The smell of hot dogs and hamburgers suffused the air of the backyard. Sara and Lydia splashed in the kiddie pool set up in the corner with Nyssa, Sara’s friend from her brief bout with community college, and Jeanie, a girl Lydia knew from high school. Her father, sporting the black “King of the Grill” apron they’d given him years ago, leaned back to pull his wife against him and land a soft peck on her lips. Felicity and Caitlyn reclined on adjacent plastic lawn chairs, wiggling their toes in the sunshine. The Lance/Smoak brood always ate family dinner together on Sundays, but the end of the summer picnic in the backyard was Felicity’s favorite.
This year’s picnic boasted two special guests though: Tommy Merlyn and Ray Palmer. Quentin insisted that Laurel bring her new boyfriend home officially, but no one had any idea why Mr. Palmer called her father and asked for a friendly get-together. Quentin explained that the man who held the loan wanted to speak with him about something, but not what. Only that the conversation in question needed to happen in person.
Why it had to happen when her dad was grilling in the backyard was anybody’s guess.
Felicity leaned over to her best friend, “Psst, I’m really glad you could make it today. I know how busy you are.”
Caitlyn tipped up her sunglasses. “Of course, I wouldn’t miss the picnic for the world.”
“We’re here,” Laurel called as Tommy opened the back gate.
Felicity jumped up and ran over to embrace her sister. Sure, she’d seen her after she’d fixed Oliver’s laptop, but for two girls used to seeing each other daily, even a week seemed an eternity, let alone the three that it had been.
She turned to Tommy, “Good to see you again.” He and Laurel had grown close quickly, working together did that, but seeing the smile the man brought to the brunette’s face made her love him just a little bit herself.
Felicity watched as Laurel walked with Tommy, their fingers intertwined, over to where Quentin flipped burgers and pretended stoicism and nonchalance: typical dad responses that warmed her and made her feel like maybe, just maybe, everything would turn out for the best in their lives.
“Tommy Merlyn, aren’t you just as handsome as ever,” her mother flirted.
He winked and kissed her cheek. “Donna, are you sure you’re not Laurel’s sister?”
“Oh you…” pushing him away, her mother giggled, “just go get yourself a drink, before I steal you away.”
Seeing Tommy reminded Felicity of the insufferable Oliver Queen. She’d let her guard down with him, climbing onto the back of his motorcycle, her hands feeling the flex of his muscles beneath his t-shirt. He’d been kind for a moment and she’d thought there might be something between them. Alas, the egotistical quadra-zillionaire couldn’t keep up the charade for long. The prince turned right back into a frog. Felicity only wished that forgetting about him were as easy.
Before she could settle back into her sun-soaked spot on the lawn, their second guest arrived. The chattering of her family died as Ray Palmer stood, impeccably and ridiculously dressed in a suit and tie. Quentin disentangled himself from Donna and crossed the space, hand outstretched in greeting.
“Mr. Palmer, welcome.”
Brushing invisible lint from his jacket before taking her father’s hand, the other bane of Felicity’s existence droned, “I thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Lance.”
“Quentin, please.” Her father gestured for the uncomfortable man causing such unease to take a seat at one of the picnic tables.
“Quentin.” The square-jawed man nodded, choosing instead to stand awkwardly beside the grill.
Introductions finished, Felicity offered their guest a beer, just a domestic, nothing he’d probably ever drank before in his life. She enjoyed a good craft beer every now and again, but their family dinners weren’t fancy. A good old-fashioned lager suited them just fine.
Sara and Lydia went back to lounging in the tiny plastic pool and hanging out with their friends. Ray might be handsome, but apparently, not being a frat boy worked as a disadvantage with them. The afternoon went along without a hitch. Mr. Palmer even eventually loosened up, though whether that was due to the beer or the fact that he removed his jacket and tie, Felicity wasn’t sure.
She watched as he pulled her father aside, the stiffening of Quentin’s posture the only indication that he didn’t approve of whatever the rich man suggested. In the end, Quentin shrugged and nodded, giving his agreement to the proposition. When Ray wandered over to strike up a conversation, Felicity bolted and joined her father, leaving Caitlyn alone to suffer Ray’s ego.
“What was that all about?” She asked, her inquisitiveness getting the best of her.
He smirked, “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.” Felicity glared, her father evidently enjoying her impatience. “He wants to woo one of you in return for promising never to demand the balance of the loan, instead allowing us to take as long as we must to repay it. So what do you think of that?”
“I think it’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. What is this, 1813? Can women still be purchased for the price of a dowry? You turned him down, I’m certain.”
“Nope,” he replied, surprising her. “I told him to go right ahead and try. It’ll be entertaining, if nothing else. And if by some random snowball’s chance in hell, one of you falls in love with him, who am I to stop the man from helping the family he’d marry into. Besides, I imagine you’ll be the object of his affection. Laurel and Tommy are already halfway to the altar, if you’re mother has anything to say about it, and unlike Sara and Lydia, who might be persuaded by a pretty face and deep pockets, you have a good head on your shoulders. I don’t see you falling for a man simply for the money in his bank accounts.”
Felicity responded with a glint of mischief. “Well, I suppose he can try, but it’s doubtful he’ll get very far.”
“That’s my Lissie, always up for a challenge.” He laughed, wrapping his arm around her and kissing the top of her head. “Now, go on. Go make it known that you aren’t such easy prey.”
The blonde crossed the yard to rescue Caitlyn from the odious man’s conversation.
“How have you been amusing my dearest friend, Mr. Palmer?” Felicity sat on the bench next to her, picking up a chip and nibbling on it.
“We were discussing the new technology my company, Star Labs, is in the process of developing. You know that Caitlyn works for me.” She nodded and he looked her over. “Though it really was a brilliant stroke of genius on my part, I’d hate to bore you with the details.”
“Why would you think I’d be bored by that?” Felicity knew the answer, but she wanted to force the man to verbalize it.
“I prefer to stick to conversations everyone can take part in.” He scooted closer to her. “Why don’t you tell me about the new menu your family intends to release for the fall.”
Of all the ridiculous…Felicity stifled her groan and ignored the man. “So Caitlyn, what’re you working on? We haven’t had a chance to discuss it.”
Caitlyn grinned knowingly. “We’ve been working with nanotechnology, attempting to miniaturize medical equipment for less invasive surgery procedures.”
“I presume you’ve been producing plasmonic nanoparticle sensors.”
Caitlyn nodded. “Of course, but we’re stuck on the noise and stability issue.”
“You’ve run into the false electron detection problem,” she looked to her friend for confirmation.
“Yes,” her friend sighed, “And when working within the human body, precision in real time is a necessity.”
“Obviously.” Felicity loved when the smug look dropped from Ray’s face, turning into confusion. She turned to address him, putting distance between them. “Don’t feel bad, you’re not the first to underestimate me, Mr. Palmer.”
He schooled his features into a less offensive mask. “I apologize, Miss Smoak. I should have realized that any friend of Caitlyn’s would not be an ignoramus.”
“You’d be better served to stop judging people at all, sir. A person’s job does not reflect their intelligence. And their intelligence does not negate the fact that they are people and deserve respect,” Felicity reined herself in. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t lecture, but I can’t help it sometimes.”
“It is understandable. Might I suggest you continue to school me on my deficiencies over dinner later this week? I’m in town until next Sunday and I’m sure I could get us reservations at Table Salt. The owner owes me a favor.”
Oliver Queen saved her from answering.
He paused at the side of the house; hearing the happy voices mingling, pop music playing in the background, the sounds of a life he was unable to live. What right did he have to interrupt such a familial celebration? No longer lighthearted Oliver, he’d changed into the Vigilante, the Hood; a man more akin to the nighttime than the bright sun of a family picnic.
Fingering the micro camera from the Foundry, he reconsidered the idea to ask her to look at it for him. After debating with himself for weeks, and absolutely no luck determining its origin, he finally gave in. If anyone could trace it back to the owner, it was the beautiful and brilliant Felicity Smoak.
When Laurel invited him to the family picnic initially, he’d turned her down thinking her sister wouldn’t care for him to interrupt her day off. But he needed her to check out the bug and if he was being honest, he wanted to see her again. Maybe he’d make a better impression this time; he’d have to be careful with his words.
Oliver listened as Ray Palmer, oh yes he knew the obnoxious man from various functions, insulted Felicity. It required every ounce of willpower he possessed to keep from rushing in and defending her. Somehow, he knew she wouldn’t appreciate that. Especially given the fact he’d done the exact same thing to her the first time they’d met.
That thought more than anything that kept him frozen. Hearing the blonde IT genius completely disregard the pompous prick released a sliver of a smile that lasted until Ray freaking Palmer asked Felicity out on a date. The decision seemed easy then. His fingers slid the bug back into his jeans’ pocket and lifted the latch on the gate.
“Hello…” His glance flickered over her before finding Tommy and Laurel. “I hope it’s okay I showed up.”
Laurel walked over, welcoming him. “Oliver. I’m so glad you decided to come after all. Dad won’t mind.”
“The more millionaires the merrier,” Donna answered for her husband. “You are more than welcome to our little get together.”
“Definitely. Good to see you again, Oliver.” Quentin Lance waved a spatula in his direction. “Beer’s in the blue cooler, soda and water in the red. Help yourself. Food’ll be ready soon.”
Oliver, never comfortable with a cordial greeting, on constant watch for enemies, yearned for this effortlessness, the camaraderie of the group, including Donna Smoak’s obvious attempts to catch a husband for her daughters. Even Tommy fit in easily. Everyone did but Ray Palmer, he noticed. That pleased him. And yet…if Quentin knew about his alter-ego, he wondered if that would be a plus or a minus in the officer’s playbook. The detective worked with the Vigilante, but it was a guarded truce at best.
“Thank you, Detective Lance.” He tried to imagine Moira eating dinner at a picnic table.
Felicity’s father broke him from his musing. “I’m off the clock, call me Quentin. Dear god, you all are making me feel like an old man with all the Misters and Detectives being thrown around today. Now get a beer, young whippersnapper and go play with the kids in the yard.”
The man chuckled at his own joke, his wife joining in, and turned back to the grill. Laurel and Tommy dragged him over to the table where the Felicity and her brunette friend sat.
“Oliver,” Felicity’s greeting frosty, “I’m not sure if you remember my friend Caitlyn, you met—”
“Oh yes, I’m sorry—the night of the bartender’s ball, correct?” He really wanted to make a good impression for once; remembering her friend would be a good start. “It’s nice to see you again.”
“And you too, Oliver.” Her smile was nice, but nothing like the shine of Felicity’s. His eyes flicked to her, praying she didn’t notice, hoping she would.
“Oliver,” Ray Palmer’s stuffy voice interrupted his trying to think of something normal to say to the beautiful blonde. When did he start having problems talking to women?
Bringing his attention to the man speaking, he replied evenly, gripping the man’s hand too tightly. “Ray, the last time I saw you we were at the charity auction for Autism Awareness. How’ve you been?”
“Well, thank you. I hear you and Tommy opened a nightclub in the Glades. How quaint. One would think with your education—oh, I’m sorry, that’s right. You dropped out of four colleges didn’t you? I, however, went to Yale and graduated top of my class.” The man had the audacity to wrap an arm around Felicity’s waist as if staking a claim for him to see.
And there went his calm. Felicity squirmed her way out of his grip and—surprisingly—came to his rescue before he detached Ray’s head from his body.
“Holy frakballs, Mr. Palmer, did we not just have a conversation?” Oliver watched as she leveled a glare at the cocky asshat. Then she held her hand out to him, which he hesitated to take worried that his darkness might infect her somehow. She wiggled her fingers in his direction, encouraging. “Come on, let’s go get some food.”
Oliver Queen stared as if she were the last drink of water in a desert, the mirage of a dying man. She didn’t know what he went through on the island, but only his eyes betrayed the depths he kept secret. Defending the man was the last thing she expected to do. She didn’t like Ray Palmer, but Oliver Queen was a big boy. He could stand up for himself.
And she didn’t like him, she reminded herself.
But she saw the hurt that flickered across his eyes at Ray’s insensitive words and the anger that followed, though she didn’t understand it. When she reached out her hand, she wondered how long it’d been since anyone had been truly kind to him. People wanted things from the millionaire: money, influence, a foot in the door.
Something clicked into place when he wrapped his fingers around hers. Tugging him over to the grill, she fixed them burgers and hot dogs.
“How do you like yours?” She asked, and when he didn’t answer, she noticed him studying her. “Everything okay?”
His ice blue eyes refocused. “Yeah, fine. Just zoned out a bit. Ketchup and relish, if you have it.”
“Yuppers. Dad’s finest.” She spooned on a generous helping over the ketchup.
He raised an eyebrow. “You’re dad makes relish? My dad barely made it to dinner on time.”
He tried to laugh, but it was forced, and Felicity could tell, tinged with regret. Rather than push him, she grabbed his plate and set it across from hers, handing him plastic silverware.
“Eat up. They’re best when their hot.” Oliver Queen could be a dick, but who knew how many layers hid underneath his exterior dick. He certainly bore further examination, the scientist in her reasoned as they ate in silence.
He looked good, relaxed, sitting there amiably among her friends and family, almost as if he belonged there in his t-shirt, jeans, and boots. They talked about nothing and everything: celebrity weddings, technical advances, the state of the Glades, and finally the Vigilante.
Sara offered her astute opinion, “Who runs around in green leather anyway? I mean, sexy sure, but leather’s so 1997.”
Felicity piped up. “Well, I don’t care what he wears. He’s making a difference in this city. That’s all that matters to me.” Oliver’s eyes flicked in her direction, but she couldn’t tell what his look meant.
“Seriously, Felicity?” Laurel asked her, surprised. “Do you really think that? No one should take the law into their own hands, no matter how well-intentioned.”
Caitlyn quipped, “Okay, Miss Lawyer. Show of hands, who’s shocked by her statement?” Her best friend raised her hand, which was joined by several others.
“And what do you think, Ms. Snow?” Ray asked.
Caitlyn grinned. “I’m with Felicity.”
“He’s a hero in my opinion, for what it’s worth.” She finished the thought, knowing the Vigilante did the kind of work many weren’t brave enough to even consider.
“But he’s killing people,” Tommy argued.
“Not anymore.” She tracked the Vigilante, trying to figure out his identity, but she’d had no luck yet. “He stopped killing a while back. Obviously something changed for him.”
Tommy leaned back, surprised, and considered the new information. Her dad seemed much less enthused with her knowledge.
“And how do you know so much about him, young lady?” The detective questioned, his tone obviously concerned.
She took a deep breath, disagreeing with her father could go poorly and it was too nice of a day for a fight. To admit to him that she was monitoring the Vigilante meant courting disaster. Instead, she gave him the partial truth. “We keep either news or sports on at the bar for most of the day, dad. I pay attention.”
“As long as that’s all it is. I don’t want you involved. I respect the Vigilante, but your sister’s right, he is breaking the law. I don’t want my daughter wrapped up in anything illegal.”
As usual, her father’s proclamation ended any further discussion, and they all fell back onto safer topics. While her mom dropped hints about grandchildren, Felicity took the time to observe the man sitting across from her. She’d stolen glances during their debate about the Vigilante, and when her father spoke of respecting the man, Oliver seemed relieved for some reason.
“I have another technical favor to ask,” He interrupted her train of thought, his words tentative.
“And here I was beginning to think my days as Oliver Queen’s personal computer geek were coming to an end.” His eyes crinkled in amusement. If he ever truly smiled, Felicity would be a goner.
Reaching in his pocket he pulled something out and waited until she extended her hand. Feeling the tiny object he placed in her palm, she lifted it up to examine it.
He explained, “I need to know where the signal originates.”
“This is a bug, Oliver, what…how…where did you get this?”
He fidgeted and Felicity could tell he was about to lie to her. She waited. “A friend devised a scavenger hunt. If I locate the signal, I get the next clue.”
Cocking her head at him, she pretended to believe his ridiculous story. One day she’d get to the truth. “Oh really, a scavenger hunt? What’s the prize for winning?”
“A case of Lafite Rothschild 1982. And one of those bottles is yours if you help me trace the location. Deal?”
Damn him for offering a deal she couldn’t refuse. “I love wine, so yes, definitely. I’m in. I’ll have the info for you by tomorrow or Tuesday at the latest. That okay?”
“Sure. What’s your number?”
Her face and mind went blank. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Um, your phone number? I thought—”
She rattled off her number, which he saved in his phone and directly after, hers began to ring.
“Now, you’ve got mine. Just call me when you have something for me.”
She had no idea what to say, Oliver Queen had just given her his phone number. Only so she could play techie for him, but still. With her knowledge, she could totally stalk him if she wanted.
“Aren’t you afraid I’ll use my knowledge for evil?”
His face turned serious. “No, you aren’t like that. I can tell.”
Mr. Intriguing made another appearance. “How do you know?”
Silence reined between them for several moments, until Felicity doubted he’d answer. When he finally broke the quiet, his answer shocked her.
“I’ve known evil. You aren’t it.” He stared down at the wood grain of the old picnic table.
She didn’t know what to say. Instead, she reached over and took his hand, an offer of human comfort.
His fingers tightened around hers, but he didn’t lift his gaze when he continued, “If only I were a different man, Felicity Smoak. In another life—” he choked on his words. “But we don’t live another life, we live this one.”
“Oliver?” But he was already shuttering away whatever memory gripped him. His hand retreated, leaving hers cold without his warmth.
The Oliver Queen the magazines knew grinned cockily at her, but it was just a façade and didn’t reach further than the surface. “Never mind me. Just get a bit maudlin from time to time. It’s nothing. I promised Tommy I’d look in on the club tonight. Time for me to go.”
He stood and Felicity felt sadness flitter through her, trying desperately to regroup after the intense turn in their conversation.
Stifling the confusing feelings, she asked him, quiet and unsure, “Are you sure you have to leave, it seems like you’re having a good time.”
“I am, but unfortunately, I’ve got work to do, no matter how quaint it is to some people.” Oliver winked and began saying his goodbyes. He thanked her parents and then turned back to her. “Thank you for a lovely day, Felicity.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll be in touch when I have information.”
He squeezed her shoulder and left the back yard. Felicity followed and watched over the fence as he strode away.
Oliver walked away feeling stronger than he had in a while. Felicity’s family was a breath of fresh air, allowing him to forget his five years away and the damage it’d done to him. He revved the engine of his Ducati, pulling on his helmet, and glanced in the mirror to see Felicity watching him as he left. Only allowing himself a brief moment of happiness, he refocused and drove away, heading towards the club.
He hadn’t lied to her, he really had told Tommy he’d take care of things tonight, but after Quentin complimented him, albeit the other him, he’d felt a dangerous swell of pride. Like for the first time, he might be doing something right. He couldn’t wait to slip into the suit tonight and protect his city. But that protection came at the price of his heart.
Arriving at Verdant, he checked in with the staff, relieved that no one needed anything. Dig already waited for him when he took the stairs down into the foundry two at a time.
“You seem in a good mood today, which is, well, odd if I’m being frank. I’m used to broody Oliver.” Diggle scrutinized him. “You saw Felicity again, didn’t you? Man, I told you about that. It’s one thing involving me—a combat trained veteran—in your mission, quite another to take an innocent girl and—”
The Vigilante cut his friend off. “Listen, I’m not bringing her into this. But she’s our best option of figuring out just who the hell is onto us. Once it’s done, I swear I’ll walk away.”
Oliver knew better, of course he did. As much as he wished he could pursue a relationship with her, he knew she was better off with a man like Ray Palmer. Didn’t mean it didn’t burn in his gut. But the idea that she thought him a hero would keep him going, long after he’d said his last goodbye to her.
No matter what, goodbye wouldn’t mean he would ever leave her unprotected. Whether she knew it or not, Felicity Smoak had her own personal hero.