity’s cheek—
Felicity jerked back with a yelp. “Cold! Gah!”
“Uh.” Laurel looked down at the bath and shook her head to clear it. She’d completely forgotten about the literal ice water. “Sorry,” she said with a wince.
Felicity clapped her hand over her mouth to unsuccessfully stifle a giggle. “Wait, did you forget where you were? Got a little carried away, did you?”
“You started it.” Laurel flicked water at her, laughing when she shrieked. “It’s not that cold.”
“Yes it is, and I am staying decidedly out of range of you and your icy fingers of death.” But Felicity laughed as she scooted back. “Which is not to say that I am opposed to what we did, and in fact I would like to do so again, but somewhere decidedly less frigid.”
It came out, Laurel noted, like a question. The hesitance seemed to be creeping back.
“We should.” Laurel folded her arms over the edge of the tub. Her grin was probably dopey as hell, but she didn’t care. “Tomorrow night? Now that we don’t have the end of the world to worry about for at least a couple weeks, we should maybe go to that new Thai fusion place on Main. Seven o’clock?”
“It’s a date, soulmate.” Felicity closed her eyes in horror as Laurel cracked up. “Oh god. Let’s both pretend I never said that. In fact, I’m just—gonna go. While I still have a modicum of cool left. And sense, too, because, like, you’re all wet and you like me and—okay, bye.”
And distinctly bright red, she scurried off without a second look.
Left alone in the base once again, Laurel waited until Felicity was definitely out of hearing range before she indulged herself and ducked under the water to let out a happy scream—one from which she surfaced with a gasp and a great deal of swearing. Elated or not, she was still in a literal ice bath. And enough of that, really. She’d deal with the aches on her own later. She climbed out, trembling.
Even freezing, she couldn’t stop smiling. The rest of her might have felt cold, but her wrist burned with warmth. She held it up to the light, flexing it as she admired the colors. For the very first time, she saw the mark as neither a trap nor even slightly cursed. Felicity knew and she felt the same way. Things with her father were…better. They’d saved the city. Maybe just this once she was entitled to a shred of happiness, Laurel thought as she dressed to go home and face-plant onto her mattress and stay there for at least twelve hours.
No, she determined. She had a date with her actual soulmate. The soulmark was permission to be happy.
And damned if she wasn’t going to take it.