Author's Note: We are getting closer to the end. This story deserves an ending, so I am back. I hope you are, too. Let me know if you're still reading. :)
Chapter Twenty: Welcome to My Web
Felicity's mind began to race furiously. How could Jessica Ivo know her? And what did Jessica mean by 'She said you would come'? Who was she? The only she that Felicity could imagine would be involved in this wannabe game of Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon was Isabel Rochev, but while Isabel did strike Felicity as duplicitous and dastardly, could she really be that much of a strategist that she would be able to predict that Felicity would research Anthony Ivo's wife and show up at her house? How could she know? If Isabel had already reached Jessica, that would mean Isabel would know that they knew about Slade, or else she anticipated it somehow . . . in which case, Slade and Isabel were ten steps ahead of Team Arrow, and this was a very, very bad idea.
Felicity began to backpedal. "I'm sorry. I must have the wrong house, or you have the wrong person."
"Wait. I'm sorry. I—I know how cryptic that must sound. Please. Don't go."
"Please," Jessica repeated, the harsh expression from earlier melting away.
With a quick nod, Felicity asked, "How do you know me?"
"You babbled. She said you probably would. How do you know me, Felicity?" Jessica echoed in a way that reminded Felicity of the cat who ate the canary. "Come inside. Let's put the pieces of this puzzle together." She stepped aside and waited for Felicity to enter her home.
Welcome to my web, said the spider to the fly, Felicity thought as she walked into the house.
If there was a den of horrors awaiting her, it certainly was not in the living room that the door opened into. The furnishings were cozy—a couch with colorful throw pillows, tasteful knick-knacks. Family photos of Jessica and her son adorned the walls. Any pictures of Anthony Ivo were conspicuously absent.
Jessica studied Felicity's reaction as her gaze fell on a family photo.
"Your son?" Felicity asked.
"Yes. Arthur. Artie—I call him—but he says that makes him sound like a baby."
"He looks like his father. He's brilliant like him, too," Jessica replied. "Let's just hope he doesn't follow in his father's footsteps. Do you know Anthony—like she did at one point?"
"I never met your husband," Felicity replied. "But I do know some people who have. That's why I thought to come to you for help." How much should she reveal? What was the right thing to do? Let Jessica Ivo think her husband was out there somewhere or tell her the truth? "Who is she?"
Jessica did not immediately respond. Instead, she went to her a desk, retrieved a small key from it, and then walked to a built-in cabinet. Moving aside some books, she revealed the false back of the cabinet with a panel and a tiny keyhole. She inserted the key, turned it, and the panel opened. The thought flitted through Felicity's mind that this was not what she expected, but honestly, shouldn't she know by now that no one was really what he or she seemed? So help her, if Jessica Ivo pulled out a gun or poison darts or, God forbid, a kangaroo...
"We're in a strange situation, aren't we?" Jessica commented as she held up a USB thumb drive. "You know more than you are comfortable sharing. I know more than I've told and still not enough." She held out the small portable data device to give it to Felicity. "This is for you."
"What's on it?"
"All I know is it's a USB drive. Other than that..." Jessica's voice trailed off as she shrugged. "I'll admit I tried to take a peek, but it's encrypted. I figured that was a pretty clear indicator that it's none of my business, but she said you'd know what to do with it."
"Who is she?" Felicity repeated her earlier query.
"She called herself Sara," Jessica finally revealed. "I don't know if that's really her name or just something she made up. Does that name mean anything to you?"
Does it?! The only Sara that Felicity knew of was skulking around Starling City, avoiding detection from the League of Assassins and her family all the while protecting those who needed it. They had barely interacted, and most of what Felicity knew about Sara was from what Oliver had told her—second-hand. So why would Sara Lance, a woman Felicity barely knew, leave an encrypted USB drive with Anthony Ivo's wife? If she had something that could help Oliver, why not give it directly to him? How could Sara possibly know that Felicity would come across Jessica Ivo, especially with as secretive as Oliver was about their past?
"I'm not sure," Felicity replied, not quite ready to assume this Sara was Sara Lance. "Could you describe her to me?"
Jessica slowly nodded. "The first time I saw her, I was in the hospital, very ill. Enough to make me think I was either hallucinating or that I was seeing an angel. She was...beautiful. Everyone else I encountered was shrouded in protective gear to prevent germs from the outside from getting to me. But she wore white, and there was a halo around her at first. Then when I could see her better, she had the kindest eyes. Blue. Long, blond hair. A dimple on her chin. Oh, and freckles.' Jessica watched for a reaction from Felicity. "Does that ring a bell?"
Numbly, Felicity nodded. She wasn't sure how it was possible, but Jessica had indeed just described Sara Lance. "What happened at the hospital?"
Jessica continued with her story. "She told me that she was there to help me and that I would be okay, but it was going to hurt." Unconsciously, she rubbed the side of her neck. "I felt something prick my neck, and then she was gone.
"After that," Jessica continued, "it felt like my body was on fire, as though every nerve ending was coming to life. My vision grew dark, but that was probably from the burst blood vessels. And then, I started to feel stronger. I imagined the disease retreating and later found out that's exactly what happened. The doctors had no explanation, but I began to recover. While I felt stronger, I also felt..." Jessica tried to search for the right words and finally settled with, "on edge. Sara may have given me something that saved my life, but I found myself raging—raging that I had spent more than a year in the hospital, raging that my husband was nowhere to be found, raging at the doctors for not being able to give me answers, raging that I was enraged."
Felicity absorbed the information. Did Sara have Mirakuru? Had she somehow used it to save Jessica's life the same way Oliver had used it to save Slade Wilson on Lian Yu? But after everything that Oliver had told her about the Mirakuru—what it did to Slade, how it changed him, made him irrational—why would Sara take that chance? She had seen firsthand the damage it had done. Sure, it saved a dying Slade, but according to Oliver, it was as though he was no longer the same man.
"When she showed up again, I had been out of the hospital for not even a day, but I was impossible to be around. I practically chased away my sister. I—I scared Artie. He ran out of the house and right into her. Into Sara. She walked inside the house uninvited and actually stood right about where you're standing now. She told me she was there to help me, to make the anger go away." Jessica laughed wryly. "I wasn't exactly receptive. I approached her to physically remove her from my house, and she tried to stab me again with a syringe. Only this time, I was faster. I grabbed her arm before she could inject me."
"I know what you must be thinking. I sound crazy," Jessica acknowledged. "Look, if it hadn't happened to me, I would think I am crazy."
"What happened next?"
"We fought. I had never fought anyone in my life. Not even my sister when we were kids. I mean, I used to be a nurse. I tried to help people, not hurt them, but I was so angry, and it was like all that rage needed somewhere to go. I may have been strong, but Sara was...something else. She moved like nobody or nothing I have ever seen before or since, like something from a movie. And in the midst of it all, she managed to inject me with the syringe, and then...I started to feel like me again."
"Whatever you had...she...she cured you."
There was a cure. There was a cure! If Jessica was cured, Slade could be, too. Oliver was wrong. The cure wasn't lost. This could change everything for them.
"Yes. She said she had made a promise to Anthony, and she asked me for something in return."
"To give this to me." Felicity studied the USB drive. Did this hold the secret to curing the Mirakuru-fueled madness?
"You've got it." Jessica studied Felicity's expression. "And I think you have some idea of what's on it."
Felicity nodded. "If I'm right about this, you won't be the only person Sara has saved. How long have you had this?"
"Close to four years."
If Felicity's life were a movie with a sound track, the music would have come to a screeching halt.
Four years ago, Sara Lance was with the League of Assassins. Was this a trick of some kind? A ploy to...well, there was only one way to find out. Felicity fought the urge to literally run out of the house to begin work on decrypting the USB.
"Thank you. For your help, I mean. I wasn't sure what I would find here, but this was way better than the cold calling I used to do in college when I worked at that call center for, like, two seconds."
At that, Jessica smiled. "Just paying it forward."
Felicity tucked the USB thumb drive into her bra and walked toward the door but stopped in her tracks when Jessica blurted, "Anthony's dead, isn't he?"
Felicity nodded slowly. "I'm so sorry."
Jessica's face crumpled before she quickly recovered her composure. "Thank you for telling me. Do you...do you know how?"
Oliver killed Anthony Ivo as a kindness, albeit a bartered kindness. The man was suffering from blood poisoning with no hope of survival after having his hand cut off by Slade. From what Oliver had described, Ivo's last days were filled with agony. While she wasn't a fan of deception, it took only a split second for Felicity to decide that Ivo's widow did not need the gory details. "No, I don't."
Verdant in the middle of the day was quite a far cry from Verdant at night, Oliver thought as he moved through the club with ease. Much quieter, far less crowded. The only people there at the moment were a handful of workers readying for the night's opening in a few hours. It was about a year ago that they had the grand opening, and it was only a matter of weeks ago that they had the grand re-opening after the earthquake. Thea had seen to the refurbishment, just as she had been seeing to the daily in's and out's of the club. When Oliver thought of how much Thea had grown since he came back to Starling, he was overwhelmed with pride. It was just as well. Oliver had no great interest in running a nightclub, not even when he had initially opened it.
A movement from the corner of his eyes had Oliver tensing, ready to act. His posture eased when he realized it was his sister.
Oliver was starting to feel as though even the shadows had shadows, but he owed her some hard truths. Some would be easier than others for her to take.
"You promised me brunch and bailed," Thea chastised as she walked by him briskly, invoices in hand as she headed through the EMPLOYEES ONLY door and down the hallway toward the storage room to check inventory.
"We thought Felicity's grandmother had a stroke," Oliver replied, falling in step behind her.
"Good." She paused a beat. "Maybe a little convenient," she added over her shoulder.
"I don't want to argue with you, Ollie, and I have work to do," she said pushing open the office door.
"I really need to talk to you."
She shuffled some papers on her desk, apparently searching for something. "Why does it seem as though it's always on your schedule?" she asked, not looking up from her task.
"Please. This is important."
She sighed and looked up at her brother. "By all means. Talk."
"Actually. I need to show you something."
"Why are we going to the basement? You have always said it's gross."
Oliver lifted a panel and input a code into a security box.
"Has that always been there?" Thea asked.
"Come on," Oliver replied as the door opened and he stepped onto a landing at the top of the stairs. Switching on the lights, he turned back to his sister who stood gaped-mouth. Oliver closed the door behind her, securing it into place before walking down the metal stairs. Thea followed.
"What is all this?" Thea's eyes moved around the lair. "I thought the basement just housed mechanical stuff for the building." Her eyes took in a trio of computers, the training area, and finally fell on the display case which housed the green leather hood. "He's been using my club all this time? We've got to call the police or . . ."
Oliver swallowed hard. He didn't want Thea to know, didn't want her to realize that he was this...this killer. Thea was the one person who—even when he had been his worst version of Ollie Queen—still admired him in the way that only a little sister can look up to her big brother. It had been a long time since he had seen or felt that admiration from Thea. She wasn't a little girl anymore, and he was hardly worthy of her adoration, but some part of him still wanted to live up to that image. This would bury it. "I know this isn't going to mean much, but I hope you will believe me when I say I lied all this time to protect you."
Thea caught on quickly. "You're—you're him."
"Yeah." Oliver was rigid as though bracing for an onslaught of anger, disappointment, and disgust. Instead, he was met with wonder.
"That night with the hoods—that was you. All those times, I got so mad at you for being a flake or telling me something that I knew had to be a lie, you were saving someone's life." Thea turned to look back at Oliver. "Thank you." Wordlessly, Thea embraced her brother as the pieces began to fall into place. Oliver let out a breath he hadn't even realized he had been holding.
"And thank you for trusting me with this," Thea added pulling from the embrace but gently stroking his stubbled cheek. "You didn't have to tell me, but you did. I have so many questions, and at the same time, suddenly everything about you makes so much more sense."
He took her hand and squeezed it—a gesture he had often done in their younger years—before letting go. Thea began to explore the lair. Her eyes fell on the salmon ladder. "What is that?"
"It's a salmon ladder. It's for pull ups. Sort of."
She wrinkled her nose. "It looks like a medieval torture device." Moving toward the trio of computers, her fingers trailed across the back of the chair that sat in front of them. "You aren't doing this alone."
"No, I'm not," he acknowledged.
"Does Felicity know?" Thea asked before shaking her head slightly. "Of course Felicity knows. She's part of this, isn't she?"
Thea shook her head. "I am such an idiot."
"You're not, Speedy."
"No, this was staring me in the face, and I couldn't see it." She huffed out a breath. "Ollie, what you do is..." She couldn't articulate the thought. A lump formed in her throat as the implications of what he had revealed suddenly became clearer. The Arrow—and what he did—was extraordinary. How many times had Ollie been hurt, nearly killed? And what had he endured that led to him having the skills to be this...this...vigilante?
"I understand if you are disgusted with me. I'm not the same man who left on that boat. The things I've done-"
"Brought you home to us," Thea interrupted. Oliver opened his mouth to protest, but Thea planted her finger on his lips to shush him. "The things you have done have saved lives." Her eyes filled with tears. "Oh, Ollie. What you've been through!"
"Hey, I'm okay," he soothed.
"Liar," Thea admonished lightly. "If you were okay, you wouldn't be out there dressed in leather and shooting arrows at people. I'm guessing there's a reason you're telling me now."
"You're right. There's more. You're in danger because of me. Because of the things I've done." And Oliver began to tell Thea about Slade.
The train ride from Central City to Starling City was scheduled to be three hours long. Fifteen minutes into the ride, Felicity was already going stir crazy. She finally had some answers—and so many more questions. As soon as she got settled on the train, seated in the back naturally so she could avoid prying eyes on her tablet, she went to work on accessing the contents of the USB. Sure enough, just as Jessica mentioned, the drive was encrypted. As soon as she connected the USB thumb drive to her tablet, she was prompted for a nine-character password in order to access the contents.
There was no way she would be able to determine the secret code. Rather than going through the front door, she'd have to take the back door. Within a minute, she had right clicked the disk, clicked on "properties," and accessed the disk security. At that point, it was just a matter of entering her administrator password for the tablet and toggling a radial button, allowing full write permissions for authenticated users. The only thing missing was one of those large, red EASY buttons.
When she clicked on the USB drive's icon, she was no longer prompted for a password. Instead, the files of the drive were listed. A video file, along with several text files comprised the contents.
An image of Sara Lance filled her screen. Her expression looked softer, less haunted, than when Felicity had met her. The backdrop resembled something from a science fiction movie, almost like a spaceship of some sort. Felicity quickly slipped ear buds into her ears and began to listen. "Felicity, if you're watching this, hi. I'm guessing you don't know me very well yet, but we're going to become friends. Only...I need you not to mention this to me because there are rules about time travel, and the me that you know probably shouldn't know about all of this yet."
Time travel? What in the world? Great minds, like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, postulated that time travel was possible in specific, limited ways, but accepting the theory was quite different than accepting the claim that one is a time traveler.
"Maybe you shouldn't lead with that," a tall, dark-haired man commented as he leaned over Sara's shoulder and looked directly into the camera. Was that Ray Palmer, the CEO of Palmer Tech? "Hi Felicity."
Felicity blinked rapidly. Of course, she had heard about Ray Palmer, but she had never met him. He sure seemed to know her, however.
"Go," Sara chided Ray. Once he was out of camera shot, she continued, "This really is me. Sara Lance. I know you think kangaroos are creepy, that mint chip is your favorite ice cream, the first time we really talked I told you you're cute, and you're in love with Oliver. If he's not there yet, give him time because he will be. I also know you're brave and hopeful, and Oliver needs that hope. If Slade's back, he doesn't have much hope, but what's on this drive really is an antidote for the mirakuru. I can just imagine you pressing your lips together right now. You have a ton of questions. You wouldn't be the Felicity I know and love without them, but I have to be careful about what I say—and so do you. When the time comes, you'll know what to do with this."
Felicity took a deep breath. No pressure or anything.
"Are you kidding? Mom's trial is going to be starting soon. Laurel is out for blood. This whole city is. And you want me to hide?
"Mom would want you to be safe."
"Wouldn't I be safer out here in the open with you?"
"I know this is not what you want to hear, but I can't do what needs to be done if I'm worried that you're going to get hurt. You are a vulnerability for me, Thea. You and Felicity and Mom."
"I'm sorry to inconvenience you with my existence," Thea said sarcastically.
"You know that's not what I mean. If something happened to you because of me, I couldn't live with myself."
"I am not your responsibility."
"Are you listening to what I'm telling you?"
"Are you trying to send Felicity to her room without supper, too?"
Oliver tugged at the hem of his shirt before pulling it over his head.
"What are you doing?" The evidence of his suffering stared her in the face. Without thinking, she averted her eyes, not wanting to see.
"Look at me, Thea." When she made no motion, he entreated, "Please, look at me."
Wordlessly, she pursed her lips and forced herself to see—truly see—Oliver. He looked strong, as though crafted from the marble of a classical sculptor, but so many scars marred his torso. She tried not to react, but her heart hurt for her brother.
"This one," he said pointing to his shoulder, "was the first I got on the island. It was from an arrow."
"Is that what gave you the idea?" she huffed.
"In a manner of speaking. It was the start of things. This one," he pointed to the diagonal scar just above his rib cage, "was from a knife. Below it...a shark."
Thea's eyes widened before she stubbornly said, "I don't think any sharks are going to get me in Starling."
"No," Oliver replied pulling his shirt back on, the other scars going unexplained. "Man is a far worse beast. What I did to survive—who I am now—I thought I could keep those parts of me separate, but I can't. And these are just some of the scars that can be seen."
"I'm sorry, Ollie. So, so sorry for everything you went through. Losing Dad. Losing those five years of your life. The pain you've had to endure...I can't even imagine."
"Then please. Speedy, please, let me keep you safe. I have a friend who can help. She'll be here soon."
"Wait. I—I haven't agreed to anything! I have a life, Ollie. There's Roy and...and the club. It won't just run itself."
"I will keep the club going."
"With all your spare time? Oh please."
Oliver couldn't really argue with her there, so he changed tactics. "Roy would want you to be safe, too."
"Yes, let's talk about what everybody else wants for me. Was it Felicity's idea to try to send me away?"
"Thea," Oliver's voice held a warning.
"Right. Of course not," Thea smirked. "Because Felicity would have no other reason to want me gone except that it's for her own good."
"Enough! Felicity is my friend. She agreed to help me with QC by posing as my fiancee, and she is not out to get rid of you."
"You've never cared about the family business."
"Maybe I should have. It's part of our family's legacy. It also funds...this." Oliver raised his hands indicating the headquarters of his night job.
"Wait. Back up. So you and Felicity aren't actually engaged."
"But you let me think you are?! Of all the ridiculous, insane things you've done—and that's saying something—why, Ollie?"
"When I got back from the island, I didn't want anyone to get too close."
Thea nodded slightly, remember how she had begged her brother to let her in. She had also witnessed the way he had seemed to long for Laurel, all the while pushing her away.
"I couldn't risk them finding out my secret. It was easier, cleaner for everyone think I was still this vapid playboy. I played up that image." Oliver squeezed his eyes shut, regret washing over him, regret for the boy he had once been, regret for the man he was now.
"But when you needed to step up in the company, idiot playboy is not a good look."
Oliver met Thea's eyes. "Felicity...she's...she's good and decent and smart. If a woman like her could believe that I am worthy of love, that I am a decent man, then the image of the playboy falls to the wayside." He had put her on the spot, hadn't given her much of a choice but to go along with his inane plan. All the while, she had stood by him, radiating goodness and hope.
"Hey. You are worthy of love. You are a decent man."
"Thea, I've done things that..." his voice trailed off.
"Life isn't black and white. Good and bad. One way or another. Context is key. Everything you've done since being back has been to make this city safe again."
"It's not been enough, and sometimes it's been too much." Oliver took a deep breath before willing himself to find the courage to look squarely at his sister. "I want you know. I'm not judge, jury, and executioner. Not anymore."
"I noticed," Thea replied softly. "What changed?"
"Tommy. Felicity. Diggle. They made me see that maybe there's another way."
"Tommy." Thea's heart clenched. "I miss him. He was always good to me but especially when you were gone."
"I miss him, too." Oliver's thoughts drifted to the night of the Undertaking, of Tommy pinned in wreckage of the CNRI office, of his dying breaths. Oliver would trade places with him without question.
Sensing where her brother's thoughts had taken him, Thea sighed. "It wasn't your fault."
"Maybe not, but I would give anything to have him here. I know that isn't possible, but I can honor his memory."
"Yes, you can. And I'm glad you reached that conclusion."
"I didn't do it by myself. Felicity and John brought me back. Plus I missed you."
"You and Felicity were pretty convincing. You had me convinced enough that I am—oh, I am going to have to eat so much crow. I was not nice to her."
"No, you weren't."
"In my defense, I thought Felicity was cheating on you with that cute guy from the Greek restaurant, but I guess she can't really cheat if the two of you aren't a couple. Or are you?"
"The timing isn't right. I'm not right."
"I don't know that I can do what needs to be done and be the type of man she deserves."
"Isn't that her call? I'm just guessing here, but I'm pretty sure Felicity knows what she's getting with you."
"Thea's right," came another voice from the top of the stairs. "But you've always been too pig-headed for your own good."
That voice was familiar somehow. Thea's gaze shifted to the newcomer. No. It couldn't be! Her blood whooshed in her ears and her face felt hot, as she looked between Ollie and the blond-haired woman who walked down the metal steps with confidence.
Sara Lance smiled sardonically. "What's wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Thea was far more efficient at running Verdant than Oliver could have ever dreamed. Verdant was a well-oiled machine, a testament to his sister's skill in managing many moving parts. Other than a hiccup over whether the latest shipment of Grey Goose had arrived—and where was it—Oliver walked the floor, playing the role of enigmatic host, and waited for Roy to arrive. He had promised Thea that he would speak directly with Roy to explain her absence, a small conciliatory act when he confiscated her cell phone before Sara whisked her away.
He nodded at some of Verdant's patrons, a group of young women who giggled from their booth situated against the wall, and weaved between the throngs of dancing bodies to make his way over to the bar. The bartender was slammed. Oliver knew a bit about tending bar and thought about hopping behind the bar to help out—but he watched the young man who clearly had a system in place and decided against it. He'd probably just get in the way.
The approaching figure of Laurel Lance further disabused him of the notion of helping behind the bar. What was she doing there? Hadn't they already agreed it was better not to interact with his mother's trial coming up?
Clearly Laurel wasn't avoiding him though as she looked to be a woman on a mission.
"You were supposed to drop off my keys."
Even over the music, Oliver could hear the annoyance practically dripping from Laurel's voice. That was not a surprise; Oliver warranted little else from her these days. The cause of the annoyance, however, was a surprise.
With everything going on—the threat of Slade, the tentative McMartin deal to save QC, Felicity's grandmother, convincing Thea to go into hiding—the keys that he had taken the night before to prevent Laurel from driving drunk had completely slipped his mind. He couldn't even keep a simple promise. How as he supposed to keep the big ones?
Not that he could tell her any of that. A mea culpa was the most efficient route. He'd certainly issued plenty of those in the years they had known each other. "I'm sorry. Time got away from me."
"It's a good thing I wasn't counting on you. I know better than that." She watched for a reaction but Oliver betrayed very little except for the tightening of the muscle in his jaw. If she needed to unload, he would let her. "I had a spare car key. Too bad the key to my apartment was on the set you have. I had to call my dad to let me in to the apartment."
"Must have been awkward." Oliver knew Quinton Lance had been concerned over Laurel's drinking. Getting a drunken call from his daughter was sure to exacerbate that concern.
"That's putting it mildly." Laurel didn't elaborate. "I'd like my keys back, Oliver."
Well shit. "I don't have them on me." Oliver tried to recollect exactly where they were. Probably in the jacket pocket of his suit from the night before. "I think they're at Felicity's."
"Right," Laurel huffed. "Of course they are."
"I will get them back to you. Again, I'm sorry." He started to walk past her, but she caught his arm, stilling his movement.
"Well, the least you can do is buy me a drink."
He turned to meet her eyes. "No. The least I can do is not buy you a drink."
Her eyes filled with unshed tears and the expression on her face could not have looked more stricken if she tried. He hated that look. He had seen it too often over the years and had been such a sucker for it.
He looked over Laurel's shoulder, and across the distance of the room, his eyes locked with Felicity. She wasn't supposed to be there; the look on her face acknowledged as much. But there was more he saw—even from a distance, even with the pulsating blue and green lights—it was strength, resolve, stubbornness. He took one step toward her without thinking, as though drawn by an invisible string that tugged him closer to her orbit.
Next to him, Oliver heard Laurel's sharp intake of breath. "My God."
Oliver forced himself to tear his gaze away from Felicity.
"The way you look at her! Your whole expression changed just now. You really don't love me. You never did."
"I didn't want to see it, but I wish I had before now. All those wasted years, Ollie. All of that precious time." The tears finally spilled over her cheeks. Furiously, she brushed them aside. "I'll see you in court." As though driven by an unseen dynamo, she walked away, head held high.
He picked up his cell phone. "Hey. It's Oliver. Laurel was just here at the club. She's upset...yeah. I know. Could you keep an eye on her?" He watched as Felicity paused outside a door marked PRIVATE. It led down a corridor to the offices and inner-workings of Verdant. It also led to the security console that protected one of the entrances to the basement. She looked back at him, tilting her head as though to beckon him. "Thanks," he added before ending the call. And Oliver was in pursuit.
"When did you get back?" Oliver asked as he ambled down the metal steps into the basement of Verdant, the home base of their other job that Felicity only half-jokingly called the Arrow Cave. He felt such a strange dichotomy knowing she was there. On the one hand, he desperately needed her to be safe. The thought that she was out of pocket and with her family had given him the clarity he needed to take care of other matters. But the other part of him—the selfish side—was thrilled to see her. If Laurel's drug of choice was alcohol, Oliver was starting to become convinced that his drug of choice was Felicity. The weight that oppressed him, the darkness that seemed to envelop him—both were held at bay when she was in the room. Every quirk of her brows, even every babble made him ache to hold her.
Felicity self-consciously ran her hand over her wavy hair. Oliver's heart quickened, remembering that morning when he had buried his hands in her hair as her small hand had gripped him, guiding him to her opening. Never had he wanted a woman so much. And he had denied himself.
He didn't deserve her.
He would only hurt her.
He would only lead to her destruction, just as he destroyed everything he touched.
But that didn't ease the yearning he felt, the utter aching.
The intensity of his gaze was not lost on her. "Um...I got back this evening. Is Laurel okay?"
"She will be. I hope." He paused a beat. "I took her keys last night. She needs them back."
"I think they're at my place," Felicity murmured. "We left so quickly..."
His eyes caught sight of her trio of computers, already up and running some type of process or search or something else he didn't entirely recognize. "I thought you were staying in Chico to visit with your family." How he wanted to reach out, to touch her, to ground himself with her and against her. That invisible string he had felt tugging seemed more of a chain.
Her teeth scraped over her bottom lip. "I may have let you think that."
"So I could investigate without you going all 'I shall protect you' on me." He wasn't sure whether to be offended or amused by the affectation of machismo in her voice.
"Investigate? What have you been doing, Felicity?"
"I went to Central City. And then I really needed to come back here."
"You need to stay away from me. I'm just going to get you hurt. Look, I convinced Thea to go someplace safe for awhile-"
She took a deep breath and seemed to count to five, letting out her breath slowly. "Can we table that discussion for a little while? Because...drumroll please... I've got something."
"I think I may have a cure for mirakuru. I mean, maybe. Actually, maybe even a cure for cancer in a roundabout way. Jury's still out, but we kind of know a guy who could use a cure. For the mirakuru, I mean."
"What?" he repeated, trying to follow her line of reasoning.
"Did you know Anthony Ivo was married?"
"No. In all the times he tormented me, it never came up," Oliver snapped in exasperation.
"Well, he was. I guess what they say is true. There's someone for everyone, even mad scientists who—okay. Not the point. I've been doing some research, and -"
"Felicity, you need to stay out of this."
"That ship has already sailed." Felicity cringed. "Sorry. Terrible idiom considering, well, everything. But you need to listen." Instinctively, she reached out for his forearms, gripping them as she spoke excitedly. "Anthony Ivo was married to a woman named Jessica. Six years ago, Jessica was diagnosed with leukemia. She was very sick, and eventually she was confined to an isolation room in the hospital. Ivo disappeared, presumably to find a cure. He had heard rumors of something miraculous drug developed by the Japanese during WWII. But he obviously never made it back."
"Where are you going with this?"
"Four years ago, Sa..um, someone, came to visit Jessica Ivo in the hospital and injected her with something. Made her go all grrr." She broke the contact with him and bent her fingers into claws.
"No. Stay with me here. Whatever this was saved her life. It destroyed the cancer cells, brought her back from the brink of death, and made her incredibly strong, but it also made her aggressive. Sound familiar?"
"I'll admit. It's an amazing coincidence, but there is no more mirakuru. Ivo died, and his secrets died with him. Or with me when I tried to kill Slade instead of cure him. You're wasting your time going down a rabbit hole."
"Are you sure? Because once Jessica was out of the hospital, this same person showed up at her house with a cure."
"Wbo was this person?"
"You know and aren't saying."
"You keep saying that," she fussed mildly. "Look, you asked me once if I trusted you."
"And you said yes. Even though I had told you some lies."
"Ridiculous ones. They were ridiculous."
"And I'm asking you to trust me now."
And there it was.
"I do trust you. You and John are the two people in this world that I would trust with my life. But this all seems too easy."
"This is easy?"
"And Jessica Ivo just volunteered all this information to you? I know you have a way with people, but come on."
"She gave me this." Felicity held up a USB thumb drive. "I can't tell you how I know we should trust it, but I think we should. What can it hurt?"
"Famous last words."
"Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith, Oliver."
Her life was supposed to be different.
It wasn't the first time Laurel had lamented that fact. If only she could go back in time and warn the girl with the "perfect" plans to just let them go—to let him go. If anyone asked her during those years he was gone and they all thought he was dead, she had let him go. He didn't deserve her sorrow, sure as hell didn't deserve any tears from her. But he pulled her back into his web—and what a beautiful web it was.
They had fought so many times over the years. She punished. He tried to make amends. Rinse. Repeat.
This felt different. Oliver was different.
And she would punish again. The Queen family deserved to be held accountable for the Undertaking. Granted, only Moira was on trial, but that was the start.
She parked her car and grabbed the brown paper bag of new purchases from the liquor store. She had the good stuff for the night. Soon, she would be blissfuly numb.
She trekked up the two flights of stairs, her hand already reaching for the top of the Smirnoff vodka. Arriving at her door, she was surprised to find it slightly ajar.
Oliver. He had come back. Just as he always did.
He must have let himself in using her key.
The apartment was dark as she pushed the door closed behind her and turned on the light. She half expected to see a room full of flowers with him at the center holding a single red rose. Instead, nothing. Everything was as she had left it.
"Ollie?" she called out walking toward the kitchen.
"Definitely not Oliver," a deep, accented voice said in reply.
Laurel spun around on her heels. A man stood between her and the door. She studied him, memorizing his features. He was broad, muscular, with dark hair graying at the temples.
But his most obvious feature was the patch he wore over his right eye.
To be continued...