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Legend In Death

Chapter Text


"Legends die hard. They survive as truth rarely does."

Helen Hayes


Prologue

She was foolish to be out so late wearing only an evening dress. It was April, and April in Star City was a fickle month. The midday sun lured you into thinking that summer was right around the corner, only to leave you shivering at dusk when it slunk below the horizon. And by midnight, which she was certain it was now, it was cold, plain and simple. She should have gone home to change or at least found a decent coat. But she'd been anxious and hadn't wanted to take the time.

She was foolish too, she knew, for coming to this part of the city, especially this late and especially alone. When she'd moved to Star City a few years ago, one of the first things she'd learned was that you didn't wander the Glades after dark. The Glades was for people who lived on the fringes - those with little money and no hope of ever climbing out of the hole that life had buried them in. The Glades wasn't for people like her; a celebrity and a woman of means. She didn't belong, and standing in the dirty alley she was vulnerable, the same way a diamond in a pail of rusty nails was vulnerable. She was the shiny object.

Normally she liked standing out - standing apart from the rest of the world. But not here. Here, it made her unsafe.

Of course she could have insisted that they meet someplace else. But she knew that the Glades, for all its misery, offered her one thing that the rest of the city couldn't; anonymity. She might stand out, but no one in this part of the city was likely to know her name. And there were no security cameras or gawkers ready to take her photo and post it on social media for all the world to judge. The public could be fickle, every bit as fickle as April in Star City. One moment of weakness - of being human - and you fell from idol to joke. What she was doing now could easily be interpreted as weakness by those who didn't understand her world and the demands it put upon her. So she accepted the risk in order to keep her business private.

She stepped deeper into the alley and peered into the darkness, wrinkling her nose at the smell of garbage and urine. There was no sign of him, no fucking sign of him anywhere, she thought. She crossed her arms over her chest and hugged herself, trying to restore warmth to her body. She had hurried here; hurried, without going home to change because he had told her that she had to meet him right away. And now that she'd arrived on time, the bastard was keeping her waiting. She tapped the toe of her elegant, spike-heeled sandal and huffed out a breath. She'd give him five minutes. Five minutes, and then she was gone.

There was a soft, scuffling sound from somewhere in the alley and she spun around, searching for its source.

"Well, it's about time-" she began; then she heard a sharp thwack followed immediately by an even sharper pain in her chest. She glanced down and barely had time to register that there was an arrow protruding above her left breast before she began falling backwards. What the hell? she thought.

She was dead before her head hit the pavement.

Chapter Text

Felicity Smoak knelt next to the body in the alley and raised her eyebrows. Anyone who claimed the modern world discouraged creativity, she decided, had never been a homicide detective. Death might be the great equalizer and all humankind destined to return to dust, but the process of dying - well, the process of murder, anyway - was like snowflakes. No two were the same. Man appeared to have infinite imagination when it came to taking the life of his fellow man.

This morning was a perfect example. The woman lay on her back with her arms spread over the pavement in a decent imitation of Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. She was an elegant girl, fine-boned and slender, dressed in a long black sheath that Felicity eyeballed as costing more than three months of her salary. A diamond pendant adorned the victim's neck, matching the diamond tear-drops in her earlobes, and a small beaded purse lay nearby. Her long dark hair was thick and glossy and her doe eyes, staring vacantly at the sky, were chocolate brown.

And sticking out of her chest, precisely where Felicity knew her heart to be, was an arrow.

"That's a new one," she murmured. She stared at the feathered end of the shaft before glancing up at the nearest uniformed cop. "Wanna bet on the cause of death?"

The uniform grinned, but reluctantly, as if he didn't want to admit that she'd said something amusing.

"Seriously," she continued, pressing the point. "An arrow? Why not a battle axe or a spear, or some other medieval weapon?"

The uniform shrugged. "Guns are banned," he replied shortly.

She heard disapproval in his voice and was tempted to remind him that killings had dropped meaningfully after the ban on firearms had been instituted three decades ago. She'd seen the data at the police academy, and Felicity was a big believer in data. Then her own, half-awake yawn reminded her that five-thirty in the morning was too early for a debate on gun control.

Instead, she opened her messenger bag, pulled out the thermal scanner, and ran it over the woman's upper torso. "The ME will confirm," she said into her police recorder, "but I'm looking at the time of death being shortly after midnight. Twelve-oh-eight, to be precise." Resting her gloved hand on the woman's shoulder, she added softly, "Now what on earth brought a fancy girl like you to the Glades so late?"

There was no answer. But then, it was Felicity's job to find the answers.

She rose to her feet and surveyed the crime scene, filing impressions in her memory even though the uniforms were recording everything on video. There was nothing unusual about the alley other than the incongruity of finding a dead woman in an evening dress lying in it. It wasn't a hangout for the Glades homeless population; there were no sleeping bags or cardboard box shelters. Just dumpsters, with their sour smell of organic refuse, and the rats, no doubt, that were doing their best to feast before the trucks came to empty them.

She wrinkled her nose. Rats made poor witnesses.

"Anyone look in the dumpsters?" she asked.

The uniform grimaced. "We looked," he replied defensively. "We didn't sift through all the shit."

She nodded. She couldn't blame them for not wanting to wade in waist-high garbage. "No sign of a bow or, what do they call that thing for holding arrows? A quiver?"

"No."

"How about clothing? A hat or gloves, maybe?"

"Didn't see any." His tone had passed defensive and now bordered on surly.

Felicity nodded again, ignoring the man's less-than-helpful attitude. She received this reaction from older (and typically male) colleagues relatively often and had become accustomed to it, even if she didn't like it. They resented her because she'd made detective after less than two years in uniform, leveraging her college degree and passing the exam with ease. Their pride told them that it couldn't be because she was good, so they imagined a list of other reasons for her success that Felicity knew ranged from influential relative to supplying sexual favors to her superiors.

Some days she tried to put them in her place. She might not have their size or skill in hand-to-hand, but she was damn sure she could outthink any of them. Other days it wasn't worth the energy and she let it slide. Today she was leaning toward letting it slide because it was early, and because she thought it unlikely that the murderer had actually left any physical evidence in the dumpsters.

Turning her attention back to the victim, she noted that the pool of blood beneath the woman was small. Felicity wondered if that was because the victim's heart had stopped pumping the instant the arrow had pierced it. If so, then the brunette's death had been mercifully quick.

The uniform made an impatient noise in his throat, as if trying to hurry Felicity along. From the creases at the corners of his eyes and the softness at his middle, she guessed him to have at least thirty years on her, maybe more. Old enough to be her father, certainly. Old enough to have seen his fair share of murder scenes and know that they take time to process.

Suddenly, she didn't feel like letting things slide anymore. Pop-quiz time, she thought.

"What's the first thing that strikes you about this murder, Officer?"

The man frowned, caught on his heels by her question. From his expression, she could guess his thoughts. It's not my job to figure this out, honey. Uniformed cops secure and record the crime scene. They locate witnesses and perform searches. They don't try to make the clues add up. That's the overpaid detective's job. That's your fucking job.

Of course, the uniform had just enough intelligence not to say that. Instead, he gave her a carefully-crafted, blank look. "You mean other than the arrow?"

Felicity smiled, although there was a hint of impatience in her eyes. "Yes, Officer, other than the arrow."

He shrugged. "Dunno."

She pressed her lips together. Definitely no help from this one. There was a reason why he was in uniform after thirty years on the force.

A second uniform stepped in, younger than the first and clearly more motivated. "She's still wearing her jewelry," he offered. "No one's taken anything."

Felicity's smile returned. "Ah, thank you, Officer-".

"Malone. Billy Malone."

She studied him. Malone was about five-ten, with brown hair, blue eyes, and a short, neatly trimmed beard. She guessed him to be around thirty, a world away from his colleague in both age and attitude.

She nodded. "Exactly, Malone. We're in an alley in the Glades. It's..." she glanced at her watch, "not quite six in the morning, which means she's been lying here for almost six hours. And no one has relieved her of three relatively large diamonds or her purse. All in a section of Star City where people would kill your grandmother for a pack of chewing gum."

Malone grinned and ignored the sour look from the older uniform that suggested he was a kiss-ass. He knew Felicity Smoak to be a rising star in the Star City Police Department; the youngest cop ever to make detective and rumored to be a favorite of the commander. If he could impress her even a little - well, it couldn't hurt his career. And the fact that she was single and easy on the eyes, that didn't hurt either.

In fact, he thought she looked pretty damn fine this morning, despite the early hour. Her blond hair was pulled back in a careless ponytail and her ass filled a pair of pants nicely. Her reaction to his older colleague suggested that she had a sense of humor, because the guy was being kind of an asshole and she was letting it ride. She could have called the guy out for insubordination.

"Now why do you suppose that is?" the detective continued, speaking as much to herself as to the uniforms on either side of her. "Why has no one taken the jewelry?"

Malone decided to go for two. "Maybe they recognized her - or, at least, the way she died."

Something in his voice made Felicity turn and stare at him. "Do you recognize her Malone?"

"Yeah. Don't you?"

Felicity returned her gaze to the woman. "No. Should I?"

"It's Isabel Rochev."

Isabel Rochev. Felicity mulled it over and found that the name meant nothing. She lifted her hands. "Who, exactly, is Isabel Rochev?"

Malone looked surprised. "She's the prima ballerina for the Star City Ballet. She came over from Russia five or six years ago and performed with a couple of dance troupes before she settled here. She's pretty famous," he added, when no flicker of recognition crossed the detective's face. "You know, magazine covers, talk shows, stuff like that. She even danced at the White House for Christmas once."

"Oh."

Taking another look at the corpse, Felicity had to admit that ballerina fit. The woman's arms and legs were slender to the point of seeming delicate, but they also held small, well-defined muscles. Felicity could see that she had been some kind of athlete. Kneeling next to her, she touched the woman's fingertips to her scanner. The portable computer confirmed her as Isabel Rochev. Malone knew his ballerinas.

"You a big fan of the ballet?" she asked him.

The older uniform laughed. Real men, the laugh implied, like football.

Malone blushed. "My mother and sisters like the ballet. I take them sometimes."

"That's nice of you."

Suspicious, Malone searched the detective's face for mockery. He didn't find it. In contrast to his fellow uniform, Felicity Smoak appeared earnest and genuinely interested.

In fact, gazing at her now, he found it difficult to believe she was the kick-ass investigator she was reputed to be. To begin with, the youngest cop ever to make detective really did appear young. Anyone meeting her, with her ponytail and soft, clear skin, would guess her to be in college. She had a fresh, vulnerable look, a world away from the harder, more cynical expressions of most detectives. Malone decided it was because she didn't glop all that stuff on her face that most women, including his sisters, used - the lip color and cheek color and eyeshadow. He liked the natural look. The detective had a fair complexion, blue eyes that leaned toward violet, and a lovely, generous mouth. She didn't need to paint over that.

Still, he was astonished to see that she wore glasses. Glasses, for Chrissake. That was a throwback to his grandmother's era. In 2062, people were going to the doctor to change their eye color. Correcting vision was a given. But Smoak unabashedly wore the brown plastic frames as if they were part of her clothing. He wondered if she had a medical condition that precluded vision adjustments. She certainly looked healthy enough.

Those glasses were in her hand now as she knelt once more by the body to examine the shaft of the arrow. After a moment, she shifted her attention to the woman's hands, turning them carefully at the wrists to study the palms. There was not a mark on them; no scrapes, not even a few grains of dirt stuck to the flesh. The nails, beautifully sculpted and painted a vibrant red, were pristine.

"No defensive wounds," she stated. "And she didn't put her hands down to break her fall. She was caught unaware - probably shot from a distance." She studied the buildings on either side of the alley and then returned to the precise placement of the arrow. "Either the shooter got lucky or he's damned good with a bow." She got to her feet and slid the glasses back onto her face. "Well, this one should be easy," she deadpanned. "We're looking for Robinhood."

Malone chuckled but the older uniform did not.

Then Felicity recalled the comments from the younger officer. "I didn't give you a chance to finish what you were saying," she remarked, turning to Malone. "Why would the good citizens of the Glades be reluctant to steal from a ballerina? What's so special about Ms. Rochev?"

Malone looked down, less eager now to voice his theory. He was crossing the line from fact into urban legend and he wasn't sure how the detective would respond. He hated to sound stupid in front of her. When she continued to gaze at him, he shrugged. "It's not so much who she is as the way she died," he explained. "It's the arrow in her heart. It reminds me of the old stories about the Star City Archer."

To his relief, Smoak didn't laugh. "The Star City Archer," she repeated. "I must have missed that one. Tell me about it."

The older uniform snorted and Malone felt his cheeks grow warm. "It's a legend my grandma used to tell me," he replied. "I think a lot of us heard it when we were kids."

"I didn't," Felicity Smoak stated, ignoring the older officer. "So, why don't you tell it to me."

Malone shrugged again. "Gran said that not long after the '96 earthquake, Star City fell into chaos. A lot of the infrastructure had been destroyed, including most of the telecommunications equipment. It was hard to call the cops, and even when you could get through to the SCPD, there weren't enough officers to keep things in order. Gangs sprang up and fought each other for control of the city. They did the usual stuff - shook down store owners for protection money, stole medicines intended for the hospitals, launched a bunch of black markets. There was a lot of cash at stake so they weren't shy about killing anyone who got in their way. People were afraid." He paused. "And that's when the Archer appeared."

He looked at the detective. Felicity Smoak still wasn't laughing. "And?" she prompted.

"And the Archer took out the gangs, one by one. No one saw him do it, but the bodies of gang members started showing up with arrows in their hearts. In the beginning, the citizens were frightened. They wondered if it was just a new gang, worse than the old ones. But over time, when he never attacked a regular citizen or tried to extort money, they began to trust him. People assumed anyone killed with an arrow had been a threat. Even the police left him alone."

Felicity frowned. "Was he ever identified?"

Malone shook his head. "He was always just the Archer." He flushed. "My gran told me people used to say he was a spirit that materialized only when a citizen was in trouble because he was never caught on video. And because the citizens were grateful, no one tried very hard to find out who he was or interfere with what he was doing. They were afraid that if they did, he would stop and the city would return to chaos."

She was silent, her expression unreadable. The older uniform was regarding Malone with a sardonic grin.

"It's just a legend," Malone added sheepishly. "I probably shouldn't have said anything."

The detective pursed her lips. "No - I'm glad you did. Even if it's just a story, the arrow in Isabel's heart could be a symbol or a message. Maybe the killer believes he's punishing her for something evil or immoral, the same way the Archer did. We figure out what that is, we figure out the killer's identity." She glanced once more at the body. "People act on all kinds of beliefs, even if they have no basis in fact." She paused. "Nice work."

Malone took a deep breath. "Thanks."

Felicity smiled. It was refreshing to work with someone who didn't resent her rank.

"Can you do me a favor?" she asked Malone.

He nodded easily. "Sure."

"Can you get me the home address for Ms. Rochev? And then make sure some officers go there and seal the place off before family or friends can tamper with evidence?"

"Already done. I sent the address to your tablet when you were looking at the body."

Felicity pulled the device out of her bag and looked at the data. "So you did, Malone, so you did." She grinned. "Are you trying to suck up?"

The older uniform laughed and Malone shuffled in embarrassment. "Not-"

"'Cause I don't mind sucking up," she continued, "not when it helps me solve a case. In fact, I kind of like it."

The older officer stopped laughing and Malone relaxed. Felicity eyed the crime scene once more.

"Did anyone look in her purse?"

Malone shook his head. "Haven't had the time."

Felicity retrieved the dainty bag and opened it. She was surprised to find that Isabel's mobile phone was still inside, along with a tube of lipstick and a credit card. There were no recent calls logged on the phone, but Isabel could easily have deleted her history. A good electronic forensics exam would ferret that out.

She handed the purse to Malone. "Why don't you take this and the crime scene video back to HQ. Give the phone to the electronics guys and drop the video off at my desk. I'm going to stop by Isabel's apartment and then head back myself. It would be great to have the info waiting for me when I get there. You," she gestured at the older officer, "get a few uniforms together and go through the dumpsters. The killer could have tossed something into one of them. The recycling trucks will be along in an hour and I don't want to miss anything."

The uniform's face darkened. So he was going to have to wade in the garbage after all. "What the hell are we supposed to be looking for?" he asked.

"Anything that doesn't belong in a dumpster in the Glades."

Then she smiled at Malone. "Get moving."

Chapter Text

Isabel Rochev's apartment was as far from the Glades as you could get – both literally and metaphorically. The dancer lived on the opposite side of Star City, forcing Felicity to negotiate the burgeoning cross town traffic as early birds began heading to their offices. And the building itself, a glittering high-rise made of glass and steel, had wealth written all over it. The lobby was an airy, elegant combination of marble floors, shiny brass fixtures, and a large security desk that featured not one, but two guards.

Both of whom looked at her doubtfully when she presented her badge and notified them that she needed access to Isabel's apartment.

"You're a cop?" one of them asked. He turned to his colleague. "I think I have socks older than her."

Looking at the threads of silver in his hair and the state of his tie, Felicity thought that might be a true statement. The colleague gave Felicity an amused look as he scanned her badge.

"She's a cop," he confirmed, glancing at his computer. His smile disappeared. "A bunch of cops were here earlier, also wanting access to Ms. Rochev's apartment. Is everything okay with her?"

Felicity hesitated. Once news of Isabel's death became public, the department was going to have to deal with the media - assuming the dancer was as well known as Malone had said. It was tough conducting an investigation when half the city was following its progress, and there were always a few nut jobs ready to come forward with misleading information. On the other hand, people were going to figure out pretty quickly that things weren't right when Isabel didn't show up for dance rehearsal - or wherever it was ballerinas went for the day. The story was going to break sometime.

May as well get it over with, she thought. Then she would be at liberty to ask questions.

She shook her head. "I'm afraid not. Ms. Rochev was found dead this morning. All evidence points to murder." She kept it short, omitting the location and the cause of death.

"Murder?" The second guard looked at the first. Both of their faces registered shock.

But not sorrow, she noticed, as she watched them. Their expressions were typical of people who learned that murder had touched the edges of their lives but not the core.

"Did you know Ms. Rochev well?" she asked, thinking she already knew the answer.

The first guard shook his head. "Not really. She's lived here for a couple of years. She's not the chattiest of the residents. Not like some of the folks who always have a word for us as they come and go."

"Unless she has a problem with the building or a neighbor," the second guard chimed in. "Then she has plenty to say." He pressed his lips together and went silent, as if remembering that he was speaking ill of the dead.

He doesn't like her, Felicity thought. Neither of them do.

"Were you both on duty last night?"

"Nah." The first guard glanced at the clock. "We started our shift this morning at five."

"Okay. Then do your security systems," Felicity pointed at the console in front of them, "tell you when Ms. Rochev last left her apartment?"

The first guard squinted thoughtfully. "They should. Let's see." He pushed a couple of buttons, frowned, and pushed a couple more. "Sorry," he said apologetically. "We don't have to check the footage very often so I'm a little out of practice. Not much happens in this building." He stared at one of the screens. "Ah, here it is. It looks like she left her place last night around seven. There's no record of her key being used again."

Felicity frowned. So Isabel had left her home yesterday in the early evening, dressed to the nines, and somehow ended up in the Glades at midnight? That was a strange journey. Where had she gone at seven, and what had compelled her to go to the roughest part of the city later on?

"Did she leave any messages?" she asked.

The second guard peered at the screen. "She left a request for maintenance just as she was leaving. The note says she thought she saw a mouse in her apartment. Wanted them to check it out."

The first guard laughed. "A mouse," he repeated. "In this place? This building is cleaner than an operating room."

The second guard shrugged. "You know Ms. Rochev."

"And did maintenance check it out?" Felicity asked.

"Yeah. There's a record of the maintenance master key being used around eight-thirty."

Felicity nodded. "Thanks. I'm heading up now."

"No problem. We'll unlock the elevator for you. Be careful if you see that mouse. But then you're armed, so you should be safe."

She smiled and headed for the elevator.

Two minutes later, Felicity stepped out onto the thirty-sixth story. Isabel's apartment was one of four units on the floor, immediately identifiable by the crime scene barrier in front of the door. Felicity used her police master to release the lock and entered. Then she stared.

It's hard to believe twirling on your toes pays this well, she thought. She was standing in a living room that was larger than her entire apartment. Her first impression was that it felt more like a museum than a home, designed for display and not living. The room was decorated in an eclectic array of patterns; diamond shapes in the hardwood floor, oriental carpets with swirling colors, furniture with geometric prints. The patterns collided rather than complimented, and to her eye it was not attractive, even though she suspected it was the work of a trendy and expensive interior designer.

She turned on her recorder. "Smoak," she said, "Detective Felicity. Making a preliminary examination of Isabel Rochev's residence. The sweepers will arrive later to do a more thorough search."

She donned a pair of gloves and covered her shoes with booties, then began a slow circuit of the room, trying to get a sense of the person who lived there. It wasn't easy. The place was impersonal. There was no sweater casually tossed over a chair or half-read book waiting to be finished. The few photos she saw were publicity shots for the ballet - a framed program cover of Isabel Rochev in Swan Lake on the mantel and a picture of her poised on one toe as Giselle on a side table. There were no pictures of parents or siblings. It was the room, Felicity thought, of a woman who wanted to display her own celebrity.

"Can I help you?"

The smooth, masculine voice came from behind her. Startled, she spun around to face it, reaching to her hip to pull her police stunner out of its holster. Standing in one of the interior doorways was a tall, thirty-ish man, with short-cropped, sandy hair and an impressive set of shoulders. Either he had ignored the police barrier to enter the apartment, or the cops who'd stopped by earlier had failed to clear him from it. The man appeared calm and made no threatening gestures, but she kept her stunner pointed at him anyway. It was the reaction of a woman caught alone with an unknown male as much as it was the reaction of a cop.

"Can I help you?" he repeated.

He was neatly dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt, and looked as though he'd been awake for hours even though it was barely seven in the morning. He wasn't bad looking, she thought; square-jawed with vivid blue eyes. Something in those eyes, though, felt off. He regarded her with an unblinking stare and appeared entirely unfazed by the police stunner she pointed at his chest.

"Can I help you?" he said for a third time. He sounded polite, almost uninterested.

She narrowed her eyes. In her experience, not many people remained cool when faced with a stunner - not even tall, physically fit specimens like this guy. At best, a hit from the weapon hurt like hell. At worst, it could kill you if the juice was dialed up high enough. Broad-Shoulders either had ice water in his veins, was high on drugs, or was an utter idiot.

Then, as he continued to stare, she saw that there was a fourth option. Looking at the bland expression on his face, she realized she was not speaking to a man at all.

He's a droid, dammit! A six-foot-something, very realistic droid.

She lowered her weapon but didn't return it to the holster. Service droids had been in use in the public sector and in retail for over twenty years. They drove subway cars, cleaned schools and offices, and served food in restaurants. They were available to private consumers, too, for the last decade, but they were horribly expensive and typically not as lifelike as this one. The fact that Isabel had a droid only served to emphasize that she was a wealthy woman.

"Detective Felicity Smoak," Felicity said to the droid, pointing at the badge on her belt. "SCPD."

The droid's gaze moved to study her badge. "Yes," he said blandly. "The officers who secured the apartment earlier told me a detective would come. Ms. Rochev is dead and you are here to conduct a search."

He said, Ms. Rochev is dead with the same emotion that he might have used for the forecast calls for rain. Apparently his programming didn't extend to sorrow or empathy.

The tension eased from Felicity's shoulders. She holstered her weapon and nodded. "Yes."

"The officers said I am to comply with all requests to assist in the investigation."

But they didn't bother to warn me that there's a droid on the premises. Assholes.

"Yes," she said aloud.

"In that case, I will notify you that Ms. Rochev seldom used this room," the droid continued, "other than for entertaining. If you'd like, I can show you to her living space."

"That would be helpful, thank you." She felt vaguely silly thanking a droid, but then this one looked particularly human.

"This way." And he gestured for Felicity to follow.

Isabel's bedroom was not as massive as her living room, but it was still too large to be comfortable, in Felicity's opinion. The fact that it was monochromatically decorated in variations of white and obsessively neat didn't add to its warmth. Every item of clothing was hanging in the closet or carefully folded in a drawer, and Felicity had no doubt she could have bounced a coin off the tightly-made bedspread. The top of the dresser was dust-free, and other than a jewelry box, held nothing. Felicity considered herself a tidy person, yet she always seemed to leave earrings lying somewhere or a pair of pajamas atop the bed. Isabel, apparently, put everything in its proper place. But then, of course, she had domestic help.

"Do you clean for Ms. Rochev?" she asked the droid, opening the jewelry box to see that Isabel's gems were organized as neatly as the rest of the room.

"Yes."

He didn't explain further. Not programmed to be chatty, she thought. She turned to the nightstand and noted, for the first time, a couple of personal items. There was a small, stuffed dog positioned next to a framed photo of a middle-aged man. The nap on the dog's cloth fur was worn and its stuffing was compacted, a well-loved toy from childhood rather than a recent gift or souvenir. It felt out of place in the stark orderliness of the bedroom.

Felicity picked up the photo to study it. The man was brown-haired with a grey-streaked beard, and he was standing in front of a tall, ornate building - definitely not in Star City.

"What else do you do for Ms. Rochev besides clean?" she asked the droid casually.

The droid blinked. Now that she knew what he was, she found the action a little creepy.

"I'm programmed to perform a wide range of services," he said. "In addition to cleaning, I can prepare basic meals, I book appointments and maintain Ms. Rochev's calendar-"

Felicity nodded absently. Moscow, she thought, remembering Malone telling her that Isabel came from Russia. I'll bet this picture was taken in Moscow.

"—and I am anatomically correct and can service her sexual needs, if she wishes."

Felicity choked and nearly dropped the photo. "Seriously?"

"Yes, Detective. Would you like me to show you?" His hands went to the waistband of his trousers.

"No," she said quickly. "No – you don't need to show me. I believe you."

"As you wish." The droid's hands went back to his sides.

Well, holy shit. Felicity had heard of sex droids, but usually as the punch line of a joke, not something she ever expected to see. Isabel, you kinky girl. No human guy getting it done for you? But then Felicity really couldn't talk. The last time she'd had regular, good sex, a different president had been in office. She usually blamed that depressing fact on the job. Maybe Isabel did the same.

Felicity replaced the photo on the dresser with a small shiver. In her opinion, getting down and dirty with a droid, no matter how attractive, was weird. There were escort services and sex clubs if you had an itch that needed scratching - not that Felicity made use of those options either.

She scanned the room for other photos and didn't find any. "Ms. Rochev didn't have a boyfriend?" she asked, just to be certain.

"No."

"Girlfriend?"

"No."

He was back to one syllable responses. She tried a more open-ended question.

"What about family?"

"Ms. Rochev has no relatives in this country. She has an uncle in Russia."

Felicity glanced at the nightstand. "Is that the man in the photo?"

"Yes."

"Does he ever visit?"

For the first time, the droid paused. Felicity thought she could detect a soft whir as he accessed his database.

"He has visited twice since I have been in Ms. Rochev's service."

"And how long has that been?"

"Four hundred and eighty-two days."

"So about a year and a half. What's his name?"

"Anatoly Nieff."

The Russian pronunciation fell easily from the droid's mouth. Nigh - eff. Felicity was willing to bet the spelling wasn't anywhere close to the way it sounded. She thought about asking the droid to spell it but decided she could research it later.

She stepped into the master bathroom. "You say you maintained Ms. Rochev's calendar?" she continued, looking at the spotless vanity and gleaming shower.

The droid followed her to the doorway. "Yes."

"What did she have on her calendar last night?"

There was another pause as he consulted his database. "Ms. Rochev attended a fundraiser for the Star City Arts Council. It was held in the ballroom of the Queen Towers hotel."

Well, that explained the fancy dress and the jewels. It did not explain how the dancer had ended up in the Glades with an arrow in her heart.

"Did she go with anyone?" Felicity studied the array of creams, lotions and cosmetics on the vanity. High-end stuff, she thought. Her gaze landed on a vial of amber liquid. Unlike the other bottles, it didn't have a designer label - or label of any sort.

"She was escorted by Oliver Queen."

Felicity turned from the vanity and looked at the droid. "The businessman who owns half the city?" As if there were any other Oliver Queens.

The droid gave her his eerie, mechanical blink. "Mr. Queen's assets are less than fifty percent of the total assets of Star City. He has, however, business holdings in other locations. He's involved in multiple industries across the globe. His true wealth is unknown, but estimates place it upwards of thirty billion U.S. dollars."

She rolled her eyes. "Thank you, Mr. Wall Street Journal." Then she picked up the vial. "Do you know what this is?"

"Ms. Rochev calls it her vitamins. She usually keeps it in the refrigerator, not the bathroom."

"Do you know which vitamins in particular?"

"No. I do not have the capability to analyze the contents."

Okay. Felicity tried again. "What does she do with it?"

"She injects it with a pressure syringe."

"Every day?"

"I do not know. I know she injects it on days she has a performance."

Felicity nodded. "Removing one bottle of an unknown liquid from Ms. Rochev's bathroom to expedite laboratory analysis," she stated for her recorder. "Remaining substances will be collected by the sweeper team."

She made certain her recorder captured an image of the vial before bagging it. Then she turned and brushed past the droid to leave the bathroom. "Did Mr. Queen come here to pick up Ms. Rochev for the fundraiser?"

"No. Ms. Rochev was to meet Mr. Queen at the hotel."

Hmmm. Felicity didn't date frequently – well, never more accurately described her dating habits lately – but she thought it hadn't entirely gone out of fashion for the guy to pick the girl up at her home, especially when attending some kind of public function. She wondered whose preference was being addressed by their arrangement - Queen's or Isabel's.

She took a final look at the bedroom."Thanks," she said to the droid. "Can I see the kitchen now?"

"Yes." He gestured for her to follow.

Isabel's kitchen was large, white and as obsessively clean as the rest of the place. In this instance, Felicity suspected the sanitary conditions were due to lack of use more than the droid's housekeeping capabilities. Isabel kept her refrigerator sparsely stocked with foods that Felicity found less than enticing; raw vegetables and hummus, plain yogurt, skinless chicken breasts prepared in a variety of bland ways, and caviar – probably her only indulgence. Starches, in the form of bread, pasta or rice, were nonexistent, as was any kind of dessert. Felicity found it hard to believe a mouse would invade this apartment when there had to be better dining options elsewhere in the building. But then, Isabel's ethereal dancer's body came at a price.

"No coffee?"

The droid blinked. "Ms. Rochev did not use stimulants such as caffeine. She believed they are unhealthy."

Felicity thought of the vial now sealed in an evidence bag. She used something.

"What about alcohol?"

"Ms. Rochev drank champagne, on occasion."

"Champagne," Felicity repeated. "Of course."

She decided she'd seen enough of the apartment for the time being. The sweepers would go through shortly with a fine-toothed comb and bring Isabel's computer and other devices to SCPD headquarters for the electronics detectives to do their thing.

"I'm leaving now," she told the droid. "Please don't move or change anything. A sweeper team will be coming to go over the place in more detail."

"Yes."

Felicity stepped out of the apartment. She had visits to make, starting with Oliver Queen.

Chapter Text

Felicity arrived at SCPD headquarters two hours later, grinding her teeth. She'd expected to jump through a few hoops before she could speak with Queen. He was an ultra-wealthy, celebrated businessman; the sort of man who could easily insulate himself from unwanted visitors. She'd anticipated having to explain, cajole, and wave her badge at a number of underlings. What she hadn't anticipated was that after going through all those hoops, she still wouldn't get past an executive assistant with honey in her voice and steel in her backbone.

"Mr. Queen is traveling for business this morning," the woman had said sweetly. "He can't be reached at this time but I'll be happy to talk with him when he's available and then get back to you."

Felicity had studied her. The woman was fortyish and slender, with neatly coiffed auburn hair and expertly applied makeup. She appeared very professional in her teal skirt and jacket...and very confident. Felicity didn't think she wouldn't rattle easily.

"Where is he traveling to?" Felicity had asked. "Because unless he's left the planet, I'm pretty sure both ground transportation and planes have communication equipment. So why don't you patch me through and we can get this over with."

The smile had remained on the woman's face. "Mr. Queen generally turns off his phone when he flies so that he can focus on his upcoming meetings. I'm happy to leave a message and get back to you as soon as I hear from him."

It was the second time the woman had used the word happy. Apparently her happiness didn't extend to actually being helpful. Felicity had been left with no choice but to say, "See that you do that."

Her luck wasn't any better with the manager of the Queen Towers hotel. She'd requested the security video from the hotel ballroom so that she could watch Isabel and anyone she'd interacted with at the Arts Council fundraiser. The manager, a man in his fifties, had smiled at her detective's badge as if he were indulging a daughter playing dress-up.

"Of course you can have the video," he'd said, "as soon as you show me a warrant."

Felicity had been tempted to aim her weapon at him just to wipe the patronizing smirk off his face. "Are you sure you want to do that?" she'd asked him. "The video is evidence in a murder investigation so I will get the warrant. The only thing you're accomplishing by demanding it now is slowing down an investigation and giving a murderer more time to cover his tracks."

The smile had remained on the man's face. "I'm sorry to hear that, miss -"

"That's, Detective."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Detective, but that's company policy. I don't know about other hotels, but at the Queen Towers we protect the privacy of our guests. It's one of Mr. Queen's most basic rules. So, I'll need that warrant before I can give you the video."

And once again, Felicity had been forced to walk away, empty handed.

She strode off the elevator onto the third floor of SCPD HQ, making a beeline to the Digital Evidence Division. When she got to Detective Rory Regan's desk she stopped and tried to bury her irritation.

"Hey, Ror."

The DED detective lifted his head and studied her. "Oh boy, I know that look. What's put a bug up your ass this morning?"

Apparently, her irritation was still showing. "I don't have a bug up my ass. I've got a new case."

"Yeah, I heard. Arrow in the heart. You don't see that every day."

She wasn't surprised that word had made it back to the department. It was the kind of case cops would talk about. She nodded. "It's a strange one, that's for sure. You should be getting a computer and a phone tagged for the victim, Isabel Rochev. I was wondering when you'd be able to do the forensics."

Rory leaned back in his chair and continued to study her. He didn't reply.

"Ror?"

"Did the uniforms give you the usual crap this morning at the crime scene? Is that why you're looking so stressed?"

Felicity felt her cheeks grow warm. "I don't know. Maybe a little."

He shook his head. "You should have stayed in DED, Smoak, with your own kind. Here, we value and appreciate your skills. We don't give you shit."

She sighed. It was a familiar argument between the two of them. Her first assignment out of uniform had been in the Digital Evidence Division and it was true, as Rory said, that it was a good fit for her skills. She had a degree in computer science and her senior thesis had been a program designed to break encryption keys. In DED she was rising to the top and gaining a reputation as a go-to resource.

But after a few months of digital forensics she had also found herself bored; unchallenged, maybe, was a better word. She'd cracked passwords, retrieved hidden data, and traced electronic transactions without breaking a sweat, only to hand the evidence over to other detectives who assembled the full story of the crime. She wanted to do more than find the evidence. She wanted to be the one who figured out the story.

She'd told her commander that, after a year in DED. It had taken some persuasion but he'd eventually given her permission to assist with several homicide investigations, provided she kept up with her DED duties. After six months of assisting on cases, he'd moved her into Homicide full time. The move had raised more than a few eyebrows. Rory continued to insist it was a mistake.

Felicity looked into his earnest brown eyes. Rory was in his early thirties, but his slender build and thick mop of dark hair made him appear boyish. She enjoyed working with him. He was one of those rare people who managed to be both easy-going and highly effective. He was also her best friend in the department. She knew that he was arguing with her because he cared. Still...

She pressed her lips together. "We've talked about this before, Rory. I wanted to be more challenged. And the commander agreed it was a good idea."

"Maybe. But I don't think the commander knows how much you have to put up with from your own colleagues."

Felicity wasn't so certain of that. In her opinion, there wasn't much in the department that the commander didn't know about. It was why he was both revered, and occasionally feared, by the people who worked for him.

She sighed. "Look. Can we defer this argument for another time? Right now, I've got a homicide to solve, and I want to know how many people are ahead of me in line for forensics."

Rory shrugged. "Fine. We'll talk about this some other time. But we both know you're really not interested in how many people are ahead of you. What you want, is to be bumped to the front of the line."

"Did I say that?"

"It's why you're here, yes."

She tapped the wall of his cubicle and grinned. "Would it help if I told you there's a sex droid we may need to examine?"

His brown eyes lit up and then narrowed suspiciously. "Male or female?"

She laughed, glad to see that their debate over her career was ending. "Male," she admitted.

"No, it doesn't help a bit. You'll have to wait your turn."

"Ah, c'mon Ror..." She did her best to look wistful.

He rolled his eyes. "I've heard all about your vic; Isabel Rochev, Star City's famous ballerina. This is the most prominent case you've had, Smoak, and you're afraid they'll hand it off to a more senior investigator. So you want to make progress quickly and you're bugging your pal Rory to get priority."

Felicity laughed again, because Rory had read her perfectly. Thus far, most of her homicides had been relatively straightforward; domestic violence turned deadly or robberies that had gone south. She suspected she'd been handed Isabel's case because it had been reported as a body in the Glades rather than a celebrity murder. Now that she had the case, she didn't want to give it up. An arrow in the heart? She had to uncover that story.

"You're right," she conceded, "this case could be a big one for me. So, what do you say, Ror? You're going to bump me to the front of the line, okay?"

He ran his hand over the back of his neck and sighed. "I don't know, Smoak. Seriously, we've got a lot going on here."

He sounded as though he meant it. She pursed her lips. "You know, if it's really that bad I can look at her electronics myself. As you say, I have the skills."

Rory shook his head. "Oh no, you're Homicide now. You gave up DED. And anyway, you're supposed to be out interviewing witnesses. The first twenty-four hours after a murder and all that shit."

He was right about that. Finding and talking to witnesses while the murder was still fresh was a priority. Felicity held out her hands. "So help me out and try to get to her stuff today. She was killed with an arrow in the heart, Ror. That's pretty damn weird. I want to know why."

He gave her an exasperated smile. "I'll do my best. No promises, though. I have to follow protocol. You're cute, Smoak, but not as cute as the commander and he's the one in charge."

She laughed. "Next time I see him, I'll tell him that you said that."


The video discs from the crime scene were next to Felicity's computer when she arrived at her cubicle. She smiled. Thank you, Malone. Not everyone had been a jerk this morning. Since she'd already seen the alley, she pushed the discs to the side and instead filed her request for a warrant for the footage from the Queen Towers hotel. Then she got a cup of coffee and called up the morning news.

Isabel's death was not yet being reported. The press was slower than usual, Felicity guessed, because the ballerina had been found in the Glades. Reporters assumed a victim in that section of the city was a criminal or a homeless person, not one of the rich and famous. If Isabel had been found near the Queen Towers Hotel, her murder would be the top story.

The fundraiser for the Star City Arts Council, on the other hand, was featured on almost every local news feed. Felicity scanned the articles (mostly fluff), and the pictures - which showed an array of glamorous people mingling under the glittering lights of the Queen Towers ballroom. Isabel Rochev was prominent in a number of the photos, wearing the black, floor-length sheath Felicity had seen on her body that morning. In many of the shots she was hanging onto the arm of Oliver Queen. Queen was wearing a classic tux, along with a smile that looked a little manufactured, in Felicity's opinion.

"Isabel Rochev," she said to her computer. "Background data. View."

The photos from the fundraiser disappeared, replaced with lines of text. Felicity read:

Isabel Rochev, born Isabel Knyazev, Moscow, 2027. Father unknown, mother Katrina Knyazev, deceased, 2035. No known siblings. Raised by maternal-uncle, Anatoly Knyazev.

Knyazev, Felicity realized, was how the droid's Nigh-eff was spelled. She'd been correct back in Isabel's apartment; the spelling wasn't anywhere close to the way it sounded.

"Talk about extra consonants," she murmured. Then she continued reading:

Knyazev joined the Bolshoi Ballet in 2046, changing her surname to Rochev. She became a soloist in 2048 and rose to principal in 2050.

Rochev immigrated to the United States in 2056 and danced briefly with ballet troupes in Boston and Pittsburgh before joining the Star City Ballet as principal later that year. Rochev currently resides in Star City. Unmarried, no known children.

There were more photos of Isabel, largely taken in the U.S., along with a list of her best-known dance roles. It was a surprisingly short biography given her fame as a dancer. Felicity frowned and wondered why the woman had felt it necessary to change her last name. Did it say something about her relationship with her uncle?

"Associations?" she asked the computer.

A brief hum and the computer replied: That is an unsuitable search term. Please specify the nature of the association.

Felicity took a sip of coffee. "Does Rochev have any associates, friends or relatives who also have the last name, Rochev?"

A small flicker of the screen. No associates or relatives with the surname of Rochev found.

So Isabel had pulled the name out of thin air? That was odd. Felicity said, "What about romantic relationships?"

Another hum. There is no record of Isabel Rochev ever being married, engaged or in a cohabitation arrangement. The computer fell silent.

"Well, aren't you helpful," Felicity muttered. She had told her commander numerous times that there was better software available for these types of searches, but he had consistently refused her suggestion that they install such a program at the SCPD. Something about pesky privacy laws.

She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Can you at least give me the list of people Isabel Rochev has been linked to publicly?"

Working.

There was a pause long enough to have Felicity drumming her fingers on the desk. Then a list of names appeared, with photos beside each name. The list was relatively short and largely male. At the top was Max Fuller, artistic director for the Star City Ballet. Sleeping with the boss, Isabel? Studying Max's photo, Felicity decided he looked like an artistic director; decently attractive, but overly dramatic and somehow soft. His brown hair was thick and he wore it swept off his forehead into a high, stylized peak. He had pale blue eyes, a clean-shaven, pointed chin, and a satisfied expression that bordered on smug.

Number two on the list was-

"Oliver Queen." Felicity spoke the words aloud.

In Felicity's opinion, Isabel's taste had improved with Queen. Unlike Fuller, there was nothing soft about the businessman's face. He had a square jaw covered with golden brown stubble that matched the color of his short-cropped hair. His eyes were a deep blue and his gaze was direct, almost unyielding. Felicity suspected he could be a real hard-ass when he chose. But then he had to be demanding, she thought, to run a vast conglomeration of businesses at such a young age.

If she was to believe what she'd heard so far, Queen was also one of the last people to see Isabel Rochev alive. That made him a prime witness - and possibly a suspect.

The remainder of Isabel's list included a couple of male ballet dancers, a city councilman, and the Arts and Entertainment reporter for a local news channel. Isabel's contact with them seemed sporadic; an occasional evening at a restaurant or a party after one of her performances. Nothing as frequent as her contact with Fuller and Queen.

Felicity drained her coffee mug and ran through her to-do list for the rest of the day. She would pay a visit to the Star City ballet to interview Isabel's colleagues. She'd review the crime scene video to make sure she hadn't missed anything that morning. By the time she'd finished those tasks, she should have her warrant for the security footage from the fundraiser and perhaps the elusive Mr. Queen would contact her.

First, however, she had to take care of something else, before the story of Isabel's death hit the news. She had to notify the next of kin.

It was her least favorite part of being a homicide detective and it never got easier. Every murder might be different, but reactions from family were often the same. Families responded by insisting that she'd made a mistake, that it wasn't their loved one lying on a table at the morgue. Felicity had to assure them the awful news was true, resorting at times to providing some personal, identifying detail. That was when the families fell apart.

When she'd first thought about becoming a cop, back in high school, Felicity had binge-watched a bunch of cop shows. There was a line in an old program called The Closer that had stuck with her ever since: You're about to become the main character in the story of someone's worst day, ever. She hated being that character but she knew it was necessary.

Judging from the data the computer had found, Isabel's uncle was her closest relative. Normally Felicity performed the notification in person, but today a call was going to have to suffice since the man lived in Russia. She brought up the international directory, typed in the uncle's name, and then frowned: No Anatoly Knyazev. A few additional directory searches also turned up nothing. Frowning, she logged into an FBI database and found a listing.

She opened the video app on her phone and dialed.

"Da?"

The face of a middle-aged man appeared on the screen. It was the same man in the photo in Isabel's bedroom, with a few more lines and a little more grey in his beard. He looked perplexed and she had no doubt he was wondering how a blond stranger had gotten his number.

"Mr. Knyazev?"

The man grimaced and Felicity was sure she had just butchered the pronunciation of his name. Even to her own ears, she sounded nothing like the droid.

"Yes."

"Do you speak English?" Then she grimaced. It was a stupid question, since he had just made the switch himself from Russian.

"Yes, yes, I speak English. I can see that you are American. How did you get this number? What do you want?"

"My name is Felicity Smoak, Mr. Knyazev. I'm a detective with the Star City Police Department."

He narrowed his eyes. "Is this joke? You are too young to be police."

Felicity sighed and held her badge next to her cheek to make sure he could see it on his screen. "I assure you, Mr. Knyazev, I am a police detective. I've got four years with the SCPD. And I need to speak with you about your niece, Isabel Rochev."

"Isabel?" His tone changed instantly, from irritated to worried. "What has happened?"

Felicity felt the familiar tug on her heart. "I'm afraid Isabel is dead, Mr. Knyazev. She's been murdered. We found her this morning."

He closed his eyes and she saw the wave of sorrow pass over his face. Then he opened them and his expression was hard. "How?"

She frowned. That reaction wasn't so common. He wasn't denying the news; he wasn't insisting Felicity had made a mistake. He'd gone directly to how.

She sure as hell wasn't going to tell him about the arrow, not when she had no idea yet what it meant. So she resorted to the standard homicide response.

"Isabel is with the medical examiner," she said, "and our investigation is in the early stages. As soon as I have more information, I will let you know."

He glared at her over the screen, clearly dissatisfied with her response.

"When is the last time you spoke with your niece, Mr. Knyazev?"

He waved a hand dismissively. "I do not know precise date. Last month, sometime."

That felt like a long time for a man who had essentially been Isabel's father. But then Felicity hadn't spoken to her father in over fifteen years.

"Did she sound all right when you talked, sir? Did she tell you she was worried about anything or anyone?"

"No."

"What about a close friend that she might have confided in? Someone else she might have talked to about her concerns?"

"No."

His answers were automatic; he wasn't taking any time to think about them. Either he was in shock, he was lying, or he truly believed Isabel had no one. Felicity paused, trying to think of another tack that would get her information.

She didn't come up with one.

"Will you call me at this number, Mr. Knyazev, if you think of something?"

He didn't acknowledge the question. Instead, he said, "What did you say your name is?"

"Smoak, Mr. Knyazev. Felicity Smoak."

He nodded. "Very well, Felicity Smoak. I will give you day to investigate. Then we will talk." It was a command, not a suggestion.

"Mr. Knyazev-"

He ended the transmission before she had a chance to say anything further.

"That went well," she muttered to herself. "Maybe I'll have more luck with the dancers." She began gathering her things to head out to the Star City Ballet. Before she could leave, however, her phone rang. She saw that the call came from the commander's office.

"Smoak."

"He'd like to see you, Felicity, honey." The commander's assistant was the only person in the department who got away with using endearments like honey. Felicity thought she managed it because her white hair and pink cheeks made her look like a grandmother, even though she'd been on the force for forty years and was reputed to be an expert marksman.

Felicity stifled a sigh. "Now?"

"What do you think, dear?"

"Right. I'm on my way."

Chapter Text

Commander John Diggle had once been in the army and looked as if he could still serve a tour of duty, even after a decade behind a desk. He was tall, broad and lean, with smooth, coffee-colored skin, massive biceps, and large hands that had, it was rumored, fired nearly every weapon invented by man. Beat cops had a tendency to joke about officers getting soft when they elevated rank and left the streets, but no one ever made jokes about John Diggle. Felicity would bet a week's pay that he could take on a man twenty years' his junior and drop him without breaking a sweat.

And Diggle's mind, Felicity knew, was every bit as formidable as his physique. He absorbed information quickly, forming a coherent picture from disparate facts and anticipating outcomes with a precision that bettered the latest crime software. In fact, Diggle disliked relying on computers for analyzing crimes even though it was standard procedure in all police departments. He believed the programs encouraged cops not to think – and he wanted his people to use their brains and common sense. Felicity suspected one of the reasons he'd allowed her to move to Homicide was that he wanted to give her the chance to develop skills away from the computer.

What was less well-known and what Felicity had learned personally, was that Diggle also had a heart. Her own history with him began much earlier than the SCPD, a dozen years ago when she was a kid in high school. Diggle was a captain with the department then, and he'd come to talk to her class about careers in law enforcement. At thirteen, Felicity was younger than her fellow sophomores and painfully shy. Raised in Star City's foster system, she'd always felt different; no parents to attend school events, unable to afford the latest fads, and far too smart in the classroom. She'd become accustomed to trying to make herself invisible. So when the big police captain had addressed her class, she'd sat in the back of the room and never once raised her hand. She'd been surprised and a little frightened when he had wanted to talk to her afterward.

"Your teachers tell me you're good in math and computing," he said. "Really good."

She nodded tentatively and kept her eyes down. "I guess so."

"You like computers?"

His voice was gentle, but he was so big that she felt vulnerable sitting next to him. His hands were enormous and his thigh looked larger than her waist. The best she could manage was another nod.

"You think you might want to work with computers after college?"

"College?" she repeated doubtfully. No one had ever said that she could go to college. She was in the foster system, after all; too old to be adopted, surviving on the largesse of taxpayers and charities. She went where they told her to go.

Mr. Diggle must have understood because he sighed. "How long have you been in foster care, Felicity?"

She found the nerve to look him in the eye. His were dark brown and full of kindness. She hadn't grown up thinking of cops as kind. "Since I was nine," she replied. "My mom was killed in a car crash"

"And your dad?"

She shrugged. "I don't remember him very well. I know he was some kind of scientist. He left when I was six." She kept her voice even. She'd had years of practice doing that - sounding as though being parentless wasn't a big deal. She wasn't the only one in the system, after all.

Mr. Diggle studied her for a moment. Then he nodded. "I think anyone with your intelligence should have a chance to go to college," he stated. "So I'd like to submit you as a candidate for a department scholarship. You'll go to college and study whatever you want. I'm hoping you'll pick computer science and then come work in our Digital Evidence Division when you graduate, but that's not a condition of your scholarship. You just have to agree to study hard and graduate. Can you do that?"

It sounded too good to be true.

Felicity stared at him. "You mean it?"

"I mean it, Felicity."

She smiled for the first time. "Then, that's what I'll do."

Ever since that conversation, John Diggle had been a fixture in Felicity's life. Not day-to-day, like a parent or guardian, but always at moments that mattered. He'd sent her a congratulatory note when she'd been accepted to MIT. He'd shaken her hand at her high school graduation and arranged her travel across country to college. He'd helped her find internships and made sure she had money for clothes and books. And he never asked for a thing in return.

When she'd graduated MIT at the age of twenty, she indeed set her sights on the SCPD. She entered an accelerated program at the police academy, donning the uniform before she was twenty-one. People familiar with her story assumed she had done it because she felt she owed John Diggle. But that wasn't the case. She'd done it because she had wanted to work at a place that attracted people like John Diggle. And she'd done it because she hated the idea of the assholes in the world winning. Growing up parentless and poor, she'd encountered too many of them. Somebody had to balance the scales.

Looking at Diggle now, Felicity saw few changes from the day they'd met a dozen years ago. She guessed he was somewhere in his mid to late forties, but it was tough to be certain. He was not one ounce heavier, his face was unlined and his hair showed no threads of gray. He'd always been ageless, she thought; the kind of man who never looked really youthful but would never look really old either.

She stood in front of his desk and he sat behind it, as they had many times during her four years in the department. Diggle had additional chairs in his office, strategically placed against the wall, but to the best of her knowledge, no subordinate ever sat in them. The commander liked his briefings short and to the point - qualities he believed were best encouraged by having his people stand. So she kept her hands at her sides and waited for him to start. Diggle always started.

He sipped coffee from a huge mug. "Heard you caught a high profile one this morning," he said dryly.

Here it comes, she thought. He's going to tell me he's reassigning the case to someone with more experience.

She kept her voice even. "I suppose, sir, if you consider ballet high profile. Isabel Rochev, principal dancer with the Star City Ballet, was found dead in an alley in the Glades." She waited a beat before adding, "Cause of death appears to be an arrow in the heart."

"Heard that, too." He took another sip of coffee and fell silent.

She waited, watching his face. She wanted to ask if he was going to let her keep the case but didn't think it was a good idea to go there right away. In Diggle's world, you were patient and earned your chances. She was all on board with earning her chances. Being patient, on the other hand, was sometimes a challenge.

He gave an exasperated sigh. "Well, don't just stand there. Give me your report, Smoak."

She raised an eyebrow and sneaked a glance at the clock on his office wall. It was a little before ten, which meant she'd been on the case for four hours – hardly a reasonable amount of time to pull together a report. This had to be some kind of test, she decided, or maybe Diggle's way of demonstrating that she wasn't ready for a big case. Still, he wasn't telling her outright that he was reassigning it.

She did her best to collect her thoughts. Public speaking wasn't her strong suit, even under the best of circumstances, and the circumstances now were not great. She was nervous and unprepared. Then she saw that Diggle had followed her glance and had probably guessed at what was going on in her head. His eyes were amused.

"Your report?" he repeated. "If you're going to work high profile cases, you need to be able to report without taking half a day to prepare. Let's hear what you've got."

"Yes, sir." She arranged a business-like expression on her face and took a deep breath. The words came out in a rush. "Isabel Rochev, thirty-four years old, principal ballerina for the Star City Ballet, found dead in the Glades by a dog-walker at five-fifteen this morning. My scan shows the time of death to be twelve-oh-eight, but she's with the ME now and he'll either confirm or refine that estimate. The ME will also perform a tox screen to look for illegal drugs or causes of death other than the arrow, although - in my opinion - the arrow is what killed her." She paused to inhale. "I did find a vial of an unknown liquid during my walk-through of her apartment. I've sent it to the lab for analysis, and the sweepers are going through her place now in more detail. If the lab confirms the vial to contain drugs, one angle of investigation will be that Ms. Rochev went to the Glades to make contact with a dealer. I have uniforms going door-to-door near the alley to look for witnesses, although I'm not optimistic given the time and location of death. And, as you know, security cameras in the Glades are pretty much nonexistent so there's probably nothing on video."

She stopped. She had no choice; her lungs were empty.

Diggle took another sip of coffee. "Breathe, Smoak. Never forget to breathe. It's part of giving a report."

She nodded, not daring to smile. "Isabel attended a charity event last night for the Star City Arts Council. It was held across town in the Queen Towers hotel. Her date for the event was Oliver Queen, the CEO of Queen Consolidated. Based on security data from her apartment building and the clothes she was found in, I believe she went to the Glades directly from the event."

"Queen?" Diggle put his mug down with a thunk. "Fuck."

Felicity's eyes widened. Diggle rarely cursed.

"Queen's trouble," Diggle explained. "He's slippery. Did he leave the fundraiser with her?"

"I don't know yet. The manager at the Queen Towers is insisting I produce a warrant before he'll give me the video from the fundraiser. I submitted the request for the warrant and expect to have it before the end of the day."

"What about an interview with Queen?"

Felicity shook her head. "I haven't been able to make contact with him. His executive assistant says he's on a private plane to New York for business and that he turns off his phone when he flies. I checked the flight plans filed out of Star City airport and it does appear that his jet took off at six-thirty this morning. He's expected back tomorrow."

Diggle sat back in his chair. "You're going to have to keep on him to get that interview. For a prominent businessman, he has a talent for disappearing when law enforcement wants to speak with him." When Felicity raised an eyebrow, he added, "Just how much do you know about Oliver Queen?"

She bit her lip. "Not a lot," she admitted, "other than he's richer than God and has his fingers in dozens of business pies world-wide." And she hadn't even known that, she thought, until Isabel's droid had filled her in.

Diggle smiled. "That's one of the things I like about you, Smoak. Most women, including my wife - who I normally consider an intelligent and sensible person - are fascinated by Queen. They follow his every move with interest. He's single, wealthy, attractive...and he's got the whole mysterious bad boy thing going for him. Every other day he does something to make the news. Yet you, apparently, are oblivious."

She flushed. "'Oblivious' is putting it kind of strongly, sir. Queen and I don't move in the same social circles, that's all. And I don't follow the gossip blogs."

"Well, for Queen, you might want to start. It's the only way you'll keep tabs on the sonofabitch."

"Seriously?"

Diggle looked at her, then set his coffee mug aside. Felicity had the feeling there was something the commander was turning over in his mind - something he wasn't sure he should tell her. He had a tough job, she thought. He had to balance the history of being her sponsor with currently being her boss. That meant deciding how much he could help without showing favoritism.

She watched him and waited.

Finally, he said, "I'm going to tell you a few things, Smoak - some of which is speculation and purely my own impression. Normally, I don't like to influence my investigators. They're where they are because they have good instincts and I want them to make up their own minds based on the evidence. But in this case, I think a little background might help."

She continued regarding him and remained silent.

He tapped a finger on his desktop. "Do you know how Oliver Queen became CEO of Queen Consolidated?"

She frowned. "Isn't it his family's business? I mean, it's got the name Queen on it."

Diggle nodded. "Yes, it's his family's business. It was started by his grandfather, Jonas, then run by his father Robert Queen until nine years ago, when Robert and his entire family, including Oliver, went down in a plane crash. They were on a private flight to Hong Kong when their transport went into the sea, off the coast of China. Searchers found floating debris but no human remains. Everyone was presumed dead."

"But Queen is-"

"Exactly - very much alive. Two years after the plane went down, Oliver reappeared in Star City, along with his friend Tommy Merlyn, who was also on the plane. Oliver claimed ownership of his father's business and climbed into the CEO's chair."

Felicity frowned. "I was in college at the time, but I guess I remember it making the news when he was found alive. Did he explain how he'd survived the crash and where he'd been for two years?"

"He claimed he and Merlyn lived through the crash and floated on pieces of the wreckage until they made it to an island. According to him, they were stranded for a couple of years before they were able to signal a passing fishing boat."

"And the rest of his family?"

Diggle shook his head. "Queen said he didn't see any sign of them when he regained consciousness in the water - his father, mother and sister, all gone. It was a shaky story, he and Merlyn surviving when the crash took everyone else, but the general public seemed to buy it. Those of us in law enforcement were more suspicious. There wasn't a great deal of love between Oliver and his father and we wondered whether he'd had Robert killed in order to get ownership of the business. The FBI investigated the crash." He gave a disgusted shrug. "The investigation went nowhere. The NTSB never found the black box or the voice recorder from the plane, so there was no way to be sure about the cause of the crash."

Felicity thought about it. "If he wanted to kill his father, a plane crash is a pretty elaborate way to do it, especially a plane he boarded himself. Wouldn't something like poison or hiring a hit man have been simpler?"

Diggle shrugged. "Maybe. But he got the public's sympathy this way. The poor young man who lost his family and survived for two years on a deserted island. Queen Consolidated's board of directors turned the company over to him without blinking. And there are things called parachutes, Smoak. He could have set a bomb and jumped, along with Merlyn."

Felicity said nothing. It still felt like an overly-complicated way to commit murder. Not to mention it was a method that took the lives of his mother, sister and the flight crew in addition to his father - which would make Queen a callous monster. He hadn't looked like a monster in his photos, but then she supposed a good monster could conceal that aspect of himself.

Diggle sighed. "Queen is young, charismatic, and he's donated liberally to a number of charitable causes. He's grown the business to three times the size of what it used to be and employs a lot of people, both in Star City and across the country. His father Robert had the reputation of being a real ass, both personally and professionally, while Oliver is thought of as a good leader. You know, tough but fair. His employees are intensely loyal. So nobody misses Robert and people love Oliver, even if his story stinks."

"Has he been investigated more recently?"

The commander grimaced. "Numerous times. Our forensic accountants dig into Queen Consolidated's books every other year looking for illegal business practices. They find nothing."

"What about Merlyn – has anyone tried to get a story out of him?"

Diggle's lip curled. "Oh yeah, folks have tried. He just parrots the same crap Queen gives about the crash – almost word for word. He works for Queen now – manages his personal properties and even lives with Queen in that big monstrosity of a house on the edge of the city. The two of them remain close, although Merlyn keeps a much lower profile. He's rarely seen out on the town - not like Queen."

Felicity mulled the information over. "Are they lovers?" she asked.

Diggle laughed. "Trust a woman to look for the romantic angle. There have been rumors from time to time, but I'm inclined to doubt them. Queen has quite the reputation as a ladies' man. He's almost always seen with some beauty on his arm."

"It could be a smokescreen."

"It could. But several of those beauties have given public testimonials to Queen's skill in the sack – or at least that's what my blog-reading wife tells me. If he's dating women to cover the fact that he and Merlyn are a couple, he's really putting his heart into it."

Felicity laughed, but Diggle didn't join her. He ran a hand over his short, dark hair. "Seriously, Smoak, you've got your work cut out with Queen. He'll find all kinds of ways to avoid you, and when you finally do corner him, he'll give you crap for answers. It'll be charming and intelligent crap, but still crap. You can't trust him and you're going to have to be on your toes. Verify everything."

"Yes, sir." She was beginning to dread her interview with Queen. Charming, intelligent men were not her forte. She didn't have a lot of experience with them. It was almost enough to consider giving up the case; almost, but not quite.

The commander settled in his chair. "So, getting back to your investigation, what else do you have to report? You're pursuing the vial of presumed drugs that you found and..."

"And I'm headed out shortly to interview Isabel's colleagues at the ballet. In addition to Queen, she's been linked to its artistic director, Max Fuller. Until I can talk to Queen, Fuller is number one on my witness list."

"What about her family?"

"Isabel doesn't have a lot of family - just an uncle who lives in Moscow. His reaction when I notified him was kind of unusual. He didn't deny her death or insist I'd made a mistake, the way most relatives do. He just wanted to know how she'd been killed."

"I assume you didn't tell him about the arrow."

"No, I'm keeping that quiet for now. But Mr. Knyazev struck me as a man who likes to have answers."

"Who?" Diggle sat up quickly.

"Knyazev. Anatoly Knyazev."

To her surprise, the commander closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Oh, hell," he groaned. "First Queen and now Knyazev. This just keeps getting worse, Smoak."

"Sir?"

"Knyazev is Bratva - or at least that's the consensus among the intelligence communities."

She blinked and wished she could sit down. "Bratva?" she echoed weakly. "The Russian mafia? I just spoke with someone in the Russian mafia?"

"If INTERPOL's data is correct, yes." He studied her through narrowed eyes. "Does this change your mind about wanting to keep the case? I know that's the thing you've been concerned about ever since you stepped into my office. You're worried I'm going to reassign the investigation."

Did it change her mind? Strictly speaking, organized crime was supposed to be the FBI's problem - well, either them or INTERPOL, since the Bratva was international. The feds had resources and tools that local law enforcement lacked. That didn't mean the SCPD never got involved, though. The department had long believed the Bratva to be the supplier for a large drug network in the city and the Narcotics Division was working tirelessly, but unsuccessfully, to locate and eliminate that source. Felicity thought about the vial she'd found in Isabel's apartment and wondered if it tied to the Bratva somehow.

She cleared her throat. "No, sir. I'd like to keep working it."

Looking at his face, she had no idea if he was pleased or disappointed. The man would be a good poker player.

"Is the arrow in the heart part of the Bratva's M.O.?" she asked.

Diggle shook his head. "Not that I'm aware of. There is, however, a legend about the-"

"Star City Archer," she finished for him. "Yeah, one of the uniforms at the crime scene filled me in on that one."

"You think it's not relevant?"

"I think it could be highly relevant, especially for the killer. It could tell us something about the way he saw his victim and his motives for killing her."

The corners of Diggle's eyes crinkled and he nodded. "Good. I think the same. I'm glad to see you're willing to use your instincts as well as your computer. I'm also glad to hear that you got something useful from one of the uniforms on the scene. I understand they can sometimes be less than helpful."

Yes, of course Diggle knew about the crappy attitude from the uniforms. Felicity shrugged. "The officer's name is Malone. I like him. He thinks. He was effective at the crime scene and he seemed genuinely interested in figuring out why the vic was killed with an arrow." There was no point in mentioning the older uniform. That would be whining.

"I've had my eye on Malone for the detective's exam. Good to hear your impressions corroborate mine." Diggle started to pick up his coffee mug and then paused. "Seriously, Smoak, I want you to know there's no shame in letting this case go. Your vic was killed in a highly unusual way and she has a connection to the Bratva. You're a good detective, but you're still a novice. No one would think less of you if you decided to turn it over to someone with more experience."

"You think I should let it go?" She was still surprised he was giving her the choice.

"I'm not saying that. I'm saying it won't hurt your career if you do. You'll have plenty more chances for a high profile case, have no doubt about that."

Felicity believed he meant what he said. It was tempting to let it go. The Bratva was big - much bigger than an angry husband or a robbery gone wrong. But she had no evidence yet that Isabel's death had anything to do with the Bratva. Until she knew differently, her case was a local homicide and Felicity was a homicide cop.

She shook her head. "I'd like to keep the case, sir, at least for now. I've barely begun my investigation and I have no idea where the clues will lead. If the trail eventually points to the Bratva and it looks like I'm going to be in over my head or we need to involve the feds, I promise I'll raise my hand."

"I'll hold you to that promise, Smoak." There was a gleam in Diggle's eye as he continued, "And I agree that it makes sense to keep gathering evidence before jumping to a conclusion. There's the possibility of a good old fashioned drug deal gone sour, and then there's Queen. You need to follow both of those."

He waved one hand toward the door in dismissal. "Go find me a killer, Detective."

The case was still hers. "Yes, sir."


Diggle waited until Felicity Smoak had shut the door before picking up the phone. He wasn't entirely surprised when the Chief of Police answered personally. The man had an instinct for knowing when something serious was happening in the department.

"Diggle." Chief Lance went straight to the point. "Have we got a problem?"

"Not a problem...at least not yet," Diggle replied. "But we've had a relatively high profile murder. I wanted to get you up to speed."

"Isabel Rochev," Lance confirmed. "I heard."

Of course you did, Diggle thought. The chief's internal network was as good as his, maybe even better.

"Who pulled the case?" Lance asked.

Diggle sighed. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. The murder was originally reported as a body in the Glades and Dispatch assigned it to Felicity Smoak without informing me. No one at the time knew that we were dealing with a celebrity."

Lance nodded. "Ah, yes. Felicity Smoak, your brainy MIT grad. How long as she been in Homicide? About a year now?"

"Yes."

"I assume you're planning to reassign it. You'll want someone with more experience."

Diggle paused. "I know that would be standard procedure, but for the moment I've left it with her. She's off to a good start. In four hours, she's identified two avenues for investigation, both of them sound. I had her in my office and gave her the option of turning the case over. She wants to keep it."

"What she wants doesn't figure into it," Lance snapped back. "I know she's your protege, John, but she's still green. She'll get her turn for the big cases when she's put in the time. We can't afford to have a screwup on this, especially not with the city watching. She may be great with technology, but she strikes me as someone who isn't very media savvy. The last thing we need is a detective losing her composure in front of reporters."

Diggle pressed his lips together. It was true that Smoak could sometimes put her foot in her mouth. Still, she was smart and she worked hard. She took plenty of crap from the older officers and never complained about it. Diggle respected that.

"What are the two avenues?" Lance asked, interrupting his thoughts. "Anything unusual?"

Diggle shrugged. "The first one is pretty straightforward. Smoak found a vial of an unknown substance in Rochev's apartment. She thinks it could be some kind of drug, and that Rochev's death may be a deal gone bad. She was killed in an alley in the Glades."

"I see. And the second avenue?"

Diggle briefly closed his eyes. "Oliver Queen," he admitted.

There was a pause on the other end of the phone. Then Lance said, "Queen is a suspect?"

"He's a person of interest. He was Rochev's date to a fundraiser on the night she was killed."

"Oh hell."

Diggle waited. This was going to cement it, he thought. Lance was going to tell him there was no way a young woman like Felicity Smoak could handle a shark like Oliver Queen. Queen would eat her alive. And Diggle really couldn't argue with that.

But Lance was silent. Diggle wondered what his chief was thinking.

"I take it she hasn't interviewed Queen yet," Lance eventually said.

Diggle shook his head. "No. Queen flew out early this morning for a business trip. She's still trying to set something up with him."

"Okay," Lance replied. "Let her take that interview and see what she has to say. We can reassess her role from there."

Astonished, Diggle said nothing.

"You have a problem with that, John? I thought you'd be happy. I'm letting your girl hang onto the case."

"I am happy. I'm also surprised. I figured you were going to remind me that we've thrown some of our toughest cops at Queen and he's managed to kick them all to the curb."

"Exactly."

"Excuse me?"

"Like you said, we've thrown our toughest cops at Queen. They've punched at him and he's punched back. Maybe it's time we try a cop who isn't so tough."

Diggle frowned. "So, this is an experiment to get at Queen? I'm not sure I like the sound of that. I don't want to set Smoak up to get hurt or humiliated."

Lance cleared his throat. "You forget that I know Queen. He was friends with my daughter when the two of them were in high school. He had a lot of faults as a kid - he was spoiled and lazy - but he was always a protective sort. You know, the kid who took the runt under his wing and shielded him from the bullies. I never worried about him forcing my girl to do anything against her will when the two of them went out. It's not in his nature to pick on someone who's weaker. I don't think he'll try to humiliate your detective."

"High school was over a decade ago for Queen. People change."

"I don't think they do, not in the essentials. Oh, don't get me wrong," Lance continued, "I'm no fan of Oliver Queen. And I have no problem believing he killed his father. But Robert Queen was a bully and a thug, the kind of person Oliver abhors. I'm assuming those are the last words you'd use to describe Felicity Smoak."

Diggle sighed. "Yes. She's not a bully."

"So give her the chance to talk with Queen. Maybe she'll come up with something our more seasoned detectives haven't been able to find."

And Lance disconnected.

Chapter Text

Oliver Queen leaned back in his seat and stretched his long legs in front of him. He signaled the flight attendant for a cup of coffee and watched Julianne smile as she moved to the plane's galley to prepare it. She could afford to smile. This was his private transport and he was the only passenger - and an easy-going passenger at that. Oliver had seen enough of his father at work to know how not to treat employees. You were respectful and appreciative, and didn't make a fuss over little things. And as far as the big things went, you demanded a lot and compensated fairly when people delivered. If they didn't deliver, you let them go.

He glanced at the clock and estimated that he had another hour in the air before they landed in New York. He'd already reviewed the market reports as well as several status updates on key projects for Queen Consolidated. Now he had the information on the acquisition of Galaxy Data in front of him. He wanted to give it one final review before his meeting with Galaxy's board in Manhattan.

His mobile phone buzzed just as Julianne brought him his coffee. It was a line known only to his executive assistant, a handful of QC's senior executives, and Tommy Merlyn. They were all aware that he didn't like to be disturbed when flying, which suggested the transmission was important and possibly not good news.

He answered with video, and his assistant appeared on the screen. Sure enough, he could see tension on her face.

"What is it, Sheila?"

"There's a police detective that's been trying to reach you since eight-fifteen this morning, Oliver. She says it's urgent and she's been quite persistent." There was disapproval in her voice and he fought the urge to smile. His assistant guarded his calendar with the same ferocity that a mother bear guards her cubs.

"Did the detective say what she wanted?"

"No. She refused to state the nature of her business. She just insisted that she had to speak with you in person, ASAP. And she kept waving her detective's badge in front of me."

Oliver grimaced. Probably another forensic accountant, he thought. The SCPD sent them regularly to look into Queen Consolidated's financial transactions, looking for irregularities (their word). Each time the cops seemed certain they were going to uncover something illegal, but so far, they'd come up empty. Oliver was beginning to think he should give them their own office, they showed up so often.

"Her name?"

"Smoak, Oliver. Detective Felicity Smoak. Oh…and she mentioned she's a homicide detective."

"Homicide?" He drew in his breath. So not another forensic accountant. "Did she say who died?"

"No."

Oliver frowned. If it wasn't about his finances and no one he knew had died recently, maybe the cops were once again investigating the crash and his father's death. They did that from time to time too, although not as frequently as his businesses. If that was the case, Felicity Smoak was a new name, not someone who'd worked the crash before.

"Is everything okay at the office?" he asked cautiously.

Sheila nodded, her neatly-styled auburn hair bobbing. "Yes. As far as I know, everyone's reporting to work as usual. I made inquiries right after she left and I haven't heard of any employees in trouble."

In trouble being a euphemism for dead, Oliver figured. He gave silent thanks for a good executive assistant. The woman was on top of things. "How did you leave it with the detective?"

She gave him a satisfied smile. "I made no commitment. I told her you were on a business trip and that someone would contact her about an appointment when you returned. I'm only calling to let you know because she strikes me as the kind of woman who will track you down, even in New York. And you've got a very full calendar."

He nodded. "Okay, Sheila, that's great. That's exactly what we'll do – we'll deal with it tomorrow when I get home."

"Very good."

"Anything else?" he asked, as a way to end the call.

"No, Oliver."

And Sheila disconnected.

Oliver frowned again, and after a moment initiated a call to Tommy Merlyn. He tapped his fingers nervously as the phone rang several times with no answer.

Then his friend's face grinned on the screen. "What did you forget now, pal?"

Oliver released a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. "I didn't forget anything. Sheila just called and told me a homicide detective has been trying to reach me."

"And?" Tommy regarded him blankly.

"And I was wondering if..."

"...someone had murdered me?"

"Well either you, or someone in your family. Sheila says things are normal at work and other than bringing up my family again, I couldn't imagine another reason for a homicide detective looking for me."

Tommy laughed. "That's nice, Oliver. I'm flattered that you care – or at least find me indispensable. It makes me feel better about not paying you room and board."

Oliver's relief allowed him to return the chuckle. "Well don't be too flattered. Droids are getting more sophisticated all the time. I'm sure I can find one that can manage the house and give me less grief."

"But you'd miss my witty repartee." Tommy hesitated and his smile disappeared. "You haven't seen the news this morning, have you."

It was a statement, not a question. Oliver shook his head. "Only the stock reports. Why?"

"Isabel Rochev is dead, Oliver. She was found murdered in the Glades. It just hit the headlines a few minutes ago."

It was a gut punch. "Isabel is dead?" Oliver repeated. "Murdered? Hang on." He switched the channel on the plane's television from the stock reports to the news, and found a station showing a headshot of Isabel. Beneath her face, was the line: Star City's prima ballerina dead at the age of thirty-four.

Well, that explains the homicide detective.

Aloud, Oliver simply said, "Shit."

"Yeah, shit just about sums it up. I was surprised to see that she was thirty-four," Tommy continued, conversationally. "She always told me that she'd just turned thirty. But people in the entertainment industry love to lie about their age." He raised an eyebrow. "Weren't you on a date with her last night?"

Oliver grimaced. "You know it wasn't a date. We arranged to meet at a fundraiser for the Arts Council. I'm the chairman and she's a key spokesperson."

"And?"

"What do you mean, and?"

Tommy smirked. "We've known each other since we were ten, pal. You may be a man of mystery to most of Star City, but I can read you like a book. So I know when something didn't go according to plan."

Oliver exhaled. "Isabel got angry during the fundraiser and threw a drink in my face. Then she stormed off."

Tommy nodded. "I was wondering why you got back to the house unexpectedly early…and unexpectedly solo. You know, I haven't wanted to say anything, Oliver, but I've been thinking lately that you're losing your touch. The Queen bed hasn't seen a ton of action. That's a problem for me because the women you bring home often have friends. If you're not getting any, then I'm not getting any."

"Tommy-"

"Yeah, yeah, I know. You're seeing Susan Williams at the moment. And when you're seeing a woman you don't screw around with other women. But we both know it won't last. It's only a matter of time. Some men aren't built for monogamy. "

"Thanks, pal."

"Just calling 'em as I see 'em."

Oliver didn't smile. He was thinking about the ramifications of the murder. "This is the last fucking thing I need," he muttered, "a murder putting the police back in my business. Every time I think I'm in the clear, something happens to bring them back."

"Yeah, it sucks. But then I'm sure Isabel isn't too happy about her murder, either."

Tommy had meant it as a joke, but after a moment, Oliver nodded. "You're right. Isabel is dead - which is bad. I'll need to meet with the police when I get home and do whatever I can to help."

"Well, I wouldn't go that far. Just do enough to point them away from you and in a more appropriate direction. I mean, you didn't kill her, did you?"

Oliver narrowed his eyes. "What do you think?" he asked dryly.

"I don't know. When you come right down to it, she is a Knyazev - despite what she's calling herself these days. They're not exactly upstanding citizens."

"No, they're not."

Tommy shrugged. "And it doesn't look good - you having an argument with her last night. I'm sure someone noticed. You need to be ready with a story about that."

Oliver sighed. "Yes, I do."

"Then do what you can to shoo the police away. It's not your job to solve the murder."

And Tommy signed off.

Oliver sat back in his spacious leather seat and pondered his next move. In business, he liked to know as much as possible about the person he was making a deal with. Strengths, weaknesses, interests and life events all influenced a person's responses. He believed having these facts at his fingertips gave him an edge in the negotiating process. He didn't see why talking to a police detective should be any different. If he was going to meet with Felicity Smoak, he should learn something about her. He wanted to deal with her from a position of strength.

He picked up his phone and made a call to Curtis Holt, his chief technical officer. Oliver had hired Curtis away from a rival firm three years ago and it had proved to be a match made in heaven. Oliver appreciated Curtis's overall scientific knowledge and vision, particularly his skills in programming and computer science. Curtis appreciated Oliver's generous research funding and willingness to ignore data search techniques that occasionally bordered on questionable.

"Oliver," Curtis answered on video, his long afro in its usual wild state. "I thought you were headed to New York."

Judging from what Oliver could see of the background, Curtis was in his lab. He was wearing a pink shirt with a maroon paisley tie that was guaranteed to give those around him eye strain.

"I'm on the plane right now," Oliver confirmed. "Are you alone?"

"For the moment. You know, you really need to consider a stricter policy about office hours. It's after nine. This place should be full of lab techs. But I'm the only one here at work."

"Maybe they got a look at your tie and ran the other way." Curtis's mouth opened, but before he could argue, Oliver added, "I'm glad you are alone because I'm calling to ask you for a favor – and it's personal."

Curtis raised an eyebrow. "Well, color me intrigued. What's the favor?"

"I need you to find out everything you can about a Detective Felicity Smoak. She works homicide for the SCPD. Don't involve anyone else in the search. It needs to be just you."

"Because?"

"Because I'm asking you, as your boss."

Curtis frowned. "Really? After all we've been through, your lowly CTO doesn't get the background?"

"You mean my lowly CTO whose department was just given a hundred million to develop the next generation quantum processor?"

The man sighed. "Point taken. And by everything on the good detective, you mean-"

"I mean all the information you can find, by whatever means possible. Career, finances, relationships, the whole enchilada. I have a meeting with her coming up and I'd like to know who I'm dealing with."

"When do you need it?"

"ASAP."

Curtis sighed again. "Why do I even ask? Fine, Oliver. I'm on it."

"Thank you, Curtis. I owe you one."


An hour later, Oliver's phone beeped just as the plane was beginning its descent into New York. He was pleased to see Curtis back on the line. The man worked fast.

He made certain that Julianne had buckled herself into a seat that was out of earshot. Then he grinned at his CTO. "What have you got for me, Curtis?"

To his surprise, Curtis didn't grin back. Normally, the man was upbeat. He was young, liked his job and his salary. And only an hour ago Oliver had essentially asked him to hack, one of Curtis's favorite pastimes. The CTO should have been happy but instead he looked frustrated - almost defeated. It was not an expression Oliver was accustomed to seeing on him.

"Curtis?" he asked again.

His CTO frowned. "I'm calling to let you know that I sent you a report on the item we discussed. You can read it when you have a moment." His voice was brusque.

Oliver raised his eyebrows. Like many geeks, Curtis usually derived an almost sexual satisfaction from cracking someone else's digital security. But not now, evidently. Oliver wondered if something else had gone wrong at work.

"Is there a problem in the lab?" he asked. "Are you free to talk?"

Curtis shrugged. "I'm alone, but I'm pretty busy. Please read the report, Oliver. We can talk later."

Oliver stared at him. "I will read it, of course. But how about you give me the highlights in the meantime?"

"I really am busy-"

"Just the highlights, Curtis."

The man gave him an exasperated look. "Fine. Here's the highlights: Detective Felicity Smoak has been with the SCPD for four years. She graduated from MIT with honors in 2057 and spent a year at the police academy before joining the force as a street cop in '58."

Oliver frowned. "She has a degree from MIT? What the hell is she doing working for the police?"

"Good question. Her degree is in computer science with a minor in electrical engineering. After a year as a beat cop she transferred to the Digital Evidence Division, so I can only guess that she wanted to use her computer science degree to enforce law and order." He wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Who knows, maybe she's one of those weirdos who isn't interested in making money."

Oliver ignored Curtis's editorial comment. "But she's with Homicide now, not DED?"

"Right. A little over a year ago they moved her to Homicide, reporting directly to Commander John Diggle. She's been there since."

Curtis fell silent and Oliver pondered the information. Smoak was young to make detective, he thought, incredibly young. He wondered if her rapid rise was due to skill, her education, or connections within the department. He also wondered if she came from money. With the high demand for top-notch computer skills, she could easily be making three times her current salary in the private sector. It was hard to imagine why she would choose police work unless she could afford to ignore her earnings.

"Okay," he prompted. "What else have you got, Curtis?"

"That's it."

Oliver's brow furrowed. "What do you mean, that's it? Where does she live? Is she married or single? What about her finances? "

Curtis shook his head. "I don't know."

"You haven't had time to look yet?"

"I mean, I don't know. She's got crazy security over her personal information, Oliver. The data I was able to obtain I got from hacking the SCPD. Anything outside of that - her bank accounts, home address, hell, even the books she takes out from the library - it's all guarded by some freaky kind of encryption. At least I think it's encryption. "

"So break it."

"What the fuck do you think I've been trying to do for the last hour?" And Curtis's frustration flowed across the line. "I've tried every key-breaking algorithm I know and I can't make a dent in it."

Oliver stared at his CTO. Curtis's anger was beginning to make sense now. "You're telling me you can't break into her data."

"Not so far. Whatever she's got for security, it's custom stuff - not the normal blocks they put on cops' data and definitely not commercial software. I've never seen anything like it."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously. The only thing I can think of is that she put her MIT education to good use...or she made some very skilled friends when she was there. I'm sorry, Oliver."

Oliver sat back, astonished. Curtis lived for hacking, and at the moment it sounded as though he was giving up. Perversely, that made Oliver want the information on Felicity Smoak all the more. He tried to light a fire under the man.

"So you're saying a cop is better than you." It was just shy of a taunt.

Curtis glared. "I'm saying I've never seen anything like this before. It's going to take me a hell of a lot longer than an hour to break it, if it can be broken at all."

That's better, Oliver thought. "How much longer? I have to meet with her when I get back from New York tomorrow."

Curtis shook his head. "I honestly don't know. I doubt I'll have anything for you by then. I'd have to invent something new. None of the tools I have are going to get the job done."

"Curtis, she's got to leave some kind of electronic trail. I assume the woman eats and sleeps; she must stock her kitchen and pay rent."

"I'm sure she does. The problem is I can't trace the money through her accounts. They're protected. I have to do it backward, by looking at whoever receives money from her, not by her sending the money. You see?"

And Oliver did see. "So, to find out where she lives, you have to run a search on every apartment building in Star City to find the one that receives rent from Felicity Smoak."

"Exactly. Assuming she lives in Star City, she's renting the apartment under that name, and doesn't own her home outright." Curtis exhaled heavily. "I've got searches running now, but they're going to take time to complete. I still think it's a better bet than me trying to crack her security system, though."

"Did you at least get her age?"

"Twenty-five. I searched the records of all the hospitals in the city until I found a Felicity Smoak who was born in The Glades Memorial in 2037."

"Twenty-five? That's even younger than I was imagining. And she's already gone from uniform to DED to Homicide? That's fast, isn't it?"

Curtis shrugged. "I suppose. I try to stay away from the police, Oliver, so I can't claim to know the inner workings of the department. She reports directly to the commander. Maybe the two of them have some kind of thing going on. You know – he moves her career along and she scratches whatever itches he might have."

"Who did you say her commander was?"

"Diggle. John Diggle."

Oliver frowned. He'd encountered John Diggle the last time the SCPD had sent its forensic accountants to dig into QC's activities. Diggle was relentless, but he'd also struck Oliver as a straight shooter. "I don't know. I've met Diggle. He likes to go by the book. I can't see him having an affair with a subordinate."

"Maybe not, Oliver. But any man can fall if the face is pretty enough."

"And is the face pretty enough?"

"Take a look and decide for yourself." The CTO disappeared from Oliver's screen and was replaced by a picture of a young woman with shoulder length blond hair.

Oliver studied it. Felicity Smoak had an oval face, wide set blue eyes, and a small, straight nose. Her complexion was beautiful – classic peaches and cream. She looked younger than twenty-five, he thought, but perhaps that was because she wore little makeup in the photo; no lipstick or false eyelashes. She looked natural, not something he was used to seeing among the women he knew.

"Yeah," he said slowly. "She's pretty. A bit wholesome for my taste, but then it takes all kinds."

His gaze landed on her mouth and he paused. It was slightly wide, with lips that were naturally full - no sign of cosmetic help. They were poised in a small smile, as if greeting a friend, and he was willing to bet they were smooth and soft. It was a mouth made for kissing. For a few seconds, he couldn't look away.

Well, if I'm going to be interrogated by the police, I could do worse. He wondered why the SCPD was sending her to interview him. In the past, all the cops he'd encountered had been hardened veterans, a good ten years older than he was and radiating cynicism. The girl in the photo looked anything but cynical. In fact, she looked like anything but a cop. But why had she gone to the trouble of protecting her own information so thoroughly?

Aloud, he said, "Thanks, Curtis. Let me know what you find from those searches."

"Will do, Oliver." And Curtis signed off.

Might as well see what this is about, Oliver thought; what she's about.

He called his assistant. "Sheila?" he said, when she answered. "Set up the appointment with Detective Smoak for tomorrow afternoon at three. Make it at my house and not the office."

If Sheila was surprised by that, she didn't show it. "Yes, Oliver."

Chapter Text

Sometimes it was no fun being right. Felicity narrowed her eyes at Max Fuller as she realized he was every bit as smug as she'd imagined him to be when she'd examined his photo. They stood in a hallway outside one of several Star City Ballet studios, with Fuller giving her a long, critical stare that had started at her feet and was gradually progressing up her body. He was taking his time, and he didn't appear pleased with what he saw.

"I'm sorry, sweetie," he said at last. "But you're really not the type we go for at the Star City Ballet. You've got a pretty face, but we prefer a longer, more delicate look. You might want to try Central City. I think their artistic director favors the athletic type and they're looking for dancers in the corps."

Felicity stared back at him for a moment, then produced her badge and allowed her jacket to swing open and reveal the weapon holstered at her hip. She was pleased to see his self-satisfied expression falter.

"It's Detective Smoak, not sweetie," she replied, "but I'll keep Central City in mind the next time I get it into my head to audition for the ballet. In the meantime, maybe we can talk about Isabel Rochev."

His gaze lingered on her weapon for a few seconds before returning to her face. "Oh yes. I heard about Isabel's death on the news. It's terrible - a tragedy. Who on earth would want to kill her?"

He sounded shocked and sorry, but not genuinely sad. It was similar to the reaction Felicity had observed in the security guards at Isabel's building. If the blogs linking Fuller and Isabel believed them to be a love match, she thought, then the blogs were wrong.

She was surprised to hear that he even knew of Isabel's death. Based on the activity in the studios, Felicity had assumed that word hadn't traveled to the Ballet. The place was bustling with dancers stretching and twirling as coaches barked out orders. Fuller himself had just given her the once over because he'd thought she was seeking a spot in the corps. It seemed like business as usual. If anyone was mourning, they were doing it in private.

She turned on her police recorder. "I've got a few questions for you, Mr. Fuller, and I'll be recording your answers for my investigation."

He started to nod, but then redirected his attention to a dancer that was passing them on her way down the hall. "I'm seeing the beginnings of thunder thighs, Maria," he called out. "Someone needs to take pizza off her menu."

The girl, who in Felicity's opinion looked stick-thin, turned to stare at Fuller, but didn't reply. Felicity noted that she subtly rearranged the hand at her side to make the middle finger point toward the floor. She gave it a small shake, but didn't actually raise the hand. Then she turned and resumed walking, without saying a word.

Felicity smothered a smile. She thought the action said a lot about the way people at the ballet viewed Fuller.

"Did you try to contact Ms. Rochev when she didn't show up for rehearsal this morning?" she asked him. "Is that how you know about her death?"

Fuller pulled his gaze away from the dancer and back to Felicity. He shook his head. "No. I heard about Isabel's death on the news, sometime around ten - which is earlier than when she typically arrives. Isabel is - was - rarely the first person at rehearsal. She had her own routine for training and preparation and often didn't show up until noon. She felt she knew Nikiya - that's her current role, we're dancing La Bayadere right now - backwards and forwards. Because of that, I think she believed she had no need to get to the studios earlier."

"But you don't agree."

Fuller looked toward a studio doorway, where dancers could be seen leaping and twirling. "They call it a ballet troupe for a reason. It's supposed to be a team, and a good principal will care about making the corps better, which means spending a little time with the other dancers. They share the stage, after all, and even when they don't, the audience can tell when there isn't cohesion."

"And was cohesion lacking?"

Fuller shrugged. "It could have been better." His voice was matter-of-fact, almost indifferent.

Felicity frowned. "Isn't it the artistic director's job to fix something like that?"

"I'm not a miracle worker. Isabel was your classic diva; she cared about herself first and foremost, and everyone else fell somewhere below. Fortunately, her dance partner in La Bayadere, Carlton Lynn, is well-liked by the corps. He's an easy-going guy."

"Did he get along with Isabel?"

"About as well as anyone got along with her." He chuckled dryly.

Felicity arched an eyebrow. Fuller's refusal to take murder seriously was starting to annoy her. "I can see you're really broken up about Isabel's death," she said.

He met her gaze and shrugged once more. The movement caused his thick sweep of brown hair to flop forward and he ran his fingers through it to push it back into place. Felicity was reminded of her impression when she'd looked at his photo; the man was soft.

"Of course I'm upset," he replied calmly. "She was an amazing talent."

"But nothing else to you?"

"Not really." He appeared surprised by the question. "Isabel and I were co-workers - actually, not even that. Despite what you think the role of an artistic director is, Detective, I mainly plan the season, hire the choreographer and the corps. I don't work with the dancers every day."

"What about sleeping with them? Because from what I heard, you and Isabel occasionally opted for a horizontal pas-de-deux. Is that part of the artistic director process, too?"

Fuller's eyes widened only for a second; then he looked irritated. "Yes, Isabel and I went out from time to time. And, yes, we slept together occasionally. But please don't make it sound as though I assaulted her virtue or, God forbid, imply that we had a relationship. Isabel Rochev was not a woman who was saving herself for true love. She had appetites and she indulged in them. Who was I to say no if I happen to be her type?"

You smug bastard. Felicity eyed Fuller and wondered about any woman who would decide that he was her type. The man wasn't bad looking, but he was an ass - a lazy, self-satisfied ass. He struck her as a person who coasted through life; mildly interested in his job and indifferent about people. A man without passion.

"Did Isabel's appetite extend to things other than sex?" she asked.

"I'm not sure I understand what you mean."

"Did the two of you..." Felicity tried to make her voice sound casual, "drink together or maybe take a few recreational drugs?"

"Drugs?" Fuller's eyebrows went up. "Are you kidding me? I'd be an idiot to encourage Isabel to go near them."

"Because?"

Fuller gave her an incredulous look. "I can see you don't understand the ballet world, Detective. When it comes to the Star City Ballet, Isabel is the goose that laid the golden egg. We're a nationally recognized troupe now that she's here. Hell, we're internationally recognized. Isabel was a world-class dancer. She could have gone anywhere she wanted and I was amazed that she didn't prefer a bigger city like New York or Chicago. She put us on the map. There's no way I'd do anything to risk her health or ability to dance. No...when we got together, it was strictly about sex."

For the first time, he sounded sincere. But then it was starting to sink in, Felicity thought, how Isabel's death might affect him. "What about the rest of the troupe?" she asked. "Were there any other men - or women for that matter - who also had a sexual relationship with her?"

"I don't know. I assume so." A strange smile spread over his face. "Although you really should talk to Oliver Queen. He was her preferred scratching post. She threw herself in his path whenever she had the chance. The rest of us were second string."

And there it was again, Felicity thought, Oliver Queen. She really needed to meet with the man.

"Can you tell me where you were last night, Mr. Fuller, between the hours of eleven and one?"

"As a matter of fact, I can. I was at the Star City Arts Council fundraiser. The thing ended at midnight, but there was a hardcore group of us who hung around until three, talking and dancing. Quite a number of people saw me. I can send you their names."

"Please do."

"I saw Isabel at the fundraiser earlier in the evening - on Queen's arm," he added.

"Yes? Did anything unusual happen?"

"Well, normally I'd say Isabel throwing a glass of champagne in Queen's face was unusual, but for her that was par for the course. As I told you, she was a diva."

Isabel and Queen had argued? Now, that was news, the first useful thing Felicity had gotten out of her interview with Fuller. She felt her heart speed up. "Do you know what their argument was about?"

Fuller shook his head. "I'm afraid you'll have to ask Queen that question. I can't help you there."

As if you're helping me a whole lot now. Felicity eyed Fuller once again and had a hard time seeing him as a murderer. He was a man without drive - happy to sleep with a woman when offered the opportunity but not willing to put the energy into pursuing her. Felicity doubted he cared enough about Isabel to kill her, particularly with a weapon like a bow. Not to mention that he appeared to have a solid alibi.

"So what are you going to do now," she asked him, "without Isabel? Will you have to cancel performances?"

"Not at all," he replied easily. "That's what understudies are for. We've got Christina waiting in the wings."

"Christina?"

"Christina Hall. She's a local girl. Probably would have been Star City's principal if Isabel hadn't come to this city. She's good, although not up to Isabel's level. But then, there aren't many dancers who are. Still, I think Christina will surprise people."

"Is she here?"

"In one of the studios." He waved his hand toward the open doorways. "Feel free to talk to her - to any of the dancers - after rehearsal."

"I will. Thank you for your time, Mr. Fuller."


Physically, Christina Hall was a younger version of Isabel Rochev. Dark-eyed and delicate, with long brown hair and slender legs, she stood at a wooden bar (barre, Felicity corrected herself) and placed her body into all kinds of impossible positions as she stretched. Felicity couldn't help cringing when the girl straightened one leg and rested it up against the wall so that she was doing a standing split. It was not a posture Felicity believed the human form was meant to assume. Christina leaned forward and laid her chest along her leg as easily as if she were bending to pick a flower.

"Am I one of your first interviews?" she asked Felicity. She smiled an impish smile. "Am I a suspect?"

The prospect didn't seem to worry her. She made fluttering arm gestures as she stretched, as if her limbs were weightless and being wafted by a breeze.

Did everyone at the ballet treat death weirdly? Felicity raised an eyebrow. "Why would you be a suspect?"

"I've got a motive. I'm the lead in La Bayadere now. No way in hell I get the role if Isabel is still here."

Felicity almost smiled at the way the girl's blunt words contrasted with her delicate movements. "I'm not very familiar with ballet," she admitted. "Is dancing the lead worth killing someone for?"

Christina shrugged, the movement small and refined. "If you're good, it could be your big break. Someone might take notice and make you principal. Dancing is a time-sensitive skill, so the earlier you get that break, the better for your career. If you're not good enough, then it won't help at all."

"And are you good enough?"

The impish smile returned. "I think so. I'm not up to Isabel's level, but she has ten years' experience on me. I think I could show enough promise to get a shot at other leads. Carlton is really good at highlighting his female partners' strengths. That would help."

"Carlton Lynn?"

"Yup." Christina brought her leg down from the wall and began a series of toe-raises.

"You like him."

"Everyone does. He's friendly, works hard, and manages to put up with Isabel's shit."

"I take it she was not very popular."

Christina balanced on one toe and raised her other leg behind her. "She was a brilliant dancer, the best I've ever seen. But she was also your classic bitch, Detective. Everything had to go her way or she made a stink."

"Maybe there was a reason for her attitude. Were there any rumors in the corps?"

Christina's brow furrowed as she lowered her leg. "I'm not sure I understand."

"You know," Felicity kept her voice light. "Like maybe she was using chemical assistance? Sometimes that can affect mood. I understand ballet can be very demanding so a dancer might want to take a little something..."

"You mean drugs?" Christina interrupted. "No way in hell. Isabel wouldn't even take an aspirin or drink a cup of coffee. She was big on not polluting her body."

It was the same thing the droid had said. Felicity wondered whether the lab had analyzed the vial from Isabel's apartment yet. Maybe it really did contain vitamins.

"No," Christina continued, shaking her head, "I'm pretty sure Isabel was a moody, unpleasant human being all on her own. No chemical help needed."

Okay then. Definitely no love there. Felicity said slowly, "You know, you're not doing a very good job at taking yourself off the suspect list, Christina. You've just told me that you don't like Isabel and confirmed that you have a motive for killing her."

"I suppose I have." Christina leaned back and arched her spine to bring her head within inches of her tiny posterior. "So I guess your next question should be whether I have an alibi."

"You sound familiar with police procedure."

"My big sister was a cop with the SCPD - McKenna Hall. She worked Vice, though, not Homicide."

"I don't think I know her."

"She was probably before your time. She left the force a few years ago to go private. Got a loan from the great Oliver Queen to set up her own security business and hasn't looked back. More money and easier hours."

Felicity wondered if she was going to have an interview where Oliver Queen's name didn't come up. Curious, she asked, "Does your sister like personal security?"

Christina nodded. "She loves it. Like I said, more money, better hours, and she gets to be her own boss. Not to mention that she had a fling with Oliver when they were negotiating the loan and setting up the business. Apparently his skills extend well beyond the office, if you know what I mean. McKenna would come home just about glowing. She told me she always thought the G-spot was a myth until Oliver found hers for her."

Felicity laughed before she could stop herself. She wondered if McKenna was aware of her little sister's proclivity for sharing intimate details. "How long did your sister's relationship with Queen last?" she asked.

Christina waved one hand. "I don't think McKenna would call it a relationship. According to her, Oliver doesn't do them. She said he was considerate enough not to sleep with other women when he was with her, but he never gave her the impression that he was in it for the long haul. I think they hung out for five or six months before things fizzled out."

He sounds like a real gem, Felicity thought. Aloud, she asked, "Doesn't that strike you as improper? Sex in exchange for a loan?"

Christina straightened, and for once, stopped moving. "I never really thought about it that way," she admitted. "I don't think McKenna saw it that way either. She was all in on the sex. I never, ever had the sense that she felt coerced in any way. If anything, I think she was the instigator. And they're still friends, her and Oliver. They talk and he sends her clients — so things must have ended well."

"Do you live with your sister?"

"Oh yeah. No way I could afford a decent place on my own with what we make in the corps." Christina resumed stretching. "That's why I'm not worried about your questions, Detective. McKenna is my alibi. She can tell you that I was home all night. That should take me off the suspect list."

"Unless you and your sister killed Isabel together, making each of you the other's alibi."

Christina shook her head. "Oh no," she said, "no way. I mean, I may have something to gain by Isabel's death, but what motive would McKenna have? She was a cop, she believes in the law. And I don't think she ever met Isabel. They have nothing in common."

"They both slept with Oliver Queen."

Christina laughed. "Don't you follow the gossip blogs, Detective? They're hardly the only ones."

It was the second time that day that the subject of the blogs had come up. Felicity was beginning to think she'd been neglecting an important investigative tool. She was running out of questions and searched her mind for any she might have missed. She didn't come up with any.

She handed the girl a card. "If you think of anything, can you please call me?"

"No problem."


By the time Felicity finished with the ballet troupe it was nearly four. She considered going back to SCPD HQ, but decided she could work more effectively from home for the rest of the day. The warrant she'd requested for the security discs from the Queen Towers Hotel had been granted. She would pick the discs up from the annoying manager and look at the footage in her apartment on her personal computer. Her equipment was faster than the standard-issue SCPD machines and every bit as secure.

The remainder of her interviews with the dancers had yielded little more insight. They'd confirmed that Isabel was respected - reluctantly - for her skill, and not at all well-liked. Carlton Lynn, her dance partner, had been more diplomatic than Christina Hall, but his description of Isabel had essentially been the same; the woman was self-centered and difficult. If the motive for her murder was pure hostility, Felicity thought, then the list of suspects included just about everyone in the troupe. Importantly, though, no one suspected Isabel of using drugs. They all attributed her success to hard work, discipline and an unpleasant disposition.

Felicity lived in an apartment in the Glades, a location she knew puzzled many of her fellow cops and earned the grudging respect of a few of them. She wasn't trying to do either. Her choice was driven purely by economics. Her building had been erected in one of the city's many attempts to gentrify an undesirable neighborhood and when the middle-class had failed to flock to it, the rents had plummeted. As a result, she could afford a two-bedroom unit (with parking!) on a junior detective's salary. The best she would have been able to do in the nicer parts of the city was a pint-sized studio. And while the Glades was frightening territory for a lot of people, it really wasn't so bad for a cop who carried a police stunner. Felicity had even become friends with the man who managed the bar down the street. Sure, he was scary-looking, but his place made a decent pizza.

The chief drawback to living in the Glades was that the building's superintendent didn't take his maintenance responsibilities seriously, and the building's owner - some unknown corporate conglomerate - didn't give a damn. So she sometimes arrived home from a long day to find herself taking the stairs because the elevator was out of order, or showering in cold water because the water heater was broken. She always called to complain, but had given up expecting her complaints to result in prompt action.

She was pleased to find the elevator working this evening. She rode it to her unit on the eighth floor, disengaged the security on the door, and stepped into the orderly space that was her living room. It was furnished in neutral tones - beige couch, brown chairs - with splashes of color in the form of throw pillows and wall hangings. There was a treadmill in a corner and a door leading to a galley kitchen off one side of the room. She headed to the kitchen now and stuck a coffee pod in the machine to brew a cup. When it was ready, she grabbed the mug and went to the spare bedroom.

The second bedroom was the reason she had chosen this apartment and stayed with it, even when she had to climb seven flights of stairs or wash in frigid water. She had converted it into an office with her prized possession, a large desk made of blond wood, in the center, and her non-departmental computer sitting atop the desk. She had built the computer herself and it had more power, speed and stealth than anything at the SCPD. It also had an unregistered address, allowing her to browse the internet anonymously. She could accomplish more on it in fifteen minutes than she could in an hour on her clunker at HQ.

Before viewing the discs from the fundraiser, she checked her work messages. There was one from Oliver Queen's efficient (and assertive) assistant saying he would meet with her tomorrow afternoon at his home. Felicity was surprised by the location. She'd figured Queen would want the interview to be in his office, where he'd have a couple of lawyers and an army of assistants ready to defend him. Of course, a man that wealthy probably had an army of assistants at his home too. She hastened to accept the meeting.

Seeing no other messages of note, she inserted the first security disc into the computer and began watching the fundraiser. It took her a minute to spot Isabel and Queen. Many women had emulated the ballerina by wearing black and every man was wearing a tux, so the couple didn't immediately stand out. Eventually, though, Felicity found them. They circulated among the attendees, pausing to talk with almost everyone. In fact, Felicity observed that Queen and Isabel seemed to talk to other people more than they spoke with each other. But then the point of the evening had been to coax donations from the guests, so she supposed that made sense.

Felicity was almost two hours into the footage when she saw Isabel fling the champagne at Queen. She paused the recording, then backed it up so that she could study the couple prior to Isabel's angry gesture. The cameras hadn't gotten close enough to capture facial expressions or read lips, and Felicity made an exasperated sound as she tried several unsuccessful tricks in an effort to zoom in.

After a while, she settled for examining their body language. She didn't think either of them appeared particularly upset before the champagne had been flung. Isabel had one hand tucked in Queen's elbow and the glass in her other hand, and she nodded comfortably at people as she passed. Queen's posture was erect but his shoulders were relaxed and his movements were easy. Things seemed fine until Queen turned his head toward her. Whatever he said in that moment resulted in an immediate reaction from Isabel. The champagne flew and she stormed away. Queen made no effort to follow her; he simply stood and watched her go, his hands loose at his sides.

Felicity rewatched the scene three times. There was nothing in Queen's behavior that suggested he was angry or upset, either before or after the incident. If he'd gone after Isabel later and killed her, Felicity didn't think it was out of fury.

She decided it was time she did more research on Queen, starting with publicly available data. As Diggle had pointed out, she hadn't followed the man with interest - or at all, really. She knew little about him.

"Computer," she said. "Show me the news on Oliver Queen for the last three years."

Unlike her machine at the SCPD, this computer didn't complain about the specificity of the search parameters. Instead, it made a brief whirring sound and produced a series of articles.

How would you like these organized?

"Let's start with a bio on Queen. Just give me the highlights."

His photo popped up, along with several paragraphs. Felicity read:

Oliver Queen, born Star City 2031 (age 31). Height: 6' 2". Weight: 190. Father: Robert Queen, deceased. Mother: Moira Queen, deceased. Sister: Thea Queen, deceased. Graduate Woodside Secondary School 2049, Stanford University 2053, with a BA in Business Administration.

Missing, presumed dead in November 2053 when the aircraft carrying Queen, his family, and friend Thomas Merlyn crashed into the ocean on route to Hong Kong. Reappeared in Star City in 2055, claiming to have survived for two years on an island off the coast of China.

Currently serving as CEO of Queen Consolidated, a private company estimated to have annual revenues between $50B and $80B. No spouse or cohabitation partner. No known children.

It was pretty much what Commander Diggle had told her, with a few more dates and details thrown in. The photo of Queen appeared recent, probably a publicity shot from QC. In it, the CEO looked intelligent and handsome - the quintessential young business leader.

"You're attractive," Felicity commented to the photo. "Too bad you might be a murderer."

The list of articles that the computer dug up was lengthy. Queen was news – not just in Star City but across the country. There were stories about his businesses – the latest ventures and acquisitions - as well as articles about his community service and social life, both of which appeared very active. In fact, she began to wonder if the man spent any time at home. He chaired several charitable foundations and there were photos of him at civic functions, athletic events and even movie premieres. Occasionally he attended alone, but more often there was a woman on his arm.

And Queen had a type, Felicity decided. Professionally, the women were all over the place; actresses, businesswomen, reporters, lawyers. But physically, they were similar; slender, narrow-hipped and leggy, with self-assured smiles and perfect fashion sense. She found pictures of him with Isabel Rochev, but the dancer had not been Queen's only social companion. Over the last few years he'd gone out with McKenna Hall, businesswoman Helena Bertinelli, and most recently, reporter for Channel Thirty-two, Susan Williams. When Felicity came across a string of older photos of him with the actress, Laurel Lance, she frowned. Laurel's father Quentin was Star City's chief of police. Given the department's suspicions about Queen, she wondered how the chief had felt about that relationship.

As she sifted through the news blurbs and gossip blogs, Felicity began to notice a pattern. Queen was highly visible at charities and civic events and gave a very good impression of being accessible, but his accessibility was just that - an impression. The reality was that Queen guarded his personal life fiercely. There were no photos of him at home and his quotes were bland, publicity boilerplate; how he was happy to bring jobs to Star City or praise for the efforts of a local institution. They were sentiments that no one would find fault with. His real opinions were not shared, he stayed away from politics, and he appeared especially adept at deflecting pointed questions. Felicity recalled Diggle calling him slippery and wondered if that was what her commander had meant.

Felicity spent an hour skimming the articles, then sat back. It was early days yet, but she was curious to see how the department's crime app viewed Queen in relation to Isabel's murder. She called up the SCPD's primary analysis software and fed both Queen's and Isabel's data into it, including Queen's history with the plane crash. Then she ran the program.

Her computer completed the analysis in seconds, then informed her that the probability that Queen was involved in Isabel's murder was 77 percent. Felicity frowned. Seventy-seven percent was an unhelpful number; too high to ignore but not high enough to be conclusive. The program was going to need additional data to be useful.

She stared at the screen. There was more she could find out about Queen beyond the publicly available data, but she was going to have to use questionable means to do it. She'd hacked to solve cases before, but only when all other sources of information had been exhausted. It wasn't something she did lightly, especially since she doubted the commander would approve of it. She sure has hell never hacked to satisfy her personal curiosity or dig up dirt.

In the case of Oliver Queen, it was early days yet. She hadn't even interviewed him. Felicity had nothing on the man other than his attendance at the fundraiser with Isabel Rochev and the enduring perception of the SCPD that he'd become CEO of Queen Consolidated under dubious circumstances. As far as the fundraiser went, there were a couple of hundred people there, and the security footage showed Isabel speaking to many of them. Given how thoroughly she was disliked, it was very possible she had encountered someone else with a grudge that night.

Felicity glanced at the clock and was surprised to see that it was nearly eight, well past dinner time. No, she decided; it was tough to justify digging into Queen's personal information at this point in her investigation. There were still a lot of avenues to pursue.

With a shrug, she began shutting down the computer so that she could head to the kitchen. Then she paused. A few lines of code flashed on the screen and her heart sped up as she realized that one of her security alarms had been tripped. She couldn't recall that ever happening before. It meant someone had tried to breach the firewalls she'd created around her personal data.

"Computer," she said sharply. "There's a security alert on my bank accounts. Run the backtrace program and tell me where it came from."

Working.

The computer stopped shutting down and hummed back to life. Felicity watched more lines of code scroll across the screen, along with routing data and IP addresses. Then the scrolling stopped and she was looking at a single physical address.

"Well, fuck me," she said aloud.

The address was the digital lab at Queen Consolidated, and the user account that had gone after her information belonged to someone called Curtis Holt. A quick search told her that Holt was Queen's chief technology officer.

Queen's CTO was looking into her?

Based on the timestamp, Holt had tried to hack her data that morning, shortly after Felicity had told Queen's admin that she wanted to interview the CEO. Queen had to be behind the search, she thought. Holt had no reason to investigate her otherwise. She wondered how Queen had hoped to use the information. Blackmail? A bribe? Or just basic preparation for their interview?

She was pleased to see that Holt hadn't been able to get in – not to anything.

"Hope you were frustrated, you bastard," she muttered.

She revisited her firewalls and encryption algorithms just in case the CTO was still trying. She made a few changes guaranteed to confound any automated programs he could be running. Then she reconsidered her decision not to hack into Queen's information.

"I was going to leave you alone, Mr. Queen," she said softly, "but apparently you couldn't leave me alone. So now I'm curious why you thought it necessary to dig into my personal life. And, as they say, all's fair."

She decided she was going to do this the old-fashioned way – with the keyboard rather than voice commands. There was something about the feel of typing that was satisfying. She slid the board in front of her and rested her fingers lightly on top of it.

She went after Queen's email first.

Chapter Text

The medical examiner greeted Felicity with a tired nod that made her wonder how early he'd come into work that morning. It was barely nine and the man already had blood on his lab coat, along with a few bits of matter that Felicity decided she would rather not identify. Visiting the morgue was not something she had become inured to, even after a year working homicide. The cool air, the smell of chemicals and the overwhelming gleam of stainless steel made her edgy - not mention that the place was full of dead people. She knew there were detectives who could comfortably stand over an open body and review its contents, but she wasn't one of them.

The fact that she liked Dr. Lockhart made her visits a little easier. The ME was old enough to be her father but didn't have an issue with her age - not the way many of her other colleagues did. He treated her with respect, and occasionally with avuncular kindness.

This morning wasn't one of those occasions. Today he was all business.

"You're here about the dancer," he said without preamble. "She checked into our establishment yesterday."

Felicity nodded. "Yes."

He gave her a wry smile. "An arrow in the chest. We don't see that very often. In fact, I'm pretty sure never is the last time I autopsied someone killed with an arrow."

"So the arrow is the cause of death, then?"

He raised an eyebrow. "You had some doubt?"

"I suppose not. I was just wondering if anything showed up in her tox screen."

"Ah. I'm afraid I don't have the results for you on that yet. I sent the blood sample to the lab late yesterday. I doubt I'll get the results until tomorrow or even the day after. As for the vial you collected, one of our techs ran it through the spectrometer here on site."

"And?"

He sighed. "It's an illegal. Zoomer."

So, not vitamins after all. The woman who had convinced everyone she didn't pollute her body had a vial of drugs in her bathroom.

"I don't think I've heard of Zoomer," Felicity said.

The doctor shrugged. "It's one of the newer amphetamines to hit the streets. It would give your vic plenty of energy, particularly physical energy. She'd be able to run all day, so to speak, without getting tired."

"Or dance."

He nodded. "Or dance. Although," Lockhart paused, "I don't think it would do much for her fine motor skills. Zoomer is popular with people who have to work long hours and aren't concerned about finesse; warehouse workers, bouncers, that kind of thing. I think it would have had a detrimental effect on her balance and ability to spin. She could have chosen better if she wanted it for dancing." When Felicity said nothing, he added, "You'll want to know if we find traces of Zoomer in her system."

"Yes." She bit her lip as she considered the implications. "Would Zoomer impair her judgment?"

"Define impair."

Felicity's eye caught sight of a piece of grey, gelatinous gook on the ME's coat that was mostly likely brains...or maybe fatty tissue. She quickly looked away. "The vic went to the Glades at midnight, wearing a fancy evening dress and diamonds. Even someone with no street savvy would know that's a bad idea."

Lockhart shook his head. "I'm not sure you can blame Zoomer for your vic behaving stupidly. Zoomer's not like some of the other uppers out there - it doesn't give the user illusions of invincibility. It just keeps them awake and makes them peppy." He returned her frustrated expression with a kindly look. "I'm sorry. I'm not helping you, am I?"

Felicity blew out her breath. "She was a successful ballerina. Not popular, mind you, but respected and financially well-off. Her lifestyle was about as far from the Glades as you can get. So, what the hell was she doing there at midnight? Even if she was using drugs, there are safer ways to connect with a dealer."

"Maybe we'll find something else in her tox screen that explains her behavior. The lab is busy, but I'll put a rush on it."

"Thanks. Nothing else unusual in the autopsy?"

"No. A fair amount of wear and tear on her ligaments and some incipient arthritis, particularly her knees. Normally I'd say that's unusual in someone her age, but given all those years of ballet dancing, it's to be expected. I can show you her cartilage, if you'd like."

Felicity imagined Lockhart pointing out the inner workings of a knee joint and felt a cold sweat begin to break out on her forehead. "No, that's okay," she mumbled.

He smiled. "You'll get there, don't worry. It takes most detectives a little time to be able to study a body."

Felicity wasn't sure there was enough time in the world for her. But she nodded. "Well - thanks again for the help. You'll call me when you have the tox results?"

"Yes, of course."

Felicity headed for the door, but stopped when she reached it. She turned and looked at Lockhart.

"You're a Star City native, aren't you, Doctor?"

He grinned. "Born and raised. In fact, like you, I'm a Glades kid. Unlike you, though, I had the sense to get out when I had the chance."

She didn't bother to defend her home. "Did your family ever tell you stories about the Star City Archer?"

He straightened. "What on earth made you think of that?"

"One of the uniforms at the crime scene mentioned it. And, of course, the arrow…" her voice trailed off.

Lockhart shook his head. "The Star City Archer was more than sixty years ago. There's no way he could be involved in her death - he'd be an elderly man by now."

"But he was real?"

Lockhart shrugged. "It's before my time, but I remember my parents talking about criminals showing up dead in Star City, killed by an arrow. According to them, someone was patrolling the city with a bow. When the gangs ended, the Archer disappeared and was never seen again." He peered at her. "You think he's relevant to your case?"

"I think someone could be using the arrow now as a symbol or a reminder."

"Meaning Isabel Rochev was a criminal?" He blew out his breath. "It's a stretch to take a vial of Zoomer and turn her into a villain. If she was an addict, then in my book she's even more of a victim."

"I know. But someone else might not see it that way."


Felicity put the car into automatic driving mode for the trip back to HQ and pulled her tablet out to check the news. Isabel's death was the top story on multiple publications. Most of the headlines noted that the dancer had been found dead in the Glades, followed by a few paragraphs about her accomplishments and photos of her with the ballet or stepping out at a Star City function. One headline, however, made Felicity sit up in her seat.

Does Rochev's Death Signal the Return of the Star City Archer?

Felicity clenched her jaw. "Oh shit," she said. Then she read:

The Star City Archer first made his appearance close to seventy years ago when he launched his crusade to clean up our city. While his methods were unconventional and - strictly speaking - illegal, no one who is familiar with his story can say that the Archer didn't have a positive impact on crime reduction. With unerring accuracy, he located felons and eliminated them when the SCPD was unable or unwilling to do so. By his actions, The Archer brought security and relief to our city at a time when we desperately needed it.

Which begs the question why Isabel Rochev, a renowned ballet dancer, was found dead in the Glades with an arrow in her heart, the same method used by the Archer to deal with criminals. Rochev was involved in several philanthropic causes and only earlier that evening had attended a fundraiser for the Star City Arts Council. Yet someone believed she was engaged in criminal activity, and believed it strongly enough to emulate the Archer and end Rochev's life.

The remainder of the article was written in a similar vein. It was published in the Commentary section of the Star Post-Gazette without a byline. Not once did it suggest that the killer, by copying the Archer, might be unstable or deranged. Instead, it consistently implied that Isabel must have committed some crime. The insinuations were carefully worded (no doubt designed to avoid litigation) but the inference was clear.

Felicity pondered how the press could have come to learn of the arrow. She'd been scrupulously careful not to mention it in any of her witness interviews and she knew Lockhart wouldn't have breathed a word. Of course, there had been an army of uniforms at the crime scene and there had been the dog-walker who'd found the body. But the walker had been warned not to speak to the press and the SCPD officers sure as hell knew better. That didn't mean they had all complied, though.

"Shit," she said again. She'd figured the mode of death would become a story at some point, but not after twenty-four hours. She hoped to God Anatoly Knyazev didn't read the Post-Gazette. It was a hard way to learn how his niece had died.

Felicity scanned the article a second time and noted that the vial of drugs found in Isabel's apartment was not mentioned. At least that detail hadn't been leaked. And her own name as lead investigator was blessedly absent. She wouldn't have to deal with calls from reporters. Still, Diggle wasn't going to be happy.

As if on cue, her phone beeped. She answered and the commander's face appeared on the screen.

"Good morning, Smoak." His voice was clipped.

"Sir."

"Did you read the Post-Gazette this morning? I'm specifically thinking of the Commentary section."

Felicity sighed. Of course, Diggle had seen the article. The man missed nothing. "Yes, sir."

"I assume you haven't been talking to the press?"

"No, sir."

"I didn't think so. Any ideas on the source of the leak?"

"No."

That wasn't entirely true. She had ideas. She didn't have evidence.

Diggle narrowed his eyes. "You sure about that? In my experience, there's always something going on in that head of yours."

Felicity opened her mouth and closed it. Diplomacy wasn't her strong suit and she wanted to give a diplomatic answer now. "I doubt it was the ME's office," she said carefully. "Lockhart's a pro and he's trained everyone there to keep their mouths shut."

"I agree. Which means you think it was someone else in the department - probably someone at the crime scene."

"Or the killer himself." She said it a little desperately in an effort to turn the conversation. She didn't want to speculate who on the force might be leaking to the press.

And to her surprise, the diversion worked. Diggle frowned. "You think the killer fed the press details of his own crime? Why the hell would he do that?"

Felicity bit her lip. "Think about it, sir. If the arrow is a symbol...if the killer is trying to make a point...then wouldn't he want that point to be publicized? If he's saying what the column in the Post-Gazette is insinuating - that Isabel was some kind of criminal - wouldn't he want to make certain the world hears about it?"

Diggle gazed at her thoughtfully. "Maybe. It's a stretch though, Smoak. How would the killer notify the press? Pick up his phone and call in the story to the Post-Gazette?"

She smiled. "It's easy, even for someone with minimal cyber skills. Do it from a public computer. Send an email from a temporary account." Felicity was beginning to warm up to the idea. "Which means there could be some kind of digital trail. It could be another avenue for finding him."

Diggle shook his head. "Asking the press to let us examine their computing systems? Good luck with that one. You'll get a whole boatload of protecting our sources and not much else."

He was right about that. Felicity sighed, "Yes, sir."

"So, since I've got you on the phone, what else have you learned?"

Oh great. Another impromptu report. Felicity scrambled. "If we're looking at people who didn't like Isabel," she began, "then we've got a long list of suspects. I interviewed her colleagues at the ballet and she was not a popular woman. The word difficult came up frequently, along with some less socially-acceptable terms. I'd be hard-pressed, though, to point to one person with a very specific motive."

"Sometimes dislike is motive enough on its own."

"True." She paused. "No one can imagine Isabel using drugs, yet the liquid I found in her home was confirmed as an amphetamine called Zoomer. We don't have the tox results yet, but I'm guessing that's what we'll find in her blood. So the drug deal gone sour is still very much in play. Oh...and I've got an interview with Oliver Queen this afternoon."

Diggle's brow lifted. "He agreed to meet with you?"

"Yes. At his home."

"Really? Well, good for you, Smoak. I figured you'd be chasing him for days. Of course, he'll probably have an army of lawyers with him."

She nodded. "Probably." Her car was pulling into the parking garage at HQ. Felicity began collecting her things.

Diggle cleared his throat. "Have you had a chance to research Queen at all?"

Research? Fear stiffened Felicity's spine as she wondered if Diggle knew about her hacking. Keep calm, she told herself. There's no way he could know.

"I, um, did the basic searches," she replied. "I found pretty much what you told me, with some more details. I also ran our crime analysis program. Queen rates a 77 percent for Isabel's murder."

"Not very helpful." Diggle's voice was curt.

"No."

"So, you're going to have to keep using your brains and instincts. Is that it, Smoak?"

"Yes." Summed up in this phone call, her list of accomplishments felt depressingly short.

But Diggle seemed satisfied. "Then keep at it. I'll call you again when I want another update."

He hadn't said a word about reassigning the case. Felicity was tempted to fist-pump, but refrained.

"Yes, sir," she said.


Diggle wasn't surprised when his phone rang shortly after he'd hung up on Smoak. If he had seen the article in the Post-Gazette, there was a good chance that the chief had seen it too.

He stared regretfully at the cup of coffee he'd just poured. Then he answered, "Diggle."

"John." Chief Lance's voice was as dry as a saltine. "It seems you left a few things out of our conversation yesterday."

"I'm sorry?" Diggle said, even though he had a pretty good idea where the chief was going.

"I'm specifically thinking about the part where Isabel Rochev was killed with an arrow in the heart. You know, the thing where the murderer apparently copied the Star City Archer? The Post-Gazette thought it worth mentioning in their commentary today."

"Quentin-"

"Did your detective not provide that detail in her report? Were you caught by surprise too? Because if she didn't tell you, that would be a major error in judgment."

Diggle exhaled. "No, Smoak told me about it. We even talked about the legend. I didn't mention it to you because it seemed a little...out there."

"'Out there,'" Lance repeated. "Well, I guess I can't argue that someone running around the city with a bow is a little out there. Apparently the media think so too. Before you know it, they'll be asking the police what we're going to do about it."

Diggle closed his eyes. The chief was fond of sarcasm and it was best not to respond in kind, no matter how tempting. "When I spoke with you, I thought there were more believable scenarios to mention. I still do," he explained. "Like the drug deal? The vial Smoak found in the vic's apartment has now been confirmed as a street drug called Zoomer. I figured Occam's razor...or whatever the hell they call it."

"The simplest solution is most likely the right one," Lance said. "You think the woman was killed in the course of a drug deal. Fair enough. You're probably right. But I still don't like getting caught by the media with my shorts down. Fortunately, they haven't called for a comment so I've got time to think about it in case they do. I might not be so lucky the next time."

"Understood."

"Anything else to report?"

"Smoak has Queen lined up for an interview this afternoon," Diggle offered. "He agreed to meet with her at his house, so it sounds like you might be onto something by sending a less seasoned cop to see him. I was surprised she was able to get to him so quickly."

"Don't suck up, John. It doesn't become you."

"Right."

"Anything else?" the chief asked again.

"No," Diggle said slowly. "Nothing else at this time." He felt a pang of conscience when he didn't tell Lance about Anatoly and the Bratva. But he knew the chief would pull Felicity off the case immediately if he learned about that little tidbit. And Diggle wanted her to keep the case. She was doing a good job.

"Then keep me posted," Lance said. "And remember, I don't want to hear anything from the Star Post-Gazette that I haven't already heard from you."

"Yes, sir."

Lance disconnected and Diggle picked up his coffee. It was cold.


Felicity took her usual detour through DED and made a beeline for Rory's cubicle. He was staring intently at lines of symbols on his computer and didn't look up when she approached.

"Hey, Ror. Watcha got?"

He jumped in his seat. "Christ, Smoak. We're gonna have to put bells on you so you can't sneak up like that."

Felicity grinned and studied the monitor, ignoring his comment. "It looks like a home-grown encryption algorithm."

"No shit, Sherlock." His focus returned to the screen.

"It's a pretty simple one. I'm thinking there's a key that relates each letter of the alphabet to a single number/symbol combination. The key looks static, so there's only twenty-six possibilities. An automated program should figure it out quickly."

He rolled his eyes but didn't look up at her. "Believe it or not, I figured that out on my own. I do have some cyber skills. Now, are you going to tell me why you're here, or are you going to keep trying to do my job for me?"

"You know why I'm here."

He gave an exaggerated sigh, pushed his chair back from the desk, and spun in it to face her. He thought she looked particularly good this morning. She was wearing a royal blue jacket with black slacks. Blue was a good color on her. It brought out her eyes.

"Fine, Smoak. I looked at your vic's computer. Happy?"

"Very. And?"

"And it was pretty straightforward. Commercial disk encryption package - I cracked her password in twenty minutes."

"Kudos to you. And?"

"And I learned that Ms. Rochev was a fitness fanatic. She kept daily logs of what she ate, how long she trained, and what she did for training. Kind of compulsive, in my opinion. She tracked her weight to the friggin' ounce, along with calories eaten and calories burned - every damn day."

"Did she mention anything about supplements?"

He frowned. "Supplements - as in nutritional supplements?"

"Or pharmaceutical."

"No."

Shit. That would have been too easy. Felicity exhaled. "Anything in particular stand out to you?"

His grin faded. "Not really. Only that she was a perfectionist. She never missed a day with the logs - not weekends or holidays. And she trained pretty intensely, usually on her own. She also critiqued all of her performances. She could be pretty hard on herself."

"What about her dance partner?"

Rory grinned. "She could be hard on him too."

"Did you look at her finances?"

He sniffed. "I didn't pull in a forensic accountant, if that's what you're asking. Her finances seem pretty straightforward. She basically had three sources of income; the ballet, endorsements, and a monthly check from Anatoly Knyazev. Anatoly was by far the biggest contributor. I doubt she could have afforded that fancy apartment without him."

So Isabel's uncle was supporting her lifestyle. Apparently he wasn't so insulted by Isabel changing her surname that he wouldn't give her money.

Felicity leaned against the cubicle wall. "Did you get a chance to look at her email?"

He nodded. "I skimmed it. She had separate accounts for personal and professional. I think the droid probably handled a lot of her professional correspondence. You know, invitations, meetings with her charities, press requests, stuff like that. The responses seem very standard."

"And the personal?"

"There wasn't a ton of it. It's a little sad, in a way. I don't think she had a lot of friends."

"Anything from Oliver Queen?"

He looked up quickly. "Queen? Don't tell me you're one of those infatuated women too, Smoak. I didn't think you followed the gossip blogs."

"He was Isabel's date on the night she died, Ror. He's a person of interest."

"Oh." Rory settled back in his chair. "Oh, I see. There was some correspondence, but I think most of it from Queen was on her business account. They worked together for the Star City Arts Council. Although…" He turned back to his computer, tapped on the keys and studied his monitor. "There's a few emails to him from her personal account. Requests to meet for dinner, stuff like that. I don't think he replied to everything she sent."

Felicity nodded. That was consistent with what she'd found when she'd hacked Queen's email. She'd been surprised by how little the man had corresponded with Isabel. If he'd had something to say to her, he hadn't done it over the internet.

"Did you find any threats?" she asked.

Rory shrugged. "She didn't receive any - not from Queen or from anyone. She made a couple - sort of. Mostly to the artistic director of the ballet."

"Max Fuller?"

"Yeah. She told him a few times that he needed to get rid of specific dancers that weren't performing up to her standard. She warned him she'd dance elsewhere if he didn't. And once or twice she threatened she'd have his job."

Felicity almost smiled. She'd be willing to bet that Fuller didn't give a damn. "What about her uncle Anatoly? He was sending her that monthly check. Did she correspond with him?"

Rory shrugged again. "Some. I wouldn't call it the warmest relationship in the world. They exchanged news, but not feelings. You know - 'I did this or that' - but not a lot of 'I miss you' or 'I love you.' But maybe she saved that for her calls."

"Maybe." Felicity was skeptical. Then she thought about Rory's words and gave him a disappointed frown. "Should I take that to mean that you haven't looked at her phone?"

"Not yet, no."

Before she could say anything, he rose from his chair and stepped toward her. "Don't look at me like that, Smoak. I bumped her computer to the front of the line, didn't I?" He put his hands on her shoulders and gave them a light squeeze. "Her phone is going to take more work. She was careful about deleting her logs and I'm going to have to recover them. I should have something later today or first thing tomorrow. I promise."

He gave her a winning smile and it was hard not to smile back. "Okay," Felicity agreed. "Tomorrow at the latest."


As Felicity approached her cubicle in the detective's bullpen, she saw a woman standing there. It was unusual for a civilian to get past SCPD reception to the working areas of the department, especially without an escort. Somehow this woman had navigated a maze of desks to find Felicity's work area. Tall and slender, she was unabashedly examining the contents on the desktop.

"Can I help you?" Felicity asked sharply.

The woman turned. She didn't look the least bit embarrassed to have been caught snooping. "Detective Smoak?"

Felicity nodded. "And you're McKenna Hall." She recognized her from some of Oliver Queen's photos.

"I am. Good for you. I guess that's why you're a detective." The words were said with humor and not sarcasm.

Felicity shrugged. "It explains why they let you come back here. Former cop."

"Yes. I've still got a few friends in the department."

McKenna Hall was a more mature, less delicate version of her younger sister. Like Christina, she wore her dark hair long and parted in the middle. Unlike her sister, there was nothing girlish about her. She appeared very professional, dressed in a navy pantsuit with a crisp white jersey under the jacket. The clothes were expensive and perfectly tailored. Private security must pay well, Felicity thought.

"Can I help you?" she repeated.

"I understand you interviewed my sister about Isabel Rochev," McKenna said. There was an edge to her voice now; subtle, but definitely present.

"I interviewed a number of Isabel's colleagues at the ballet," Felicity replied neutrally. "Christina was one of them."

"You interviewed her without an attorney. She said you didn't even read her her rights."

So, McKenna was here to be the protective sister.

"Do you think she needed an attorney?" Felicity asked. "I was there to get background on Isabel. In homicide, it's standard procedure to learn as much as you can about your victim, and that includes interviewing friends and co-workers. I know you've been out of the department for a few years, but surely you remember that."

A little of the stiffness went out of McKenna's shoulders, but her spine remained perfectly straight. "Yes, I remember. It's just...I think Christina may have given you the wrong impression when you spoke with her. My sister can be cavalier at times. From what she's told me, she may have treated Isabel's murder a little...irreverently. She may have even suggested she might benefit from it. I want to make it clear that she had nothing to do with it."

"She was a little irreverent," Felicity agreed, using McKenna's word. "But then she's young."

"So are you."

Felicity raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"

"I asked around about you, Detective. When Christina told me who had interviewed her, I made a couple of calls. You're a rising star - John Diggle's protege. This is a high-profile case and you have a lot to gain by closing it quickly. There are some who are surprised it hasn't already been reassigned to a detective with more experience."

Felicity felt her cheeks grow warm, but decided she was going to do her best to hold her temper. She suspected the detectives in nearby cubicles were listening. "I see," she said evenly. "Well, I won't gain a thing if I don't find the person who really killed her. So you can relax. I'm not going to pin it on your sister simply because she said something immature in an interview."

McKenna stared at her. After a moment, she nodded. "Okay, then." Her voice was a little softer. "I see we're on the same page. It's nothing personal, believe me. I just need to look out for my sister. You know how that is."

Not really, Felicity thought. I don't have a sister.

"I also hear you're checking into Oliver Queen," McKenna continued.

Oh for Chrissake, can't anyone in the department keep their mouth shut? Not bothering to hide her irritation, Felicity said, "You must find private security boring if you're this interested in my case, Ms. Hall. Are you sure you don't want to come back to the SCPD? We've got openings in Homicide."

McKenna didn't exactly blush, but her olive complexion turned a faint shade darker. "Fine," she said shortly. "I was going to tell you that you're wasting your time pursuing Oliver, too, but - hell - it's your time to waste. While you're at it, you should probably look for the Star City Archer. He's just as likely to have done it."

Felicity didn't reply. She just stared at McKenna and waited.

"Look," McKenna said, "I hope you find who killed Isabel - I really do. She might not have been the nicest person, but no one deserves to die like that. I just wanted to let you know that my sister had nothing to do with it."

And she turned and left.

Chapter Text

The Queen mansion was built to intimidate visitors. Felicity felt certain of that as she steered her car past a tall wrought-iron gate and up a long, twisting driveway toward the huge edifice. The size of half a city block, the house was made of stone with a high central tower, so that she was reminded of an ancient castle, or more accurately, a fortress. It had begun raining that afternoon, and the drizzle had darkened the stone to a foreboding grey. It was a place designed to keep people out, she thought, not welcome them in. Like Diggle, she'd been surprised when Queen had offered up his home for the interview, but now she wondered if he had done so precisely because of its imposing manner. Maybe he felt it gave him an advantage.

She parked her basic, department-issued sedan in front of a set of stone steps and sat for a moment, studying the main entrance. Queen hadn't been subtle about his security. There were cameras positioned to capture the heavy wooden doors from a variety of angles and motion sensors visible in the surrounding windows. She got out of the car and climbed the steps, looking at the cameras closely. They were decoys, she realized, designed to fool potential intruders. Take out the cameras and believe that you can't be identified. The real monitors were tiny pinprick holes in the wooden door frame, no doubt the latest technology from Queen Consolidated. She wasn't sure whether that made Queen paranoid or smart.

She rang the bell and waited a long couple of minutes until the door was opened by a man in jeans and a sweater. She recognized him from his photo - the slim build and bright blue eyes that contrasted with his dark hair. Merlyn, she thought, surprised Queen didn't have a droid performing such a menial task. As the CEO of a tech conglomerate, she'd figured he'd have a lot of droids.

She recalled her research on Queen's childhood pal and current property manager:

Thomas Merlyn, thirty-one years old, five foot ten inches tall, 165 pounds. Father: Malcolm Merlyn. Mother: Rebecca Merlyn, deceased. Attended Woodside Secondary School. Attended Star City College, dropping out in his junior year. Lost in a plane crash, along with Oliver Queen, and presumed dead in 2053. Returned to Star City in 2055. Currently employed by Queen Consolidated, residing in Oliver's Queen's Star City mansion as property manager and assistant to Queen.

In the photo, Merlyn had been smiling warmly, with a hint of mischief in that smile. There was no warmth in those blue eyes now as he examined at her. His gaze traveled from her scuffed boots, up her black slacks and eventually to her face, and he made it clear that he was not impressed. It was similar to the way Max Fuller had scrutinized her, but with less good humor.

She studied him as he studied her, and waited.

"Yes?" Merlyn said, eventually.

She held out her badge. "Detective Smoak, SCPD. I'm here to speak with Oliver Queen. He's expecting me."

He leaned forward and examined her badge, taking his time. She could feel the prickles of irritation as he noted her ID number with exaggerated thoroughness before stepping back and allowing her to enter.

"Wait here," he said, gesturing at the foyer. He made no effort to sound polite. "I'll see if Mr. Queen is available."

Felicity bit back the retort that Queen had better be available, considering he was the one who'd made the appointment. Merlyn was clearly trying to get under her skin and she didn't want to give him the satisfaction. She turned to study the foyer with the same deliberate slowness that he had used to study her badge. It reminded her of a museum. The floor was marble, the walls were plaster, and they held several paintings encased in heavy wooden frames. She narrowed her eyes as she noted one of them. Art history wasn't her strong suit, but she thought it might be by one of the Dutch Masters. She walked up to it to see if she could make out a signature.

Which is probably why she didn't see him when he reached for her.


Oliver had just taken a sip of wine when he heard the crash, followed by cursing. He was in a small sitting room a short distance from the foyer, the location he had chosen for his interview with Detective Smoak. The selection had been strategic. The room was near the front door, which meant she wouldn't get the chance to see much of the house on her way to meet with him. And it was impersonal, even a bit uncomfortable, a room he seldom occupied for his own use. He figured it would keep her off balance.

It also meant he didn't have far to go to find out what had happened.

He strode the short distance down the hall and pushed open the double doors to the foyer. Tommy was lying on his back with a small, blond woman standing over him. The woman's hair was up in a ponytail and she was wearing glasses, but he recognized her immediately from Curtis's photo as Felicity Smoak. She was pointing a stunner at Tommy's scowling face and Oliver thought he caught a brief, satisfied grin from the detective before she returned the scowl.

A quick assessment told him that neither party was injured. One of the wooden tables, on the other hand, had been upended and the remains of a vase were scattered on the floor. He was fairly certain the vase was a Royal Doulton antique, circa 1890. Not exactly Ming dynasty, but not department store either. It had been one of his mother's favorites, although Oliver had always thought it too ornate.

He returned his gaze to Tommy. Neither he nor Detective Smoak had moved.

Oliver cleared his throat. "Is there a problem?"

"Yeah, there's a problem," Tommy snapped. "She took me down! The bitch took me down."

Felicity Smoak kept her stunner trained on Tommy. "You were trying to take my weapon," she said. "I turned to look at a painting and you went for my weapon." If she was bothered by the word bitch, she didn't show it.

"I was trying to take your jacket," Tommy corrected, his voice growing louder. "It's what people do in polite society. We take your jacket and hang it up when you come to visit. Christ, where did you grow up? In a barn?"

She flushed, and for the first time appeared discomfited. "You grabbed my weapon harness."

"By mistake…it was a fucking mistake. Jesus - I was going for the collar of your jacket."

"Without giving me any warning. I turned to look at the painting and the next thing I knew your hands were on my shoulders."

There were a few beats of silence. Oliver waited.

"Yeah, fine," Tommy said in a lower voice. "I admit that my hands were on your shoulders. I didn't warn you that I was going to do the polite thing and take your jacket. Believe me, I'll never make that mistake again. Now will you stop pointing that thing at me and let me up?"

The detective gave Tommy a long, considering look. For a second, Oliver was tempted to laugh.

"Okay," she agreed, and stepped away from him.

Tommy scrambled to his feet.

Detective Smoak took a few seconds to study the mess on the floor and then turned to Oliver. "You must be Mr. Queen. Sorry about the vase. I hope it wasn't expensive."

Her expression said that she really wasn't particularly sorry. Oliver knew he should have been annoyed, but for some reason he continued to feel a laugh burbling inside of him. He pressed his lips together to stop it from escaping.

"Don't worry about the vase," he replied truthfully. "I never much liked the thing anyway. Now, why don't you come back with me so we can talk? I'm going to suggest you take your jacket off yourself and hand it to Tommy, or better yet, just leave it on. I don't care about the vase, but that table over there," he gestured to another piece against the wall, "is Queen Anne style from Boston, around 1750. It would be difficult to replace."

She glanced at the table then back at him, and nodded.


Felicity Smoak followed Oliver to the sitting room, looking even younger in person than she had in her photo. It was the ponytail, he decided. It was a practical, unsophisticated style, and he thought it suited her. She was pretty enough that she could expose her face without a lot of fussy curls or layers.

The picture Oliver had seen had been a headshot, so it hadn't revealed her height – or lack of it. He was surprised to find that the top of her head didn't quite reach his shoulders. He had expected a former beat cop, even a female, to be tall and a little burly. She was neither. Still, he thought, she managed to drop Tommy. And she had looked comfortable holding that stunner. He was willing to bet she'd fired it a few times in the course of her duties. He recalled that she had a degree from MIT and wondered once again why she'd chosen a profession that required a weapon when she could be in front of a computer earning far more money. Maybe in the course of the interview he would get the chance to find out.

Business first, though. She was here because she was investigating a murder and he'd been out with the victim the night she died. That made him a person of interest and more likely a suspect, especially given the way the SCPD regarded him. He lowered himself into an overstuffed armchair and gestured for Felicity Smoak to do the same. Then, before she could say a word, he went straight to the point.

"So, Detective, I assume you're here to talk about Isabel Rochev? I believe I was one of the last people to see her alive."

Her eyebrows lifted and he allowed himself a brief moment of satisfaction. Disarming his opponents with candor was a tactic he used frequently in business. Being direct upset their rhythm and gave him control of the conversation. He liked having control.

Felicity Smoak adjusted her glasses – another surprise for Oliver – and nodded. "Yes," she agreed mildly. "I'm here to ask you about Ms. Rochev." She pulled a device out of her pocket. "I'm going to record this conversation, Mr. Queen. I assume that I have your agreement to do so?"

Agreement, he thought, not permission. There was a subtle difference and he didn't think she had chosen the word by accident. It dawned on him that she might have her own ways of maintaining control.

Aloud, he asked, "Does this mean I'm a suspect?"

"At the moment, you're a witness."

And a pretty damn attractive one, Felicity admitted to herself. The photos of Queen that she'd compared to Fuller's didn't tell the full story. They'd captured the hard, square jaw and the slate blue eyes, but hadn't done justice to the quick intelligence behind those eyes. Not to mention that body. Queen was wearing black dress slacks and a blue cashmere sweater. The combination did an amazing job of showing off his broad shoulders, trim waist and generous biceps. It was easy to understand why he never lacked for female companionship.

She was surprised that he didn't have an army of lawyers with him, the way Diggle and she had predicted. Either he had nothing to hide, or he was confident that he could handle the situation on his own - could handle her, she supposed. Felicity was beginning to suspect it was the latter and found herself irked that the interview didn't give him at least a few nerves. She was a cop, after all.

She pushed the button on her recorder. "Smoak, Detective Felicity," she said, "interviewing Oliver Queen." She noted the time, then continued, "I understand you were Ms. Rochev's date on the night she was killed, Mr. Queen, and - as you pointed out - one of the last people to see her alive. I was hoping you could talk me through the evening's events."

When Tommy had referred to Isabel as his date, Oliver had been amused. But for some reason now, he didn't like hearing Felicity Smoak use the same words. It made it sound as if Isabel meant more to him than she really had.

"Her date," he repeated flatly. "If that's what you want to call it."

"What would you call your evening with Ms. Rochev, Mr. Queen, if not a date?"

He liked her voice, he decided. It was low-pitched and clear; intelligent and a little sexy. She might look like a girl, but she definitely had a woman's voice. And that mouth - those full lips he had stared at yesterday in her photo. That was definitely a woman's mouth.

He picked up the glass of wine he'd been drinking before he'd rushed from the room. "I'd call it more of a business dinner," he replied. "Isabel is…was…one of the spokespersons for the Star City Arts Council. I'm the Council's chair and one of its larger benefactors. It was the biggest fundraiser of the year and it made sense for us to go together."

"Are you the only benefactor?"

"No, of course not."

"Then why you specifically? Why didn't she go with a different rich guy?"

He smiled at her use of rich guy and sipped from his glass. "I believe the next largest benefactor, Sterling Maxwell, is a hundred years old, more or less. Isabel likes to attend functions with someone who can stroll the room and show her off. I'm not sure Sterling can do much strolling these days." He paused to glance at his glass. "Where are my manners? Would you like some wine, Detective?"

"Not while I'm working."

"How about when you're not working? Do you like wine then?" It was a flirty line and it popped out before he knew it, surprising him almost as much as it did her. He watched the flush spread across her cheeks and wondered what on earth had possessed him. It wasn't like him to be careless in conversation, especially with a cop.

She lowered her gaze to her recorder and the flush lingered. He wondered about that too. She really was a pretty woman. Not his type, he reminded himself, but pretty nonetheless. She should be accustomed to men coming on to her.

"Detective?"

The corners of her mouth curved up reluctantly, revealing a pair of dimples. "Yes," she said simply. "I like wine when I'm not working." Then she frowned and the dimples disappeared. "Was this your first not-date with Ms. Rochev, or have the two of you not-dated on other occasions?"

Her choice of words amused him. "I met Isabel when she came to Star City six years ago and I've seen her off and on for much of that time," he explained. "We worked together planning last night's gala for a couple of months. As I told you, it's an important event. But I'm guessing you're more interested in the fact that we used to sleep together, although that hasn't happened in a couple of years." May as well volunteer the information, he decided. It was, after all, general knowledge.

"Used to. You broke up?"

"We were never a couple," he corrected, "We were two consenting adults who got together from time to time to take care of normal, adult needs. I think they refer to it as casual sex. There was no commitment on either of our parts." He said it matter-of-factly, then pointed to a plate of appetizers sitting on the coffee table. "How about something to eat, Detective, even if you can't drink on duty? It's after three and I'm guessing you haven't had lunch. You look hungry."

He expected her to decline the offer of food as she had the wine, but she studied the plate thoughtfully.

"Thanks." She picked up a flatbread loaded with pate, bit into it, and chewed. Her full lips looked soft as her mouth moved and he found himself staring at them again. A mouth made for kissing, he recalled.

She swallowed and asked, "Is that how Isabel saw your relationship too? As casual sex?"

He moved his gaze from her lips back to her eyes. "I have no reason to think otherwise."

She lifted an eyebrow. "No?"

"No."

She seemed to doubt him. He wondered if that was because she believed sex was always connected to love - a view he had abandoned years ago. She studied him for a moment, then turned her attention to the remainder of the flatbread in her hand.

And frowned.

"Is there something wrong with the pate, Detective?"

She waved the flatbread. "Is that what this is? Pate?"

"Yes. It's foie gras, actually."

She shrugged. "I'm sure it's very good foie gras." She said the words carefully. "It's just that I'm more of a crackers and cheese girl myself." She grinned suddenly, bringing back the dimples, then placed the half-eaten flatbread carefully on the edge of the plate.

He stared once more at her mouth, fascinated by the dimples. He found himself wanting to run his index finger across them - across the smooth creaminess of her skin. And those lips. He was beginning to wonder what it would be like to seize them between his own. Would she moan, in that attractive, low voice?

He straightened in his chair and told himself to concentrate. This was an interview with a cop, dammit. He needed to get through it as quickly as possible, not fixate on kissing her like an adolescent schoolboy.

"Getting back to Ms. Rochev," the detective continued, her grin fading, "you're quite certain she didn't believe there was more going on between the two of you than casual sex?"

To his relief, the question broke his trance and he felt his first sting of annoyance. Hadn't he already made it clear that he didn't have a romantic relationship with Isabel? "Yes, I'm quite certain, Detective. Is there a reason you think I shouldn't be?"

"She has a household droid, Mr. Queen, that looks remarkably like you. Tall, broad shoulders, blue eyes, light brown hair. I'm sure it's custom-built, and I wonder why she went to the trouble of keeping a replica of you in her home if she had no interest in you other than casual sex."

He shrugged. "Well, it was very good casual sex." But he hadn't known about the droid and his bravado rang false.

She heard it. "You haven't seen the droid?"

"No."

"It's fairly lifelike - it even fooled me for a few seconds. And it told me it could service Ms. Rochev's sexual needs. I'm guessing it cost her two or three hundred thousand. That's one hell of an expensive vibrator."

Cop or no, there was something about her that seemed too innocent for the word, vibrator. He shook his head. "The truth is, Detective, I haven't been to Isabel's apartment since we stopped sleeping together a couple of years ago. I didn't pick her up at her place the other night; we met at the fundraiser. So, no, I've never seen the droid. I suppose I should be flattered."

He didn't seem flattered though, he seemed embarrassed, which Felicity considered a point in his favor. It made him more human. And his information about meeting Isabel at the fundraiser was consistent with what the droid had told her. For reasons she didn't understand, she found herself pleased that there was less of a relationship between Isabel and Queen than the gossip blogs suggested. It showed judgment on Queen's part, that he wasn't taken in by a beautiful woman who was also, by all accounts, a nasty person. Felicity didn't always have the highest opinion of men. In her limited experience, the attractive ones were dim and the smart ones tended to be mediocre in bed. She'd bet Queen could remain interesting on both fronts.

And he was also, she reminded herself, an astute businessman, a survivor and, according to Diggle, an accomplished liar. She needed to stop thinking about those blue eyes and remember that he was a suspect. And she needed to push him harder in the interview.

"Did you like her?" she asked abruptly.

His brow furrowed. "What?"

"Did you like Isabel, as a person? I have to say, you don't seem particularly broken up about her death."

It was the same thing she had said to Fuller, and Fuller had given her a sardonic reply. Queen, in comparison, didn't respond with a flash of sarcasm or defensiveness. He sat back and clasped his hands in his lap, glancing down at them before lifting his gaze to meet hers. "I think it would be more accurate to say that I respected Isabel, especially when we first met. It takes courage, Detective, to leave your home and live in a foreign country. And it takes discipline to be a ballet dancer. Strict diet. Strict exercise routine. I admire courage and discipline."

"But you don't necessarily like them."

"Isabel had other, less admirable qualities. She was arrogant, selfish and insensitive. She'd do anything to be successful and didn't care who she trampled on. I didn't see it in the beginning so it didn't bother me. She was a beautiful woman, an enthusiastic sex partner, and I saw her simply as ambitious. But her attitude got worse over time, bad enough to make me want to stop sleeping with her, even casually. No matter how good the sex, it wasn't worth it."

When Felicity raised an eyebrow, he shrugged. "Just being truthful, Detective."

"And were you this truthful with Isabel? Did you tell her what told me?"

He snorted, "Hell, no. I avoided being alone with her, even when we were working together on the fundraiser. You know, didn't answer my phone, stayed away from places I know she likes, didn't go to her home, and didn't meet with her if she came to my office. The usual guy stuff."

Felicity laughed, in spite of herself. It was refreshing to hear a man admit to the strategies his gender employed to dodge a woman.

"It wasn't hard," Queen continued, perhaps encouraged by her laugh. "I have a lot of assistants and an infrastructure set up to avoid people I don't want to see."

"Tell me about it."

He seemed to realize what he'd said because he gave her a wry smile. "Yeah, I guess you discovered that for yourself. Sheila guards my privacy fiercely. Sorry."

She shrugged. "Well, I'm here now. And I'll get back to the interview so that I can finish and get out of your hair."

He nodded, although he found he wasn't as anxious to have her out of his hair as he'd been a few hours ago. Given her rapid rise in the department he'd expected a cynical, driven cop, and instead he'd found - what? An attractive young woman who seemed interested in the truth?

Be careful, Oliver.

Felicity Smoak shifted in her chair. "Isabel - she never asked you about this estrangement? She wasn't angry or resentful?"

"Estrangement is a strong word, Detective. We were never a couple, remember? And she wasn't angry, not as far as I could tell."

"Are you sure about that? I watched the security footage from the fundraiser," she told him, "and I saw enough to get the impression that you and Isabel an argument that night. She threw a drink in your face."

He looked as though he were preparing for a glib reply, but then sighed, "Yeah, she did do that."

"Why?"

There was a pause as he studied his wine glass. "I made a crack about her age," he said quietly.

Felicity frowned. "Her age? She's what? Thirty-three, thirty-four?"

He shrugged. "Thirty-four, soon to be thirty-five. Young in most professions, Detective, but not in ballet. Isabel told me she started dancing when she was six. She went full-time with the Bolshoi when she was eighteen, which means she's been dancing professionally for sixteen years. That takes a physical toll."

"She looked fit enough to me," Felicity said, thinking of the woman's slender, graceful body. Then she remembered Lockhart's comments about the wear and tear on her ligaments and the logs Rory had found on her computer containing her exhausting training regimen.

"She's had injuries," Queen said, as if he could read her thoughts, "and she's not bouncing back from them as quickly as she used to." He shook his head. "And age happens to be a sensitive subject with her, especially since she's a few years older than I am. I was stupid to bring it up."

Felicity noted that he'd begun speaking of Isabel in the present tense. It happened with people who hadn't accepted that someone they knew was gone. It was a another point in his favor. Still, it didn't signal innocence.

"How exactly did her age come up at the fundraiser?" she asked. "You met her at the hotel ballroom, drank champagne, shook some hands, and somewhere during the evening said, 'Hey Isabel, you look pretty good for an old broad?'"

Queen gave a short, dry laugh, causing his blue eyes to crinkle. "Not exactly. She was complaining to me about the artistic director at the Star City Ballet-"

"Max Fuller?"

"Yeah, Fuller. Have you met him?"

Felicity nodded.

"She said he was pushing her hard about rehearsing more with the corps and was being an ass in general. She kept going on about him – loudly enough for others to hear. It wasn't a great way to win over donors at a fundraiser, disparaging the artistic director of the ballet, but I couldn't get her to change the subject. So I finally said that ballet was a young person's game and she wasn't exactly a kid anymore."

"Ouch."

He had the grace to look embarrassed. "Yeah…not my finest moment. Especially since Fuller really is a first class asshole. She has...had... my sympathy there." He shrugged. "Anyway, that's when she flung her drink in my face and stormed off. It's the last I saw of her. I hung around for another half hour at the fundraiser and then I went home."

"Can anyone vouch for that?"

"If you watched the security footage, then you should know when I left, Detective."

"I saw the footage of you leaving the fundraiser. I didn't see footage from your home. You could have gone anywhere after you left the hotel. You could have gone after Isabel."

He looked at her steadily. "I didn't, believe me. I had an early flight the next morning and an important meeting in New York. I wanted a good night's sleep."

He said believe me as if he expected her to do just that - believe him without any proof. Felicity wondered if that was because he was used to being the boss and giving orders, or if he wasn't taking her seriously as a cop. She decided to test the waters.

"An important meeting," she repeated. "Because acquisition talks can be tricky. Especially for a hot tech company like Galaxy Data."

She'd thrown it out there, wanting a reaction, and she got one. Queen froze. His blue eyes, which had been amused seconds earlier, went cold. "How do you know I'm in acquisition talks with Galaxy? Only my general counsel knows. Even my direct reports aren't aware of it."

I know because your email encryption isn't as good as you think it is. I cracked it last night in about forty-five minutes. Looking at Queen's stony face, Felicity saw that all traces of humor had disappeared. She felt a small shiver run down her spine.

"I asked you a question, Detective." His voice was hard. "How do you know about Galaxy?"

Don't let him rattle you. She shrugged. "I found it somewhere when I was researching you on the internet."

He snorted and his face registered incredulity. "You expect me to believe that? There's no way that information is publicly available. Has the SCPD resorted to tapping my phone? Is that how you found out? You people have been sticking your nose into my business ever since I returned to Star City. You never find anything, but you continue to believe there's something to find. What's your justification now for listening in on my calls?"

Felicity thought about Curtis Holt's attempts to access her personal data and shook her head. "I can assure you, Mr. Queen, that I know of no plan to listen in on your calls. I understand your frustration, but it really is difficult to be secure with information these days. Things just seem to leak. Only yesterday somebody tried to get into my personal data, and I'm a cop. Can you believe that?"

Of course I believe it, Oliver thought. I'm the one who tried to do it.

Then he put the pieces together.

Oh crap, she knows. She knows it was Curtis...which means she knows it was me. She blocked him and hacked me in return. Holy fuck, the woman hacked me. She got past every firewall Curtis put up and looked at my email. There's no other explanation. And since I hacked her first, I haven't got a leg to stand on if I complain to the SCPD.

Thank God I don't use email for anything truly important.

And score one for the innocent-looking detective. She's better than Curtis.

Watching Queen closely, Felicity saw it, just for a second. There was a tiny flicker of acknowledgement on his face that disappeared almost as soon as it had surfaced. He sure as hell knew about Curtis Holt's hacking, she thought. And now he knew that she knew.

Some of his anger seemed to dissipate. "Hard to believe someone would try to hack a cop," he said dryly.

"I know." She crossed her legs. "It's a crazy world."

He stared at her for a moment, frustration and uncertainty on his face. Then he seemed to come to a decision. "Can I ask you to keep the information about Galaxy to yourself, Detective? We're at a delicate point in our negotiations and I don't want their CEO thinking I can't be trusted."

"No problem."

"Thank you." He rested his hands on his thighs and leaned toward her. "So tell me, do your superiors know about your...research methods?"

She wasn't sure whether it was a question or a threat. Do your superiors know? I could tell your boss. "I'm sorry?" she said. Her voice was even, but she could feel warmth in her cheeks and knew that she was blushing.

"Please. We both know you didn't find out about Galaxy on the internet."

Mindful that the conversation was being recorded, Felicity shook her head. "I really don't know what you're talking about." She wished her blush would fade. "You have a very good CTO at Queen Consolidated. Curtis Holt? I'm sure he can explain the finer points of online research to you. I have some familiarity with his work. It's something I haven't shared with my superiors, but I suppose I could." If you report me, Mr. Queen, I can report you...

The corners of his mouth twitched. "Actually, I doubt Curtis's activities would be of much interest to your superiors," he replied, "just as your information search techniques really aren't that important to me. I'm sorry if I took us off the path in this interview."

"No problem," she said again, breathing a little easier.

There were a few beats of silence.

Then he smiled. "I don't suppose the internet had anything else interesting to say about me?"

She shrugged. "You're clearly a man devoted to your work. I wish you the best with the next generation quantum processor. It could take computing to a higher level if you've really solved the decoherence problem."

He raised an eyebrow. "You're full of surprises, Felicity. Did anyone ever tell you that?"

The use of her first name made her shift in her seat. "Not really."

"No. I can see this is making you uncomfortable." He cleared his throat. "Well, getting back to my whereabouts on the night of Isabel's death; I did, as you say, have acquisition talks the next day in New York. Which meant I came home right after the fundraiser and went to bed."

"That makes sense, but I'm still going to need to see proof that you were here."

Oliver picked up a flat bread and bit into it. He chewed and swallowed, taking his time. "Tommy can confirm."

"Mr. Merlyn?" She shook her head. "No, I don't think so. Despite his obvious, deep respect for law enforcement, I think I'd prefer to have the discs from your home security system. They would be more convincing."

Oliver chuckled. "Was that sarcasm, Detective?"

"Maybe, just a little."

"Well, good for you. I like a little sarcasm in a woman."

She narrowed her eyes. "Your security discs, Mr. Queen..."

He took another bite. "Of course, you can have the discs, Detective. Just as soon as you produce a warrant. I assume you don't have one at the moment?"

What was it with Queen and warrants? She gave an exasperated sigh. "No. But given the evidence so far, I'm sure I can get one."

"Well, when you do, I'll give you my security discs. Until then…" He let the sentence trail off.

He wondered why he didn't just give them to her now. They would support his story, after all. But once she'd seen them she would turn her attention elsewhere. And for whatever reason, he wasn't ready for her to go away. It had been a long time since somebody had surprised him - really surprised him. He liked it. It sharpened his senses and kept him on his toes.

"Are you finished grilling me, Detective? If you are, maybe I can talk you into joining me for an early supper. No pate involved, I promise. And if you're off the clock, we can share some wine as well. I've got a great cellar."

She looked up at him, startled. For a second she was tempted to accept, if only to uncover his motive in asking her. Then she recalled the casual way he'd talked about sex earlier and wondered if he would try to get her into bed. As attractive as he was, she had no intention of being a notch on his belt. Not to mention the whole ethical issue of sleeping with a suspect.

"I'm afraid I have other plans for this evening," she replied. "But I only have one more question. Then I can leave you to your supper." She took her time, watching him carefully. "Can you shoot a bow and arrow?"

"What?"

For the second time during the interview, he looked rattled. "What the hell kind of question is that?"

"You didn't hear that detail on the news? My mistake. That's how Isabel was killed. An arrow through the heart. So I'm asking everyone who knew her if they're handy with a bow."

He remained stunned for a moment, but then seemed to gather himself. "It's 2062, Detective. Why would anyone bother with an ancient weapon like a bow?"

And that's not an answer. She frowned. She'd found nothing in Queen's background that suggested he was familiar with archery, either in the public data or when she'd hacked him. There had been no track and field teams in high school or college, and no records of purchases from hunting or sporting goods stores. When she'd asked him if he could shoot, she'd expected him to say no. But he hadn't. He'd asked why.

She shrugged. "Apparently, it was a very effective weapon for the Star City Archer."

His eyes widened. "Seriously? Is that where the department is looking for Isabel's death? I didn't realize the SCPD had an Urban Legends department."

She raised an eyebrow. "Was that sarcasm, Mr. Queen?"

"Maybe, just a little."

She shook her head. "I don't like sarcasm in a man. I find it an unattractive trait."

Oliver was tempted to laugh but stopped himself. "Well, whoever killed Isabel, I hope you find him - or her - quickly. It's unnerving to think someone is running around shooting people with a bow and arrow." He rose to his feet. "And now I believe you said that was your last question?"

She rose too. "Yes. Thank you for your time, Mr. Queen. I'll be back with the warrant. Please don't overwrite the security discs in the meantime. That would not be interpreted as a sign of cooperation."

He smiled. "Of course not, Detective. I make it a point to cooperate with the police. I'm sure Commander Diggle has already told you that."

Her eyes briefly met his, but she didn't ask how he knew about her commander. Instead, she brushed past him on the way to the sitting room door. He was surprised to see that she had an industrial piercing in one ear - a gold bar with a twist in the middle. It seemed a bit rebellious for a cop. But then so did hacking.

"I can show myself out," she said to him. "No need to disturb you or," she paused, and he could swear she was trying not to smirk, "Mr. Merlyn, any further."

Her hand was on the doorknob when he suddenly said, "Why the glasses, Detective? I have to ask. Why not get your vision corrected? Even a police detective can afford the procedure."

She hesitated, her hand still on the knob, and he thought she would brush the question off. She seemed to weigh something in her mind before turning to meet his gaze.

"When I was a kid in school," she began, "I was always the smallest in my class. As you can see," she held out her hands, "I'm not exactly statuesque. And I was two years younger than my classmates, which made it worse. So I got picked on – a lot."

He thought the glasses might have made the teasing worse, but waited for the rest of her story. He was surprised she was answering his question at all.

"When I was eleven," she continued, "there was a boy who wouldn't leave me alone. He'd take my books, my homework, my lunch...pretty much anything he could get his hands on. He'd shove me around a lot, but he was always reluctant to hit my face. He was afraid he would cut his hand on my glasses."

Oliver nodded.

"One day, when he was threatening me, I decided I'd had enough. I told him to get lost and kicked him in the shins. He lifted his hand to punch me…but he hesitated." She touched the earpiece of her glasses. "He hesitated for just a second, because he was worried about the glasses and his hand. And when he paused, I clocked him. First the nuts and then the nose. Broke it, and dropped him to the ground." She smiled. "He never bothered me again."

Oliver recalled her standing over Tommy in the foyer and thought he could picture an eleven-year-old Felicity in a similar pose over her tormentor. He smiled back, pleased that she had told him something personal and sorry that he wasn't going to get the chance to learn more over supper. Stay grounded, he reminded himself. She's a cop; she's one of them.

As if to emphasize that point, Felicity Smoak said, "I know it's a bit of a cliché, but please don't leave town, Mr. Queen. I will be back for the security discs. I'm not sure why you're reluctant to hand them over; my sense is they could clear things up for you quickly."

"I guess I'm just perverse that way, Detective."

"I guess you are."

She turned and left. She was nothing like what he'd been expecting.


Oliver waited until he heard the front door close, then he went to the foyer window and watched as Felicity Smoak drove away. She must be using a police car, he decided. The boring sedan didn't fit her personality at all.

"'Though she be but little,'" he murmured, "'she is fierce.'"

"What?"

Oliver turned to see Tommy looking down at him from the stairway.

"Shakespeare," Oliver replied. "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Tommy shook his head. "Since when do you go around quoting Shakespeare? And since when have you ever gotten that look on your face when dealing with a cop?"

"What look?"

"I don't know how to describe it. Amused, happy, kind of glassy-eyed."

"You're exaggerating, Tommy."

"I'm not, believe me. You should see yourself."

Oliver shrugged and tried not to appear defensive. "She's different. Not what I was expecting. She's smart, a little quirky, and I think she's got a rebellious side to her. She knew I had Curtis try to hack her records but she didn't make a huge deal of it. Just let me know that she knew. And she hacked my email in return...but I think she was probably disappointed there. You know I don't put much in email."

"Really? You both hacked each other? And that's the reason for your goofy expression?"

"It's part of it. My security is pretty damn good, which means that she's really good. I can't help wondering why, with those skills, she's with the SCPD. I'd love to offer her a job. She'd be an asset."

Tommy shook his head. "I think you offering her a job could be construed as a bribe. You want to stay away from that one."

Oliver sighed. "You're right, of course. I should wait until the case is over. I'm telling you, though, she could give Curtis a run for his money."

"Did he uncover any more information on her?"

"Not much. He searched Star City apartment complexes and found out where she lives. He also learned that she grew up in the area and attended the public schools. That's about it."

Tommy walked the rest of the way down the stairs and sat on the bottom riser. "It seems strange that she would go to such lengths to protect her data. Maybe you're not the only one with secrets, Oliver."

"Maybe." Oliver had a hard time picturing Felicity Smoak with a mysterious past. He thought about the grin she had given him when she'd told him the story about her glasses. "She shared a detail from her childhood with me. I asked about her glasses and she explained why she wears them. I didn't think she would answer, but she did." He pictured her dimples and the full, soft lips. "She's got this subtle kind of sex appeal," he added. "You don't realize it at first, but it creeps up on you. I think it's the mouth. And her voice is great."

"Oh, for Chrissake…"

And she thinks I could be a murderer, Oliver reminded himself. She isn't a friend.

"Anyway," he waved one hand dismissively, "you're right, Tommy. She's interesting, but I'm not likely to see her again. She'll get the security discs and discover that I was home when I said I was and nowhere near Isabel. End of story."

"Why didn't you just give her the discs now and get her out of your hair?"

Oliver shrugged. "Principle, I suppose. It's tough for me to make anything easy for a cop." It wasn't entirely the truth, but it was a reason Tommy would accept.

And sure enough, Tommy laughed and looked relieved. "Now, that's the Oliver Queen I know and love. Happy to stick it to the police."

Oliver stared at his friend and grinned. "She managed to stick it to you pretty quickly, pal. She had you flat on your ass."

The laughter disappeared from Tommy's eyes and his face reddened. "I was taking off her damn jacket. I wasn't prepared for a fight."

"Exactly. I suspect that's part of her recipe for success. People underestimate how tough she is and she takes advantage of that. Curtis found out she lives in the Glades. The Glades," Oliver repeated. "How strange is that?"

"It makes me question her judgment."

"Maybe. She lives in a building my dad put up a dozen years ago, back when he thought there was money to be made there. Queen Consolidated still owns the damn thing. I'm her landlord and didn't even know it."

"Better hope she doesn't find out - not if your dad screwed the tenants in her building as much as he screwed everyone else."

Oliver sobered. "Good point." He glanced at the floor of the foyer and saw that Tommy had cleaned up the remains of the vase. He'd meant what he'd said to Felicity Smoak. He had never liked it very much. He'd kept it out because it had been his mother's and he felt obligated to keep something of hers on display. It only seemed right, when he'd done his best to erase her and his father from so many other parts of the house.

"The detective told me how Isabel died," he said abruptly. "She was shot in the heart with an arrow."

Tommy froze. "You're joking."

"No, I'm not." Oliver shook his head. "It has to be some kind of freaky coincidence. There's no way…" his voice trailed off.

"No," Tommy agreed. "We both know it's not possible." But he sounded uncertain.

Oliver listened to grandfather clock in the foyer tick.

"Give the detective the damn discs," Tommy said suddenly, "and stay away from her and anything to do with Isabel's murder. It's bad news, Oliver. Nothing good can come from it."

Oliver nodded slowly. "You're probably right."

Chapter Text

Felicity got home at suppertime, tired and more than a little hungry. She'd skipped lunch and that pate-thing that Oliver Queen had served hadn't been to her taste. The texture was weird and the color made her think of anemic peanut butter. If that was what billionaires ate, she was a little less sorry to be in a lower tax bracket.

She stared into a cupboard in her kitchen, debating good old mac and cheese versus takeout pizza from the bar down the street. Both were high in fat and salt, so whichever she chose, she promised herself that she'd add a salad to the meal. A few vegetables could do wonders for assuaging dietary guilt. She tried to guess what she would have had eaten at Queen's if she'd accepted his dinner offer. Something fancy and unfamiliar, she imagined. Definitely not pizza.

As she pondered her meal selection, her phone buzzed. She yanked it out of her pocket and felt her heart sink when she saw Diggle's face on the screen. The commander was a good boss, but she'd hoped he would give her more time before asking for an update. She was certain he was going to want to hear her impressions of Queen and the truth was that she didn't know what to make of the man. Could Queen have murdered Isabel? Felicity didn't doubt that he had the capacity. When he'd gotten angry, there had been a cold, calculating stillness in him that had sent a chill through her. But had he actually killed the dancer? Try as she might, Felicity couldn't come up with a motive. Queen had shown far more passion over the acquisition of Galaxy Data than he had for Isabel.

Alone in her kitchen, she could admit to herself that she was attracted to him - really attracted, like I-want-to-slide-my-hands-under-your-sweater-and-run-them-over-your-abs attracted. It was hard to imagine a woman who wouldn't be. Queen was intelligent, had crazy good looks, and probably would have smelled great if she had gotten close enough to find out. He was, as people liked to say, the complete package. Still, she didn't think her attraction was clouding her judgment - at least she hoped it wasn't.

She answered her phone. "Sir."

"Smoak. How'd it go with Queen?"

Right. So, how had it gone with Queen?

"Honestly?" she said, pulling her thoughts together. "He's a hard man to read, but I think the interview went better than I was expecting. I know you said he was slippery, but he met with me at his house and didn't bring any lawyers. And it felt like he made a good faith effort to answer my questions." If you omit the part about trying to hack my information. Oh, and inviting me to dinner. I still don't know what to make of that one.

"Really? No lawyers?" Diggle eyed her skeptically. "And what did his 'good faith' answers tell you?"

"That he has a solid alibi for the time Isabel was killed. I've got to get a warrant for the security discs from his house, but he says he and Isabel separated at the fundraiser and he went home alone shortly after. That's consistent with the video from the fundraiser."

"A man with Queen's resources could hire someone else to do his dirty work."

She pressed her lips together. She had spent a lot of time thinking about that possibility. "He could," she said slowly, "but I'm not sure what his motive would be. Certainly not money. Queen has far more than she does. And I'm having a hard time believing it was anger or jealousy. He didn't love Isabel, I'm sure of that. There's no way this is a crime of passion, not on his part."

"There are more motives for murder than money and love, Smoak. Blackmail, for instance, comes to mind. Queen's got a checkered history. Maybe Isabel was threatening to expose something about him."

"Maybe," she replied. "But Rory Regan went through Isabel's email and found nothing that hinted at her blackmailing Queen." She omitted mentioning that she'd hacked Queen's email with the same result. "And, as you pointed out the other day, Queen is good at managing his reputation. Many people believe he killed his father, yet that hasn't been a problem for him in business or his social life. If Isabel really did have something negative on him, my guess is he could spin it without resorting to murder."

Diggle regarded her doubtfully over the small screen of her phone. "You sound as though you like the guy."

She shook her head. "I don't know him well enough to like him. It's just that he...wasn't what I was expecting."

"In what way?"

She struggled to explain what she felt in her gut. "Queen is clearly used to power...he likes power. And he's used to having people do as he asks. I can see that he's not always a nice guy. It's just that I can't help thinking that...he's got integrity."

It was a strange thing to say, given that Queen had tried to hack her. But then, she'd hacked him, and she considered herself to have integrity.

Diggle continued to look doubtful. "He's very good at putting on a public face. And he's charmed a hell of a lot of women. You better not be one of them."

"Of course not." At least I hope not.

"So where does that leave you?"

She removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. "I'll check out Queen's alibi, of course."

"And if it pans out?"

"If it pans out, I'm going to go full bore on the street drugs angle, try to figure out where that vial of Zoomer came from. The trick will be to find Isabel's dealer. There was nothing on her computer that pointed to a name, but maybe her phone will give us more. DED is working the forensics."

Diggle was silent. She watched his face anxiously.

After a moment, he blew out his breath. "You know, it occurs to me, Smoak, that there could be another motive for her death."

"Sir?"

"I was thinking of the Bratva. After all, the intelligence community seems certain her uncle is a member."

Felicity hesitated. The thought that the Bratva might be involved had occurred to her yesterday, when Diggle had first told her about Anatoly. She had said little about it because she hadn't wanted to lose the investigation to the feds. If she agreed with Diggle now, would he pull that trigger?

He was watching her as closely as she was watching him. "You've thought about this," he said.

"I considered it," she admitted. "I wondered if Isabel had done something to upset her uncle's Bratva connections and they decided to eliminate her. My other theory was that the Bratva was angry over something Anatoly had done and killed Isabel to send him a message."

"And you're just bringing up these theories now?"

"I didn't think the first theory was very likely. Isabel changed her name from Knyazev to Rochev. She left Russia to come here. That suggests she was trying to distance herself from her uncle and his connections, not embrace them."

"I see. And your second theory - that this was a message to Anatoly. Did you decide that isn't very plausible, either?"

She shrugged. "DED has gone over her computer and her email and didn't find any threats - or any mention of the Bratva at all."

Diggle frowned. "The communications might not be on her electronics. If this was a message to Anatoly, the threat could be somewhere in his data."

He stopped, leaving the suggestion hanging. Felicity wondered if he was hinting that she should do something with it.

"Do the feds monitor him?" she asked.

"I don't know. They don't inform the SCPD of their tactics." Diggle's voice was dry. "So far they haven't seemed very interested in Isabel's death. We haven't gotten any calls or inquiries. You can take that for what it's worth."

"So-"

"So, it would be interesting to know if Anatoly received any threats, don't you think?"

Surely he couldn't be proposing that she hack Anatoly? First of all, she didn't think Diggle knew that she could hack. And second, Diggle was too by-the-book. Looking at someone's personal data required probable cause and a warrant to make it legal. The SCPD had neither. No, the commander had to be hinting at something else. But for the life of her, she couldn't figure out what it was.

She narrowed her eyes. "Sir, are you recommending that I-"

"Thank you for the update, Smoak." He cut her off abruptly. "We'll talk again soon."

"Yes-"

Diggle disconnected.

"-sir," she finished, to empty air.

She stared at her phone. "Well, that was weird," she said aloud. Diggle was the most principled person she had ever met, and never in a thousand years did she think he would suggest hacking without a warrant. She decided that hunger must be dulling her brain.

She resumed studying her cupboard, but this time was interrupted by the doorbell. Throwing up her hands in frustration, she peered at her security monitor. There weren't many people who visited Felicity at home. Colleagues didn't venture into the Glades and neighbors only stopped by to complain or ask a favor from their local cop. She wasn't in the mood for either.

Then she saw the visitor's face, and smiled.

She went to the door and opened it. "Sin," she greeted.

"Smoak," Sin replied, bounding into the apartment. "How the hell are you?"

Cindy Simone, aka Sin, was Felicity's oldest friend. They'd grown up in foster care together, and for a few glorious months had even lived with the same foster mom, like sisters. On paper, they shouldn't have gotten along. Felicity had been quiet and studious, nearly withdrawn, as if she could survive the system by making herself unseen. Sin was the opposite; boisterous, with an in-your-face kind of confidence. They didn't have a lot in common other than a lack of parents. But the two of them had been BFFs from the moment they'd met.

Physically, Sin was tiny - a couple of inches shorter than Felicity and not much more than a hundred pounds. Her size, along with her dark, boy-cut hair, made her look like a pixie, completely belying her toughness. Felicity recalled times Sin had stood up to bullies twice her size, making up for her lack of bulk with quickness and athleticism. As an adult, she'd converted that athleticism into a living by playing center for Star City's professional women's hockey team, The Lucky Stars. For two years she'd delighted fans by skating circles around larger opponents, passing and scoring with ease.

"You eaten yet?" Sin asked without preamble, plopping down onto the sofa. When she leaned back, her jean-clad legs barely reached the floor.

"No. I just got home and was thinking about grabbing something."

"Whaddya got?"

Felicity sat next to Sin. "I'm pretty sure I have mac and cheese. I think there's burgers in there, too."

Sin wrinkled her small, upturned nose.

Felicity laughed. "What? You were expecting filet mignon?"

"Noooo." Sin drew the word out. "But with the game tomorrow, I really should be eating healthier. You know, the right mix of proteins, carbs and fats...all that stuff that's supposed to help with strength and endurance."

"You have plenty of strength and endurance."

"Tell Coach that." Sin picked up one of the bright, decorative pillows on Felicity's sofa and hugged it to her chest. "You're coming, right? It's our season opener."

Felicity nodded. She'd had it on her calendar for weeks. "I am, assuming work doesn't interfere."

"You always say that."

"It's always true. I'm on a case now."

"Oh yeah?" Sin's face brightened with a morbid sort of glee. "Who got killed this time?"

"A ballerina."

"Isabel Rochev?"

"You've heard of her too? Is everyone in Star City a fan of the ballet except me?"

"Not a fan. Just not oblivious. She's in the news and we don't all keep our heads buried in murder and computers." Sin grinned and punched Felicity lightly on the upper arm. "Look at you, Smoakie, hobnobbing with the rich, artsy crowd for an investigation. Interviewed anyone famous yet?"

"I interviewed the dancers in her ballet troupe. And I interviewed Oliver Queen, although the department considers him as much infamous as he is famous."

Sin's eyes, unexpectedly blue under her dark brows, grew large. "Seriously? You're telling me you interviewed Oliver Queen. The Oliver Queen?"

"Yeah."

"In person?"

"Yeah."

Sin hit Felicity over the head with the pillow. "Way to bury the lead, Smoak. You met Oliver Richer-Than-God Queen? Why am I only hearing about this now?"

"I only just got back from interviewing him."

"No shit." Sin reached for the waistband of Felicity's pants, and tugged on it.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"Checking to see if your panties spontaneously combusted. I hear he has that effect on women. But yours appear to be intact."

"I took the precaution of wearing my flame retardant underwear, just in case."

"Very funny. Only you could be indifferent about meeting the richest, hottest man in the city. " Sin released the waistband and sat back. "Seriously, Smoak, is he as attractive as he's rumored to be...as he looks in his pictures?"

Felicity thought about Queen's blue eyes and square, masculine jaw, and said what she could never say to her commander. "He's pretty fucking hot. And he flirted with me a little - at least I think he did."

"You're not sure? Wow. We really do have to tune up your dating skills. What did he do?"

"He asked me to have dinner with him after the interview."

Sin raised her eyebrows. "And you don't think that's flirting?"

Felicity shrugged. "He could have asked just to get me off his back, or else to grill me for information about the case. As you pointed out, I'm not really an expert when it comes to men."

"Hmmm." Sin paused and bit her lower lip. "Did he do anything else?"

"He asked if I like wine. Oh, and he wanted to know why I wear glasses."

Sin snorted, "We'd all like to know that one, Smoak."

Felicity didn't bother to respond. The topic of her glasses was dead, as far as she was concerned. She recalled Queen's attentive grin as she'd told him the story. It had seemed genuine. She hated to think that it was an act.

"Anything else?" Sin asked.

"What?"

"Anything else about Oliver Queen that you want to share with the class?"

"Not really. Only that he wasn't entirely what I thought he would be."

"In what way?"

Felicity gazed thoughtfully at the floor. "I expected him to be arrogant...maybe act a little entitled. I mean, he was raised in money and he's gone on to make the family fortune even bigger. He's used to getting what he wants."

"But you're saying he was humble?"

Felicity laughed. "No - not humble, not even close. He's confident...maybe to a point that borders on cocky. It's just that he's not all about himself, the way a lot of rich people are. He's observant." She thought about the way Queen's eyes had focused on her. "He pays attention. And when he asks you a question, he's genuinely interested in the answer."

Sin shrugged. "Maybe. Or maybe he's just a good womanizer. Acting like they're deeply into you is one of a womanizer's best skills. They convince you they're listening to everything you say, even when they're thinking about the next woman they're going to sleep with."

Felicity felt slightly deflated. "So you think he was faking it."

"I think he's a man who has a lot of experience with women, including some highly pedigreed ones."

"'Pedigreed?'"

Sin picked at a spot on the couch. "Maybe that's not the right word, but you know what I mean. Fancy girls, from good families with plenty of money and shit. Didn't he used to go out with that actress, Laurel Whats-her-name?"

"Laurel Lance."

"Yeah, Laurel Lance. She's a pedigreed girl if I ever saw one."

Felicity had never met Chief Lance's daughter, but based on the photos she'd seen, she had to agree that Laurel was a stunning girl. Those mile long legs and wide hazel eyes probably had men drooling. And Chief Lance was well respected in Star City, consistent with Sin's definition of good family.

"So what you're telling me," she said slowly to Sin, "is that Queen could never be truly interested in a mutt like me - someone with no money and no family."

"Don't put words in my mouth, Smoak. I didn't see him. I don't know what he is or isn't interested in. What I am saying is that if he's not smart enough to see your worth, then it's his loss."

Felicity sighed. "I suppose."

Sin pulled the pillow back against her stomach. She wore a quizzical expression. "You like him, don't you."

"I found him...not boring."

"'Not boring.' From you, that's almost infatuation."

Felicity closed her eyes. "Don't put words into my mouth. He's intelligent and attractive, and not what I was expecting. But it's not as if there's anything I can do about it - not until this investigation is over, by which point, if I believe you, he'll have no interest in seeing me again."

"Is Queen a suspect?"

I hope not. The response popped instantly into Felicity's head. She wasn't sure why she cared so much. Was it because she was attracted to Queen? Or was it because she wanted to believe that her instincts as a cop - which told her Queen had nothing to do with Isabel's death - were sound.

Aloud, she said, "He's a witness and a person of interest. And you know I can't say any more about it."

"Yeah. You and your ethics. They're a pain in the ass sometimes." Sin gave an exaggerated sigh and began tossing the pillow up and down. "So - getting back to my game this Friday. I'll see you there, assuming you don't have to work. And you'll come with Roy, right?"

It was Felicity's turn to sigh. "Sin-"

"He's our best friend, Smoak, since seventh grade. You know it. And he's a little upset right now because he thinks you're avoiding him."

Felicity tugged the pillow away from Sin and pulled it to her own chest. "Maybe I am, just a little."

"Why?

"You know why."

"No, I don't. Explain it to me."

Felicity frowned. "It's his job. It's just...weird."

"It's not that weird. There are a couple of thousand other people in Star City with the same job."

"He goes out with women for a living, Sin."

"He's a professional escort, Smoak. There's a difference. He gets paid to keep women company, to take them to events and shit-"

"And sleep with them."

Sin rolled her eyes. "If that's what they want, yes. It's not the dark ages anymore. It's perfectly legal, has been for a few decades. You're a cop, you should know that."

Felicity grimaced. "It doesn't stop it from being weird. I mean, this is Roy Harper we're talking about. The floppy-haired little runt we used to play video games with at the youth center."

Sin laughed. "Well, in case you haven't noticed, he's not a runt nor floppy-haired anymore. He grew up to be a very good looking man, and he's decided to use those looks to earn his living. We all play to our strengths." She paused. "I think he still likes video games, though."

Felicity smiled reluctantly. "Glad to hear it."

They fell silent. Felicity thought about Roy and Sin, and when she'd first met them. She hadn't been a popular kid, not when she'd aced her classes and rebuilt computers in her spare time. But Roy and Sin had warmed up to her instantly and that warmth had never wavered. Not in the years Felicity went away to college. Not even when she'd told them she was going to be a cop.

She squeezed the pillow. "Fine. I'll go with Roy. But he better not talk shop with me."

Sin grinned. "I'm sure it's the last thing he's going to want to do." She yanked the pillow away from Felicity and tossed it back to the corner of the sofa. "Now, let's get some of those burgers."


Oliver sat back from his computer, frustrated and annoyed with himself. It had been a couple of hours since Felicity Smoak had left his home and he still hadn't been able to get his head back into work. Normally he found business satisfying. Identifying new ventures and negotiating deals required a combination of corporate savvy, financial skills and psychology that was almost always interesting. Oliver succeeded where others failed, he knew, because he wasn't afraid to make decisions, even when he didn't have perfect information. He acted, and if things didn't work out (a fairly infrequent occurrence in his world) he learned from his mistakes and moved on. It pleased him to take the mediocre empire his father had left and build it into something better than Robert Queen could ever have made.

But that warm feeling of satisfaction wasn't happening for him this evening. Instead, his thoughts kept drifting to the blond woman with the fair complexion and quick mind. He wondered why he couldn't make a decision about her when he was usually so quick to read people and form an opinion. What kind of upbringing had driven her to police work when she had the education and intelligence to do more lucrative things? Did she have a deep love for authority? He didn't think so, because she was clearly on board with hacking. Maybe she worked to satisfy her own sense of justice, regardless of what the law said. But she hadn't struck him as an idealist. Whatever brought her to homicide, it had to be about more than a paycheck.

Was she seeing anybody?

The question popped into his head without warning. It didn't escape him that she had turned his dinner invitation down with barely a pause. Oliver wondered if that was because of her job, because of him personally, or because she was in a relationship. Curtis's search hadn't revealed whether she was married or co-habbing, and the lack of a ring didn't mean much these days. Oliver wasn't used to being denied. Most women, even married ones, jumped at the chance to get him alone. But the detective had been all business; well, almost all business. He'd managed to eke a smile out of her a couple times. But then she'd sobered and returned to the subject of murder.

He tried to imagine the sort of man Felicity Smoak would be attracted to, assuming she was attracted to men. The guy would have to be smart. Oliver couldn't see her with a dim pretty boy. He recalled the way she had looked at him during the interview. It had been a mixture of curiosity and caution. Did she seriously consider him a suspect in Isabel's death? And why the hell did it bother him if she did? He usually didn't give a damn about people's opinions, but for some reason, what she thought of him mattered.

And was she, with those marvelous lips, an enthusiastic kisser?

Shit.

It wasn't like him to be so fixated. He was attracted to women, certainly, but he didn't obsess. And when he was attracted, he found a way to deal with it; usually by getting the woman into bed, or more accurately, by allowing her to get him into bed. The attraction would be explored, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for several months if the woman had greater depths to her character. When he was younger, he used to wonder if the encounters were going to lead to something permanent - if he'd found the one. But the connections always seemed to end. Maybe, like Tommy had said, he wasn't built for long-term monogamy. Maybe his expectations were too high and he lacked the ability to compromise. He suspected Tommy would tell him that he wasn't trying hard enough. But he did try, he thought. He was considerate. In the bedroom, he made it a point to be an attentive partner. Outside of the bedroom, however, more interesting things often pushed thoughts of his lover out of his head. They just couldn't hold his attention.

Except now, apparently. And the cop wasn't even a lover.

He stared at his phone. There was another potential source of information on Detective Smoak but it was going to come at a price. Making the call would renew an old tie that he preferred to keep severed - well, as much as it was ever severed. Was it worth it?

Just do it, Oliver.

He picked up the phone, put it on video, and dialed.

She answered almost immediately. Laurel Lance; actress, a fixture on the red carpet and celebrity blogs, and - more importantly - the daughter of Chief of Police Quentin Lance. She and Oliver had been an item in high school and for reasons he didn't fully understand, reconnected from time to time, even though the connection brought neither of them much happiness. In high school they had made sense, in a cliched sort of way. She was a leggy beauty, certain her looks destined her for something special. He was the handsome rich kid, able to show her a far better time than her family could afford. Neither had cared a great deal about their studies. Both had wanted to rebel against their parents.

After high school, though, their lives had taken different paths. Oliver went to Stanford, glad for an excuse to get away from his parents. Laurel pursued an acting career and hit it big almost immediately; her fragile, wide-eyed loveliness scoring her roles as the daughter in dramas about dysfunctional families or the heroine in horror films. For a while, she was everywhere; two films a year, a regular guest on late-night talk shows. As her star rose, her career left no room for a hometown boyfriend.

And Oliver had discovered that being left behind didn't bother him. College was far more rewarding than high school. He made new friends easily, including a wide circle of intelligent and attractive young women. He found that at a university with more than its fair share of wealthy scions, people were interested in him, not his money and not where he came from. And to his surprise, he also found that with a little application he had the brains to do well academically, which - perversely - still managed to tick off the old man. Robert Queen had predicted that Oliver would fail miserably in college. Oliver disobliged him by succeeding.

Now, a decade and change later, Oliver and Laurel's positions were reversed. He was a rising star in business and her career was flat, if not in decline. She was still acting, but the roles tended to be supporting rather than starring. The transition from youth to adult actor had not been easy.

Not that she would ever admit that.  She was every bit as driven in her career as he was in his.

"Ollie." Her smiling face appeared on his screen, perfectly made up to emphasize her gorgeous hazel eyes. Once upon a time those eyes had looked innocent. Now they were more calculating.

"Laurel. I hope I'm not catching you at an inconvenient time?"

"Of course not. Just looking over a few scripts."

He hoped for her sake that was true. "I have a favor to ask."

Her brows lifted and her smile became more genuine. He didn't ask for favors very often. "You need a date, Ollie? Is there some event coming up?"

"No," he replied a little too quickly, then softened it with, "that is to say, there's no event coming up. I'm looking for information about someone who works for your father."

"For Dad?" She gave him a puzzled frown. "You're calling to ask me about someone in the SCPD?"

"Yes." And suddenly it was hard to remember why he'd thought this was a good idea. I'm attracted to a blond homicide detective wasn't exactly going to go down well. But he'd already started, so he needed to find a way to keep going.

He settled on, "Did you hear about Isabel Rochev?"

Her face sobered. "Of course I did. It's terrible."

Laurel had never been a huge fan of Isabel, so he wondered how terrible she really thought it was. He kept his expression neutral. "I met the detective in charge of investigating her murder. She seems awfully young. I was wondering how much experience she had."

"You met the homicide detective on Isabel's case? How?"

He shrugged. "Apparently, I'm a witness. I was at the Arts Council fundraiser with Isabel the night she was killed so the detective came to interview me."

"You were Isabel's date for the benefit?"

He should have known that Laurel would zero in on the date part and ignore his question about the detective. He didn't bother giving her the distinction between date and attending together, the way he had with Tommy and Felicity Smoak. It wouldn't help. So he simply said, "Yes."

"I thought you weren't seeing her anymore."

"I'm not - not in that way. But with our roles on the Arts Council it made sense for us to go to the benefit together, so we did."

"Oh." Laurel sounded hurt...or maybe angry. He supposed she was wondering why it hadn't made sense to ask her to the benefit.

He tried to get the conversation back on track. "Anyway, like I said, I was curious about the detective leading the investigation. She seems young - barely mid-twenties. I was wondering if you knew anything about her. Maybe your father mentioned her."

Laurel frowned again. "Dad doesn't talk about his people very often."

Or if he does, you don't pay attention to it. Oliver sighed. "Oh. Okay."

"Although…" She tapped her lips thoughtfully with her index finger. "I do remember a girl that Commander Diggle was really keen on. Little blond girl, with a degree in math or computer science - something like that. I think she's in Homicide now. I remember because the commander would bug Dad about her every chance he got."

"Little and blond...sounds like we might be talking about the same person."

"Yeah. Felicity Something, I think."

Oliver sat up in his chair. "That's right. Felicity Smoak."

Laurel pursed her lips. "Felicity Smoak. I really don't know much, other than she's Diggle's pet project. He met her when she was in high school and he mentored her through college and onto the force. I remember because Dad argued with Diggle over her, and he and Diggle don't argue very often. Dad was worried that Diggle might be too close to her to be her commander. But I guess they worked it out because she reports to Dig now and everybody seems happy."

"Too close to her? You mean, your dad thought the relationship was improper?" Oliver was surprised by that.

"Diggle? Give me a break. It was more that Diggle was kind of like a big brother to her. She's an orphan - or whatever the correct term is these days. He met her when she was in the foster system and became a mentor to her - or something like that. I guess he felt she needed an adult looking out for her."

So, Felicity Smoak had been a foster kid. Oliver recalled the expression on the detective's face when Tommy had said, where did you grow up, in a barn? It made sense now. Not a barn, but not with a regular family, either. Was that the information Felicity was trying so hard to protect with her crazy cyber controls?

"So, she's a local then?" he asked. "She grew up in Star City?"

"I think so." Laurel's brow furrowed. "Why are you asking about this, Ollie? It's not like you to be interested in a cop."

He tried to sound unconcerned. "I was just wondering why the SCPD would have someone so young working Isabel's murder. Isabel's a prominent citizen. I figured they'd give it to a more experienced detective."

Laurel laughed. "Isabel's a ballet dancer, Oliver. She's not that prominent. Outside of Star City and her home town in Russia, I'll bet no one's heard of her. And if you're not involved with her anymore, why do you care who's working her murder?"

"I care that it gets solved," he replied evenly. "Star City is my home and I'd like to think that people can go out at night without getting killed. And we may not be a couple, but Isabel is - was - a friend."

"A friend," Laurel repeated dryly. She shook her head. "Ollie, you don't have female friends. You have arm candy and fuck buddies." When he frowned, she added, "Seriously. When is the last time you actually confided in a woman, as a friend?"

"I thought that was what I was doing now."

"Uh-uh. This isn't confiding. This is looking for information. Big difference."

She was right about that. Laurel might be a little self-centered, but she wasn't stupid. Oliver wouldn't have called if he didn't want to know more about Felicity Smoak. But she was wrong about him not confiding in women. The truth was he didn't confide in anyone, male or female, except Tommy. He shared bits of himself when he couldn't avoid it, carefully and selectively. Relationships were as important in business as dollars and cents, and you couldn't form relationships without a little sharing. But anything that might be considered a weakness or a vulnerability? No way in hell was he sharing that.

"Ollie?"

She was staring at him over the screen.

"Yes?"

"You went somewhere else for a moment."

"Just thinking."

"About?"

"Business," he lied. "Just thinking about business. I have a lot on my plate at the moment."

"You always have a lot on your plate. I could ask my father about her, if you want. The detective. I could ask him about her."

He tried to imagine that conversation. Dad, Oliver Queen wants to know more about the detective investigating Isabel Rochev's murder. Oliver didn't think it would go well, especially if his name had already filtered up as a suspect.

He sighed and made his voice sound bored. "No, don't bother your father with this. It's not that important."

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure."

"Okay." She hesitated and then smiled. "Got any hot plans for the weekend?" Oliver was relieved to see that Felicity Smoak was already fading from her attention.

"Not really. Going to the Lucky Stars game tomorrow night. That's about it."

"The Lucky Stars? I didn't know you were a fan of women's hockey. How progressive of you, Ollie."

"I'm a fan since I bought the team a few weeks ago. I want to take a closer look at my purchase. They're breaking even financially. I think with a little investment in facilities and marketing, they could be a decent money-maker and bring new jobs to Star City."

Laurel laughed. "That's my Ollie. Always thinking about profits. Who'd have believed you'd turn out to have a good head for business? You were such a slacker in high school."

"Times change."

"I guess they do. Are you going to the game solo?"

She didn't quite succeed in making the question sound casual which might explain, Oliver thought, why her acting roles were fewer these days. She wasn't very good with nuances.

He told her the truth. "Susan Williams is coming with me."

"Susan Williams." Laurel's voice was flat. "You're still seeing her? That's a surprise. I figured that would have blown over by now. I mean, you hate the press after all."

"Not always. And Susan is a political reporter, not a business reporter. Our lives don't intersect in that way...she's not covering me as news."

"Just covering you in the bedroom, huh? Don't kid yourself. Susan Williams is a piranha. When the moment suits her, she'll turn on you." Laurel studied him over the screen and then rolled her eyes. "Okay - which is she, Ollie?"

"Excuse me?"

"Which is Susan? Arm candy or a fuck buddy?"

He sighed. "Laurel-"

"She must be a fuck buddy." Laurel answered her own question. "She's not glam enough to qualify as arm candy, even though she manages to get a little screen time delivering her news reports. Still, she's your type; successful professionally, not to mention tall and leggy, with big hair and big boobs."

He hated to admit it, but once again, she had a point. Susan was tall and well-endowed, like many women of his acquaintance, and he certainly found her attractive. Which begged the question why he was now so fascinated by a petite, small-breasted blonde.

"How's Tommy?"

"Hmm?"

"Tommy, Oliver, your oldest friend, the guy we went to school with? How is he?"

Nursing his wounds after his encounter with Felicity Smoak. "He's fine, Laurel. Busy being my property manager."

"Tell him I said hi."

"Will do."

"Have fun at the hockey game."

And Laurel signed off.

Oliver took stock of what he had learned from the call. Not a hell of a lot, he decided, although a couple of tidbits were pretty damn interesting. Felicity Smoak had grown up without a family, so - not wealthy. She must be forgoing a larger salary for some kind of personal principle. And apparently she hadn't allowed her lack of parents to be a setback. The woman had gone to MIT and was now advancing quickly in her career, even if she wasn't raking in the dough. She was a self-starter - something he admired. Unfortunately, he still had no idea if she was married or in a committed relationship. Does it really matter? he thought. She's a cop.  I shouldn't even be thinking about getting together with her.

He turned back to his computer and tried to erase the detective from his thoughts.

He wasn't successful.

Chapter Text

Oliver waited outside the apartment building until he saw Felicity Smoak drive away in her dull grey sedan. It was a little after eight in the morning and he'd stationed himself across the street in what passed in the Glades for a diner. As her car emerged from the parking garage he slumped over his bitter cup of coffee, keeping the brim of his ball cap over his eyes and doing his best to look like he belonged. Thankfully, no one in the place was paying him the least attention and Felicity never glanced toward the diner's window. She pulled onto the street and headed down it.

He hung out for another ten minutes in case she circled back. The waitress refilled his cup, not meeting his eyes and not engaging in conversation. That was fine by him. He needed caffeine, not talk. His sleep had been uneasy, interrupted by periods of staring at the ceiling. He got that way sometime before important business meetings. He had never gotten that way over a woman.

He hated what he was about to do. He felt like a stalker and knew that if the positions were reversed he would be furious over the invasion of his privacy. But he didn't know any other way to get answers to the questions that haunted him. Felicity Smoak had fiercely protected her electronic records, and the only data Laurel had been able to give him was that the detective grew up in Star City's foster system and had been mentored by John Diggle. It wasn't enough - not for Oliver to come to some kind of decision about her (although he wasn't exactly sure what kind of decision he was trying to make). He'd originally told himself that, for his own safety, he needed to understand the woman who was investigating him. By now, though, that argument had lost credibility. Now it wasn't about the investigation at all. It was about her.

Tommy would have a damn good laugh if he knew what Oliver was up to this morning.

He threw a few bucks on the table, then rose and headed across the street, slouching in his old sweatshirt and jeans, keeping his head down. He grimaced when he entered the building's lobby and saw that the elevator was out of order. The tenant records indicated that Felicity lived on the eighth floor which meant he had some climbing to do. He made for the stairs, glad he was wearing athletic shoes and relieved to see that there were no security cameras in the stairwell. He was even more relieved to find that the lock on her apartment door was decent but not top-of-the-line. Evidently she was more concerned about her digital security than she was her physical safety. Oliver was able to get past it in a minute, the unused skills quickly coming back to him.

His first impression as he stepped into her apartment was that she didn't need great security because she had no expensive items to protect; nothing a thief could fence for drugs or a meaningful amount of cash. The living room was small and contained bargain furniture in a range of earth tones, with brightly colored pillows and afghans to add life. For a woman with great cyber skills she had few flashy electronics; just a basic television on the wall and a treadmill in the corner, with dumbbells stacked on top of it. Her artwork consisted of framed posters and a handful of knick-knacks which he categorized as souvenirs, their only value sentimental. Glancing about the room, Oliver figured she had furnished it for less than he typically spent on a single business suit.

Still, he liked the overall effect. She had assembled things to make a cheerful space, far homier than the stiff formality of his own living room. Felicity's room was lively without being hectic; neat, but not sterile. It would be a welcoming place to return to, he thought, after a tough day at work.

The galley kitchen was less colorful than her living room but also tidy, with white cabinets and counters, and a shining, stainless sink. Other than a coffee mug left to soak, the dishes were put away and her recycling was sorted and out of sight. When he took a look at the food in her fridge and cupboards, he got his first chuckle. No wonder she wasn't crazy about the foie gras. She eats like a kid. Burgers, mac and cheese, and pancakes figured prominently, offset by healthier options such as bananas, apples and oatmeal. For snacks she had graham crackers, ice cream and grapes. She doesn't worry about carbs. Maybe that's what the treadmill is for.

She had told him the truth about liking wine. There were half a dozen bottles in a rack on the counter, evenly divided between whites and reds. They weren't expensive, but they were good choices for someone who wanted to enjoy wine on a budget. She had evidently learned enough to buy quality.

His guilt grew stronger when he entered the bedroom, her most personal space, but it wasn't strong enough to stop him. The room was feminine but not girly - the mood influenced by an array of pastel colors that created a sense of peace and sunshine. The queen-sized bed was covered with a comforter in a muted geometric print and there was an e-reader on the nightstand, as well as a bunch of old-fashioned paper-back books stacked on a small shelf against the wall. She favored sci fi and mysteries, scattered with a little historical fiction.

The room was less tidy than the rest of her apartment - not messy, by any means, but it suggested a woman in a hurry. The comforter was pulled carelessly over the bed and there was a pair of balled-up pajamas lying in the middle of it. Earrings lay atop the dresser and there were shoes on the floor that hadn't made it to the closet. The closet itself contained more clothing than he'd expected. From what he'd seen yesterday afternoon, Oliver had pegged her as strictly a pants and jacket girl, so he was surprised to find a number of dresses and shoes with high heels. He wondered what occasions prompted her to wear them. Dates? He frowned, trying to imagine her dressed up for a date.

Oliver paused to take stock. Based on her apartment, Felicity Smoak was a woman who lived on a budget, spent a lot of time on the job, was essentially tidy and had no major kinks or fetishes. And no man in her life, he thought, or at least not one who spent any meaningful time at her place. There was no spare toothbrush, shaving items or even a photo. He felt a wave of relief, then immediately decided not to examine why.

Glancing at his watch, he saw it was close to nine. Time to go, Oliver. He had a full slate of meetings scheduled for the day, followed by the hockey game that evening. He couldn't afford to fritter any more time here. He headed for the door, looking quickly into the spare bedroom as he passed.

And then paused.

For some reason, the room seemed different from the rest of the apartment. When he entered and looked around, he realized it was the only area where she'd spent serious money. She'd transformed it into an office, with a high-end ergonomic chair behind a real wooden desk that held a computer and an old-fashioned tiffany lamp. Bookshelves, in a grain and color that matched the desk, lined the walls and contained professional and scientific tomes - books on forensics, investigation techniques, and the law. He noted two framed photographs on the shelves and walked over to study them. The first was of a blond woman with large blue eyes. Felicity's mother, Oliver thought, seeing an overwhelming resemblance. The second was of three children that Oliver judged to be on the cusp of adolescence; two girls and a boy. It was easy to figure out that the girl in the middle was Felicity. She wore glasses and had wavy, sandy hair (a little darker than her hair now, he noted). The girl next to her had a mischievous grin and a spiky, ebony mop, while the boy on her other side had large grey eyes that stared more seriously at the camera. School chums, he guessed, or maybe part of a foster family.

There was no photo of her father. He wondered if that was deliberate - if she didn't want a reminder of him - or if she had never known who he was. Laurel had not told him how Felicity had ended up in foster care and there could be any number of explanations for what had happened to her parents. Whatever they were, her mother had rated a photo while her father had not. Oliver thought about his own father, and not for the first time tried to imagine life growing up without the man. He probably wouldn't be the success in business that he was today, he admitted. For better or worse, Robert Queen had instilled in him a desire to be independent and in control of his own destiny. On the other hand, there was a good chance he also would have been happier. Dear old dad had left him with a fair amount of emotional baggage. But then, what parent didn't?

Returning his attention to the room, Oliver was surprised to see that her computer was not, like the rest of her office, of the highest quality. Oliver knew the model well. It was made by Queen Consolidated and was a decent, serviceable machine, used in municipal offices and the local schools. With her ability to hack, he'd expected something with a lot more power. He glanced at the casing with its QC logo etched on the front and frowned. Then he looked again.

There was something odd about the way the computer case fit together. The seams didn't line up perfectly and there were screws in places where Oliver didn't think the case was supposed to have screws. He leaned over it and ran his fingers along the edge, eventually concluding that the computer had been opened up and then reassembled. He turned to the desk and tugged the drawers open, one by one. There were computer parts in all of them; chips, motherboards, graphics cards and drives, along with a soldering iron and a set of small screwdrivers.

She had built her own computer. Felicity Smoak had built her own computer - one he was willing to bet was unregistered and untraceable - and then disguised it to look completely ordinary. It was how she'd been able to hack his email and was probably the source of the crazy data protections she used to secure her own information. He sat in her chair and laughed aloud. The woman continued to surprise him.

He had planned to wait until she got the warrant for his home security discs to speak with her again. But it was Friday and there was a chance she wouldn't get the warrant until late in the day or maybe not even until Monday. That seemed like a long time to wait.

There was an alternative, he thought. He could see her today if he wanted. He had a legitimate reason.

He decided he would bring the security discs to police headquarters.


As was her habit lately, Felicity didn't head directly to the homicide bullpen when she arrived at SCPD HQ. She made a detour to DED with the intent of cornering Rory Regan before he could get busy on someone else's investigation. She knew she was being a pain, but she reasoned that he had told her he would have the info on Isabel's phone by morning. And it was morning.

She caught him just as he was returning to his desk with a mug of coffee.

"Well?" she prompted, hovering over him as he dropped into his chair.

"Good morning to you too, Smoak." Rory stretched out his legs and gazed up at her. "You're here nice and early. I'd offer you coffee, but you seem well-caffeinated already." He sipped and grimaced. "Although I'm not sure this crap can honestly be called coffee. Given the amount we drink around here, you'd think someone could learn to make it right."

"Ror." She gave him an impatient look.

He held her gaze for a moment and then smiled. "Fine. I see you're not in the mood for social pleasantries. You want to know what I found on your vic's phone."

"That would be helpful, yes."

He shuffled through a stack of folders on his desk. "You know, you used to be more fun, Smoak. You'd at least ask me how my day was going before getting down to business. Now it's nothing but work, work, work. The move to Homicide cannot be good for your social life ."

"I never had a social life to begin with. You know that."

He grinned as he found the right folder. "The curse of being a cop, I suppose. It's a miracle any of us manage to pair up. You need to find someone who appreciates the demands your job places on you."

She wondered if that was a hint that he could be that someone. There had been a few times over the last couple of years when Rory had sounded like he was on the verge of asking her out - but then nothing had materialized. She'd been curious, although not concerned enough to pursue it.

"I'll keep the social advice in mind," she replied dryly. "Now, what've you got?"

He sighed, "Fine. Be that way." He opened the folder, flipping through the pages to refresh his memory. "Your vic wasn't the chattiest woman in the world. I guess she didn't have much of a social life either. She mostly made calls to her agent, the artistic director at the ballet, her financial advisor, that sort of thing. I looked at the logs. The calls were short - usually less than ten minutes. The calls to her uncle in Russia were a little longer, but still not marathons."

Felicity nodded. "What about the day she died?"

"On the day of her death, Ms. Rochev made several calls that afternoon to Oliver Queen. They're to his office, not his personal phone, and all very short – less than a minute. My guess is she reached Queen's assistant and got blocked - never got through to him personally."

Another point in Queen's favor, Felicity thought. He was likely telling the truth about his relationship with Isabel - or lack of it. She was pleased.

"On the more interesting side," Rory continued, "your dancer got an incoming call around ten-thirty that evening from one Rene Ramirez. It was short - only a minute and a half. I did a little research on Ramirez, aka Wild Dog. The department has him down as a drug dealer, although by all accounts he seemed to have gotten out of the business. Convicted and did time a dozen years ago, then no further arrests. The guys in Narcotics are sure he quit dealing, but maybe he just got a whole lot smarter about how he does it."

"Is Ramirez connected? Did your research tell you that he was part of any kind of crime organization?

Rory shook his head. "No. As far as I can tell, he's always been a free agent - and fairly small potatoes." He studied Felicity's expression. "I thought you'd be happier about this, Smoak. I mean, it fits with your theory of why Isabel ended up in the Glades at midnight. She got a call from her dealer and went there to meet him. It's a good place to score – no security cameras, no witnesses."

She nodded. "I know. But if Ramirez became a smart dealer, smart enough to convince everyone that he's out of the business, why would he make a call that left a record of his name? Why didn't he call from a burner phone? That doesn't seem very smart."

"If she's a long-time buyer, maybe he trusted her to be discreet. I went back a few months and found records of a couple of earlier calls between the two of them. This wasn't the first one."

"I see." But she didn't keep the doubt out of her voice.

"You still don't like it."

She raised her hands and then let them drop. "I don't know. Isabel was a wealthy woman who liked things to be classy. If she wanted an amphetamine to help her dance, why not buy it from a dealer who moves in her circles - who services the wealthy? Why an independent street dealer who works out of the Glades? Something about this just feels...off."

"Ah, those famous cop instincts Diggle is always pushing us for."

"Maybe."

They looked at each other.

"You're going to have to interview Ramirez," Rory said.

"Yes, I am. Did you get an address?"

"I got one for his home. Official data says he works out of his apartment - which sounds convenient for a drug dealer. Not only does he sell in the Glades, but he lives there too. Want backup when you go?"

"Rory, I live in the Glades."

"I know, but you live in the nice part."

Felicity pressed her lips together. Her pride told her she ought to be able to manage a simple interview on her own. She'd walked the beat in uniform, she'd handled herself on the streets and she wasn't entirely useless with her stunner. But common sense said that you didn't turn down help when walking into a potentially dangerous situation. And Ramirez was, or at least had been, a drug dealer.

She nodded. "Sure, I'll take backup."

He grinned. "Oh boy, I get to go out in the field. Let me just take care of a couple things here then we can-"

Felicity's phone buzzed. Glancing at it, she noted that the call came from within SCPD HQ. She held up one finger to Rory and answered, "Smoak."

"It's the front desk, Detective. We've got someone here that's asking for you. Says it's in connection to the Rochev murder."

"Did he give a name?"

"No. He says he'll only speak with you."

"Okay, thanks. I'll be there in a minute." She disconnected and smiled apologetically at Rory. "Looks like our visit to the dealer is going to have to wait. There's a possible wit at the front desk. I have to see what this is about."

"Oh yeah?" Rory's eyes brightened. "Maybe I'll come with you."

"I thought you were swamped."

Rory glanced at the pile of tagged hard drives on his desk awaiting forensic analysis and shrugged. "And miss a chance to see the hot-shot homicide detective in action? No way."

Chapter Text

The man waiting at SCPD reception was short, of average weight, and wore an expensive suit that hung a little loosely on him. Looking at the streaks of grey in his otherwise brown hair and beard, Felicity judged him to be in his late fifties. His face looked thinner and more drawn than when she'd seen it over the screen on her phone. But then he'd had a couple of days to think about his niece's death.

He stared at her as she approached.

"Any idea who that is?" Rory murmured.

She noted the man's stiff posture and hard eyes.

"Oh yeah," she murmured back.

"Detective Smoak? Felicity Smoak?" The man's English was heavily accented. He strode toward her, not waiting for her to walk to him.

Anatoly Knyazev. Suspected Bratva member and Isabel's Russian uncle - who was no longer in Russia, apparently.

She nodded. "Yes, I'm Detective Smoak."

He stepped next to her, getting in her space. She was surprised to find that he was only a couple of inches taller than she was.

"I am Anatoly Knyazev. We spoke two days ago. I want to know what you have done for my niece. Have you made arrest? Have you found killer?"

"We're pursuing a number of leads, Mr. Knyazev."

He leaned in even closer, his nose inches from hers. "That is police bullshit. I want to know what you know. Now."

His breath smelled of coffee and vodka. Felicity held her ground and tried to meet his gaze without blinking, tried to ignore the fact that he was tied to organized crime. Just think of him as a grieving parent.

"Talk," he demanded.

"Take it easy, sir," Rory said, moving protectively next to her. "You need to back off."

Anatoly transferred his glare to Rory. For a second the Russian didn't move, then he took a single step back. Felicity was both grateful and annoyed with her colleague. Help was good, but she didn't want to be perceived as needing to be defended, especially in police HQ in front of other cops.

"I got this, Ror," she said steadily. She looked Anatoly in the eye. "Mr. Knyazev, since you're here, I have some questions for you. Why don't we find a room to sit and talk."

"I don't want questions. I want answers."

He was angry, and she couldn't exactly blame him. When you love someone, you want to know why they died. And Bratva or not, she believed the man loved Isabel. His reaction when she'd called had said so clearly.

She risked touching his arm. "Mr. Knyazev, your niece was a very private person. There are not a lot of people who knew her well. We found Isabel in an unexpected part of the city - not a place we think she would normally go. We're speculating on why she went there, but you could help by giving us insight into her personal life - insight that we haven't been able to gain from other sources."

He looked down at her hand, but didn't pull his arm away. "What do you want to know?" He sounded calmer.

"Let's go to a room."

"We can talk here."

Felicity took a quiet breath. "Very well. Do you know if your niece used drugs?"

"What?" The calm was gone.

"We found a vial of Zoomer in her apartment. It's an illegal amphetamine."

Anatoly immediately shook his head. "Isabel took care of herself, of her body. She needed good health to dance. She would not use drugs."

It was the same thing everyone Felicity had interviewed had said. Something in Anatoly's expression, however, didn't jibe so well with his denial. There was a hint of uncertainty - just the tiniest flicker of doubt.

"When is the last time you saw your niece?" she asked him.

He could see where she was headed and forestalled her. "I come last summer. Isabel was good, was healthy. I see no drugs."

Felicity hesitated, then said carefully, "That was almost a year ago."

"So? A year is no time." When she didn't reply, he added, "Did you test her blood?"

"We did. We're waiting on the results."

"Then you do not know that she took this Zoomer. Maybe she kept it for friend."

By all accounts, Isabel didn't have many friends, but Felicity wasn't going to say that to Anatoly.  It occurred to her that the Russian had his own, very personal reasons for denying Isabel's drug use. With the Bratva being a major supplier to Star City, the very thing that was a source of income for him might also be the reason for his niece's death. If he had any capacity at all for reflection, he had to be thinking about that.

She tried again. "Isabel took care of herself, but she also needed energy. She was a thirty-four year old woman in a young person's profession. She was also a perfectionist who enjoyed being the best at what she did. And her body was starting to fail her - just a little. She'd want to find a way to stay at the top of her game. It's understandable."

He shook his head again. "No-"

"In addition to the vial," she pressed on, "we analyzed her electronics. She received a call from a suspected dealer a couple of hours before she was killed. We think she went to meet him. We think that's why she was found in a rough section of the city."

He stopped shaking his head to stare at her. "What is name of dealer?" he asked. His voice was hard.

Shit, oh shit. Felicity realized a little too late that she'd said too much. It was clear that Anatoly would be eager to go after Isabel's dealer himself. She felt Rory shuffle uneasily next to her.

"You must know I can't give you a name," she said quietly.

She expected another flash of anger, but instead Anatoly simply studied her. She had the sense that he was measuring her resolve. After a moment, he said, "No. I see you will not give me name." Then he shrugged. "It does not matter. I am certain there is mistake. Isabel was dancer...was athlete. She would not pollute her body."

But the words sounded just a little empty.

Anatoly's brow furrowed. "What else have you-"

He stopped abruptly and stared past Felicity. His mouth closed and straightened into a flat line.

She turned to see what he was looking at and saw Oliver Queen coming down the hall, walking with long, purposeful strides. He looked more professional this morning than he had during her interview, dressed in a perfectly tailored, charcoal grey suit with a light blue shirt and dark grey tie. His gaze met Felicity's then turned toward Anatoly. He didn't appear any happier to see the Russian than Anatoly was to see him.

"Anatoly." He nodded curtly.

"Oliver."

"You two know each other?" Rory asked.

"Yes." Queen didn't explain further.

"Mr. Queen is..." Anatoly hesitated, "friend of my niece."

And you weren't happy about it, Felicity thought, studying the Russian's face. Anatoly was eyeing Queen warily, and Queen was looking at Anatoly much the same way. With a pang of disappointment, she wondered whether Oliver had downplayed his relationship with Isabel when they had talked yesterday. They'd obviously been close enough for him to get to know her uncle. The thought that Queen might have lied to her bothered her more than she liked.

"I'm sorry for your loss, Anatoly," Queen said.

He sounded sincere. Anatoly looked surprised, and after a moment replied, "Thank you."

"I hope you'll have time to have dinner with me while you're in the country," Queen continued. "It's been a while." The invitation didn't sound quite as sincere as his condolences.

Anatoly's eyes narrowed. "I am here as long as it takes detective to find Isabel's killer. So far, there does not seem to be progress."

Queen looked at Felicity. "I wouldn't be so sure about that. The detective is resourceful. I know from experience that she's very good at uncovering information. I suspect she's not telling you everything she knows."

"She is young," Anatoly stated flatly. "Cute little girl. Police need to put man on the case."

Rory sucked in his breath. "Hoo boy," he whispered. "Keep your weapon in your holster, Smoak."

Felicity felt her cheeks grow warm and suspected they were red. They were all looking at her; Queen with curiosity, Rory with sympathy, and Anatoly with disdain. She'd be damned, she decided, if she was going to give any of them the satisfaction of becoming more flustered.

She shrugged. "If you have concerns about my ability to conduct the investigation," she said to Anatoly, "you can raise them with my commander. Of course, I don't know how worried the department will be about complaints from a Bratva member. Keeping organized crime happy is generally not high on the priority list."

The three men stiffened and Rory gave her a startled look. Felicity realized she'd never told him about Anatoly and the Bratva. He stared at her with his jaw hanging. Queen, on the other hand, appeared angry. She watched in morbid fascination as his face darkened and his jaw muscles twitched.

"A word," he said to her. "In private. Now." And without waiting for her response, he clasped her upper arm and began pulling her alongside him down the hallway. Curious about his reaction, she didn't resist.

"Hey!" Rory yelled sharply.

"It's okay, Ror," Felicity called back over her shoulder. "We won't be long." When she and Queen were far enough away not to be overheard, she jerked her arm out of his grasp and stopped. "Manhandling a cop in the middle of HQ isn't a great idea," she said. "It's full of other cops who don't take kindly to seeing one of their own being threatened. You're lucky someone didn't stun you." She gestured at the uniforms passing in the hall, several of whom were openly staring.

He glared at her.

"Well?" she added impatiently. "You've got me alone. What is it?"

His jaw tightened again. "I would hardly call this alone. Isn't there someplace less public we can go?"

"Afraid someone might take your picture talking to a cop?"

He gave her a disgusted look. "I'm not even going to dignify that with a reply."

"Fine. Then you won't mind talking here. Anatoly can't hear us and I doubt he can read lips from that distance." She looked down the hall to where Rory and the Russian stood, watching them.

Queen opened his mouth as if to argue further, then exhaled. "All right, have it your way." For several seconds he said nothing. Then, he blurted out, "Are you insane?"

"Excuse me?"

"I said, are you insane - provoking a Bratva boss?"

She felt a chill run down her spine but kept her voice light. "Anatoly is a boss, not just a member? I don't think the feds had that in their file."

"This is not a joke, for Chrissake. Anatoly is a captain, a Bratva captain. That's a position of considerable power. In his world, he's used to getting what he wants, and he's not above using violence to get it, even against cops."

She stared at him.

"And if you think he's just one man," Oliver continued, "that he's on his own because he flew in from Russia, then think again. The Bratva's reach extends well into Star City. He's got resources here he can call upon."

He was talking to her as if she were a child. She felt her cheeks grow warm. "I'm well aware that the Bratva operates in Star City," she snapped. "We're not as stupid at the SCPD as you like to think. The Bratva are believed to be a major supplier of street drugs. I'm wondering how a legitimate businessman like you would be such an expert, though. It's hardly part of a CEO's duties. Unless, of course, the rumors are true and you're not so legitimate."

Queen's jaw jutted out. "I'm legitimate, Detective. I'm not naive. I keep a finger on the pulse of my city. So yes, I know about the Bratva and about every other criminal element that threatens my businesses and our economy. I pay people to provide intelligence. What I don't know is why the hell an otherwise intelligent woman thought it was a good idea to poke a Bratva captain in the eye. Because he insulted your capabilities?" He shook his head. "I thought you were smarter than that."

"I'm a cop. Provoking people is a proven investigative technique. You apply pressure and they react."

He narrowed his eyes. "Is that what you were doing with me yesterday? Applying pressure?"

"Maybe."

"I don't recall giving you much of a reaction."

She surprised him by smiling up at him. "You're here, aren't you?"

Oliver opened his mouth and then closed it, because...fuck...the woman was right. He was here now, he broke into her apartment earlier, he was doing a whole smorgasbord of uncharacteristic things because she had elicited a reaction from him - although probably not the reaction she had intended. Even looking at her now, he was almost undone by her smile.

He exhaled, letting his anger drain, then gently shook his head. "Applying pressure sounds like a dangerous technique, Felicity, especially when you end up provoking organized crime. I would rather you avoid that approach with the Bratva."

His familiar use of her first name should have annoyed Felicity, but it didn't. She thought that Queen seemed genuinely concerned. She shrugged. "I'm fairly certain Anatoly already knows the intelligence agencies are aware of his affiliation and are keeping an eye on him. And I would have to be really stupid not to have looked into him as Isabel's closest relative. I don't think I surprised him, and I doubt he's going to send the Bratva after me because I pointed any of this out."

Queen didn't appear convinced. "I don't know, Felicity. When I came down the hall he looked pretty damn angry."

"He's angry because I wouldn't given him the name of Isabel's dealer."

Queen frowned. "Isabel was using?"

"We found solid evidence suggesting Isabel went to the Glades for a drug deal."

He shook his head. "Isabel has always been very careful about her diet and substances. I have a hard time believing she would use drugs."

Felicity lifted her hands. "I'll say the same thing to you that I said to Anatoly. Everyone I've interviewed said Isabel enjoyed being queen bee at the ballet and liked being the best. She was also a very private person. Do you know her so well that you're certain she wouldn't take something to stay on top? There had to be a reason she was in the Glades so late and I doubt she went there for the mini-marts. And you said it yourself last night, Mr. Queen-"

"Oliver."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Oliver. I broke the first name barrier a couple of minutes ago and called you 'Felicity.' So it's acceptable - even required - for you to use my first name now as well."

Felicity paused, confused by his change in tone. Had the man switched to flirting? If so, his timing sucked. She pursed her lips. "Fine. You said it yourself last night, Oliver, that dancing had taken a toll on her body. Maybe she was willing to use something that would allow her to keep dancing longer - something to give her energy and help with the pain."

He regarded her thoughtfully and didn't reply.

Felicity waved a hand. "And I don't know why I'm telling you this, particularly since you're still on my suspect list."

Oliver grinned. "No, I'm not. You trust me."

"About as far as I can throw you."

"Maybe this will help." He reached into the inner pocket of his suit jacket and withdrew an envelope. "The security discs from my home system. It's why I came to HQ this morning. When you watch the footage, you'll see that I got to my house about a half hour after I left the fundraiser."

She held out a hand for the envelope but he pulled it away, raising it out of her reach. "In return, I want you to promise me you'll be careful around Anatoly. He looks like a harmless little man but he's not."

"And you're so sure of this how?"

He pressed his lips together. "I've gotten to know him through his niece."

And there it was again, Felicity thought, the dull, little throb of disappointment. Just how much time had Queen spent with Isabel?

"The niece with whom you had no relationship other than casual sex," she said flatly.

"That's the one."

She gave him a skeptical look. "That doesn't quite add up, Mr. - Oliver. People usually don't get to know the families of their casual sex partners, especially the parental figures. Even these days, it's kind of frowned upon to know that a guy is using your daughter for sex."

"I like to think Isabel and I used each other. And it wasn't entirely sex. As you know, we had a couple of charities in common, which led to some working dinners. Anatoly joined us several times when he came to visit her."

"During which he talked about his non-harmless Bratva activities? That's how you came to know so much about them?"

Oliver laughed in spite of his worry. He liked that she didn't back down. "Whatever the gossip blogs or your commander might say about me, Felicity, I'm a good businessman - which means I'm good at reading people. It didn't take me a lot of time with Anatoly to figure out that he isn't your average uncle."

She remembered the vibe she'd gotten from the Russian when she'd first spoken with him over the phone. She couldn't argue with Oliver.

"You saw them together. Do you think he loved Isabel?" she asked abruptly.

Oliver sobered. "Without a doubt. Loved her. Was proud of her."

"So, if she was getting drugs through the Bratva and he found out - there might be a few heads within the organization that would roll?"

Oliver glanced down the hall to where Anatoly still stood with Rory. "Yeah," he agreed. "Heads might roll. But I don't think anyone in the Bratva would be stupid enough to deal to Isabel. They'd know they were putting their lives in jeopardy. That might be why she had to resort to a dealer in the Glades."

"Maybe." Felicity reached up and snatched the envelope of his hand. "Thanks for the discs...and the info. If these clear you," she waved the envelope, "then you'll be free to leave town again."

He gazed down at her blond head. Her hair was glossy and her cheeks were still a little pink.

"Now, why would I want to do that, Felicity? Things are far too interesting right here in Star City."

Chapter Text

"You gonna tell me what that was about?" Rory asked, as he slid into the passenger seat of Felicity's car.

She tapped the On button and the electric motor silently came to life. "Which part?"

"Pretty much all of it. The angry Bratva guy. And your little tete-a-tete with Oliver Queen."

"Tete-a-tete? Have you been watching period dramas again, Ror?"

He didn't laugh. "Don't think you can joke your way out of answering the question. Things got a little...intense...back in the hallway. I want to know what's going on."

When Felicity focused on maneuvering out of her parking space and didn't reply, he added, "C'mon, Smoak. You've got me doing the electronics for your vic and we're on our way to talk to her drug dealer-"

"Alleged drug dealer. We don't know for sure yet."

"Fine. Alleged drug dealer, whom I identified through some very nice cyber-detection. I'm part of your investigation now. One might even say I'm your partner. So, what's up?"

She drove toward the doors of the SCPD parking garage. "In a nutshell? The little Russian man is Anatoly Knyazev. He's my vic's uncle - really more like her father because he raised her after her mother died. Diggle told me that the feds have him down as a member of the Bratva. Judging by Anatoly's reaction when I brought it up, I'm thinking that information is accurate."

"No shit. Didn't stop him from coming to police headquarters today, though."

"No, it didn't. I think Isabel meant a lot to him. I did the notification after her body was found. He was in Russia at the time and he looked pretty shaken. Shaken enough, evidently, to fly to another country and visit a police station without worrying about the consequences." She pulled out of the garage and onto the street. "What's the address of the dealer again?"

"Alleged dealer."

She laughed. "Just give me the damn address."

Rory gave it to her. Then he frowned. "Aren't you going to put it into the system?"

"I know where that is. It's in the Glades, not far from where I live, actually."

He gave her a sideways look. "When are you going to move out of that place, Smoak, and join polite society?"

"When I can afford the same size apartment in another part of the city."

He ran a hand over his thick brown hair and made an exasperated snort. "In other words, not in the foreseeable future."

She didn't reply.  She was busy organizing her list of questions for Ramirez in her mind. Traffic was light, especially for noon on a Friday, and it wasn't going to take long to get to his apartment. She needed to be ready.

"What about Queen?" Rory asked, interrupting her thoughts. "What's the story with him?"

She instantly felt uncomfortable in a way she hadn't when he'd asked about Anatoly. "Queen was with Isabel on the night she died. He was her escort to a fundraiser," she answered. She almost laughed at herself for using escort and not date. "I interviewed him yesterday."

"And he felt he knew you well enough today to grab you by the arm and drag you down the hallway? Must have been a cozy interview."

She hoped her voice sounded casual. "He's a CEO and a bazillionaire, Ror. I think he's accustomed to having people do what he wants when he wants, even cops."

"Especially cute blond ones." When she made a face, he continued, "So what did the bazillionaire have to say just now in our hallway?"

There was a dark blue sedan that had been behind them for awhile. She made a right turn, and peering in the rearview mirror, saw the car turn after her. It was an expensive model, not a vehicle you'd normally find heading toward the Glades.

"Smoak?"

"Yeah?"

"What did Queen have to say?"

She sighed, "I think we're being followed."

"Queen said, 'I think we're being followed'?"

"No, I'm saying it. There's a blue sedan that's been a car or two behind us ever since we left the parking garage. I think Anatoly guessed that we'd be going to see the drug dealer and made a call to have someone follow us."

Rory turned in his seat and stared out the back window. "You think Anatoly is planning to go after the dealer himself?"

"I think it's a distinct possibility."

"Well, what are you waiting for? Launch the program to lose him."

She grimaced. "I hate doing that. It makes me car sick."

"Statistics say the computer is twice as effective as a human driver at losing tails."

"I know. I just don't like it." With a sigh, she pressed a button to have the car's rear camera capture the blue sedan in its frame. Then she entered their destination and started the evasion program. The autonomous driving feature took over, accelerating the car quickly so that she was pushed into her seat. After that, it was a matter of sitting there as the car sped up, slowed down, and made abrupt turns that had Felicity's stomach churning.

Rory chuckled. "You're looking a little green there, Smoak."

"Yeah. Thanks, Ror."

"While the car does its thing, why don't you take your mind off it by telling me what Queen had to say? Don't think I didn't notice that you avoided answering."

She swallowed as the car braked hard to take a right turn and a wave of nausea hit her. "He really didn't say much. Just told me how dangerous the Bratva can be and to be careful."

"Because a corporate CEO is such an expert on the Bratva."

She shrugged. "I said something similar to him. His response was that he keeps his eye on anything that affects business in Star City, including info on the criminal element. He pays people to provide him intelligence."

Rory grinned. "Yeah, right." He looked at her and his grin disappeared. "You're not buying that, are you? I assume you know about his reputation - that he's believed to have done some pretty ruthless things to get to where he is. A lot of people in the department think he killed his father in order to gain control of Queen Consolidated. I wouldn't be surprised if he had ties to the Bratva."

"Diggle gave me the lowdown on Oliver. Pretty risky way to take out your father, in my opinion - going down in a plane crash with him."

"If that's what really happened. Maybe he never got on that plane and just went into hiding for a couple of years."

Felicity drew in her breath as their car squeezed between two large trucks. "I'm looking into Oliver as far as it relates to Isabel Rochev's death. I'm not looking into every rumor that has dogged him since he got back to Star City. I'm pretty sure that's already been done and nobody's been able to prove a thing."

"Doesn't mean there isn't any truth to it."

She turned to face him, doing her best to ignore the churning in her stomach. "What's the real issue here, Rory? Clearly you have a bug up your butt about something."

He stuck out his jaw. "It's just...Queen. He got under my skin this morning. I mean - the way he looked at you in the hall. Like you'd known each other for a long time. As if he felt responsible for you. It was kind of weird, Smoak."

She felt her cheeks grow warm. Blushing was getting to be a regular thing for her. This time, though, there was an element of pleasure in the warmth, not just embarrassment. Oliver was acting as if he was responsible for her? Why on earth would he do that unless he had some concern for her safety? Of course, if he was as clever as everyone said, he could have come to HQ to find out what she knew...or even to misdirect her investigation. But then what made him bring her the security discs without waiting for the warrant?

The man was confusing.

None of which she was going to say to Rory. Instead, she stated flatly, "You're making too much of this. I met and interviewed Oliver yesterday because he was one of the last people to see Isabel alive. I asked for the security discs from his home system to verify that he'd returned when he said he had. He brought them to me today. I don't think he wanted to give them to me in front of Anatoly - to have Anatoly know that he might be a suspect, so we went down the hall." She noted that the blue sedan was no longer in sight. "As for the way Oliver was looking at me? I think he looks that way at a lot of women. He has the reputation of being a ladies' man."

Rory studied her. "Okay," he said after a moment. "As long as you're not buying his line."

"I'm not." Was she?

"Good."

Evasion program completed, the car's computer announced in a monotone.

Felicity sighed in relief and looked out the window. There was no sign of the blue sedan - or any other respectable-looking vehicle for that matter. All she saw were dented clunkers along the side of the street, signaling that they were indeed in the Glades.

She pointed to a grey, five-story building with graffiti covering one corner. "That's Ramirez's building. There's a parking lot a block away where I can leave the car out of sight, just in case our tail manages to find his way to the neighborhood."

Rory gave her a wry look. "You know, it's a little scary, Smoak, how well you know this area."

"It's just the Glades, Rory. It's not Mordor. People live here and go about their business every day. Besides, you're a cop. You're supposed to be willing to go anywhere in pursuit of justice."

"I'm DED, Smoak. I sit behind a desk and analyze electronics. That's what you used to do too, until you got it into your head to join Homicide." He paused. "I'm still don't get why Diggle was okay with that move. You're so damn good with the cyber-stuff. Best I've ever seen. I would have thought he'd have pushed you to stay in DED."

She pulled into the parking lot and headed toward the back row, looking for a space well away from the road. "Didn't we agree we weren't going to talk about this anymore? And as for Diggle, I think he's old school. He believes in instincts and likes cops who use their heads and don't rely only on computer predictions. My guess is he thought the experience in Homicide would make me a better cop. I can always go back to DED later."

"Assuming your tech skills stay sharp enough."

Felicity thought about the computer she'd built and the ease with which she'd shut down Curtis Holt. She smiled. "I keep 'em sharp. No worries there."

Rory eyed her but said nothing.

She opened the door and slid out of the car. "Let's go. We have an alleged dealer to interview."


Alleged became less of a joke when Ramirez answered the door and let them into his apartment. There was nothing about the place that gave Felicity a criminal vibe. The apartment was small but homey, and the color pink featured predominantly in the decor. There was a small pink coat hanging on a peg near the door and a pair of miniature pink athletic shoes on the floor beneath it. Drawings of pink flowers were taped to the walls and Felicity spotted a stuffed pink bunny on one of the chairs.

Either Ramirez was really in touch with his inner child, or he shared his living space with a little girl.

Glancing around, Felicity noted a half dozen photos of a girl placed about the living room, some with her alone and some with Ramirez crouched next to her. The girl had dark hair, large dark eyes and, judging from the resemblance, was Ramirez's daughter. Felicity guessed her to be nine or ten years old.

Ramirez himself was in his mid-thirties. He stood five-eight; not tall, but lean and muscular, with close-cropped dark hair, dark stubble on his jaw, and large brown eyes that matched his daughter's. He was wearing faded jeans and a long-sleeved tee shirt, and had a scar under one eye that would make him appear dangerous in certain circumstances - when he was angry, Felicity thought, and not gazing fondly at the pictures of the girl. At the moment there was no sign of anger. He just seemed resigned.

"What's happened now?" he asked, when Felicity showed him her badge.

Felicity exchanged looks with Rory before replying, "What makes you think something's happened?"

Ramirez shrugged. "When you have a record and live in the Glades, you're usually at the top of the SCPD's list when something goes wrong. It doesn't matter that I've been legit for over ten years. Between you and child services, I can count on someone coming to my door every few months."

Felicity wasn't sure about the SCPD, but she didn't think child services would have any complaints. The apartment was on the shabby side, with well-used furniture and scarred wooden floors, but it was neat, organized and cheerful. She would have loved to live in a place like this when she was in the foster system. Her gaze landed on a desk holding a computer and paper copies of various designs; logos, cartoon-style sketches, and more serious portraits in pencil or pastels.

"Is that what you do for a living?" she asked, pointing at the sketches.

He nodded. "Graphic artist - freelance. I was always pretty good at drawing when I was in school, better than I was in academic subjects. When I was in prison, I took some classes and decided I was going to make my living from it. I'd love to get a permanent position with a marketing company. It would mean better pay and benefits. But with my record…" His voice trailed off. "They find out you did time and they're not too keen to offer you a job. Still, freelance covers the bills and lets me be here for my kid."

Rory gave a noncommittal nod. "She's your daughter?"

"Yeah. Her name's Zoe. Her mom passed a couple of years ago so it's just her and me."

His voice softened and it was evident he was crazy about her. Felicity noticed that there were several drawings of Zoe in addition to the photos placed about the room. The drawings were lifelike, not so much in their physical accuracy but in the expression on the girl's face. Zoe looked like a happy girl, ready to share a secret.

"Did you do those?" She pointed again.

"Yes."

"I like them. They show her spirit. I'll bet she's a great kid." She ignored the hard look Rory gave her. "How old is she?"

Ramirez smiled for the first time since Felicity and Rory had set foot in the apartment. "She's nine and she's a sweetheart. She's getting good grades in school, her teachers love her, and she's a big hockey fan. We watch games together on TV in the evening. What more could I ask for?" He met Felicity's eyes and his grin disappeared. "But that's not what you're here to talk to me about."

Felicity shook her head. "No, that's not why we're here." She pulled up Isabel's photo on her tablet. "Do you know this woman?"

He examined the picture. "No."

"You're sure? Take a good look."

He studied it again and sighed. "I'm sure. But I have a feeling you're going to connect me to her somehow."

"Why?"

"It's the usual pattern when the cops come around. A witness has seen someone who looks like me prowling around her home. Those of us in the Glades...we all look alike to the rest of Star City."

Rory frowned. "It's more than a witness. Her phone records show you making a call to her three nights ago, around ten-thirty. And several times before that over the last couple of months."

"That's not possible. I've never spoken to that woman in my life."

"How can you be so sure? We haven't even told you her name."

"Because I don't call many people. My daughter's school and her pediatrician. The parents of a couple of her close friends. The restaurant down the street for pizza. Other than that, we keep to ourselves." His voice was matter-of-fact.

Felicity glanced at Rory. His face was neutral, so she couldn't tell if he was buying Ramirez's story as much as she was. Her gut said the man was telling the truth.

She turned back to Ramirez. "Can I look at your computer?"

"Don't you need a warrant for that?"

"Without your permission, yes. I'm hoping you'll give me your permission. I have a good guess about what I'm going to find."

"Felicity-" Rory cautioned.

"What do you think you're going to find?" Ramirez asked, interrupting him.

"I think I'm going to find someone hacked you."

"Felicity-" Rory began again.

"Oh, what the hell," Ramirez said. "Go ahead and look. You'll just come back with a warrant anyway. And I'm telling you the truth."

"Okay, then." She ignored Rory's disapproving expression and sat at the computer. Then she began typing.

"Don't you need my passcode to get in?" Ramirez asked.

Felicity raised one finger and continued typing with her other hand. After a moment, she sat back and watched the screen. It took another minute before the code stopped scrolling and Ramirez's files popped up.

"What the hell?" Ramirez asked, while Rory muttered, "Show-off."

Felicity shrugged. "You're crazy about your daughter," she said to Ramirez. "You just told me she's nine, so she was born in 2053. I wrote a quick program that would cycle through a combination of her name and dates in 2053 to get to her birthdate. That gave me your passcode. Pretty straightforward."

"Well, shit." He stared at his information on the screen.

"Yeah. You really should pick a more complex passcode."

"I guess so. Could someone else have done what you just did?"

"That's what I'm thinking." She opened up several log files and studied them. "Oh yeah. Someone's been here for a while. They've got a bunch of your personal data, including the password to your cell phone account."

"My account," Ramirez repeated. "But they didn't have access to my actual phone."

"They wouldn't need it. The account data allows them to spoof calls from anywhere using their own device. They wouldn't need yours."

Rory leaned over Felicity's shoulder and studied the screen. "They've covered their tracks, too. The IP address isn't one that's typically used in this area so it's probably fake."

Felicity nodded. "Yes."

Ramirez ran a hand over his short-cropped hair. "Someone contacted the woman in the picture using my phone number? Why?"

Felicity sat back. "You've already told us why," she replied, looking at Rory and not Ramirez. "You've got a conviction for drug dealing, so you pop up on the police's radar, especially when a case involves a deal in this part of the city. Someone wanted to lure the woman to the Glades. They had to know we'd do forensics on her electronics and they didn't want us to be able to tie the call back to them. Using your account points us at you and away from them."

"But I don't know this woman, whoever she is. Why would my name get her to come to the Glades?"

Felicity continued looking at Rory. "This is not the first call from your number that we found on her phone. They probably took a couple of months to establish a relationship with her - maybe they already sold to her using your name."

Rory met her eyes and nodded slowly.

"But couldn't the woman who received the calls just explain to you that she's never seen me?" Ramirez asked. "That seems like an easy way to get to the truth."

Felicity shook her head. "She can't," she replied, "because she's dead."

Ramirez stared at her. "Dead? But that would mean that someone is setting me up for more than a drug deal. They'd be setting me up for...for…"

"Murder," Felicity finished. "Or at least an accessory to murder. Yes."

He looked bewildered. "But why me?"

"My guess is that you're simply convenient. It's nothing more than that."

"But my kid - I'm all she's got. If I'm put away, she goes into the foster system."

Rory shook his head. "I doubt that matters to whoever did this."

"Can you figure out who is doing it?" Ramirez was beginning to sound less bewildered and more angry. When Felicity didn't reply, he continued, "You got into my computer in a couple of minutes without me giving you my passcode. So I'm thinking you also have the skills to trace this somehow, to figure out who's setting me up and trying to take my kid away from me."

Felicity met Rory's eyes again. "Tracing it back to its origins is not as simple as what I did a few minutes ago," she said. "This person - or people - took care to cover their tracks. It's going to take time. Can we take the machine with us? We'll be quicker if we hook it up to the equipment in our lab."

Ramirez started to nod but then hesitated. "I promised a client I'd get a design to him by close of business today. It's kind of important. If he likes it, it'll mean steady work - and income - for the next six months. I need the computer to finish it."

Felicity frowned. "You don't have a backup machine?"

"Are you kidding? I could barely afford this computer, what with the fancy graphics card and programs."

"But you backed up your data, right? We could give you a temporary machine."

Ramirez looked embarrassed. "No, I haven't backed up the data either."

Felicity grimaced. "Computers have been around for eighty years," she said to Rory. "When are people going to learn?"

He smiled and shrugged.

Felicity wanted the machine - now. Everything else she had looked into had turned out to be a dead end. Finding out who set up Ramirez felt like it could be her first real lead. But she couldn't deny the man the chance to make some money. And realistically speaking, they were only talking about a delay of a few hours. She was supposed to go to the hockey game tonight, anyhow.

"Okay," she said reluctantly. "You finish whatever you need to do today. I'll swing by tomorrow and see what I can do with the computer."

"Tomorrow's a Saturday," Ramirez pointed out.

"Murder cases don't respect the forty hour work week."

"Fair enough. I'll make sure I finish the work today."

"Thanks. And if it's any consolation, I don't think this is personal. I think it's convenient. You fit a profile."

Ramirez shook his head. "No. That's no consolation at all."


Rory said nothing as they got into the car to return to headquarters. He waited until Felicity had pulled out of the parking lot and was driving down the street before he spoke.

"Well, it's clear you believe Ramirez," he commented.

"Don't you?"

He shrugged. "I suppose. It would have been convenient, though, if he was your killer." He gazed out the window, tapping his fingers on his leg. "Maybe he's faking it. You know, making it look like he was hacked when he really did call her and get her to the Glades."

Felicity shook her head. "You met him and you saw his setup. He doesn't have the equipment or the sophistication to fake a hack. Besides, what would his motive be? If he really was selling drugs to Isabel, then she was a customer and a regular source of income. Why kill her?"

"Maybe she was threatening him in some way. Do this or I'll tell the police you're dealing, and they'll take your daughter away. He'd do anything to stay with his kid. That was obvious."

"Yes, it was," Felicity agreed. Odd, she thought, how hard it could be to identify a good parent. On paper, her father must have looked great. A respected scientist with a couple of postgraduate degrees and a solid income. Yet he'd walked away from Felicity and her mother without a backward glance. Ramirez had a narcotics conviction and he dedicated his life to keeping his kid safe and happy.

"So, do you think it's a possibility?"

"Hmm?" She gave Rory a brief glance before returning her eyes to the road.

"Isabel. Do you think she could have been threatening Ramirez?"

"No."

"Because?"

"Because if he was her dealer, she couldn't expose him without exposing herself as a user. And she was a woman who cared about her image - she worked hard at making people believe she would never touch drugs. She wouldn't risk anything that might allow her to lose face."

Rory nodded and watched a mangy cat skitter down the sidewalk. "Fair point. So where does that leave your case?"

"I need to find out who hacked Ramirez's phone account. Whoever did...he's the one who helped lure Isabel to the Glades." She blew out her breath. "And I won't know how hard it's going to be to trace the hack until I get my hands on Ramirez's computer tomorrow."

"Diggle's going to be looking for progress sooner than that."

She didn't think Rory was trying to raise her anxiety level, but he'd done a good job of it, anyway.

"I know that, Ror," she snapped. "I'm open to suggestions."

He frowned and continued tapping his fingers. "Are you sure you're not ignoring other possibilities?"

"I have a wealthy woman who got lured to the Glades late at night. There's a list as long as your arm of people who didn't like her, although I don't know if any of them hated her enough to kill her. The last guy to see her alive, Oliver Queen, has a solid alibi-"

"You haven't analyzed the security discs from his home yet."

"No, but he gave them to me voluntarily, which says something. I'll look, but I don't think I'm going to find a thing. And I can't come up with a motive for Oliver, no matter how hard I try. I honestly don't think he felt strongly enough about Isabel to go to the trouble of killing her."

"What about her uncle?"

"No way. He loved his niece. And besides, he was in Russia."

Rory shook his head. "No. What I meant was what about something between Queen and Anatoly? It was clear at HQ that there's no love there. Maybe Queen killed Isabel to get back at Anatoly."

Felicity opened her mouth to dismiss the suggestion, but then paused. The theory wasn't all that far from something she had discussed with Diggle, only she'd been thinking of the Bratva. My other theory was that the Bratva was angry over something Anatoly had done, and they killed Isabel to send him a message.

She considered the possibility. It was true that Oliver and Anatoly had looked at each other with animosity. But what on earth could there be between them? They lived on separate continents and had only met a handful of times.

She shook her head. "I don't see Oliver doing this to get back at Anatoly. Their lives don't intersect enough."

"Then what do your instincts say? Top of your head - just give it to me."

She turned on the car's auto-drive, then sat back and looked at her hands as the computer took over. "My instincts say everything circles back to the way she was killed - the arrow through the heart. It's the same way the Star City Archer supposedly took out the gangs sixty years ago."

"Your instincts are telling you she was killed because of some old legend?" Rory didn't try to keep the doubt out of his voice. "No one knows if the Archer even existed. He was never captured on video. It was a story that grew legs. Maybe your instincts need a fresh cup of coffee."

She pursed her lips. "I think the Archer existed. There are enough people who remember him and enough old news stories on the internet, even if there's no video of him. And if he was just a legend, then I think what he stood for is still relevant to the case. The story says he took out bad guys. From everything I've found so far, Isabel certainly wasn't one of the good guys. Not many I've spoken to, other than her uncle, liked her. People considered her selfish, maybe even ruthless. My instincts say her death was some kind of judgment. It was the killer's way of saying, 'I'm cleaning up Star City again.'"

Rory shook his head. "There's a difference between being unpopular and being a truly evil person. An arrow through the heart is pretty damn harsh just because Isabel was a bitch."

"Maybe she was more than a bitch. Maybe she was evil. And even if she wasn't, what matters is the way the killer perceived her. If he saw her as evil, then that's enough."

"So how the hell do you find a killer based on his perception of your victim?"

Good question. She sighed. "You don't. You either dig into Isabel's life to find out what she was doing that the killer considered bad, or else you trace the hack and figure out who got her to the Glades at midnight."

"So, we're back to the hack."

She bit her lip. "Unless you found something else on her electronics that suggests she was into something nasty. Something you forgot to tell me earlier?"

"No. I found nothing unpleasant other than her brutal training regimen and watching every calorie she ate."

They were leaving the Glades and entering a nicer part of the city. Felicity watched the streets grow cleaner and the buildings become better maintained.

A thought occurred to her. "You know, we haven't looked at her droid yet."

Rory grinned. "The sex droid?"

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, the sex droid."

"No, we haven't looked at it," he agreed. Then he added, "Other than satisfying your prurient interests, looking at the droid would help your case, how?"

"Isabel kept the droid for more than sex. The thing managed her appointments and maintained her apartment. If we don't have any emails or phone records of Isabel's offensive activities...maybe they happened in person. Maybe the droid has a recording of it."

"In her apartment?" Rory asked doubtfully. "She struck me as an intelligent woman. I think she'd be smarter than to do something illegal in her own home."

"Maybe. Maybe not. People feel safe at home, they do things they would never do in public. And maybe what she was doing wasn't even illegal. We're talking about the killer's perception, remember? Isabel might not have thought there was anything wrong with it. I think it's worth taking a look."

"Gotta pursue all angles," Rory conceded.

They were silent for a few moments. The car turned onto the block that held SCPD headquarters and headed for the parking garage. Felicity held her breath as their vehicle maneuvered its way through the narrow entrance.

"Did you see yesterday's commentary in the Star Post-Gazette?" she asked Rory.

"About the arrow that killed Isabel signaling the return of the Archer?"

She nodded. "And insinuating that Isabel might have deserved her fate."

"Yeah. It was harsh."

She pursed her lips. "I think the killer leaked the story."

"Seriously?"

"Yeah. I first mentioned it to Diggle because I wanted to avoid figuring out whether one of the uniforms at the crime scene was the leaker. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense that it was her killer. He thought Isabel was a criminal of some sort. He killed her using the same method as the Archer. When it didn't make the news right away, he leaked it because he wanted everyone to see her as he does."

Rory pursed his lips. "If someone has taken it into his head to copy the Archer," he said slowly, "you know what that means, don't you?"

Felicity had a good idea of where he was going, but waited.

"Your killer could have a list," Rory continued, when she said nothing. "There could be others he believes deserve judgment. Isabel might be the first of many."

"I thought of that. Which means we have to get the guy before he has the chance to kill again."

"No pressure there."

She gave a weak laugh. "No."

The car slowed as it began moving down the winding ramp to the lower levels.

"So, what's next?" Rory asked.

"You have to look at that droid. Either tonight, or first thing tomorrow."

"Me?" Rory looked surprised.

She frowned. "You're DED, aren't you?"

"Yeah...but it's the weekend."

"You just agreed this is urgent."

He shook his head. "My own words coming back to bite me. I hate when that happens." He studied her and a gleam came into his eye. "You know, the investigation would go faster if we looked at the droid together. I'd be willing to pull his memory and dig into it with you this evening if you throw in pizza and beer."

It sounded a little like a date, albeit a working one. Another one of Rory's mixed messages. Felicity wasn't sure how she felt about it. She liked Rory - quite a bit, actually. But he was a colleague and she shied away from going out with other cops. At any rate, it was a moot point tonight because she had made a commitment to Sin.

"I'm sorry," she said, "but I can't this evening. I'm going to see the Lucky Stars play their home opener."

He rolled his eyes. "Really? Well, I guess the case can't be that urgent if you have time to go to a hockey game."

"If I hadn't promised someone I'd go, I swear I'd be working this. As it is, I'll be with Ramirez first thing tomorrow to look at his computer."

"That's what they all say." His voice was light, but it didn't totally disguise his disappointment. "Lucky Someone," he added.

"I'm not sure they're that lucky. I've been told I'm not a very fun date."

Rory shook his head. It was clear that he didn't think that would be true.

Chapter Text

The video from Queen's home security system showed him doing exactly what he'd said he had done. Felicity ran the footage on her computer at SCPD and watched Oliver get out of his car in front of the mansion at eleven pm, a half hour after leaving the benefit at the Queen Towers Hotel. If the argument with Isabel had upset him, his face gave no indication of it. He calmly placed his palm on the reader near the door, entered a security code, and then stepped inside. She couldn't help noticing that he looked damn good in a tux, especially with the top button of his shirt undone and the short black tie hanging loose around his collar.

Switching to footage from the foyer camera, Felicity watched Tommy Merlyn come down the stairs to greet Oliver. She turned up the audio, feeling vaguely voyeuristic. She reminded herself that this was her job.

"You're early," Merlyn said with a grin. "Was the Arts Council fundraiser too boring for you?"

Oliver shrugged. "It was the usual. A lot of handshaking and asking people to be generous. Hopefully, it was worth it. I should know in the next couple of days how much money we were able to bring in."

Merlyn nodded. "I'm surprised you came straight home. I expected you to want company afterward, or at least to blow off a little steam. I assumed Susan would be happy to shake your hand...along with several other parts of you."

Oliver tugged the tie from his neck and crumpled it in a fist. "She probably would be. But I'm headed to New York tomorrow, wheels up at six-thirty. It's just as well that I go to bed early and get a decent night's sleep."

Merlyn's grin remained, but he shook his head. "You know, Oliver, you've got people in the company who can take care of some of this stuff for you. You don't always have to be the one getting up at zero dark thirty to take the meeting - you're allowed to delegate. Hell, your employees might even like you for it. Career growth and all that shit."

"Galaxy is a sensitive deal. I'd rather handle this one myself."

"That's what you said about the last three deals." Merlyn paused and his grin grew broader. "Do I sense the bloom coming off the rose, as far as Susan is concerned? She's lasted longer than some of the others. What is it - eight months?"

"Six. And this has nothing to do with Susan. We're going out on Friday night, as a matter of fact. But getting Galaxy could be a real win for Queen Consolidated. I don't want to screw up the negotiations because I'm tired and off my game."

Merlyn studied Oliver, his smile fading. "When are you going to give it a rest, Oliver? You've already proven that you're better than your dad - better than your grandfather, too. You don't need to keep proving it, over and over."

Oliver gave his friend a steady look and said nothing.

"Seriously," Merlyn went on. "You've got profits coming out of your ears. You're paying off a debt that was never yours to pay in the first place. It's time you allow yourself a little fun."

"Tommy-"

"I'm not saying you have to be a party animal, Oliver. I'm just saying that it's been almost seven years. You've done what you said you would do - you're holding up the Queen end of the bargain. Why don't you allow yourself to relax a little?"

Oliver lowered his gaze and slid his hands in his pockets. "I'll think about it."

"Good."

They were both silent, with Oliver's eyes still focused on the floor. Then he lifted his head and yawned. "Well, I'm turning in. Have a good night, Tommy. I'll talk to you tomorrow when I get back from New York." He patted his friend's shoulder as he passed him, then headed up the stairs.

Merlyn stared after him for a moment before following.

Felicity stopped the video and sat back in her chair. "Is it me," she murmured, "or was that a weird conversation?"

She ran it two more times, studying the men's expressions as she listened.

I'm just saying it's been almost seven years. You've done what you said you would do.

Merlyn appeared perfectly serious. It was almost seven years, Felicity remembered, since he and Oliver had come back to Star City after being presumed dead. So what was it Oliver had said he would do? And what did Merlyn mean by, you're paying a debt that was never yours to pay in the first place?

She resumed running the footage, but the remainder of the video yielded nothing of interest. Felicity watched to make certain Oliver didn't leave the mansion until morning and was relieved, although not surprised, to confirm that he had told the truth. She also checked the recording for signs of electronic tampering and found none. To the best of her knowledge, Oliver had gotten home at eleven and then left the house at five-thirty the next morning, which meant he was nowhere near Isabel when she was killed.

Glancing at her clock, she was surprised to see that it was after six. She was meeting Roy at seven-thirty at the hockey arena, which meant she had barely enough time to get home, grab a quick bite, and change. She locked the security discs in her evidence drawer and shut down her computer. Before she could grab her purse and run, however, her phone rang.

Cursing, she saw that the call was from the medical examiner. She knew she had to take it.

"Smoak."

Dr. Lockhart's tired face appeared on the screen. "Good evening, Detective. You're working late on a Friday."

"I could say the same about you. And I was just getting ready to leave."

"I'll keep it brief, then. I'm not sure you're going to love the news anyway."

Felicity sighed, "Really? Because I could sure use a break on this case."

"I don't know that I'd call this a break, unfortunately. It's more of a puzzler."

"Another puzzler. Great."

He gave her a sympathetic smile. "We got the results back from the tox screen on your dancer. You can stop wondering whether or not she was using. We found traces of an amphetamine in her blood."

Felicity squinted at her screen. "That's what we expected, isn't it? What's the puzzler?"

"The puzzler is that it's not the same amphetamine as the one in the vial you gave me. It isn't Zoomer."

A different drug? Shit. Why couldn't anything in this case be straightforward? Felicity took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes."What is it?"

"On oldie but goodie - or baddie, I suppose I should say. Dextromethyliacin. Street name - Typhoon."

"Typhoon," Felicity repeated flatly. "Not Zoomer. Oh hell."

She rested her forehead in her hand and tried to imagine why Isabel would use one drug, but have a vial of a different drug in her apartment. Did people build up a tolerance for amphetamines? Was the ballerina trying something new because Typhoon was losing its effectiveness? Felicity hadn't had many cases involving drugs and was nowhere near an expert on them.

"Isn't dextro...methyl...iacin available by prescription?" she asked, stumbling over the scientific name.

"It is," Lockhart confirmed. "It's mainly prescribed to kids under seventeen with attention deficit order. It's almost never prescribed to adults. There's a pretty good street market for it, though. College students who want to be able to stay up all night studying, truck drivers who want to make their routes without stopping - that sort of thing."

"Are there any differences between it and Zoomer?"

"A few, even though they're both amphetamines. I actually think Typhoon would be the better choice for a ballet dancer. You take it by tablet and it's time-released. Your energy level may not get as high, but it's sustained over five or six hours. Zoomer is injected- you get a huge burst of energy for an hour or two but then a big drop." He peered at her over the phone screen. "Does this mess up your case?"

She gave an exasperated laugh. "I don't know that it can get any more messed up." Then she bit her lip. "Did Isabel have a prescription for dextro-whatever?"

"No. I got a copy of her patient records. She had no prescriptions at all."

"I see." Think, Felicity. Use your fucking brains.

She straightened in her seat. "Did Forensics find Isabel's fingerprints on the vial of Zoomer? I just realize I never asked."

Lockhart rubbed his chin. "Hang on a second, let me check her file." There was the sound of computer keys clicking. "No. Isabel's prints weren't on it."

"Any fingerprints?"

"No."

Felicity leaned back in her chair and tried to make sense of the data. She had a woman who everyone swore wouldn't take drugs...but took them. She had a vial of a street amphetamine from the woman's apartment with no fingerprints on it - a different amphetamine than the one found in the woman's blood. And she had fake phone calls pointing to a former drug dealer in the Glades. So...what's the story here? What fits the facts?

"You know," she said slowly, "I think I'm starting to get it."

"Really?" Lockhart raised his eyebrows. "Want to fill me in?"

Felicity steepled her index fingers and tapped them against her chin. "To start with, someone wanted to make certain that we learned about Isabel's drug use. They planted records from a dealer on her phone - well, a former dealer, I should say. And it seems pretty clear now that they also put that vial of Zoomer in her apartment."

"Because?"

"Because they were worried the police might not find out otherwise. It wouldn't have come out in an interview, at least not with the people she socialized or worked with. Everyone I talked to swore she wouldn't touch drugs. And depending on when she last used, there's a chance we wouldn't find it in her blood either. So, there was a possibility, particularly if we were sloppy, that we wouldn't know about the drugs."

"I still don't understand."

"I think someone wanted to do more than murder Isabel. I think they wanted to murder her reputation."

Lockhart frowned. "So, are you back to the legend then? You think the killer used the arrow to let the world know that Isabel was some kind of criminal, and is making extra sure by planting the drugs?"

"Yes."

Lockhart gave her a wry smile. "That theory isn't going to help you narrow down the list of suspects very much. If someone is imitating the Archer, a lot of people have heard the story."

"Maybe. But I don't think there are many people who knew that Isabel was using street drugs." Felicity paused. "Would her doctor have been aware of it?"

Lockhart shook his head. "It's not something you'd detect with the blood tests used in a standard physical. The only way her doctor would find out is if she was using heavily enough to experience obvious side effects. Given the state of her liver when I autopsied her, I'm certain that's not the case. Her organs looked healthy."

"Okay." Felicity nodded. "Anything else from the tox screen?"

"We also found traces of an opioid."

"An opioid and an amphetamine? Isn't that odd?"

"Not really. She was a professional dancer. She subjected her body to all kinds of stress. The opioid could be for pain and the amphetamine to give her energy before a performance. It's not a good idea to take the two of them together, of course, but her work makes the combination understandable."

"I assume the opioid was also an illegal?"

He sighed. "You assume correctly. It was Float. Like Typhoon, she wasn't taking it heavily enough to cause side effects."

"Why take it at all? Why not ask her doctor for a legal painkiller?"

Lockhart shrugged. "As you know, doctors are pretty careful about prescribing opioids. My guess is she couldn't get a prescription to treat pain chronically. Her doctor would tell her she needed to adjust her lifestyle, which would include more rest and less dancing. From what you've said, she wouldn't have liked that."

"No, she wouldn't."

Felicity fell silent. She wondered what it was like to be in a profession where you peaked in your twenties, then faced decades of retirement by your mid-thirties. "You said you saw arthritis in her joints. Can you tell how many years she had left before dancing got to be too much?" she asked.

"No." His voice was flat. "When it comes to pushing the body, the brain has a far bigger impact than the limbs. People can make themselves do extraordinary things if they want it badly enough." When Felicity didn't reply, he added, "So, does any of this help? Or did I just make your case worse?"

He sounded so concerned that she smiled. "You helped," she affirmed. "You've supported my assumption that I need to focus on the people who knew Isabel well, or at least watched her closely enough to know she was using."

As soon as she said the words, her thoughts returned to Oliver Queen. But hadn't she just proved that he was nowhere near the dancer when she was killed?

"Okay then." Lockhart sounded pleased. "I look forward to hearing the results of your investigation."

"You and me both."

Felicity disconnected. She was going to have to hurry to meet Roy on time.


Susan Williams had worked hard to appear casual for an evening at a hockey game. Oliver had enough experience with women to recognize when they put a lot of effort into looking like they had made no effort at all. Her artfully tousled hair, the subtle colors of her eye cosmetics as they transitioned from one shade to another, and the way her jeans fit perfectly to emphasize her long legs, all spoke of ample preparation and made him grateful he wasn't a woman. For his own part, he had changed in his office from a business suit to a pair of jeans and a Lucky Stars sweatshirt, an endeavor that had required all of thirty seconds.

At Oliver's request, they'd arrived at the arena early and were strolling the concession stands, observing the fans. As the new owner of the team, he wanted to get a feel for where the crowds spent time and money. He was pleased to note that the Lucky Stars had a following that spanned generations. There were parents with young children, but also twenty-somethings out on date night and older people sporting ball caps with the team's logo. It was a good mix. Still, he couldn't help noticing that the arena was less than three-quarters full.

"So, what do you think?" Susan asked him. "Did you make a good investment?" She had her hand tucked into his arm as they headed toward the owner's box. She seemed relaxed, happy to nod back at anyone who recognized them.

"There's opportunity for growth," Oliver said mildly.

"Ah, yes." She smiled. "Your specialty. Taking so-so businesses and making them into superstars."

"The business doesn't have to be a superstar. Just profitable."

"You seem to have a knack for more than just profitable, Oliver. What changes do you think you'll make first?"

They entered the owner's box, walled off from the rest of the stands to provide privacy and luxury. Normally, Oliver appreciated Susan's questions. She was an intelligent woman, and as an experienced political reporter, understood what made Star City tick. For some reason, though, her queries were irritating him tonight. He ignored the little voice that told him his irritation stemmed from worry after seeing Felicity face off against Anatoly Knyazev earlier in the day.

He headed to the buffet in the back of the box, looking for a bottle of water. "I'm not sure I should discuss my business plans," he said. "Is this Susan the reporter asking or Susan the friend? Because I really don't want to see my plans end up on the news tomorrow morning."

Susan appeared genuinely hurt. "First of all, 'friend,' Oliver? Given the amount of time we've spent in bed over the last few months, that feels like an awfully tame word to use. But," she sighed, "if that's the way you want to label us, then you should know by now that I consider you a friend too, and not a news story. If you say this evening is off the record, then it's off the record. I don't know what I could have done to make you question that. "

Her dark eyes were regarding him with concern. He nodded apologetically. "You're right, Susan. You've never abused our relationship for a story." When she continued studying him, he added, "I'm sorry if I'm out of sorts. Isabel Rochev's death is really bothering me. I can't get used to the idea that someone I know was murdered." And I can't get the detective who's investigating her murder out of my head.

Susan shuddered. "And killed with an arrow. I have to wonder what prompted that."

"'Prompted?'" He raised an eyebrow at the word.

"You know what I mean. It's an unusual way to kill someone. It has to be symbolic. The guys covering crime are trying to figure out what to make of it."

He opened a bottle of sparkling water. "Did you read yesterday's Post-Gazette?"

She grimaced. "I have to read it. The paper belongs to our station's owner and he wants all his employees to be one team." She raised her hands to put air quotes around one team.

Oliver smiled. As a CEO, he made it a point to avoid delivering similar initiatives to his organization. He knew they only annoyed people. "Then you saw the commentary about the Star City Archer," he said.

She nodded. "Yes. I thought it a little silly at first, but it seems to have people talking. So, kudos to the author. He or she knows how to raise The Gazette's ratings."

Oliver's smile disappeared. If Tommy had heard Susan's last statement, he would have more than a few things to say about the media profiting from the misfortunes of others. And he would have a point. But, in all fairness, Oliver reminded himself, news and ratings were Susan's job - and she was every bit as committed to her job as he was to his. He couldn't be angry with her for that. It was just that tonight - tonight, he seemed sensitive about everything.

He made another effort to be civil. "Why don't we talk about something else? Just because I'm mourning a friend doesn't mean I have to make you depressed too."

"'Mourning?'" It was Susan's turn to raise an eyebrow. "I know you went out with Isabel eons ago, but I didn't realize you still cared about her that much. Although you did seem to be getting friendly again the last couple of months. You spent a lot of time together over the Arts Council."

And that's not changing the subject. He shrugged. "I've known Isabel for quite a few years. I met her shortly after I returned to Star City. We had history. And the Arts Council is important. It's a good cause." He pointed at the buffet and tried again to switch topics. "Would you like a bottle of water?"

She took the hint this time. "Water will be fine for now, but I trust there's wine back there, too. It's been a long week and I'm a little tense myself. I was hoping we were going to help each other unwind later." Her voice was warm and a little throaty.

He didn't acknowledge the invitation. "Water it is." He retrieved a second bottle and brought it to her.

"Thanks." She patted his arm, her eyes warm. She was attractive, he admitted to himself. Laurel hadn't been wrong about his appreciation for tall, leggy women. And up until now, he'd been content with Susan's company, even if he hadn't been head over heels for her. Maybe sex later tonight wasn't such a bad idea. A little mindless release might kick him out of this mood.

A cheer rose from the fans as the Lucky Stars took to the ice to warm up.

"Whatever you do," Susan said as they sat, "you want to hang onto that one." She pointed to the smallest player on the rink. "She's the lifeblood of the team and the fans adore her."

"Sin?" Oliver nodded, grateful to be talking about something other than Isabel. "I looked into the team's revenues. Her shirt outsells all the other players, combined." He watched as the tiny woman crossed the ice with powerful, easy strokes, weaving between other players as she switched handily between skating forward and backward. She had to be quick, he thought, to avoid injury. The next largest player out there probably outweighed her by thirty pounds.

As Sin passed the section of the stands reserved for players' friends and family, she blew a kiss. Oliver smiled as a man and a woman blew kisses back at her.

Then he narrowed his eyes.

"Did you bring binoculars?" he asked Susan.

"No, but this is the owner's box, Oliver. I'll bet they've got some in here somewhere."

"Right." He rose from his seat and went to a cabinet in the back of the box. Sure enough, there was a pair of binoculars on one of the shelves. He returned to the front, raised the binoculars to his face, and directed them toward the friends and family section.

And there she was, the woman he'd been trying so hard not to think about; Felicity Smoak - blowing kisses at Sin with those lovely, sexy lips. Her blond hair was loose on her shoulders under a Lucky Stars ball cap and she was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved tee shirt. She looked relaxed and happy, as if murder was the last thing on her mind. And she wasn't alone.

Frowning, Oliver adjusted the binoculars to focus on the man sitting next to her. It was clear the two of them had some kind of relationship. They weren't making public displays of affection, but they grinned warmly at each other every time Sin skated by, and occasionally leaned against each other to talk. Oliver recalled the conclusion he'd drawn from Felicity's apartment, that she wasn't seeing anyone. Some detective he'd been. It was clear Felicity was well acquainted with the guy.

And he was a man that women would find attractive, Oliver grudgingly conceded. Mid-twenties, with a square jaw, straight nose, and grey-blue eyes that crinkled with humor whenever he looked at Felicity. It was tough to estimate his height, since he was sitting, but his shoulders were broad and he looked fit.

Kind of a pretty boy, Oliver concluded sourly. He'd figured Felicity would have preferred a man of more substance.

"Is something wrong?" Susan asked.

He cleared his throat. "Sorry?"

"I was wondering if there's something wrong. You have a bit of a scowl on your face, Oliver."

"No," he lied. "Nothing's wrong. I thought I saw someone picking pockets in the stands but I was mistaken." He hoped that didn't sound as lame to her as it did to him.

She got up to join him at the front of the box. "In the friends and family section?"

"Yes."

She stared at the section. "I think you must be mistaken. There's a guy hovering in the aisle who looks like he's Security. A pickpocket would be have to be pretty stupid to try anything in front of him."

Oliver followed the direction of her gaze and saw the man. He was wearing black slacks with a grey shirt and black tie, which did indeed look like a security uniform. When Oliver raised the binoculars to study him, however, there were no logos or company names on his shirt. And the man wasn't keeping an eye on the entire crowd. He was keeping an eye on one person. A blond person, with glasses and a ball cap on her head.

Oliver didn't think the man was Security. He thought the man was Bratva.

He turned to Susan. "Will you excuse me for a minute?"

Chapter Text

One of the good things about going out with a guy who wasn't a date, Felicity decided, was that you didn't have to spend a lot of time fussing to get ready. Neither one of you was trying to impress the other and you both knew you weren't going to end up in bed. So if a girl's legs weren't newly shaved or she hadn't fussed with hair and makeup, it didn't matter. A bunch of time-consuming rituals could be avoided.

Which was fortunate, because the call with Dr. Lockhart had left her with little time. She'd raced into her apartment, stripped off her weapon holster and sweater, and tugged a long sleeved Lucky Stars tee shirt over her head. Her slacks were replaced by a pair of faded jeans and she'd solved the problem of her hair, untidy from tugging on her ponytail all day, by letting it fall past her shoulders and sticking a ball cap on her head.

All of which seemed fine with Roy Harper. He met her at an entrance to the arena and gave her a fierce hug. "I'm so glad you could make it," he beamed. "I wasn't sure you'd agree to watch the game with me."

"Did I have a choice?" she joked, but then sobered when she saw his expression. "Of course, I wanted to watch Sin's game with you. You guys are the only family I have. Where else would I be?"

He smiled and they made their way to the friends and family section of the stands.

He looked good, she thought. He'd always had a handsome face, with those large grey eyes and regular features. But now he looked more mature and more at ease. He wore his light brown hair trimmed close on the sides and only an inch or so longer on the top. He was clean shaven, and unlike her, had forgone jeans for slacks and a cashmere sweater.

"I feel a little underdressed," she remarked.

"Don't worry about it. It's part of the guidance they give you when you get your escort license. If you want to attract higher class clients, you need to look the part, even when you're not working. At least until you're established."

She frowned.

"I know you're not crazy about the escort thing," he continued, "but it's an honest job and there are days when I have to work pretty damn hard at it. I'm sticking with it, which is more than I can say for the other jobs I've tried."

That was positive, Felicity conceded, as far as Roy was concerned. She and Sin had been lucky enough to know their talents at an early age. Sin was a star on the athletic field and Felicity was gifted with computers and mathematics. Their career options had been obvious. Roy's strengths had been less apparent. He'd been a mediocre student with a short attention span; handsome, but whose good looks were often marred by moodiness. To many in the foster system, he appeared to carry a chip on his shoulder, as if he expected the system to atone for the mother who had given him up to it. His warm heart, he'd shown only to his two best friends.

When he'd graduated high school, his jobs had been all over the map. He'd been a waiter, a construction worker, a limo driver and a retail sales associate. As a sales associate, he'd caught the eye of a men's clothing buyer which led to occasional modeling gigs. The modeling income was decent, but the work wasn't steady and he'd filled his downtime with expensive habits, spending most of what had come in. Felicity didn't think idleness was good for him. Like many people, he was better off with routine and regular responsibilities. She wondered if being an escort gave him that.

"Smoakie?"

"Hmm?" She met his eyes.

"I can feel that busy brain of yours churning. What are you thinking?"

"I was thinking about routine and responsibility," she answered honestly, "and wondering whether your job gave you that. You certainly seem at peace - more than I've seen you in a long time."

He nodded. "I am. When I'm not with a client, I'm almost always taking some kind of class."

"Classes for what?" she asked, then blushed, recalling that his job included taking women to bed. "That didn't come out right," she amended. "What I meant to ask is what kind of training…" Her voice dwindled. "That didn't come out right either."

He laughed. "The job is about a lot more than sex, Felicity. In fact, with a lot of clients, sex is the least important part."

"It is?"

"Oh yeah. They want companionship, someone to share things with. I need to be able to participate in their favorite activities and carry on a conversation. I'm studying music appreciation and ballroom dancing. I have a client who loves visiting gardens, so I'm taking a horticulture class. It's pretty interesting."

"Wow."

He laughed again. "Don't look so surprised. It's taken me some time, but I'm finally making up for not going to college."

She reached out and clasped his hand. "Well, it looks like it suits you."

"I'm happy."

"Happy is good."

They watched Sin circle the ice and blew kisses at her as she passed. Despite her anxieties about her investigation, Felicity felt herself beginning to relax. She was with one of her best friends, watching her other best friend excel at what she did. It was a nice evening.

"Felicity!"

She started in her seat. The voice calling her name didn't belong to Roy.

She frowned at him. "What the-"

"Felicity!"

She swiveled around and saw Oliver Queen standing on the stadium steps at the end of their row. He looked angry...or maybe worried...she wasn't sure which.

"Oliver?"

"I need to speak with you."

"Is it important?" she called out, and then cringed. He'd tracked her down in the stands of a hockey game. He must think it was pretty damn important. She felt a quiver of excitement. Maybe he's got new information about Isabel.

But then he said, "It's not about your case, if that's what you're asking. At least not directly. But we need to talk."

Not about the case? She frowned. What could they have to talk about other than the case?

"Can I call you first thing tomorrow?" she asked. "We," she gestured at Roy, "haven't seen each other in a while. We're kind of catching up."

Roy grinned and waved at Oliver. In return, Oliver leveled a stare at Roy. This time, there was no doubt that the businessman looked angry. "No," he said tersely, "it can't wait. We need to talk now, Felicity."

"Apparently we should be spending more time catching up on you and less time on me," Roy murmured to her. "For example, when did you get to know Oliver Queen?"

"Long story," she murmured back.

He grinned. "Well, you're gonna have to tell me. I'll bet it's a good one."

"Felicity!"

The woman sitting behind Felicity tapped her on the shoulder. "Unless you're married to this one," she pointed at Roy, "I'd go with the hunk in the aisle that's asking for you. Oliver Queen is handsome, rich, and single. You're not going to do any better."

"He's not-" Felicity began, but then stopped as Oliver decided he was going to take matters into his own hands.

"Excuse me," he said to the person at the end of her row. Then he began edging toward her, trying - although not particularly carefully - to avoid people's feet as he stepped in front of their seats. There were a few angry looks but also some curious smiles. A couple of people even snapped photos with their phones. When Oliver reached Felicity, he grasped her hand and tugged her to her feet.

"I'll be back in a minute," she said to Roy as Oliver turned and half-dragged her back down the row.

"What's your hurry?" the woman called out. "I'd take my time, if I were you."

Felicity pressed her lips together, not certain whether she was amused or angry. She was once again reminded that Oliver was a man accustomed to having people do as he said. She trailed him to the end of the row of seats and up the aisle steps until they were standing in an alcove. Then she tugged her hand out of his.

"This is a weird habit you're developing, dragging me away from colleagues and friends," she said. "What's so damn important this time that you had to interrupt me in the middle of a hockey game, if it's not information about the case? And how on earth did you know I was here in the first place?"

Oliver looked at her, and for a moment lost all notion of what he had planned to say. She was staring up at him with a flush on her cheeks and those beautiful, full lips parted . All he could think of was pulling her to his chest and lowering his mouth to hers. Then he recollected the Bratva and her danger.

He didn't think it was a good idea to tell her he'd been watching her from the other side of the arena with binoculars. So, he settled on, "You're not missing any hockey. They're still warming up - the game hasn't started yet."

"Really? That's what you're going with?"

"That, and you're being followed."

She snorted, "Yeah, by you, evidently. How else could you manage to spot me in the middle of an arena with ten thousand people in it?"

"Not by me," Oliver corrected. "By him." He gestured down the steps to where the man in the pseudo-security uniform was standing. The man had his attention focused on the ice but Oliver was certain that he'd been observing Felicity only a few seconds ago.

"Oh." Felicity nodded. "Him. The Bratva guy."

"The Bratva guy?" Oliver repeated. "You knew?"

She gave him a disgusted look. "I'm a cop, Oliver. Observing the surroundings is part of the job so, yes, I knew. Whatever you might think of my abilities - which apparently isn't much - I can generally spot a tail."

He shoved his hands in his pockets, suddenly feeling a little foolish. "I happen to have a high opinion of your abilities," he said defensively. "But if you spotted the tail, why aren't you doing something about it?"

"What do you think I should do? Confront the guy? Call it in? Shoot him?"

Good question. He stared down at her, taking in her faded jeans, her Lucky Stars jersey, and most importantly, her missing weapon. He frowned. "Clearly shooting is not an option since you don't have your stunner with you."

She glanced at her side as if she'd forgotten she wasn't wearing her holster. "The weapon doesn't go with my outfit," she said dryly. When Oliver scowled, she added, "Look, the man just wants to find out where I go. He's not interested in actually making contact with me. Up until a couple of minutes ago, he didn't know that I'd made him and I planned on losing him on the way home. Now that you've made a fuss, I'm not sure that will work."

So by coming over to help, he'd just blown her plan? This thing was going sideways on him. Oliver tried to get it back on track. "Why are the Bratva following you in the first place?"

She looked away and said nothing. He could see indecision flicker across her face.

"Felicity?"

She blew out her breath. "It's Anatoly," she replied. "He wants to know who was dealing drugs to Isabel and he thinks by following me, he'll find the dealer. It started this morning at headquarters, when I wouldn't give him the name. He had a car follow me. I lost the tail pretty quickly, but I guess he had someone do it again this evening when I left work."

Oliver was silent for a moment.

"So, why didn't you let him?" he asked in a low voice.

She looked up quickly. "Excuse me?"

"Why didn't you let the Bratva follow you to the dealer this morning?"

"Because if Anatoly finds the dealer, I'm pretty sure he'll take matters into his own hands."

Oliver inhaled quietly. "Would a dealer taken off the streets be such a bad thing?"

He was serious, she realized. He was asking her why she had prevented one suspected criminal from killing another. Felicity felt an ache in her chest; unexpected, dull and heavy. It was disappointment, she knew, more disappointment than it was reasonable to feel for someone she had met less than forty-eight hours ago - someone who was only supposed to be a witness in her investigation.

She looked away from Oliver and blinked wearily. "Everyone is entitled to explain himself. Everyone is entitled to due process, even a drug dealer. And in this case, the guy we thought was her dealer wasn't a dealer at all. He was being set up. So if the Bratva took him off the streets, they'd have killed the wrong person."

He heard the change in her voice. "I've upset you."

"Yes. I don't know why, because we don't really know each other very well, but for some reason, I expected more from you."

Her honesty stung and he wished he could take back his remark. He wasn't even certain he'd meant it, at least not entirely. He knew that he'd become accustomed to looking for expedient solutions, that he liked to take care of things quickly, without debate. And he knew that he had faith in his own judgment, especially when it came to people. Enough faith, in fact, to put his judgment above the law. He could point to a dozen instances where the law had failed.

Still, Felicity had seen those failures too, maybe even more than him since she was a cop, and she still believed in due process. She worked in a job where she was exposed to the worst in people, yet she was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Innocent until proven guilty.

He looked down at her and couldn't help contrasting her with other women he'd known, with Susan tonight. Felicity was utterly natural; intelligent but without artifice. She hadn't spent an hour in front of the mirror trying to appear casual for a hockey game. She'd clapped a ball cap on her head and left her face bare. And she didn't hesitate to tell him what she thought of him, knowing very well that it was not what he wanted to hear.

She had integrity, he thought. And old-fashioned word, for an unfashionable virtue.

He tried to explain. "Look, I'm not a fan of everyone taking the law into his own hands. It's just that...sometimes...the law works so slowly." Or not at all. "I just believe there are times when someone needs to take a stand to get something done."

"So you're probably a fan of the Archer," she said.

He swallowed. "You mean the Star City Archer, like the old legend?"

"Yes. The way the story goes, he got something done."

Oliver's eyes narrowed. "No," he replied flatly, "I'm not a fan of the Archer. From everything I've heard, he didn't see the bigger picture. He hurt more people than he helped."

She looked up at him - startled - and didn't reply. He watched her, wondering what she was thinking.

"I reviewed your security discs," she said abruptly.

Not exactly what he was expecting. "And?"

"And you got home from the fundraiser when you said you did."

Oliver nodded. "So I'm in the clear."

She didn't confirm it. Instead, she said, "I want to know what Merlyn meant by, 'you're paying a debt that was never yours to pay in the first place.'"

He stiffened and his brow furrowed. "I'm sorry?"

"It was on the video, when you first stepped into the house and Merlyn met you in the foyer. He said, 'you're paying a debt that was never yours to play in the first place.'"

Shit. He'd forgotten about that. He should have watched the footage more carefully before he'd handed the discs over.

He shrugged. "My dad leveraged Queen Consolidated heavily and left the company with a lot of debt - too much debt to remain viable in the long run. Ever since I took over, I've been trying to work that debt down to an acceptable level while still growing the business."

It was a reasonable answer, but it didn't ring true for Felicity. She recalled the intense way Merlyn had looked at Oliver and shook her head. "It sounded like he was talking about something personal, not business."

"In my position there often isn't a distinction, Felicity. I invest a lot of time and energy in my work, and it's hard not to take results as personal successes or failures." At her frown, he added, "Is it really that important, what Tommy meant? Surely you've seen enough evidence by now to know that I didn't have anything to do with Isabel's murder. You must know you can trust me."

She gave a tiny shake of her head. "I know that you were home when she was killed, which means you couldn't have shot the arrow. It doesn't mean you didn't hire someone, although I admit, I don't see a motive for you. The standard ones - love, money and sex - don't appear to apply. And we found no evidence in Isabel's electronics that she was blackmailing you."

Her answer disappointed him. It was a cop's answer, which meant she still wasn't thinking of him outside the context of her case. He realized he'd been hoping for a personal response - a sign that she was feeling some of the same attraction he was. He exhaled. "But - in spite of that - it sounds like you're still suspicious of me."

"Well, it's clear you weren't a hundred percent honest just now, when I asked you about the video. And I'm suspicious of everyone, Oliver. It goes with the job."

He didn't think that was true - that she was always suspicious. He bet that for the right person, she would walk through fire. "You didn't look suspicious a little while ago," he said, "talking to your friend there." He looked over to the seats, to where the grey-eyed man was watching the team warm up. "You looked pretty comfortable, even with the Bratva tailing you."

If she didn't know any better, Felicity would have sworn that was the kind of remark a jealous man would make. That made no sense, of course, because why on earth would Oliver Queen care who she went out with? Rather than explain her relationship with Roy, she said, "I'm not worried about the Bratva. I can drop them on the way home. So, if you came over to warn me...well, I appreciate the warning but it really isn't necessary."

She sounded confident and it felt as though she was trying to end the conversation. I should go, Oliver thought. It's clear she doesn't want my help. And she's probably right. She's a capable woman.

But his feet wouldn't move. Then, as if it had a will of its own, his hand reached out and took hers. Her fingers fluttered, active and full of life. He squeezed them gently. "Are you sure you'll be all right?" he asked. "Because I can help. I've got resources."

He sounded genuinely concerned. Surprised, Felicity looked at their clasped hands. I should pull mine away. Five minutes ago he'd been evasive, and even though she didn't think he'd killed Isabel, she knew that he was hiding something. But his hand was warm and dry. It felt good in the chill of the arena, strong and strangely reliable. Trustworthy, she thought, even though she had no reason to believe that other than instinct.

Should she go with her instincts?

She left her hand in Oliver's.

"I'm sure I can handle the Bratva," she said. "And if I have any doubts, I'll call it in to the SCPD." She paused. "So, why exactly are you here tonight if you're not following me? We never established that. Are you a hockey fan?"

"I am. And becoming more of one since I bought the team."

"You bought the Lucky Stars?" She allowed herself to smile. "Of course you did. Another step in the Queen Consolidated plan to own the world?"

He smiled back, a gesture that reached his eyes and made them crinkle. "Not the world, Detective. Just my little corner of it. I think the Stars are going to be a good investment. Since you're a fan, maybe you can go with me to a game and give me your perspective. I'd like to make some improvements but I don't want to mess with anything that's working."

He probably does this all the time with women, she reminded herself, so don't read too much into it. But how many invitations do you get from interesting and incredibly good looking men? It's just a hockey game. What could it hurt?

She felt the warmth from his fingers flowing into hers. "I can't claim to be an expert," she replied. "I'm here tonight because the center on the team is a friend of mine and I promised her I'd go. But if you're still interested when the case is solved, then-"

"There you are, Oliver. I was wondering what on earth happened."

The voice was feminine, almost feline. Felicity turned to see a brunette approaching. She was attractive; slender and tall, with large brown eyes and perfect makeup. Her jeans looked as though they had been airbrushed on.

The smile left Oliver's face and he released Felicity's hand. "Susan."

The woman gave him a puzzled frown. "You said you'd be gone a few minutes, and it's been more than a half hour. I was beginning to think you'd been called back to the office. But instead, I find you here. Are you interrogating your pickpocket?" She turned her gaze on Felicity.

There was something familiar about her, Felicity thought, and racked her brains to remember where she'd seen the brunette. The woman was glamorous and sophisticated, exactly the type you would expect to see Oliver Queen with. But then why doesn't he look happier to see her? Felicity studied the woman just as the woman was studying her, and resisted the urge to offer an explanation. Oliver had gotten himself into this - whatever this was - and it was up to him to get himself out. Felicity only hoped that he didn't say too much. She had no interest in getting acquainted with the brunette.

As if he understood, Oliver said, "Of course this isn't a pickpocket. Felicity is a friend of Sin's. I bumped into her on my way to speak with Security and ended up talking to her about the team."

The woman smiled. "He's always thinking about business," she said to Felicity, "even on a Friday night."

Susan Williams, Felicity realized, the city's top political reporter. Susan's photo had been one of several she'd seen when she'd researched Oliver's social life. Felicity was grateful Oliver had been smart enough not to introduce her as a cop. The last thing she needed was a reporter knowing who was in charge of Isabel's murder investigation.

"You'll let Sin know how much I value her contributions to the team?" Oliver said to Felicity. "Her contract comes up for renewal next year. I'd like to offer her something that makes both of us very happy."

Felicity nodded, relieved that he was going to take Ms. Williams away. "I'll let her know."

"Thanks." Oliver turned to Susan. "Should we get back to the box? The game has started."

Susan gave Felicity a thoughtful look. "Certainly, Oliver." Then slowly, deliberately, she wrapped an arm around his waist. "I was getting lonely there without you."

Felicity looked at Susan's arm, and then back at Oliver. Her face, normally expressive, was unreadable.

"Enjoy the game," she said.


Enjoy the game? Oliver sat in the owner's box and did his best to watch the game, forget about enjoying it. His conversation with Felicity kept replaying itself in his head, making it hard to think about anything else. In desperation, he focused on Sin. The center was an amazing athlete. She skated circles around her opponents and passed the puck frequently, giving every player on her team a chance to contribute. She was a star who didn't hog the limelight and made everyone around her better, which he bet made her as popular in the locker room as she was with the fans.

As good as Sin was, however, he remained tempted to pick up the binoculars to check on Felicity. Was she enjoying the game? Or was she paying attention to her grey-eyed friend, smiling at him and leaning over to brush shoulders again? Was she going home with him after the game?

Was the Bratva going to follow her?

The possibility gave him a chill. Felicity had been confident she could lose her tail, but he continued to have doubts. It dawned on him that if the Bratva had followed her when she left work, then they knew where she lived, assuming she'd gone home to change clothes.

"Is everything okay?" Susan asked. She patted his knee, then left her hand resting on his thigh. "You seem preoccupied. You've seemed that way all evening."

"It's fine," he replied shortly. "Just thinking about Sin's contract. You had a good point earlier about making sure she stays with the team."

Normally, Susan ate it up when he told her she'd made a solid business observation. This time, however, she eyed him skeptically. "You never told me how you met Sin's friend. You know, the blond woman you were talking with earlier? What was her name?"

Great. Oliver had hoped that Susan had lost interest in Felicity. But either her reporter's or her woman's instincts were kicking in. He didn't know which was worse.

"Felicity," he replied. "I don't know her last name. I saw her and her companion waving at Sin, so it was logical to assume that they were friends. It felt like a good opportunity to start working that angle."

He wasn't sure why he was lying, other than he felt a need to protect Felicity. He knew that Susan, if she were curious, could uncover the detective's full name and learn that she was working Isabel's murder. She had plenty of researchers at her news station and was a decent investigator in her own right. In fact, he was a little surprised Susan hadn't already looked into Isabel's death sufficiently to know the name of the lead detective. But then she covered politics and not the crime beat.

"Her companion looked like a professional escort," Susan said casually.

An escort? Felicity? Oliver's eyebrows rose. "You think?"

"I do. They were dressed differently. The girl didn't spend any time on her appearance, but the guy had taken care with his. Dress slacks, good haircut, recent shave. She wasn't trying to impress him, but he wanted to look good for her."

"I don't know," Oliver said slowly. "That doesn't mean he's a professional. It seemed like they knew each other well. And they both appeared to be friendly with Sin."

"The blonde could be a long term client of his. Hell, maybe Sin's a client too. There's nothing that says hockey players don't like sex. Maybe the three of them get together."

Oliver fell silent. He was having a hard time believing Felicity would hire an escort. But she was an adult and presumably had social and sexual desires like any other adult. And it would explain why there were no signs of a boyfriend in her apartment. Still...

"You're preoccupied again," Susan said. "I usually don't have to work this hard to get your attention and I'm trying not to take it personally. But I believe if I work a little harder, I might just be able to distract you." She ran her hand up his thigh until it rested on his crotch. Then she stroked.

He hardened under her hand, but not urgently - an automatic response, not an intense desire. She wasn't the one he wanted, he realized. Not tonight.

And maybe not ever again. Shit. Tommy was going to give him one big I told you so.

Susan stroked again and Oliver wondered how he could get out of this without an uncomfortable scene. He had matters he needed to take care of that didn't include her, and the easiest thing would be for her to go home voluntarily. Fortunately, he had Queen Consolidated. It served as a good excuse in a variety of situations, acceptable to someone like Susan, who understood the demands of a CEO's job.

He wrapped his fingers around her wrist and gently removed her hand from his lap. "I'm sure you could distract me," he replied lightly. "You're very good at it. Unfortunately I need to make an early night of it. I've got a number of overseas teleconferences early tomorrow morning."

And I want to make sure Felicity Smoak gets home safely tonight.

"Tomorrow's Saturday," Susan pointed out. She looked a little angry.

He gave her an apologetic smile. "CEOs really don't have weekends. They're like reporters that way. You know that." He squeezed her hand. "Raincheck?"

She studied him carefully and he was pleased to see the tension leave her eyes. "Raincheck. My bad luck for being attracted to a successful businessman."

"I'll make it up to you," he offered, almost certain that he didn't mean it.

Chapter Text

Felicity's phone buzzed at seven-forty-five in the morning, a time she considered highly unreasonable for a Saturday. Still in bed, she grabbed the offending device from the nightstand and prayed she wasn't getting called to another homicide. It would be unusual for the department to assign her a second case when she was busy with Isabel's murder, but it wasn't entirely unheard of.

She pushed the hair out of her eyes and blinked at the screen, surprised to see that the call was from Sin. Her annoyance instantly transitioned into worry. Sin avoided early mornings with even more determination than Felicity.

"Is everything okay?" Felicity asked, skipping the greetings and not bothering to block video.

"Good as gold," Sin replied.

Felicity paused, taken aback by the cheerful response. "Then why the hell are you calling me this early?"

"Well, good morning to you too, Cranky-pants. Not enough rest?" A gleam came into Sin's eye. "The game didn't go that late. Maybe you were up doing something else last night."

Felicity frowned, wondering how Sin knew she'd gotten on her computer after the game to research Anatoly. The idea of digging into the Russian's data had been on her mind ever since Diggle had put it there a couple of days ago. She hadn't been sleepy when she'd gotten home and a little hacking felt like a more productive thing to do than tossing in bed and dwelling on her conversation with Oliver Queen.

She sighed, "Fine, Sin. I admit I did some work when I got home after the game. Happy?"

"Work," Sin repeated dryly.

"Yeah, you know, work. Why? What did you think I had done? And what about you? Did you even go to sleep? Or are you still up celebrating your two goals?"

Sin grinned. "It was a good game, wasn't it? That Amazon they had on defense thought she was going to push me into the boards, but she never even got near me. It was really satisfying to score the second goal in overtime." She paused. "Nice PJs, by the way. I like the penguins. And your hair is especially attractive this morning."

"Their defense couldn't touch you," Felicity agreed, flopping back onto the pillows. "It was a great way to kick off the season. And what did you expect with my hair? I'm still in bed. This is not a reasonable hour for you to be calling."

The grin remained on Sin's face. "No, it's not, but I couldn't wait any longer to talk to you. Apparently I wasn't the only one who was scoring last night. Way to go, Smoakie."

"Huh?"

"You and Oliver Queen. I take back what I said a couple of days ago about him not being smart enough to see your worth. The guy was interested enough to find you in an arena of twelve thousand people. That's pretty frosty. In fact, I'm a little surprised that you're alone in bed this morning. I thought maybe you were up late because nature had taken its course."

Felicity gritted her teeth. Roy. Apparently, their childhood friend hadn't wasted any time telling Sin about Oliver coming over to talk to her.

"Look, Sin, whatever Roy told you-"

"Roy didn't tell me anything. I went to Inside Star City this morning to see what they said about the game and there you were, right at the top of the blog. Couldn't miss it."

"What?"

"Front page of the website, my dear. You and Queen, holding hands at the arena. It's cute. You make an attractive couple."

Felicity sat up in bed. "Please tell me that you're joking."

"Check it out for yourself."

"Shit. Give me a minute. " Felicity slid out of bed and trotted to her home office. "Computer on," she barked as she passed through the doorway. As the screen came to life, she added, "Show me, Inside Star City."

A soft hum from the machine and there it was. A photo of Oliver standing with her in the alcove at the arena, holding her hand. The caption beneath the photo read:

We guess Oliver Queen never heard the adage,"men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses" because he appeared very interested in a spectacle-wearing blonde at last night's Lucky Stars game. Queen recently purchased the hockey team, and according to sources, hopes to work his business magic to bolster crowds and revenue. We're all for it, if it means more jobs and a championship trophy. It looks like he's off to a great start with public relations.

Sources were unable to discover the name of the blonde.

"Oh fuck." Felicity sat in her computer chair and put her head in her hands. "Fuckity, fuck, fuck."

"C'mon, Smoak." Sin's voice was cheerful over the phone. "It's not that bad. They didn't get your name."

"They don't need my name. All my commander has to do is see the picture. As far as he's concerned, Oliver is a person of interest in Isabel Rochev's murder. It really doesn't look good for me to be cozying up to him."

"If it's any consolation, Queen looks like he's doing most of the cozying. I mean, look at the man's face."

Felicity reluctantly lifted her head and peered at the photo. It was true her expression was a bit more neutral than Oliver's. His smile appeared warm and intense while hers looked a little cautious. Still, she was holding his hand.

"I am so screwed," was all she could think of to say.

Sin chuckled. "Does your commander even read the gossip blogs?"

Felicity brightened. "No, he doesn't." Then, recollecting an earlier briefing with Diggle, her heart sank again. "But his wife does," she added. "I'm sure she'll tell him."

Sin's face sobered, although Felicity could swear her friend was suppressing the urge to laugh.

"Maybe you could hack Inside Star City and take down the photo," Sin suggested. "Limit the damage."

Felicity considered the idea. Removing the photo was easily within her abilities. But too many early birds had seen it by now. If the photo mysteriously disappeared, Inside Star City could report the hack and Diggle might suspect her involvement.

"It's too late," Felicity mumbled. "I'm going to have to take my lumps."

"There are worse lumps to take," Sin replied unsympathetically, "than having Oliver Queen look at you like you're water in the desert. Unless he's a murderer. Is he?"

"No. But I don't think his look is entirely sincere either," Felicity said. "He was at the hockey game with another woman. He really had no business holding my hand at all. And you said it yourself, the other day - he's an expert womanizer. "

"Oh, what do I know? The only person who looks at me with stars in his eyes is Coach after I score a hat trick. And may I point out that Inside Star City didn't catch him holding hands with this other woman...whoever she was. They caught him with you. You owe it to yourself to at least figure out if Queen is sincere. And that means spending time with the man. So the next time he comes up to you and takes your hand, hang on and see what happens."

"And if I find out he's not sincere?"

Sin sighed. "Then your heart will be dented for a little while. You've been through worse. You'll get over it."

"You make it sound easy."

"Of course it's not easy. But it's life."

"Right."

They were silent. Felicity was about to change the subject and tell Sin about her conversation with Roy, when her phone signaled an incoming call. She looked at the ID and grimaced. "Shit."

"Problem?"

"It's the commander. I think I'm about to take my lumps."


The tapping on Oliver's bedroom door disguised itself as part of his dream. He was floating amid the wreckage of the plane crash, bobbing up and down in the waves, his skin saturated in seawater and blue with cold. When his body slid into the troughs he could see nothing; not his family, not Tommy, not even the plane. Just the seat cushion he was clinging to and the blue-green wall of water in front of him. When he rose on the waves' crests, a section of the fuselage appeared along with scattered debris, but still no people. He was alone under a huge grey sky, fighting for breath in the freezing salt water.

The tapping was coming from the section of fuselage. There must be people inside it, he realized, still trapped in their seats. He tried to swim toward it, but any progress he made was cancelled when the waves inexorably pulled him away. The fuselage was sinking and the tapping was growing louder and more frantic. He wanted to save the people before they drowned - needed to save them - as much to avoid being alone as to keep them alive, but he couldn't make headway against the power of the ocean. He struggled harder, only to be driven back by even more force.

"Oliver."

Someone in the fuselage was saying his name, calling for him. He took a gulp of air and kicked desperately. The waves drove him back once again.

"Oliver!"

He opened his eyes and saw a wall of pillows where there had been a wall of water. The pillows were cream-colored, motionless and utterly nonthreatening.

It had been a dream. Just a fucking dream.

He breathed out in relief and rolled onto his back, gazing up at the clean white ceiling of his bedroom. He felt a bead of sweat roll down his temple. Then he saw Tommy staring down at him.

"Bad dream," Oliver said.

Tommy took in the tangled sheets and the perspiration on Oliver's forehead. "No kidding."

"Was I shouting?"

"No. I came in to check on you because it's late...at least by your standards. When you didn't show downstairs for breakfast, I wondered if you were sick."

"What time is it?"

"Almost nine."

"Seriously?" Oliver sat up and looked at the clock on the bedside table. Eight-fifty-two. "Wow."

"I know. It's the equivalent of sleeping until noon for most people." Tommy walked to the window and pulled open the drapes, allowing sunshine to fill the room. "In all fairness, you got home late after the hockey game - later than I was expecting. Did you oversleep because you burned a lot of energy taking Ms. Williams home and banging her senseless? That would be an acceptable excuse."

"No," Oliver said, then immediately wished he'd lied. He didn't want to tell Tommy that he'd spent three hours hiding in the shadows outside Felicity Smoak's building to make certain the Bratva didn't follow her inside. "I, um, spent time with the team's staff after the game, digging into operations. Then I spent more time with the financials."

"The financials," Tommy repeated, and turned from the window to study Oliver. "Oh-oh. I know that look."

"What look?" Could his friend tell that he was fibbing?

"The look that says Ms. Williams is about to get the patented Oliver Queen, let 'em down gently ghosting." Tommy gave a dry chuckle. "Funny, for all that I bad-mouthed her, I thought she would last longer."

Oliver rubbed his chin and didn't bother to deny it. "You sound disappointed. I didn't think you were happy about me going out with a reporter."

"I wasn't. I figured it was only a matter of time before Susan started asking uncomfortable questions. But she is an attractive, intelligent woman and she knows how to handle publicity. She isn't needy, either, which is an absolute requirement for any woman who gets involved with you. Since it's not in your nature to be celibate, I believed you could do worse. I think a reporter is better than a cop, for example, which is where you seem to be turning your attention." Tommy's voice became sharp.

Oliver's brow furrowed. "What?"

His friend walked to the wall screen and tapped the On button. Then he said, "Show me, Inside Star City."

And in a couple of heartbeats, Oliver was looking at a photo of himself holding Felicity's hand. He was gazing into her eyes and smiling, as if they were sharing a private joke. He wasn't entirely surprised to see the picture. He knew that he was tempting fodder for the gossip blogs, and even though he hadn't noticed anyone taking it, he and Felicity had been surrounded by people with cell phones. It happened from time to time.

Tommy shook his head. "You're supposed to be done with her, Oliver. You gave her the security discs, you proved that you were at home when Isabel was killed. She has no reason to look at you further. So why the hell are you holding her hand at a hockey game?"

His friend wasn't angry, Oliver decided. He was worried. Or maybe he was both.

Oliver hastened to reassure. "Running into the detective was a fluke," he explained. "I saw her in the friends and family section of the arena and went over to talk for a minute. There's nothing more to it than that."

"That doesn't look like talking. That looks like you putting the moves on her."

"I wasn't, believe me. The photo just catches us at a weird moment. We were actually discussing business."

"Business," Tommy repeated flatly. He turned to study the photo and crossed his arms over his chest. "There is absolutely nothing businesslike about that picture." He closed his eyes and sighed. "Do you know why this bothers me so much, Oliver?"

"No, but I have a feeling you're going to tell me."

"Damn right I am. It bothers me because you look happy - stupidly happy. At peace. Like you're not thinking. Like your guard is down."

"It's not."

"Are you sure?" Tommy turned away from the screen, back toward Oliver. "I've watched you with a lot of women since we got home and never once did I worry that you weren't in control. Every time, every woman - you've had the situation handled. But with her," he gestured at the screen, "I think you relax. I think you allow yourself to let go."

Oliver started to contradict it, his instinct to declare that he was as much in control as ever. Then he paused. Tommy was his oldest friend and he'd helped Oliver through the worst moments of his life. He deserved a thoughtful answer, not an automatic denial.

Oliver leaned back on the pillows and looked at the photo, trying to recall how he'd felt when he'd talked to Felicity. He'd been worried about the Bratva. He'd been curious, and to be honest, a little annoyed to see her out with another guy. But in those seconds that he'd held her hand? Yeah - he'd been happy. Happy in an uncomplicated way that he remembered from a time long ago, before plane crashes and running a business. It felt good.

He took a deep breath. "Maybe you're right, Tommy. Maybe I was happy at that moment, and maybe I was at peace. But it doesn't mean my guard was down."

"Judging from your expression in the photo, I beg to differ. You've already told me a half dozen times how smart she is. Not to mention that she's an accomplished hacker. One little slip from you and she could learn a whole lot more than either of you want her to know."

Oliver couldn't argue with Tommy. But he also couldn't ignore the fact that there was something about Felicity that made him inherently trust her. And he wanted people in his life that he could trust. There were so few of them.

He sat up in the bed. "I'm going to let you in on something, Tommy. Something that I haven't even wanted to admit to myself." He looked down at his hand and saw that it was gripping the sheet tightly. "Being in control all the time is exhausting. Exhausting," he repeated. "And it's lonely. I can't live the rest of my life this way. I need a partner - in addition to you - that I can trust and lean on. If I can't ever have that, I'll turn into my father." It was the first time he'd given voice to the thought. It frightened him a little.

Tommy stared at him, his face showing anger but also surprise. For a long moment he said nothing. Then he walked to a chair in a corner of the bedroom and dropped into it. "Oh Christ, Oliver. I feel like the world's biggest ass harping on you like this. You've been coping with the shit you were handed for so long that I guess I started to believe you didn't mind it, that you were invincible. I stopped thinking about how hard it is for you."

Oliver smiled weakly. "If it's any consolation, I've tried to convince myself that I'm invincible too. I just don't know how much longer I can keep doing it."

Tommy pointed at the photo. "Do you know how long it's been since I've seen you look like that? Just...happy? These days, when you smile it's usually predatory. You know, you just closed a big deal and made another billion or two. There's nothing peaceful about it. But in that picture? You look like you don't have a care in the world."

Encouraged to see Tommy's anger waning, Oliver slumped back into the pillows. "I like her," he confessed. "She's smart, funny and incredibly honest. With most women I find myself wondering about their motives within the first half hour. Are they after my money? Do they just want to be seen on my arm or sleep with me so they can boast to their girlfriends? I don't think she cares about any of that. In fact, I'm pretty damn sure she'll be upset about this blog." He shook his head. "I said something to her last night that she didn't like, and she told me she expected better from me. Who else would say that - except maybe you?"

Tommy gave him a wry smile. "So you like her because she gets on your case."

"I like her because she's true to herself...and doesn't change to be something she thinks I want. It also doesn't hurt that she's pretty damn cute. I mean, look at her in that ball cap." He pointed at the screen.

Tommy didn't look. He sighed. "As your friend, I'm happy for you, Oliver. Really I am. But why on earth does this life epiphany have to be with a cop? Couldn't you find a hair stylist or a chef that gives you the same feeling? You know, some profession that isn't dedicated to finding the truth and rooting out crime?"

"It's not like I planned it."

"I suppose not." Tommy leaned back in the chair and crossed his legs. "So is that where you really were last night? With her?"

"Not in the way you're thinking. I followed her to make sure she got home all right."

"Followed her?" Tommy's brow furrowed. "Does she know?" When Oliver said nothing, he added, "You mean, like a stalker?"

"No, not like a stalker. More like protection duty."

"She's a grownup and a cop, Oliver. My guess is that she can get home fine on her own. She's been doing it for years."

Oliver narrowed his eyes. "Not with the Bratva tailing her. And they are, Tommy. There was a guy at the game last night who didn't take his eyes off of her."

Tommy stiffened. "The Bratva?" he repeated flatly. "Why the hell would they be following her? Unless-"

"It's nothing to do with me. It's tied to Isabel's murder. Felicity told Anatoly that Isabel was using street drugs and he's having her followed in hopes she'll lead him to the dealer."

"Anatoly is in Star City?"

"Yeah. Did I forget to mention that?"

"Must have slipped your mind." Tommy's voice was dry. "So, what are you going to do about it? Obviously you can't follow your detective twenty-four-seven."

"No. But it occurred to me last night that I invested in a security business a few years ago. I called McKenna Hall and she's got a couple of her people keeping an eye on Felicity's apartment, as we speak."

Tommy grinned unexpectedly. "Only you could get away with asking one girlfriend to keep an eye on another."

"Neither one of them is actually-"

"Never mind, Oliver." Tommy shook his head, the grin fading. "You know, the detective may not like it if she finds out you're having her followed."

"That's the beauty of the plan. Felicity already knows the Bratva are following her. If, by some chance, she makes McKenna's guys, she'll assume they're Bratva."

"Well, isn't that convenient. You're just full of answers this morning."

"Pretty good for nine on a Saturday, huh?" Oliver felt his mood lightening.

Tommy rose from the chair and walked to the doorway. He paused, resting one hand on the jamb. Then he turned. "So tell me, Oliver, do you have an answer for this one? I know I keep saying it, but she's a cop, pal. A cop. And as much as I like seeing you happy, your life isn't exactly cop-friendly. You have secrets; some of them pretty damn dark."

"Tommy-"

"If you like her as much as you say you do, if she's as smart and honest as you say she is, how long is she going to put up with you keeping things from her? What are you going to say when she starts asking questions that you don't want to answer? And how are you ever going to be able to lean on her the way you'd like, if you can't share everything with her?"

And just like that, Oliver's light mood vanished, replaced by worry once again. Tommy had asked the very question that he'd been trying hard not to think about.

He swallowed. "No," he replied. "No, I don't have an answer for that."


Diggle didn't pull his punches. When she answered her phone, Felicity allowed herself to hope for a few, brief seconds, that her commander was merely calling for an update on the case. That hope was dispelled quickly.

"'Morning, Smoak," Diggle said, his voice crisp. "Did you enjoy the hockey game last night?"

So, he'd seen the photo. She sunk into her computer chair and closed her eyes. "Sir-"

"My wife certainly thought it looked like you were having a good time. She pointed your picture out to me this morning over breakfast."

"It's not-"

"I had to check it twice. My first thought was that you might have a doppelganger. Because when I think of all my detectives, you're not the one I considered likely to break the rules and go on a date with a suspect."

"It wasn't a-"

"But the glasses kind of gave it away. I mean, who else under the age of seventy actually wears glasses these days? My next thought was that you'd developed a new interrogation technique. Hand-holding. I thought maybe we'd missed something all these years in the department when we took a hard line with suspects. Maybe we should be adding hand-holding to the curriculum at the academy."

"We weren't-"

"I told myself the technique might be working. After all, Queen looks pretty damn happy in the picture. I thought to myself, maybe the man is spilling his guts to her."

Felicity gave up trying to speak. She waited for him to say his piece.

"I also reminded myself that you're a smart woman who has closed cases in surprising ways before. I told myself not to jump to conclusions - to ask first. So, I'm asking, Smoak. Has this unconventional investigative technique of yours yielded results? Because it's been three days and you haven't made an arrest yet. I don't believe you've even brought anyone into HQ for an interview."

Felicity continued to wait.

"That wasn't a rhetorical question, Smoak."

"Oh. Sorry, sir. It was hard to tell."

The words slipped out before she could stop them. Not a good time for sarcasm, Felicity.

Diggle stared at her over the phone screen. Then his expression softened.

"Fine. I suppose I had that one coming. But can you please explain yourself?"

Felicity took a deep breath. "First of all, Oliver isn't a suspect any longer. I checked the security footage from the gala and Oliver's home, and he was definitely at home when she was killed. I also don't believe," she continued quickly, when Diggle opened his mouth, "that he would have hired anyone to kill her. He has no motive. He didn't love her...didn't even like her very much, so jealousy or possessiveness isn't an issue. And DED hasn't turned up any signs of blackmail. "

There was a pause as Diggle absorbed the information. Felicity wondered how often she was going to have to recite the same story before the SCPD would accept that Oliver didn't kill Isabel.

Her commander eventually nodded. "So you believe you cleared Queen," he said slowly. "That doesn't mean it was a good idea to go on a date with him."

"I didn't go on a date with him. I went to a hockey game to watch my friend Sin play. Maybe you remember Sin from when I was in school?" At Diggle's look of acknowledgement, she continued, "Oliver saw me there and came over to talk to me. The way it looks in the photo - well, it was just timing. I swear to you, we weren't really holding hands." Well, mostly not.

"I see." Diggle paused again. Felicity waited, resisting the urge to offer more of an explanation. She was afraid she would start babbling.

After a moment, Diggle cleared his throat. "Okay then. We'll forget about the hockey game for now. You had a couple of other leads that you were pursuing. Where are you with them?"

"I'm leaning away from thinking this has anything to do with the Bratva."

"Because?"

"Because someone went out of their way to let us know that Isabel used drugs." Felicity filled him in on the planted vial of Zoomer and faked calls from the dealer. "I can't see a reason for the Bratva to call attention to her drug use - they know we're already watching them as a supplier to Star City. And, I...um...did a little research last night on Anatoly. I couldn't find anything that suggests he received warnings or threats from the Bratva or anyone else." She watched her commander anxiously. She had essentially just admitted to him that she'd hacked the Russian.

Diggle pressed his lips together. "That's...good...I suppose, but it doesn't close the door on the Bratva entirely. Maybe they reached out to Anatoly in a way that wasn't electronic."

Relieved that he hadn't reacted to the hack, she shrugged. "Maybe. But that wouldn't explain why they're following me now to find Isabel's dealer. If they're responsible for her death, they would already know who killed her."

She winced the second the words were out of her mouth. That was a fucking stupid thing to say, Felicity.

Diggle's face cycled through several emotions. He settled on angry. "You're being followed by the Bratva?"

"Yes, sir."

"Since when?"

"Since yesterday morning."

"And you didn't think it necessary to inform me?"

She tried to explain. "I'm handling it, sir. It really hasn't been a problem."

"You're being followed by an organized crime syndicate and you don't think it's a problem." His voice was hard. "I don't suppose this has anything to do with you wanting to keep the case. We talked about handing it over to the feds if the Bratva is involved."

"But that's just it. I don't think they're involved, not in Isabel's murder. Anatoly just wants to find out who was selling drugs to her. Sir, you know the feds won't care about solving the murder. They're looking for something to hang on the Bratva. If they get involved, we'll never find out who killed her."

Diggle narrowed his eyes. "You've got three minutes to convince me you should keep working this. If you can't, we're calling the feds."

"Right." Taking a breath, she updated him on Anatoly's visit to HQ, including how she'd let the Russian know about the drugs.

"I screwed up," she admitted. "I should have kept my mouth shut. I just figured that Anatoly would poke around within the Bratva to see if someone was selling to Isabel. But instead he's had a guy tailing me ever since to see if I'll lead him to her dealer. But - honestly - it hasn't been a problem. I've managed to drop the tail when it matters and they haven't done a thing to threaten me. I don't want to walk away from this case. I feel like I owe Ramirez. I've put him in danger and he won't be safe til we find Isabel's killer. And he's got a little girl."

"I see." Diggle studied her over the phone screen. "And you want fathers to stay with their daughters - always." His voice was gentle.

Shit. She closed her eyes. "Sir-"

"You did screw up," Diggle interrupted, saving them both from her emotions. "With what you knew at the time, though, I might have risked telling Anatoly myself. It wasn't a completely bone-headed move."

She felt a little better.

"I'm going to let you hang onto the case for another day or two," Diggle continued, "partly because of what you just told me, but mostly because I think you're right about the killer planting the evidence leading us to Isabel's drug use...and about him wanting to ruin her reputation."

Felicity raised her eyebrows. "You think I'm right?"

"Did you see this morning's Star Post-Gazette?"

"No, not yet."

"Take a look. I'll wait."

Felicity turned toward the monitor. "Computer," she said, "show me today's Star Post-Gazette, the commentary section."

A flicker of the screen and there it was.

Murdered Ballerina Tied to Illegal Drug Use

Isabel Rochev, found dead Wednesday morning in the Glades, is believed to have gone there late Tuesday night to purchase drugs. The SCPD's investigation has uncovered evidence that Star City's principal ballerina was using illegal amphetamines, most likely to enhance her performance on stage. The case has been an unusual one. Rochev was killed by an arrow in her heart, the same method the Star City Archer used decades ago to dispatch criminals. To date, police have been baffled by both the location and the mode of her death. It appears they've now learned that Rochev had pattern of criminal behavior...

Felicity sat back and looked at her commander over the phone.

"I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you're not surprised to see this," Diggle said. "It fits perfectly with your theory of the killer leaking the story to discredit Isabel."

"Yes."

"So, do you think this is the start of a pattern? That he'll go after other people he's decided are bad guys?"

"I've been asking myself that question five times a day, sir. I just don't know. I'm hoping to catch him before he gets the chance to try again."

Diggle nodded. "So, what's your next move?"

"I'm digging into the former drug dealer's computer this morning. I'm hoping digital forensics will lead me to the person who planted the call - probably the same person who planted the vial in Isabel's apartment."

"I see. You know what question I'm asking myself five times today, Smoak?"

"Sir?"

"I'm asking myself how the killer knows where we are in our investigation." When she didn't reply, he added, "Based on the story the killer fed the Post-Gazette, it sounds like he's keeping tabs on our activities."

Felicity frowned, not wanting to follow the commander's thought to its logical conclusion.

"Smoak?"

She sighed. "You're suggesting the killer knows someone in the department." Or is someone in the department. She shook her head. "I'm not ready to go there. The timing of the story could just be a coincidence. The killer got tired of waiting for the police to reveal Isabel's drug use so he decided to leak it himself."

"I suppose." But Diggle appeared doubtful. He gave her a nod. "Well, I take back what I said earlier about not much happening after three days on the investigation. I can see you've been busy. Follow your plan for the day and I'll do my best to keep Chief Lance off your back."

Felicity started. "Chief Lance?"

"You don't think I'm the only one who's seen this morning's photo, do you?"

Fuck. Felicity put her head in her hands. "I didn't figure the chief to be the kind of guy who reads Inside Star City. And he's divorced, so his wife wouldn't have seen it either."

Diggle grinned. It was an unexpectedly lighthearted expression, given the gravity of the situation. "Yes, he's divorced," he agreed, "but he also has a daughter who once dated Queen. I wouldn't be surprised if she's seen it and said something to him."

Laurel Lance. Felicity had forgotten about her. "Great," was all she could find to say.

Diggle's eyes twinkled for a few seconds longer. Then he sobered. "Are you sure you're going to be okay with the Bratva on your heels? That's not such a joking matter."

She nodded. "I've got a plan for the Bratva."

"Then get to it. I'll expect a call if you can't get rid of the tail today."

"Yes, sir."

"Very good. Oh...and nice pajamas, by the way." And the commander disconnected before she could respond.

Felicity looked down at herself. "Shit."

Chapter Text

It was after nine by the time Felicity had showered, dressed and sucked down enough coffee to feel like her brain was fully functioning. She called Ramirez to remind him she'd be coming to examine his computer. She called Rory to urge him to get to work on the droid. Then she began executing her plan to evade the Bratva.

Contrary to what she'd told Oliver last night, she hadn't tried to lose them on the way home from the hockey game. She reasoned that if the Bratva had followed her when she left work, then they knew where she lived and would simply go there if she ditched them. And - in all honesty - it was easier to formulate a plan knowing they were hanging around her building than it was to develop one when she had no clue where they were lurking. It meant going to sleep with the Bratva hovering somewhere outside her door, but she was a cop; she had a weapon. And she was confident (well, mostly) that they wouldn't try anything during the night.

This morning was a different story. Under no circumstances could they be allowed to follow her to Ramirez's place. She needed to lose them, thoroughly and completely.

She began by doing laundry - letting herself be seen as she hauled a basket of clothes down to the washing machines in the basement. On her way, she took note of the activity in the building. She decided that the guy fixing the lighting on her floor had to be Bratva. He was too well dressed to be a Glades electrician and the building's manager never repaired anything on a weekend because it meant paying overtime. The man painting trim in the lobby was also Bratva, she figured, largely for the same reasons. She didn't go to the garage, but she supposed there was a person waiting somewhere in the vicinity of her car. The fake-electrician probably called the rest of the gang any time she left her apartment. And she saw a handful of other people hanging about who may or may not have been members of the surveillance crew - it really didn't matter. She assumed she was going to have to get by all of them.

She went back and forth between the laundry room and her unit several times, hoping to desensitize them to her movements. On her fourth trip, she stepped into the elevator with a basket full of towels and paused it on the way to the basement. In the few seconds it was stopped, she pulled a Star City Community College sweatshirt and a brunette wig from the basket, then tugged the sweatshirt over her torso and the wig over her head. She removed her glasses - her contact lenses already in place - and yanked a backpack out from under the towels. Then she peered at her reflection in the stainless doors of the elevator. Good enough, she decided. In less than twenty seconds she had transformed herself from a blond cop to a brunette college student. Now she just needed to have the right attitude to pull it off.

She stopped the elevator one floor above street level and headed for the stairs, leaving her laundry basket in the stairwell. She walked down to the ground floor and strode across the lobby (not too fast, Felicity) - a young woman with dark hair and a backpack, presumably on her way to class or the library. No one gave her a second glance. She nearly smiled as she left the building and resisted the urge to jog down the street.

Ramirez lived a little more than a mile away and Felicity remained alert for the twenty minutes it took her to walk to his apartment. Mindful of her conversation with Oliver last night, she had her stunner holstered behind her back, under the sweatshirt.

She saw no one.


Oliver got the call from McKenna's security detail a little before eleven in the morning. He was in the kitchen, dressed casually in a tee shirt and sweatpants, working on his third mug of coffee.

The head of the team began by apologizing. "I'm sorry, sir."

Oliver took a sip of coffee. "For?" he asked.

"We lost Ms. Smoak."

Oliver tightened his grip on the mug. "Lost her?" he repeated. "In her own apartment building?"

"Yes. She must have known she was being tailed and had a plan to get out of there. We watched her go back and forth between her apartment and the laundry room a few times and then she just...disappeared."

Oliver put the mug down, afraid he would throw it against the wall. And Tommy wonders why I don't delegate more often.

"I thought you guys were pro's," he said, not bothering to hide his anger.

"We are, Mr. Queen. But she is a cop. She must have made us."

"You think?" Oliver was on the verge of chewing the guy out but stopped himself. He knew from his experience at Queen Consolidated that it wouldn't inspire the man to work harder, and would discourage him from telling the truth in the future. And, in all fairness, Felicity was pretty damn clever. He probably shouldn't be surprised that she had given McKenna's guys the slip.

"Do you have any idea where she went?" he asked, more calmly.

"Not really." The man paused. "She's on foot, though - her car is still in the garage, so we don't think she could have gone far. We've got a couple of guys out walking the neighborhood."

Oliver shook his head. "That's a waste of time. She could have taken a bus or a cab, or got picked up by someone. She could be anywhere."

The man sighed, "Yes sir, that is a possibility." He added tentatively, "The good news is that the Bratva lost her, too. The men that were watching her are still in her building, just as confused as we are."

Oliver supposed that was good news, although he wasn't ready to celebrate. It meant that it now came down to who could find Felicity first - McKenna's team or the Bratva. Oliver wasn't ready to bet against the Bratva. They were every bit as skilled as McKenna's guys and more motivated.

He tried to figure out what to do next. He rebuked himself for not asking her last night about her plans for the day. That might give him ideas for where to look now.

"Mr. Queen?"

"Yes."

"Do you want us to wait in her building til she comes back?" The security man still sounded apologetic.

"What are the Bratva doing?"

"They're here - all the ones that we've been able to make, anyway."

Oliver pondered the idea. If the Bratva were hanging around then it would make sense for his security team to wait as well. But even as he was about to give his assent, it dawned on him that there might be a better way to take care of this, a way that resolved things once and for all. He could go to the source of the problem. He could talk to the man who was giving the order to have Felicity followed.

"No," he said slowly, "I want you to find someone else for me."

"Sir?"

"I want you to find Anatoly Knyazev."


Felicity entered Ramirez's building and pulled the wig off her head, trying to restore her hair to some semblance of order. She didn't want him knowing that she'd worn a disguise to see him. He was already dealing with the news that someone had set up him for Isabel's murder. He didn't need the additional worry of knowing that a Bratva captain would love to get his hands on him.

Ramirez answered the door in faded jeans and a tee shirt, wearing an anxious expression. Beside him was the little girl from the photos, her dark eyes looking very much like her father's.

"Good morning," Felicity said brightly. "You must be Zoe."

The girl stared at her and didn't reply.

"Is it okay if I come in?" she continued. "I'm here to work on your dad's computer."

Zoe looked up at her father, and at his smile of encouragement, nodded tentatively. Felicity met Ramirez's eyes and added, "Is it still a good time?"

"It is if you can figure out who's trying to set me up. It's been gnawing at me ever since you left yesterday." He glanced down at his daughter. "The thought that someone is trying to put me back in jail and leave her…" He stopped abruptly, then stepped back to allow Felicity to enter.

She walked into the apartment. "Well, let's see if we can figure out who that someone is."

As she headed toward the computer, Zoe said suddenly, "Are you really a police detective?"

Felicity nodded. "I am."

"You don't look like a police detective."

"Zoe-" Ramirez began.

Felicity smiled. "No, it's okay. It's not the first time I've heard it. What does a police detective look like?" she asked the girl.

"They dress differently. All the ones on TV wear a suit."

Felicity glanced down at her Star City Community College sweatshirt. "It's a Saturday," she replied. "These are my Saturday clothes. I save the suit for the weekdays."

Zoe wasn't satisfied. "And they're bigger and older," she added. "And they carry a weapon."

Felicity thought about lifting her sweatshirt to reveal her stunner and decided against it. "There are all kinds of detectives," she said instead. "I do most of my work with my brain so it doesn't matter how big I am. And I'm really good with computers."

But Zoe did not appear convinced.

Ramirez gave Felicity a shrug, as if to say, kids, what can you do? Then he pointed to the coffee table in front of the sofa. "Zoe and I are going to be here, working on her fractions while you do what you need to with the computer. Is that okay?"

"That sounds fine," Felicity said. "I always liked fractions."

"Really?" Zoe regarded Felicity suspiciously. "They're hard. No one in my class likes them. Especially when you have to multiply them."

"But they're important," Felicity pointed out. "If someone gives you the choice between half of two thirds of a carton of ice cream, or two thirds of one half of it, don't you want to know which offer you should accept?"

Zoe mulled that one over. "Aren't they the same thing?" she eventually asked.

Felicity laughed. "They are. See? You're better at fractions than you thought."

Zoe and her father both smiled, and the girl regarded her math book with a little more enthusiasm.

Felicity sat in Ramirez's computer chair. "Now let's see what I can find on your dad's machine, here, while you sort out your homework." And she started typing.

Ramirez watched her for a minute, then hunkered down with his daughter over her book. Felicity pulled a flash drive containing a host of diagnostic tools out of her backpack, and loaded several of them onto the computer. For the next hour, the only sounds were the clack of the keyboard and the gentle murmur between Ramirez and Zoe. Felicity reviewed the results from her programs, then loaded a few more and ran those too. The results were surprising - and disappointing.

She sat back and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Sh-darn," she said, catching herself as she glanced at Zoe.

"Problem?" Ramirez asked, instantly nervous.

"A bit of a roadblock. I found the malware that was used to get to your cell phone account. What I couldn't find is how the malware got on your machine in the first place. It wasn't sent to you in an email or in any of the websites you've visited over the last four or five months. That's the way people usually get crap on a machine."

He frowned. "Does it matter, how it got to my computer?"

"It does. If I can find out how it got here, then I can backtrace it to the source - and figure out who's trying to set you up." Felicity paused, biting her lower lip. "Did anyone give you a flash drive or data on a disk that you may have loaded?"

"No. I'm not a genius with computers, but I know enough not to plug something in when I don't know where it came from."

She nodded. "Is there a chance someone could have accessed your computer directly - from inside your apartment?"

Ramirez thought about it. "It's the Glades," he said. "There's always a chance someone broke in. But it would be tough for them to know when to try. My schedule isn't predictable and I'm here most of the time. And there have been no signs of a break-in."

"How about when you were here? Did anyone new or different visit you over the last several months?"

Ramirez leaned back against the sofa and stared at the coffee table.

"There was the child services lady, Dad," Zoe offered helpfully. "Back in February? She wasn't the one who usually stops by. She had the fancy shoes."

Ramirez nodded. "That's true." He looked at Felicity. "We had a visit a couple of months ago from child services, only it wasn't the usual rep who comes here. Zoe's right about the shoes. I remember thinking the woman was well-dressed for someone with a public service job."

"Can you recall her name?" Felicity asked.

Ramirez looked at his daughter. "Ms. Carson?"

"Carsten," his daughter corrected.

"That's right." Ramirez patted Zoe's hand. "Carsten. Marie Carsten. Good job, Zoe."

Felicity logged into the city's public services database and searched the list of Child Services employees. "Is this the woman?" she asked, pointing at the screen.

Ramirez walked over and studied the photo. "No," he said flatly. "Not even close. The Marie Carsten in that picture must be twenty years older than the woman who came here."

Not surprised, Felicity nodded. "Do you remember if the woman went near your computer?"

He ran a hand over his close-cropped, dark hair and exhaled. "Yes. She said her tablet wasn't working so she needed my computer to update some records."

Felicity sat back in the chair and said nothing.

"You think she's the one who put malware on my computer?" Ramirez continued.

"Most likely."

"And you can't trace it back to her computer because she did it in person."

Felicity set her jaw. "Someone is using that malware to access your machine from someplace. I'll trace her," she said evenly, "but it's going to take me a little while. She - or whoever is getting into your computer - is disguising their location by coming through a VPN. I'm going to have to sift through a bunch of traffic and follow a few trails." She raised the flash drive. "Rather than do it manually, I'd like to install software that will do it automatically. We'll let it run for a few hours and see what it turns up."

Ramirez looked unhappy. "Great. Someone else I don't know installing something I don't understand on my computer."

"I'm a cop."

"And I thought the other woman was child services." He met Felicity's gaze and shrugged. "I'm sorry. This whole thing has me really worried. I finally thought my life was back on track."

"It is," Felicity said firmly. "And I'm on your side. I want to figure this out as much as you do." When he appeared doubtful, she continued, "Look, I grew up in the foster system. My dad left us when I was six and I lost my mom when I was nine. I wouldn't wish that on anyone." She glanced at the coffee table, where Zoe was once again studying her fractions.

Ramirez understood. "Okay," he agreed slowly. "Go ahead. Do whatever you have to do. You've been at the computer for over an hour. You could have installed something already and I would never know the difference."

Felicity smiled wryly. "That's true," she agreed, "although I didn't." She plugged the drive into the computer. As the software downloaded, her eye was drawn to Ramirez's stack of graphic artwork and then to the sketches he'd done of his daughter.

"Do you think you could draw her?" she asked.

Ramirez's brow furrowed. "Draw who?"

"The woman who came here. Do you think you could draw her? I've talked to a number of people for my investigation and there's a chance I've already met the killer or someone associated with him. If your drawing looks like anyone I've interviewed, that could be a big help."

Ramirez frowned. "I don't know. She was only here for an hour and it's been a couple of months."

"I can help, Dad," Zoe piped up. "I can describe her."

The kid hadn't been that absorbed by her homework, Felicity realized. She was glad she hadn't said anything more explicit about foster care.

Ramirez gave his daughter a fond smile. "Okay. Zoe and I will do our best to come up with a sketch. No promises, though."

"That's all I can ask," Felicity agreed. "I've set up the software and I'm going to let it run for a few hours. I've got some other people to talk to today. I should be back late in the afternoon. Maybe you can have the sketch for me then?"

He nodded. "I'll try."

"Thanks. See you later."


Felicity didn't bother putting the wig back on when she left Ramirez's apartment. She was confident the Bratva had no idea where she was and she was about to launch her plan to get them to stop once and for all. Nevertheless, she waited until she was a good eight blocks away from his building before she made the call.

Anatoly's face appeared on her phone screen almost immediately. He looked tired and a little surprised. "Detective Smoak?"

"Anatoly." (She'd given up on pronouncing Knyazev.) "I was hoping we might talk."

"So talk."

Felicity shook her head. "In person. I've got a deal I want to make."

"You want to make deal?" He laughed. "What makes you think you have something I want?"

"I've got information on Isabel's murder. I think that's something you want because you've had men following me since yesterday. It's slowing my investigation and it's wasting my time."

He frowned. "You are attractive woman. Men probably follow you all the time."

"Well, these men began shortly after you and I spoke and they've been unusually persistent - although also a little obvious. I hope your guy likes hockey. The game went into overtime last night. And maybe you could ask this morning's detail to take my clothes out of the dryer and fold them."

Anatoly's face darkened. "Where do you want to meet?"

"There's a bar in the Glades called Nuddy's. Meet me in an hour and come alone - I'll know if you don't." When he didn't reply, she added, "You know the Glades, right? The Bratva have been selling drugs there for years."

He ignored the jibe. "An hour is not much time."

"You're already in Star City. You shouldn't need much time to get to a bar if you're not organizing a posse. All I want to do is talk, Anatoly."

His dark expression remained. "Very well. I will be there in an hour."

Chapter Text

Felicity didn't frequent bars all that often, especially by herself. She liked a good time as much as the next person but she was a bit of a lightweight when it came to drinking, and if she got hit on - which did happen from time to time - it was rarely by the men she would have preferred. It seemed to be her curse to attract guys who were charming but superficial - men who noticed cute blonde, and didn't bother to look any deeper. She was usually bored with them in fifteen minutes.

She made an exception to her no bars rule for Nuddy's. Owned and run by an Australian transplant named Slade Wilson, Nuddy's was one of the few places she felt comfortable grabbing a beer and a bite by herself. Some of that she attributed to the clientele. Slade's bar welcomed patrons that covered the gamut from street gang member to school teacher, to the occasional nun. Situated in the heart of the Glades, it was a kind of neutral ground where people, regardless of their background, came to unwind and managed to get along.

Most of Felicity's comfort, however, stemmed from Slade himself. The man was the size of a small tank, with massive biceps and a patch over one eye that gave him a fierce look, even when he smiled. Slade enforced his everyone must get along credo with consistency and - when necessary - force. Felicity once saw him toss three knife-carrying men out for threatening the bartender, hardly breaking a sweat. She also knew that he kept a couple of strategically-placed (and most likely unregistered) stunners behind the bar in case things got really out of hand. They seldom did.

Felicity went there for the food and the opportunity to relax. Slade served basic, but well-prepared cuisine at reasonable prices and Nuddy's was within walking distance of her apartment. Since she often didn't have time to shop or cook, it wasn't unusual for her to stop by a couple of times a week. Plus, she simply liked Slade. They had become friends in a casual, uncomplicated way. She helped him with his computers and he shooed away any jerks that pestered her.

The bar was busy this afternoon. It was a Saturday and people were taking advantage of their day off to grab a drink and watch sports on the large-screen TVs. Felicity took one of the few empty seats at the bar and noted that the owner, himself, was on duty. Slade stepped up to her and grinned.

"Hey, Blondie. Nice spring weather we're having. What can I get you?"

She didn't bother glancing at the menu. She knew it by heart. "A couple of slices of your veggie pizza."

"Want a beer to go with it?"

"Not yet. I'm kind of on duty." She hesitated. "But I could use a favor, Slade."

He leaned across the bar. "Name it, Blondie."

"I'm meeting someone here. He's supposed to be coming alone, but I don't trust him to actually do that. Would you mind keeping an eye out? I don't plan on leaving with him...or with anyone. So if you see me being escorted away, there's a problem and you need to call the cops."

"Call the cops?" he repeated. "Fuck that. If someone tries to take you out of here I'll take care of the problem myself."

"Slade-"

"I've got a reputation to maintain, Blondie. You know that. I can't be calling the cops to the bar for every little thing. I'll lose my customers."

His brown eye was twinkling. She smiled. "You know that I am a cop, right?"

He shrugged. "Yeah, but you're kind of an odd duck, for a cop. You live in the Glades. And you help me fix my computer systems when they go down. You don't count. Besides, having a pretty blonde at my bar helps my reputation."

From anyone else, that remark would have annoyed Felicity. From Slade, it only made her smile grow wider. She saw that his mind was made up.

"Okay," she agreed. "If you see a problem, you can take care of it. And thanks. I just want to talk with the guy and really don't expect to bring you trouble. I wouldn't have arranged for the meet to be here, but I didn't know where else to go. This seemed the safest bet."

"Who is he, exactly?"

"He's the relative of a murder victim and he's not happy with my investigation. Consensus in the law enforcement community also says he's Bratva."

"Bratva?" Slade's eyebrows went up. "You need to hang out with a better sort, Blondie."

"I know it."


Oliver was in his home gym with a good sweat going when McKenna's security guy called him for the second time. He felt a measure of encouragement when he saw that the man looked confident. He wouldn't have that expression, Oliver figured, if he was about to deliver more bad news.

"Tell me you found Knyazev," Oliver said, skipping the preliminaries.

The man grinned. "We did, sir. And we followed him to a bar called Nuddy's. He's there now."

Oliver mopped his face with a towel. "Nuddy's? Never heard of it."

"It's in the Glades."

The Glades? Oliver frowned. "How long has he been there?"

"A couple of minutes. He just arrived."

Oliver twisted the towel uneasily. Anatoly liked gourmet meals and top-shelf vodka. A bar in the Glades wasn't likely to deliver either. So what reason could he have for going there other than Felicity - whose apartment also happened to be in the Glades? Oliver's mouth went dry as it occurred to him that Anatoly might be escalating his tactics for getting the information he wanted; tactics that could go as far as grabbing Felicity and interrogating her. But why the stop in a bar then? Why hadn't he gone straight to her apartment? Oliver decided he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

"I have to talk with him," Oliver said to the security man, and began to jog from the gym to his bedroom. "Stay on him and let me know if he makes a move."

"Yes, sir."

"I can be there in," Oliver estimated the route in his head, "about thirty minutes. How's the traffic?"

"Typical Saturday."

Great. "Maybe forty," Oliver amended. I should take the bike. At least with it, I can weave through cars. He reached the foyer of the house and started up the stairs. "Nice work," he added, remembering how he'd unleashed his anger during the earlier call. "And thanks."

"No problem."

Oliver expected the man to disconnect but he stayed on the line. "Good call, having us follow Knyazev," he continued. "He led us right to her, Mr. Queen."

Oliver frowned as he stepped onto the second floor hallway. "Right to who?"

"To Ms. Smoak. Knyazev is sitting with her in Nuddy's now."

Oliver stopped and stared at his phone. For a few seconds, the only sound was his slightly labored breathing.

Then, to be sure, he repeated, "Anatoly is meeting with Felicity?"

"Yes, sir."

"In a bar in the Glades."

"Yes, sir."

Oliver narrowed his eyes. Felicity was talking with Anatoly right now - not at SCPD headquarters, which might make a modicum of sense - but at a bar in the Glades.

"Is she by herself?" he snapped.

The security man's brow furrowed. "She's with Ana-"

"She works with another cop," Oliver interrupted impatiently. "Thirty-ish, about six feet, brown hair and brown eyes. Is he there?"

"No. As far as I can tell, it's just her and Knyazev."

Fuck. It had to be a prearranged meeting. After all, Felicity had dropped the Bratva earlier that morning. There was no way she and Anatoly would bump into each other by coincidence at a bar in the Glades. And Oliver had no doubt who had done the prearranging. Felicity had come up with the same idea as him - get the Bratva to stop following her by going to the source of the problem. So, she'd called Anatoly.

He clenched his jaw. The woman refused to appreciate the real threat that the Russian posed.

She was making him nuts.

"Fuck," he said aloud.

"Sir?"

"You keep an eye on her...you do not let her out of your sight. I'll be there in twenty." He hung up without waiting for a response and sprinted the last few yards to his bedroom. Two minutes later he darted back out with his jeans clinging to his still-damp legs and zipping up a hoodie. Then he raced to the garage for his motorcycle.


Felicity spotted Anatoly before he spotted her. From her seat at the bar, she watched him step into Nuddy's and sweep his gaze across the crowded room, his brow furrowing as he observed the eclectic groupings of patrons. She almost laughed as he took in the heavily-tattooed quartet of bikers seated next to the women examining a selection of purses arrayed across their table. He even stopped and looked at his phone, as if verifying the address. But then his face hardened and she knew this wasn't a laughing matter.

As she'd requested, he had entered the bar alone. However, Felicity noted that a man followed him through the door less than a minute later, talking on his phone. The second man took a seat at the end of the bar without looking at Anatoly, and appeared to divide his attention between the baseball game on television and his call. Felicity didn't recognize him as one of the men who had been in her building, but she wasn't taking anything for granted. She caught Slade's eye and nodded subtly toward the man. Slade looked at him and then nodded back at her.

Felicity reached behind her back and felt the reassuring bulk of her stunner. She considered sliding the holster out from under her sweatshirt and around to her hip but then discarded the idea. If things went well, she wouldn't need it. And if they didn't go well, she preferred to have the element of surprise.

Anatoly saw her and began walking over, a calculating expression on his face. Yesterday at SCPD headquarters he had made some effort to be civil. She wasn't so sure he was going to make that same effort now.

"Detective Smoak."

"Anatoly." She patted the stool next to her. "Have a seat. If you haven't had lunch, I recommend the pizza. Nuddy's uses only fresh ingredients. I don't think you'll find better in any of the more expensive parts of the city."

He glanced at the remnants of her pizza and didn't take the offered seat. "You asked me here to talk. I am busy man. So, talk."

She shrugged. "You're sure you don't at least want a drink? It's the polite thing to do. Slade could easily fill this seat with a paying customer." She gestured behind the bar at the big Australian as he topped a pint glass from the beer tap. She wasn't sure why she was needling Anatoly, but it seemed important not to show fear.

Anatoly gave her an annoyed frown and said, "Vodka," to Slade.

Slade nodded. "Russian?"

"Of course."

Slade retrieved a shot glass from under the bar and filled it from one of the many bottles on the shelf behind him. He placed it in front of Anatoly.

Anatoly barely looked at the glass. He picked it up and downed the vodka in one gulp. "I am losing patience," he said to Felicity. "Talk."

Felicity saw Slade's shoulders stiffen, just the slightest. She felt better knowing he was paying attention.

"Very well," she replied. She pushed her plate away and swiveled in her seat to face the Russian, their faces on the level. From this proximity, she could see the lines around his eyes. They appeared fresh, the result of grief and fatigue. It made him seem more human, and for an instant she felt sympathy. Then she remembered that she was dealing with a Bratva captain.

She straightened her spine. "You've had men following me ever since I told you Isabel used drugs," she began. "You're hoping I'll lead you to her dealer, where you can take care of him or her as you see fit."

Anatoly regarded her blankly.

"It won't work," Felicity continued. "I think I've already proved that. I've dropped your men every time it mattered, so all you're accomplishing is making me take time away from finding Isabel's killer. I can't risk leading your men to an innocent person so I run around in circles until I lose them. It's getting old."

Anatoly shrugged. "Maybe soon you fail to lose them...if such men really exist."

"I find it ironic," Felicity went on, as if he hadn't spoken, "that you're so anxious to eliminate her dealer. The Bratva supplies drugs to an entire network of dealers in Star City. It's a big source of revenue for you. Most of the people you sell to have family, too; fathers and uncles who love them and don't want to see them becoming addicts. But that doesn't bother you. It's only when your own child starts using that it's a problem."

Anatoly's face darkened. For a second she thought his anger would erupt, but then he shrugged again. "I came here to make deal, not get lecture. So far, you have not made me offer. I give you one minute. Then I walk."

Felicity nodded. "Fine. I'll get to the offer." She looked him in the eye and hoped to God her voice remained steady. Her heart was pounding like a jackhammer. "I did a little research last night, Anatoly. I used to work in the SCPD's Digital Evidence Division and I'm pretty good with computers. I thought it was time I dug into you a little more thoroughly."

"And?" He sounded bored.

"You have several bank accounts in the Caymans under the name of Oscar Smith."

He stiffened and his head jerked very slightly. He no longer looked bored.

Okay, Felicity. You've got his attention now, so you better make it convincing. She smiled, hoping it didn't look like a grimace. "I wonder why you chose that name. You don't look like a Smith and you really don't look like an Oscar. But that's not important. What's important, is that you have a healthy balance in those accounts - close to ten million in total. I'm wondering if your colleagues know about it, or if you've got some kind of side business going. Maybe you're doing a little siphoning."

He was silent for a moment.  Then he raised his chin. "Is mistake. I know nothing about bank accounts for somebody named Oscar Smith."

"No?" She shrugged. "In that case, I guess you wouldn't be concerned if they disappeared then. It can happen. The servers at the bank can become corrupted and..."

"Stop!" he interrupted. "Enough with the games. Say what you have to say."

He was glaring at her but, strangely, it made her feel more confident. His anger told her she was hitting the mark. "Here's the offer," she said. "It's a one-time deal, take it or leave it. If your men continue to follow me, if anything happens to the people I speak to in the course of my investigation, then that money disappears. I don't care what it is; car accident, food poisoning, a slip in the shower - the money's gone. And if anything happens to me, it's the same thing. I've got automated programs set up to drain the accounts if I don't log into them every night."

His jaw muscle twitched. "This is bluff," he replied. "You cannot do this." But he pulled out the stool and sat down on it.

She pressed her lips together. "They're supposed to be hidden accounts, but I managed to find them in about an hour. I can't recall the account numbers off the top of my head, but I believe one of them starts with five-two-seven and has two million on it. Does that sound about right?"

His jaw muscle twitched several more times.

"But if you leave me alone," she repeated, "then I won't touch the money. And I won't say anything about the accounts to anyone."

He shook his head. "You are police. You believe I am Bratva. If you are doing your job, you would report those accounts, not take away money. Taking the money would be corrupt thing to do. You do not strike me as corrupt."

"I'm Star City police," she clarified. "I'm not federal. Movements of funds to places like the Caymans are a federal matter not a municipal one - unless, of course, you injure Star City in the process. So, no, I'm not obligated to report it. And I didn't say I would keep the money for myself. There are any number of charities that would be thrilled to receive an anonymous gift, especially one in the millions."

He studied her face as if trying to weigh her resolve. He would make a decent poker player, she thought, but not perfect. He was slumped a little on the stool and his posture communicated his emotions; astonishment, disbelief, frustration. She wondered what he saw in her expression. Could he tell that her heart was racing? It didn't really matter. She was prepared to follow through on her threat, even if her insides were shaking.

"This is my only warning," she said. "The next time I see your men, the first account gets drained."

He looked down at his empty shot glass, and for a long moment said nothing. Then he lifted his gaze to her. She was surprised to see a gleam in his eye. It almost looked like appreciation.

"Very well," he said. "I will remove men."

"Thank you."

"That won't stop me from looking within Bratva for dealer."

Felicity nodded. "What happens within the Bratva is your own business. Just don't interfere with my investigation." As soon as she said the words, she recalled her conversation with Oliver about everyone being entitled to due process and felt a tightness in her chest. Was she letting go of her principles in favor of the expedient solution?

Anatoly stepped off of his stool. "Are you finished?" His voice was hard but no longer angry.

"Yes," Felicity said, "although I have something to give you." She got off her own stool and bent to reach into her backpack. Then she straightened.

"I thought you might want this," she continued, handing him the small stuffed dog that Isabel had kept in her bedroom. "I think it meant a lot to her. She didn't have many things from her past, but she kept this by her bed, along with your picture. I know you're not happy with me," she added, "but I hope you believe that I'm doing everything I can to find your niece's killer. She's mine now too...maybe not in the same way that she was yours, but she is mine. I have a duty to her."

He studied the dog, and in a barely perceptible movement ran one finger along the worn nap. Then he tucked it into his suit coat pocket. "You are unusual woman," he said. "You look like young girl. Innocent, blond girl. But you are not so innocent. I think maybe Isabel's killer should worry."

"Yes," Felicity agreed. "The killer should worry."

He stared at her. Then, without another word, he turned and left.

As soon as he was out the door, Felicity let out a long breath. She wasn't surprised to hear a quiver in it. Looking over at Slade, she said, "I think I'll have that beer now."

Slade held a glass under one of the spigots and began filling it. "I don't know what to say, Blondie. You surprised me - really surprised me. I didn't catch all of that, but I caught enough to know that you're a force to be reckoned with. I hope this doesn't come back to bite you."

"You and me, both."

She noticed that the man at the end of the bar hadn't followed Anatoly out. So, not Bratva, she decided. He was talking once more on his phone, looking a little worried. She picked up the beer Slade slid across the bar and raised it to her lips.

"Thanks for letting me use your bar," she said to him. "I owe you one."

"No worries. I'll call you the next time I have a problem with the wireless."

She smiled. "No worries, " she echoed.

Her attention was on Slade so she didn't see Oliver Queen when he came charging through the door.

Chapter Text

Oliver pushed the bike as fast as he dared, hanging onto the edge of control in his haste to get to Nuddy's. He had always liked riding motorcycles. They were an old-fashioned, primal form of transportation, a world away from the monotony of modern cars. Automobiles had become so automated in the last decades that you were no longer required to even drive them. You could conduct business or take a nap as you traveled. But a bike demanded your immediate attention; you had to be a part of it. You had to shift your weight in the turns and you could feel the vibration of the engine in your gut.

None of which meant a damn thing as he raced to the Glades to reach Felicity. Weaving between and around cars, sometimes moving nearly twice the speed limit, he tried to convince himself that she would be fine. She was meeting Anatoly in a public place, McKenna's guy was watching, and Felicity was a cop, for Chrissake. She dealt with thugs all the time.

But he didn't think she'd ever dealt with a thug like Anatoly. She chased murderers after the fact; wives who had poisoned husbands or burglars who had panicked in the middle of a robbery. Her suspects often acted alone and didn't necessarily have a plan. Anatoly, in comparison, was an organized thug, with a calculating mind and plenty of resources. He ate cops for breakfast if he couldn't find a way to get them in his pocket.

Oliver believed Felicity wasn't taking the Bratva seriously enough. Hell, she had gone out last night without her weapon even though she knew they were following her. And now she was meeting Anatoly in a bar - alone.

He made it to Nuddy's in twenty-five minutes, rolling up onto the sidewalk and skidding to a stop by the door. Ignoring the angry hand gestures from the pedestrians, he shoved his helmet onto the seat and left the bike there. Then he raced inside.

The bar was hopping with Saturday afternoon energy. The place was clean, well-lit and cheerful, not at all what he expected from a bar in the Glades. People were smiling as they watched sports on the flat screens, the service staff was hustling between tables, and a large portion of the patrons sat or stood around a long bar as they talked. There was no sign that any kind of confrontation had taken place.

He spotted McKenna's security man almost immediately. The guy was seated at the end of the bar nursing a glass of what was probably club soda. The man gave Oliver the faintest of nods. It took him longer to locate Felicity. For a few, fearful seconds, he thought she might have left with Anatoly; then he saw her and his breathing eased. She was sitting at the bar, chatting with the bartender - a large, forty-ish man with an eyepatch and arms big enough to lift a compact car. She was dressed in jeans and a Star City Community College sweatshirt, and she wasn't wearing her glasses, which might explain why he hadn't recognized her more quickly. Her hair was loose and tumbling over her shoulders and she appeared entirely at ease, smiling at the bartender with that lovely, sexy mouth. The bartender smiled back, clearly enjoying the conversation.

Anatoly was nowhere to be seen.

Oliver's relief was physical. His hands, which had been clenched in fists, eased open. It felt as though his blood began flowing again, after being frozen in his veins for the entire ride over. She was fine. Felicity was fine, smiling at the bartender and drinking a beer.

In fact, she was so fine that he was beginning to feel a little foolish. He had worked himself into a frenzy over something that had evidently been a non-event. Anatoly was gone, there was no other sign of the Bratva, and - judging from the expression on Felicity's face - whatever had transpired between her and the Russian had been resolved to her satisfaction.

Which put him in a quandary. It was one thing to follow her and arrive in time to bail her out of a sticky situation. It was another thing to barge in without a viable excuse. She would be furious if she knew he'd hired men to keep tabs on her - that was for certain. It was a little, to use Tommy's words, like being a stalker. And even if he could convince her that his motives were good, she wasn't going to appreciate him thinking she couldn't handle the situation herself. She'd gotten angry before when she thought he was questioning her abilities.

Retreat was beginning to feel like the wisest option. McKenna's guys would make certain she got home safely and he could call her later, as if he knew nothing about her meeting with Anatoly. He might even find a way to sneak into the conversation that he hadn't gone home with Susan. He hadn't liked the way Felicity had looked at him when Susan had taken hold of his arm at the hockey game. She had looked...disappointed.

He headed toward the door of Nuddy's, pulling out his phone to call the security man from the sidewalk.

And realized Felicity was watching him.

Not just watching; she was glaring at him, an angry, confused expression on her face. She stared at him, then at the security man at the end of the bar, and then back to him again. There could be no doubt that she had figured it out. Her cheeks were flushed and her mouth was in a tight, straight line.

Shit.

I can't leave things like this, he thought. This was one of those situations that wasn't going to improve with time.

He turned and walked over to her. Felicity said nothing as he approached.

"Hey." His voice was light, but he didn't try to smile at her. He didn't think that was going to fly.

She picked her beer back up. "Hey."

His hey had been friendly. Her's had been terse.

"So, how much trouble am I in, exactly?" Oliver asked. He eyed her beer warily, wondering if he was going to be wearing it shortly.

As if she'd had the same thought, Felicity placed the glass carefully back on the bar. She swallowed a couple of times, then shook her head. "I don't know where to start, Oliver. You had me followed? Followed?" she repeated, pointing at the security man. She spoke the word with disgust, as if having her followed was akin to peeping at her in the women's locker room.

He went with honesty. "Yes, I did. You didn't seem to be taking the Bratva seriously. You went out last night without your weapon when you knew they were watching you. I was afraid they were eventually going to escalate things."

"So you decided to put a different set of thugs on my tail."

"Not thugs. The guys I hired work for a private security firm."

She gave a short laugh. "I'm not sure that's any better. In the SCPD, we say people go into private security because they don't have the brains or ethics to cut it in the department."

Oliver doubted McKenna Hall would agree with that statement. He shook his head. "I don't think that's entirely fair."

"Maybe. It doesn't really matter. I still don't understand why you thought it necessary to have people follow me."

"I needed to know you were safe."

"Why?"

Why? That was the million dollar question. He slid his hands into his pockets and shifted on his feet. This felt like one of those pivotal moments where his future rested on his reply.  He inhaled quietly. "I think you know why."

Her flush deepened. "I don't."

Yes, you do, he thought, looking at her red cheeks, but you want me to spell it out for you. Fine. He could do that...maybe.

"I'm...attracted to you," he stated. "I have been from the moment we met. I think you've sensed that. And I care about what happens to you." It was as much as he dared say.

And more than she was expecting, apparently. She swallowed and turned away, lowering her gaze to the bar. She looked less angry now and more uncomfortable.

"Didn't see that one coming, did you?" he added, feeling a little bolder. It was a relief to have gotten the words out - even if they were a little watered-down.

She shook her head and didn't reply. Her eyes were quite blue, he noted, now that he could see them without her glasses. Almost a violet-blue. Very pretty, although they appeared confused at the moment. He reached out to rest a hand on her shoulder and realized that the big bartender was watching every move he made. The man was pretending to be busy, rinsing out glasses in the sink, but Oliver was certain he was paying close attention. Oliver brought his hand back to his side.

Felicity straightened in her seat, regaining some of her composure. "No, I didn't see it coming, but then I'm not even sure what attracted and care about mean. Judging by the photos in the gossip blogs, it's probably a regular line for you. Hell, you probably keep an entire security firm busy having women you care about followed."

"You don't really believe that."

She gave a helpless shrug. "Maybe not. I don't know."

He stepped closer to her, still wanting to touch her, but resisting the impulse. "But you understand my motives for putting security on you, right? You may not like it, but you understand that I did it out of concern for your safety."

"I can take care of myself." The reply was automatic.

"Can you? Even cops use backup. You came here alone. And you're still not armed," he said more assertively. "You went to meet a Bratva captain and you didn't bring a weapon."

She pressed her lips together. "So it would seem," was all she said.

He waited a beat. "Felicity-"

"I don't know how many times I have to say this to you," she interrupted, suddenly sounding tired, "but I am a cop, Oliver. I went to the academy and I spent more than a year on street patrol. I've faced violent criminals, and when I do need help, I'm smart enough to ask for it. I came here today with a plan." She glanced at the bartender and received a grin in return. "I don't need," she hesitated, "billionaires asserting themselves into my life."

Billionaires? So that was how she thought of him? Oliver noted that the bartender's grin had grown wider. He had dropped the pretense of not listening and was openly watching them. It annoyed Oliver to no end.

"Can I have a beer?" he snapped at the man.

The bartender's smile didn't waver. "Certainly, mate. What kind?"

"Whatever kind you have on tap at the other end of the bar." Oliver pointed to the second set of taps, fifteen feet away.

The bartender shook his head. "The beer selection is the same, regardless of the tap." His accent sounded Australian.

"Then can you give us a little privacy?"

The bartender looked at Felicity. "Are you okay with that, Blondie? Or is the rich boy bothering you?"

She nodded. "Yes, it's fine, Slade."

"All right, then."

The man moved down the bar, but only a short distance. Oliver suspected he could still hear them.

Felicity retrieved her beer and took a sip. "You know, Oliver, if I were to tell my fellow officers about this, they might consider it interfering with a cop in the course of her investigation. Every time I think I've cleared you from the suspect list, you do something to make me want to put you back on it."

He shook his head. "You don't mean that."

"No? You don't think there's anything about your behavior that's suspicious?"

He rubbed the back of his neck. "Felicity, I respect your experience, believe me, but there's criminals and then there's criminals. The Bratva are organized and powerful. They're not your average Star City bad guy. And you seem to want to go up against them on your own."

Her expression didn't soften. "What makes you such an expert on the Bratva, Oliver? They don't exactly advertise. Most people have never heard of them."

He felt a flush creep over his face. "I told you, as a businessman-"

"You like to be aware of anything that threatens your city," she finished. "Yeah, you said that before, but I'm having a hard time buying it. Most CEOs worry about things like corporate tax rates and share prices. A Russian crime syndicate doesn't figure into their strategic planning process."

He pressed his lips together and didn't reply. He thought about Tommy's words. Your life isn't exactly cop-friendly. He rooted around for a plausible explanation.

Fortunately, she spoke again before he needed to come up with one. "Look, will you call your guys off?"

It should have been easy to agree, but he didn't want to lie to her. He hesitated.

"I got Anatoly to agree to pull his guys off me," she went on.

Oliver felt his jaw go slack. "Really?"

"Swear to God."

"And you think he was telling you the truth?"

She smiled for the first time since he'd started talking to her - a grim, satisfied smile. "In this situation, yes. It's in his best interest to do what he said he would do. He'll stick to his word." She sounded confident.

"I don't suppose you're going to tell me how you managed that one."

"No, I'm not."

Oliver shook his head, but didn't press further. He seemed a little worn down by their argument, Felicity thought, and felt herself softening toward him...just a little. After all, it was flattering, albeit in a weird way, to have a guy go to such lengths for her. Presumptuous on his part...and a little insulting because he seemed to doubt her abilities, but flattering nonetheless. She could continue to quarrel with him but she didn't think it was going to accomplish a lot. She had other things she needed to do, like return to Ramirez to see if her backtrace program had completed. And maybe he had drawn the sketch of the woman who had come to see him.

She pushed her beer glass away and slid off the stool.

"Oliver, I need to get back to work. As you can see, I'm fine, and the Bratva won't be following me any longer. I'm certain of it. So you will please agree to call off your security team so I don't have to worry about them, too?"

He gave her an unhappy look. She thought he might make one more stab at persuading her, but then he nodded. "Okay."

"Thanks. I appreciate it. Now, why don't you tell your guy that he can go home." She pointed to the man seated at the end of the bar.

"Now?" His brow furrowed.

"Yes, now. No time like the present."

He sighed. It was a defeated sound. "Fine." Catching the security man's eye, he gestured toward the door. The man raised an eyebrow and Oliver shook his head, then pointed at the door once more. The man rose from his seat and left.

And just like that, Felicity was on her own again.

She smiled, then bent down and retrieved her backpack. "Thanks," she said again. Slinging the pack over one shoulder, she added, "I've got to get going." She gave Slade a small wave and began heading out.

Oliver fell in step next to her. "Do you have any new leads?"

"I'm not going to discuss the case with you, Oliver."

He gave a short, dry laugh. "Well, can you at least tell me if you've made any progress? I don't think that would be a huge breach of protocol."

She nodded. "I think we've made progress."

"You're just not going to tell me what it is."

"No, I'm not."

They stepped out of Nuddy's together. Felicity began to turn in the direction of Ramirez's apartment, but was surprised when Oliver stopped abruptly in the middle of the sidewalk and stared. She watched his hands rise and fall.

"Something wrong?" she asked.

He gestured at the air. "My bike," he said. "It's gone."

"Your bike?"

He noted her confused expression and understood. "Not bicycle," he explained. "Motorcycle. I rode a motorcycle here because it seemed like the quickest way to get through traffic. I left it on the sidewalk - right here."

"What kind of motorcycle?"

"New model BMW."

"Did you lock it?"

"I- " He paused, and then frowned. "No, I guess not." When she raised her eyebrows, he shrugged. "I was in a hurry. Like I said, I was worried."

Felicity felt a laugh beginning to grow somewhere inside her. "Let me get this straight. You drove a new, luxury-brand motorcycle to the Glades, and left it unlocked on the sidewalk."

"I-"

"In the Glades," she repeated.

"I was only in the bar for ten minutes." His shock was fading and he was beginning to sound annoyed.

"An unlocked BMW in the Glades." Felicity let the laugh come. "And you think I'm naive, Oliver?"

He said nothing; just stood there, looking frustrated and a little forlorn. To her surprise, Felicity felt a measure of pity for the guy. He'd rushed to Nuddy's with the aim of protecting her. It was a misguided (and a little patronizing) thing to do, but his motives had been good. Plus, the fact that he hadn't bothered to lock the bike reassured her that the act wasn't part of some larger Oliver Queen plan. He'd been responding to the moment.

She allowed herself to chuckle a little longer before taking his arm. "C'mon, Oliver. I live near here. We can walk to my apartment and get my car, then I can drive you home. We'll report your bike as stolen but I wouldn't hold out a lot of hope for recovering it. My guess is someone is going to have a lot of fun for an hour or two and then the bike is going to end up in a chop shop."

He sighed as they resumed walking. "At least it wasn't my Buell."

"Your what?"

"I have a couple of antique bikes, including a Buell racing bike. The company went out of business in the early 2000's and they only made a limited number of machines. They're amazing, even by today's standards - light, agile and really quick. It would have been hard to replace."

"Oh." Felicity frowned. "Just how many bikes do you have, Oliver?"

"Five or six, I think."

"You think?" She shook her head. "Normal people know how many vehicles they own. I'm officially no longer feeling sorry for you. Apparently you have motorcycles lying around the way most of us have pens."

He laughed. "It's not quite that bad. I just happen to like motorcycles."

Her hand was still on his elbow, steering him down the sidewalk. It felt good, not at all like Susan's proprietary grasp. Oliver wondered what he could do to have her keep it there. Carefully, trying not to call attention to it, he pulled his arm closer, tucking her hand against his side. He slowed his pace, hoping to prolong the walk.

"Why do you live in the Glades?" he asked. "It seems an odd choice for a cop."

Felicity's brow furrowed. She'd heard this question so often that she had a number of responses saved for the occasion. But for some reason, she didn't want to use them with Oliver. He'd posed the question out of genuine interest. It hadn't been a judgment.

"Why do you think it's odd?" she asked.

He glanced at a bodega as they walked past it. The door was open to the warm spring weather, but there were bars on the window and the proprietor inside looked tired and wary.

"There's so much crime here," he explained. "I would think for a cop, it would be the equivalent of a doctor living in an emergency room. You're surrounded by work. Don't you want to get away from it when you come home?"

Felicity shrugged. "There's crime everywhere so I really can't get away from it. It just depends on the kind of crime. In your world, it might be white collar, like fraud or embezzling. In the Glades, it's more raw - it's holdups and knife fights. But there are good people here, too. That guy back in the bar with the eyepatch - Slade? He's a good guy and Nuddy's is a special place."

Ah, yes. The big man who had stood guard over Felicity while she and Oliver had talked. "The two of you seemed friendly," Oliver remarked, hoping he sounded matter-of-fact.

"I can count on him."

Which implied the bartender could count on her too, he thought. He wondered what they counted on each other for. "Have you known him long?"

"Since I moved here. I eat at Nuddy's a lot."

"I see." He decided to drop the subject of the bartender. "But you didn't really answer my question. Of all the places you could live, why here?"

She smiled. "The truth? It's nothing very noble. I live here because I can afford a bigger apartment. I've got two bedrooms and a reserved space in the parking garage. There's no way I could swing that in a fancier section of the city. And my building isn't bad, although the management doesn't take the best care of it."

"Really?" Oliver recalled the out-of-order elevator when he'd checked out her apartment. Apparently it wasn't a rare occurrence. He made a mental note to follow up with the maintenance company. He owned the building, after all.

"Yeah," Felicity was saying. "The elevator goes out sometimes and the hot water goes on the fritz. Once in a while I have to go to Slade's place to shower. He doesn't mind."

I'll bet, Oliver thought. He pictured Felicity stepping out of the shower, wrapped in a towel, her skin rosy and glowing. He added an asterisk to his mental note: Buy new hot water system for building.

"We can cut through here," she said, pointing at a side street.

The street was narrow and bordered on both sides by the backs of buildings - more like an alley than a road. Without the storefronts, there was little pedestrian traffic; just two beater cars parked on one side that appeared to have been there for a long time. To Oliver's mind, it felt like a good place for a mugging, but Felicity seemed okay with it. It was mid-afternoon, after all, so there was plenty of light. And she lives here, he reminded himself.

"Okay." He stayed next to her as they turned onto the street, hoping the route wasn't going to shorten their walk appreciably. It was a nice afternoon. The sunlight was filtering between the buildings, warm on his back. Felicity's hand still grasped the crook of his elbow, warm on his arm. It was as if the two of them were in their own world.

At least it was until the figure in black appeared, stepping out from behind one of the cars. Oliver's immediate reaction was that anyone dressed like that could not be up to anything good. The person had gone to considerable lengths to hide his identity. He wore a long black coat with a large hood that kept his face shadowed and hidden.

And things got even worse when the figure lifted his arm and Oliver saw that he was holding a bow.

Chapter Text

Oliver marveled at how quickly things could change. One minute you thought you knew what was going to happen for the rest of the day or maybe even the rest of your life. Then - in the blink of an eye - that future got turned on its head. The plane crash had been one of those times. He and Tommy had been relaxing in the luxury of Queen Consolidated's private jet, drinking beer and joking with the flight attendant. It was the last trip Oliver planned to make with his family before heading to New York to start a new job. He had graduated Stanford earlier that year and received a number of employment offers. The one in New York appealed to him because he wanted to see what he could make of himself away from Star City, without the Queen name supporting him - or weighing him down. The pending separation made him a little sad, especially the thought of leaving his sister, but he was also excited at the prospect of starting a new life.

Tommy had just told the flight attendant that she should dump her boyfriend and go out with him, when there was a huge bang and the plane began dropping toward the ocean. After fifteen terrifying seconds, the pilot managed to turn the plummet into a controlled dive, but they still hit the water pretty damn hard.

And Oliver's future as he'd originally imagined it was gone forever, lost under two miles of salt water.

Standing in an alley in the Glades and facing the hooded figure with the bow, Oliver felt much the same as he had on the plane. A second ago things had been easy. The spring sunshine was warm and gentle, he and Felicity had reached a tentative accord, and he'd decided he was going to do his best to persuade her to accept a dinner invitation during the drive to his house. If all went well, it was a plan that would take him happily into the evening, and possibly set him up for better things in the days to come.

Now he was in freefall all over again, with panic lurking at the edges of his consciousnesses and threatening to engulf him. He fought to remain calm, telling himself the figure in black was still a good distance away and there was time to act. But the hood on the archer's long leather coat shadowed his face, hiding his features, giving him a sinister, almost supernatural appearance. The archer stood, watching Oliver and Felicity from underneath that hood, not saying a word. Then, at an almost leisurely pace, he reached over his shoulder and pulled an arrow from the quiver strapped to his back.

And Felicity reacted. She pulled her hand off Oliver's arm and yanked her phone from her pocket. He heard her speaking into it, but her words were faint, muffled by the roaring in his ears.

"Detective Felicity Smoak, badge number 102012. The chief suspect in the Rochev murder has been spotted in the Glades. Suspect is on Edgemont Street wearing a long black coat with a hood, carrying a bow and arrow. Any patrol units in the area are requested to assist."

A mechanical voice gave some sort of response, but Oliver couldn't make out the words.

She returned the phone to her pocket and reached behind her own back, shoving her backpack to the side and lifting her sweatshirt. With a surge of relief, Oliver saw that she hadn't gone to her meeting with Anatoly unarmed, after all. She had her weapon holstered under her shirt. They were not defenseless.

Before she could grasp the stunner, he seized it. Then he stepped in front of her, and pointed it at the archer.

"Oliver!" she hissed. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Keeping us from getting killed."

"My stunner isn't-"

He fired and watched in dismay as the stream became diffuse and then dead before it reached the archer.

"-intended for this range. I'm a detective, not a sniper."

"Now you tell me."

"We needed to get closer," she muttered through clenched teeth. "I was hoping to buy time and talk him nearer."

The archer hadn't moved. He continued to face them as if he had no nerves and all the time in the world. With the same deliberate pace he'd used to pull the arrow from the quiver, he nocked it onto the bow but didn't immediately draw the string. Oliver doubted it was a good idea to wait around until he did.

"We should run the other way," he said to Felicity. "Now. Fuck getting closer."

"What?"

"Your stunner may not be able to reach him, but I'm pretty sure his bow has more than enough range to hit us. A decent bow can shoot a hundred yards and he's about forty yards away. We should run back the way we came, to the main street, where there are better options for cover."

She nodded. "That's a good idea. You should do that."

"We should both do that."

"I can't. There's a decent chance I'm looking at Isabel's killer. It's my job to bring him in - I can't run away. You're a civilian and you should get the hell out of here."

Her words hit Oliver like a right hook to the face. All those times she'd said she was a cop he had thought, yes, yes, I get it. But he hadn't - not really. He'd thought of her sitting behind a desk using her computer to gather information, or interviewing someone in their home, the way she'd done with him. He hadn't thought about her deliberately facing a killer. He hadn't thought about her laying her life on the line - believing it was her job to lay her life on the line.

"Go," Felicity repeated. "Get to the main street. If you see the patrol units, point them this way."

Oliver wanted to do it - wanted to get out of that alley and away from the archer. She'll have help. We should be hearing sirens any second now. But he couldn't bring himself to go. Adrenaline was beginning to replace panic, giving him an eerie kind of focus, and his fight-or-flight response was definitely turning toward fight. He shook his head. "And leave you alone here? Not likely."

The archer raised his arm and pulled back the bowstring. Oliver kept his body in front of Felicity and watched him move his head very slightly, as if assessing options for his best shot. With his newfound concentration, Oliver evaluated the two cars on the side of the street and determined they were useless as cover. They weren't high enough, and getting behind them would require running toward the archer. A quick scan told him there was nowhere else to hide.

Where the fuck were those sirens? As much as Oliver wanted to fight, flight seemed like the better choice. And the time for discussion was over.

Stuffing her weapon in his waistband, he turned toward Felicity, put his hands on her shoulders and forcibly spun her around so that she was facing the way they had come. Then he pushed her hard between the shoulder blades.

"Run," he barked.

She took a step but didn't start running, so he pushed her again.

"Run!" he repeated.

She began to run and he moved behind her, just as he heard the snap of the bowstring. An instant later he felt a searing pain high in his back, close to his left armpit. It made him stagger for a few steps but it didn't bring him down. Ahead of him, Felicity ran, although not terribly fast. She was glancing at the doorways and garbage cans and he realized she was looking for a place to turn and make a fight of it. She didn't know that he'd been hit.

It might be her job to catch the archer, but he was damned if he was going to see her get killed trying to do it.

He sprinted to catch up with her, then wrapped his right arm around her waist and hauled her off her feet, catching her by surprise. Clutching her to his side with her arms and legs dangling, he continued to run, expecting with every stride to feel a second arrow piercing his back.

He didn't.

When they emerged back onto the main street, he took enough steps to get them around the corner and out of the line of sight. Then he dropped Felicity and rested his hands on his thighs, breathing heavily. She landed on all fours and scrambled to her feet. He could swear her nostrils were flaring as she spun to face him.

"Oliver-"

Her glare changed to a look of horror. "You're shot!" she said.

He gave a weak laugh. "It sure feels that way."

"Shit." She herded him up against the side of the building, then moved cautiously to peer around the corner, back into the depths of the alley. "I don't see the archer."

"I don't think he followed us."

She reached up gingerly and touched the end of the arrow. He felt a shock of pain.

"Oh, man," she whispered. "That's really in there."

"You think?"

She pulled out her phone. "I'll call an ambulance."

As he watched her tap 9-1-1, he thought about what would happen next - the ambulance ride, the emergency room, and the multitude of people with cameras. Before the phone could even ring, he yanked it out of her hand and ended the call. "No. No ambulance, Felicity."

She stared at him, wide-eyed. "Are you nuts? You're shot. We need to get you to a hospital now." She reached for the phone but he held it up, out of her grasp.

"It's a shoulder wound," he assured her. "It hurts and it looks bad, but there are no vital organs involved. Let's get me to your apartment. We can take care of it there."

"Oliver-"

He shook his head, pain compounding his exasperation. "Christ, you like to argue, Felicity. Has anyone ever told you that? Could we make this one, simple thing easy? Let's just go."

"I don't think a shoulder wound is a simple thing."

"It's a cut - a deep cut, nothing more. If we go to a hospital, it's going to be on every news broadcast in the city. I don't want the publicity."

She narrowed her eyes. "You haven't minded being in the headlines before."

"Not for something like this. I don't want to have to explain to people, including my board of directors, how I got shot with an arrow in the Glades. Neither do you, when it comes down to it. Keep in mind that if I make the news, there's a good chance you will too. Oliver Queen arrives in the emergency room accompanied by homicide detective Felicity Smoak? I'm guessing you weren't too crazy about the Inside Star City blurb this morning. This will be worse. They'll have your name."

She bit her lip and he could see that he'd hit a sweet spot. She looked at him uncertainly. "My medical skills are limited. You'd be better off with a doctor."

"If you have antiseptic and wound sealant, I can manage. I was stuck in the wilds for two years after a plane crash, remember? I got pretty good at taking care of myself."

"Didn't you have Tommy?" Felicity brightened at her own question. "Maybe he can help. We could call him."

"No," Oliver said quickly. When she shot him a puzzled look, he added, "He's worse than my board of directors. I'll never hear the end of it. You and me, we can do this. In fact, let's leave before one of your patrol units finds me like this. Then it will be too late."

Felicity stared at him. He looks rational enough. And he was regarding her with a mixture of determination and hope that was strangely attractive. But the man was wounded.

"Oliver, I don't think-"

"You'll be on all the front pages, Felicity. Your name, your picture, the fact that you're investigating Isabel's death..."

"Fine," she snapped. "But you better not sue me or the department if you end up with gangrene."

He half-laughed, half-groaned as he handed her phone back to her. "I won't, I promise. And on that cheery thought, why don't you pull out the arrow and then we'll head to your place."

Her brow furrowed as she slid the phone back into her pocket. "What?"

"Pull out the arrow," he repeated.

She stepped behind him and studied his shoulder. There was a circle of hoodie fabric around the arrow that was sodden with blood. It was about the size of a cantaloupe; the rest of the hoodie was largely dry. At the moment, the wound appeared to be bleeding only moderately.

"Let's wait until we get to my apartment, in case it bleeds more when I pull out the arrow," she suggested.

He shook his head. "We should do it now. I can't be walking through the streets with an arrow sticking out of my shoulder. I'll attract attention."

"This is the Glades, Oliver. People walk around with all kinds of objects sticking out of their bodies - knives, screwdrivers, knitting needles. I once saw a man whose wife had shoved a turkey baster up his-"

"Okay!" He raised his good arm. "I get the picture. We'll take care of it at your apartment. Let's just go, please, before the patrols or the press get here?"

"Right."

And, despite her misgivings, Felicity left the scene of the crime.

Chapter Text

Thankfully, Felicity's apartment wasn't far. Even sticking to the main streets, Oliver caught sight of her building within ten minutes - which was a relief, because his shoulder was hurting more than he wanted to let on. He was confident the arrow hadn't splintered any bones but that didn't mean it hadn't penetrated muscle and found a few nerve endings.

"We're almost there," Felicity said, pointing at the building.

Oliver nodded, thinking it best not to volunteer that he knew where she lived. She was already unhappy that he'd had a security team following her. If she ever found out that he'd examined her apartment...well, he had a feeling that might make her angry enough to drive the arrow deeper into his shoulder. They had reached a fragile accord. He wanted to preserve it.

He allowed her to guide him into the building and onto the elevator. As they began their ascent, his phone vibrated in his pocket. He resisted the urge to pull it out and stomp on it. Whoever you are, I'm kind of busy, so leave me the fuck alone. The phone went still as Felicity led him out of the elevator and down the short hall to her apartment. She opened the door and gestured toward the back of the living room.

"The bathroom is that way," she said. "I've got a few medical supplies and a bottle of pain blockers somewhere in the cabinet below the sink."

"I'll skip the blockers."

"That arrow is going to hurt coming out."

"Only for a second."

She shook her head. "You're nuts. I don't know what you're trying to prove with all of this."

"I'm not trying to prove anything. I'm just not a big fan of drugs. Let's skip the blocker, Felicity."

"Fine."

She released her holster and dropped her weapon and her phone onto the living room sofa. Then, to his surprise, she took the hand on his non-wounded side and walked him to the bathroom. Her hand was small in his and felt slightly damp, as if she were nervous about what they were going to do. She let go when they reached the door, then stepped inside and crouched in front of the cabinet. She opened the door and examined its contents.

"Antiseptic," she said, and reached up to hand him a spray bottle.

He took it. "Check."

"Wound sealant and applicator." She slid out a plastic box.

He switched the antiseptic cautiously to his left hand and took the sealant box in his good hand. "Check."

She looked up at him. "You're sure you don't want a blocker? It won't put you out, it'll just take the edge off."

"I'm sure."

She rose to her feet, shaking her head, but didn't push. He watched her turn on the water and scrub her hands, thinking the movements were as much about dealing with nerves as they were about getting rid of germs. Pursing her lips thoughtfully, she reached behind the bathroom door and gathered a stack of towels from a shelf. "In case you bleed a lot," she explained. Then she paused and looked around. "It's too cramped in here. Let's go to the bedroom."

"I get that from a lot of women."

She rolled her eyes. "Very funny. I wonder if you'll still feel like joking when I pull that arrow out of your shoulder."

"Well, if you would stop talking and just do it, we'll find out."

She took a deep breath. "Right." She steered him from the bathroom into the bedroom. As they stepped closer to the bed, she took a long look at his bloody hoodie and then at her clean comforter. She pushed the comforter to one side.

"In case you bleed a lot," she repeated. "I don't want to have to wash the comforter. Now, sit."

Oliver sat on the edge of the bed, placing the medical supplies on the floor at his feet. Felicity kicked off her shoes and climbed onto the bed so that she was kneeling behind him, the stack of towels at her side.

She studied the shoulder blade with the arrow still protruding from it, pinning Oliver's hoodie to his back. She winced when she saw that the tip had penetrated a good inch into his flesh. The blood was oozing from the wound and the sodden patch on his hoodie had increased from cantaloupe-sized to the dimensions of a respectable watermelon. It was a lot of blood. She wondered if still more would spurt when she pulled out the arrow. Then she wondered how hard it was going to be to pull it out. It seemed like there could be resistance.

She closed her eyes.

"I don't think I can do this, Oliver."

"Sure you can. Just grab the arrow and pull."

"Ah…no. There's got to be a more precise way to take it out."

"There isn't. They'd do the same thing at the hospital."

"Really? It could be next to an artery or something."

He sighed. "Okay, Felicity. You're probably right. Before we try to remove it, let's figure out what we're dealing with. Take hold of the arrow, but don't pull. I'm going to rotate my shoulder a little to feel where the point is resting. Okay?"

"Okay." She didn't sound happy.

"Just grasp it."

He knew that she'd done so when he felt a small jolt of pain.

"Got it," she confirmed.

"Good. Now, keep a firm hold. I'm just going to move my shoulder a tiny bit."

"Okay."

"You have a firm hold?"

"Yes."

Oliver took a deep breath, then threw the upper half of his body forward until his chest rested on his knees and his hands were on the floor. The arrow came out of his shoulder and remained in Felicity's hand.

He groaned, "Son of a bitch, that hurts." More than he'd been expecting. The wound burned as if he'd been prodded by a hot branding iron and electric shocks were traveling up and down his arm.

She stared at the arrow, still in her grasp. "That was sneaky, Oliver. If you're in pain right now...well...you deserve it."

He straightened up. "It had to come out, Felicity. Sitting here arguing wasn't going to help. Now that it has, can you clean the wound? I can't reach behind there myself."

She was silent, and for a moment he thought she would refuse again. But then she tossed the arrow to the floor and said, "Take off the hoodie."

He unzipped it and gingerly slid the left side off his arm, leaving the right side in place. She sucked in her breath as she looked at the wound, then carefully placed a towel over it. The towel turned red almost immediately.

"How does it look?" he asked.

"Bloody. I can't see much. Can you hand me the antiseptic?"

He retrieved the bottle from the floor with his good arm and held it out to her. She took the antiseptic, lifted the towel, and sprayed the wound liberally. The liquid hurt, but nowhere near as badly as the arrow removal had. She threw the bloody towel to the floor, picked up a clean one, and dabbed some more.

"Well?" he said.

She lifted the towel. "The wound is neater than I was expecting...less than three inches long, with clean edges. I think the sealant might hold it together if you keep your shoulder still for a few days. But I repeat — I'm not a doctor."

"Well, I like your prognosis, so we're going to go with it. Get to work with the sealer." He pushed the kit back next to her.

Felicity opened the lid and removed the tube of wound sealant and the application wand. "You're probably going to end up with a scar."

"It won't be the first."

That was true. Now that he'd mentioned it, Felicity looked down at the exposed section of his back and saw that there were a number of white lines crossing it. She also saw that he had a pretty incredible back. The skin was smooth and taut. She was certain an anatomy student could make out most of the major muscle groups.

She traced a finger lightly across one of the lines and felt the ripple of muscle beneath it. "From the plane crash?"

Oliver hesitated, his back tingling under her hand despite his pain. "Yes."

"Well, I'll try to be as neat as I can."

She spread sealant over the wound, her touch gentle. Then she turned on the applicator and held it against his flesh. Oliver felt heat and tiny vibrations on his shoulder blade as the wand went to work. He felt deeper and altogether different vibrations from Felicity's other hand, resting lightly on his spine as she kept herself steady. He wondered if she was aware of what she was doing to him as that hand slid along his skin - up, down, left, then right. It was a strange combination of pleasure and pain, so sensual that he began to worry he was going to develop an erection. He arranged the ends of his hoodie, still hanging off his right side, to cover his lap.

"I owe you an apology," he said, partly to distract himself from the sensations in his body but mostly because it was true.

Her hand stopped moving and he heard her inhale. "What for?"

He sighed, "You name it. Having you followed. Grabbing your weapon. Hauling you out of that alley. I was out of line in all of them."

She reached for the tube of wound sealant. "You were," she agreed, and dabbed more gel on his shoulder blade. "Although I'm surprised to hear you acknowledge it. If I'd known an arrow in the back would make you come to your senses, I might have shot you myself by now."

He chuckled. "It wasn't the arrow."

"No?" Her fingers resumed moving, tracing over his skin to smear the sealant. Tiny goosebumps emerged on the back of his neck.

He shook his head. "No. It was seeing the way you reacted. You never panicked and you never stopped thinking about how you were going to get the guy. I guess it drove home for me that you're a trained cop, as committed to your job as I am to mine."

"I see." She fell silent and appeared to be concentrating on her work. Oliver felt her knuckles brush lightly under his hairline.

"I'm sorry if I screwed up your arrest," he added, as his dick gave a sudden twitch. Oh shit.

She moved the wand lower on his back. "Well, since we're going for honesty here, Oliver, I have to confess that the chances of me getting the archer were fifty-fifty at best, without the patrol units. As you pointed out, I was out-gunned...or out-arrowed. So, even though you acted like a patronizing jerk, I really can't hold you responsible for losing the suspect."

He felt a surprising amount of relief at that statement. "I'm glad to hear it."

She lifted the wand and leaned forward to examine her handiwork. He could feel her soft, warm breath on the back of his neck. Christ. He made sure the hoodie was still secured over his lap.

"Did you always want to be a cop?" he asked, a little desperately.

"Hmmm?"

"I asked..." He swallowed, feeling his heart rate increase, "I asked if you always wanted to be a cop."

"Oh. Not really." When she spoke, her breath came out in little staccato puffs, causing his neck hairs to rise. "But I knew I wanted to do something that would make people's lives better."

Make people's lives better. It was a statement he could debate, which was good because it would take his mind off her hands and her breath. "And you think police work makes people's lives better?"

"I think it can," she replied slowly. "Giving people a place to live that feels safe, letting them know they can report threats and knowing that those threats will be addressed — that improves lives."

"Maybe. It hasn't exactly been my personal experience."

Felicity recalled the way Diggle had spoken of Oliver when she'd first filled her commander in on Isabel's murder. He'd used words like slippery, and told her that the department took every opportunity to investigate Oliver because they didn't believe his story of the plane crash. So, she supposed she could understand why Oliver wasn't a huge fan of the SCPD. On the other hand, he had a history of not cooperating, which tended fuel suspicions. If he would be more transparent, she thought, the SCPD might back off.

None of which changed the fact that the man smelled good, especially now that she had wiped away the blood. With her face near his neck, Felicity couldn't help noticing that he had a clean, masculine scent, a little spicy but not drowning in cologne. Between the chiseled back, those blue eyes and his scent, she understood why the man had no trouble finding bed partners. With her fingers pressed against his skin and his warmth flowing into her hand, she was feeling something akin to arousal herself. Hell, even his voice was attractive; low, smooth and intelligent.

Then she gave herself a mental shake and forced herself to focus on her work. Lifting the wand, she blotted the wound with a towel and examined it. The sealant was working better than she had anticipated. She considered Oliver's view of the police.

"The SCPD has made my life better," she offered. "They made sure I had the chance to go to college, which would never have happened in the foster system."

"The foster system," he repeated. "Your parents are gone?" Laurel had told him that, but he was interested in hearing the story from her.

"Yes."

To his disappointment, she didn't explain further. After a moment, he said, "And so now you feel you owe the SCPD for giving you an education."

She saw a small spot of blood ooze from the top of the wound and returned the wand to his shoulder. "No. They never made me feel that I owed them. The man who is currently my commander is responsible for getting me the scholarship. I met him when I was in high school and he cared enough to mentor me. He didn't have to, but he did - beyond the requirements of some SCPD public relations program. I felt the department couldn't be a bad place to work if it had people like him in it. I still feel that way."

"With a college degree and your computer skills, you could make more money elsewhere," Oliver pointed out.

"Probably," she agreed. "But that's just money. There are other things that matter more. I want to come home at the end of the day feeling like I've done something good." She blotted his shoulder once more and then sat back on her heels. "I think I got it. This stuff is really meant for shallow cuts, but it looks like it will hold if you're careful. How does it feel?"

He rotated his shoulder cautiously and was pleased to find that the pain had eased from a sharp stab to a dull ache. "It's sore," he admitted, "but it's not too bad. I'll manage."

Felicity put the sealant back into the plastic box and slid across the bed until she was sitting beside him. For a moment, she gazed at her bloody hands. Then she stood. "I think I have whiskey in the kitchen. I'm going to get the bottle."

"I don't need-"

"Not for you, pal," she interrupted. "For me. I'm not going to pretend to be as stoic as you. I could use a shot of something." And without waiting for a reply, she padded out of the room in her stocking feet. Oliver heard the sounds of water running in the bathroom and then the clink of glass from someplace farther away. He took the opportunity to pull out his phone and check the call history. Susan. Not important. He stuffed the phone back into his pocket.

Felicity returned with a bottle of amber liquid and a shot glass. He noted that she was wearing her eyeglasses and wondered why she had taken the time to retrieve them. Her eyes were a little red - not teary, but definitely frazzled. It occurred to Oliver that between Anatoly and the archer, this day couldn't been a walk in the park for her, either.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

She sat beside him. "Yeah." Her voice sounded uncertain. "I think it's just catching up with me...how close that really was. We're lucky things didn't turn out worse. I wonder how the killer knew where to find us."

He frowned. "So, you believe this wasn't an accident. You think that we were his intended targets?"

She raised an eyebrow. "I think you were his intended target." When he didn't reply, she added, "Look, Oliver, the New Archer, whoever he is, went after Isabel. You're connected to her pretty publicly, so I have to think that him shooting at you isn't a coincidence."

"He shot at both of us."

"I don't think so. You're the one who ended up with an arrow in his back. And you're the one who dated Isabel."

Why does everyone keep calling it a date? "Maybe." Oliver replied, aloud. "But you're the one investigating her murder. It could be that the killer wants to shut you down."

"I doubt that. First of all, how would he know I'm the lead detective? My name hasn't been in the news. And second - what would be the point? If the New Archer kills me, there'll be another detective waiting to take my place." She shook her head. "I made sure to look for tails today and didn't spot anyone - not until Anatoly arrived at Nuddy's and brought your security guy with him. It's far more likely that you're the intended target and the killer followed you."

"Maybe," he said again. It was true that someone could have followed him from his house to Nuddy's and he wouldn't have noticed. His thoughts had been filled with Felicity. That someone would had to have been fast, though. Oliver hadn't wasted any time.

Felicity opened the bottle of whiskey and filled the shot glass. Then she raised the glass and drank its contents in one gulp.

Oliver watched a flush spread over her cheeks, turning her creamy complexion a soft pink.

"Better?" he asked.

"A little."

"Maybe I'll try a shot after all, then."

She filled the glass and handed it to him. He swallowed the whiskey, feeling it warm his throat and dull the ache in his shoulder.

"Better?" she echoed.

He looked at her; those soft pink cheeks and the full, kissable mouth. The sensations he'd felt as she'd worked on his shoulder came flooding back, even without her touching him. Just the recollection of her hand on his skin and soft breath on his neck was enough. He noticed that there was a faint sheen on her lower lip, as if a coating of whiskey remained. She must have noticed it too, because she ran her tongue along it.

And something inside Oliver lurched.

Giving in to the desire he felt ever since he'd met her, he turned and lowered his mouth to hers. Gently, very gently, he began to move his lips, capturing her full, lower lip between his own. Her mouth was every bit as soft as he'd imagined and the kiss felt new, a little unpracticed, and incredibly exciting. It was as if he were back in school, kissing for the first time. He tasted whiskey and something else that could only be Felicity.

She wasn't kissing him back, though, so with enormous will he forced himself to stop and back away. He looked into her eyes. Felicity wore an expression that was similar to the one she'd worn when she'd sampled the foie gras at his home. It was a questioning, testing look, but not an angry one. She looked up at him as if weighing something in her mind, and ran her tongue around her lips once more.

It was enough encouragement for him. He leaned in and kissed her again, more strongly this time. And after a moment, she began to return the kiss, closing her eyes as she explored his lips.

Sweet Jesus. He felt the embers of passion ignite inside him in a way he hadn't experienced for a long time. It was a little frightening because he was usually more in control, but it was also exhilarating because it was so damned honest. As they continued to kiss, Felicity's response grew more enthusiastic. She put her hand up to his cheek and ran her tongue along his lips. He heard a soft moan, somewhere in the back of her throat.

And the embers grew into full-fledged flames. Oliver reached out with his good arm and cupped the back of her head, pulling her closer, tightening their contact. He felt himself go hard — urgently hard — and the pain in his shoulder receded until it was a mere annoyance, overshadowed by his need. His breath was coming faster, his nerves were on fire, and he knew the remnants of his control were slipping. He tried to hold on, to sense any reluctance on her part, but he was certain she was meeting him, not backing away.

Somewhere in Felicity's head was a voice that said this wasn't like her, and it wasn't a good idea. She didn't make out with men simply because they were attractive, and she especially didn't make out with men who were involved in her murder investigations. Even if she'd assured herself Oliver wasn't a suspect in Isabel's murder, there were still ethical issues. Besides, she wanted a connection with a man that was more than hormonal. She wanted trust, she wanted security...

She wanted to feel Oliver Queen pounding into her, that lean, sculpted body flowing over hers.

And holy fuck, the man knew how to kiss. He was strong but gentle, his mouth firm and fluid. If she were honest, she knew the moment she'd put her hands on his back that she wanted him. And it was clear he wanted her. Oliver's ragged breathing - the uncertainty in his eyes when he'd looked at her - told her this wasn't a practiced seduction. This was raw need...for her. She found that incredibly erotic.

When she moaned again, his other hand reached down, and fumbling slightly, unbuttoned the top of her jeans. Then his fingers reached inside her panties and began to stroke her, those long, deft fingers making her gasp as they moved along her center. The tension built even higher and she knew she was lost.

"Oliver- I need..."

"I do, too." He eased her down on the bed, onto her back, his hand continuing its motion, his mouth still on hers. She was wet...so damn wet and warm and he was rock hard and throbbing. He slid her jeans and underpants off her hips, down to her ankles, and then freed one of her legs so that she could open her thighs. He stretched out, half next to her and half over her, resting his weight on his good shoulder. His mouth left hers long enough to look into her eyes and make certain she was all right; then he resumed kissing her.

She reached up and traced her hands over his abs and then his back, feeling the hard twitch of his muscles. In an imitation of him, she unbuttoned his jeans and pushed them past his hips. When she ran her fingers along his length, Oliver shuddered. He wanted so badly to be inside her, but he also didn't want to end this too quickly. It had been a long time since he'd experienced this kind of passion and things were moving fast.

She misunderstood his hesitation. "It's okay, Oliver."

"What?" The word was nearly lost in his breathing.

"I get the shot. I won't get pregnant."

"That's not..."

She didn't wait to hear the rest. She grasped him and pulled him to her entrance so that he had no choice but to slide inside her. She was tight and warm, and once he was there he couldn't force himself to be slow. He thrust hard, driven by her gasps and by his own pleasure.

Felicity stopped trying to separate the sensations in her body - the feel of his mouth, of his hands, of him, deep inside her. They blended together into a liquid tension that ran from her head to her toes, and built to an impossible height. When she climaxed, it wasn't a moment of release. It was a wave that ran through her, ebbing and cresting. She clutched Oliver, riding the wave until it eventually stopped.

He came just as she was finishing, gasping and pulling her tightly against him.

Neither of them said a word.

Chapter Text

They lay there, breathing heavily. They were largely still dressed, both of them. Felicity had her sweatshirt on and Oliver's hoodie remained over one shoulder. She was even still wearing her glasses. Only their pants were missing. Hers had ended up somewhere near the foot of the bed and his had fallen to the floor.

Felicity stared at the ceiling. She felt his body, solid and a little heavy on top of hers. He was still inside her.

What did I just do?

I slept with a suspect, that's what I did. I fucking slept with a suspect. I fucked a suspect! Okay, maybe not a suspect any longer, but someone involved in my investigation. If holding hands at a hockey game was bad, then this...well, there isn't a word to describe what this is.

What the hell was wrong with her? She was never this impulsive, especially when it came to sex. Sure, she liked sex as much as the next woman, but she didn't rush into it. She took time to get to know the guy - a few dates, a background check and review of his credit report, maybe a search through the FBI's databases if anything seemed questionable...the usual girl stuff. Then she proceeded with caution. But now? Now, she'd thrown caution and common sense to the wind and pulled her panties down for a man she barely knew. And not just any man, but Oliver Queen. The situation should have sent her internal warning system into overload, but for some reason, when his hands and mouth had been on her, those alarms had been silent.

Why? Because holy freaking cow, it felt good. Really good. He felt good. Sincere. Real. And sexy as hell. If I had an ounce of poetic ability, I'd write a sonnet to that orgasm.

She turned her gaze to Oliver, watching his face as he withdrew and propped himself up on his right elbow. He met her eyes briefly, then lowered his head to bury his nose in the crook of her neck. She was surprised to see his expression showed some of the same confusion that she was feeling. She'd figured the man would be confident, maybe even a little cocky. After all, moments earlier she'd been panting for him. But he seemed a little...unsure.

She found herself aroused by the feel of his face against her neck, even without kissing - which made no sense at all. She'd just had the mother-of-all orgasms. She should be satisfied. But she realized that with a little encouragement, she'd be ready for him all over again. She wanted to feel that intense need and pleasure once more, and she wanted to hear him breathing heavily with his need for her. It was an incredible turn-on.

Shit. She closed her eyes.

Oliver lifted his head and gazed at Felicity. She had her eyes shut, but he could see a variety of emotions flitting across her face. She looked pleased...but also confused and more than a little worried. He wondered what she was thinking. In the heat of the moment he'd been certain she wanted him as much as he wanted her, but now he was beginning to have doubts. Things had happened quickly, without finesse, and he'd been so swept up by his feelings that he could have missed the warning signs. He stretched out on his side, pulling her into him to spoon. It was a pleasant position, with her silky thighs and firm butt pressed against him. It also meant he could avoid looking into her eyes. He was afraid he would see regret in them.

After a minute, he found the courage to ask, "Are you okay?" His voice was a little hoarse.

She wriggled experimentally and nodded. "I feel like a towel that's been wrung out to dry. You know, kind of limp. But in a good way."

Well at least she wasn't yelling. He rested his chin on her hair.

"How's your shoulder?" she asked.

"What shoulder?"

She gave a tiny chuckle. "You're not bleeding, so that has to be a good sign."

"I suppose." He cleared his throat. He had to get it out there. "Felicity, I'm not sure what to say. I don't want you thinking that I came here intending to...to…"

"To what? Seduce me? Take advantage of me?" She shifted in his arms and turned to face him. Taking his chin in her hand, she tugged so that he had no choice but to meet her gaze. "Believe me, Oliver, whatever just happened here, I was a willing participant. I know I'm not your usual type, but I am an adult and I'm perfectly capable of saying no. Besides, that would have been a pretty elaborate scheme on your part, taking an arrow in the back just to get into my bedroom."

He frowned. She wasn't angry with him, which was good, but she wasn't exactly celebrating either. He zeroed in on what was probably the least relevant part of her statement. "What do you mean, 'not my usual type?'"

"You know, not like the woman you usually sleep with. Glamorous, tall, legs a mile long."

Her words were reminiscent of Laurel's — tall, leggy, big hair, big boobs. It bothered him a great deal more to hear Felicity say them. "Felicity, I don't have a type."

She chuckled. "I researched you for my investigation, remember? Isabel Rochev, Laurel Lance, Helena Bertinelli, McKenna Hall, Susan Willams." She paused. "You have a type, Oliver, believe me. And it isn't short, brainy cops."

"I…" He fell silent.

Felicity was surprised to see that he appeared nonplussed. The man had a reputation for coming out on top of every business deal he negotiated, but he was at a loss when she pointed out something very obvious. She found that genuinely amusing...and a little comforting. The cool, capable businessman wasn't taking this in his stride either. Plus - regardless of the size of her breasts or the length of her legs - she had no doubt that he found her attractive. His body had just about vibrated with desire when they'd been kissing.

"So," she continued in a lighter tone, "even though I'm not your type, does what we did just now fit your definition of 'good casual sex?' You told me, after all, that you're a fan of it."

"What?" Hearing her use his own words from the interview was like a trickle of cold water down his back. "No!"

"No?" She looked a little hurt.

"I mean, yes — it was good. It was very good - completely awesome, actually. But no - it wasn't casual. At least not for me - not at all."

Her grin disappeared, replaced by a perplexed frown. "Wasn't it? You put Isabel into the casual category and you knew her for a lot longer than you've known me. It's not like we're in a relationship, Oliver."

Oliver recalled what he'd said about Isabel and wanted to kick himself. He'd almost made it a point of pride to say that he'd slept with the dancer without having an emotional attachment. No wonder the detective questioned his feelings toward her now.

He shook his head. "Felicity...what I said that day -"

"It's not only that day, Oliver. It's your theme song. That's why I'm bringing it up. I want you to know that when you leave here, there are no obligations on either of our parts." She sounded as if she were trying to convince herself.

What if I want there to be obligations? Aloud, he said, "My 'theme song?'"

"Yeah. You don't do relationships. That's what I heard when I was interviewing people. Hell, Christina Hall even quoted her sister saying the words: Oliver Queen doesn't do relationships."

McKenna had said that? Oliver let go of Felicity and sat up in the bed. "God, that makes me sound like a jerk."

"I don't know. If it's any consolation, they all say that you're honest about it. It's not like you pretend there's a commitment to get a woman into bed."

As a matter of fact, he found little consolation in that statement. "So what does that say about the women who sleep with me? They're just looking for an orgasm?" Is that all this was for you?

She shrugged. "Well, to quote you once again, we all have 'normal adult needs'. And I can now attest personally that you're effective at addressing them. Although, I think I already knew where my G-spot was."

"What?"

"Never mind."

He hunched forward. He was beginning to think he'd prefer to have her yelling at him. "Shit."

She sat up beside him and rested her hand on his arm, still marveling that she'd managed to throw him off balance. For some reason, it was comforting to have both of them navigating unfamiliar territory. "I'm sorry," she said honestly. "I didn't mean to bring you down with this conversation. I thought I'd make things easier for you by telling you that I'm not expecting more from you. But I seem to have made it worse."

He didn't reply, hoping that this was a case of her protesting too much. The truth was he wanted her to expect something from him. She didn't strike him as the kind of woman who would tumble into bed with every man who came her way, and he wanted to believe that her response to him meant that she felt something special. But the truth was he had no idea how she was with men. Susan had assumed that Felicity had gone to the hockey game with a professional escort, after all. So maybe the detective really did have no expectations.

He rested his forehead in his hand. "I guess I can't disagree with what you're saying about me and women - at least not completely, given my history. But you and me, Felicity…it's different. It's been different from the moment we met. I felt like we connected and I thought you felt it too. But you're saying you didn't...you don't…"

"Feel that connection, Oliver?" She patted his knee. "Yes, I feel it, even though you sometimes make me crazy. But I'd be kidding myself if I said I really know you. You're a secretive man. How much of yourself have you shared with me?"

She had a point. It wasn't as if he'd broadcast his feelings for her. Even back at Nuddy's, he'd been too cautious to do more than hint at them.  "Okay," he said softly, "I'll share something now." He put his hand over hers and drew it to rest on his chest. "I told you that you have been on my mind ever since you came to my house. The truth is that it's a lot stronger than that. You're messing with my appetite, my sleep, my ability to work. I think of you and my head goes everywhere. I imagine coming home to you in the evenings, laughing about something funny that happened during the day. I imagine waking up the next morning, showering together as we get ready for work. I see you with me, years into the future. I don't know what to make of it any more than you do, but it's the truth."

Holy shit. She'd be lying if she didn't admit that her heart gave a little leap. She'd never had a man say anything like that to her before. Still...

She pressed her fingers against the hard plane of his pectorals. "That's...nice to hear, Oliver - really - but when I said you don't share, I was talking about something other than your feelings for me. I was talking about your life. You're hardly an open book. For example, how do you know so damn much about the Bratva? Most people outside of law enforcement have never heard of them. You even knew that Anatoly is a captain. And you were pretty damn brave this afternoon when we ran into the archer. A normal guy would have hightailed it out of there the first chance he got. You didn't."

"I couldn't leave you to deal with him by yourself."

"I know. I really believe you mean that."

"Which should tell you something about what I feel for you. So where does that leave us?"

"I'm not sure. This," she held up their joined hands, "is unexpected and...amazing, but I've broken about a dozen department rules by sleeping with you. It's taken me a lot of work to earn respect from my fellow officers. There are some who continue to resent me because of my age or my history with the commander, and they would love to find a reason to discredit me. I don't want to give them that reason. You and me trying for a relationship - it's a hell of a risk." She heard the tremor in her voice and hated it.

His face paled a little. "Too big a risk?"

"I don't know. Maybe." Then she said the thing that worried her the most. "I don't want to give my heart to someone who isn't accustomed to dealing with hearts."

He squeezed her hand as his color returned. "Is that what's really bothering you? I have a heart too, Felicity, as difficult as that might be for you to believe. I'm just good at not letting people see it." He swallowed. "You think this is a passing phase - you're worried my feelings won't last? How do you think it is for me, wondering what a woman is really interested in when she's with me? Does she like me personally? Or is it about money, or power, or prestige? If I open up to her, am I going to see my secrets splashed across the gossip websites?" He shook his head. "There are a lot of reasons for me to be cautious too - to not to give my heart away. But with you, I'm willing to take the risk. I think it's worth it."

He caught her off guard with that admission. Felicity had assumed most of the power rested with him; that between the two of them, she was the only one with something to lose. It hadn't occurred to her that he had reasons to be wary too.

She studied his face, those crazy blue eyes that were regarding her uncertainly. Pulling her hand out of his, she crossed both arms protectively over her chest. "So - just to be clear on this - you're saying that you want there to be something between us - something more than you've had with women in the past. Something more than this." She gestured at the bed. "That you actually might want to, to..." She paused. The words date and go steady popped into her head, but both sounded sophomoric.

He finished her sentence for her. "Have a relationship," he suggested, "even though Oliver Queen doesn't do relationships? Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. At least I'd like to try."

She shook her head, unable to erase her doubts. "With you, I'm not even sure what that means."

"It means I want us to spend time together - a lot of time - not just dinner once a week or a hockey game. And to be exclusive. It means I want us to be more than the occasional tumble in bed." He cringed at the words, but she didn't seem upset by them.

Exclusive? Felicity felt a small ripple of excitement at the same time that her nerves kicked in. "I don't know, Oliver. Our worlds are so different. I'm not sure I can see myself being a part of yours. I have no money. I'm smart, but I'm not particularly polished. I put my foot in my mouth from time to time. And you run in some pretty posh circles."

He waved an arm. "You're intelligent enough to keep up with anyone, anywhere, Felicity. People who value intelligence and honesty - and there are people who do - will value you. I'm surprised to hear you doubt yourself."

"I'm not doubting myself. In fact, I think quite highly of myself. I'm just remembering the women I saw you with when I researched you. I'm nothing like them."

"Maybe that's the point. Maybe those were the wrong women."

He was wearing her down. She felt her excuses evaporating like steam out of a boiling pot. And it was hard to keep saying no to something that you secretly wanted. Nevertheless, she tried again. "I just can't see myself on your arm at some fancy do, wearing a gown and jewels. I don't even own a gown, and all my jewelry is costume."

He laughed. "I'll buy a gown if and when the time comes for us to mingle at one of those fancy dos."

It was the wrong thing to say. He knew it even before he saw her stiffen.

"I don't want you buying me things, Oliver. I've taken care of myself since I was nine. I don't need a sugar daddy."

He shook his head. "I've got a few years on you, Felicity, but I think I'd need to be a lot older to qualify as a sugar daddy." When she didn't laugh, he continued, "Look, you can skip the events if you want, and I'll go to them alone. They're not important. I just want to spend time with you. You've already admitted that you like me. I'm nuts about you. What's wrong with finding out where that takes us? Please don't dismiss this out of hand because you're afraid."

She closed her mouth and was silent for so long that he thought she wouldn't answer. She was conflicted, that much was clear. He tried to take that as a positive sign. If her mind was set against him, she would have told him by now.

Finally, she said, "If we're going to give this a try, then I need something from you, Oliver."

"Anything."

She shook her head. "Listen to what I have to say before you agree so quickly. You may not like it." She paused, then took his hand. "I need you to be honest with me if this is going to go anywhere. One-hundred-percent honest. You're a smooth businessman and you've got a number of faces that you show to the public. I don't want you using them with me. I need to know who you really are. So the first lie, the first evasion or omission, and I'm going to think twice about all of it. I can't be with someone I don't trust."

He hesitated for only a fraction of a second. "Fair enough."

She studied his face as if looking to see truth written across his forehead.

"So where does that leave us?" he asked again.

"I guess," she squeezed his hand, "I guess I want to take things slowly. I'd like to get to know you before we rush into anything. Neither one of us appears to be an expert at relationships."

The relief was overwhelming for Oliver, almost as physical as a caress. She was agreeing to see him. "I can do that," he said. "We could date."

She nearly laughed. He'd used the word she had deliberately avoided. "You mean, like go out to dinner or the movies?"

"Yeah."

She pressed her lips together.

"Is there a problem with that?" he asked.

"No. It will be fun. You, me, and about twenty paparazzi."

"Okay. So we could have dinner and a movie at my place. I have my own theater."

"I'll bet you do."

"I'm trying here, Felicity."

"I know." She surprised him by tilting her face upward and kissing him below the ear.

It was like flicking a light switch. One kiss and he immediately felt his desire come to life.

She glanced down at his lap. "Wow. That was quick."

He blushed. "I'm sorry. You just...well, you do that to me. It's a little embarrassing - I'm like a kid in puberty or something."

She looked pleased. "Even though I'm not tall and leggy?"

"Just because you're you."

She smiled, finally a genuine, happy smile. She turned toward him and touched his cheek again, then raised her glorious mouth to his. He kissed her, not believing his luck.

After a moment she stopped the kiss, but left her mouth close to his. "You've been honest about your feelings," she said, "so it's only fair that I be honest with mine. I want you again. Maybe we could be so bold as to try it with our clothes all the way off this time."

He felt his passion intensify. "Works for me. But what happened to taking things slowly?"

She shrugged. "We've already broken the sex barrier, Oliver. It's okay to do it again. We'll take other things slowly."

He grinned. "Works for me," he repeated.

He raised his hand and removed her glasses, placing them on the table by the bed. Then he grasped the hem of her sweatshirt and pulled it over her head, revealing a utilitarian, yet somehow very sexy, black bra.

Before he could reach for the clasp of her bra, she slid his hoodie off his right shoulder, baring his torso and leaving him completely naked. She gave him an admiring look as she ran her hands over his abdominal muscles, around to his back, up to his shoulders...

And then froze.

"What?" he asked. "What is it?"

"This tattoo." She pointed at the black star inked on his right pec.

Crap. Everyone else assumed that it was an ordinary tattoo. But with her job, there was a chance she understood its meaning. "You don't like tattoos?" he said lightly.

She flushed, her cheeks an angry red this time and not a soft pink. "I do my research, Oliver. This is a Bratva symbol." She stared at him, struggling for words. "You're Bratva?"

So she did understand. He shook his head. "Not any more, and never by choice."

"That's not an answer."

"Felicity..."

She pushed away from him. Without her glasses, he could see that tears were forming. He couldn't tell whether they were from anger, frustration or disappointment.

"We agreed, Oliver, that you would be honest. Five minutes ago, we agreed to that."

"I know." His brain was working quickly, thinking about what he could say, wondering where he should draw the line.

"Well, now's your chance," she continued, her voice shaky. "You tell me why you have that tattoo or you leave now and this thing between us, whatever it is, dies here."

She was already pulling away from him; he could feel it. The fragile trust they had built up was going to collapse before their nascent relationship could go anywhere. But what would she think if he told her the truth? Would she appreciate the risk he was taking? Or would she recoil? And what about her obligations as a cop?

He thought about Tommy's words that morning. If you like her as much as you say you do, if she's as smart and honest as you say she is, how long is she going to put up with you keeping things from her?

He hadn't known her long, but he felt like he knew her well - at least the essence of her. She was smart, she was brave and she was unselfish. And she might be a cop, but she believed in fairness and her own sense of justice as well as the written law. How else did she justify hacking?

He thought about his future; about repeating the pattern he'd gone through so many times of choosing women with whom he could remain a stranger. He thought about a lifetime of never letting anyone in, of always being alone. It felt godawful bleak. At some point, he wanted to share his life with someone. He needed to. He believed she could be that someone.

And so he told her. He told her everything.

Chapter Text

Oliver started by putting his jeans back on, because he couldn't imagine telling her his story without them. He felt naked enough as it was; he didn't need to actually be naked in front of her. He contemplated putting the hoodie on as well, but now that he could see the size of the blood stain he decided it was better left on the floor. Then, half-dressed, he paced Felicity's bedroom. He felt his phone vibrate in his pocket and turned it off without looking at it. Once he got the nerve to begin, he didn't think he could handle any interruptions.

Felicity had partially dressed also. She'd pulled her sweatshirt and her underpants back on, and she sat in the bed, her back against the headboard with the covers drawn protectively up to her waist. She did her own form of pacing, which consisted of clutching and releasing the blanket.

For a moment, neither of them spoke. Oliver covered the length of her bedroom in six long strides, back and forth, and Felicity's knuckles grew whiter as she grasped the covers.

Eventually, she drew in her breath. "Say something, Oliver."

"I don't know where to start."

"Start anywhere. I'm smart enough to put the pieces in the right order. Just make it the truth."

He strode to the window and stopped. Felicity's bedroom overlooked little - only the brick wall of the building next to hers, growing dimmer in the fading daylight. The view was tired and a little dirty, typical inner city. Still, it was easier than looking her in the eye so he kept his gaze outside.

"You mentioned the Star City Archer last night at the hockey game," he began. "Obviously, he's come up in your investigation."

"What?" She was startled. "What on earth does the Archer have to do with you having a Bratva tattoo?"

He put his hands in his pockets. "You said start anywhere, Felicity. That's what I'm doing. I'll connect the dots for you eventually, I promise."

There was a long pause. "Okay," she finally said. But from the sound of her voice he could tell she was already skeptical.

Oliver watched a pigeon perch on her fire escape. It hunkered down, fluffing out its feathers. "The Star City Archer," he repeated. "You looked into him because Isabel was killed by an arrow in the chest."

"Yes."

He forced himself to turn and face her. "What did you find out?"

She smoothed the blanket with her hand. It was a nervous gesture. "The Star City Archer appeared after the Ninety-six earthquake demolished much of the city's infrastructure. Gangs were warring for control and making life miserable for the residents, and the police were spread too thin to do much about it. So the Archer went after gang members on his own, killing them with an arrow to the heart. He basically kept going, taking them out until order was restored."

Oliver nodded. "And his identity?"

"His identity remains unknown...if he existed at all. No one found out who he was and my impression is that no one tried very hard. Both the cops and the citizens were happy to see their gang problem taken care of so they didn't look a gift horse in the mouth. He even became something of a hero."

Oliver nodded again. "Did you try to find his name, Felicity? With your...research skills, did you dig into his background?" It was as close as he dared get to saying hacking skills. Hacking might sound accusatory and they were on shaky ground at the moment.

She flushed and he knew that she understood. "I dug up some archived news broadcasts that mentioned him but I didn't pursue finding his name. I was more interested in the legend than I was in the facts. In terms of my investigation, he's important because he's a symbol that the killer may be imitating. I was looking for anything that would give me a clue to motives or next steps. "

Oliver shook his head. "The Star City Archer isn't just a symbol; he was a real man."

"Maybe he was." She shrugged. "Maybe he was really a group of men, since he was apparently able to take out a couple of dozen gang members. What does it matter? If he - or they - are still alive, he's a very senior citizen by now. There's no way he could have killed Isabel. And I don't understand what he could possibly have to do with you and a Bratva tattoo."

She was sitting up straight in the bed, her mouth in a flat line. They had barely begun and she was growing impatient; he could feel her slipping away, what was left of her trust receding. May as well just say it, he thought.

"The Archer was one, very real man, Felicity. I know this, because my grandfather was the Archer."

Her mouth opened. Then she blinked. "That's not funny."

"It's not a joke. Jonas Queen, founder of Queen Consolidated, joined an archery club when he was twelve and became pretty damn good with a bow and arrow. He won a number of tournaments at the national level when he was in college. That's something you can look up. I also have the bow he used locked away in my basement, if you need further evidence."

She retrieved her glasses from the bedside table, put them on and gaped at him. "Why?"

"Why do I have the bow, or why did Jonas become the Archer?"

"Oliver-"

He waved a hand. "Yeah, I'm stalling, I know it. This isn't easy for me, Felicity, and I'm not sure what you're going to think of me after I've told you the story. So forgive me if I'm a little reluctant."

He was being honest about that, Felicity thought. They way he kept shifting from side to side - she could see that he was almost in physical discomfort. So, she swallowed her impatience and waited.

"Jonas became the Archer," Oliver continued, "because he saw an opportunity and seized upon it. The Queens have always been good at seizing opportunities."

His tone was derisive and she frowned. "What opportunity did he seize, exactly? The chance to help clean up the city?

He smiled grimly. "I see you heard the altruistic version of the story. The Star City Archer saved the city by taking out bad guys."

"Didn't he?"

"Yeah, he took out bad guys. A lot of them. The question nobody asks, though, is what did he replace them with?"

A chill settled over her. "Why would he replace them with anything?"

"The city was a mess after the earthquake, Felicity, and all kinds of institutions were in disarray. A lot of the checks and balances were missing. For an enterprising person, there were opportunities - to gain influence, to gain power, to avoid regulations."

She narrowed her eyes. "I'm still not sure I understand. You're saying Jonas seized power?"

"Of a sort. When he'd gotten rid of the gangs that were extorting the local businesses for protection money or stealing food and medicines, Jonas took over. He found a way to extort money for himself."

"Why?"

Oliver's lip curled. "Why does anyone take money? Because they want it. In Jonas's case, he used the money as capital to start Queen Consolidated. If you research the early days of the company, you'll find he took out very few loans and had almost no investors. The money to buy equipment and grow the business just seemed to magically appear."

Well, that's something I can verify, she thought. But it didn't make sense, not given the things she'd heard about the Archer or Jonas Queen. "Why doesn't anybody talk about this then, when they talk about the earthquake?" she asked. "Everyone makes it sound as if the troubles went away when the Archer took out the gangs. And if Jonas was, for all intents and purposes, stealing, why is he remembered mainly as being a good businessman?"

Oliver exhaled. "Because Jonas was smart enough to not be a petty thug. He didn't imitate the gangs by walking into local businesses and threatening people. He did things at arm's length. In particular, he took control of the docks. A flooded cargo ship, a warehouse fire of unknown origin...and Jonas was ready to help store owners replace their losses by selling to them himself - often with the goods they had already paid for." His voice was dry on the word, help. "He built a web of contacts and put layers between himself and the people he was stealing from."

"And nobody figured it out?"

"No.  Jonas was careful. He made things look like accidents. There were a few rumors among the more astute business people. What he was able to do with Queen Consolidated didn't make sense without another source of cash. But the average citizen - the people who create legends - they never had a clue. All they saw was a man who built a company from the ground up and offered them jobs."

She fell silent. Oliver watched her face as she processed the information, both wishing and fearing to hear her thoughts.

Eventually, she sighed. "I get that this isn't good, Oliver, that your grandfather wasn't an upstanding guy. But why the secrecy - why are you personally so ashamed about it? This happened decades before you were born. You're not responsible."

"I'm running a company that was built on stolen funds. It's not exactly something to be proud of."

She pressed her lips together. "No, it's not. But history is full of corporate magnates with questionable ethics. Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford...hell, even Joseph Kennedy was a bootlegger. Over time they turned it around, through philanthropy or public service. You seem like you're trying to do the same for Star City."

He felt a small weight lift from his shoulders, relieved that she was giving him the benefit of the doubt.

But then she continued more sharply, "And none of this tells me why you have a Bratva tattoo. You're supposed to be explaining that."

No benefit of the doubt there. Oliver could feel the butterflies taking flight in his stomach. Telling her about Jonas had been the easy part; the Bratva wasn't going to be nearly so easy.

"No, it doesn't explain the tattoo," he said wearily. "And that's because I haven't finished the story. There's more to it."

"Well, keep going. I'm trying to be patient, but patience isn't exactly my strong suit."

Tell me about it. She isn't a woman who likes sitting and waiting. But then patience is not my strong suit either. He glanced out the window. The daylight was almost gone and the room was growing dark. He was tempted to leave it that way. If he couldn't make out her features, he didn't have to see her disappointment. But that would be cheating. If this thing between them was going to be real, he had to be able to look her in the eye.

"Lights on," he ordered and the room brightened. Then he came over and sat on the edge of the bed, close enough to watch the small changes in her expression. He was also close enough to take her hand, but he didn't. He didn't think she would welcome it.

"When my grandfather became the Archer, there wasn't a whole lot of risk for him, personally," he said, "at least not in the beginning. The street gangs he took out were small potatoes - a few dozen locals who stole property or money. When their members started showing up with arrows in the chest, they grew frightened and stopped on their own." He paused. "But when Jonas took control of the docks, it was a another story entirely. He disrupted the operations of much bigger players - more like organized crime."

"Organized crime," Felicity repeated. "Is this where the Bratva comes in?"

"They're one syndicate, yes."

She frowned. "You mean there's another organized crime syndicate operating in Star City?"

Oliver nodded, not surprised that she didn't know. The organization he was talking about flew well under the radar.

He shifted on the edge of the bed. "Star City is an interesting place, Felicity. Did you know we're among the top five shipping ports in the U.S.? More than a hundred billion dollars of goods arrive or leave here every year. Yet, by population, we're not as big as New York, Los Angeles or even Seattle, so we only get a fraction of the scrutiny those cities get. The Port Authorities, Customs Border Protection or the FBI - they don't have the resources to fully monitor us. That makes us an ideal location for smuggling things in and out of the country."

Her brow furrowed. "What things?"

He shrugged. "You name it. People, drugs, weapons - just about anything illegal or even just highly regulated. Jonas didn't know it in the beginning, but when he screwed around with the ports, he messed with some big black market businesses."

"The Bratva," Felicity stated again. "It's how they bring in drugs."

Oliver began to shake his head, but then paused. "Yes, he disrupted the Bratva. But Jonas had an even greater impact on another organization. They call themselves the League of Assassins."

Felicity's eyebrows rose as she snorted, "The League of Assassins? Seriously? That's a comic book name, Oliver. I'm starting to think you're making this up."

He gave her a wry smile. "I know it sounds unbelievable. But the League is very real. They're an international organization that specializes in weapons smuggling, extortion, and — yes — assassinations."

She narrowed her eyes. "I've never heard anyone in the department mention them. Ever."

"That's how good the League is. They cover their tracks."

She gave him a doubtful look. "Then how do you know about them?"

"We're getting there, Felicity."

"Get there a little faster."

If there wasn't so much riding on this discussion, he would have laughed. She could be incredibly single-minded. He suspected it was one of the reasons she was so good at her job. Aloud, he said, "Star City has been a favorite port of entry and exit for the League for decades. Ever since the U.S. got serious about gun control, there's been a big black market for weapons. Internationally, there's also demand for U.S. military technology. The League specializes in moving both. Jonas didn't know it in the beginning, but he grabbed a tiger by the tail when he took control of the docks and diverted cargo. He figured it out, of course, when he stumbled across a cache of smuggled weapons - but by then he was in the middle of something really scary."

Oliver paused. His mouth was dry, whether from talking or nerves, he wasn't certain.

"And?" Felicity prompted. She was leaning forward, still clutching the blanket.

He attempted to wet his lips. "It took The League a little longer to find out that Jonas was behind their lost shipments. He had insulated himself well and the League had to peel back a lot of layers before they got to they guy who was calling the shots. Once they did, Jonas was a marked man."

Felicity tried to recall how Jonas Queen had died and came up blank. Her research on Oliver hadn't extended two generations back.

"Did they kill him?" she whispered.

"They tried. But he was a crafty SOB and managed to stay alive — barely."

"So, what did he do?"

"He decided to find an ally. And that's where the Bratva comes in." When she looked up quickly he gave her a rueful smile. "See, we're finally getting around to the Bratva."

She didn't return the smile. "You're saying your grandfather went to the Bratva...for help?"

"Yes."

"And they agreed to help him?"

Oliver cleared his throat. "Not for free, of course. He made a deal. The Bratva kept the League from killing him and got five percent of Queen Consolidated's revenues in return, plus Jonas's agreement to turn over any Bratva smuggled goods he came across."

"Oh."

She fell silent and Oliver studied her face as she worked through the information. When she gave him a questioning look, he added, "The Bratva probably had other motives, too. They compete with the League in certain sectors of the black market and there isn't a great deal of love between the two organizations. Anything that hurts the League is a bonus to them."

Felicity bit her lip. "Wouldn't it have been simpler for Jonas to stop interfering at the docks - to walk away?"

Oliver nodded. "Maybe. But Jonas had come to depend on the money. His business plans for Queen Consolidated's growth relied on it. If he had to sell shares to investors he would no longer be in complete control of the company, and control meant a lot to him. Plus - even if he did stop interfering - there was no guarantee the League wouldn't kill him anyway, just to make a lesson out of him and be certain their problem was solved once and for all."

He licked his lips once more. God, his mouth was dry. Felicity was staring at him as if she didn't know what to believe and he was certain she was assembling a list of questions. He reached to the floor, where the whiskey bottle and shot glass still sat, and picked them up.

"Go on," he said to her. "Ask. I can tell you have a bunch of questions."

She took her glasses off and pinched the bridge of her nose. "I don't know where to start."

"Start anywhere. You're smart enough to put the pieces in the right order." He said it without sarcasm.

She nodded. "Fine. Let's start with the fact that all of this happened sixty years ago. Your grandfather is gone. Why do you have the tattoo?"

He smiled as he poured whiskey into the glass. No matter where the story went, she wasn't going to forget about that damned star. "There's a number of ways to answer that. First of all, both the Bratva and the League are old organizations. The Bratva got their start in the early days of the Russian revolution and the League dates back centuries. So to them, sixty years is nothing - a drop in the bucket. Memories are long and things change slowly."

"That's not an answer."

He lifted the glass to his lips and drank. The whiskey brought some moisture to his mouth, but not nearly enough. "No," he sighed, "I suppose it's not."

"So?" She was just about glaring at him.

"So, to speak more plainly, the arrangement with the Bratva didn't go away when Jonas died. When my father Robert inherited Queen Consolidated, he also inherited the agreement and the payments. By then, QC was big enough to stand on its own and Robert didn't need to interfere at the docks for infusions of capital. But he was fearful enough of the League to continue paying protection money. And by this time, five percent of revenues was a big number - close to a hundred million. It gave the Bratva really deep coffers...and made them very powerful."

"I see." Felicity was silent. After a moment, she slid her glasses back on her face and whispered, "And you?"

He didn't need to ask what she meant. She wanted to know whether he was continuing the family tradition of payments to the Bratva.

He didn't answer right away. He wanted to explain more first. "I knew nothing about Jonas's deal," he said. "My father never told me and I had planned to get away from the family and work in New York City for another company. I never wanted to run Queen Consolidated. But then the League decided to try again."

Try again. Felicity sat up. "The plane crash."

He nodded. She was definitely smart enough to put the pieces together. "Yes. The plane crash." He poured another shot of whiskey. "The League was getting tired of being one step behind the Bratva and decided their best bet for regaining footing in Star City was to wipe out all the Queens in one fell swoop. No more Queen Consolidated, no more five percent to the Bratva, and the two organizations would be on equal footing once again. So they put a bomb on our aircraft, set to detonate when the plane was over the middle of the ocean. They didn't figure on there being any survivors."

"You're sure it was a bomb?"

"It blew a hole in the fuselage, Felicity. I'm sure it was a bomb."

"But you survived."

"Yes. Thanks largely to a pilot who managed to regain control of the plane before we hit the water. The poor man was killed for his heroics."

"And the rest of your family?"

Oliver swallowed the whiskey. "As far as I know," he said quietly, "they didn't make it. I was unconscious for a while after we crashed, kept afloat by my life vest. When I came to, it was just me and Tommy. I know your bosses at the SCPD don't like that story, but it's the truth."

His hands trembled a little and Felicity felt a pang of sympathy. She'd been so focused on making sure he was truthful that she hadn't thought about what he'd been through. The crash must have been terrifying. And whatever his opinion of his father, Oliver had lost his entire family that day. Like her, he'd become an orphan.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"Me, too. My sister was just a kid. She sure as hell didn't deserve it."

He conspicuously didn't say anything about his parents. Apparently his feelings for them were more conflicted.

Felicity cleared her throat. "So, you survived the crash and made it to an island for a couple of years. How did you find out about the deal with the Bratva? When you took over the company and saw QC's books? That five percent had to be disguised as some kind of legitimate expense."

Oliver shook his head. "No, I found out earlier, before I came back to Star City. I found out when the Bratva pulled me and Tommy out of the ocean after the crash."

Felicity pushed the blankets away. "What?" Her voice came out as a hoarse croak.

Oliver filled the shot glass and handed it to her. "The Bratva had been tracking my father's movements - protecting their investment, I guess. Like I said, five percent had gotten to mean a lot of cash for them. They knew exactly when and where the plane went down and got to us in less than twenty-four hours."

She drank the whiskey. "So the whole story about being on a deserted island for a couple of years?"

He looked embarrassed. "Was only a story, yes. In the end, we were on an island, but for a couple of months, not a couple of years. Long enough to make it look real, that's all."

"So where were you, then?"

"For most of the time, we were held in Russia while the Bratva educated me on their deal with the Queens and my obligations to hold up the Queen end of it."

"And by 'educated,' you mean-"

"Beat the shit out of me, yeah. Or else threatened to beat the shit out of Tommy if I didn't do what they asked."

Felicity flinched. "Is that where you got the scars?"

He nodded tiredly. "Most of them."

"Why didn't you agree to pay the five percent right away, so they'd let you go?"

Oliver sat for a moment, looking at the whiskey bottle. He raised it to his lips and drank, not bothering to retrieve the glass from Felicity. "You have to know who I was back then. I was young. I'd just graduated college and didn't want anything to do with my father or his business - even before I knew about any of this. He wasn't a very loving parent, Felicity. He was self-centered and manipulative, and he seemed to enjoy destroying my confidence. The deal with the Bratva only confirmed my worst opinions. It made me happy to think I was doing something he wouldn't have liked."

Felicity said nothing. She understood not feeling what a child should for a parent. But her father had merely abandoned her; he hadn't gotten into bed with organized crime - at least she didn't think he had.

"Anyway," Oliver continued, "I don't think the Bratva would have believed me if I'd capitulated right away. They had their methods and they wanted to make their point. And once they had, things got a little easier."

"How?"

"Anatoly got involved."

"Anatoly Knyazev?"

"Yes."

Felicity frowned. "So, your connection to him is not only through Isabel."

"No. I met Anatoly before I met her. And, in a weird way, he was good to me. Rather than beat the snot out of me, he offered to have men train me in defensive maneuvers so I wouldn't be such an easy target for the League. He told me I wasn't any good to the Bratva dead...which I guess is true."

"And that's how you got the tattoo?"

He smiled grimly. "Yes, we're finally getting around to the tattoo. After more than a year of brutal, exhausting training in everything from evasive moves, to hand-to-hand, to old-fashioned firearms, I was given my star. I think it's supposed to be a compliment — for surviving the training and not quitting...or dying. I also think they intended it as a reminder of my responsibilities. It's there every time I get out of the shower or undress for bed - I can't escape it."

Felicity slumped back against the headboard and pulled the blanket back up over her lap. Her thoughts were whirling. Oliver was Bratva - well, Bratva trained, anyway - but only because he'd been forced into it by the actions of his father and grandfather. He had chosen none of it. So, what did that make him - a criminal or a survivor?

She badly wanted him not to be a criminal. His intelligence, his warmth, the way he looked at her...all of it made her feel things for him that she hadn't felt in any other relationship. She wanted to believe that the Bratva was history so that they could move forward. But there were things in his story that continued to bother her.

"I don't understand why the Bratva felt they had to convince you at all," she said, "or why they trained you to survive the League. Not to be callous or anything, but why didn't they leave you in the ocean to die and then take control of Queen Consolidated themselves? They'd get more than five percent. They'd get the whole pie."

Oliver pressed his lips together. "Good question. The primary reason is that QC is a private company, with the family holding eighty percent of the shares. Its charter is written so that it has to be run by a Queen, or else broken up and sold. The pieces are worth less than the whole - a lot less. So it's more lucrative for the Bratva to have it continue as it is, with a Queen running it. And you're looking at the last Queen."

"And the second reason?"

Oliver shrugged. "The Bratva are a force to be reckoned with on the black market but they're not very good at managing a legitimate business. If they did get their hands on QC, they'd run it into the ground. I'm a good businessman. I've been in charge for seven years and I've grown the company to nearly three times the revenue my father produced. The Bratva are profiting well from my work."

Felicity felt the dull throb of disappointment. "Which means you're paying them, like your grandfather and your father."  It hadn't escaped her that he'd avoided answering the question earlier.

Oliver's gaze was steady. "Does that upset you? I am, although they're not getting five percent anymore. I negotiated it down to three - told them that if they'd been holding up their end, the League couldn't have gotten a bomb on our plane. I guess I had the makings of a businessman even back then."

Felicity lifted an eyebrow. "I don't think the percentage matters. You're still supporting a criminal organization."

He sighed. "That's a very...cop...thing to say, Felicity." When she frowned, he added, "Look, I run Queen Consolidated as a legitimate company - one hundred percent. I don't steal, I don't cheat. But the payments to the Bratva...that's not such an easy thing to undo. If I stop, they'll make damn sure the League knows I'm no longer under their protection. Even with my training, I figure I'd last three months at best under those circumstances."

"Did you ever consider getting a bodyguard?"

"A bodyguard?" He gave a short, harsh laugh. "Do you really think one bodyguard, or a dozen bodyguards are going to make a difference? The League is smoke. They pass through places unseen. They got a fucking bomb on our plane even though it went through two safety checks. Do I start having every vehicle I use guarded and inspected? Do I have someone taste my food? Check the ventilation system of every building I go into to make sure there are no sources of poisonous gas?" He shook his head. "If someone wants to kill you badly enough, Felicity, and if they're as good as the League, they're going to do it. The only thing that's stopping them is the threat of retaliation from the Bratva."

She could feel his desperation. Oliver didn't like the alliance but believed he had no choice. She wasn't so certain she agreed with that. "But if you're running QC as a legitimate business and you're not trying to control the docks the way Jonas did, shouldn't the League be okay with leaving you alone?" she asked. "Why do you still need protection?"

Oliver slumped on the bed. "Strictly speaking, you're right. I'm not going near the League's operations. But you have to remember that this is an old, ingrained war. My grandfather began it sixty years ago and the Queens are now among the list of the League's enemies. And as far as the Bratva is concerned, it's in their best interest to perpetuate the situation. They've gotten used to the income from Queen Consolidated. It's a lot of money to give up."

"Can't you just talk to the League?"

He gave another harsh laugh. "How? Pick up my phone? Who exactly am I supposed to call?" He ran his hand over his cropped hair and exhaled. "I know you're trying to help, Felicity, but I've given this a lot of thought over the last seven years. I'm between a rock and a hard place."

She sat silently for a moment, biting her lip. Then she leaned forward and rested her forehead on her knees. "Oh, Oliver."

He frowned. "What does that mean, oh Oliver?"

She didn't look up. "It means, what a fucking mess. I've got a pretty good imagination, but I could never have imagined something like this, not in a million years. When I saw the tattoo, I just figured you were in the Bratva's pocket."

"Strictly speaking, I am. Or they're in mine, I'm not sure which."

"But it's a whole lot more complicated than that."

He nodded. "It sure is."

She remained silent, her head still down. He watched her anxiously.

Eventually, he had to ask, "Can I interpret your reaction as you believing me?"

Felicity lifted her head and gave him a weary look. "Yes. It's too crazy a story to make up. And, as weird as it sounds, it fits with the data. I keep looking for holes and haven't found any." She remembered Tommy's words from the security video. You're paying a debt that was never yours to pay in the first place. They made sense now, as did Anatoly's reaction when he saw Oliver at SCPD HQ.

And then she recalled her conversation with Rory when they were driving back from interviewing Ramirez, and for a second the room went dark.

Searching for a motive for Oliver to be the murderer, Rory had said, what about something between Queen and Anatoly? Maybe Queen killed Isabel to get back at Anatoly. And Felicity had dismissed the idea because there wasn't enough of a connection between the two men.

Except now she knew that there was. There was a mother-fucking huge connection. The Bratva - and Anatoly - had kidnapped Oliver and were essentially blackmailing him for a piece of Queen Consolidated. Give us the money or we'll let the League know they can kill you.

Was that enough reason for Oliver to murder Isabel? Her mind began churning.

No, she decided - at least not for an intelligent, rational Oliver who looked at the situation logically. Killing Isabel would do nothing to make Anatoly back off. But what about an angry, cornered Oliver? What about a man who felt like he'd had a target on his back for the last seven years? Would killing Isabel give him a sense of power, a feeling of regaining control? Was she sitting here, half naked in her bedroom, with Isabel's murderer?

Shit. She didn't know what to think. Oliver couldn't have fired the arrow, she knew that. But she was willing to bet that if she fed this new data into her computer, it would come back with a high probability that Oliver was somehow involved - higher than the 77 percent it had given her last time. Was that what her instincts were telling her too?

Felicity was silent and Oliver wanted to feel relief at her response. She believed him. She believed him, and she wasn't running out of the room to call her commander - at least not at this moment. But she didn't appear sympathetic, either. There was a crease in her forehead that he had come to recognize as a sign that she was wrestling with something.

"Are you going to tell me what you're thinking?" he asked. "I can hear the wheels turning from over here."

She didn't smile. "I'm wondering how far you would go to break free from the Bratva."

"What?"

"You heard me."

He stared at her, his mouth open slightly. Then the pieces clicked and he frowned. "You're trying to tie Isabel's murder to my story - tie her murder back to me."

She grimaced. "I don't have to try very hard. There's a disagreement between the League and the Bratva, with your ancestor being the person who started it. Now you're stuck in the middle. You'd like to break free, but the Bratva won't let you. It's fair to think you'd want to strike back at them."

"Through Isabel? What would that accomplish? Logic says it would only make Anatoly hate me more."

It was the same thing she had considered only moments earlier. She shrugged. "Maybe. But people aren't always logical. They react out of fear or anger."

Oliver's chest felt tight. An hour ago he had been making love to this woman. Now she was calling him a murderer. "C'mon, Felicity. Use those brains of yours. Someone shot at us with a bow. Do you think I set this whole thing up to have someone shoot me in the back?"

She studied him, the furrow in her brow growing deeper. "No," she admitted, "I don't. But you withheld information that is germane to a murder investigation - which doesn't put you high on my list of people to trust."

"Excuse me?"

"Isabel was killed by someone who is imitating your grandfather, Oliver. Your grandfather. And you knew it. You had information that was relevant to the case and you said nothing. You still wouldn't have said anything if I hadn't recognized the Bratva tattoo."

He leaned away from her and crossed his arms over his chest. It was a defensive gesture and he knew it. She was right about the tattoo - he could admit that. It didn't mean she was right about everything else, though.

He shook his head. "I didn't tell you because I didn't see my story as relevant. I'm still not sure that I do."

"Seriously?"

"I've been home for seven years. Isabel's been in Star City for six. If this is in any way about my grandfather's deal, why wait that long?"

Felicity lifted her hands. "I don't know - yet. But I'm only just hearing about this. I haven't had time to pull the story together. If you'd told me when I interviewed you at your house, I'd have had a couple of days to work on it."

Oliver eyed the whiskey bottle but decided he'd had enough. He ran a hand tiredly over his face. "What other theories were you working with - before I told you about all of this?

She narrowed her eyes at him and didn't answer.

"C'mon, Felicity. I showed you mine. The least you can do is show me yours."

She shook her head stubbornly. "You're not a cop, and you've given me a very good reason not to trust you. Why the hell should I tell you anything?"

But he could be stubborn too. "Whether or not you trust me, you think I could be a target. Earlier this afternoon you were certain the New Archer was trying to kill me. So, I have a right to know what's going on with the investigation. I have a right to defend myself."

It was a good thing to say, to call on her sense of fairness. He watched her hand flutter over the blanket and become still. For a moment, he didn't think she would tell him. Then she nodded grudgingly. "Fine. But you have to keep this to yourself - completely to yourself. Don't tell Tommy, and for God's sake, please don't even hint that you know anything about the investigation to your reporter girlfriend. There have been enough leaks already. If this shows up on the news, I'll lose my job."

He clenched his jaw. "Didn't we settle this a while ago? I'm interested in you, not Susan. She's not my girlfriend."

Felicity shook her head but didn't argue the point. "The theory we were working with," she said, "is that the killer knows about the Archer's legend and was imitating him to make a point about Isabel. The Archer was known for taking out bad guys, and we thought the killer wanted to make sure people knew that Isabel wasn't a model citizen. So he killed her with the arrow and planted evidence."

"What kind of evidence?"

She paused, then thought, what the hell? If Oliver had something to do with her death, I'm not telling him anything he doesn't already know. "A vial of drugs in her apartment and calls from a dealer on her phone," she said.

"So she wasn't using drugs?"

"Oh, she was using them, all right. An opioid and an amphetamine. But we believe the stuff we found in her apartment was planted because it didn't match the substances we found in her blood. We think her killer wasn't confident we'd run a tox screen, so he did something to make sure we'd check." Felicity paused, thinking over the day's events. "Or she planted something," she added slowly.

"What?"

Felicity pressed her face into both of her hands. "She planted the evidence. Oh fuck. I got so distracted with your shoulder wound and then...other things...that I forgot about my witness. The New Archer must have a partner - a woman who helped plant the evidence. And we have someone who might be able to identify that woman. The witness was going to draw a sketch of her while I was meeting with Anatoly and I was supposed to go back and pick it up." She couldn't believe she'd forgotten about Ramirez, the drawing, and the programs she'd left running on his computer.

She sounded less angry, but Oliver didn't think that meant she was over what she considered as his betrayal. It simply meant that her attention was focused on her case. That little crease was back in her forehead.

"I'm sorry to muddy the waters," he said, "but there's something that doesn't make sense to me, especially if you assume the New Archer is imitating my grandfather."

Felicity lifted her head from her hands. "What's that?"

"He missed."

"You call that a miss?" She pointed at his shoulder.

"Yes, I do. I heard on the news that Isabel was struck in the heart. That's a precision shot. The arrow in my back could hardly be called precise shooting, especially if the intent was to kill me."

Felicity shrugged. "You'd turned and you were running. All our evidence says Isabel was standing still, expecting to meet with her dealer."

"I suppose." But Oliver wasn't certain that explained it.

He watched Felicity lower her head into her hands once again. She looked so incredibly frustrated that he wanted to take her in his arms and stroke her back. But he knew that wasn't a good idea.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" he asked instead.

It was a stupid thing to say - almost as stupid as taking her in his arms. He watched her cheeks redden as her anger flooded back. "You can help me by telling me everything you know, and allowing me to decide whether it's relevant. Otherwise, you need to stay out of it."

"I've told you everything."

"Maybe," she snapped. "Or maybe you have another piece of the puzzle that puts everything into context but you don't think it's significant. Let's start with who else knows your story."

He shook his head. "Not many people. Tommy, of course. And Anatoly - and I suppose some of the senior members of the Bratva."

"Would Tommy have told his family? I believe his father lives in Star City."

"No." Oliver was certain of that. "Tommy's relationship with his father is strained. The two of them don't talk much."

"What about your board of directors? They get financial updates regularly. Do they know about the payout?"

"Hell, no. My grandfather kept his board in the dark and the tradition has continued ever since."

Felicity's cheeks remained flushed. She opened her mouth a couple of times before getting out the words. "What about Isabel?"

"Isabel," he repeated. "Good question. I'm honestly not sure. I never talked about it with her, so how much she knows depends on what Anatoly told her."

"You never talked about it with her?" Felicity repeated. "You honestly expect me to believe that?"

"It's the truth."

"Anatoly is her uncle, for Chrissake. And you're telling me she never raised the subject?"

Oliver shook his head. "I never saw her when I was in Russia, and when I first met her in the U.S., I didn't know she was related to Anatoly. She had a different last name, after all. I didn't find out until he came to visit her."

"Because it occurs to me," Felicity continued, as if he hadn't spoken,"that Anatoly might have sent her here to keep an eye on you. You know, make sure you were keeping up your end of the bargain? She came to Star City less than a year after your miraculous return."

There were a few beats of silence.

"That thought occurred to me too," Oliver admitted slowly, "some time ago. But if that's what Anatoly expected," he added resolutely, "then he was disappointed. Isabel didn't get close enough to me to find out anything about my businesses."

"Are you sure?" Felicity asked dryly. "You slept with her."

Oliver waved a hand. "Just because I slept with her doesn't mean I blabbed my secrets. I'm very good at keeping my mouth shut."

You slept with me, Felicity thought, and now you're singing like a bird. She didn't say the words aloud, but Oliver read her expression accurately.

"This is not normal," he said defensively. "You and me. It's an exception. You're the exception."

She felt her cheeks grow warm. Even though Oliver had withheld information about the case, she believed him when he spoke of his feelings for her - mostly because he seemed almost as stunned by them as she was. It didn't mean that she trusted him though.

"Do you mind if I ask you something?" he said abruptly.

She raised an eyebrow. "About the case?"

"Only peripherally. I want to know how you got Anatoly to back off."

"I'm sorry?"

He leaned toward her. "How did you get Anatoly to stop having you followed? I can't figure out what you said to get him to agree and it's been bugging me all afternoon. It's not as if he's afraid of the police."

She pressed her lips together.

"C'mon, Felicity. I showed you mine—"

"Oh, all right," she snapped, before he could finish. "I'll tell you, but it's another one of those things that you can't share - with anyone." She paused and took a breath. "I did a little research on Anatoly. You know, looking for vulnerabilities I could leverage?"

He rolled his eyes. "You may as well just say it, Felicity. You hacked him. The same way you hacked me. And?"

She gave him an annoyed look. "I did research," she reiterated, "and I found that he has several offshore accounts under a fictitious name, each with a considerable sum of money. I was able to retrieve quite a bit of detail on them; account numbers, exact totals, that sort of thing. I suggested to him that if he continued to interfere with my police investigation those sums of money would disappear."

Oliver's jaw fell. "You threatened to drain his bank accounts?"

"The offshore, illegal ones, yes. And before you hit the ceiling, I made sure that if anything happens to me, the accounts will still be drained. He knows this. I'm guessing they're accounts that the rest of the Bratva doesn't know about. In fact, I think Anatoly may be doing a little skimming."

He stared at her. "Christ, you're scary. Did anyone ever tell you that?"

He sounded as if he meant it. She grinned but didn't reply. She was wondering if it was too late to go see Ramirez.

Oliver followed her glance when she looked at the clock. "Is there someplace you need to be?"

Felicity slid to the edge of the bed, then stood and picked up her jeans. "I need to go see my witness and pick up that sketch. I still can't believe I forgot about it."

Alarm bells instantly went off in Oliver's head. He reached out and grasped her arm, ignoring the fact that she wasn't happy with him. When she tried to jerk her arm away, he held on tighter. "Felicity, it's almost nine and it's dark. For all we know, the New Archer followed us here and is waiting somewhere outside. We already have proof that he has more range with that bow than you have with your weapon. At least in daylight we were able to see him coming. At night we'll be sitting ducks."

She noted that he'd said we'll, not you'll, as if it was given that he would go with her. That presumption brought her out her anger once more. "First of all, it's me, Oliver, not we. And second, I'll...I'll...take the car," she finished lamely.

He glowered at her. "Are you going to take the car right to your witness's living room? You're going to have to get in and out of it a couple of times. That's enough opportunity for an arrow to hit you."

"I'm not the target - you are. I should be fine."

In theory, she was right, but Oliver still didn't like it. He searched for another argument and found one that was embarrassing, but possibly effective. "Then you're going to - what?" he asked. "Leave me alone here? You've just told me that I'm a target."

"I-" she stopped.

"Would leaving me unprotected be proper procedure?"

Felicity stared at him. Common sense told her that he had a point, both about procedure and the limitations of her weapon. It was her duty to pursue leads, but it wasn't her duty to act stupidly. Her commander and any one of her colleagues would agree with that.

She pulled her arm out of his grasp, but didn't put on her jeans. After a moment, she sat on the bed. "Okay," she admitted reluctantly. "But if it's too risky to go see my witness in the dark, then it's too risky to drive you home. We'll wait til daylight." She stopped abruptly, realizing the implications of what she'd just said.

Oliver was staying the night.

Chapter Text

Felicity figured they had good eleven or twelve hours to kill before she could drive Oliver home the next morning and then head to Ramirez's place. She thought about the things they could do during that time. They could talk; they could sleep; and they could get horizontal and naked. When she got to that last option — which, to her disgust, was really the first one that popped into her mind — she felt her pulse speed up. What on earth was going on with her? She had never been a woman who was ruled by her desires and now they were threatening to override her better judgment.

Because as much as she liked Oliver and was attracted to him, she didn't think she trusted him. She understood that what had happened with the Bratva wasn't his fault. He'd been dealt a lousy hand, one that had begun with Jonas and been continued by Robert Queen. Oliver was doing his best to manage it; she couldn't fault him there. It was the fact that he'd told no one about it - that he hadn't told her about it - that was the kick in the ass. It was hard to believe his story wasn't relevant to Isabel's murder. The killer was imitating Oliver's grandfather, after all. Yet, if she hadn't recognized the meaning of his tattoo, she was certain he wouldn't have told her. So much for building a relationship based on truth.

Apparently her trust issues didn't stop her from wanting him, though. Good heavens.

Whatever thoughts Oliver had about spending the night, he kept his expression neutral. "It's probably better to be safe," he agreed. "Do you think we can rustle up something for dinner? It's been a long day and I haven't eaten since breakfast."

For her own part, Felicity didn't have much appetite. But eating was a good idea, she decided. It would fill some of the time.

"We can see what I've got in the kitchen," she offered. "But I warn you, by the end of the week, the cupboard is pretty bare. I usually restock on Sunday."

Oliver shrugged. "Well, let's look, anyway. Can't hurt."

Five minutes later he was standing in her kitchen, shaking his head. "How can anybody live like this?"

"There are options," Felicity said defensively. "There's mac and cheese. Or we could do pancakes."

"I'd prefer real food."

"Well, I don't have any foie gras." She used an exaggerated French accent on the words, foie gras. "With my salary, I only have haute cuisine a couple of times a month, and you've missed those dates."

Oliver responded to her sarcasm by folding his arms across his chest. She tried not to fixate on the size of his biceps. "I'm not talking haute cuisine, Felicity," he replied. "I'm talking steak or chicken, and some vegetables."

"Steak?" She lifted an eyebrow. "Maybe for someone in your tax bracket steak is an option, but the rest of us don't want to take out a mortgage to eat."

"The simulated beef isn't bad," Oliver countered, referring to the vegetable-based substitute that had been growing in popularity.

"Maybe," Felicity replied. "But it's a moot point, since I don't have any."

"No, you don't." He turned once more to her refrigerator as if hoping something had miraculously appeared in the minute they'd been discussing it. It hadn't.

"Does anybody around here deliver?" he asked.

She nodded. "Nuddy's. That's my usual option on the weekend."

"Nuddy's," Oliver repeated. "The bar that you were in this afternoon."

"Yup. Good pizza and subs. They make lasagna too."

Oliver recalled the big man with the eye patch at Nuddy's, who had kept an eye on him the entire time he'd been talking to Felicity. He imagined that same man showing up at Felicity's to deliver the food, and wondered how he would react to finding Oliver shirtless in her apartment.

Not well, he decided.

He closed the refrigerator door. "Mac and cheese, it is." He glanced at her small wine rack in the corner and added, "Does mac and cheese usually pair with a red or a white?"

She didn't blink. "White."


Dinners for Oliver generally fell into one of three categories: They were business meetings where deals were hammered out, tension masquerading as fellowship. They were evenings on the rubber chicken circuit where he sat listening to speeches on behalf of some foundation or other, with his current female companion beside him. (Sometimes he was the one giving the speech.) And they were solitary moments in the house, when he caught up on his email or watched television as he ate. Tommy occasionally joined him, but more often than not, when Oliver ate at home it was late and he was alone. Very seldom did he dine with someone purely for the sake of company, even on a date. And he never cooked with anyone.

So, it was an unfamiliar experience to be with Felicity as they prepared their meal of mac and cheese in her galley kitchen. Prepared, of course, was an exaggeration. She took the pre-made meal out of the freezer and threw it in the microwave while he searched her refrigerator and cupboards for options to doctor it up. They got in each other's way in the small space, brushing hips and elbows. It could have been fun - an excuse for further affection - except that things between them had become awkward. So, instead of turning contact into a caress, they hastily separated any time they touched.

He located a block of parmesan cheese in the refrigerator with only a couple of green spots. Good enough, he thought, and placed it on the counter.

"Too bad you don't have any proscuitto" he said.

Her brow furrowed. "Pro - what?"

"Proscuitto. It's an Italian, dry-cured ham. Great with parmesan. We could add it to the mac and cheese."

"Ham," she repeated flatly. "That would mean it's pork."

"Yes."

She shook her head. "Pork isn't a staple in this house - sorry."

She didn't explain and he decided not to pursue it.

"Do you cook a lot?" she asked, watching his hands as he deftly trimmed the mold off of the cheese.

"Hmmm?"

"You seem pretty comfortable in the kitchen. With your money, I assumed you have a live-in cook."

He shook his head. "I have a part-time cook. The truth is, I'm not home for dinner a lot. Raisa cooks a couple of times a week and she always leaves a few meals I can heat up. Otherwise, I fend for myself."

"Oh."

The bell on the microwave rang and she pulled the steaming pan out.

"Why don't you set the table," he suggested, "and pour the wine. I'll take care of the food."

"Right."

She'd found an old tee shirt for him in her closet with the words Code-blooded across the chest. She'd told him to put it on while muttering something about distractions. It was too big to be hers but on the small side for him, so he guessed it belonged to a former boyfriend, probably someone she'd met through a mutual love of computers. He wondered how close they'd been for Felicity to still have some of his clothes. Was he a college lover that had left after graduation, with her keeping the shirt as a fond memory? Or was he part of a more recent relationship?

He stirred onion and garlic powder into the mac and cheese, then grated some parmesan over the pasta. Felicity opened a pinot grigio that had been chilling in her wine cooler and poured a couple of glasses.

"A meal fit for a king," she said, gesturing at the mac and cheese as he put the pan on the table.

The humor in her voice sounded a little forced. It was clear she wanted to avoid the topic of Jonas and the Bratva. He didn't think that was a good idea in the long run, but decided to play along for the sake of a peaceful meal.

"A six-year-old king," he mock-argued. "Did anyone ever tell you that you eat like a kid?"

"I eat like a cop. I have a budget."

He said nothing, but gave her a look that told her he wasn't buying the excuse. Still, the mac and cheese wasn't as bland as he'd expected it to be. With the seasonings and cheese he'd added, it was creamy and a little zesty. Plus, he secretly enjoyed watching her tuck into it, without worrying about calories or carbs. He was grateful to have found something to enjoy, because conversation was scarce. There were long moments of silence, broken only by the clink of cutlery on plates.

He was beginning to think he'd made a big mistake, telling her about Jonas and the Bratva. She was cop, after all, and he'd confessed to making payments to organized crime. She could report him to her superiors and they would bring him in for questioning...or possibly even arrest him. The SCPD would be angry - and embarrassed - that their forensic accountants hadn't picked up on the payments when they'd examined QC's books and would react even more aggressively because of it.

I should have lied, he thought. Tommy's going to be royally pissed about this. Oliver knew he was a competent liar and could have made Felicity believe him. Things would be simpler if he had. Hell, they could probably be in bed now, making each other gasp with pleasure. But then that lie would always be between them, assuming there still was a them. At this point, it was tough to tell.

They finished the meal and began cleaning up, a repeat of preparation with the two of them crowded into the kitchen as they loaded the plates into the washer. Oliver began wondering what he was supposed to do after they'd taken care of this chore. He was spending the night, that much was for certain. Beyond that, he had no idea.

This is what happens when you give up control, he thought. You lose certainty. You lose predictability. He was rarely uncertain - not in business and not with women. He didn't like the feeling. But then it had been a long time since he'd cared so much about another person's opinion of him.

Fuck it, he thought. I'm not taking an entire night of this.

He watched as she wiped her hands on a towel and met her gaze when she looked up at him.

"Now what?" he asked.

"What do you mean?"

"You're angry with me. I get that. So what do we do now? Do we watch TV? Do we sit in your living room and try to talk it out?"

She paused, letting the towel dangle from her hands. "I'm not angry, Oliver. It's worse than being angry. I feel that I can't trust you - which is the last thing I want in any relationship. And I don't think talking it out is going to help."

"Why not?"

She hung up the towel and put her hands on her hips. "I'm not unreasonable. I understand that you didn't start this - that you've had the whole thing dumped on you by your father and grandfather. You should never have had to deal with it."

"But..."

"But I can't help thinking that if I hadn't recognized the tattoo, you wouldn't have told me about it. Certainly not tonight, and maybe not ever. From a professional standpoint, that means you withheld information that was relevant to a police investigation. It can be construed as obstruction."

He was disappointed, almost a little disgusted. "For God's sake, Felicity, can you stop being a cop for a minute and just be a person?"

"Fine. Then from a personal standpoint," she continued, giving him a pointed glare, "that means you were willing to go into a relationship without telling me about an important piece of your life. I don't know which is worse."

Her voice was calm, but there was a note of finality to it that frightened Oliver. He buried his fear in irritation. After all, he did think she was being unreasonable - at least a little. "Felicity, as you pointed out several times tonight, we haven't known each other very long. If you hadn't recognized the tattoo, it's true I may not have told you about its origins now. But it's not fair to assume that I would never have explained it to you."

"Really?" Her voice was sarcastic. "We've already slept together. When would you have told me, exactly?"

He rubbed the back of his neck. "Don't make it sound as if I had a game plan. This thing between us has taken me as much by surprise as it has you. I'm feeling my way around here. People don't unveil their entire lives to each other when they first meet. They share things gradually. That's the way it works - even if we jumped ahead a few steps and went straight to sex."

She pressed her lips together and shook her head.

"And it's not as if you've been an open book with me," he went on. "Hell - you guard your personal data like it's Fort Knox. Why the crazy security, unless you've got something you don't want people to know about?"

She stiffened and her chin jerked up. For a second Oliver was grateful that her weapon was on the couch in the living room. Now is probably not a good time to remind her that I tried to have her hacked.

But then she lowered her head and took several deep breaths. When her eyes met his, they were calmer. "Look, Oliver, forgetting both my murder investigation and our personal...relationship," she stammered a little on the word relationship, "I still have an issue with what you did. By paying the Bratva, you're helping to make a bad organization more powerful. I don't understand why you would do that."

He gave an incredulous snort. "You mean you don't understand me wanting to stay alive? Or you just don't believe I need the Bratva to do it?"

"I don't understand why you didn't come clean to the SCPD about all of this when you returned to Star City. That would have been the smart thing to do. They could have helped."

"Helped." He gave a bitter laugh. Of all the things she'd said to him thus far, that felt the most unfair. "Right, Felicity. Because the police were so sympathetic when I got home. I could tell they wanted to help when they held me in an interrogation room for forty-eight hours straight." He shook his head. "The SCPD had made up their minds that I'd killed my father in order to take over QC and every question they asked was directed toward proving it. Yeah, Felicity, that really made me want to come clean."

She stared at him, her eyes wide behind her glasses.

"And even if they were willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, how do you think the SCPD would have helped, exactly?" he continued, his anger still growing. "What would you all have done? Probably call the feds and execute some kind of sting operation to arrest the Bratva for taking protection money. Then my security would be gone and I'd be a sitting duck for the League."

She bit her lip and said nothing. He wasn't far off the mark, he thought, with his guess about the sting operation.

"As for not telling you," he continued, "I honestly didn't think it was relevant. And now that I have told you, I've put you in a predicament. You're a cop and I've confessed to doing something illegal. You're thinking you should report this, but then you're wondering if you'll get me killed if you do. Assuming you still like me even a little bit, I've created a dilemma for you."

She still said nothing.

He ran his hand over his head and exhaled, trying to expel some of his wrath. "Well, Felicity? What do you want to do? The ball's in your court."

She stared at him, a flush spreading across her cheeks. "Right now?" she said, her voice a little shaky. "Right now, I'm tired and I'm going to bed." She brushed past him on her way out of the kitchen. "You can sleep on the couch. In the morning, we'll get you home and I'll figure out what I want to do then."

He watched her walk through the living room, then heard her bedroom door close.

Chapter Text

Felicity gave her nightshirt an angry tug as she pulled it past her shoulders. She hadn't lied when she'd told Oliver she was tired, but she also knew that sleep wasn't coming any time soon. Her mind - usually her best asset - kept rehashing her conversation with him in an endless loop. He wasn't truthful, her brain chimed one moment. He had reasons not to be, it tolled the next. Back and forth, back and forth. The cop in her wanted to see his situation as black and white - legal and illegal. Her heart (and sense of fairness) kept insisting things were more grey.

She heard water running in the bathroom and knew Oliver was getting ready for the night. I should at least offer him a toothbrush, she thought, but couldn't bring herself to face him. She hadn't liked his expression in the kitchen. He'd looked angry and - worse - disappointed. It had hurt a little.

In the solitude of her bedroom, she could admit that he had been right about a few things. People didn't lay out their entire histories to each other when they first met. They revealed themselves as the relationship grew. And he'd been right about what the SCPD would have done if he'd reported the story of his grandfather and the payouts to the Bratva. They would have executed some type of sting operation, making the assumption they could keep Oliver safe. If the League of Assassins was truly that formidable, then maybe Oliver would have been signing his own death warrant.

She slid into bed; a bed she had slept comfortably in for the past four years and which now felt empty and too large. It was ridiculous, because the man had only spent a couple of hours in it. But she'd liked having him there and she missed him now - missed his warmth and his scent. Despite her misgivings, she knew she still wanted him. She hadn't had enough of that lean, hard body and she wanted to feel the intense connection again. It was particularly tough knowing he was stretched out on the couch in the next room - probably still angry with her. Probably shirtless.

Fuck.

If she was going by the book, she shouldn't even wait until morning. She should call Diggle now and report everything. It was late, but the news was critical enough that her commander would understand the hour. And maybe once she had done that, the churning in her head would stop. She would have turned the responsibility over to her superior officer; problem solved.

But she couldn't bring herself to do it.

She was going to have to live with this decision for a long time, she thought, maybe forever. It could mean never seeing Oliver again. It could even mean getting him killed. Even if she wasn't directly responsible, she wasn't sure she could live with that.

She pulled the blanket up to her chin and decided morning was the time to make her decision. Things always seemed clearer in the morning. But after a half hour of lying in the dark with no hint of sleepiness, she got out of bed and walked to her door, opening it softly. Then she tiptoed down the short hallway and stood in the entrance to the living room. She could see little in the blackness, just the vague shapes of her furniture, including the couch where Oliver lay. After a moment, she could make out his breathing. It sounded slow and steady, not nearly as frustrated as her own.

She tiptoed back to bed.


The thumping noise disguised itself as part of Oliver's dream. He was lying on a blanket in a meadow, the sunshine gentle and warm on his bare back. Around him, the insects hummed softly and the air was perfumed with the scent of wildflowers. Felicity lay beside him, her head so close to his that wisps of blond hair brushed against his lips. She was asleep.

He was thoroughly relaxed. There were the remains of a picnic at their feet and a light breeze wafted across their bodies, tickling his skin. He looked up to investigate the noise and saw a helicopter flying above the field, a short distance away. Soon it would be directly over them.

He became aware, as often happens in dreams, that things were not as they first appeared. Not only was his back exposed, but the rest of him as well. He was naked on the blanket, along with Felicity; and the meadow was no longer a meadow, it was the middle of a city park. People were walking the paths not far away and the helicopter was getting ever closer. He reached across Felicity to cover her body with his, just as he saw that there was an archer poised in the open side of the helicopter. The archer raised his bow and aimed his arrow toward them.

Oliver jolted awake.

The thumping was someone pounding on the door to Felicity's apartment. The hum of insects was her phone, buzzing beneath him under the seat cushions of the couch. He remembered that she had tossed it there yesterday before they had treated his wound. He pulled it out and stared at it. The caller ID said: Rory. The phone showed that it was six in the morning.

The thumping on the door continued.

"Felicity." He called her name, but not loudly. He didn't want to shout.

No response.

She must be asleep, he thought. It was early, and if she'd had as much trouble drifting off as he had, she'd only recently fallen into slumber. Last night had not been easy for either of them.

He pushed himself into a sitting position, grimacing at the pain in his shoulder blade. Her couch wasn't built for people over six feet tall and his injury had only made it more uncomfortable. Rising, he grabbed his jeans and the borrowed tee shirt from the floor and put them on. Then he headed toward the door. Before he could get there, however, the lock clicked and the door swung inward, pushed by a thirty-ish man with a thick mop of brown hair. Oliver recognized him instantly as the cop Felicity had been with at police headquarters when he'd given her his security discs. The man was staring at his phone, a worried - almost frantic - expression on his face.

He froze when he saw Oliver, then dropped his phone and pulled his weapon out from under his jacket. "What the hell are you doing here?" he demanded, pointing the stunner. As Felicity's phone continued to buzz on the cushions of the couch, the cop barked, "Where's Smoak?"

Oliver lifted his hands in what he hoped was a non-threatening gesture. "She's asleep."

"Where?"

"In her bedroom." Oliver was tempted to tack, where do you think?, onto the sentence, but decided it wasn't a good idea to smart-ass the man with a weapon. The cop's hand was already white-knuckled and a little unsteady. Instead, Oliver asked, "What's happened?"

Still pointing his stunner, the cop bent to the floor to retrieve his phone. He swiped his finger across the screen and Felicity's own device stopped buzzing. "I'm the one asking the questions, Queen." he said shortly.

Oliver eyed him cautiously. After his initial shock, the cop seemed to be getting steadier, although he was clearly very worried about Felicity. He kept glancing at the door to the hall as if he wanted to race to her bedroom and check on her.

Careful, pal, Oliver thought. We might be close in age, but I'll bet I have more experience facing a weapon than you have pointing it. I spent over a year in Russia negotiating with far bigger hardasses than you.

He slowly lowered his hands and retreated to the couch. Then he sat.

The cop glared at him. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Sitting. Unarmed. With my hands in plain sight."

The cop narrowed his eyes. "You think you're funny?"

"Not at all. You're the one with the weapon - you're in charge. I'm acknowledging that." Oliver paused. "And I get that something big must have happened for you to break into Felicity's apartment at six in the morning."

"I didn't break in. I'm a cop and I'm Smoak's partner."

He sounded protective, almost territorial.

Oliver shook his head. "Felicity doesn't have a partner." It was a guess, but a good one. She had come to interview him alone and she'd never mentioned a partner.

The cop hesitated, then lowered his weapon but didn't holster it. "I'm as close to a partner as she's got in the SCPD," he said defensively. "And you still haven't told me what you're doing here."

There were a number of explanations Oliver could have given, although he doubted any of them would appease the cop. It didn't really matter. Oliver wasn't terribly interested in appeasing him.  He answered calmly, "I was asleep, too. That's what I was doing here. It's six o'clock on a Sunday morning. I suspect it's what most people are doing."

"You sonofabitch." The cop's lip curled and he raised his weapon again. "The last I heard, you were a suspect in the Rochev murder. And now I find you in Smoak's apartment?"

Oliver didn't blink. "If that's what you heard, then you're behind the times. I've been cleared. Felicity cleared me."

"Excuse me if I don't take your word for it."

Oliver shrugged. "Then I'll get Felicity."

"The hell you will. You'll stay here."

"Or what?" Oliver said. "You'll stun me and then barge into her bedroom? Do you think she'll appreciate that?"

The cop's mouth flattened into a straight line.

"Rory?"

Both men turned to see Felicity standing in the doorway to her living room. Her hair was tousled and she sounded half awake, which might explain why she hadn't thought to cover up. She was wearing a nightshirt that ended at mid-thigh, leaving her bare legs on display. Oliver recalled their smoothness when they'd been pressed against him yesterday.

"What are you doing here?" she asked the cop, pushing her glasses up her nose.

The cop stared at her, managing to appear both relieved and a little guilty at the same time. "What am I doing here?" he repeated. "I'm here making sure you're all right, Smoak."

A slight blush colored her cheeks. She gave Oliver a glance, then said, "Of course I'm all right. Why wouldn't I be? What's happened?"

The cop strode up to her. "You happened, Smoak. You called into Dispatch late yesterday afternoon and told them you'd seen Isabel's killer. Then you disappeared and went silent. You weren't in the area when the uniforms got there and you didn't answer your phone for the rest of the night. Diggle's wound up tighter than a drum and I spent the last twelve hours thinking we were going to find your body in an alley with an arrow in it."

Felicity stared at Rory, then turned to look at the couch where her phone remained atop one of the seat cushions. Her blush grew deeper. A good detective was supposed to be accessible at all times, even when off duty.

"Oh Ror, I'm sorry," she said, and meant it. "Things got a little...crazy...yesterday. I dropped my phone on the couch when I got home and it must have fallen into the cushions. I didn't hear it, and I forgot to bring it to the bedroom when I went to sleep." She retrieved the device and studied it; three calls from the commander and six from Rory. She'd screwed up - big time.

"I'm sorry," she said again. "Really sorry for making you worry."

Rory paced back and forth in front of her. "It's not like you. What the hell happened?"

Good question. I'm guessing 'I ended up in bed with Oliver Queen' probably isn't a good answer. Felicity glanced at Oliver. Unlike her, he was dressed and appeared fully awake. That pleased her because it made the situation look less...suggestive. On the other hand, she'd been so upset last night that she hadn't offered him a pillow or a blanket, so it wasn't obvious that he'd spent the night on the couch. He was here, in her apartment at six in the morning, in bare feet and with facial scruff in need of a trim. And she was wearing a nightshirt.

Rory followed her glance and put the pieces together. "Ah, Smoak, what the hell are you doing? This is why you didn't answer?" He gestured stiffly at Oliver. "This?"

She was ashamed - as much for messing up on the job as for having spent the night with Oliver. She considered using his shoulder wound to justify leaving the scene yesterday but knew it was a poor excuse. The right thing would have been to coordinate with the uniforms, then go with Oliver to the hospital. She'd known it at the time, but had still acceded to his wish to keep everything private. It was sloppy police work.

Oliver tried to explain. "I asked Felicity to bring me here-" he began.

"I'll bet," Rory interrupted bitterly.

"-after the New Archer shot me. I didn't want the publicity of going to a hospital, so I asked Felicity to treat the wound at her place."

"You were shot?" Rory's eyebrows rose in surprise. "You didn't report a shooting," he said to Felicity. He stared skeptically at Oliver. "And you look fine to me."

Oliver turned his back and lifted the shirt to show Rory the shoulder. Felicity saw that the lips of the wound remained closed thanks to the sealant, but they were raised and red. There was no doubt that the wound was new. Oliver tugged the shirt back down.

Rory glanced at Felicity for confirmation, and when she nodded he pressed his lips together. "Why'd the Archer come after you, Mr. Queen? What's a guy like you even doing in the Glades?"

"My business takes me to all parts of Star City."

"Seriously? You expect me to believe a billionaire CEO is interested in the poorest section of town?"

Oliver said nothing.

"And you didn't answer my first question," Rory continued. "Why would the Archer be interested in you."

Once again, Oliver didn't reply. He looked at Felicity, his features almost blank.

She understood what the look meant. Left to his own devices, Oliver would tell Rory nothing about Jonas, the dubious foundations of the Queen fortune, and the deal with the Bratva. He'd inherited the dark legacy and he was doing his best to deal with it on his own. He'd told Felicity last night for personal reasons. He had no intention of telling the rest of the department.

But when his eyes met hers, she was surprised that his expression contained neither a plea nor a warning. He gave the smallest of shrugs that said: It's your choice. Do what you think is right Do what you can live with. I'll understand.

And maybe he would, she thought. She imagined what would happen once she told Rory about the Queen history. She'd be changing Oliver's life irrevocably, that was for certain. The SCPD might not arrest him, but they would detain him and bring him to HQ for questioning. And the feds would get involved and there would be deals backed by thinly veiled threats. We'll forgive the payments if you help us trap the Bratva. But that wasn't her problem. She would have done her duty. And Oliver was making it easy for her. There was no judgment on his face. She took a deep breath.

And the words wouldn't come.

It should have been simple. Oliver had failed to report the payouts to the Bratva when he'd learned of them. Worse, he had continued to make them for seven years. If she said nothing, she was essentially becoming an accessory. Was it worth the risk to her career for a man she had known less than a week?

Common sense said, no. Relationships were fragile things in the best of times, and neither she nor Oliver had a track record of long-term success with partners. Her career, on the other hand, was supposed to endure for the next thirty years. Even if Oliver's story was never revealed, she would raise a few eyebrows if she got involved with a high-profile, wealthy public figure. Rory's current reaction was proof of that.

But common sense couldn't force her to shake the feeling that Oliver was a good man, and that the budding connection they shared could turn out to be something special. She felt a sense of belonging when she was with him, something that had been missing from her life ever since she'd lost her mother. His presence warmed her. It felt unfair to have to choose between him and her career when his problems were not of his own devising.

"We're not sure why the New Archer came after Oliver," she said to Rory, "other than he knew Isabel Rochev. Oliver and I were reviewing the things he and Isabel have in common last night to look for a motive. We didn't come up with anything."

She saw Oliver straighten as if he'd been expecting a different answer. He looked at her and his eyes were filled with surprise and tenderness.

"Reviewing the things he and Isabel have in common?" Rory repeated with a snort. "Is that what you call it? Because it looks to me like the two of you spent last night boning. But maybe I'm mistaken and the two of you were working for the last twelve hours."

Among the slang terms for sex, boning was one of Felicity's least favorites. It made her think of a butcher. Any embarrassment she had over Oliver spending the night was wiped away by anger. "No," she replied coldly, "you're not mistaken. Oliver and I boned after we talked, not that it's any of your business."

Rory's eyes widened and she saw that he'd been hoping she would deny the encounter. Oliver revealed nothing; no triumph, nor the smallest hint of discomfiture. His face was bland and he avoided Rory's glare.

"Oliver's not a suspect," Felicity continued. "There isn't a problem here."

Rory frowned. "Are you sure? Because Isabel Rochev was no angel. I traced her accounts and I think it's clear that she got money from the Bratva. We already know she used drugs. If she and Queen were lovers…"

"We weren't," Oliver said sharply. "Not for a couple of years."

Rory shook his head. "It certainly looked like you were," he countered. "The woman was on your arm at every damn society event in the city."

"And when the events ended, we went our separate ways. Did I know Isabel Rochev? Yes. She was a local celebrity and she was socially active. We served on a number of charitable boards together." Oliver paused. "Was I aware of all the intimate details of her life? No, especially not recently."

"Then why do you think the Archer came after you?"

"Maybe he made the same assumption you did. He saw me out with Isabel and figured I was part of whatever she was doing."

Rory pressed his lips together and didn't reply. In the silence, Felicity contemplated what she should do next. Call Diggle, she thought; let him know she was alive and take her lumps for the second time in as many days. Then, as soon as the hour was reasonable, she needed to get to Ramirez's place to look at the results of her searches, and pick up the sketch. It was the one, concrete thing that could advance her investigation. Everything else remained speculation.

She reached out and took Rory's arm.

"I've got to get to the witness's apartment," she said to him. "I left a backtrace program running on his computer and he's supposed to be working on a sketch of the woman who planted the evidence on his phone."

"Woman?" Rory asked, his brow lifting.

"Yeah. I spoke with the wit yesterday and he told me it was a woman."

"Interesting. I took a look at Isabel's droid," Rory began. Then he glanced at Oliver and stopped.

"And?" Felicity prompted.

"And I'll fill you in when you get back from seeing your witness. I don't think we should discuss this in front of a civilian."

She rolled her eyes but didn't argue. "Okay. Can you do me a favor, then?"

Rory pursed his lips cautiously. "What?"

"Can you take Oliver home - make sure he gets there safely? He needs a ride, and for all we know, the New Archer is still hanging somewhere around the Glades. I'd like him to have protection until he gets to that fortress he lives in."

Rory and Oliver exchanged stares. It was clear neither of them was happy with this plan.

"I was thinking I should go with you to see the witness," Rory replied, just as Oliver said, "I don't need protection."

"The alternative," Felicity continued, as if neither of them had spoken, "is for Oliver to wait here with you, Rory, until uniforms can pick him up and place him in protective custody." When Oliver opened his mouth to protest, she continued quickly, "The Archer shot you once, Oliver. We have no reason to think he won't try again. I'm going to look pretty stupid if I turn you loose to wander around on your own and you get arrowed. And my apartment isn't nearly as secure as your house so staying here alone isn't a great idea."

There wasn't much Oliver could say. What he wanted, she knew, was to go with her when she spoke with Ramirez. But he was a civilian and didn't belong - she was with Rory on that one.

Rory gave her an irritated look but there wasn't much he could say, either. What she'd proposed was solid police procedure.

He frowned. "Okay, Smoak. I'll take Mr. Queen home. We'll catch up after."

"Thanks. I'm going to get dressed, then head out to see the witness. Rory, I'll update you as soon as I know anything. Oliver-" She paused. She didn't know what she wanted to say to him, especially in front of Rory.

He took matters into his own hands. "Let me grab my stuff from your bedroom. We can say our goodbyes there." Walking to her, he took her elbow and steered her out of the living room and down the short passage to her bedroom.

"I'm pretty sure you didn't leave anything here," she said tersely, as he shut the door, "except a bloody hoodie."

"I'm very fond of that hoodie."

"I see. And here I was thinking that you wanted to rub Rory's nose in the fact that we slept together."

He nodded seriously. "There's that, too. He likes you, you know, in more than a professional way. I needed to make my position clear."

"I'm not some territory for you to plant your flag on - either of you."

His blue eyes crinkled. "There's so many things I could say about 'planting my flag'," he began. Then he looked at her face and sobered. "Why didn't you tell him about the Bratva? I was certain you would."

She shrugged. "I honestly don't know. I guess I'd like to see concrete proof that your past is tied to Isabel's murder before I expose it to the rest of the department. You've had your life turned upside down once already. If I'm going to do it again, it should be for a good reason."

His eyes were warm as they gazed into hers. "Thank you."

"Don't thank me yet. Depending on what I find out today you could still be in hot water."

"I understand. But thank you for being fair." Before she could protest, he leaned down and kissed her lightly. "Will you let me know what you find out?"

The brief kiss aroused her more than she wanted to let on. She kept her expression severe. "Not before I tell Rory. He's the cop."

"Fine. After you tell Rory?"

"Maybe. No promises."

He sighed. "You know, I really don't need his protection."

She took his hand. It was so much larger than hers that she was tempted to smile. "Humor me. Take it as a sign that I care."

That seemed to please him, because he grinned. "I will. Next time we get interrupted, though, I'm not leaving. I don't care who else is here."

"You assume there will be a next time."

"I'm hoping for it. I'm not assuming anything."

"That's a good plan."

Chapter Text

Felicity stood in the lobby of her building and watched Rory and Oliver drive away. She remained there for a few minutes, looking for signs that the pair was being followed. She saw none. The New Archer must have holed up, she thought, when the uniforms had begun searching the Glades. Satisfied they were not in danger, she got into her car and headed for Ramirez's apartment. It was Sunday and barely eight in the morning, so traffic was almost nonexistent. That made it easy to keep an eye out for people tailing her. But like Oliver and Rory, she found herself alone.

Her call to Diggle, although short, had left her a little drained. She'd apologized for losing contact after reporting the Archer to Dispatch, and launched into an explanation about Oliver wanting to avoid the hospital (without revealing where he had spend the night). Then she'd waited, expecting to receive a good tongue lashing. She certainly deserved it. Instead, there had been silence on the other end of the phone.

"Sir?" she'd eventually prompted.

Diggle had exhaled slowly and loudly. "Christ, Felicity, you took a dozen years off my life."

She'd blinked, caught flat by the use of her first name. Diggle had called her Felicity all through high school and college, right up until the day she'd entered the police academy. Then he'd switched to her surname. The change had signaled the transition in their relationship. For Diggle, she was no longer a kid to be mentored. She was a cop in the chain of command - his chain of command. She was Smoak. That he would revert to Felicity now made her realize that he hadn't forgotten those days of looking out for her.

"I'm sorry," she'd said, feeling the sting of moisture in her eyes. "I know I screwed up."

"As long as you're alive," he'd replied. "Screw-ups can be remedied. Dead is forever." His voice was a little hoarse.

She hadn't trusted her own vocal chords. There was a thickness in her throat that couldn't be attributed to the early hour. After a minute, she'd swallowed and said, "I've got a plan for today that I think will give us a real, solid lead."

"Tell me about it." Diggle sounded relieved to return to the topic of the case.

She'd told him about Ramirez, the drawing, and her attempt to backtrace the hack.

"Sounds promising," Diggle had said, his voice still rough. "Let me know what you find."

"Will do."

And they had disconnected.

Ramirez answered his door in a tee shirt, flannel sleep pants and bare feet. His hair was too short to be disheveled, but his dark scruff could stand to see a razor and the shirt was very wrinkled. The apartment smelled of toast and butter.

"I'm sorry. I know it's early. I've caught you during breakfast," Felicity said.

He shrugged. "Zoe and I just finished. We're cleaning up. Would you like a cup of coffee?"

Pleasantly surprised, she nodded. "That would be great, thank you. I take it with milk and sugar."

He disappeared into the kitchen just as Zoe came darting out of it. She was wearing pajamas with solid pink bottoms and a flowered pink top, and her dark hair hadn't yet seen a comb. She stopped in front of Felicity and balanced on one foot, brimming with childish energy. She had a smudge of jam on one cheek. Strawberry, Felicity guessed.

"Hi," Zoe said brightly.

"Hi, yourself. I like your pajamas."

"Thanks." Unable to stand still, the girl put her foot down and skipped around the living room. "Dad and I drew the picture. Do you want to see it?"

Felicity nodded. "I do. But first I'm going to look at your dad's computer."

Ramirez stepped out of the kitchen. "Maybe you can wash your face," he suggested to Zoe, "and brush your hair. Then we can show Detective Smoak the picture together."

"Okay." And Zoe dashed out through one of the doorways.

Ramirez placed a cup of coffee next to the computer as Felicity sat in front of the keyboard. She began typing, and after a minute, frowned. She typed some more, double-checking her work. Then she sighed.

"I don't like the sound of that," Ramirez said dryly.

She took a sip of the coffee. It was good - just the right amount of milk and sugar. "I was hoping we'd get lucky and find the location where they're monitoring your system. They disguised their original IP address and I was able to trace my way through that, but it appears they're working out of a coffee house in Star City's business district, not a private address. So the individual could be any one of hundreds of people who use that coffee house."

Ramirez perched on the arm of the sofa. "Can't you check the camera footage from the coffee house? They've got to have a security system."

Everyone's an investigator, she thought wryly. She shrugged. "It depends on how much history they keep. If they've got a month or two of footage, we might have a chance - if we knew who we were looking for. If they only keep a few days to help with robberies or break-ins - which is more typical - then we won't learn much."

"How about my drawing? That might help with who you're looking for."

Felicity nodded. "Let's see it."

Ramirez retrieved a sketch pad from a corner of his desk and flipped through it. "Here it is," he said, laying the pad down in front of Felicity.

As if on cue, Zoe bounced back into the room. The jam was off her face and her hair was a tiny bit neater. Felicity guessed she had run the brush through it at least twice.

"What do you think?" Zoe asked, coming up to stand next to Felicity. "Isn't my dad a good artist?"

"Hmm," Felicity agreed. "Very good." She studied the picture. It was surprisingly detailed, considering it had been drawn from memory. The woman had an attractive, oval face, with high cheekbones and large eyes. Ramirez had done the drawing in colored pencil, and he'd made the woman's chin-length hair sandy blond and her eyes hazel. She looked vaguely familiar, but Felicity was unable to attach a name to the face.

"How confident are you about this drawing?" she asked him.

He shrugged. "She was here a couple of months ago, so I can't claim that it's perfect. Zoe gave me her impressions, though, so maybe between the two of us it's kind of accurate."

That wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement. Frustrated, Felicity continued to stare at the drawing.

"You don't recognize her," Ramirez said. He sounded disappointed.

"I'm not sure. There's something familiar about her, but I can't figure out what it is or where I might have met her." Felicity tapped her fingers on the desk and narrowed her eyes. It was the hair that was throwing her off, she decided. "Can you make a copy - and then make her hair darker?" Nearly every woman she had interviewed for the case had been a brunette.

"Sure."

Ramirez scanned the drawing with his computer and printed out a copy. Then he dug into a box of colored pencils, selected a brown one and moved it quickly over the woman's hair, changing her to a brunette.

"Make her hair a little longer while you're at it," Felicity prompted. "Past her shoulders."

He complied.

"And now her eyes," she added. "They should be brown too."

He darkened the eyes.

And, holy shit, Felicity knew exactly where she had seen the woman. She must have worn a wig and contacts when she'd come here, pretending to be child services.

Ramirez was watching Felicity carefully. "You know her?"

"I think so.

"What are you going to do?"

Felicity rose from the chair. "I'm going to talk to her."


Felicity's partner, or friend - or whatever he was to her in the cop-world - was silent for the first fifteen minutes of the ride to Oliver's home. It wasn't because his anger had lessened. Oliver could see that Rory's jaw remained rigid and his knuckles were white on the controls of the car. He focused on the quiet Sunday streets as if they were filled with children who might dart in front of the car at any moment.

Oliver was fine with the silence. He had a lot to think about and he could think better without conversation. At the top of the list was when he could see Felicity again. It needed to be soon, because he had a feeling she would talk herself out of getting involved with him if she had enough time to dwell on the negatives. It was clear her pal Rory would try to dissuade her. Oliver wasn't blind to the objections she would receive from her colleagues if they became a couple. He had to make her believe that exploring their connection was worth the trouble.

"What the hell are you playing at?"

The words burst out of the detective as if he'd been chewing on them for the last fifteen minutes.

Oliver didn't pretend to misunderstand him. "With Felicity? I'm not playing at anything - not that it's any of your business."

"Of course it's my business. Smoak is a good cop and a good friend, and I'm looking out for her. She doesn't deserve to be jerked around by a guy like you for his own entertainment."

Entertainment? Oliver wanted to tell the detective that the last thing any of this was, was entertaining. His unexpected attraction to a cop was causing him to do things he had never done before, turning his life upside down. But he realized the arguments Rory was about to make were probably the same ones Felicity was going to hear from him later. It might be better to know what they were.

"What makes you think I'm jerking her around?" he asked quietly.

Rory stared out the windshield for a moment, his jaw muscles working. Then he set the auto-controls to take over the driving and turned to face Oliver.

"What makes me think you're jerking her around?" he repeated. "Give me a fucking break. You have nothing in common - you two are from completely different worlds. She came from nothing and works for a living. She's had to earn everything she's got. You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth. There's no way you understand all she's accomplished and you definitely don't respect it."

Oliver kept his voice even. "I'm the CEO of an eighty billion dollar corporation. On a typical week, I spend sixty hours in the office. I think I understand work well enough. And respect it."

"You're the CEO of an eighty billion dollar corporation that your father and grandfather built," Rory stated. "Not the same thing. You had things handed to you. You never once had to worry if you could afford something. Hell, you probably spend more in a day on your lifestyle than Smoak earns in a month."

That last statement was likely true, Oliver thought, although he wasn't going to admit it to Rory. "So what are you saying?" he asked the detective. "That only wealthy people can be with wealthy people? That Felicity isn't allowed to get involved with me because her origins are too humble and she doesn't earn enough?"

"Don't twist my words," Rory snapped angrily. "Smoak deserves anything she wants. She deserves the best. And that includes someone who can truly appreciate her."

"And you think I can't."

"Damn right, I think you can't. From what I've read, you prefer the rich and famous - and she's nothing like that. I think a man like you can't come close to appreciating a down-to-earth woman like Smoak."

"But you can." Oliver's voice was matter-of-fact.

"I-" Rory opened his mouth and glared at Oliver. Then he closed it.

Now we're getting to it, Oliver thought. "Let's not pretend," he said to the detective, "that your concerns are purely professional. I saw how you looked at Felicity back in her apartment. You've known her for how long? A couple of years at least, I'm guessing. You've had plenty of opportunities to be more than a colleague to her. But you aren't. Either she's shot you down or you've been too afraid to try."

Rory's face darkened, and he turned away to stare out the side window of the car.

"But I wasn't too afraid to try," Oliver went on. "And she didn't shoot me down. So when it comes to appreciating her, I appreciated her enough to stick my neck out and tell her how I felt - which I'm sure pisses you off." He paused to take a breath. "And if you're thinking my money gave me some kind of advantage," he added, "then you don't know her as well as you think you do."

Rory continued staring out the side window. They were out of the heart of the city now, only a couple of miles from the iron gates of Oliver's mansion.

"All of that may be true," the detective said, his voice calmer, "but it doesn't negate your history. You change women the way most men change socks. I don't want to see her get hurt."

Oliver frowned. Of all of the arguments Rory could make, that was the one most likely to strike a chord with Felicity. She'd already brought it up when they were alone. I don't want to give my heart to someone who isn't accustomed to dealing with hearts. Not for the first time, he wished he'd paid more attention to his public appearances - been willing to attend events on his own instead of thinking he always needed a companion.

He shifted in his seat and blew out his breath. "We're about the same age, you and I," he said to Rory. "Just past thirty, right?"

The detective turned to him and nodded warily. His expression said he was wondering where Oliver was going with this.

"You're not married, obviously," Oliver continued. "And not co-habbing either, or you wouldn't be so focused on Felicity. But I doubt you're entirely celibate."

The color rose in Rory's cheeks. "I don't see what that has-"

"So, have you had long-term relationships with every woman you had dinner with - hell, with every woman you slept with? Were these all women you thought you would spend the rest of your life with?"

Rory's flush didn't fade. "No, but-"

"But the paparazzi weren't watching every time you went to a restaurant or attended a party. You went out for a little while and eventually stopped seeing each other for any number of reasons; the attraction wasn't that strong, your careers conflicted, things just didn't work out. Maybe your family and a few of your friends knew about it, but that's it."

Rory began shaking his head.

"I don't have that same luxury," Oliver said. "If I even have coffee with a woman it's posted on some website or another. People immediately begin speculating on the nature of the relationship and often make it out to be more than it really is. Then, when I'm not seen with the woman again, I've dumped her."

"It's not the same thing," Rory insisted, still shaking his head. "We're not the same."

Oliver shrugged. "Maybe not. But I'm not as fickle as the media likes to make out. I don't go out with women with the intent of dumping them. And like a lot of people, I'd be happy to connect with the right one."

There was a pause as Rory's expression morphed to one of incredulity. "Are you trying to tell me you think Smoak could be the right one?" he snorted. "That's a joke. First of all, you barely know her. And second - let's circle back to the part where the two of you have nothing in common."

Christ, the man was stubborn. Oliver could feel his own anger beginning to build. He swallowed. "Maybe we don't have a lot in common - at least not on the surface. But if Felicity's interested - if she and I are both interested - in exploring a relationship," he imagined Felicity smiling at the word, "then that's our business and we deserve the chance to do it. Without interference."

They were at the gates to the mansion. Oliver pulled out his phone to input the access code and saw that it was still turned off from the night before. He switched it on and ignored the beeps that signaled multiple voice messages. Then he typed the code and the gates swung open.

Rory resumed control of the car and steered it up the long drive to the house. "Who the hell lives like this?" he muttered. Then he added, "You can't dictate what I say to Smoak. If I believe she's making a bad move, I'm going to tell her."

Oliver pocketed his phone. "It's her life, and her choice. She doesn't have to justify it to you. If she's as smart you you think she is - and I think she's smarter - she'll figure out what's right for herself on her own."

Rory shook his head, but said nothing.

"Too much interference from you," Oliver added, "and you risk your own relationship with her."

Rory's jaw jutted out. "Smoak won't mind."

"Maybe. Maybe not. You've known Felicity a lot longer than I have," Oliver said evenly. "In my more limited experience, she hasn't been happy when she thinks I'm overstepping."

Rory stopped the car in front of the imposing wooden doors of the mansion. He said nothing for a moment, just looked at his hands on the steering wheel. "She's used to taking care of herself" he eventually admitted, "and calling her own shots."

Oliver nodded. "So, are you willing to risk your friendship with her over something that - if you're right about me - could blow over in a few weeks?"

Some of the stubbornness returned to Rory's face. "I don't want to see her get hurt."

"No, of course you don't. But the truth is that she's going to get involved with someone sometime. She's too exceptional for the entire male population of Star City to ignore her. If it's not me, it'll be somebody else. And she'll risk getting hurt then because there are no guarantees. It's a fact of life and relationships."

Rory didn't reply.

"Look at it this way," Oliver added. "Maybe I'll be the one who gets hurt by this whole thing. If I'm as much of a jerk as you think I am, she'll figure it out pretty quickly. I doubt she'll be gentle."

Rory's face brightened. "That's true."

A knock on the passenger side window caused both of them stop talking. Oliver turned to see Tommy peering into the car.

Oliver lowered the window. "Hey," he said in greeting.

"Hey." Tommy's gaze went to Rory and he gave Oliver an inquiring look. "Any particular reason you've been sitting in the driveway for the last ten minutes?"

"Tommy," Oliver said, "this is Detective…" He paused, realizing he didn't know Rory's last name.

"Regan," Rory filled in. "Detective Rory Regan with the SCPD."

"Right," Oliver continued. "Detective Regan, this is Tommy Merlyn - an old friend and manager for most of my properties."

Tommy and Rory exchanged nods. Then Tommy returned his gaze to Oliver. "Are you in trouble?"

Oliver shook his head. "I'm not under arrest, if that's what you're asking. At least, I think I'm not."

"But you're being driven home by the cops."

"Long story."

Tommy raised his eyebrows. "Does the long story involve you losing your phone? Because you didn't answer last night...and this morning. I was getting a little worried."

Judging from his expression, it was more than a little. Oliver sighed. "I didn't lose it. I turned it off." He paused. "And I forgot to turn it back on."

Tommy's eyebrows went higher. "You forgot to turn it back on?" he repeated. "For more than twelve hours? That's a first. It must have been a hell of a night."

Oliver pressed his lips together and didn't look at Rory. He imagined the fury a response like, sure was, would spark. After all, the detective knew who Oliver had spent the night with.

Tommy glanced between them as if sensing the tension. He gave Oliver an amused look as he continued, "Anyway, could you please call Susan? She must have rung the house four times last night when she couldn't get you on your mobile. By the last call she was sounding a little frantic. You didn't stand her up, did you?"

Susan. Great. Oliver could feel Rory's accusatory glare and knew exactly what the man was thinking. You spent last night with Felicity when you're seeing another woman? You're an even bigger ass than I thought.

"No," Oliver replied, keeping his eyes on Tommy. "I didn't stand her up."

Rory shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. "Susan," he repeated. "Susan Williams?"

Oliver nodded. "Yes."

"The political reporter."

"Yes."

"Is she a friend of Isabel Rochev's, too?"

Oliver frowned, caught short by the change in Rory's tone. He sounded professional now - like a cop.

"No," he replied. "I don't believe the two of them were friends. I think they knew each other by sight, and that was it." He turned to face Rory. The cop's brow was furrowed in concentration. He looked like he was trying to assemble the pieces of a puzzle. "Why?"

Rory hesitated, and for a second, Oliver didn't think he was going to answer. "Because Williams was in Isabel's apartment the evening she was killed," the cop said slowly. "I recovered about an hour of missing memory from Isabel's droid and there is a record of her going there around eight-thirty. She used a building maintenance key to let herself in."

Oliver pressed his fingers to his temple. "Why the hell would Susan be in Isabel's apartment? Unless..." He paused, then turned to Rory. "She's the one who planted the drugs."

Rory stared at him. "You know about that?"

"Felicity might have mentioned it," Oliver mumbled, hoping he wasn't creating another problem for her.

Rory narrowed his eyes, but before he could reply his phone chimed softly. The detective looked down at it. "Smoak just texted. Williams is also the woman our witness identified as planting the calls from a drug dealer. Smoak is on her way to see her now."

Chapter Text

Felicity was surprised when Susan Williams answered her phone personally. The woman wasn't a national reporter, but she was well-known in Star City and snagged a fair amount of television time. Felicity had assumed she'd have an assistant handle her calls and had prepared a speech to get past the intermediary. But the reporter responded herself and didn't even block video; probably, Felicity thought, because she looked pretty damn put-together for a Sunday morning. Her thick, dark hair fell in stylish waves over her shoulders, and her brown eyes were accentuated with a smoky shadow. Felicity was acutely aware of her own hasty ponytail and lack of makeup.

"Susan Williams," the reporter answered.

"Ms. Williams?" Caught off guard, Felicity scrambled for words. "My name is Detective Smoak and I'm with the SCPD. I'm investigating the death of Isabel Rochev and your name came up in the course of the investigation. I was hoping I could speak with you this morning."

"Detective Smoak?" Williams peered at her over the phone screen. "Aren't you the woman Oliver Queen was talking to at the Lucky Stars game?"

So she had been paying attention to someone other than Oliver. Felicity nodded. "Yes."

"Does he know that you're a cop?" Williams's voice was sharp.

Lady, after last night he knows a lot about me. "Yes," Felicity said again, and offered no explanation.

"I see." Williams regarded Felicity with a shrewd expression. "So, when you were talking to him at the game, was that really just a random meeting or were you talking to him as a cop? Is he a suspect in the Rochev murder?"

It was beginning to feel like the reporter was questioning her. Felicity decided to nip that in the bud. "I'm sorry, but at the moment, I'm calling to discuss your involvement in the case, not Oliver Queen's."

"My involvement? What makes you think I have any involvement at all?"

"A witness placed you at the scene of some activity that is...relevant...to Ms. Rochev's death."

"Relevant? That's a vague word. I know who Ms. Rochev is, certainly, but we didn't spend any time together. We're obviously in very different professions. I can't imagine how someone could connect her to me. This has to be a mistake." She sounded irritated but not worried.

It may well be a mistake, Felicity thought. There was a chance Ramirez's drawing, done weeks after the fake child services visit, wasn't accurate; or Felicity had seen more in the sketch than was really there. But she wasn't going to concede that without investigating.

"The quickest way to sort it out will be for me to meet with you," she said. "If everything's as you say, it shouldn't take long."

"I'm very busy. The mayor is expected to go on air tomorrow to announce changes to his administration. I've got today to preview his plan before he broadcasts to the city. It'll take me the full day to get up to speed and prepare commentary."

"A half hour, Ms. Williams, should be enough time. I can meet you wherever is most convenient."

Williams sighed. "Fine. I'm in my office at Channel Thirty-two. Why don't you come here."

"I'm on my way."


Channel Thirty-two clearly had a bigger operating budget than the SCPD. In contrast to the department's ancient furniture and dingy paint, everything about the station was new and clean. Felicity stood in front of the receptionist's desk - a large glass expanse, staffed by a well-groomed man in a crisp business suit - and asked for directions to Williams's office. After verifying her ID and giving Felicity's jeans a disdainful glance, the receptionist provided instructions. Felicity took a spotless elevator up three flights and walked through gleaming corridors to arrive at a frosted-glass door with S. Williams etched on it. She tapped on the door.

"Come in."

Williams's office was larger than Commander Diggle's and far more elegant. There was a massive wooden desk in the center (probably antique), and a pair of bookshelves lining the walls, stained in the same dark hue as the desk. The shelves contained hardcover books, a few framed photographs, and a range of memorabilia from elections and inaugurations - things Williams must have collected from the political beat.

Juxtaposed to the old-fashioned furniture were two ultra-modern televisions hung on one wall. They were muted but running, flashing footage and talking heads from a rival station and a national news syndicate. A table held three phones, and on its corner, a computer scrolled through a text feed of Star City events. The light in the office brightened and dimmed as the electronics cycled through their screens. The overall effect made the room feel like a cross between an old-fashioned library and command central for a rocket launch.

Felicity decided she liked her cubicle better, despite its miniscule size. She found the constant stimuli distracting.

Susan Williams, on the other hand, appeared comfortable with it. She was sitting at the huge desk and staring at a second computer screen, absorbed by what was presumably the mayor's upcoming announcement. Her tailored black slacks looked expensive and Felicity guessed that her form fitting black sweater was cashmere. With her talent for remembering odd facts, she recalled that one cashmere sweater required the wool undercoat of two goats to complete. So, somewhere in the world there was a pair of chilly goats.

Williams pulled her attention from the screen and turned to study Felicity.

"Detective Smoak. Hmmm. I have to say, I didn't see that one coming - you being a cop, I mean. When I saw you the other night at the hockey game I thought you were a college student."

Felicity shrugged. "I get that a lot."

"It must make it hard to do your job."

There was neither sympathy nor humor in Williams's voice. Felicity was vaguely annoyed. It was bad enough that she got crap over her age and gender from older men in the department. From another woman, even a suspect, it felt like betrayal.

She did her best not to let her irritation show. "I keep reminding myself that I'll be happy about it in a few years," she said lightly. "Looking younger than my age, I mean." She turned to the screens on the wall and examined the talking heads. "It would definitely be an asset in your profession, I imagine. They say the cameras show every little line and blemish."

The reporter narrowed her eyes and Felicity saw that the catty remark had struck its target. She guessed Williams had six or seven years on her.

Williams pressed her lips together and gave Felicity a hard stare. "You said you had information that connects me to Isabel Rochev? I'm curious to hear what it could be. I bumped into Isabel from time to time at various city events, of course, but we didn't exactly hang out together. We have nothing in common."

During the drive to Channel Thirty-two, Felicity had pondered how to broach the subject of Williams hacking Ramirez's computer. She didn't want to lead with the drawing. His ID was weak (and possibly wrong), and Williams could simply deny it. Felicity figured her best option was to come at it from an oblique angle. She remembered the way Williams had hung onto Oliver at the hockey game and went with her instincts.

"The two of you had Oliver Queen in common," she said.

There was a flicker of anger on Williams's face and then it was gone.

Gotcha.

"Not really," the reporter replied evenly. "Isabel was part of Oliver's past. I'm his present...and his future." She sounded confident.

That orgasm he gave me yesterday says different. For an instant, Felicity was tempted to utter the words aloud, just to wipe the self-assured expression off Williams's face. But that would achieve nothing.

"He went to the Arts Council fundraiser with her," she said instead. "I watched the security footage. She was on his arm for most of the night. I believe the two of them also worked together for a couple of months planning the event."

Williams tossed her head. "Only because Oliver chairs the Council and she's a spokesperson. He had to go with her, he didn't have a choice."

"Maybe." Felicity shrugged. "But Oliver admired Isabel. He told me so when I interviewed him for my investigation. He said that she had courage and discipline." He'd said some less complimentary things too, but Felicity wasn't going to mention those. "It's a pretty remarkable story," she continued, "when you think about it. Isabel left her family and a top position with a dance company in Russia to come to this country on her own and start over."

Williams's face darkened. "It's not all that courageous. This is the twenty-first century and Russia is a few hours away by plane. It's not like she crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower."

Felicity was about to reply, but felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. She pulled it out. There was a short text from Rory, a response to the one she'd sent him earlier: Droid shows Williams in Rochev's apartment the night she died.

Well, holy shit - that erased any doubts. Susan Williams had planted the drug evidence. She also must have leaked information to the Post-Gazette to tarnish Isabel's reputation. Felicity just needed to get Williams to admit to it. Then they could talk about who she was helping.

"Something interesting?"

Felicity looked up quickly. Williams was watching her with a canny smile.

"A piece of new information," she replied casually, keeping the excitement out of her voice. Still have to play this carefully. She cleared her throat. "Getting back to Ms. Rochev. She certainly worked hard to stay at the top of her profession. We found her records. She trained for hours and never skipped a day, even at a time when she could have rested on her reputation. I think that's what Oliver Queen meant when he talked about admiring her discipline."

Williams shrugged. "For an astute businessman, Oliver can be a little naive. Isabel did more than train to hold onto her position at the ballet, believe me."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"Seriously? Have you been investigating her at all?" Williams's lip curled. "The rumor I heard was that Isabel used chemical help - illegal chemical help - to stay fit. I thought even the police would have uncovered that by now."

Even the police? Careful, Ms. Williams, your contempt is showing.

Felicity assumed a puzzled expression. "Do you mean drugs? I spoke to a number of people at the Ballet - other dancers, choreographers, teachers. I spoke with her uncle. I never heard a word about Isabel using drugs, and some of the people I spoke with didn't like her very much."

Williams raised her eyebrows. "Really. And on her electronics? I assume the police bothered to look at those?"

"Of course we looked at them." Felicity didn't offer anything further.

"And you're saying you found nothing?"

Felicity gave an indifferent shrug. "I found a few calls from a former drug dealer on her phone, but it turns out they were planted. It was a misdirection."

Williams opened her mouth and then closed it. Weren't expecting that, were you, Susan.

Still, the reporter collected herself quickly. "How could you know they were planted?"

"I worked Digital Evidence before I came to Homicide and I'm pretty good at electronic forensics. I found malware planted on the former dealer's computer, giving someone the ability to access his phone account. Easy to fake the calls after that."

Williams pressed her lips together.

"Their first mistake," Felicity continued, "was in the choice of drug dealer. They picked a man who had a police record but had been out of the business for a decade. He hasn't had so much as a parking ticket in years. That raised a few red flags."

"Do tell."

"Their second mistake was that their computer skills were decent but not exceptional. In fact, they had to go in person to plant the malware on the former dealer's computer because they couldn't do it remotely. After that, it looks like the dealer's account was accessed from a public computer in a local coffee house."

Williams yawned. "This is all very intriguing, Detective, but I still don't understand what it has to do with me."

Felicity reached into her pocket and pulled out the drawing. "I have a sketch of the woman who planted the malware. Do you want to see it?"

"Do I have a choice?"

Felicity smiled. "It will only take a moment." Without waiting for a response, she unfolded the drawing.

Williams gave it a cursory glance. "Am I supposed to recognize her?"

"Yes, assuming you use a mirror. It's you, Ms. Williams."

"Me? That's a joke."

"I don't think so. I think you put on a wig and altered your eye color, then went to the dealer's apartment pretending to be from child services. You made up a story about your tablet not working and planted the malware on Ramirez's machine."

Williams laughed. "I think the SCPD needs to put a grownup in charge of Ms. Rochev's murder investigation. This is utter bullshit."

Felicity shook her head. "No, it's not. In the course of this investigation I've interviewed more than twenty people who knew Isabel in some capacity. Not one has mentioned any suspicion of her using drugs. You're the only one. You wanted to make sure the police knew about it. Hell, you wanted to make sure the city knew about it. Who better to leak a story to the Post-Gazette than a reporter?"

"That's pretty thin evidence."

"Maybe. But the pieces start to add up. The coffee house with the public computer used to access Ramirez's phone account? It's not far from your office and it's a popular hang out for Channel Thirty-two employees. I stopped by on my way here. The barista says you're a regular."

"So, I like coffee."

"Then there's the vial of Zoomer we found in Isabel's apartment. It didn't have her fingerprints on it. It's hard to imagine why she would go to such lengths to keep her prints off it once the vial was in her home. After all, she could hardly expect the police to search her place."

Williams waved one hand. "Now you've just lost me, Detective. You don't understand how Isabel handled her drugs so therefore I'm responsible?"

"And finally, there's Isabel's droid," Felicity said, leaving the best for last. "It has an hour of missing memory for the night she was killed. SCPD was able to recover that memory. It shows that you were in her apartment, Ms. Williams. I assume you went there to plant the Zoomer."

There was a long silence as Williams stared at her. Then she said, "You're bluffing."

"We can go down to headquarters now, Ms. Williams, and look at the droid's data together." At least, I hope we can, after I call Rory.

Williams glanced away.

"You can keep denying it, of course," Felicity went on, "until I show you the proof. Or you can admit to planting the evidence now and work with me to locate the New Archer. It's clear the two of you have been in communication. You had to coordinate with him to get Isabel to the Glades on the night she was killed. Your cooperation could be the difference between being charged as an accessory or an accomplice. I'm sure you know that the penalties for being an accessory are less severe."

Williams continued looking away and bit her lip. Felicity waited. In the silence, the television screens continued to display their talking heads.

Williams inhaled. "I've never seen the Archer in person," she finally said. "I'm not sure I could help you find him."

Hallelujah. Felicity nodded reassuringly. "You could start by telling me everything you know about him. How does he contact you? What made him contact you in the first place?"

"I-" Williams hesitated and glanced around her office. "I'd rather not talk about it here. A news station is never quiet, even on a Sunday. Anyone could walk in. I want to report the news. I don't want to be in it."

Felicity paused. It was true there was a lot of activity at the station. "Okay," she said. "Where would you prefer to talk?"

"There's a sandwich shop three or four miles from here. It's too far to walk to, so no one goes there for lunch. We should have privacy."

"Fine."

"I'll drive," Williams offered, and began gathering papers and stuffing them into file folders. "My car is in the underground garage. With my keycard, we can take the elevator straight down." She slid the folders into a messenger bag.

A tiny alarm bell went off in Felicity's brain. Going to an underground garage with a woman who had ties to a murderer didn't sound like a great idea. What if the New Archer was nearby? Still, Williams hadn't been able to call or signal anyone. And Felicity's car was also in the garage, so she was going to have to go down there anyway.

"Fine," Felicity said again. "Let's go." After all, she had a stunner holstered to her hip.

"All right." Williams slid her arms into a black, leather jacket and picked up the messenger bag.

Felicity followed her out of the office and onto the elevator.


Oliver stared at Detective Rory Regan, his mind reeling. Susan had planted the evidence pointing to Isabel's drug use? Susan had helped lure Isabel to her death in the Glades. Susan? In the few months he'd been seeing her, she had rarely mentioned Isabel. Why the hell would she want to help kill her?

They were still sitting in front of his mansion in the detective's car. He turned to the passenger window and looked up at Tommy. Tommy appeared as confused as he felt.

"Are you planning on getting out anytime soon?" Rory said tersely. "It may be a day off for you, Mr. Queen, but I'm on the clock. I've got work to do."

Oliver didn't reply and he didn't move. Something was bothering him - something more than the news that Susan was involved in Isabel's death. Some piece of information he'd heard weeks ago and filed away as little more than an amusing fact. Something that now, suddenly, seemed important.

"Look," Rory continued, "I get that you're upset. Your girlfriend may be an accessory to murder but-"

"I think she may be more than an accessory," Oliver interrupted, not bothering to correct Rory on his use of girlfriend.

The cop frowned. "What do you mean?"

Oliver replayed the old conversation in his mind, the pieces falling into place. "Susan grew up in rural Wisconsin. I remember her telling me that her entire family hunts. You know, deer, elk, whatever the hell it is they chase around in the woods."

"Hunts," Rory repeated. "As in, bow hunts?"

"I don't know." Oliver closed his eyes briefly. "To be honest, I didn't pay much attention when she talked about it. I'm a city kid. I'm happy to have my meat delivered in plastic wrapping. I just remember her telling me a story about taking down a buck, and being pretty enthusiastic about it." He looked up at Tommy again. "Do you remember Susan saying what they used for hunting?"

Tommy shook his head. "Susan and I aren't exactly besties, Oliver. But a bow is certainly possible. You have to go through a lot more wickets to buy a rifle nowadays. And with firearms, you assume full liability in the case of an accident."

"Shit." Oliver pressed his fingers to his temples.

"Let me get this straight," Rory interjected, looking at Oliver. "You think Susan Williams might not be the accessory to the Archer. You think she is the Archer?"

"I think there's a good chance she is," Oliver replied. "The archer that shot at us yesterday wore a long coat with a hood. We didn't see a face. It could have been a woman. And Susan is tall. She's about five-nine."

The cop clenched his fists. "And Smoak doesn't know about the hunting."

"No."

"And she's meeting with Williams right now."

"You said that's what she texted."

"Fuck." Rory jabbed at the screen of his phone and raised it to his ear. From where he was sitting, Oliver could faintly hear the voicemail kick in: This is Felicity Smoak. I can't take your call right now but please leave a message and I'll-

Rory jabbed again and said, "This is Rory. It's urgent. We think Williams could be the Archer. Call me." He hung up and Oliver watched him text a similar message, ending with: Call me now. The cop's phone remained silent.

Rory turned to Oliver. "Call Williams."

Good idea. Oliver nodded, putting his phone on speaker. Susan's phone rang twice before stopping abruptly; no answer, no voicemail.

"Shit." Rory said. "The woman tried to reach you all night, and now she's not picking up when you call? That can't be good."

No, Oliver thought, it's not. He could feel his heart accelerating. "I think Susan has turned her phone off. Can you trace the location of Felicity's phone?"

"I should be able to." Rory tapped an app on his device and stared at it. Then he tapped again. "Christ. The signal is giving me a one block area in the business district. It's not getting closer than that."

"Susan's office," Oliver said. "Channel Thirty-two. It's in the business district."

"Right. I'm on my way. Get out of the car."

Oliver didn't move. "I'm going with you."

Rory narrowed his eyes. "No way. I'm not bringing a civilian into a dangerous situation. You'll be a distraction."

"I can help. I know the layout of Susan's building. I know where she parks her car."

"Good. You can tell me now."

"It'll take too long. Drive."

"Not til you get out of the car." When Oliver still didn't move, Rory raised his hands in frustration and dropped them on the steering wheel. The movement lifted the hem of his jacket, exposing his weapon. It was the same police stunner that Felicity carried and it was useless, Oliver knew, against the Archer. He and Felicity had discovered that yesterday.

He opened the car door.

"What the hell are you doing?" Rory asked.

"Getting out. Isn't that what you wanted me to do?"

"Yes. Except I have the feeling you're going to go off and do something on your own. Something stupid."

Maybe Rory was shrewder than he looked. He was right about Oliver doing something on his own. How stupid it was remained to be seen.

"I can arrest you for obstruction," Rory said, as Oliver stepped out of the car. "Whatever you're about to do, I can arrest you for it."

"Yes. You can do that - after we both know Felicity is safe."

Rory pressed his lips together and squeezed the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white. "Fuck it," he said shortly. "You better not do something that gets her killed, Queen. If you do, I'll do more than arrest you."

And without waiting for Oliver's reply, he started the car and sped down the driveway.

Chapter Text

Oliver sprinted toward his house, fear driving strength into legs that felt heavy after a night of little sleep. He heard Tommy yell, "What are you doing?" from somewhere behind him, but didn't stop to answer. The thought of getting to Felicity a minute too late propelled him. She's brilliant, he told himself. She might be outgunned, but she's got the edge in intelligence. Still, he knew that at some point physics would triumph. No matter how smart Felicity was, she couldn't think away a well-aimed arrow.

He raced through the front door and down the hall to the basement stairs, then descended into the cool space under the house. He knew exactly where it was, even though he hadn't looked at it in years. He saw too many reminders every day to forget about its existence; his grandfather's photo, the money he hid from QC's books to the pay the Bratva, his sister's empty room in the mansion. They were all souvenirs from the Star City Archer.

The trunk was half-hidden behind a cluster of furniture covered in white sheets. He ran to it and flung open the lid, dispersing a layer of dust into the air. And there it was; Jonas's legacy. He stared at it for a few seconds before reaching in and picking up the bow. It was unstrung, of course, because that was the proper way to store a bow when you weren't going to use it for a long time. His grandfather had pounded that into his ten-year-old head every time he took him shooting. Those archery lessons were another part of Jonas Queen's legacy.

"Straighten that left arm, Oliver, but don't lock the elbow."

"It is straight, Grandpa."

"It could be straighter. Look at my position."

Oliver gave his grandfather cursory glance and barely resisted rolling his eyes. In his opinion, Grandpa looked ridiculous. A slightly stooped, grey-haired man holding a weapon that was too archaic to use in movies or video games. He didn't understand why they had to waste time on this. His friends didn't. Their grandfathers just took them out for ice cream.

"Am I sensing some attitude from you, young man?"

Oliver wasn't going to back down. "I don't like this. It's boring. I don't understand why I have to do it."

"I told you, Oliver. It's good to have a serious hobby, especially when it's time for college applications. I got into California State because I was competing at the national level in archery."

College? At the age of ten, Oliver considered college to be a million years away.

"Don't you like doing things with your grandpa?" Jonas continued. "There's a lot of boys who don't get to see their grandparents more than a couple of times a year. You and me, we get to do this twice a week."

Oh, to be like other boys, Oliver thought. Just once. To be picked up after school by a parent instead of a chauffeur. To have pizza delivered to the door. To go to the skateboard park without a bodyguard lurking nearby.

As if he could read Oliver's mind, Grandpa rested a hand on his shoulder. "I promise, when you make three bullseyes from twenty-five yards, we'll stop and you can call Tommy."

"Really?"

"Really."

That seemed fair. Oliver nodded. "Okay."

"Good. Now raise the bow. Three fingers on the string. Draw back under your chin."

Oliver did as commanded, then let the arrow fly. It wasn't a bad shot, about four inches off the center of the target. Not good enough to qualify as a bullseye though.

"You're thinking too much, Oliver. Don't hesitate so long. Make it one, fluid motion. Raise the bow, draw the string, aim and fire."

To demonstrate, Jonas Queen lifted his bow and shot an arrow. The entire motion took less than a second, and the arrow struck right into the middle of the bullseye - not in the twenty-five yard target that Oliver was aiming for, but in the target fifty yards away.

"You make it look easy, Grandpa."

"It is easy. All it takes is practice."

It wasn't until a dozen years later that Oliver understood how much practice Jonas had really had with the bow. Not until Anatoly and the Bratva told him about the Star City Archer and Jonas's bargain.

Oliver sifted through the contents of the trunk and pulled out the bow stringer. Then he grabbed several strings. They were old, but his grandfather hadn't been so traditional that he'd refused to use man-made materials that wouldn't dry out. The strings appeared serviceable - strong and flexible. Good enough, Oliver thought. If he couldn't get the job done in two or three shots, then he and Felicity would probably both be dead.

He began stringing the bow. Oliver had quit practicing archery when he was fourteen, the day his grandfather died. His heart was pounding now and his hands weren't steady; still, the steps for stringing came back to him as easily as if he were tying his shoe. Muscle memory. He wondered if shooting an arrow would be just as easy. Then he wondered what it would be like to aim at a human being and not a target.

"What the hell are you doing?"

Oliver turned to see Tommy watching him. He didn't reply; just finished stringing the bow and then began collecting arrows from the trunk. He saw that most of them were damaged, with broken or missing feathers. Shit. He discarded those, knowing they wouldn't fly straight, then searched desperately for more.

"Fine," Tommy said. "I'll answer my own question since you're not talking. It looks like you're going after Susan with your grandfather's bow."

Oliver located another set of arrows. "Very good, Tommy. Got it in one."

"Why?"

"Why the fuck do you think? Felicity has gone to see Susan with no idea that she's the Archer. She's walking into a trap. And before you tell me that she's a cop and can handle it, I know for certain that her weapon is damn near useless against a bow and arrow. It doesn't have the range. We found that out yesterday."

"What? How?"

"Felicity and I ran into the New Archer in the Glades. I fired her police stunner and the stream didn't go much farther than fifteen yards." He picked through the arrows and found a number that were undamaged. Eight arrows. Should be enough.

Tommy's brow furrowed. "You ran into the Archer? So, what did you do? You're standing here; clearly the two of you managed to get away."

Oliver gave a bitter laugh. "We ran, that's what we did. And we didn't get away entirely. I was shot in the back - it's why I didn't come home yesterday. We went to Felicity's place to take care of it and I stayed the night."

"The Archer shot...you?" Tommy's eyes widened. "How badly are you hurt?"

Oliver waved a hand. "I was hit in the shoulder blade but it wasn't deep. It hurts, that's all. I'll get over it."

Tommy shook his head. "That doesn't make sense. If Susan is the Archer, then she knows she shot you. Why has she been calling?"

"I don't think she intended to hit me. I think she was aiming at Felicity and I got in the way. She wants to know how badly she's wounded me." Oliver resumed digging through the trunk. The quiver's got to be in here, too. He located it at the bottom.

"This is a bad idea," Tommy said, all traces of his usual sarcasm gone. "I understand that you're attracted to your cop and you want to help her. But if she sees you firing arrows, even to save her life, it's going to lead to a long list of questions. And I don't think she'll like the answers. You'll lose her anyway."

"Maybe," Oliver agreed tersely, putting the arrows into the quiver. "But at least she'll be alive. And she already knows about Jonas and the deal with the Bratva. I told her last night."

"You...what?" Tommy sank limply in one of the sheet-covered chairs.

"I told her."

"Everything?"

"Pretty much."

Tommy ran his hand over his face. "Are you nuts? You confessed to doing something illegal - to a cop?"

"We...um," Oliver hesitated. "We got close yesterday."

"You slept with her," Tommy stated matter-of-factly.

"Yes. And I know you'll mock me for saying this, but it was special. I think I'm in love with her. I remembered what you said about trying to have a relationship when I wasn't being completely honest. So, I told her."

"Great," Tommy muttered. "This is the thing you choose to listen to me about?"

Oliver clenched his jaw. "I've got to go now, Tommy. We can talk about it later." He started for the stairs but then paused. Returning to the trunk, he pulled out Jonas's green leather jacket and shrugged it on. The fit was better than he expected. Jonas had been tall, too. He pulled the hood over his head and slung the quiver across his back.

Tommy put up a hand as if to stop him. "Oliver-"

"I'll see you soon, Tommy."

He ran up the steps and headed for the garage. Two minutes later, he was racing down the drive on his motorcycle.


Felicity stepped into Channel Thirty-two's spotless elevator with Susan Williams at her side.

"I get the feeling you don't like me," Williams said, as they descended toward the underground parking.

Seriously? We're having this conversation? Felicity nearly rolled her eyes. "I'm a cop. And you just confessed to being an accessory to murder. What did you expect? Flowers and stuffed bunny rabbits?"

Williams shook her head, an amused smile on her face. Now that she'd owned up to her role in Isabel's death, she seemed reconciled to what came next. "No," she said mildly. "But I think this is about more than your case. I think this is personal."

Felicity thought about Ramirez; about the way he'd looked at his daughter and his fear that she would be taken away from him. It still made her blood boil. "Your stunt could have ruined a man's life," she said. "Ramirez has his act together. He's doing nothing to hurt people and he's got a kid. Don't you have any remorse about setting him up?"

The elevator stopped with a ding. "Not a lot," Williams conceded, as the door slid open. "I'll admit, I didn't know he was on the straight and narrow when I planted the calls. As you said earlier, it was a mistake on my part. But he was a criminal once. I assume he'll be a criminal again when he faces a setback in life. It's what typically happens."

Holy shit, Felicity thought. You're worse than I imagined. What on earth did Oliver see in you?

They stepped out of the elevator.

"It's why I admire the Star City Archer," Williams continued. "He did what needed to be done. He didn't get hung up on the details." She pointed to a shiny black sedan a couple of rows away. "That's mine. The Mercedes."

Figures.

They began walking toward the car.

"But, back to my original point, I still think your dislike is about more than the case," Williams said. As they reached the sedan, she added, "Hang on while I stick my messenger bag in the trunk."

Felicity stepped to the passenger door and looked toward the rear of the Mercedes as Williams flipped open the lid. The shiny surface of the car rose, obscuring the reporter's body. There wasn't a spec of dirt on it. Felicity wondered if Williams got it washed every day.

The reporter tugged the bag off her shoulder and dropped it into the trunk. "I think," she went on, "that this is about Oliver."

On the word, Oliver, there was a change in Williams's voice. It was subtle, but there was an injection of anger that triggered Felicity's cop reflexes. She instinctively reached for her weapon and saw, when the reporter stepped away from the trunk, that Williams was holding a bow. And in the fraction of a second it took Felicity to put the story together, Williams nocked an arrow.

Oh fuck. She's the New Archer.

Felicity didn't hesitate. She yanked her stunner out of the holster and fired. But Williams didn't hesitate either. She darted back behind the cover of the raised trunk lid just as Felicity squeezed the trigger. The stream from the weapon caught the edge of the reporter's hip, causing her to gasp and stumble. But she didn't go down. Instead, there was the sound of the bow creaking as Williams drew back the string.

Exposed, Felicity crouched and flung her body toward the car next to Williams's, rolling underneath it and scrambling to come out the other side. She hunkered down next to the vehicle, using it as a shield. Then she pulled her phone out of her pocket and jabbed the screen to call SCPD Dispatch. To her dismay, nothing happened.

"Are you trying to phone for backup?" Williams said in a tight voice. The shot to the hip hadn't disabled her, but Felicity could tell that it was causing her pain. "We're three stories below ground here. Cell reception is pretty poor."

Felicity didn't reply. She noted a text from Rory that had come in earlier: We think Williams is the Archer.

No kidding.

Felicity shoved the phone back in her pocket and considered her options. At the moment their situation was a stalemate, with neither woman having a good angle for a shot. But they couldn't stay crouched behind their cars forever. Someone was going to have to make a move, and Felicity was damned if she was going to allow Williams to be the one to walk out of here. It was her duty to take the woman into custody.

She counted to three in her head, then stood and fired a stream over the top of the car at the reporter, trying to force Williams to move out from behind the sedan. The stream bounced uselessly off the lid of the Mercedes' trunk and Williams stayed put.

Fuck.

She ducked back down.

Get her talking, Felicity told herself. Distract her, upset her; anything to get her to move.

She pressed her lips together, considering Williams's weak spots. Then she called out, "Why do you think this is about Oliver?"

From behind the trunk of the Mercedes, Williams laughed harshly. "I'm not stupid, Detective. I saw the two of you holding hands at the hockey game. Hell, Inside Star City posted the picture for all the world to see. Oliver looked...mesmerized." She paused and her voice hardened. "I won't be made a fool of. Oliver doesn't always know what's good for him, but he's going to see that he and I are meant for each other. We make sense. I can be a true partner to him; something the Rochev bitch couldn't be - and something you can't be either. What have you got to offer him?"

Oh, for God's sake. "Are you kidding me?" Felicity said the words aloud. "That's what this is about? You killed a woman because you thought she was stealing your boyfriend? That's a cheap motive."

Williams didn't respond, but Felicity could swear that the silence felt angrier.

"And all in the hope that Oliver was eventually going to see that the two of you were meant for each other?" she continued, putting derisive emphasis on the word, eventually. "What were you going to do until he decided you were the one - if he ever decided that? Kill each woman he went out with?"

"Don't try to manipulate me, Detective," Williams replied. "Of course I wasn't going to kill everyone. Most women understood - like McKenna Hall. When he stopped seeing her she let him go gracefully. But Isabel didn't get it. She kept after him. So, she had to be dealt with. And he had to see that she was no good."

You're bonkers, lady. Why don't you step out from behind that car and we'll get you the help you need.

"And what's your excuse for shooting at me?" Felicity asked. "It's not like I pursued Oliver. I only met the man a few days ago."

"That's true," Williams agreed, her voice beginning to sound shrill, "you didn't pursue him. But he pursued you. When he saw you at the hockey game, he didn't want to sleep with me that night. He brushed me off as if the past few months hadn't happened. I always assumed Oliver appreciated women who are elegant and successful. But apparently a cop who grew up without a family and wears clothes off the bargain rack appeals to him."

For a second Felicity felt her own anger rising. Then she swallowed it. "How do you know I grew up without a family?"

Williams laughed again. "McKenna Hall, of course. For a woman who owns a security business, she can have a very loose tongue. I had coffee with her yesterday morning and showed her Inside Star City. She knew exactly who you are and told me all about your career with the SCPD. She also told me that you live in the Glades."

Which explained, Felicity thought, why they'd encountered Williams in the alley near her apartment. She recalled her various theories when she was trying to construct the story of Isabel's murder; the drug deal, the Bratva, even revenge against Anatoly. And instead it simply came down to a jealous woman.

Jesus.

A jealous woman who still hadn't moved from behind the Mercedes. Felicity was going to have to push harder.

"You have to know that you've lost Oliver now," she called out. "You have no chance with him. You shot him in the back."

There was a pause. "Was he badly hurt?" Williams asked, her voice suddenly softer.

"He'll recover. But he'll never forgive you."

Another pause. Then Williams said, all softness gone, "Oh, I don't know. If I kill you, he doesn't need to know who shot him."

"He already knows," Felicity lied. "He spent the night at my apartment and I told him before I came here. He's mine now, Susan. You've lost."

"You bitch!" And with a shriek, Williams moved.


For the second time in as many days, Oliver twisted the throttle of his motorcycle to speed through the streets of Star City. The Ducati had a little less power than the BMW but it was light and agile, allowing him to maneuver easily through the sparse traffic. He noted Rory's car as he passed it on the way to channel Thirty-two and wondered if the cop recognized him.

One of us is going to get there quickly, Detective.

He decided to head for the underground parking. He knew from experience that phone reception was lousy down at Susan's level, and it seemed a logical place to search since calls to the reporter and to Felicity hadn't gone through. He turned off the street to fly through the gates, then took the winding ramp down two flights before stopping. Leaving the bike, he used the stairs to descend one more level. Then he cautiously cracked open the door.

He heard Susan's voice immediately.

"I always assumed Oliver appreciated women who are elegant and successful. But apparently a cop who grew up without a family and wears clothes off the bargain rack appeals to him." She sounded angry and a little out of control.

And to his relief, he heard Felicity answer, "How do you know I grew up without a family?"

She's alive. And she sounds steady - not injured. Oh, thank God.

He opened the door wider and peered cautiously into the garage. He couldn't see either woman from his location, so he tugged the hood to Jonas's jacket more securely over his head and stepped out among the parked cars. Keeping his bow in his left hand, he crouched and began moving in the direction of the voices. For a moment he wondered if this was going to be like Felicity's meeting with Anatoly - where he'd raced to get to her in a panic only to discover that everything was fine. As he listened, however, it was clear that the detective was very much in danger. Both women were tense, and Susan sounded angry and a little unhinged. It was evident that Felicity was pushing her, provoking the reporter using his name. Oliver knew from childhood experience that you could be angry and still shoot an arrow.

He continued to approach, his rubber-soled shoes silent on the concrete. And then he spotted them; each taking cover behind a car, separated by less than twenty feet. Susan was holding her bow with an arrow already nocked. Felicity was hunkered down next to her car, her stunner in her hand. Neither one of them noticed him.

"He's mine now, Susan. You've lost."

"You bitch!"

And Susan was moving out from behind her car, beginning to raise the bow. Oliver didn't try to analyze the geometry to determine whether Felicity could shoot Susan before Susan shot her. There was too much at stake to take the time. He straightened up and bellowed, "Stop!"

And to his amazement, it worked. Both women turned and looked in his direction.

Susan spoke first. "You?" She sounded confused. "But you're dead. I researched you...you've been gone for decades."

She thinks I'm the Star City Archer. Oliver had no idea if she was delusional or merely overcome by the situation. But if she truly believed he was the Archer, he could use that.

"I've been away because I wasn't needed," he replied, deepening his voice. "But I'm back now because someone has been killing in my name. You've been killing in my name. It needs to stop."

Susan shook her head. "No - you can't be him. It's not possible." But she seemed uncertain.

Out of the corner of his eye, Oliver saw Felicity edging slowly around her parked car, trying to get behind Susan. He fought to keep the reporter's attention on him.

"You said you researched the Archer. Isn't this his bow?" He raised it.

Susan stared and nodded slowly. "Yes."

"And his jacket?"

"Yes. Are you his son?" she whispered.

Close enough. "I'm his legacy," he replied. "A legacy you're tarnishing by using a bow to kill."

"No...no...I'm honoring the legacy," Susan said, her voice almost plaintive. "Isabel Rochev was a criminal. She used drugs. She needed to be taken care of."

Felicity was still moving. Oliver made himself keep looking at Susan; made himself keep talking.

"If Isabel hurt anyone," he stated in a firm voice, "she hurt herself with her drug use. And she did a lot for the city. She did not deserve to die."

"'She did a lot for the city?'" Susan repeated, flinching as if he had hit her. She narrowed her eyes. "Who the hell are you? You can't be related to the Archer. He would know that she had to die. You're a fake." She raised her bow, drawing back the string. Oliver inhaled deeply and lifted his own weapon.

And then the bow clattered out of Susan's hand and she dropped to the ground, unconscious.

Keeping her stunner raised, Felicity walked up to Susan and knelt beside her to check her pulse. "She'll be all right," she said calmly. "Heartbeat is steady. I used just enough juice to knock her out. She'll feel like she's got a horrible hangover when she comes to, but that'll be it." She returned her weapon to its holster and pulled a pair of handcuffs off her belt. "You took a hell of a chance, Oliver."

"You knew it was me?"

She grinned as she cuffed Susan's hands behind her back. "With that jaw poking out from under the hood? Who else could it be?" Then she shrugged as she stood up. "Plus, you're still wearing the same jeans and shoes that you had on at my place."

He pushed the hood off his head, relief making his hand shake a little. "You took a hell of a chance yourself, provoking her like that."

"I needed to make something happen. I was worried an innocent bystander was going to come along and get caught in the crossfire." She lifted her chin. "When did you figure it out?"

"That Susan is the New Archer?" When she nodded, he continued, "Your pal Rory told me that Isabel's droid has footage of Susan planting the drugs in her apartment. I remembered Susan's story about hunting with her family and we put two and two together."

"We? Meaning you and Rory?"

"Yes."

"So where is he?"

"Oh, he's on his way. He insisted that I get out of his car and let him handle it on his own - so I did. I passed him on the way here."

To his surprise, she gave a light chuckle.

"You're not angry?" he asked.

"I probably will be later -- and I'm going to have a few questions for you.  At the moment, I'm happy to have caught Isabel's killer." She looked down at Susan and shook her head. "All my fancy theories about why Isabel was murdered, and in the end it was a jealous woman hoping to get rid of the competition. She thought Isabel was trying to get you back."

He shook his head. "Isabel never had me in the first place." When she didn't reply, he added, "You, on the other hand..."

There was a long pause. She lifted her eyebrows. "Yes?"

"I heard what you said a few minutes ago. I know you were trying to get Susan to react, but I thought there might have been a grain of truth when you told Susan that I was yours."

She stared at him, her cheeks slightly pink. "I wouldn't read too much into it, Oliver. Like you said, I was trying to get Williams to react."

He tilted his head to the side. "C'mon, Felicity. We told each other we'd be honest, remember? That goes for you as well as for me. Are you really going to stand there and say that you feel nothing for me?"

She pressed her lips together as if trying to keep the words from escaping. Then the corners of her mouth lifted slightly. "Fine. I'll admit that I like you, Oliver. You're not the rich, entitled jerk that I thought you would be."

"Thank you. I'll try not to let such high praise go to my head."

"You're also good in bed," she added, glancing briefly away before meeting his eyes once more. "Very good."

"You should try me when I don't have an arrow wound."

She blushed and said nothing. He hoped that meant she was thinking about taking him up on the offer. After a moment, he asked, "So, what now?"

"Now?" She waved a hand. "Now I suggest you get out of here before Rory arrives and sees you in that getup. He would be mad enough that you beat him here. I don't think you want to explain why you have the Star City Archer's jacket and bow."

"Good point. What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to take Williams to headquarters." She glanced down at the motionless reporter. "We'll have a doctor check her out, then I'll see if I can get her to formally confess to Isabel's murder after she's been Mirandized and is in interrogation. That should make the DA's office very happy - save them the work of a long, drawn-out trial."

"Can I help?" He knew he shouldn't have offered, but he couldn't help himself.

She opened her mouth to say, no, but then paused. He almost smiled when her forehead developed the little furrow that told him she was weighing a decision.

"Yes," she said slowly, "I think you might be able to help with the confession. Go home and change. It's going to take me a couple of hours to clear her through medical and call the DA. Can you plan to meet me at SCPD headquarters then?"

"Sure." He was so surprised he would have agreed to almost anything.

"Thanks."

"No problem."

He reluctantly turned to go, pulling the hood back up over his head. He was almost to the stairwell when he heard her say, "Oliver?"

He spun around to face her eagerly. "Yes?"

"Did you remember to lock your motorcycle this time?"

Chapter Text

Felicity hoped she wasn't blushing as she walked Susan Williams toward the interview rooms in SCPD headquarters. Normally, HQ was half empty on Sunday. Cops not assigned to patrol had the day off and the building was staffed with a light crew intended chiefly for emergencies. Today, however, the place was bustling like a regular work day. News that Felicity had made an arrest in the Rochev murder had gotten out and cops had invented reasons to come in. Both uniform and plain clothes officers stared as she escorted Star City's political reporter down the hall, curiosity etched on their faces.

Felicity hated being on display and had asked Rory to take Williams to interview. He'd declined - firmly.

"It's your arrest, Smoak. You're doing the interview; you get to walk the perp."

"Rory-"

He shook his head. "Your arrest," he repeated. "And you faced a killer making it. Most cops would be proud. Take the credit."

And so Felicity led Susan Williams to Interview Room Four, feeling a little like the main attraction in a circus.

As expected, Williams had suffered no lasting damage from Felicity's stunner. She moved stiffly, but Felicity was sure that was as much from wounded pride as from the jolt to her body. Like many criminals, she considered herself smarter than the police and was shocked and indignant to have been caught. Still, the reporter appeared to be regaining her composure. She didn't acknowledge the stares, and she gave a small sneer as Felicity seated her at the table in the interview room.

"I won't talk without my lawyer present."

Felicity shrugged. "That's fine. You can stay here until they arrive."

Without waiting for a response, the detective left the room, closing the door behind her. She started as she nearly ran into Diggle, standing just outside in the hall. He was wearing jeans and a polo shirt, one of the rare times she'd seen him in casual clothing. She wondered if he'd left a Sunday cookout or other family event to come in. He was an imposing figure, even in his weekend attire. His arms were huge and his expression was serious.

"Smoak," he greeted her. "I have to say, I'm surprised. After all our theories about drug dealers and the Bratva, you end up arresting a political reporter. You're certain the story adds up? This could be embarrassing if we've made a mistake."

She appreciated the fact that he said we and not you. She nodded. "I'm certain. Isabel's droid has video evidence of Williams planting drugs in her apartment. And we're confident the arrows we took from Williams's car will match the one used to kill Isabel. It should stand up in court."

"Very good. Why did she do it?"

Felicity sighed and shook her head. "She believed Isabel was stealing her boyfriend." When he raised his eyebrows she added, "Tawdry, I know, but there you are."

"And the boyfriend is-?"

"Oliver Queen."

Diggle gave a dry laugh. "Figures."

Felicity swallowed. She wished the commander didn't seem so determined to think the worst of Oliver. "Sir - I asked him to come here for the interview."

"Queen?"

"Yes."

"Why on earth did you do that?"

She wet her lips. "I think he can help. He's Williams's motive, after all." When Diggle gave her a doubtful look, she continued, "During apprehension, Williams confessed to killing Isabel. I provoked her, using Oliver's name, and she got angry enough to slip up. She's calmed down now and she's walked back the confession. But I think with the right bait, I can get her to confess again- on the record. It would save us taking it to trial."

"And you want to use Queen as that bait."

"Yes."

"Hmmm." Diggle rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "He's on board with it?"

"Yes," she said again, hoping that was a true statement. She hadn't told Oliver what she wanted him to do.

The commander nodded. "Very well." He glanced toward the group of people observing Williams through the one way window to the interview room. "Of course, if you get her to confess you're going to deprive that man of his day in court."

Felicity narrowed her eyes as she recognized the man Diggle was talking about. He was studying Williams with a gleam in his eye, and he wasn't wearing weekend clothes. He was dressed in an expensive suit, with a perfect haircut and skin that nearly glowed from regular facials.

She frowned. "Why is Chase here?"

"Adrian Chase?" Diggle gave her a curious smile. "He's the DA. Why shouldn't he be here?"

"I've never met him in person. His assistants always handle my cases."

"Ahh." Diggle smiled again, this time in understanding. "You solved a celebrity murder, Smoak. It's going to make the news. Chase isn't going to let an assistant handle this one."

His voice was even, but Felicity thought she detected a hint of something that sounded like contempt. She was relieved, because Chase had always prompted a similar reaction in her and she found it reassuring to know that Diggle saw him the same way. The DA was a popular figure in the city; attractive, charismatic, and with an excellent conviction record. Still, there was something about him that rubbed her the wrong way. Maybe it was because he was a little too polished, a little too perfect. Or maybe it was because he wore his ambitions a little too openly. Most cops in the department assumed Chase had his sights set on the mayor's office.

Chase turned and saw her.

"Felicity Smoak?" he said, walking over. "Diggle's rising star. Why haven't we met before?" He shook her hand, holding it longer than was necessary.

Because my cases haven't been high profile enough for you.

She caught the stern look on the commander's face and replied neutrally, "I guess our paths just haven't crossed, Mr. Chase."

"Please. Call me Adrian."

She gave a small nod. "Adrian."

Chase smiled. "I'm surprised they haven't. I've heard good things about you. Degree from MIT, quick promotion to detective, solid arrest record. No one told me how attractive you are, though."

Really? We're going there? Felicity clenched her jaw and there was an awkward silence.

As if sensing he had overstepped, Chase returned to business. "You think we can make the case against Williams stick?"

"I do." Felicity outlined the evidence against the reporter.

The DA gave a satisfied nod. "Yes - we should be able to get a conviction out of that. Do you want me in the interview room with you?"

Not really. Felicity caught Diggle's eye again and tried for diplomacy. "I'd like to start the interview on my own," she said. "I think Williams and her lawyer will underestimate me and be more likely to talk. If I'm not making progress, I'll step out and ask for your help." There, that should appeal to his ego.

And sure enough, Chase looked pleased. "Very well."

For an instant, Felicity believed Diggle might have smothered a grin. Then the commander gestured down the hallway, his voice bland. "Queen's here."

"Oliver Queen?" Chase's gaze darted away from Felicity, toward Oliver. His brow furrowed.

"As the object of Williams's...obsession, Queen has agreed to give Smoak his cooperation in the case," Diggle explained.

"Really?" Chase appeared surprised. "And he did this voluntarily? You must tell me your secret, Felicity. I've never even been able to get five minutes with the man. He's always unavailable."

Probably because Oliver can see through you, she thought. Aloud, she said, "If you'll excuse me, I need to speak with Mr. Queen before I go into interview." And when Diggle nodded, she walked down the hall to meet Oliver, conscious that the commander and Chase were both watching her.

Oliver raised his eyebrows as she stepped next to him. "I didn't realize you were a friend of Adrian Chase," he said.

"I'm not."

"You're sure? He was looking at you as if he was imagining you with your clothes off."

She shook her head. "This is my first time meeting the man. In the past, my cases haven't been important enough for him to get personally involved. Apparently, this one is."

Oliver gave a disgusted nod. "I believe that. The man loves publicity." He tilted his head as he studied Felicity. She looked tired, he thought. The adrenaline that had carried her through the parking garage had worn off. "You haven't had a minute to catch your breath, have you?"

Felicity glanced down at herself, noting that her jeans were stained and torn at one knee. Oliver, in contrast, was neatly attired in grey slacks and a crisp button down shirt. He looked good; attractive, but not annoyingly over-groomed, like Chase. The blue shirt brought out the color of his eyes.

"Not really," she mumbled. "I just want to wrap this case up. Then I can go home and take a long soak in the tub."

He heard the wistfulness in her voice and gave her a sympathetic smile. It had been one hell of a day for her. "Well, I'm here as requested. How can I help?"

Felicity pursed her lips. "Williams is denying everything she said in the parking garage," she began. "She's claiming she never considered Isabel a rival for your attention. She admits that you and she have been dating - but casually. She says she doesn't have strong feelings for you, and therefore has no motive to kill Isabel or shoot at me."

"Surely, you have enough evidence-"

"I do, but I'd like to get her to confess to the murder and save the taxpayers the expense of a trial." Not to mention saving herself from testifying in court - something Felicity hated. "I need you to do a little acting for me, Oliver."

"Explain acting, please."

Felicity raised her chin. "I'm going to go in there and remind her of everything she said in the garage. She's going to insist I'm making it up and can't prove a word of it. Give me about ten minutes, then tap on the door. When I open it, make sure you stand where she can see and hear you. Then remind me that you and I have a dinner date tonight."

"We do?"

She gave him an exasperated look.

He laughed. "Okay. I'll remind you of our supposed date."

"Good. Then, you're going to lean down and whisper in my ear as if you're saying something intimate. We really need to sell this."

"Shouldn't be a problem," he said dryly.

"Thanks. And then kiss me, as if you mean it."

"Seriously?" When she nodded, he grinned. "I'm really starting to like this plan."

She swatted him on the arm. "Don't joke about this, Oliver. If we're convincing, I think it will push her over the edge. She'll start yelling that the two of you belong together, and that Isabel needed to be eliminated. Hopefully, she'll be angry enough to ignore her lawyer. If she does that, we can all go home."

He nodded more soberly. "Okay, I got it." He paused, then brought up the thing that had been worrying him ever since he'd left the parking garage. "Has she said anything about the Star City Archer showing up?"

Felicity shook her head. "No. I think she realizes that people will question her mental state if she says she saw him. I'm the only other witness to the Archer and she has no idea if I'll support her."

"What about security cameras in the garage?"

Felicity smiled. "I checked. Williams turned them off right after I called her. I assume she planned all along to get me to her car and didn't want evidence of her arrowing me - which shows premeditation, by the way. At any rate, there's no footage of the Archer."

He felt a weight lift from his shoulders. "That's great."

"Yup. You dodged a bullet there." Felicity took a deep breath. "Okay, then. I'm going in. Let's see if we can get her to confess."

"Break a leg."

"Right."

She opened the door to the interview room and stepped inside. As she closed the door, she tried to pretend there wasn't a crowd watching through the one way window. Her mouth was dry and her stomach felt queasy. She would have preferred not to have an audience.

Williams, on the other hand, appeared more composed than earlier, particularly with her attorney at her side. The attorney was exactly what Felicity would have expected for someone of Williams's income and celebrity. The woman was dressed in a classic black suit, with expensive but tasteful jewelry, and fingernails perfectly shaped and polished from a recent manicure. She was tapping those nails lightly on the table, as if she had been waiting a long time.

"Ms. Williams," Felicity began.

Both Williams and her attorney looked up. The fingernail tapping stopped.

"You've been read your rights?"

After a brief glance at her attorney, Williams nodded.

"And you understand them?"

Another glance, another nod.

"Good. I'm hoping we can make this quick. After all, you confessed to Ms. Rochev's murder during your apprehension. I only want you to repeat here what you told me in the parking garage of Channel Thirty-two. Then we can all leave."

Williams didn't bother looking at her attorney this time. She shook her head. "I have no recollection of confessing to anything, Detective. I recall talking in my office and you accusing me of being involved in Isabel's murder. Other than that, well, I'm afraid everything is kind of a blur. Getting stunned unconscious probably affected my memory." She smirked a little.

Felicity stifled a sigh. Williams's response was what she'd anticipated; still, it would have been nice if the reporter had opted to cooperate. She shrugged. "So, I suppose you don't remember pulling the bow out of your car, either. We'll have to see what the security cameras show."

"That's a good idea," Williams agreed, "assuming the cameras were working." She hadn't lost the smirk.

"You have reason to think they wouldn't be?" Felicity asked, thinking she might be able to trap the reporter.

But when her attorney tapped her wrist, Williams hastily said, "No - no reason at all."

"I see."

For the next ten minutes, Felicity came at Williams from multiple angles, trying to get her to slip up. The reporter never wavered from her story. She didn't remember the parking garage and she had nothing to do with Isabel's death. She had a bow in her car because she hunted with her family and was planning to visit them soon.

There was a tap on the door.

Felicity felt a flush of relief. Time for Plan B. "Excuse me a moment," she said. She opened the door, wide enough for Williams to see Oliver standing outside. She was pleased when the reporter stiffened and opened her mouth.

"Felicity?" Oliver said. He kept his eyes on her and didn't look into the room. "I'm sorry for disturbing you at work, but I wanted to remind you about dinner tonight. How much longer do you think you'll be?"

"Oliver?" Williams said eagerly.

He didn't acknowledge her. It was if she wasn't there.

Nice touch, Felicity thought. I didn't ask you to do that.

She took Oliver's hand and smiled. "Not much longer," she replied. "I've got a few things to discuss here, then I'm going to call it a day. I hope you're planning something special for dinner. I'm hungry."

"I'll make sure the entire evening is special." And Oliver leaned down and spoke quietly into her ear. "So, here's the intimate thing I'm going to say, Felicity. After you wrap this up today, I want you to come back to my house for that hot soak in the tub. You can relax in the bubbles and I'll give you a good, long foot rub. Maybe sip some wine, too. Then... well, then we'll see where things lead us."

Felicity blushed - a real blush, nothing to do with provoking Williams. Oliver's voice was low and sexy, and his words sure as hell felt intimate. She was conscious of Chase, Diggle and a whole bunch of cops watching.

And then Oliver kissed her. And there was no doubt that he meant it.

His mouth was gentle but insistent, and he didn't rush. Felicity froze for a few seconds; then her lips parted and she kissed him back. And for a moment, there was no one else there; not Williams, not her attorney, and not half of the SCPD. It was just her and Oliver, connecting and exploring. She had no idea how long the kiss went on, but she was breathless when he released her and it took a few seconds to remember that they were trying to get Williams to confess. There was a sparkle in Oliver's eyes as he gazed down at her, as if to say, was that real enough for you? She gave him a tiny smile. Then she turned and walked back into the interview room.

And barely dodged the water glass that Williams hurled at her. The glass hit the wall and shattered.

"You whore!" Williams shouted. "I told you that Oliver and I belong together. Why do you refuse to respect that? Why do you keep throwing yourself at him? I should have killed you in the garage when I had the chance."

"Susan-" Her attorney put a warning hand on Williams's forearm.

Felicity stepped over the broken glass and calmly shut the door. "You have a strange definition of belonging together, Susan. I don't think Oliver even noticed you just now, and he was standing less than fifteen feet away. If you were ever important to him - well, I saw no signs of it."

"That's because you're distracting him," Williams spat. "The same way Isabel did. It's why she had to die - why I had to kill her."

"Susan!" Her attorney clutched Williams's arm. "Don't say another word."

But Williams was too incensed. She continued her tirade for another five minutes, spewing venom about Isabel, about Felicity, about women in general who wouldn't stay away from Oliver Queen. Felicity didn't interrupt; she allowed Williams to continue until the reporter's ire was exhausted.

"I think we're done here," she said to the attorney.

The attorney shook her head. "That was a cheap trick, Detective. If you think I'm not going to object to it, then you're crazy."

Felicity shrugged. "I believe the DA is out in the hallway, observing. It seemed like a clear confession to me, but you can raise any concerns you have with him. In the meantime, we're going to return Ms. Williams to her cell."


The crowd in the hallway hadn't gotten any smaller. Felicity walked out of the interview room to the hum of voices, a handful of smiles, and a lot of gaping stares. Her energy flagging, she longed for a few minutes to regroup but saw that Diggle and Chase were approaching. To her dismay, Quentin Lance had joined Diggle and was saying something in the commander's ear. She wondered when the chief of police had arrived and how much of the interview he had seen. Did he approve of her tactic? Or like Williams's attorney, did he consider what she had done a cheap trick? His expression was stern; but then, it usually was.

When the three men caught up with her, Chase spoke first. "Interesting interview technique, Detective." As Diggle had predicted, the DA didn't seem entirely happy. "Do you put on this kind of show often?"

Felicity frowned at the word, show. She recalled something she'd said to Oliver a couple of days earlier. It seemed a long time ago. "Just applying pressure," she said quietly, "trying to get a reaction."

"Well, you sure as hell got one. I don't think we're going to need to take it to trial now."

She raised an eyebrow. "That's good, isn't it?"

"Hmmm," Chase replied. "We'll see how much of a fuss her attorney makes. Then we'll know whether it's good. I should talk to her and find out." And with a nod to Diggle and Lance, he left.

Diggle waited until Chase was out of earshot. Then, in a rare physical gesture, he rested a hand on Felicity's shoulder. "Don't worry about the DA," he said. "The confession should hold up. I'll admit your plan was unorthodox - but it worked. Chase will have to accept that he won't get a lot of media coverage for this one."

Lance said nothing. Felicity still had no idea if he was pleased or angry.

"I'm with Chase on one thing, though," Diggle continued. "I can't believe that you got Queen to cooperate." He glanced down the hallway to where Oliver leaned casually against the wall, looking back at them. "I'd swear that man usually enjoys being a thorn in the department's side. You persuaded him to help and I don't think we would have gotten the confession without him."

Oliver met Felicity's gaze and smiled. It was a patient expression. Take your time, the smile said. I'll be here when you're done. It occurred to her that Oliver was the only person she really wanted to talk to at this moment. Everyone else was just...the job. She nearly smiled back, but stopped herself when she realized Lance was watching.

She turned to Diggle. "I don't know," she said slowly. "In the past, the department has shown Oliver nothing but suspicion. It seems reasonable that he might be suspicious in return."

Diggle crossed his arms. "It sounds like you empathize with Queen." He paused and his brow furrowed. "I assume what you did right now...with Queen...that was an act, right? The two of you - you're not actually...dating."

Were they? Felicity thought about it and decided those things Oliver whispered in her ear might qualify as dating.

Both Lance and Diggle were studying her - assessing her. She could lie, Felicity thought. She could say no but still see Oliver quietly; have dinner after work, spend the weekend with him in his mansion, stay away from public venues and prying eyes. In many ways, it would make things easier for her. But if whatever existed between them was going to turn out to be real and true, she didn't think it could start with a lie.

"No," she said. "It wasn't entirely an act. I've spent a fair amount of time with Oliver in solving this case and he's told me he'd like to keep seeing me. I've agreed." She blushed. "I...like him. There's so much more to him than his public image."

Diggle shook his head. "Smoak-"

"I understand you think it's a mistake," she interrupted. "But it's my life - my personal life. As long as I do my job, it's not the department's business."

"It is if he's a criminal," Diggle said.

"Yes," she agreed. "And when you've got proof of that, then I'll have to reevaluate." And before that happens, she thought, I've got to find a way to stop Oliver's payments to the Bratva.

Glancing between Felicity and Diggle, Lance spoke for the first time. "Why don't you touch base with the DA," he suggested to the commander, "before he undoes the detective's hard work and ends up taking this thing to trial after all. He's spending way too much time with Williams's attorney." Then he added more sternly, "I'll catch up with you a minute. I'd like to talk to Detective Smoak alone."

Diggle gave Felicity a look that was somewhere between sympathy and a warning. Then he nodded and moved away. Oh shit, Felicity thought, here it comes. It's bad enough I disappointed the commander, but the chief? Lance is going to tell me that I've just killed my career.

The chief looked down at her from his lofty height. Why was it her fate, she wondered, to be surrounded by tall men? Oliver, Diggle and now Lance - they were all over six feet. And Lance's height seemed even greater because of his lean, lanky build. With his dark hair and eyes, he was intimidating; which she presumed was an asset in his job.

"I suppose you're expecting me to say the same thing as your commander," Lance began. "To tell you that you're making a mistake."

Felicity pressed her lips together and bowed her head.

"And you might be making a mistake," Lance said, "I don't know. I have no idea what happened to Oliver as a result of that plane crash. I have to agree with John that the story sounds fishy. So getting involved with him could be a poor move on your part." He paused.

Felicity gazed up at the chief. "Do I sense a but coming?" she asked hopefully.

Lance nodded. "Two buts, actually. The first is that you were right in what you said to John. Your personal life is none of the department's business, provided you live up to the ethical standards required of a cop. You're smart, Smoak, and your career is off to a great start. Keep doing the job and you'll have no issues with me."

Her chest suddenly felt lighter. "And the second but?"

Lance sighed. "The second but is more complicated." When she raised her eyebrows, he continued, "I've known Oliver since he was a kid. He and my daughter went to the same schools and I think he was twelve when I first met him. Everyone assumes he had it easy growing up because of the family's money, but I can assure you that he didn't. His mother wasn't a warm person. She worried about appearances more than she worried about the happiness of her children. And his father was an ass- without integrity or morals. If Oliver received any unconditional love when he was younger, it was from his sister and maybe the housekeeper. He sure as hell didn't get it from his parents."

Felicity's breath hitched. She was surprised that Lance was being so open.

"Yet he managed to grow up to be a decent person," Lance went on, "at least as far as I can tell. He works hard, he gives back to the city. And his employees are intensely loyal, something they never were to either Robert or Jonas Queen. You can't be a jerk and earn that kind of devotion."

Felicity waited. This conversation was going in an entirely different direction than she'd anticipated.

"You probably heard the story about him dating my daughter when they were in high school," the chief said. "I was okay with it when they were young, but I'm relieved it didn't continue; not because I think Oliver's a bad guy, but because I think he's all wrong for Laurel. With his history, he needs a partner who is self-sufficient - someone who can stand up to him and support him; someone who doesn't need constant reassurance. I love my daughter, but I would never call her self-sufficient." He shrugged. "You, on the other hand...well, I think he's shown good judgment in wanting to see more of you."

Felicity felt a warm glow spread across her cheeks.

"Of course," Lance continued curtly, "if you find anything that points to illegal activity from Oliver, I'd expect you to let the department know - immediately. It's your duty."

And just like that, the glow was gone. Felicity nodded and hoped her face didn't betray her guilt as she thought about the Bratva.

"That's all I had to say," Lance finished. "I'm going to go see Diggle and Chase now. It looks like Oliver is waiting for you."

He moved off, before Felicity could thank him. She watched the chief for a few seconds, then headed toward Oliver. He was still slouched against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest.

"I figured you'd be checking your phone," she said lightly. "Isn't that what all executives do - read email every minute of the day?"

Oliver shook his head. "Why would I want to read email when I could be watching you? Trust me, Felicity, you're far more interesting." He paused and his grin faded. "Are you going to tell me what Diggle and Lance had to say? I expected them to be shaking your hand and thanking you for finding Isabel's killer, but it didn't look like that was happening."

"Oh, they thanked me," Felicity said. "And they're happy the case isn't going to go to trial. They're pleased with my work."

"But-"

"But they also wanted to know if the act we pulled in front of Williams was just that - an act - or if we're really seeing each other. I guess we sold it well."

"I see." Oliver drew in his breath. "And you said-?"

She shrugged. "I said we were seeing each other. We are, aren't we?"

He stared at her.

"Aren't we?" she asked again.

He shook his head. "I'm sorry. For a second there, I was speechless. Yes, we're most definitely seeing each other. Starting tonight, I hope. I meant what I said about the foot rub."

She nodded. "Good. I could use one. Maybe something to eat first, though. I haven't had a bite since breakfast."

"I'm sure we can manage that. I don't think I have mac and cheese, but there's bound to be something in the kitchen. "

He leaned down to kiss her but she raised her hand to block him. "No, Oliver. Not at headquarters. I can't have a bunch of cops seeing you kiss me."

"They saw me kiss you twenty minutes ago."

"Yes. But they think it was an act to get Williams to confess. If you do it again, I don't have an excuse."

He grinned. "That's a damn shame." And then he kissed her anyway.


Oliver scanned the contents of his refrigerator. Unlike Felicity's, his fridge was stocked with multiple options for dinner. He could impress her with his chicken cordon bleu or maybe grill a tender T-bone; something she didn't have the chance to eat very often. Then he glanced at the detective. She was sitting on a stool next to the kitchen island, sipping a glass of wine. Her eyelids were heavy and she appeared to be seconds away from sliding off the stool and onto the floor. Something quick, he thought. She's exhausted.

"How about an omelet?" he suggested. "I've got eggs and cheese, and onions and peppers. It'll be ready in ten minutes."

She nodded gratefully. "Ten minutes sounds wonderful. And I like omelets."

"Okay, then. Two omelets, coming up."

He washed the vegetables and started chopping them, amused to find her studying him despite her fatigue.

"You like to cook?" she asked.

He shrugged. "When I have the time." When she chuckled, he added, "That's funny?"

"Only because it's something I don't think people would expect from you. I'm sure most of the world assumes you have a staff to take care of these kinds of chores."

He shook his head. "Staff can be intrusive. I like my privacy. There are people who help with the shopping and cleaning, of course, but I don't have a live-in crew."

She chuckled again. "I would think there's plenty of room for privacy in this house, even if you did have live-in help. It's so big, I'm not sure I can find my way back to the front door. I'll bet you and Merlyn can go days without seeing each other, if that's what you want."

Oliver shook his head, his knife poised over the cutting board. "Tommy, Felicity, not Merlyn. You're going to have to get used to calling him Tommy. He's my closest friend. You'll be seeing a lot of him."

She wrinkled her nose. "I'll try, Oliver. We didn't exactly get off to a great start. After our little scuffle in your foyer, I'm sure he has some endearing names for me."

Oliver was about to reply that Tommy would show her every courtesy, when her phone rang. She glanced tiredly at it and frowned. "I don't recognize the number and video is blocked. It must be Chase with a question about Williams." She rolled her eyes. "God - the man is actually disappointed that the case won't go go trial."

Oliver resumed chopping peppers with a little extra zeal. Chase was an ass. Why the hell couldn't he respect Felicity's time and follow up with her on a workday? She had handed him the case against Susan with a bow tied around it. She deserved to relax over what was left of the weekend.

Felicity raised the phone to her ear and said, "Hello?"

"Detective. I understand you catch my niece's killer."

She stiffened, suddenly awake. "Anatoly."

Oliver stopped chopping and stared at her. He put the knife down.

"How did you get this number?" she asked.

"You called me, remember? I keep your number. I think it may be useful."

I don't like the sound of that.

Oliver was walking toward her, holding out his hand for her phone. She shook her head at him.

"What do you want?" she asked Anatoly.

"Want? From you, I want nothing. I call to say thank you."

He sounded sincere. It was the last thing she expected and she felt a little spark of warmth in her chest. He's Bratva, she reminded herself. Don't start thinking of him as a regular guy. "I was doing my job," she said evenly. "It wasn't a personal favor."

"Maybe. But I hear the case against killer is strong, that she will probably get life in prison." Anatoly hesitated. "You get justice for Isabel. For this, I am in your debt."

Oliver was standing over her now, his hand still held out. Felicity slid off the stool and stepped away from him, keeping the phone to her ear. He scowled.

"There is one way you can repay me," she said to Anatoly.

"Oh, yes?"

Oliver's scowl grew deeper. "No, Felicity."

"You can stop requiring protection money from Oliver Queen. You can let the League know that he's not continuing in Jonas's footsteps - that he's no threat to them."

There was a long pause. "Detective Smoak," the Russian eventually said, "you are always with the surprises. How do you know about the money? And why do you care what happens to Oliver Queen?"

Felicity clenched her jaw. "That's my business," she replied. "Will you do it?"

"Sadly," Anatoly said, "I cannot. Not to pay this debt. Not even to protect my bank accounts in the Caymans. This thing you ask is beyond me."

"You're a captain."

"But I am not God. There are those I must answer to in Bratva."

Once again, he sounded sincere. Felicity closed her eyes. "Okay," she whispered. The disappointment was sudden and heavy.

"Does this mean you empty my bank accounts?" Anatoly asked. There was an edge to his voice.

"No. We made a deal. You honored it and so will I."

"Thank you." There was another pause. The Russian cleared his throat. "You are unusual young woman. Are you sure you do not like older men? I am single. And wealthy."

Felicity laughed. She couldn't help it. This had to be Anatoly's attempt at a joke. I shouldn't encourage the familiarity, she thought. But she didn't have the energy to put him in his place. "I'm good for now. But thank you anyway."

"Very well." And Anatoly hung up.

She giggled a little longer, but then sobered when she saw Oliver's expression. He looked both angry and worried. "You shouldn't have asked, Felicity."

"I had to try."

"And I love you for it. But please don't put yourself at risk on my behalf. If anything happened to you, I could never forgive myself."

She nearly dropped her phone. Did Oliver just use the L-word?

"Are you going to tell me what was so funny?" he asked.

She smiled. "Anatoly. He told me he was single and wanted to know if I like older men."

Oliver didn't return the smile. "You should have said no."

"I will, next time."

"There better not be a next time."

She gestured at the stove. "Make me dinner," she said, "and maybe there won't be."


One omelet, a hot bath, and a foot rub later, Felicity stood at the side of Oliver's bed. She was wearing one of his henleys. The shirt was so large that it hung to mid-thigh and threatened to slide off her shoulder and expose a breast.

Not that Oliver minded if that happened.

"Holy shit," she said, pointing at the bed. She seemed genuinely perplexed.

"What's wrong?"

"It's big enough to have its own frigging zip code."

He frowned. "I think that's an exaggeration, Felicity."

"It's pretty damn huge, Oliver. What comes after king size? Emperor size?"

He shrugged, uncertain whether she was joking or truly turned off by the size of the bed. "I have no idea. I ordered it a couple of years ago, mostly for the mattress. It's custom-made and supposed to be therapeutic. You know, good for back pain, stuff like that."

She pursed her lips. "Back pain - I see. I assumed it was this big because you like really athletic sex...which has me a little concerned since I'm not a terrific athlete."

"Felicity-"

She grinned suddenly. "Don't look so worried, Oliver. I'm just teasing. I'm far more athletic than people give me credit for. And the really good news is that when we have a disagreement, we can avoid each other and still sleep in the same bed."

He shook his head. "I trust there won't be many disagreements."

Felicity thought about what Chief Lance had said to her back at headquarters. The man hadn't been wrong. May as well own up to it now. "We're two self-sufficient, strong-willed people," she told Oliver. "There will be disagreements. The question is how we resolve them. If we can manage to be reasonable adults, they won't be a problem."

He pressed his lips together and nodded. "Fair enough. But I assume we're not headed for a disagreement at this moment."

She studied him. He was wearing draw-string pajama bottoms and nothing else. Every time he spoke, some muscle or other twitched; an abdominal, pectoral or bicep. It was very distracting. We should always make sure to argue with his clothes off, she decided.

"No," she replied. "Not at this very moment. That was an amazing foot rub you gave me and I'm too tired to disagree about anything." She meant it as a joke, but Oliver looked worried again.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I know that you've had one hell of a day. Get in." He gestured at the bed. "Get some sleep. We'll think about athletic sex when you're a little more rested."

She slid into the bed, between smooth, soft sheets that were probably a thousand thread cotton. The mattress was pretty nice, she admitted. It supported her firmly, but at the same time yielded in the right places, conforming to her curves. There was something to be said for money carefully spent, she decided.

Oliver climbed into the other side and said, "Lights out."

The room went dark and neither of them spoke.

Felicity lay on her back, listening to Oliver's breathing. It was low but not exactly steady, and she could tell that he was trying to lie still. He wanted her, she knew. Maybe not with the same desperation that he'd wanted her back in her apartment, but pretty damn passionately. The only reason he'd suggested sleep was because he was being considerate. Was she too tired to want him back?

Stupid question.

She rolled onto her side. "Oliver?"

"Hmm?"

"I'm really not that sleepy."

There was a pause. Then he said, "No?"

She smiled when she heard the eager hitch in his voice. "No," she confirmed. "I think I could use something else to help me unwind. I was wondering if you had any ideas."

Another pause. "I might have a couple. Come over here and we'll find out."

"Okay, but it will take a while. I need a GPS to locate you in this bed."

He laughed. "How about we meet in the middle?" he suggested.

"That should work. Keep talking. I'll follow the sound of your voice."

He laughed again. He couldn't remember feeling this happy when he was in bed with a woman. He wanted her, that was for certain. There was plenty of lust. But there was humor and joy there too. It was a beautiful combination.

Felicity slid across the smooth, silky sheets until she felt Oliver's warmth next to her. She reached out for him, guiding her hand along the hard planes of his stomach. Then she took hold.

"Oh wow," she said. "That doesn't feel like your finger."

"That's because it's not." His voice was a little tight.

"It's big. What the hell do you do with this thing?"

"If you take off that henley and give me a few minutes, I'll show you."

She smiled. "Okay  But you better take more than a few minutes."

Chapter Text

Felicity was awakened from a pleasant dream by the persistent buzz of her phone on the nightstand. It sounded like angry bees and she was tempted to pull the pillow over her head to silence it and return to sleep. Then she remembered she was a cop with a sworn duty to uphold the law - even at an unreasonably early hour on a Saturday morning. Crap.

With a muffled groan, she blindly groped at the nightstand until her hand landed on the irritating device. Squinting in the low morning light, she saw that the call was not from SCPD Dispatch, but from Sin. At 7:35. Really?

"Block video," she said to the phone.

"What do you want?" she said to Sin.

There was a pause. "You know, what do you want is kind of rude. You need to find a nicer way to answer the phone," Sin replied dryly.

"Not at 7:30 on a Saturday morning, I don't."

Sin chuckled, sounding awake and annoyingly cheerful. "I played three periods of hockey last night and you don't see me getting my bitch on."

"That's because you got more sleep than me. I didn't get to bed til after two." Felicity started to calculate her actual hours of slumber but stopped when she decided the number was going to be too small.

"Well, we both know you weren't working late," Sin said, "so you get no sympathy from me."

Felicity frowned as she thought about her evening at the hospital benefit, the first public event she had attended with Oliver. There had been glamorous people, tiny finger foods she couldn't identify, and a pair of heels that made her legs look fantastic but made her feet want to cry. The affair had lasted hours and Oliver had introduced her to so many guests that their faces became a blur. Sharing little in common with them, she'd quickly exhausted her capacity for small talk. Her comfort zone may as well have been on another continent.

"I think I would rather have worked," she said.

"I don't know. I was looking at pictures from the benefit. You look happy enough in them."

Felicity blinked. "What?"

"Don't act so surprised. You were out with the city's favorite, charismatic CEO so you made Inside Star City...again."

"Oh crap. Really?" Felicity could imagine the ribbing she was going to get at work.

"You had to know it would happen. Check it out. You look good in blue."

Slightly more awake now, Felicity turned to the nightstand to retrieve her tablet. Then she dragged a second pillow from the pile on the bed and thumped it on top of hers. Propping her shoulders against the soft stack, she pulled the website up and sorted through the photos.

And there she was, walking into City Hall on Oliver's arm. The benefit was not quite a black tie affair, which meant that Oliver could forgo a tux in favor of a suit and she had been able to get away with a cocktail dress. Still, everyone was attired, coiffed and made up with such perfection that she'd felt as though she'd stepped onto a film set. She recalled the flash of cameras and supposed that Sin was right - she shouldn't be surprised by showing up on the city's popular social website. Oliver was news, after all.

"Where'd you get the dress?"

"Hmm?" Felicity ran her finger along the tablet as she continued to scroll though the pictures.

"The dress," Sin said again. "I like it. Where'd you buy it?"

"A consignment shop on Twenty-second street."

The dress had been a real find. It was a royal blue, V-neck number with thin straps that exposed her arms and shoulders. It had a fancy designer label, and even second-hand, cost more than she knew she should be spending. Oliver had offered her his credit card to go shopping, but Felicity had declined. It felt too soon. They'd been seeing each for about a month, which - with their combined work schedules - had amounted to a half dozen dinners and a couple of movie nights at his place. Not nearly the credit card sharing stage.

"I see they included your name this time," Sin said. "No more 'unidentified blonde.'"

Felicity read the lines under the photo:

Oliver Queen entering the Star City hospital benefit, looking sharp as always. Sources identify his companion as Felicity Smoke, a homicide detective with the SCPD. Ms. Smoke is believed to have been the lead investigator in Isabel Rochev's murder, for which political reporter Susan Williams is now serving a life sentence.

"Kinda missed on the spelling, though," Sin added.

Felicity nodded. "Yup."

"Can I see the pictures?" The voice came from the middle of the bed, low and sleepy.

"What? What was that?" Sin chirped.

Felicity yawned. "What was what?"

"I heard another voice. There's someone there with you." Sin paused. "Shit. Are you in bed with him? Is that why you blocked video?"

Felicity watched as Oliver rolled onto his side to face her, his eyes half open. It still amazed her that she was allowed to see him like this; his guard down, the sharp, executive focus absent. It made him seem much more human.

"Yes," she said to Sin. "Here," she said to Oliver, handing him the tablet.

He slid close to her, then propped himself up on her pillow stack, balancing the tablet on his stomach. Felicity nearly smiled when the action made his abdominal muscles contract. He was naked, as was she - another reason she had blocked video before answering her phone. When they'd gotten to his house after the benefit, they'd been too tired to bother about pajamas. They'd simply piled their clothes onto a chair and climbed into the enormous bed.

"I didn't interrupt you in the middle of hot sex, did I?" Sin sounded more curious than apologetic.

"No," Felicity replied. She leaned over Oliver's shoulder, intending to look at the pictures. Instead, she found herself admiring his abs once more. "Not yet," she added.

For a rare, few seconds, Sin had nothing to say. Then she mumbled, "Well, I'll let you get to it, then. Talk to you later." And she disconnected before Felicity could reply.

Oliver continued scrolling through the photos, taking time to study any that contained the two of them. She found it disconcerting, the way he tilted his head and examined them.

"You're really engrossed with those pictures," she said. "Please don't tell me that you like looking at yourself. That feels a little...narcissistic."

He frowned but didn't lift his gaze. "I'm not looking at me. I'm looking at you. I'm trying to figure out how miserable you were at the benefit last night."

"What?"

He sighed and placed the tablet on the bed, then turned to face her again. "You told Sin just now that you would have preferred to have been working. So, I assume that means you didn't enjoy being out with me."

His gaze was penetrating and he seemed genuinely worried. Felicity wished she'd chosen her words to Sin more thoughtfully.

"That's not true. I enjoyed being out with you," she stated.

He cocked an eyebrow at her and waited.

"It's just the whole mingling with the rich and famous thing that I was a little uncomfortable with," she added.

He nodded. "I see."

But he didn't look relieved and she didn't think he was appreciating the distinction. She scrambled to make things right. "Look - don't get hung up on one careless sentence," she said. "I've been happier this month than I've ever been, at least since I lost my Mom. Sin even thought I look happy in the photos, and she knows me better than anyone. "

He said nothing, but she thought the furrow in his forehead smoothed out a little.

"If being able to spend time alone with you like this," she gestured at the bed, "means that I have to learn to deal with weird appetizers and getting my picture posted on city websites, then I'll make the adjustment.  It's worth it -- you're worth it.  It just might take a little time. You'll need to be patient."

He did smile then, his blue eyes crinkling. "I think you're going to have to be patient with me, too. It's kind of the opposite of what I'm used to. Women I've known in the past seemed like they really enjoyed the luxury and the spotlight.  If they didn't get it, they were disappointed.  I guess I'm not used to a woman who just wants me for me."

She reached over him and retrieved the tablet, returning it to the nightstand. Then she gently pushed him onto his back and ran her hand across his chest. "I like every part of you," she said.  "And I don't give a damn about the luxury and the spotlight.  I just want you.  Now."  And without waiting for a reply, she slid on top of him, stretching out so that they connected from chest to thigh.

He laughed. "Okay.  I can handle that."

"Good."

And then she kissed him.