Author's Note: I'm still here! It has been a long time, but I have not abandoned this story. Thank you to all of you who have hung in there and encouraged me over the years.

For those of you who are relative newcomers to this story, I began it way back in season two of Arrow (and we are now on the cusp of the abbreviated season eight). For that reason, you will notice that certain aspects of the characters' backstories are different from what eventually was revealed on the show. That's because when I wrote this, those backstories had not yet been established, so I forged my own path. Rather than doing a retcon of this story, I have carried on. If it is jarring to read that Felicity is from Chico and her mom's name is Judith in this story, oh well. *shrugs*

So here we are . . . and All in a Day's Work continues . . .

If you're still reading, let me know. :)

Previously in All in a Day's Work: Oliver and Felicity were successful in enlisting Frederick McMartin's investment in QC, which should enable them to stave off Isabel's hostile takeover. Unfortunately, any celebrations were cut short with the realization that Slade Wilson is out there and determined to have his revenge. In an effort to keep Felicity safe, Oliver decided that she would be better off without him and broke off their burgeoning relationship. However, a family health crisis drew Felicity home to Chico, CA, with Oliver by her side.

Chapter Nineteen: Being Polite and Other Acts of War

There had been a number of times in Oliver's life that he wished he could crawl into a hole and avoid trouble. As a child, he was no stranger to it. When he was six, he had been told not to touch his father's model schooner. The shiny wood, the lifelike details etched into the delicate replica held his attention when he would go into his father's office. Look but don't touch. That was the warning. It sat on a pedestal, but he longed to play with it. One night, long after his bedtime, he was struck with the sudden notion to go to his father's office and play with it. No one would ever have to know. He would return it to the display when he was finished. He pulled his father's chair to the pedestal to climb upon it to reach the schooner. No sooner had he climbed up, the door to the office swung open, startling the boy. He lost his balance. Down he went—taking the model boat with him. Pieces flew across the room. Oliver awaited his father's fury, but it didn't come as expected. Instead, that was the moment when his father decided it was time to truly teach Oliver about sailing.

As a young man, he had been in trouble more times than he could count. Sometimes he embraced it—like when he screwed Sara behind Laurel's back over and over. He knew it was wrong, but Sara was fun and sexy and didn't have so damn many expectations of him. Other times he barely dodged trouble—like when Samantha Clayton came to him after their one-night stand. That one stood out to him because of the broken condom. Later, she stood out to him for another reason. He had tried to reassure Samantha that he was clean, and he was. He was always so careful, and this was the first time he'd had a condom malfunction. The chances that he had knocked her up were slim. Right? Sex had to happen at just the right time. But there she stood before him two months later. "I just thought you should know," she whispered. He had been terrified at the prospect of being a father. He wasn't ready. He could barely be responsible for himself let alone a little life. Fate intervened when Samantha later informed him she had miscarried. He should have been relieved. He told his mother he was. It was for the best. But…he couldn't shake the feeling that things should have been different. He should have been different.

He changed.

Not by choice.

So many choices were taken away from him. For five years, he felt like a pawn in a sick game.

And now his past was coming back to haunt him again. Same song, different tune. As hard as it had been to pull away from Felicity—he'd never wanted anyone more in his entire life—he knew it had been the right thing to do. He also knew she wouldn't see it that way.

He turned off the shower water and reached for a towel. It had taken him a long time to get his body under control. He wanted to bury himself in her, to take the love and comfort and pleasure she offered. He had been so, so close to pressing inside her. Instead, he had pulled away and left her naked on the bed while he strained to get himself under control.

This was going to be awkward.

But surely she wasn't out there waiting.

But as he opened the bathroom door, he saw that was exactly where she was.

He gaze fell on her—she now wore the shirt she'd slept in the night before—and her cheeks reddened even as her eyes trailed his body.

"I didn't think you'd be out here. I'm just going to, uh, get some clothes."

"I don't really want to be here, but I smell like sex." She squeezed her eyes shut. "I think of the worst ways to say things, but I didn't really want to hang around the kitchen with my parents without a shower. That's why I'm out here making things more awkward than they already were, apparently."

"You don't have anything to feel awkward about. What happened between us is my fault. I got carried away, and that wasn't fair to you."

"You left before things could get finished. That wasn't fair to you," Felicity retorted.

The hunger in her eyes was evident. His body was already answering with its own response. Before he could stop himself, Oliver replied, "You are trouble."

"Like my tattoo says."

The air crackled between them.

Oliver desperately needed distance before he tore off the towel, pushed her back on the bed, and finished what they had started earlier.

It was then he noticed the blank space on the door where the peeping Tom/Justin Timberlake poster had been only a few minutes earlier. "What happened to the poster?"

She shrugged. "It was time for it to go."

"Are we okay?"

"We will be." She cleared her throat. "I'm going to take a shower, and we're going to pretend that this morning didn't happen. Otherwise, I'm not going to be able to look at you without wanting to…take a cold shower."

Oliver watched as she hurried into the bathroom, closing the door to the en suite behind her.

The aroma of coffee wafting through the house drew Oliver out of Felicity's childhood bedroom and on a journey of exploration. The Smoak family's home was certainly not anywhere near as grand as the house in which he grew up, but it felt more like a home. Pictures of Felicity through the years and a boy that Oliver assumed was her brother adorned various walls and tables. Books were plentiful. And these books looked like they were actually read, not merely put on display.

The house itself, while nice, was not overly large—not like the behemoth where Oliver grew up—and he had no trouble finding his way to the kitchen. There, he saw Ben Smoak sitting on a bar stool studying a large mug.

"I really shouldn't drink so much coffee," Felicity's father mused. "Stains the teeth, after all. But if that's my worst vice, I guess I'm doing okay." The older man slid off the stool. "Let me get you a cup." Without waiting for a response, Ben poured Oliver his own mug. "You take anything in it?"

"No, black is fine."

Ben pushed the mug to Oliver, who eagerly took a sip. "Much better than last night," Oliver declared remembering the sludge that passed as coffee in the hospital.

"No comparison," Ben agreed. He studied the man who was to be his son-in-law. "To be honest, I didn't figure you or Felicity would be awake yet. It was a long night."

Oliver glanced at the clock on the stove. It displayed the time—9:30 a.m. Not particularly early. "I'm used to keeping long hours."

"Surely you work some fun in there. Do you ever get out on the golf course?"

Golf. The thought alternately amused Oliver and made him feel a pang. "It's been years. My dad and I used to go occasionally, but it was usually with his business associates. Back then, that wasn't my idea of a good time."

"Sometimes life lessons happen when you don't even realize it. You should ask Felicity about our golf outings sometime."

"Felicity plays golf?" Oliver asked, genuinely surprised.

"Terrible player," Ben replied with a chuckle. "Doesn't have the patience for it. She's an excellent caddy though. So Queen Consolidated is quite a company. Did you learn business from your dad?"

"When I had the chance to learn the business from my dad, I wasn't interested. Back then, I shirked anything that resembled responsibility." Oliver studied the older man's face, expecting to see a father's judgment, but instead saw the curiosity he had so often seen in Felicity. "I've had to hit the ground running with QC. Trial and error. The good news is I can't make things much worse than they are right now, but business is looking up in no small part thanks to Felicity."

"What did she do?" Ben asked, the pride evident on his face.

"She's just herself, and people respond to that. Sometimes I think she has this special light that follows her around, shines just on her." Oliver paused and shook his head ruefully. "That sounded so…"

"Spoken like a man in love," Ben said with a smile. "I know times have been hard. I heard about your mom. I'm glad you've had Felicity's support. When things have been bad here, she's what's kept us going."

"Any word on how Oma Miriam is doing this morning?"

"Judith's actually gone to the hospital to pick her up. She's being released this morning."

"That's good news."

"Thought I'd get brunch going while we're waiting for them to get here. I don't suppose you know your way around the kitchen, do you?"

Oliver smiled. "You'd be surprised."

The two men fell into an easy camaraderie as Oliver pulled ingredients from the refrigerator for omelets. He was surprised to find pork sausage there.

"Felicity's going to be disappointed," Ben said. "We tried to bring her up observing tradition, but in recent years, we've started eating pork on occasion. We'll just put that back where she won't see it…"

Oliver shook his head. Felicity and her parents really needed to talk to each other more often. He set aside mushrooms and spinach and began to chop onions, peppers, and tomatoes.

The two fell into a companionable rhythm. A few minutes later, Felicity joined Oliver and her father in the kitchen. Freshly showered, her hair was still damp. "Need some help?" she asked as she watched the two men work around each other quite efficiently.

"No," her dad said quickly, well aware of his daughter's lack of culinary skills. "I mean, I think we've got things under control."

"Is Mom still sleeping?" she asked sliding onto a bar stool at the kitchen island.

"She's checking your grandma out of the hospital. They should be here any time—depending on how quickly the paperwork gets processed."

"It may be awhile," Felicity commented. "Go bureaucracy."

"Well, if anyone can get them to speed along the process, it's your mother," Ben replied.

Almost as if on cue, they could hear the unlocking of the exterior mudroom door.

"Something smells good in here!" Oma Miriam's cheerful voice called out.

"Oliver is making omelets," Ben offered as his wife and mother-in-law came into the kitchen.

Felicity immediately slid off the barstool and went to her grandmother and put her arm around her, attempting to help her inside, though the older woman eschewed her efforts. "Can't wait to try them."

Judith saw her daughter's effort being gently rebuffed. "Don't bother. She's too stubborn to accept help."

Miriam sighed. "I'm an able-bodied, spry seventy. I've still got a few miles left in me."

Judith shrugged before she planted a kiss on her husband's cheek and rested her hand on his middle-age spread. "Oh, you're wearing the new shirt."

Ben chuckled as he looked at their daughter. "I never thought your mother would want me to shop at K-Mart for clothes. Then she saw that Adam Levine commercial."

"Now that's a nice Jewish boy," Oma Miriam said. "Very, very talented," she added with a waggle of her eyebrows.

"He's covered in tattoos," Judith replied with disdain.

"But you know you like them," Miriam winked at her daughter. Her attention then turned to their visitor. "Do you have any tattoos, Oliver?"

From the cooktop, Oliver had been watching the family dynamics wistfully. It was all so normal. Had has family ever been like this? "I…do."

"I don't see any," Oma Miriam challenged playfully. "But I imagine you have, right, Elfie?" she added, elbowing her granddaughter.

Felicity cleared her throat. "That's an awful lot of food," she said, glancing at the cinnamon rolls that her father was pulling from the wall oven. "You expecting the whole neighborhood?"

"It's Saturday. Jack's coming over to eat. Then we're going to play golf," Ben replied nonchalantly.

Judith shook her head slightly. "Not keeping the Sabbath."

"But it's golf," Ben protested.

"Just one big happy family. This won't be awkward at all," Oma Miriam said, almost gleefully. "Looks like you get to see who Felicity traded in for you, Oliver."

Ben froze, realization striking him. "I'm…sorry. I wasn't thinking. Clearly I should change those plans."

"Yes, clearly," Judith reiterated, exasperation tingeing her tone.

"Not on my account," Oliver interjected as he plated a mushroom, spinach, and cheese omelet. "I'm heading back to Starling City this morning. I have some pressing business that won't wait." He looked at Felicity wondering how she felt about her ex continuing to be a presence. "I think it's more important for Felicity to be comfortable."

"You're going back?" Felicity's voice held more surprise than she meant to display. "I mean, yes, you're going back." Of course he was going back. He had never planned to stay in Chico for the night, let alone put every problem on pause—and there were so many—to play house with her. Her posture stiffened. "I'm going to stick around a little longer. It would be a shame for me to come all this way and not see Jack. He's practically family."

Oliver's jaw clenched slightly at that, but his words were solicitous. "Stay as long as you need. I can send the chopper back for you."

Felicity shook her head. "There's no need. I'll find my own way back to Starling." Oliver looked at her questioningly, but she did not offer any additional information. He was scant on the details of his plans? Two could play at that game. She cleared her throat. "I'm going to walk around outside, check out the yard. Haven't seen it in the daylight in awhile."

"You don't want to the cinnamon rolls to get cold," her father admonished as he spread icing on the warm pastries.

"I'll just be a minute or two. Start without me."

Oliver watched her go, and couldn't help but feel like the divide between them was growing. But that was what he wanted, right? To keep her safe, it was going to take more than words. It was going to take action, and part of that meant letting her go.

Fresh air.

It was amazing what a breath of fresh air could do to help in clearing her mind. She had been so worried about her grandmother the night before, she couldn't think straight. Then Oliver had blindsided her with a new version of his "because of the life I lead" speech.

But Felicity was determined to help him.

From everything Oliver had told her, Slade Wilson changed when he was given the mirakuru. He had always been intense, but he became irrational, violent. The articles she had seen online about the mercenary Deathstroke were frightening enough, and those were based on redacted reports, which she had managed to access through some back door channels. The level of violence detailed in those reports was truly stomach-turning. In some instances, human targets were literally torn limb from limb. And for the police and military who did manage to encounter Deathstroke, it never ended well for them. Though the reports did not know the reason, he was incredibly strong and even able to withstand bullets at point-blank range to the point that he had barely reacted when engaged in a firefight. That must've been a horrific realization for the men who encountered him, but considering Slade Wilson had survived an arrow through the eye, Felicity could not say that she was surprised. Worried? Yes. Surprised? No.

But if there were still a cure somewhere—or the formula for a cure—if they could find some way to deliver the dose to Slade, wouldn't that neutralize his threat? Or at least put him on a more equal footing with Oliver?

She shook her head slightly. It still seemed impossible, but what other choice did they have?

They were better as a team, true, but if Oliver wanted to keep her at arm's length, maybe it would work to her advantage to allow that. Because knowing Oliver as she did, there was no way he would agree to let her help him do what was becoming increasingly clear needed to be done.

It was then that Felicity saw a dark blue Volvo turning into her parent's driveway. Jack. Of course. She watched as he cut the engine and stepped out, incredulity marking his features as he closed the distance between them.


His old, childhood name for her was both comforting and belying of an intimacy that they no longer shared. Of course, it also sounded incredibly similar to floss. A little on-the-nose for a dentist's former paramour, now that she thought about it.

"Jack. Hi." They made an awkward, shuffling movement to hug in greeting. They were exes, but they weren't unfriendly exes, after all. She just didn't particularly want to spend any more time with him than necessary, a feeling that her parents did not share.

"I didn't know you were in town." They pulled away from one another, and Jack studied her appreciatively. "It's good to see you! You look amazing."

"I look like a mess," Felicity corrected, unconsciously running her hand over her tangle of drying hair, "but it's sweet of you to say."

Their eyes met, and she finally allowed herself to examine him more closely. He hadn't changed much. Jack was generically handsome in that bland, pleasant way, taller than her but not a walking mountain, physically fit but not buff. His eyes were neither brown nor green but seemed to vacillate somewhere in between. He had a healthy tan, probably from being on the golf course. His smile was, as expected, his best feature.

"I always did like your hair in curls." He started to reach for her blonde tresses, stopped himself, chuckled lightly, and said with self-deprecating honesty, "Well, that was uncomfortable. Let's see if I can make it less so. I didn't know you were going to be in town."

"I didn't either. It was last minute. We thought Oma had a stroke."

"Oh my God. Is she okay?"

"She's fine. It was a false alarm. She's already home, much to the relief of the hospital staff, I'm sure. She's a little. . . "


"Yeah. That's a nice way to put it."

"Always the diplomat," Jack replied. "Did you come alone?"

Felicity looked back toward the house. "No. Um, Oliver's inside."

"Good," Jack nodded magnanimously. "I'm glad you didn't have to deal with Oma's health scare on your own. Congratulations to you on your engagement."

"Thanks. I got your message. I should have called you. It just all happened really, really fast."

"You don't owe me any explanations. I'm truly happy for you. Oliver Queen—that's certainly a step up from marrying a dentist."

"You know I don't look at it that way, Jack," Felicity protested.

"I know, Fliss. And that's why you deserve the world."

"Do you have someone special?" Her words hung in the air. Even as she asked, she hoped he did have someone—for many reasons. Jack was her Mr. Wrong, but he would be another woman's Mr. Right. He had numerous good qualities, qualities she had not allowed herself to dwell on. And if nothing else, for selfish reasons, it would certainly help her if her mom didn't hold onto the hope that Felicity would be the future Mrs. Jack Sommet.

Jack looked slightly abashed. "No. No one special."

"I'm sorry."

"No, you're not. You love it," he joked.

"Maybe a little," she confessed. "But I do want you to be happy, just like you want the same for me."

"Oliver makes you happy?"

It should have been an easy answer to a simple question, but the truth was, it was neither. Oliver brought her the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. He made her believe she could do and be anything in the world she set her mind to, but then he alternately sought to put a velvet rope around her. Look but don't touch. Touch but don't take. Her body still ached for him, but her heart—it ached even more, worse than when he had friend-zoned her after Russia. "There's no one in the world like him." That was as true as she could be.

"Speak of the devil," Jack said looking over Felicity's shoulder. Oliver had come out on the porch. Jack waved him over. The closer Oliver got, the more erratically Felicity's heart beat. There was a fire in his eyes, but just as quickly, she noticed that Oliver had slid into his public persona, affecting an impassive expression.

Oliver stood next to her, and though they did not touch, she could feel the heat emanating from him. "Oliver, this is Jack. Jack, Oliver."

Jack thrust out his hand. "Nice to meet you, Oliver." Oliver took it and squeezed.

"Likewise." And didn't let go.

Jack's brows shot up. "That's, uh, quite a grip you've got there."

Felicity elbowed Oliver, who, realizing he was still gripping the other man's hand, finally let go.

"I hope you're hungry," Oliver said conversationally, though his jaw was tight with each word. "There's a ton of food inside."

Jack smiled, his teeth even and white. "I remember the rule. Never come over . . . "

". . . without an appetite," Felicity and Jack finished together. They both chuckled slightly. "Old habits," Felicity added.

Oliver forced a smile. "Shall we?"

He started to turn to go back inside, but Felicity's stilled Oliver's movements. "Jack, you go on in. Oliver and I will be in shortly."

Once Jack had gone through the front door, Oliver uttered, "He is so polite." He said the last word as though he had tasted something rotten.

Felicity crossed her arms. "Yes, he is, which is more than I can say for you right now. You seriously did the hand-squeeze macho thing?"

Oliver had the decency to look properly chastised, even if the words that followed suggested otherwise. "I can't stand him."

"You are being ridiculous."

"He's seen you naked."

"If I hated every woman who has seen you naked . . . " She shook her head, not liking the direction the conversation was taking.

"You want me to act as though I liked seeing you out here with him?"

"Surely I don't have to remind you that you can't have it both ways, Oliver."

"I'm aware." His eyes darted to the house. "Don't look now, but we have an audience."

"Jack?" Felicity huffed even as she began to hug herself, a reaction to the cool November morning breeze. Without thinking, Oliver began to rub her arms trying to generate heat.

"No, he's too polite for that. Your mom is standing at the entry window. She just moved the curtain aside."

"Yep. That's totally my mom," Felicity said with an eye roll. "She can see us, not hear us. I'm sure she's filling in a conversation in her mind. I know this doesn't change anything between us, but . . . " She stood on her tip toes and pressed her lips against his before pulling back. Still a whisper's breath apart, she finished, "…if my mom wants a show, I think she should have one."

"This is dangerous territory for us," Oliver replied, leaning down, his forehead pressed against hers. And still, his arms wrapped around her, enveloping her in his warmth, even as his body molded to hers. Her legs became tangled with his, and he hissed when he felt her hands slide under the back of his shirt resting on his waist, skin on skin. "Felicity." Her name fell as a plea from his lips.

"I almost followed you into the shower this morning," she confessed. "But I decided that if I want you to respect my choices, I have to respect your choices, too."

"Sounds reasonable," he replied neutrally, though their closeness had him feeling anything but neutral.

"I have to know. What would you have done? If I had followed you . . . "

His hand dipped to her hip, and he pulled her more tightly against himself, the friction between their bodies sending sparks through them both. "If you had—I would have pushed you against the shower wall, wrapped your legs around my waist, and pounded into you." Her fingertips pressed into his back, and he hissed, even as she could feel his erection against her belly. "And you would grow to hate me."

"You keep saying that."

"Because it's true. I don't want to hurt you worse than I already have."

"And I don't always want to make the safest choices. If I did, I would be married to Jack."

One of his large hands went to her face, cupping it. "And I can't live with myself if I am the cause of . . ." his voice trailed off. This was their impasse.

She brushed her lips against his and pulled away slightly. "When are you going back?"

"As soon as it's polite," he rolled his eyes at the word, "to say my goodbyes without causing you grief with your family. How about you? You sure you don't want me to send the chopper for you?"

She selected her words carefully, even as she planned her next steps. "I'm going to stay a little longer. Maybe I'll even caddy for my dad on the golf course. It's been a long time since I've been home. I think I needed this."

"Felicity, I . . . " he exhaled. "I wish things could be different, but I'm glad you were able to reconnect with your family. This place – it's the tether that binds you to someplace safe, real."

Tears stung her eyes. Didn't he realize that home wasn't a place; it was a feeling. And she was bound to him.

"I know as soon as you leave here, things will change for us, but I need you to promise me that you'll be careful, Oliver."

"As careful as I can be." His lips brushed against hers in a ghost of a kiss, before he pulled back. "Ready for breakfast?"

"Yes," she replied with a smirk. "It will be great to catch up with Jack. Are you ready?" Her eyes drifted downward at his crotch.

He grimaced. "Is your mom still watching?"

Felicity shook her head. "No, I think we made the point we needed to make. Probably more than she could take."

Oliver exhaled. "I'll be in in a couple of minutes." When I get things under control.

True to his word, Oliver made a get away shortly after breakfast. Ben and Jack offered to drop him off at the regional airport on the way to the golf course, but Oliver declined. Almost as soon as he did, a car service showed outside the house.

Felicity excused herself to go to her childhood room, planning to pack for her own surreptitious return to Starling, but she was quickly distracted by the sight of her tablet and the conundrum at hand.

She racked her brain to remember everything Oliver had told her about the mirakuru. It was formulated during World War II by the Japanese. Anthony Ivo came to Lian Yu specifically to find it, and it was an obsession. A lump formed in her throat when she recounted what Oliver had told her about Shado, about the way Ivo needlessly killed her, all the while ensuring that Oliver took on the guilt for her death. Later, it was Ivo who turned an irrational Slade against Oliver, Ivo who set in motion all that was happening. For as monstrous as Slade sounded, Ivo was right there with him.

Felicity's fingers flew across the touchscreen of her tablet, wanting to find out more. Anthony Ivo, graduate of Columbia University Medical School. Never practiced medicine. Married to Jessica Eldridge in 1995. One child. Earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Cal Tech and remained on faculty, researching. Had his medical license revoked in 2006 for unethical research practices and was denied tenure. Not a big shock there. Then . . . nothing. That was where the trail ended, except Felicity knew he had been in the North China Sea on a treasure hunt unlike any other. Oliver said that in the end, Ivo begged him to kill him, to end his suffering after blood poisoning set in when Slade cut off Ivo's hand.

The man had been so dogged in his determination to find the mirakuru—had murdered for it—but he also formulated a cure for it once he obtained access, though not before he used prisoners on the ship as his personal guinea pigs. It was that cure which Oliver chose not to use on Slade. What had Ivo been planning to do with the mirakuru? Regain his professional credibility? Sell it to the highest bidder? No, there had to be easier ways to do both. Then again, from what she had heard of Anthony Ivo, he didn't sound as though he was the epitome of mental health.

Felicity rubbed her eyes and sighed. She was missing something.

Maybe this called for a different approach. What else did she know about him? He was married—though she pitied the woman who would marry that guy.

She entered a search for Jessica Eldridge Ivo. Information was scarce. Married Anthony Ivo on June 4, 1995. One child, a son Arthur, born in October 1995. Worked as a nurse supporting her husband's academic endeavors until she fell ill in 2006 and was hospitalized. Their son went to stay with relatives—her sister and brother-in-law, it looked like—and Anthony disappeared. She regained her health, left Huntington Memorial Hospital in May 2008 after a nearly two-years stay, and resumed her life, moving to Central City.

Two years.

That must have been difficult. Why would her husband leave her to suffer alone and abandon their son when surely he would have needed his father most?

Within a few minutes, she had hacked into the hospital mainframe and scrolled through the directory. So easy, she thought. They needed to upgrade their security measures. Not that she was complaining.

Patient records: Jessica Ivo.

Felicity's eyes widened. The woman had been on death's door. Leukemia. Failed bone marrow transplant. She had remained hospitalized, kept in protective isolation since her white blood cells were not capable of fighting infection, and even the common cold could have killed her.

Then she'd experienced unexplained subconjunctival hemorrhages in both eyes.

Felicity grimaced when she saw the accompanying photograph. Blood coming out of the eyes? Gruesome.

According to the physician's records, Jessica had been agitated. Cortisol levels were unexpectedly high. So was her strength. She had gone from being unable to lift her head to tearing out of the protective isolation room where she was being kept.

And all traces of her cancer were gone. The doctors called her a miracle patient.

Miracle. Mirakuru?

Felicity's heart pounded. Was it possible? Before he died, had Ivo managed to somehow get mirakuru to his wife? Had her illness been what was driving him, what set him over the edge? When he asked Oliver for death in exchange for the cure, had he done so knowing that his wife would have the chance to live? But how? And if Jessica had been administered the mirakuru, did Jessica experience the same effects as Slade Wilson?

As far as Felicity knew, Deathstroke didn't have a She-hulk counterpart.

Felicity kept digging.

It looked as though Jessica Eldridge Ivo had maintained a quiet existence since she was released from the hospital. She took early retirement, moved to Central City where her son had been staying with family, and lived comfortably off a family inheritance. No signs of any trouble—not even a parking ticket.

A quick search turned up an address for Mrs. Ivo. 1545 N. Skymont Drive. Central City was about an hour-long train ride from Chico. Was it a fool's errand? Perhaps, but she was running out of options.

"Felicity? What are you doing in there?" Felicity nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard her mother call through the door.

She shoved her tablet in her overnight bag and opened the door. "Hey."

"You came all this way, and you've been holed up in there for the last thirty minutes. You aren't having second thoughts about Oliver, are you?"


"All right. Not another word. But just FYI, Jack is still single." Judith's eyes fell on the packed bag. "You're already packed?"

"I've got to go."

"Felicity Megan Smoak, you just got here."

"I know. And I'm sorry, but this is really, really important. I need to get to the train station."

"Fine." But her mother's tone suggested it was anything but fine.

"Please don't be upset. I wouldn't go if it weren't a matter of life or death."

"Yes, you would," her mother countered. "I'll get my keys for you. You can just leave the car at the station. Lock the keys inside. I'll have your father take me over there to pick it up when he gets back from his game."


But Judith Smoak turned on her heels and walked away without another word.

Digg met Oliver at the airfield with the towncar.

"Felicity not come back with you?" Digg asked as Oliver put his bag in the trunk.

"She stayed in Chico to visit with her family."

"How's her grandmother doing?"

"She's fine. Full of personality. No sign of a stroke, just low blood sugar."

"That's good news. How'd it go with the parents?"

Despite everything, Oliver found his lips quirking in the slightest of smiles. "Felicity suddenly makes so much more sense to me." The two men got into the car and started to head toward the Foundry. "Find anything new?"

"I've had Lyla putting out the feelers. So far, nothing. Had a tail put on Isabel, but she's not left her apartment. And I've kept a personal watch on Thea. Everything's quiet."

Oliver nodded. "Thanks. I look for things to get louder on Monday."

"Why Monday?"

"Thanks to Felicity, Frederick McMartin is going to make his investment in QC official, and I'm going to pay off the loan that Starling National Bank holds. So even if Triglav succeeds in taking over the bank . . ."

"…They won't succeed in taking QC," Diggle finished.

"And I'm going to bounce Isabel out on her ass."

"She's co-CEO. You can't fire her."

"No, but the board can for corporate espionage, and we have enough of a trail now that we can do that. If Slade wants to take everything away from me, he's about to find out that I'm not going to make it easy for him or his allies."

"You're trying to force his hand," Diggle realized.

Oliver nodded.

"You know him. What's his next move?"

Oliver looked out his window, Starling City proper coming into view: the skyline, a hint of the waterfront. This was what his father, with his dying breath, had tasked him with protecting. He couldn't fail. To fail in that quest would be to fail his father. Slade knew all too well.

"Slade wants to destroy what I hold dear, and he wants it to hurt. Whatever he has planned won't be quick. The city. My family." He paused a beat, his voice softening. "Felicity. I don't know how to keep any of them safe."

"Ironically, your mom might be the safest of everyone." Diggle gripped the steering wheel. "All right. Let's take each one. City first. Where's the pain?"

"Hard to say. My mission has been to eradicate the festering corruption, to make Starling City a place where people can be safe again, where people can make an honest living. Whatever will impede that mission . . . but the possibilities are endless."


"There's the obvious. Killing them. Killing me. But that's too easy. He will want me to suffer first."

"There's physical pain, and then there's mental anguish," Diggle noted. "What would hurt most?"

"With Thea, if he wants to use her to get to me, tell her how our father died. Reveal that her brother is a monster. Take away every semblance of stability she has. Let those pieces fall into place. Then kill her. Make me watch."

"You've thought about this."

Oliver continued darkly. "Or maybe he'll take the people I love. Make me choose whose life to save. Thea or Felicity. He'll bring my torment around full circle in a ring of poetic justice."

"So how do we mitigate that?"

"I've got to give Thea a reason to leave. Send her someplace Slade would never expect."

"It won't be easy to convince her."

"She's stubborn," Oliver acknowledged.

"A family trait, I've noticed," Digg said with a raised brow. "And Felicity?"

"The best place she can be right now is away from here."

"But this is Felicity we're talking about."

"I have to take her off Slade's radar. Make him think Felicity means nothing to me." It had been so much easier to keep his distance before he realized his feelings. There's an old expression that a person falls in love slowly and then all at once. Oliver knew all too well how apt that was. Those little things about Felicity captivated him, piece by piece, adding up until he could no longer deny the truth.

It was ironic. They had spent the last week trying to sell the world on their relationship. A modern-day Cinderella story is how the media portrayed them, though if they were to go to the fairy tale route, Beauty and the Beast was probably more accurate. Now Oliver had to undo all of that, convince everyone that he was the same fickle playboy that thought he had always been.

"Wouldn't he expect you to break things off with her?"

"We have one advantage. Slade believes that I still think he's dead."

"You really think you can pull that off? I've seen the way you look at her."

"John, I have to. I've just got to hope once this is all over—if I'm still standing and I haven't destroyed whatever goodness she sees in me—that she'll . . . " His voice trailed off. "It's time to call in an old friend."

Felicity double-checked the brass numbers on the side of the single-story red brick home. 1545. How was she going to explain who she was and what she wanted? A little, 'Hey, you don't know me, but your brutally sadistic husband may have given you a magic serum, and I need some of that to stop a madman, please' didn't sound like the way to start things off on the right foot. Even if she did try to soften that with, 'Oh, and your fall display on your porch is lovely,' there just wasn't an easy way to have that conversation.

Her option for further procrastination was removed from her when the door swung open, and a petite red-headed woman with a fierce tone mirrored by a fierce expression asked, "May I help you?" The unspoken message was clear: leave me alone.

The woman must have seen her standing there on the porch. "I—I hope so. Are you Jessica?"

"I'm not buying anything."

"Oh, I'm not selling anything. Promise," Felicity nervously held her right hand up as though she were taking an oath.

The woman at the door looked world-weary in a been-there-done-that fashion. "If you're a researcher, I don't hold the cure for cancer. If you're a religious nut, I am not a modern miracle. And if you are a creditor, I don't know where Anthony is, and I have one more month until our divorce is finalized on the grounds of abandonment. So I can't imagine what I can do to help you."

"I'm not any of those things, but . . . " Felicity took a deep breath. "Oh, this went a lot differently in my head. I know it is kind of, well, creepy when someone you don't know shows up on your doorstep. I mean, it's a really dangerous world out there, but I'm not dangerous. Not that you have any way of knowing that because, hello, stranger here. Hence stranger danger. But stranger danger is totally unnecessary in this case and -"

The other woman's eyes widened in recognition. "Oh my God. It's you."

Felicity turned to look behind her thinking someone else had arrived, but there was no one there. "Oh," she pointed to herself. "You meant me. Wait. You know me?"

"She said you would come. You're Felicity, aren't you?"

To be continued . . .