Starling City Airport was busy in spite of the late hour, with people milling about laden with luggage, some saying their farewells to loved ones and others checking watches and waiting at arrivals. It was nearing ten o'clock when two blonde women hurried inside.
"Well, I guess this is goodbye," said Donna Smoak. Felicity nodded, smiling at her mother and trying to swallow the lump that had unexpectedly formed in her throat. "Thanks for dropping me off, sweetie."
"It's fine," Felicity replied quickly. "Just call me when you land, okay?"
To Felicity's relief, Donna pretended to ignore the way her daughter's voice trembled for a moment and instead enveloped her into a warm Chanel-smelling hug.
"And Mom?" she said, when her mother had released her. "I'm sorry about… Cooper, and you know, everything that happened. Your first trip to Starling since forever and we both got kidnapped – it's probably not exactly the vacation you expected."
"Considering how you got us out of there and saved our lives, Felicity, it sounds like it's just another day at the office for you," Donna said, in that gently knowing way of hers that made Felicity wonder if her mother knew more than she was letting on. If she did, Felicity thought, she was being surprisingly chill about it. "You saved our lives."
The sinking feeling in her stomach lessened just a little when her mother said that. "Not without help."
But Donna shook her head. "You don't need to apologise, Felicity, and you definitely don't have to worry about me. I'm fine. In fact, I'm more than fine. I got to spend the day with my daughter, and I got to see the life you've built here. It seems to be a good one, and I promise you, nothing could make me happier."
Felicity gave her mother a watery smile. "Thank you," she murmured. "Now go on. You're going to be late."
Donna leaned forward and kissed her daughter's cheek. "I love you, sweetheart."
"Love you too, Mom," said Felicity, giving her one final hug.
"By the way," said Donna, as she got ready to wheel her suitcase, "I know you don't like me interfering with your love life, but I really think you should hold on to him."
"Mom, I already told you, Ray and I aren't together," Felicity said patiently.
Donna tapped her nose. "Who said I was talking about Ray?"
And before Felicity could reply, her mother waved goodbye and made her way to the terminals, heels clattering. Rolling her eyes, Felicity watched her leave, managing a last smile at Donna as she headed off. She wondered, though, how her mother could possibly know about Oliver – but then, she remembered, this was hermothershe was talking about.
The journey back home did little to clear her head. Felicity had been thankful for the distraction of her mother all day, but now Oliver's words came back to her.
"You know how I feel about her."
The truth was, she didn't. How could she, when he had said mere weeks before that he couldn't be with her? Felicity felt emotionally whiplashed, if that were even possible, and that was after everything she had been through in the last couple of days, as well. She wished she knew what to do, what to say. Part of her wanted to confront Oliver about it… but he wasn't exactly the kind of person to willingly share his feelings. No, she decided, he had made his feelings perfectly clear about their relationship prospects.
Stupidly, another part of her just wanted him to kiss her again, to set her heart on fire for just a few wonderful seconds of oblivion. Part of her wanted to pretend that there wasn't another man between them – the masked, hooded hero he was during the night – and just be… together.
She found herself stopping at Starling City Cemetery. It was on her route back to her apartment, and though she wasn't exactly sure why, she knew going home now would only prolong the internal monologue currently going on in her brain. And though she could have gone to the foundry, she had a feeling she needed to be alone, away from Oliver.
Since they buried her, Felicity hadn't gone to see Sara's grave. She wasn't sure why she hadn't. In a way, she didn't want to, not after performing the autopsy on her – the fact that it wasn't a proper autopsy, only a virtual one, did nothing to assuage the grief and hopelessness she had felt at the time.
Now, though, as she knelt in front of the gravestone, she was glad she came – to pay her respects, to distract herself, she wasn't sure. Regardless, the cold air felt good on her face, and she welcomed the quiet of the cemetery as she pressed her lips together, brushing away the dirt, and spoke quietly.
"So I didn't bring flowers. I figured you're not really a flower person, and, well, Laurel seems insistent on no one knowing about you being… gone."
It felt weird, talking to a grave, knowing her friend's corpse was lying beneath her feet. It wasn't like when she was talking to Barry while he was comatose – at least then she could pretend he was sleeping. Sara wasn't sleeping. Sara was dead, and being reminded of that sparked hot tears in her eyes.
"I don't really know why I'm here, to be honest," Felicity said after a moment, when the lump in her throat was gone. "I know it's stupid, because I know you can't hear me, but I wanted to thank you. I remember how many times you made me do that move with the gun – God, I remember – but I never thought I'd have to use it on my ex-boyfriend, of all people. My not-so-dead ex-boyfriend. Turns out I was right. He's not dead. And I was right, too, about… him changing. I was okay with him not being the same guy, but I never thought he would…" She chuckled to herself for a moment. "I guess we both have experience in having the loves of our lives kidnapping our mothers.
"You were always so easy to talk to. I remember telling you about Cooper. I couldn't tell Oliver, or John, or anyone, but for some reason, I told you. Probably because you didn't push me. It makes me wonder what you would say now –"
She stopped, hearing footsteps behind; whipping around, Felicity was relieved to see it was just Laurel. (She'd had enough surprises for one day.) Felicity recognised Sara's jacket, the small studs on the shoulders gleaming in the dark.
"Sorry," Laurel said. "I didn't mean to interrupt you."
Felicity shook her head. "It's all right."
Laurel moved to stand next to Felicity, kneeling at Sara's grave and touching the stone with her fingers. "You were good friends with her, weren't you?" she said quietly.
"Yeah," Felicity replied. "In fact, if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be alive."
To her surprise, Laurel smiled. "She said the same about you. Sara told me, a while back, how you took a bullet for her." Felicity nodded.
"William Tockman," she said in explanation. "Aka the Clock King."
"Right," said Laurel, nodding. "I remember. Speaking of criminals with weird names, nice work with Brother Eye."
"Thanks." Felicity was silent for a few moments, and then, before she could stop herself, she blurted, "I have no idea how I'm supposed to react to my ex-boyfriend being a cyber-terrorist and coming back from the dead and then holding a gun to my head and trying to kill me, but I have to say, I'm not exactly taking it well."
"He was your –?"
Nodding, Felicity explained, "We were together in college, he went to jail and supposedly committed suicide, and then, five years later, he shows up in Starling, kidnaps me and my mom and uses me to steal money for him. That's the long and short of it, I guess."
"I have a little experience with the whole, you know, boyfriend coming back from the dead thing," Laurel said, still with a small smile on her face. "It gets easier."
Felicity had forgotten about that. "I remember talking about it with Sara," she said. "Over drinks and a lot of punching." At the look on Laurel's face, she clarified quickly, "We were training."
"I get it," she said, nodding. "Actually, I've been doing a lot of punching myself lately."
"You have?" Felicity raised her eyebrows.
"I miss her," Laurel said abruptly, and Felicity wondered if she had changed the subject on purpose.
"I do too," Felicity replied. "God knows I could do with her advice now."
"About Ollie, you mean?"
Despite the coolness of the night air, Felicity could feel herself flushing. "What do you mean?"
"I pretty much perfected that expression in the mirror when we were together." At Felicity's confused look, Laurel explained, "You know, the one where he says one thing and then says something completely opposite it five minutes later, and you have no idea how to react to it?"
Felicity smiled. "I forgot you know him better than I do."
"He's one of my oldest friends," Laurel said, "and some things never change. So what's wrong?" Felicity must have looked unsure, because Laurel then said, "It's okay. We can talk about it. Oliver and I have been over for a long time now."
"Yeah, I guess if you can get over him cheating on you, then –" Felicity said without thinking, and then she kicked herself. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean…"
But Laurel shook her head. "Don't be. I've had years to get over it. And I know he cares for you. A lot. Even before what happened with Slade."
"I don't know," Felicity said, shaking her head. "He said he can't be with me and be the Arrow at the same time."
Laurel sighed. "Ollie has always had this tendency of thinking he doesn't deserve to be happy. But then he suddenly says things about his feelings for you, when you least expect it?" Laurel guessed.
Laurel got up and put her hand on Felicity's shoulder. "You know what Sara would say? I mean, after her usual disclaimer about not being in the habit of sharing her feelings?"
"She would tell me to talk to him," Felicity said, without even thinking.
"I know how difficult it is to be alongside someone every day, to work with them, having that hanging over you. But the best thing you can do is talk about it."
It was with curiosity that Felicity regarded Laurel, whose hand fell back to her side. "Sounds like you're speaking from experience."
"Earlier today, I was so… angry, and instead of talking about it, I practically started a riot."
"Sending that ESU squad to Starling National, you mean?" said Felicity, raising her eyebrows.
Laurel looked at her shoes, and it was clear she was still kicking herself. "My dad… he wasn't angry, not really, but he said it was obvious I was in ten kinds of pain and I needed to talk about it – if not with him, then with someone. And I did, and it helped."
Felicity digested this for a moment. "Can I ask you something?" Laurel murmured in assent. "Why don't you want Captain Lance to know?"
Laurel closed her eyes. "I saw what he went through when we lost Sara the first time. He hit the bottle, and he buried himself into his work – to the point that I had to drag him out of bars, and if he was sober, he would be just… obsessed with closing case after case. And at first, I thought it was just because of Sara's death. But then… then I realised it was more than just that. It was the fact that his job was – and always has been – to catch the bad guy, to put him away, to get justice."
"To solve the mystery," Felicity murmured.
"Yeah," said Laurel. "And he could do it, for strangers, for people he didn't know about or have any reason to care for, for bad people, even, but for his own daughter, he couldn't. He had no closure, because he didn't know what happened, and not knowing was what hurt him the most."
"Because that's supposed to be his job," Felicity said. "I get that. And, what, you think the same thing will happen now?"
It was only now that Laurel's voice began to waver. "She was shot with arrows. The only archer who could possibly be responsible of this that we know of apparently didn't do it, which leaves us with nothing. And knowing… knowing my sister's killer is out there and not behind bars or, God help me, in a box, is difficult enough for me as it is. I don't want my dad to go through that. Not again."
Felicity considered what she said. She didn't agree with her, but she could understand to a certain degree where Laurel was coming from.
"So, what? You tell him when you find Sara's killer?" Felicity asked.
"If I find them," Laurel said.
For once, Felicity thought before she spoke. "I noticed you're wearing Sara's jacket," she said carefully. "Are you… planning on wearing her mask, too? Eventually?"
Again, Laurel avoided Felicity's gaze. "I know it's not exactly a healthy way of grieving, but –"
"Oh, I don't know. It kind of puts my grief – me dyeing my hair blonde and going from Goth to librarian – into perspective," Felicity said lightly.
Laurel seemed surprised at that, but she didn't say anything. "Go ahead and tell me I'm better off just being ADA and that I'm just going to get hurt."
But Felicity just smiled. "Well, if you insist, I will. It's not what I think, though."
"I have no right to tell you not to do it because it will be dangerous – not when what I do day in, day out is exactly that. But can I give you some advice?"
Still taken aback, Laurel nevertheless nodded.
"First of all, don't do it to get revenge for Sara. Do it because you want to honour her memory."
Once more, Felicity hesitated. "It doesn't look it, but Sara's mask is… heavier than it looks. God knows, her bo-staff definitely is. Just remember that."
Laurel adjusted her jacket and straightened. "That's good advice. Thanks."
"Any time." They started walking down the path to the cemetery's entrance.
"By the way," Laurel said, "on the phone the other day, you asked if we were friends. I… just wanted to let you know that I hope we are. And not just because you cared about Sara."
Felicity smiled. "That's good to know," she said, and after patting Laurel's arm and bidding her goodbye, she headed for her car.
The drive to Verdant left her feeling far less troubled. Before long, she entered through the side entrance in the alley, the bright green sign casting a dull glow on the empty beer bottles and boxes on the ground.
She entered the foundry, which was empty except for Oliver, who was bent over his trunk, a half-filled duffel bag open on his bed. At her footsteps, he straightened and turned around.
"Hey," she said, offering him a smile, and to her relief, he smiled back.
"Your mom get on her plane okay?" he asked. "Or is she going to stay with you a bit longer?"
"No, I just dropped her at the airport," Felicity said. She watched as he reached into his trunk again. "Are you… packing?"
"I'm moving in with Thea," Oliver said. "She's just signed the lease on this loft, and I figured it would be easier to spend time with my sister if I was living with her."
"That's great," she said sincerely. "Good for you."
Oliver looked at her, reached over and moved the duffel bag on the floor. "You want to sit down?" he said. "You look tired."
"Yeah, well, my mother is tiring. Once she starts shopping, it's like she can't stop." For a moment, she hesitated, but then she decided his bed looked quite comfy. And he was right – her feet were aching from all the walking. "Where's Roy?"
"I told him to go home," Oliver said, and though he wasn't looking at her, she could detect his unease.
"You tell me. He hasn't been himself lately – he could barely keep up when we were training."
Felicity watched as he zipped up the bag and looked up at her. "He's probably got a lot on his mind. You sure it's not Thea-related?"
Oliver frowned. "I bumped into them earlier and they seemed to be getting along fine. No, I think it's something else."
"Well, I'll keep an eye out," she told him. He still looked worried, so she reached out and touched his arm. "I'm sure he's fine."
He went quiet and his eyes were on where her hand was, resting on his wrist; after a moment, she let go and instead lay back on the bed. "God, I could do with a drink," she said, and though she had said it to herself, it was clear Oliver had heard. Seconds later, she heard the clink of glasses being set down on the table, and she sat up, aware of the fact that her hair was probably more than a little mussed up.
"I could use one too," he murmured. "I hope you like vodka."
For the first time since she came into the foundry, Felicity laughed. "You do realise you're talking to the daughter of a cocktail waitress, right?"
Oliver smiled. "And a slightly wild college student?"
"If by 'wild', you mean I had piercings, wore black eye-liner and dyed my hair black, then yeah, I guess you could call it that," Felicity said.
He let out a low whistle as he opened the bottle. "You'll probably be glad I don't have to use an arrow to open the bottle this time."
"I remember," she said, her lips upturning at the memory. "I also remember you having to clean up the mess afterwards. Before you got to sleep in my bed for the first time – I mean, it wasn't technically my bed, since I bought it for you, although, now I mention it, you've slept there too, and – I'm just going to stop talking," she said. Why did everything she said either sound ridiculously tactless or vaguely dirty?
But Oliver, as always, pretended she didn't say anything. In fact, other than his mouth twitching ever so slightly, it was as if she hadn't said anything mortifyingly embarrassing (though, admittedly, her Freudian slips had been a lot worse in the past). She could hear the clear liquid trickling as Oliver poured a small measure in each of the glasses. When he handed hers over, for the briefest of seconds, their fingers brushed and their eyes met. At the same time as Oliver, she downed the vodka in one go, barely wincing at its harsh taste. "Wow. That's good."
Oliver nodded in agreement, taking her glass from her. It was when he was looking away from her that he began, "Felicity… about earlier, what I said – I'm sorry if –"
She remembered what Laurel said. But at that moment, she didn't have it in her for confrontation or emotional exchanges. "It's fine," she said quickly, and she immediately changed the subject. "I… stopped by Sara's grave, just now."
To her surprise, Oliver didn't press the subject, instead pressing his lips together in the way he had done earlier on and closing his eyes for a moment. "I haven't gone since…"
"Since we buried her, yeah. I haven't been able to either. But I figured I should. Especially because she's the reason I'm still alive."
"With Cooper, you mean?"
"She said there was a strong likelihood one of the Arrow's enemies would try and use me as leverage, so she went over a few things with me. I just never thought I would have to use it on him, of all people. I have to say, though, my mom is taking it better than I thought she would."
"I'm glad you sorted things with her," Oliver said sincerely.
"I'm glad I listened to you," she admitted. "You know, I complain about my mom all the time, and she's not perfect –"
"Neither was mine," he said, "something you probably know better than most."
"I'm sure yours never used to guilt trip you about going away to college and leaving her on her own."
Oliver laughed. "No, she was busy trying to keep me in college. It didn't seem to work."
"But I realised… the reason she did that was because she missed me. And – that doesn't make it okay, necessarily, but it made me realise that she was there for me, when I needed her, when all this crap was going on in my life. So," she said, tilting her head a little to one side and regarding him gratefully, "thank you. For the whole 'family is precious' thing. You were right."
He nodded, smiling back. "Whatever their faults, they raised us right."
"They did," Felicity agreed, and for a moment, it was like they were back to when Oliver shot open that long-promised bottle of Lafite Rothschild 1982, when Sara was still alive, when they hadn't had their first date in a restaurant that was literally blown up.
Pouring two more shots, he handed one over to Felicity. "To Sara," he said, raising his glass.
Felicity nodded. "And to family." There was a clink as their glasses touched each other before each of them downed their drinks.
"By the way," he said softly, "just so you know, my first attempt at being a hero didn't turn out great either. And that's okay. You wanted to do good, and now you do. You're a hero now, which is all that matters." It was clear she still didn't look convinced, even if she didn't say anything, so he sat beside her on the bed and put his hand gently on her shoulder. "You are. For the number of times you've saved me alone, you are."