Synopsis: By 9:00 a.m., she had broken a heel, lost her cell phone, and been the victim of a coffee catastrophe. By 9:30 a.m. she had "borrowed" the NSA mainframe. By 10:00 a.m., she was engaged to Oliver Queen. Really, it was all in a day's work.
Rating: T, though later chapters may venture near/into M territory
Warnings: None yet.
Spoilers: Anything up through episode 2x6 "Keep Your Enemies Closer" is fair game.
Disclaimer: We know this one by heart, right? All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: Wow! I am so incredibly humbled and amazed by your response to the first chapter of this story. The reviews, the follows, favorites, and PMs have been tremendous and so, so motivating. I've been having such a good time writing this story; it's so nice to know you enjoyed the first part, and I truly hope you will enjoy this installment, as well.
I should mention the title of this chapter is inspired by a poem called "Valentine for Ernest Mann" by Naomi Shihab Nye. I'm generally not into poetry, but that one is both so deliciously funny and poignant, I can't help but recommend it.
Part Two: You Can't Order a Fiancée Like You Order a Taco
Until Felicity Smoak met Oliver Queen, she could count on one hand the number of times she had been surprised in her adult life. Incidentally, they were all unpleasant surprises, as opposed to the surprise of finding a twenty-dollar bill that she'd forgotten in her coat pocket or discovering she'd won a lifetime supply of Tootsie Roll Pops. No, the surprises in her life usually had more to do with utter mortification than satisfaction.
There was the time her friend JoJo set her up on a blind date with the promise, "You and Eli will hit it off. You have so much in common!" JoJo was right about that; she and Eli had grandparents in common. It turned out that perfect-for-her Eli was actually her first cousin, which would have been fine if she were Poe, one of the locals from Deliverance, or didn't care whether her family tree branched out. They had been able to laugh about it, though it did make for a particularly awkward family reunion that year at the lake.
Then there was the time she had surprised herself, throwing caution to the wind and more shots down her throat than she could count, all because Jack Sommet said she couldn't hold her liquor. It turned out Mr. Wrong was right about that. The next day she had awoken with an unfortunate hangover (which thankfully passed) coupled with an even more unfortunate tattoo (which didn't pass). She still hadn't told her mother about that one.
Perhaps even more horrifying than JoJo's gleeful declaration of "Smoaky, you have a tramp stamp!" was when her Oma Miriam sent her a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey with particular pages dog-eared for her quick perusal. While her "inner goddess" did not flip over the novel, her stomach did turn a bit. She wondered what her straight-laced cousin Eli would say about their grandmother sending her erotica.
And…that was about it. Until she met Oliver, most days were like the ones before. She got up, did a jogging route around the neighborhood, got ready for work, averted computer meltdowns thus saving the business world as she knew it, went home or occasionally out with friends, and began the process all over again the next day.
Felicity's life was not one of endless surprises, and for the most part, she was fine with that. She knew what to expect, took comfort in weighing probability in her mind. Still did, to some extent. In fact, if her life of crime (fighting) ever came to an end, and her reputation was in shreds, assuming she could avoid the big house, she was fairly certain she could fall back on being a Vegas odds-maker. Better that than being a showgirl, something she knew without a doubt she did not have the coordination or general lack of inhibitions to do. It didn't take a genius in probability to figure that out.
So, no, few surprises came Felicity's way. Maybe it was because she played things safe, planned every aspect of her life meticulously.
Safe. That notion went out the door when Oliver walked through hers.
And she wouldn't have it any other way.
Oliver was one of the few people who could surprise her. She admired this about him—usually. Now, as she stood in his office in what had to be the most awkward meeting ever, she stiffened. Her face grew hot, her heart slammed against her ribs, and the blood whooshed in her ears. She nearly thought she was having an out-of-body experience, minus the part about being dead or nearly dead, except she hadn't actually gone anywhere and Oliver's hand was still on her waist, the gliding of his fingers leaving a heat trail on the silken blouse he'd bought her after her earlier coffee catastrophe.
Surely she'd heard him wrong.
"Felicity has done me the honor of agreeing to be my wife."
Since when?! She tried to keep an impassive expression, but she also recognized she had never been much of a poker player. From the corner of her eye, she peered up at Oliver. The set of his jaw, the seriousness of his gaze. Wow. If she didn't know better, she would say he was telling the truth. And then his eyes dropped, met hers, and with his other hand, he tenderly brushed a stray lock of hair that had fallen across her cheek.
"Be ready," he had told her.
How in the heck was she supposed to be ready for that? They hadn't even been on a date! The man at least owed her dinner and a movie, maybe some pie before she would agree to marry him. But no, they'd skipped through all the boring stuff like courtships and I-love-you's and acrobatic sex and gone straight for the fake engagement. It was official. Somewhere along the way, her life had turned into a bad romantic comedy, minus the romance and the comedy. Surprise, surprise.
And she couldn't shake the contradiction of his earlier words—the ones she had mulled over for longer than she cared to admit. How was she supposed to reconcile "I just think that it's better to not be with someone that I could really care about" with "Felicity has done me the honor of agreeing to be my wife"? She had wanted so much for him to stop being emotionally shunted, to open his eyes and see the possibilities in front of him, to choose to truly see her. It was a cruel irony. Evidently, he had done just that and decided that he could be with her—at least as far as the outside world was concerned—because she wasn't someone he could care about.
"When are you due?" Isabel's voice cut through the thumping of Felicity's heart. "Or claiming to be due?"
"We haven't set a wedding date yet," Felicity managed as she straightened her glasses, not fully hearing or comprehending the other woman's question, only knowing that Isabel, with her cool gaze, was awaiting a response.
Oliver's eyes narrowed. "Felicity's not pregnant."
Right, Felicity thought. For that to happen, we'd have to actually have sex. Not that she hadn't been curious, hypothetically again, with the way things stood, Isabel had a better chance of being Oliver's Baby Mama, and Felicity was fairly certain the woman had the maternal instincts of a Tasmanian devil.
Isabel looked from Oliver to Felicity. "Then why would the two of you get married? You are the CEO and co-owner of Queen Consolidated. And you," she said scouring Felicity with her stare, "are a personal assistant who doesn't even make coffee."
"Felicity is the best thing to ever happen to me. Better than I deserve," Oliver said with conviction. Yes, he was very convincing—convincing enough to make Felicity's stomach do somersaults, even though she knew better.
"And for the record, I do make coffee. Sometimes." Her comments sounded childish in her own ears. "Just…not for you," she added feebly staring coldly at the brunette.
Isabel folded her arms across her chest. "Is this an imprudent attempt to curry favor with the more conservative investors? This is perfectly amusing, but in all seriousness, Oliver, leave the investors to me."
The condescension of the other woman's tone irked Felicity. Despite the fact she halfway wanted to throttle Oliver herself, she couldn't ignore the surge of protectiveness. "You underestimate Oliver's abilities."
"Oh, I'm quite aware of his abilities," Isabel smirked. She turned her attention back to Oliver. "Don't do anything foolish. I don't want to have to clean up your mess." With that, she sauntered from the room leaving Oliver and Felicity alone.
Felicity stepped away from his touch and turned to face him. "Why do you let her talk that way to you?"
From the tightness of his jaw, she could tell he didn't like it either. "All the world's a stage. We all have parts we play. I'm playing mine for the time being."
"And now evidently I'm playing a part, too. You are totally exhausting me." Her tone of disapproval was impossible to miss. "You do know you can't order a fiancée like you order a taco, right? I mean, at some point, please tell me you learned that."
He looked at her, his expression apologetic. "I tried to reach you this morning."
"Still not a taco," she protested as she pointed toward herself.
Despite her obvious anger, Oliver couldn't help the lopsided smile that formed on his lips. Felicity surprised him. While he could depend on her, quite literally, with his life, he never quite knew what she was going to say. All he knew was that it would be a unique perspective and likely dizzying.
But she was a breath of fresh air in a life that had gone stale of hope. And when she'd smile at him, believe in him, he'd felt less like a monster and more like a man. A better man, what Oliver Queen should have been.
But Felicity wasn't smiling now.
"Don't," she pursed her lips. "Don't think you can smile at me and charm your way out of this."
"I need your help."
"Yes, you do," she nodded. "Frequently."
"I'm sorry we didn't talk about it before I sprang this on you, but think of it as field work. You're always saying you want to do more field work."
"You want me to pretend to be your fiancée. That goes beyond field work, don't you think? Have you actually thought this through?"
"If you agree, it will be for appearance's sake. After a discreet amount of time has passed, we can end the engagement. No one gets hurt. You can be the dumper."
Her eyes narrowed. "That was the proposal that everyone dreams of. Said no woman. Ever. What about your family? What about my family?"
"You had no right, Oliver," she said quietly.
"I know, and you have every reason to be angry, but let me explain why I did it."
"I already know what you're going to say."
His brows furrowed. "You do."
"It's life-or-death, for the greater good, dogs-and-cats-living-in-harmony important. Just…" her frown deepened, "I can't. Not this." She scrubbed her hand across her forehead. "I need a cigarette."
"You don't smoke."
"I'm pretty sure I'm about to start because I need a new bad habit. This one's getting old. And-" she glanced toward the reception area, "it looks like your ten o'clock meeting is here."
With that, she hurried away to greet Oliver's appointment.
Oliver couldn't focus. If Mr. Westley noticed, the older man didn't comment on it, so enthusiastic in his own account of Queen Consolidated's Asian market ventures, his toupee had gone askew during his presentation. While Mr. Westley went through the quarterly expenditures report item by item, Oliver tried to soak in the information, only to find it didn't quite capture his attention the way his view of Felicity did.
She sat at her desk, working away at her computer, but her head was bobbing and her lips moving. Was she talking to herself? Her back was ramrod straight, her left leg folded over her right.
There were two people in the world he unequivocally trusted, and trust was an invaluable commodity. But this wasn't something Diggle could do for him. Hell, he had reservations asking Felicity for this. Digg had warned him against it, that they would find another way. With the way she reacted, Oliver had to agree that Digg was right, though he wasn't likely to tell him so.
Even though Felicity had proven herself over and over to be a good friend, things between them had become complicated. If he'd just let himself go there, Felicity could be so much more than a friend. Oliver felt it in the air between them, in the tenderness of her looks when she didn't realize he was watching. He didn't want to be the one that extinguished the light in her eyes, the innocence. What did he have to offer her, or any woman, for that matter?
But he was definitely muddying the waters. He knew she cared, knew how unfair it was to ask her to help him in this capacity. He also knew that if she accepted, he would have to keep himself in check. Touching her was too easy to start, too difficult to stop.
He watched with curiosity as she went to retrieve something from a drawer—and froze. She withdrew a small, velvet box and opened it before her mouth gaped slightly. She looked back at Oliver, saw that he was watching her, and quickly turned away closing the box.
"Do you have any questions, Mr. Queen?"
The direct address pulled Oliver from his observation. "No. I think that about covers it."
He would have to look over the report at a later time when he wasn't so distracted, though he didn't tell Mr. Westley that.
And as the two men rose to shake hands, Oliver saw that Felicity was gone.
Only Oliver would leave what had to be a $150,000-plus emerald and baguette diamond ring set in platinum in the drawer of her desk, Felicity fumed. He must've been confident she would go along with him. How incredibly arrogant!
He should be confident, the voice of reason warred within her. You have willingly done whatever he has asked. Why should this be any different?
But somehow it was.
I'm done. I'm done. I'm done.
What a waste that he'd sprung for such a nice ring. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, the expense was a drop in the bucket to him. She hadn't tried it on, certainly didn't want to get attached to something that represented a sham, but she still had a hard time leaving it in her desk while she ran an intra-office errand. It made no sense.
She waited at the elevator and could hear the clicking of high heels behind her. The sound reminded her of her own questionable footwear.
"Excuse us, Casper," Isabel instructed her lanky assistant.
"Yes, Ms. Rochev."
Not this again.
Her back to Isabel, Felicity surreptitiously removed the ring from its box and slid it onto her finger before hiding the box under the papers she carried. And just as Oliver knew the correct size for the blouse and bra she wore, he evidently knew her ring size, as well. The gems sparkled on her slender finger, though she had to admit the ring weighed it down, and she wondered how difficult it would be to type with it on.
Getting ahead of yourself. She had to admit the ring was beautiful though, and the emeralds were a nice touch, a bit like a bona fide Oliver Queen nod and a wink.
The chime of the elevator sounded. Felicity boarded the lift with Isabel close behind. She pressed the numeral four and looked to Isabel who said, "Ground."
Felicity pressed the G button on the elevator control panel and stared fixedly at their distorted reflections on the walls. Amazing how Isabel could still be stunning even in those circumstances.
"I don't believe you and Oliver are being honest."
And there it was. The first salvo.
"It doesn't matter whether you believe it or not," Felicity replied trying to keep her voice neutral but unable to hide the sharpness seeping out. Was she really going to do this? Play along?
"The ring is lovely. It will be the first of many gifts, as I'm sure you know. You will continue to be rewarded with such trinkets, particularly when a Queen man has cause to feel guilty. Did Oliver give you that ring because of our encounter?"
The elevator came to a halt at the fourteenth floor. The doors began to slide open. Upon seeing the man standing there waiting to board the elevator, Isabel coldly told him, "Take the next one," and pushed the close door button.
"You can't even pretend to be nice," Felicity said as the elevator began to move again.
"I didn't get ahead in business by being nice. I have to be shrewd, and as a woman, I have to work twice as hard for half the respect." Isabel spoke with a practiced nonchalance that grated on Felicity's nerves.
And suddenly she understood why Oliver didn't react strongly to Isabel. Her provocation was part of a strategy, a way to gain information and leverage.
Without another word, Isabel pushed the emergency stop button.
Felicity rolled her eyes. You've got to be kidding me. "I need to go."
"Not yet. I'm still trying to figure you out."
"What does it matter?"
But Isabel circled around the blonde. "There are two types of women who marry into the Queen family. The golddigger who doesn't care about her husband's extra curricular activities, so long as she gets prestige, the designer garments and accoutrement, and lives a life of luxury. I have no use for such a woman. A woman should earn her way, yes? And then there is the woman who buries her head in the sand, who thinks she can tame a man, change his very nature. She is foolish, and she is weak. I have even less use for that woman."
"And you're going to tell me which I am," Felicity stated blandly.
"It is not difficult to see. You know that Oliver was in my bed a mere two weeks ago. You were hurt. I could see it on your face at the hotel, I can see it now, and still you accepted his marriage proposal. Your truly laughable footwear suggests you aren't a golddigger, so it's obvious you're a fool. And fools get what they deserve." Isabel's eyes ran over Felicity once more. "It's a disappointment, really. Somehow I thought you were more."
At that, she pressed the resume button.
It was another almost thirty minutes before Felicity made it back to the top floor. As soon as she stepped off the elevator, she saw Oliver walking down the hall toward her.
She ducked into a nearby ladies room—though in actuality it should've been called rooms. The anterior area was a lounge replete with plush sofas, decorative mirrors, and silk flowers, much more swanky than the restrooms on the lower floors of the building, though most of the executive offices had their own lavatories. She sank onto a sofa and took a deep breath.
She wished she were the type to wallow in misery; instead when she saw a problem, she tried to determine a solution. The whole morning, she had been so out of her element. How do you solve a problem like Oliver Queen?
And to top it off, the sofa was more comfortable than the one in her apartment. Maybe she could swap one out in the dead of night. There had to be some perks to being the owner and CEO's pseudo fiancée, right?
She looked up as the door swung open.
You've got to be kidding me, she thought as she watched Oliver step inside and turn the lock on the door to prevent any unwelcome guests. She faintly hoped no one had any bathroom emergencies.
"I've always wondered what it looked like in here." His words were casual, something Playboy Oliver would have said, but his expression was anything but casual. He wore the quiet intensity she had grown accustomed to.
"You're right to run the other direction. That would be the smartest thing you could do."
She shrugged. "I know."
And yet she made no move to leave.
He sat next to her on the sofa, his knee touching hers. She felt a jolt of electricity at the contact, wondered if he felt it, too, but immediately dismissed the notion.
Oliver was a man she could never have; he made that perfectly clear when they returned from Moscow and ever since. Still she was drawn to him, and ultimately, that was what made what he was asking her to do so incredibly difficult. He was wounded and complicated and dark. He'd done horrible things for the right reasons and lived with ghosts of the past breathing down his neck, as he tried to atone for his actions, for the sins of his father, his mother. Tried to atone for the 503 lives lost in the Glades, for Tommy, for failing to save them all. Sometimes she thought it was a wonder he could breathe at all, and she ached to relieve his burden and longed to reach out to him. But dammit, for all of his impressive skills, another area in which he excelled was he knew how to piss her off and make it look easy.
And there was his knee, so relaxed against her own. She could feel the warmth seep from him. Biology, simple biology. Pheromones. And there was the adrenaline. Yes, it all made perfect sense and none at all. Why him? Why couldn't she just meet a nice, normal man who made her knees quiver?
And she knew why. She didn't do normal anymore. The life of safety she used to embrace held little appeal. Not that she particularly wanted to be in danger, but she wanted to make a difference, and helping Oliver made a difference.
"My life is screwed up right now."
"Yep," she replied, the p in yep coming out with an exaggerated pop. "I know that, too. So what's going on that we go from zero to sixty? And really, come to think of it, back to zero because the sixty thing was just for show, right?"
Oliver blinked twice in rapid succession as he processed Felicity's strange stream of consciousness. She deserved answers. "My father always taught me to keep my friends close but keep my enemies closer."
"Sage advice." Especially if your enemy looks like a cross between a ballerina and a fashion model.
"I'm trying to keep my family's company together, to make it be a force for good in this city. A lot of people depend on QC for their livelihoods."
"Including yours truly," Felicity interjected raising her hand. His eyes fell on the ring, but he said nothing about it. "And Queen Consolidated helps to provide resources for our friend in green."
Oliver leaned forward, his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped. "Isabel has been an enigma. She's the variable I can't account for in the equation."
So you sought answers in her vagina, the least obvious place for answers, Felicity thought sullenly. "Look at you being all mathematical."
But calling Isabel Rochev enigmatic was like calling the Pacific a puddle of water. Felicity knew this from experience from months ago when she researched the woman hell-bent on a hostile takeover of Queen Consolidated. What she found was startling. For all intents and purposes, Isabel Rochev didn't exist before 1999. What little information Felicity had been able to dig up on her had been unimportant. It was unheard of for someone who had risen to such a level of prominence among the movers and shakers of world conglomerations to be so hidden, lacking even a public persona. An even bigger question mark was why Rochev's name was on The List. With the other names, it took very little digging to uncover their nefarious deeds, but someone had gone to great lengths to cover Isabel's past, both distant and recent, which begged the question why. If only there was a thread to pull, perhaps they could unravel the whole thing. So, yes, she understood why Oliver would be interested in getting close to Isabel. Didn't mean she had to like it.
"Walter approached me recently. Over the last few weeks, a company by the name of Triglav Holdings has been quietly buying stock in Starling National Bank."
"The bank that holds some of your family's interests in Queen Consolidated," Felicity followed.
"Triglav Holdings is mounting a takeover of the bank."
"You think it's Isabel?"
"She doesn't have the financial resources personally, but Walter thinks she is involved. The company buying an interest in Starling National Bank is a dummy corporation for Stelmoor International."
"Talk about persistence," Felicity muttered.
"If Isabel is pulling strings to wrestle Queen Consolidated away from me, I have to be prepared with counter-moves. Find financing elsewhere. Walter has done everything he can to help, but it's likely he will be forced out of SNB."
"And I'm your countermove?" Felicity asked incredulously.
"You're one of the few people in this world that I absolutely trust."
"So what good does telling her we're engaged do? Are you trying to piss her off? Make her reveal her hand? What?"
"She's been curious about us. She knows your background in IT, knows that you are an unusual choice to be an executive assistant, and knows that we spend a lot of time together outside of work. I needed to give her a reason why."
"Everyone else just thinks we're playing office, which is funny because no-way, no-how with those glass walls." She laughed nervously.
"You know about that?" he asked.
"Well, yeah. I wasn't born yesterday."
"I've played up an image, partly to divert attention from what we do after hours, partly because it's easier to hide in plain sight. But in doing so, the only reputation I have is one of a spoiled playboy who has never had to work for anything, who doesn't value anything but his own pleasure."
"So you need image rehab, and I'm it."
"You're approachable. Real. Decent. If a woman like you—a woman of substance—sees potential in me, there must be something there, right?"
And something in her chest tightened. She had always seen the potential in him, even when he apparently could not. Just as quickly as the thought came, she tried to brush off the swell of emotion. If they did this (how could she even consider it?), she couldn't allow herself to become emotionally attached. Well, more attached.
"Either that or I'm after your money," she joked humorlessly. "Because that's what they'll say."
"And you'll be you and show them the error of their ways, show them the beauty I see in you—inside and out."
Felicity swallowed hard, needing to change the direction of the conversation. "Why didn't you tell me about the bank? About your suspicions of Isabel?"
"I didn't want to rub salt in your wounds."
"I'm a big girl, Oliver. And I'm sure I could've helped you do something."
"You can help me now."
"Is that why you had me researching Frederick McMartin? The McMartin Group seems like it would be right up your alley if you're wooing new investors."
He nodded. "Except that Mr. McMartin isn't a fan. He was a friend of my father's, but the last time we saw each other, I acted like an ass. Hit on his daughter." Oliver grimaced. "I guess I did more than hit on her."
"That's who we're going to try to convince to invest in QC? An angry father? Because from everything I read about this guy, he takes his family very seriously."
"It's been seven years."
Felicity thought of her own father and the way he stood by with a protective stance when she left the house on her first date. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure there's no expiration date on angry fathers. Do you have something in mind?"
"McMartin is part-owner of the Starling City Rockets. They're playing at home tonight. He has a private box. So does my family."
"So you want to make a sales pitch at a hockey game?"
"I want to make contact. That's all. Plant a seed." He paused as he studied the woman next to him. "Do you like hockey?"
Decision time. She knew where this was going.
"Hockey? What's there not to like? I mean, I don't completely understand it, but that's only because I haven't…studied it." She took a deep breath and looked down at her hand.
Oliver followed her line of sight. "The ring looks good on you."
She cleared her throat. "The clothes are nice, too. Dry."
"It was my pleasure."
"Perfect fit. All of it. You really know my body. Well, not know it-know it. I mean, we've never had sex. I mean you've had sex, obviously. Lots of it. And I've had sex. Just not together. And … wow. I don't know when to shut up. Well, I do, I just…" She squeezed her eyes shut and stopped abruptly before taking a deep breath. "I've got to stop doing that. Are you sure I'm the one for this job?"
His blue eyes twinkled with amusement. "Depends on whether you're going to hide out in the bathroom all day."
"Maybe. Wrong answer?"
He stood and held out his hand to her. Hesitantly, she took it. "So what do you say? Will you do me the honor of being my pretend fiancée? We could get…" she watched as his lips curled into a smile, "tacos for lunch to celebrate."
Was Oliver Queen actually cracking a joke? It was a horrible joke, but for a man who looked like he used to smile all the time but had kicked the habit, Felicity couldn't help but appreciate the attempt—and the surprise. She managed a smile of her own even as she shook her head. "Are you buying?"
"I think that can be arranged."
"Hmmm. Just like our engagement."
And so she accepted his marriage proposal in a bathroom.
But their real work was just beginning.
to be continued...