Chapter 1: Onset
Though every part of her ached and she wanted to collapse in bed and forget all of it, Laurel methodically dumped four bags of ice into her bathtub. Maybe she should invest in an industrial icemaker. If nights like this happened with any frequency, it wouldn’t be the worst idea.
Her muscles locked up as she lowered herself into the ice bath, hissing at the cold.
Please god, don’t let nights like this happen frequently.
She had court in six hours, a case she’d been putting together for months. Her face felt puffy, every movement a little tick of bright red pain that made her flinch. Her eyelids had swollen up crying over Sara’s grave, and the emptiness of the AA meeting she’d just left had carved its way through her chest. All of that on top of being beaten to hell and coming off of the drugs and the hallucinations.
She wanted a drink so bad that her mouth felt stuffed with cotton. One glass couldn’t hurt, right? She’d still be able to say no the next time the urge came around. Just one pill now, to take away the edge and make the world softer and quieter.
Instead, she gulped in air and plunged beneath the surface. The shocking cold nearly stole her breath. Jaw clenched, she let out a scream underwater.
When spots threatened to explode at the edges of her vision, she lunged up with a gasp, flinging water everywhere. Hands clamped on the sides of the tub, she trembled and stared off into nothingness, watching a future stretch out bleakly, never improving, never stopping. Sara dead, her father angry and rudderless and so close to falling down the hole. Condescending scorn from Oliver. Polite disinterest from her coworkers. Beaten to hell in the field, ignored at work, and what was even the point of it all? It would never improve. She would never be as good as Sara, she would always be a failure, so why even try?
You have a light inside you.
Felicity’s words pushed through all of it, and Laurel remembered to breathe again. She stared at the wall, gaze unfocused, until it hit her: she was moping. A goddamned pity party, that was what this was.
She was exhausted. She’d been drugged and hit in the face and humiliated. She’d cried in front of more than one person, and now she sat in her own bathtub freezing her ass off in literal ice hours before she was due in court to appear before one of her least favorite judges. No wonder she felt worthless. Everything sucked.
“Are you done?” she asked. “You’ve had your little cryfest. Knock it off, you’ve seen worse than this.”
Her voice sounded unnaturally loud with only the sloshing of the ice bath as accompaniment, but it finally made her take a deep breath and relax her shoulders. Those thoughts had been dark. She focused instead on counting her breaths until the inside of her head didn’t scare her, and then she climbed out of the tub.
She shivered even after she crawled into bed and curled underneath her duvet. As she did, a faint discoloration on the inside of her wrist caught her eye. Her last thought before sleep arrived was to wonder: she didn’t remember getting hit there.
~ * ~ * ~
Things didn’t improve the next morning until she checked her messages during a recess. None from her father, one from Oliver that she deleted without reading, one from Diggle, and three from Felicity, the first a picture of Diggle sleeping at her desk in the lair with his head back captioned Droolggle! Which was terrible but Laurel couldn’t stop the laugh.
Diggle’s single text was timestamped a minute later: She thinks she’s sneaky but she’s not. Please delete that picture?
The second text from Felicity included an offer to send over coffee, and the third a vague gripe about some work project Laurel was sure she wouldn’t understand. Absolutely nothing about her breakdown. They texted for the rest of the recess, and Laurel stepped back into the courtroom feeling strangely lighter.
She deleted the picture first, though. Diggle did say please.
~ * ~ * ~
Of everybody, Laurel had not expected Roy Harper, who’d once slouched across an interrogation table from her, to become her biggest ally. They didn’t have a shred in common—or at least she told herself that until the day Roy met her gaze, and she saw her own banked fury at life’s injustices reflected in his eyes.
She liked and respected Diggle, but Roy was usually the first to give her a sympathetic eye-roll after one of Oliver’s tirades. And out of all of them, she liked sparring with him best. Oliver scolded, Diggle patiently instructed, but Roy just fought back and let her learn from her mistakes that way.
Three weeks after her pity party in the ice bath, Roy ducked a jab and said, “What’s wrong with your wrist? That bruise has been there forever.”
“It’s been less than a month.”
“You sure it’s a bruise?”
“Don’t care.” Laurel doubled her attack, determined not to be caught off-guard by whatever distraction he was trying.
But Roy—after taking a kick to the side—jogged back, signaling time-out.
Laurel scooped her hair out of her face. “What is it?”
“Does it hurt at all?” Roy asked, nodding at Laurel’s arm.
Why was he so hung up on this? Laurel probed the bruise to show that it was normal, and frowned at the lack of pain. “Why does this matter to you? Unless it looks like cancer or something. Wait, does it?”
“No—not like cancer. It’s just that—that’s exactly what mine looked like when it first showed up.” Before Laurel could ask what he was talking about, Roy checked over his shoulder and rolled up the leg of his track pants to expose one ankle.
“I wrote it off as a bruise,” Roy said, “until the lines and color came in. What the hell, right? I thought these things were a myth.”
“Or a society-wide prank,” Laurel said absently. Her brain raced as she bent to study the crown above Roy’s ankle. Brilliant gold, set with black and red gemstones, and dripping blood from the rim. A deathly sharp arrow pierced through the crown, red at the tip darkening to deep black feathers. Unlike a tattoo, though, the colors seemed to pulse with life.
She’d never, ever seen a soulmark in person, but she’d never really thought about if they were a myth or not. What was the point when they were so rare? But this one could only have one explanation. “You must really love Thea.”
Roy hunched his shoulders and rolled the hem back down. “I guess,” he said.
With color that strong? There was no guessing about it. “When did this happen?” Laurel asked instead of pointing that out.
“It just showed up, and it got pretty clear. Damn thing feels really stupid and corny.”
Trust Roy to take something deemed the height of romance and declare it corny. It almost served him right.
Except…Laurel looked at the bruise on her wrist in bewilderment. “It looked like this?” she asked.
“Pretty close. It’s too purply to be a regular bruise.” Roy wrinkled his nose as though the color had personally offended him.
Laurel raised her wrist to the light, her chest tightening. A bruise would have faded to green and yellow by now. If it truly was a soulmark, it could only be the stuff of dreams and fairy tales—two of the farthest things from her reality.
Roy met her gaze; for a second the feeling suffused her that he understood what was going on inside her head better than she did. “Need a minute?”
Maybe. “It’s a lot,” Laurel said.
When she flexed her wrist, she finally caught sight of a faint-yet-deliberate black line, and realization struck home. A soulmark. She had a soulmark on her wrist. She swallowed hard. Why now? And for whom? If anybody, it should have been for Tommy. He’d died saving her. That sort of sacrifice was worthy of some visible badge of love, surely, but her skin had been unblemished even as his coffin had been lowered into the earth.
She lowered her arm and shook her head, squaring off against Roy again.
He bounced on his toes and took the first swipe. “Wanna talk about it?”
“I don’t know,” Laurel said. “Maybe I should Google it first. What the hell?”
Roy shrugged and broke her attempted arm-lock, sending them to opposite corners of the mat. “I looked. It’s hard to tell the real stuff from the bullshit. It’s mostly a bunch of people saying that vaccinations are why we don’t really have them anymore. And people saying they’re just tattoos.”
Laurel rolled her eyes at that old theory. It beat the ‘government is dumping chemicals in the water to suppress soulmarks’ kooks, but not by much. She’d always thought it had something to do with genetics, maybe, since the marks rarely showed on both parties. But nobody in her family had ever talked about having one. Not that they would have. People had always been odd about this sort of thing. Even Laurel’s grandparents would have called it old-fashioned and—Laurel glanced at her wrist—it was private, wasn’t it?
The split-second distraction cost her; five seconds later, she groaned and tapped the mat before Roy could actually choke her.
“How about the library?” she asked as they climbed back to their feet. “Did you find anything there?”
“Why would I go to a library?”
“Because that’s where—never mind.” Laurel attacked first this time. “Does Thea know?”
“No. She’s got other shit on her plate right now. And you’re not gonna tell her.” Roy twirled out of the way, kicked off the wall, and flipped her right onto her back.
She hit the mat with a groan. “Ow. I won’t tell Thea. Your secret’s safe with me.”
Roy hauled her back to her feet. “I won’t tell yours, either. Whoever they are.”
The trouble was, she had absolutely no idea who that could be. Or why now. She hadn’t seriously had feelings for anybody since Tommy’s death.
Heels clicked on the stairs before she could say anything. “If whoever’s down here is fighting for real, warn me so I can get the Super Soaker,” Felicity called.
Roy and Laurel exchanged a look. “We’re just sparring,” Laurel said.
“Oh, that’s good, then. I was just—” Felicity rounded the corner and jerked back. “Sweaty! Wow, you are so—that’s—sweaty, yes. Both of you. Very, ah…”
“Yeah, that’s what happens when you work out,” Roy said.
“Yes, right, that would be it. You’d think I’d be used to it.” Felicity scurried across the base to drop her purse off at the bank of monitors. It might have been the light, but she seemed a little pink. She stood up absurdly straight and turned to give them a bright, false smile. “Good workout?”
Roy and Laurel shrugged in unison.
“Right. Good talk. Try not to bleed on the mats, I’m not sure they’ve been disinfected lately.” Felicity wrinkled her nose, and Laurel had to fight a grin as she faced off against Roy.
Neither of them brought up the soulmarks again.
~ * ~ * ~
Roy left first, as he had a shift to cover, and he seemed to leave in a hurry, probably embarrassed by how much he’d shared with Laurel. Though she knew she should go home and get some work done, Laurel groaned and slid down one of the columns to sit on the mats and drink her water. She sagged back, closing her eyes. Absently, she wrapped her fingers around her wrist.
“You’re getting better,” Felicity said.
“You’re being nice because you’re my friend, but I’ll take it.”
“But I mean it, though.”
“I wouldn’t exaggerate to make you feel better. Actually, that’s a lie, I’d totally do that. But I’m not doing that now.”
“I believe you,” Laurel said. Should she get some a watch with a wide band to hide the mark? Or maybe a bracelet. She’d ask Felicity for input, as her friend was pretty great at accessorizing, but it might mean bringing up the soulmark. And she wasn’t sure she wanted to do that.
Those were her feelings. Right there on her arm, for all the world to see. Sure, right now the image was faint, barely there, but if her feelings grew… What feelings, though? Nothing had changed with her lately—or romantically at least? And what would it look like? What would her soul manifest when mingled with somebody else’s? There wasn’t a single creative bone in her body.
“You know, if you think any louder, they’ll hear your thoughts over in Central City,” Felicity said, her fingers still typing. “Having trouble at work? Or…with your dad?”
Her father remained the last thing she wanted to discuss. Laurel opened her eyes. “Have you ever given much thought to soulmarks?” she asked.
Felicity’s forehead crinkled. Instead of the teasing Laurel expected, her friend squinted. “Who told you? Was it Oliver? That rat, he swore he wouldn’t.”
“Wait—you have one?” Laurel sat up. First Roy, and now Felicity? What were the odds?
But Felicity blinked in confusion. “No, of course not. I just—I thought you were talking about, like—never mind.”
“Well, now you have to tell me,” Laurel said. “You can’t leave it like that, it’s not nice.”
“You have to promise me you won’t—gah, fine.” Felicity flounced back to her computer and typed in a long string of passwords. A very long string. Then, head hung, she turned the monitor so Laurel could see it.
It took her far too long to recognize the woman with the black hair and the St. Andrews cross, but she scrambled to her feet to get a closer look. “How old is this photo? You look so young!”
“College,” Felicity said through gritted teeth.
“The black hair is so cute on you, though. I wish I could pull that off. Wait, were you—you were full-on goth?”
“For a little while.” Felicity sounded like she was waiting for Laurel to reach an inevitable conclusion.
And it didn’t take an old high school valedictorian long. She’d made friends with people in the goth scene in high school, mostly to give her an edge on getting into the homecoming court. And the one thing they believed above all: “Had a thing for soulmarks, did you?” Laurel asked.
“No!” But the word came out too quick.
Laurel casually moved her wrist behind her back. “It’s okay if you did, I think it’s adorable.”
“I may have drawn up some designs.”
“How very goth of you.”
“Shut up,” Felicity said, but she was smiling. “Thank god I never got to the tattoo stage of things because my ex turned out to be a colossal asshole. Maybe I should be glad I never manifested one. The color would be gone by now, and it would be nothing but a sad reminder.” Felicity hit a key and the picture vanished. “We used to get high and talk about soulmarks all the time.”
“So you don’t think they’re a myth?”
“Myth? No. Mystery? Yes. Like, nobody knows where they come from, how they start, how they magically stand for a connection to a complete stranger. Why they never fade away! How the coloration works.” Felicity spun her chair around once, gesturing wildly. “The science doesn’t make any sense and they’re so rare now. Plus all the social stigmatisms about them which are frankly ridiculous. We don’t burn people at the stake for them anymore! Get over it, people.”
“Uh-huh,” Laurel said as she processed the information. Roy was going to kick himself for not knowing there was an expert so close.
“Did you know that they were once considered marks to be a sign of being lower class? Because of arranged marriage, of all things. Victorians found them to be a social faux pas, and we still hide them to this day because of that.”
“You have definitely given this a lot of thought,” Laurel said.
“Only a little,” Felicity said, hunching forward. Laurel wanted to reassure her that no, it was cute—and helpful besides—but she wasn’t sure how to word that. So she squeezed Felicity’s shoulder. Felicity glanced down, seemed to hesitate, and patted her hand. “What brought all this on?” she asked.
“I came across mention of them while looking up precedents the other day,” Laurel lied.
“There are a few legal cases,” Felicity said with a thoughtful frown. “They instated some laws in—I can’t remember where, but I want to say Maine. Anyway, there were some law that you had to prove your soulmark was for your future spouse if you wanted to get married. As you can guess, that one got laughed out by the Supreme Court.”
“As is only right. What were they even thinking?”
“I know, right?”
She really needed a shower, but Laurel plopped herself on the edge of Felicity’s desk, listening to a tirade about how ridiculous it would be to enact laws when they won’t even allocate money for serious, peer-reviewed research into soulmarks. Laurel found herself debating back. She herself had more opinions on the subject than she would have expected, given that she hadn’t thought about soulmarks since she was a kid. Felicity was intensely, almost intimidatingly smart, but Laurel had the law background, and it was fascinating to their differences in logic.
When Felicity’s phone beeped, both women jumped in surprise. “Oh, I’m supposed to meet Ray like five minutes ago,” Felicity said.
Laurel glanced at the clock, frowning at how much time had passed. “Guess that’s my cue to clean up,” she said. “I’m pretty sure I stink.”
“I didn’t want to say anything.” Felicity flashed her a radiant grin and easily ducked the towel Laurel lobbed at her on the way by.
She’d missed this, she thought as she cranked the shower on. She wasn’t close to her current coworkers—she carried far too many secrets for that—and after things had fallen apart with Joanna, her main source of harmless and interesting debate had dried up. A friendship of years had dwindled to nothing but tepid birthday greetings on social media.
Just another sad reality of her life.
She showered and scrubbed at her wrist in case it was dirt, but the blemish didn’t change. There were far too many unanswered questions that were guaranteed to devolve into a thought spiral, so she changed into her civilian clothes and stepped out into the main area of the base. Mercifully, Oliver still hadn’t arrived. She really wasn’t up to dealing with him at the moment.
Felicity’s desk chair was also empty, save for a sheaf of paper. A pink sticky note on top bore her name in block letters, and a little note: To help with your case! Good luck! :)
Laurel paged through. Felicity had apparently taken time to print out resources on soulmarks, even though she’d been late to meet Ray. It was such a thoughtful gesture that Laurel felt a twinge of guilt over lying to Felicity about it in the first place.
Still holding the stack, she pulled out her phone to text Roy. Her breath caught in her throat. Distantly, she heard the sound of the paper hitting the floor and the sheets fluttering as they scattered.
The soulmark on her wrist no longer looked like a bruise.
~ * ~ * ~
Laurel didn’t sleep that night.
She did rub the skin on the inside of her wrist raw as she heated up a microwavable meal. And she paced the inside of her apartment so much that her Fitbit congratulated her on doubling her step goals of the day. She also had a stare-down with the paperwork that Felicity had given her. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answers contained within. The excitement over soulmarks had twisted into something like hot panic, burrowing inside her.
At two a.m. she broke down and flipped the first page. Maybe soulmarks could be platonic. A close friendship or connection, right? There were many types of love in the world.
The first essay in the stack slam-dunked that hope into the garbage. Many theorists speculate that if soulmarks could represent the love one has for a friend or a close family member, statistically they would be greater in number.
Love. Romantic, probably sexual love.
An actual soulmate. One-sided at least.
Laurel made herself a cup of coffee, deliberately not looking at her wrist as she dove into the pile. The first essay, she set aside to be read later. The next presented a guide for how soulmarks worked. The onset appeared like a bruise on the skin, but slightly off-color. It was believed that this was actually somewhat common, and that soulmarks for most never reached the next stage: Manifestation. Where the “bruise” took on a design and occasionally color. Maturation, the third stage, could take anywhere from seconds to years.
Other essays presented theories about the origin on the marks, one scientific study diving into genetics. Sample sizes remained too small to truly study the phenomenon, the conclusion read.
Another more fanciful article attributed the marks to magic. Prior to hearing about the strange things happening in Central City and fighting a few metas herself, Laurel would have tossed that one in the trash. But it made a lot of sense, didn’t it? She’d listened to Felicity and the Star Labs crew debate the metahumans and how the powers had developed after the explosion. Every power had something that tied thematically to its new owner. Couldn’t that be an extension of these very rare soulmarks? Felicity liked to quote something about how magic was just science people didn’t understand yet. Did having a soulmark make one susceptible to the meta powers, too? Maybe they had nothing to do with one another and Laurel was merely grasping at straws.
Or maybe she was merely trying to avoid the anxiety crushing her throat for entirely different reasons.
Sara was the Lance who liked women. Who’d liked women, Laurel corrected herself, her stomach sinking the way it did whenever she had to put Sara in the past tense. Laurel remembered the girls Sara had kissed in the hallways at high school, the one she’d brought home but only called her friend (their parents had never suspected a thing, but Laurel had regretted how very thin the wall between their bedrooms was that night). And then there was Nyssa, whom Laurel found impossible to read. So yes, liking women and men had been Sara’s thing.
Laurel was firmly heterosexual. 100%.
Never questioned it.
She groaned and flopped back onto her couch, finally giving in and looking at the design on her wrist. The outline of the feather circling her wrist, that had to stand for the Black Canary. How she delivered justice. The fact that the feather was drawn up in circuit board patterns, with faint color easing in among the black lines? Only one person in her life really fit that. And the soulmark manifesting right after a heart-to-heart with that same individual? This was a mystery even Oliver at his most obtuse could solve.
But she’d never been attracted to a woman before. And Felicity? As her soulmate? She liked Felicity. She liked the quiet support and the way her mind sped along, faster than everybody else’s in the room. How she could type and laugh and drop accidental euphemisms all at the same time. But that fell firmly into friendship territory, and after the awful two years she’d endured, a genuine friend felt like an oasis in the desert. Friendship did not an attraction make.
Laurel lowered her wrist so that she could cover her eyes with her arm. Everybody she’d been attracted to before had been strictly of the manly variety. Not that there were actually a lot of people on the attraction list for her. Where Sara had seemed to gain a new crush almost daily, Laurel’s were sparse and few between. There had been her high school boyfriend, who’d been her chemistry partner for two semesters before they’d so much as kissed. A brief summer fling with another lifeguard, though he’d been way more into the physical side of things than she had. And then Oliver. And finally Tommy.
Come to think of it, for all the number of ill-advised dates she’d endured, the actual list itself was almost pitifully short.
And fate had decreed another entry. One she most definitely not attracted to. Sure, Felicity was cute. Gorgeous, really, if you were into that professional-meets-nerdy-girl-next-door look. Laurel lifted her wrist again and opened her eyes to study the feather. Did this mean she was gay now? Did sexual orientation even matter with soulmarks?
Ironically, the person she wanted to ask most in that moment was also the last one she wanted to tell about this, ever. Felicity had a boyfriend and this was all probably an accident anyway. Maybe she was hallucinating it. Maybe it wasn’t even a soulmark, but some kind of new meta in town with super weird powers. That could be it.
But as she fell into an uneasy sleep, Laurel sincerely doubted that.
Chapter 2: Manifestation
She had no idea how to deal with the mark—other than to pull on an old leather cuff that had belonged to Sara—but life had come up with a way to ensure she really didn’t have time to worry about it.
Rather: Laurel fell asleep on her couch one night, and the world decided to go to hell by the time she woke up. The collection of lines and color on her skin seemed a great deal less magical when she was busy pulling her father out of bars and dealing with his rage at the Arrow. Having a soulmate did nothing to help when Thea confessed the awful truth about Sara’s death. It didn’t spare her the humiliation of having her ass handed to her by Sara’s killer. And Laurel frankly didn’t have time to fixate on the unanswered questions about a piece of pretty artwork on her skin, not with her father on a crusade against the Arrow.
At least she wasn’t alone. Everybody on the team looked a little more dead around the eyes as things continued to happen.
“Remember when things were pleasant and calm?” Diggle asked her sardonically, a couple of days before his wedding.
Laurel snorted. “No.”
“Yeah. Me neither.” He made a fresh pot of coffee.
The only positive aspect of the disaster all around them was that Laurel didn’t have to worry about how to act around Felicity. They had bigger things to worry about. The soulmark’s pattern and color didn’t fade or intensify, so there was that. It still made things tricky, though. Nyssa began training her, and Laurel noticed the way Nyssa’s eyes lingered on the sweatband she diligently wore. At least her fingerless gloves covered it in uniform. Hiding it at work meant using the leather cuff and long sleeves.
The morning of Diggle’s wedding, she realized that the cuff didn’t match her dress, and she hadn’t had time to pick up anything that didn’t clash with the dress she’d set aside. She nearly grabbed one of her work suits when her eyes fell on an old wrist brace.
“I have a new trainer,” she told Oliver several hours later, holding up her perfectly healthy wrist in the brace. “She’s very enthusiastic.”
He looked slightly befuddled, but being Oliver, he didn’t push it.
They had an open bar. Diggle had taken her aside to warn her about that, which had been kind of him. Since this was her first wedding after getting sober, she had no idea how she would react, so Laurel deliberately picked the table farthest from the bar. She wasn’t in much of a dancing mood.
Neither, it seemed, was Felicity, who wandered over after her dance with Oliver. She plunked the bouquet down on the table and immediately kicked off her high heels, letting out a long, happy sigh. “The things we do to look cute,” she said to Laurel.
Laurel toasted her with her glass. “Gin and tonic,” she said when Felicity gave it a puzzled look. “Hold the gin.”
“I’d hold the tonic, too.” Felicity rolled her head around on her neck. “Your wrist isn’t hurting you, is it? If you want, I can scan it next time we’re in the base—”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Laurel said, automatically tucking her arm closer to her body. “I’m just babying it because I can. Don’t worry about it.”
Felicity frowned. “If you’re sure.”
“I am, but you’re very sweet to offer.”
Felicity waved that off and relaxed back into her seat. When one of the waiters came by with a tray of champagne flutes, she took one, though her attention stayed Diggle and Lyla dancing. “They look so happy,” she said. “Don’t you think they look happy?”
Laurel smiled despite herself. “I really do. It’s a beautiful wedding. And Ray did a great job.”
“Just when you think your boyfriend’s your run-of-the-mill-inventor-slash-business-magnate, surprise! You turn around and he’s an ordained minister, too.” Felicity did jazz hands as best she could while holding a champagne flute.
“Have I mentioned how nice it is that your experiences are so universal?” Laurel asked, and laughed when Felicity wrinkled her nose. “But seriously, that was clutch.”
“It was. Speaking of love and relationships, how’d that one case go? With the soulmarks? I forgot to ask you about that.”
Laurel automatically tugged her arm even closer to her. The relaxed warmth of a simple happy moment with a friend fled in a rush. She’d managed to forget about the design on her wrist completely, but now it seemed to burn like a mark of shame. “Oh. Uh. It got dropped,” she lied. “They took a plea deal.”
“Oh.” Felicity’s face fell.
“But those articles you gave me were a big help.”
“That’s a relief. It’s kind of nice to talk about soulmarks at all. People get weird and give me the please-stop-talking look when I bring them up.” Felicity sighed and folded her arms on the table, resting her chin on the crook of her elbow so that she could watch the dance floor. “It’s a look I am all too familiar with, sadly enough.”
Laurel fought down annoyance on her behalf. Felicity tended to stick her foot in her mouth a lot—more than any other person Laurel had ever known, actually—but what she had to say was usually cute or meaningful. “You were really into them, huh,” she said at length.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t daydream about having one at least once.”
Laurel snorted. “I thought they were an old wives’ tale.”
“But my research changed your mind?”
“Sure,” Laurel said, another lie. It took everything she had not to fiddle with the brace on her wrist. “What would Dig and Lyla’s soulmark be?”
Creases appeared in Felicity’s forehead as she pondered. “I bet it would have camouflage in it somewhere, on account of how they met and all. But, like, really bright camouflage.”
“Which defeats the purpose.”
“Ah well. The course of true love never did run smooth.”
“What about you and Ray?”
“That’s private, don’t you think?” Felicity asked. Before Laurel could apologize, she grinned. “Sorry, just messing with you. It’d definitely have something to do with computers. With binary, for sure. I don’t really sketch out ideas anymore so I haven’t given it that much thought beyond the usual.”
Something to do with computers. Like a circuit board. “The usual?”
Felicity sat up, fidgeting in her spot. “I have…kind of this test. It’s a holdover from my goth days and super embarrassing, but we’re best friends now, right?”
“Absolutely,” Laurel said. Technically, with Joanna gone from her life and Sara dead—her heart clenched—Felicity had become the friend she was closest to. “I’m not gonna blab to the rest of the team. Your secret is safe with me, whatever it is.”
“I’m almost tempted to make you pinky promise,” Felicity said.
Laurel held out the littlest finger on her non-“injured” hand. Grinning, Felicity hooked their pinkies together.
“I’ve always done this thing with people where if I can’t figure out what a soulmark would be, I don’t date them.” Felicity sighed. She’d left their fingers twined, but Laurel made no move to pull her hand back. “I do it with most people I meet. For example—Oliver. I can’t imagine what a soulmark would look like for us.”
Laurel raised her eyebrows. She’d noticed Oliver’s pining looks—so had people in space, probably—and she’d figured it was only a matter of time. “You can’t see it?” she asked. “Not even an arrow and—I don’t know, circuit board?”
“Circuit board?” Felicity looked intrigued.
“Yeah, it’s in…computers and stuff.”
“Circuit board,” Felicity said again, but her voice now sounded thoughtful. “A circuit board arrow. I wonder how that would look.”
Great, Laurel thought. She’d given the competition an edge. Wait. The competition? Where had that thought come from?
“That’s certainly something to think about,” Felicity said. “What do you think your side of a soulmark would look like?”
Laurel reached over with her free hand and picked up her gin-less tonic, keeping her face deliberately blank. “Huh. I never gave it much thought. With how hungry I’ve been lately, it might be a cheeseburger.”
“You can has cheeseburger?” Felicity asked.
“Sorry, ignore that. It’s an outdated internet thing. With cats.” Felicity tilted her head and squinted at Laurel. “Maybe something that stands for justice? Or peace?”
“Peace is the last thing I’ve felt lately.”
“You fight for it, though. And I think that’s really honorable.” Interestingly enough, Felicity had gone a little pink. It might have been the champagne. “I don’t know. That kind of nobility just goes hand in hand with…you.”
Warmth suffused Laurel’s chest. “Thanks,” was all she could say.
Before she could contribute what she thought her half of a theoretical soulmark would be, though, Lyla came over and dragged them both out to perform the Electric Slide. Even Oliver wasn’t safe—from either the dance or the teasing that followed. Felicity was pulled away to fix a great-aunt’s phone, leaving Laurel dancing in a group with some of Lyla’s old soldier buddies.
When she unwrapped the brace later that night, she wasn’t startled to see that the color and complexity of her mark had deepened immensely. Neither, for the first time, was she apprehensive about what that might mean.
~ * ~ * ~
A few weeks after the wedding, Laurel cut out early for lunch. She didn’t really have the time to spare, but her caseload wasn’t going anywhere, so she set up her out-of-office message and took a brown bag lunch halfway across town.
A promise of rain lingered on the air as she crossed the lawn. The winding path felt more familiar now; she’d walked it more in the past year than she had in the six years Sara had secretly been alive. She took a seat on the roots of the tree by Sara’s grave, noting the slightly wilted hyacinths laid at the base of the stone. Apparently she wasn’t Sara’s only visitor this week.
She’d been the one to pick the location, in that horrible, horrible week a long time ago. She’d been brittle as glass herself, aware that her own breakdown must be imminent, but she’d persevered through everything that needed to be handled when her mother and father couldn’t. There had been a warning that picking a gravesite under a tree would require more maintenance, especially in the fall. Laurel had merely thought that it would be a nice place to sit for her mother, even with all the trouble.
Her mother rarely came back. And here Laurel found herself instead, only now there was an actual body in the grave.
“I guess the only nice thing is now you can’t bitch at me for packing pastrami,” Laurel said as she set her thermos of coffee on the ground by her knee. “Or steal half my sandwich. And then bitch because it’s pastrami.”
It felt stupid to talk aloud when she knew Sara was gone. But that dark moment in the ice bath after her Vertigo-fueled nightmare had driven home the need for some sort of outlet. And if taking the time out for lunch was all she could do, that would have to be it. She could spend half an hour a week looking like an idiot.
“Busy day at the office,” she said as she unwrapped her sandwich. “But when isn’t it? I have a case going to court next week, and I don’t know where I’m going to find the time, with all the craziness with the night job. Speaking of which, your girlfriend is a sadist.”
Between bites of the pastrami-on-rye, Laurel filled the imaginary version of Sara in on everything that had been going on with Thea, with the League, with Oliver. With Nyssa. Half the time, she had no idea what she was saying. It had all begun to compress inside of her, all the worries and fears she couldn’t tell the others about. Things, she thought with a wry smile, she might have brought up at an AA meeting—if they weren’t part of a secret identity.
She didn’t mention her father once. The wounds felt too fresh.
She finished her sandwich and pried open a fruit cup. She poked despondently at the peaches. Here, she knew, was the reason she’d felt the itch to slip away to talk to “Sara” in the first place.
“Want to hear something funny?” she finally asked. “Well, I don’t know if it’s funny, but you’d bust a rib laughing. I know you would. You were a little bit of an asshole. I hated it, but I loved it, too.”
She took a deep breath. “Turns out soulmarks aren’t a hoax. I have one, which means I have an actual soulmate. I really thought Tommy would’ve been it, out of everyone.”
She’d loved Tommy. She’d grieved, and still did in those little moments that forever caught her off-guard.
“And here’s where you’re going to laugh for an eternity: my soulmate is Felicity.”
She hadn’t actually said it out loud before, Laurel realized. She’d leveled with herself internally and had faced her reality, but she hadn’t actually said it. She stabbed at a peach slice with the spoon.
“And it’s confusing,” she said. “I’ve never been into women, but my soulmark says differently. But is it just Felicity? Or have I unknowingly been gay or bi or whatever for a long time? And really, this could be a chicken and the egg situation. Am I feeling like this because of the soulmark?”
Or had her feelings always been there, dormant under the surface with a mess of emotions Laurel had mercilessly smothered? If that was the case, would she even have known without the soulmark? Was this some kind of wake-up call? Had there been other women in her past, who she could have felt this pull toward? Had she cut off a part of herself to fit within society’s demands, the way she’d once tried to be the perfect sorority girl and Oliver Queen’s ideal girlfriend?
She sniffled, and raised a horrified hand to discover that she had begun to cry. Annoyed, she swiped at the tears. “I really wish you were here,” she told the grave. “Even if you’d laugh, I could use your advice.”
“Perhaps I might serve as an emissary?”
The voice made her jump. In an instant, Laurel tossed aside the fruit cup, rolled to her feet, and dropped into a fight stance. Only when she realized the voice had belonged to Nyssa, who had somehow walked up behind her, did she lower her guard. Humiliation flooded in. “How—” Laurel licked her lips and swallowed hard. “How much did you hear?”
“A fair deal, I suspect. It would have been kinder to give you your privacy—as private as a public place could be—but I have never been an excessively kind individual.”
“You don’t say,” Laurel said.
Nyssa’s saving grace was that she didn’t look particularly sympathetic. Instead, she had her eyebrows raised, her usual inquisitive expression in place. If anything, she seemed disappointed that her teachings hadn’t been as effective as she liked. Laurel breathed out. She should have been paying better attention to her surroundings.
On the other hand, Nyssa was a literal ninja. Sneaking was what she did.
No need to ask why Nyssa had shown up here, as she held a fresh bunch of blue hyacinths. “Her favorite,” Nyssa said when Laurel eyed the flowers. “Though she would probably tell you she finds them too girly. That is what you’ve been hiding? A soulmark?”
“You knew I was hiding something?” Laurel said, giving in. Embarrassment in front of Nyssa’s calm detachment felt like too much work.
And maybe part of her was relieved. A very small part.
“Everybody is entitled to their secrets,” Nyssa said.
“Says the woman who was just eavesdropping on me.”
“In addition to being unkind, I am occasionally a hypocrite.” Nyssa set the hyacinths on the grave and smoothed them out with her fingers. She sat next to Laurel and gestured at the brown bagged lunch. “May I?”
Laurel shrugged. Unlike Sara, Nyssa did not complain about pastrami.
“She would have laughed so hard at this,” Laurel said, gesturing at the covered soulmark.
“Perhaps. But she would have sympathized, as well. Eventually. After she settled down.” Nyssa stared off into the distance. “For as confident as she could be, I know she questioned things about herself. All of us do, the ones of us who are not…”
“Straight?” Laurel asked.
“In a word.” Nyssa nodded. “May I see it?”
“You’ll be the first,” Laurel said. Guilt struck surprisingly hard at that. No, part of her protested, Felicity should be the first to see it. But she unhooked the cuff and turned her hand over.
She’d never examined it in sunlight, and the difference was breathtaking. The color seemed even more intense than it had been that morning. Every fine detail in the circuit board stood out. The color had started faint, but now it had deepened into a lovely violet shade that gradually shifted toward pink near the tip of the feather and blue near the base. The circuitry shone with gold, like somebody had strung threads of lamé through her very skin.
She imagined the faint glow was merely her eyes playing tricks on her.
Nyssa let out a small, amused sound. “What?” Laurel asked nervously. It occurred to her that she was literally baring her soul, and this was proving far more nerve-wracking than anticipated. “What’s so funny?”
“Not funny, merely…poignant.” Nyssa finished the sandwich. “For all that you are not much alike, you and Sara share some things. The ability to love intensely appears to be one of them.”
Laurel flexed her wrist and snapped the cuff back into place, not sure what to say to that. “That, and our soulmates are women,” she said. “Surprise, Dad.”
“I feel I should defend loving women, but I have never been with a man, so I can’t compare the two,” Nyssa said. “In this, I can’t act as Sara’s emissary.”
“Fair,” Laurel said. Her watch beeped, warning her that she had a meeting in the office in half an hour. She stayed put, looking at Sara’s grave. “Do you believe in fate?”
“No,” Nyssa said. “It is nothing but false hope for children and the foolish.”
“I didn’t believe in it before,” Laurel said, rubbing her thumb over the leather cuff. “Now I’m not so sure.”
Nyssa surprised her by letting out a snort. “Whatever soulmarks are, they are not fate, or destiny, or whichever word you choose. They’re merely an acknowledgment that your soul believes it has found its match. They do not guarantee a happy ending.” She touched the wilted hyacinths she’d picked off of Sara’s grave. “Nothing does.”
Laurel raised her coffee thermos in a toast. “That’s for sure.”
“I think if Sara were here, she would tell you to it doesn’t matter how things begin, only that they progress. Mind your heart, not some ‘fancy magic doodle,’” Nyssa said, making air quotes.
“Would she?” Laurel said, both eyebrows high. “Follow your heart” felt way too sentimental for Sara.
“Or something like it,” Nyssa relented. “There would likely be some juvenile humor thrown in, and a double entendre or two.”
“Classic Sara,” Laurel said, unable to stop her smile. She left the rest of the coffee with her, as she really had no idea how Nyssa was feeding herself while hiding in Star City, but she carried the words with her as she returned to work.
~ * ~ * ~
Laurel came home to find her thermos, perfectly clean, sitting on the dish drying rack. For a second, she debated whether to be outraged: she certainly hadn’t given Nyssa a key. But that felt like too much work. Besides, she really liked that thermos, and was glad to have it back.
So Laurel set in its customary spot by the coffee maker and went about fixing dinner. Felicity hadn’t answered her texts asking if she was needed for patrols. Until she heard otherwise, she had about two hours of work tucked in her bag. She spread it over her dining room table as she poked at lackluster stir-fry.
Hours later, empty plate pushed aside, she leaned back and stretched. At least four vertebrae in her back popped. She grimaced, reaching up to rub an ache out of her neck.
Knocking made her head snap up.
“Laurel?” Felicity asked through the door.
Puzzled, Laurel looked at the clock—nearly midnight—and picked up the shotgun out of the side cabinet. She kept it in her left hand as she unlocked the chain and the deadbolt.
Felicity sagged against the doorjamb, like she was too tired to support herself. “Hi,” she said.
“Hey,” Laurel said. Seeing no one threatening Felicity in the hallway, she set the shotgun behind the door. “What’s up?”
“Um, a lot—sorry—I know it’s late.” Felicity scrunched her eyes shut. Laurel had seen her tired before, but this went beyond dark under-eye circles and yawning. Her skin looked waxy, and resignation seemed to radiate from every line of her face. She opened her eyes and shook her head. “You weren’t sleeping, were you?”
“Working. But you’re a great excuse to take a break. Want to come in?”
Felicity nodded. She waited in the foyer as Laurel re-locked the door and calmly put the shotgun away. “It’s been a long day, and I really, really want a drink. So of course I come to the one place where that’s impossible.”
“Sorry,” Laurel said.
“No, no, don’t be. Please don’t be. God, that wasn’t what I meant.” Felicity followed her to the couch.
“I might not have alcohol, but I can offer coffee.”
“And I will take you up on that, you caffeine-offering angel.”
Despite her worry, Laurel had to smile at that. Felicity stayed quiet as Laurel set up a new pot, though she took off her jacket and, after a hesitation, kicked out of her heels. She seemed to curl in on herself as she sat down. When Laurel set the coffee mug in front of her, she pursed her lips. “Why do you even have that?”
“It was a birthday gift from Sara this year. She was, for the record, the only one allowed to tell lawyer jokes about me, so don’t get any ideas.”
“Noted.” Felicity picked up the mug that featured a cute cartoon bird (Buzz Ard, Esquire of Dewey, Cheatum, & Howe, to be exact) and downed half the coffee black.
Sara had also sent a mug that said Lawyers Do It In Their Briefs, but Laurel had tucked that one away in the darkest corner of the cabinet where it belonged.
“I need to tell you some things,” Felicity said, putting the coffee down. “When I said it was a long day, I—that may have been an understatement of epic proportions. Please try not to get too mad.”
Laurel’s insides went cold. “What’s happened?”
And, not looking up from her coffee mug, Felicity told her. How Ra’s had attacked Thea in her loft, how she’d temporarily died. That they’d taken her to Nanda Parbat.
How the Fountain of Youth was a real thing.
“Why didn’t anybody call me? I could have gone with you,” Laurel said. She’d started pacing around the time Felicity had told her they’d taken Ray’s plane to Nanda Parbat.
“It wouldn’t have changed anything,” Felicity said, finally looking up from the coffee table.
“You don’t know that.” Nobody had called her. After weeks of dealing with Oliver’s bullshit—not telling her things because she reacted with her emotions, like he didn’t do exactly the same damn thing—this felt like even more of a blow to her psyche. Not a single person had thought to inform her that her friend had died and been brought back through an actual goddamned Fountain of Youth.
“Lazarus Pit,” Felicity said, and Laurel realized that she had been speaking aloud. “And you have a point. Especially about Oliver. Who isn’t coming back.”
Laurel swiveled. “What?”
“That was the deal. Ra’s saved Thea, so Oliver’s going to stay in Nanda Parbat and be his heir.”
“But that’s supposed to be Nyssa.”
“There’s a prophecy. Or something. I don’t know.” Felicity finished the coffee. “We tried everything. Hell, I even drugged him and tried to kidnap him, but he’s not coming home.”
There was so much to unpack there that Laurel decided to ignore the tidbit about Grand Theft Arrow.
All of the fight seemed to drain out of Felicity at once. “He sent us all back,” she said. “Without him.”
Laurel swallowed her anger and sat next to Felicity, who immediately turned and pushed her face into Laurel’s shoulder. Laurel held on while she cried, feeling hollow herself. Oliver had handed himself over to the same League that had once taken Sara from her. And though she wanted to rage at him, a part of Laurel understood all too well. He had done it for Thea. If given even a sliver of a chance to save Sara, she didn’t want to discover how far she would go.
But he had abandoned all of them in the process. Especially Felicity, who cried until she had to gasp for breath. Every hiccupping sob hurt Laurel’s heart. She ignored the little voice that pointed out how pathetic it was to hold a soulmate while said woman cried over another. If she let the jealousy take hold, misery would follow.
But why did Oliver have to be such a bonehead, honestly?
“How’s Thea? Does she need anything?” Laurel asked when Felicity’s sobs had calmed to tears.
“She’s sleeping. Diggle stayed with her so I could tell you.” Felicity pulled off her glasses and wiped her eyes. “Sorry for blubbering all over you. I haven’t slept in like thirty hours.”
“I thought I was holding it together, but…” Felicity trailed off and gestured at her red face. She blew her nose. “And the cherry on top of this craptastic day is that Ray ended things. I mean, I don’t blame him. At all. And he still let us use the jet to go to Nanda Parbat, which was super nice of him.”
“Did something happen?” Laurel asked, keeping her voice neutral. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No. Maybe. Nothing really happened, we didn’t fight or anything. He thought I had feelings for—someone else.”
Laurel could read between the lines well enough. Oliver hadn’t exactly been subtle with the longing looks. She knew Felicity and Oliver had had that disastrous date nearly a year ago, too. It made sense.
That didn’t make it hurt any less, though.
Felicity sat up suddenly, startling Laurel. “On second thought,” she said in a rush, “it’s not important why we called it off. That relationship was doomed from the start. I should probably go.”
Laurel blinked at the sudden heel face turn. “Did you drive here?” she asked.
“My car’s down in the parking garage. It’s barely midnight, I’ll be—”
“You just got off an international flight and you haven’t slept in thirty hours.” And you’ve been crying. “You shouldn’t be driving right now. I’ll go put some fresh sheets on the guest bed.”
Felicity outright gawked at her as she climbed off of the couch and crossed the room to the cedar chest where she kept spare sheets and blankets. “What is it?” Laurel asked.
Felicity snapped back to herself. “Nothing. It’s nothing. I didn’t realize how bossy you could be.”
“And maybe I like it.” Felicity took the bundle of sheets from her and gave her a genuine smile that sent little flutters through Laurel’s pulse. “I can make up the bed. You’ve done plenty for me already. Thank you.”
Felicity made it all the way to the guest bedroom before she stopped and turned. “And I’m sorry we didn’t call and fill you in,” she said. “You deserved to know. No matter what Oliver says, you’re important to me—I mean, to the team. You’re important to the team.”
“Thanks, Felicity,” Laurel said.
Interestingly, Felicity seemed to go a little pink before she scurried into the guest room with a hasty “Good-night!”
Well. That was interesting. Laurel rubbed her wrist, thankfully covered by her long-sleeved pajama top, and went to dig out a spare toothbrush and some towels.
~ * ~ * ~
She left a spare key and a note on the table the next morning, as she had to be at work early and she didn’t want to disturb the little sleep Felicity did manage. The note invited Felicity to take anything she needed, though the fridge had little to offer. Perhaps a sad carrot or two, and expired milk.
The text arrived a couple of hours into her workday: you’re giving me a key?! Moving a little fast, aren’t we?
Three winking emojis followed in quick succession.
Ha, Laurel texted back. Somebody on the team should have it. Bad guys have a bad habit of attacking the joint.
So it’s not a declaration of cohabitation, then?
Sadly not, Laurel texted back.
Your place is nicer than mine!
Details. Thanks for the key. And everything else.
A stack of file folders landed at her elbow, making her jump. “A smile? That’s a rare thing to see around here,” her coworker said. “I hope that’s a hot date, whoever he is.”
“Just a friend,” Laurel said, tucking her phone away so that she could discuss the files he’d brought. Her phone remained silent all through the conversation, but her wrist felt warm nonetheless.
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.
Thanks for your patience! I changed the ending and then got surprise deadlines for my book coming out next month so there was trouble. Here, have a mini-epilogue for your troubles.
Eight months later, Laurel and Sara are sparring in the base when Sara asks if Laurel's ever gonna show her the famous soulmark (because you know Felicity has blabbed about it at least eight times). With a great deal of sighing, Laurel does.
Sara regards it soberly for all of a minute. "Laurel," she says gravely, "that's gay."
Laurel pokes her with a nightstick as Sara cracks up at her own joke.
(Felicity, parked at the computers twenty feet away, very carefully hides her own laughter. And they all live happily ever after.)