Title: Bite the Bullet
Part: 1 - Night Shift
Word Count: 6737

Notes: Welcome back to Monsters, y'all!

The most incredible thing about this fic is that it took me a week. Seriously. I found a start a few weeks ago and I wrote about 25k words onto it. I have literally no idea what happened. That's how Monsters works: it shows up when you least expect it and then stalks you like Deathstroke!Felicity until the story is finished.

It was an absolute blast to write. I regret nothing.

Reads are awesome. Reviews are awesome, too. I always love talking to you guys, but I also understand if you don't have the time. Either way, thank you! :)


There's very little Oliver likes more than the moments before a fight. In some ways, it's the only kind of calm that doesn't make him nervous; this he knows how to do. For the last five years, this has been his life: the rush of completing a mission, adrenaline singing through his veins. They thought he would be glad for the peace and quiet after the island, but a fight is familiar. There's no time to think; instead, the goal is survival. After five years where peace and quiet were the enemy, they only make him wary now.

Quiet just means the worst is yet to come.

A hand falls on his shoulder, covered by a black leather glove. For a moment, he's struck by how dainty and small her hands are, yet he's watched her use those hands to snap a man's neck before. Felicity is a dichotomy to him: hard and soft, unbreakable and fragile, strong and delicate—often all at once. Few people manage to see all parts of her personality; they don't know to connect the vivacious woman he's come to know with the creature that stalks the streets at night.

"How long do we wait?" she growls out under the deep, ominous synthesizer. "There were two other targets on the list—they could be at either of those locations, too." Oliver turns to face her, and is met with the black-and-gold mask, her head tilting to the side as she drums her fingers against her leg. "I mean, this bank was the most likely target—the one I'd pick—but that doesn't mean anything." He can practically feel her smile under the mask. "Most criminals aren't as smart as I am."

"Most people aren't as smart as you are," Oliver retorts, a hint of a smile playing at his lips. "Even if we miss tonight, the bank they hit next will give us more insight into their methods." He flashes her a grin, this one larger but just as genuine. "The most we're risking is an illness for being out in this cold night air for too long."

"My immune system has been tested by seven months in a nasty shipping container," Felicity responds in a dry tone. "I'll take my chances with the weather. And you survived five years without modern medicine and lived to tell the tale. I think we can risk it."

Chuckling, Oliver replies, "My thoughts exactly." A moment of quiet passes between them, the silence comfortable, before he calls to her, "Thank you." She turns to him, head tilting in confusion. "For what you said to Tommy earlier tonight. You didn't have to defend me."

"Oliver, you don't have to thank me for stating the truth," Felicity replies, sounding both fond and annoyed at the same time. He seems to be the only person she uses that tone on, and it automatically brings the corners of his mouth up. "I believe in what you're doing. So do you. That's why I chose to help you with this." A muffled sound, like a snort, comes from behind the mask. "Even if you are an idealist," she adds, rolling her blue eyes. "You have no idea how much I hate idealists. Always trying to save a world beyond saving."

"Yet you're standing here beside me," Oliver can't help but point out to her. "I think that makes you an idealist, too." It seems to be a tender subject, but he can't stop himself from teasing her, even if she could slice him in half. At most, it seems to make her more animated—a side of Felicity that he enjoys.

She scoffs, the closest thing she's ever given to a laugh. "I'm just a pissed-off IT girl with a pair of swords," Felicity corrects, crossing her arms over her chest. "You might be here to save the world, but all I want is vengeance." With another dry huff of laughter, she adds, "Maybe they named me well after all. Vengeance of Starling, indeed."

As he chuckles again, Oliver catches a movement out of the corner of his eye. Sure enough, the group of bandits is on the move, stepping out of an unmarked black van. He glances over to Felicity, but her eyes are firmly upon him, not glancing down. "Gang's on the move," he points out when she doesn't look.

She rolls her eyes in response, sighing. "Do they even know they're a stereotype?" Felicity asks him in a disparaging tone. "An unmarked panel van parked across the street from a bank robbery? They might as well place a blinking, neon sign over the top that reads, I solemnly swear I'm up to no good." He blinks at the statement, and she rolls her eyes again. "It's called pop culture, Oliver. You are definitely borrowing my Harry Potter books now." Turning away from the scene below, Felicity places a hand to her forehead, clearly disappointed in both him and their thieves. "It's like all the best clichés for armed robbery got together, had a baby, and called it the Royal Flush Gang."

Because the statement is a little hypocritical, he deadpans, "This coming from a woman dressed like she came out of the pages of a comic book."

With another eye roll that looks eerie under the mask, she reaches behind her to touch the hilt of one sword, fidgeting. Like him, Felicity isn't happy unless she's in a fight. "If this was a comic book," she retorts, "I'd be wearing a push-up bra, fishnets, and a costume that barely covered my ass." Oliver nearly chokes on his own tongue; for the sake of his own sanity, he should not let that image linger in his mind (though he doesn't have much say in the matter). "And you're one to talk, Hawkeye."

Oliver opens his mouth to ask who, exactly, this Hawkeye is, but an alarm at the bank below answers for him. He stands a little straighter, and Felicity's posture stiffens immediately. Before either can speak, he fires a grappling arrow into the roof of the bank and ties the other end to a chimney behind them. In a silent offer, he holds a hand out to Felicity.

"Oh, no," she declares, backing away while waving her hands. "Absolutely not. You are not getting me to rappel down on a cable and an arrow, Oliver. The last time I let you swing me off a building, I got shot and you had to play doctor with me." He can sense the moment her words catch up to her. "That's not what I meant, but it doesn't matter." She crosses her arms with finality, in that way she does when she thinks she's going to win an argument. "Thanks, but no thanks."

He watches her for a moment, studying her. Even in the short time he's known her, Oliver has learned she's always ready for a new experience, always ready to take risks. Her eyes flick to the roof of the building and back to her shoes, and the realization hits him like a bolt of lightning. Slow steps on the rooftop. Not looking over the edge. And she never lets him use grappling arrows if there's another way.

"Felicity," he calls to her quietly. Her eyes meet his at the gentle tone, though they narrow a moment later. "Are you afraid of heights?"

"Yes! Okay!" she snaps at him, wrapping her arms around her middle. "I'm acrophobic, alright? Every time I look over the edge I go dizzy! And congratulations, you figured it out, Columbo!" His eyes widen at her outburst, and she deflates. "I didn't mean to snap at you. I just… I don't like it. Being weak, I mean." She shakes her head. "My first mission, a guy tried to throw me off a thirty-story building. I've been afraid ever since."

Oliver sighs. "Storms are mine," he offers in a quiet voice. Her eyes snap up to meet his. "I'm not afraid, but… storms bring back memories of the island. Sometimes it feels like I'm still back there. I can't tell what's real and what isn't. Friends look like enemies." He motions toward her. "That's why I came to see you that night after Tommy found out. I… I wanted to be with someone who could defend themselves, just in case I…" He can't bring himself to finish the thought—or to tell her about how he attacked his mother that first night.

"I did that, too," she whispers, sliding a hand on his shoulder again. "It gets better. Well, it did for me, anyway. Especially after I started doing this." She winks at him. "You know what might make us feel better? Kicking some badly-clichéd criminal ass."

This time when he offers a hand, she takes it, wrapping her arms around his neck. When she swallows hard, his ears pick up the sound over the wind. "Hold on to me tight?" she asks, her voice vulnerable for a rare moment.

Wrapping his arm around her, Oliver promises in a low voice, "Always."

Felicity yelps when he launches the two of them from the rooftop. Seconds later, their feet land on the roof of the bank, and she bends over, placing her hands on her knees. He can't help but notice that they're shaking.

"Are you all right?" comes out of his mouth before he can stop it.

Leveling a look at him, Felicity mutters something about fear. Even with her mask in place, he can tell he's on the receiving end of her stony glare. "I imagined saying that to you under different circumstances, you know," she offers after a moment. When he can only blink, she repeats, "'Hold on to me tight'?"

He can only gape at her in response. Her comment about him wearing a suit when they took down Deadshot was one thing, but this is another matter entirely. Attraction is one thing, but this means she's thought about far different situations. When he swallows hard, it has nothing to do with a sudden nervousness around her.

Oliver would be lying if he said he hadn't thought about it, too.

For some reason, she decides to take pity on him, studying the roof under her heavy combat boots. "Let me guess," she remarks in a dry tone, "our point of entry is this skylight." She mutters some impolite words in Mandarin when he doesn't respond. "If we were meant to be airborne, we would have wings," she mutters under her breath. Sighing, she holds a hand out. "Hand me the binary."

Though he pulls the cutting device out of his pocket, Oliver hesitates before giving it to her. "Felicity, if you want to find another way in—"

Instead of allowing him to finish, she rips the binary out of his hand. "I don't want to be afraid anymore, Oliver," Felicity answers with a finality he doesn't question. "If this is the entry method you selected, we'll use it." Without waiting for a response, she starts using the laser to cut through glass.

He nods once anyway, attaching a suction handle to the glass as she cuts. Thirty seconds later, he lifts the glass out of their newly made hole, sliding it back. Felicity releases a heavy sigh as he attaches a cable to one of the brick exhaust vents, but doesn't say anything.

Seconds later, she's sliding down it as though she does this every day.

Oliver is about to join her when he realizes that the cable provides a new exit for an agile criminal. After a moment of thought, he pulls the cable back through their entrance and jumps through the hole himself.

For the life of him, Oliver doesn't understand her aversion to heights. As long as he has his bow in hand and a grappling arrow nearby, the freefall is almost exhilarating, sending adrenaline coursing through his veins. The sensation used to make him jittery, but now he uses that extra focus and energy as an advantage in a fight—or a sixty-foot drop.

What must be seconds feels like hours as he aims at the railing on the second floor balcony. He doesn't hurry, taking his time to line up the shot before firing. It attaches just seconds before it needs to, jerking him to a halt just before his feet touch the ground.

As his boots touch solid ground again, Felicity calls, "Show-off."

Oliver only grins at her. "We should probably split up," he suggests in a low voice. "Vault is north, but the safety deposit boxes are south." He hesitates before adding, "Just be careful. There are three of them, but only two of us."

"Hardly seems like a fair fight," Felicity answers. Her eyes brighten with a sinister new light, and he knows from experience that look accompanies a predatory smile. Despite how well he knows her, a shiver still threatens to creep up his spine as she pulls a sword loose. "I promise I'll be gentle."

She's already started toward the north side of the building before Oliver calls, "Deathstroke?" She turns back to him, sword gleaming in the moonlight reflected off the windows. "We take them alive."

He hasn't had the heart to tell her about Derek Reston, or the fact that his family lost everything because of Robert Queen's choices. Something about that makes Oliver feel like his father was just as much a criminal as the men she hunts every night. Because of that, he can't let her kill these people who made poor choices after having everything ripped away from them.

Felicity's blue eyes almost look black under the mask, but they turn to the color of midnight when they narrow at him. After making an unimpressed noise in her throat, she accuses, "You just like to suck the fun out of everything, don't you?"

When she's met with his glare, they lock into a stony silence. After a moment, she concedes with a sigh and a roll of her eyes. "Fine, no one dies." She shrugs before walking away. "They can be short a few appendages and still be alive."

Oliver growls under his breath before barking, "No maiming, either."

As he starts in the opposite direction, he hears her reply through their comm link, "What do you want me to do? Politely suggest they put down their automatic weapons?" There's a pause. "You've never had a problem with how I work before, but now you're tying my hands. What aren't you telling me?"

Sighing, he admits, "I… I'm not sure I'm ready to talk about it yet, but I promise to tell you later." His breath leaves him in a frustrated huff as he nocks his bow. "I know I haven't earned your trust, but can you just… follow my lead on this one?"

"Of course," is her instant reply. Oliver blinks twice in response; nothing in his pseudo-friendship with Felicity thus far has indicated she'd agree so easily. "No killing. No maiming—unless they really piss me off. If they ask for a severed arm, they get a severed arm." She huffs. "I had to jump through a skylight, Arrow. Someone is getting cut tonight."

"Just as long as it isn't me," Oliver replies.

In a voice that sounds darker under her modulator, Felicity deadpans, "I haven't decided yet."


Rolling her shoulders, Felicity tries to think of a time in her life when she was ever this bored. After a moment of deliberation, she comes up with nothing. The bank—a low-security, mom-and-pop operation that was due for a security overhaul four years ago—is deserted, with no signs that anyone might be lurking around. Well, except for the blaring alarm in the background.

It grows louder the further she presses on, and she refrains from sticking her fingers in her ears. "It's going to be a miracle if I don't have hearing damage after this," she mutters under her breath. In all the gear she carries, ear plugs aren't on the list. She blows out a long breath. First clichéd bank robbers and dropping three stories to the ground, and now blaring sirens that do nothing but annoy the hell out of people.

"I'll say this, Arrow," she comments over her comm link, "you know how to show a girl a good time. Heights and blaring alarms and criminals who don't know that hockey masks went out of style in the nineties. I'll be so excited to see another Yakuza guy with a machete that I might actually hug him before cutting his heart out with his own knife."

Honestly, Felicity isn't sure why she's trying to keep up their usual banter now. Oliver's been weird tonight, quiet—well, quieter—in that strange way of his that would make a deserted island seem noisy by comparison. While she's used to his hyperactive sense of responsibility, she can feel there's something about this that he isn't telling her. He isn't usually willing to share his burdens, but this is different. She could press him and pull every detail out of him like a CIA-trained interrogator, but she can't bring herself to take that from him.

After having so much control ripped away, secrets are power.

To her surprise he replies anyway: "What is your idea of a good time?"

She has to think about it. "Sitting in front of my television with a Tarentino flick, and a pint of mint chip or a huge glass of merlot," Felicity decides after some deliberation. "Or in the ring with a sparring partner, letting off some steam after a hard day." She bites down on her lip before deciding to release one secret of her own. "I have a…" Friend? Acquaintance? Neither word sounds right. "…A guy," she finishes lamely, "who knows who I am and what I do. We go to the gym and try to beat the hell out of each other." This time her sigh is weighted with the pressure of being out every night. "It's been a while since I've done either of those things."

"You said you wanted to learn how to use a bow," he reminds her. "I wouldn't mind learning how to use a blade, either."

Felicity snorts. "Then go pick up a letter opener. You aren't touching my swords until I can trust you with them."

There's a long pause, and she can feel Oliver smiling at the other end of the bank. "Are you implying I can't handle a sword?" There's a challenge lingering in his voice.

Felicity is all too ready to meet it. "I'm saying you couldn't handle one of my swords with both hands and a copy of Way of the Samurai. They're Japanese steel. I'd say they're razor sharp, but if you tried to shave with them, you'd probably take off part of your jaw."

As she twists around a corner, Felicity breathes a sigh of relief. The siren is louder here, but she's certain that the box in front of her is the alarm control. "Hold on—I think I've found the panel to turn off the noise. It's going to feel good to hear myself think again."

She uses her blade to separate the panel from the wall, disconnecting a few wires. A moment later, blessed silence descends upon the room. Felicity sighs, a smile taking over her lips. "And Deathstroke said, 'Let there be silence,'" she intones, "and all was quiet."

"You saved me a lot of trouble," comes a reply. Felicity whirls on the spot to find a hockey mask complete with the image of a playing card—jack of spades—staring back at her. His tone is friendly, but the assault rifle pointed at her is less so. "I probably wouldn't have been able to shut the damn thing off." He shrugs. "I hope you aren't here to take our score. I'd hate to have to shoot you after you helped us out."

She may have cut the siren, but the damage has already been done—and she has little doubt it's calling out to the police department now. He'd probably be less thrilled to know that, but Felicity isn't in the sharing mood, anyway. "You must be new here," she decides after a moment of deliberation. With a wave, she clarifies, "I'm the friendly, neighborhood vigilante. The papers call me Deathstroke—or Vengeance of Starling, when they're feeling generous. Been active for three years." She offers a dramatic bow. "Slayer of men, slinger of swords, the fear of criminals everywhere. Also, not a thief." He only blinks at her several times, and her mouth falls into a scowl. "You're not conveying the proper amount of fear."

Silence falls between them, and she hears Oliver call in her ear, "I'm on my way." She'd tell him not to bother if she could without alerting the bank robber to her partner's presence in the building. A gangly young adult male with an AK-47 isn't on her list of fears.

"Are you serious right now?" her young bank robber demands, voice cracking. Felicity's eyes widen at the sound. God, how old is this kid? He sounds twelve.

"Dead serious," she assures him. "As dead serious as most of my victims." She pauses to think about that before correcting, "Well, actually, they're better described as 'seriously dead.'" She motions to him. "Fortunately for you, I'm not here to kill you, though. I slay monsters, not bank-robbing twelve-year-olds."

He aims his gun a little higher. "I hope you realize you brought a sword to a gunfight," he stutters out with bravado more false than one of Oliver's media smiles. That's more like it—there's the fear she wants to evoke. Of course, it's probably because he thinks she's insane, but Felicity can work with that. "Are you crazy or just stupid?"

"Maybe I'm just really confident," she suggests.

She can see it in his eyes the moment he's interested in squeezing the trigger. Knowing who would win in a fast draw from this distance, Felicity ducks behind a nearby desk a fraction of a second before gunshots explode into the silence. Bullets tear into the wood of the desk, but, fortunately, he doesn't seem to be using armor-piercing rounds. For the very first time tonight, Felicity is glad she isn't facing her usual targets—if she had, she would already be ribbons by this point.

Her comm crackles in the cacophony of bullets. "Tell me what's happening," Oliver demands in his growly voice. Though it's hard to tell under the modulator, Felicity would swear that's fear playing underneath his tone.

"I'm pinned," she informs him in a hushed tone, trying to resist the urge to swear in multiple languages. She gives up on that a moment later when a lucky shot tears through her calf. So much for that new dress she bought that falls to her knees—looks like she'll have to wait another two weeks before she'll be able to wear it. "I'll be fine," she assures him before he can ask. "Just find the others before they find me."

A moment later, silence descends again as the kid stops firing. Felicity peeks around the corner of the desk, watching as he slowly closes in on the desk from the opposite side. She stays low, grinding her teeth against the agony in her leg as she slips around the desk. Though he might shuffle, her steps make no sound, and she closes in on him.

The tip of her sword touches the ground as she slinks behind him, and with a smooth motion, she severs his Achilles tendon. The boy crumples with a cry, but Felicity just rolls her eyes as she shoves the blade against his throat. It's a minor wound at most; they can reattach it at the hospital.

His hand goes for the gun, but she only shoves the blade further into his throat. Blood wells up from the cut. "Ah, ah, ah," she chides. "As much as I like my toys, there happens to be one too many at this party. Let's save the guns for when you're actually old enough to buy one, shall we?"

The kid withdraws his hand, and Felicity takes the opportunity to kick the gun away from him. "Good boy." It causes him to make a sound in his throat, and she makes a face under her mask. "You're very fortunate you're so young. If you weren't," she warns him in a low voice, "I would have already disemboweled you." He swallows audibly. "If I ever see you committing a criminal act again, I might not be so nice."

With a lazy flick of her sword, she cuts the strap holding his mask in place. It falls into his lap as he lets loose a squeak, and his shoulders shake. "I find myself in a unique situation," Felicity continues in a conversational tone. "I can't have you running around—you might alert the rest of your gang, and then where would I be? The ideal option would be to kill you." She swings the blade away, only to press it back to his neck, and he whimpers. There's the fear she's familiar with. "Unfortunately, I can't do that, either. If I kill you, how will you ever learn to stay away from banks?" She thinks about that for a moment. "I could always slice your legs off. Or cut out your tongue. Or both. I think that would upset the Arrow, though. He's a bit of a goody two-shoes." She sighs. "I guess I'll have to settle for this." She brings the hilt of her sword down against the top of his head, and the boy crumples immediately.

Felicity pauses to admire her handiwork. "If that kid doesn't turn to a life of clean, honest living after this, there's no hope for him," she declares to Oliver over their comm link. She steps over his unconscious body before heading further north, toward the cash vault.

He doesn't answer her—not that she expected him to. Though he's more than glad to humor her when they're eating takeout, Oliver rarely indulges her while they're working. "Police just arrived on scene," he warns her in a whisper. It makes Felicity wonder just how close he is to the police—and, more importantly, how she can extract him without killing any cops or Oliver going to jail. Felicity nods to herself; as much as she dislikes the idea of attacking cops, sacrifices must be made.

"Do you need me to extract you?" she asks.

"I'm on the second level—they're below me," he whispers in response. The relief leaves her in a heavy sigh. "Doesn't look like Lance is with them, so they must not know we're here yet. Mostly officers and a few det—McKenna?"

Felicity frowns; surprise isn't usually a good thing in her line of work. "Who?" she demands.

"McKenna Hall," he clarifies for her. "She was a friend of mine before… everything happened."

As much as she understands his desire to keep a secret, Felicity does not need Oliver's ambiguity and gift for understatement right now. "Okay," she starts as gently as she can, "when you say 'friend,' do you mean a friend like Tommy, or do you mean a friend like Laurel?"

"We were never involved," Oliver assures her, tearing through Felicity's attempt at subtle with a battering ram. "I was with Laurel at the time. I… I made advances, but she wasn't interested in helping me cheat on my girlfriend." He sighs in a crackle of static. "She and Tommy… they blurred lines. They're complicated."

Knowing that Oliver has said all he's willing to say, Felicity files that away for later, when she has a more pliable audience. Tommy seemed curious enough about her earlier, when he barely let her leave Verdant for all the questions. Maybe she can ask some questions of her own later. "And she's a cop?" she asks Oliver. "You two don't seem like the type to hang around with the boys in blue," she notes, emphasizing the word boys with great irony.

"We weren't," he assures her unnecessarily. Of the many things Felicity knows him to be, she'd never accuse Oliver of being cop-friendly—especially not while they're running around in masks to evade the police. "That's happened in the last five years." He pauses, and even in the silence, she can tell he's stopping to surveil the scene. "She's in a suit, so she's probably a detective."

"Have you ever talked to anyone about your obsession with women in the legal system?" Felicity blurts. A lingering, stony quiet is her only answer, and she winces before leaning around a corner. Once it's clear, she continues—both moving and with her unintentional question. "I mean, first Laurel, the legal eagle. Then Sara, who was interested in forensic pathology. Now McKenna, the detective." She frowns. "Wait, what about that other girl you talked about? Sandra? Didn't you say she was working on a forensic chemistry degree?"

"Not the time," Oliver growls in answer. Fine. He can be a stick in the mud if he wants to be—it's of no consequence to Felicity.

She turns a corner that brings her to a steel vault door just as a figure drops from the rafters. Her blade is already against his throat before she realizes who it is, but Oliver raises his hands in surrender anyway. She sheathes the blade before she kills someone—well, unintentionally kills someone. "Haven't we already decided that startling me is a good way to find yourself without a head?" she whisper-yells at him.

Oliver points toward the vault door as he puts a finger to his lips and—oh, he better not be shushing her. That would be an excellent way to find himself without a head, too. After they exchange stony looks, Felicity finally complies, taking great pleasure in stomping on his foot before she moves to inspect the safe.

The little red light is lit, leaving no question that the rest of the happy family of bank robbers is inside. "Two options," she whispers to her partner in crime—quite literally, in this case. "We take them down, or we lock them in for the police to deal with." Oliver's mouth actually falls open at the suggestion. "I know," she assures him, holding her hands up. "I'm surprised, too. The whole plan lacks too much blood, screaming, and carnage for my tastes, but, hey, this is your scene."

Oliver chuckles as he opens his mouth to reply, but all hell breaks loose.

It starts with an innocuous, breathy, "Oh my God." Felicity and Oliver both turn, just in time to see a strikingly beautiful cop staring back at them. Her mouth goes slack as she gapes at the city's two vigilantes, both standing together as though they're a gift from the higher powers that be. All they're missing is a bow. Felicity's eyes flick to the one in Oliver's left hand. A bow of the gift-wrapping variety. The swordmaster hardly thinks his counts in this instance, though it's far more useful right now.

"Have I mentioned lately how much I hate your missions?" Felicity declares as she smacks his shoulder with the back of his hand.

He rubs his arm absently where she hit him before admitting slowly, "I think there's a slight flaw in your plan."

Before Felicity can suggest he change his codename to Captain Obvious, the police officer yells, "SCPD! You are under—"

Though Felicity knows the speech by heart at this point, she's almost disappointed when Hall is interrupted. Gunshots erupt from behind the safe door as Oliver and Felicity dive for cover. Felicity throws a knife but misses all remaining members of the Terrible Cliché Gang, yet Oliver pops off a lucky shot midair at the broader of the two remaining men. Felicity's eyes widen before throwing her partner a nod of approval. He'll have to show her how he does that sometime.

He only winks. Cocky son of a bitch.

Though one clearly has a fleshette embedded in his arm, both men emerge from the vault firing, forcing Hall to retreat behind a nearby wall. It doesn't take long before they slip past the detective and start running toward the exit, still firing behind them.

Sighing, Felicity turns toward her partner-in-crime, waiting to follow his lead. With one look, he manages to make her release a slew of obscenities in six languages. Instead of answering, he breaks into a run. With one last choice word, she follows, screaming over the gunfire, "I never thought I'd say this, but I'm starting to miss the Yakuza!"

A few heartbeats later, Felicity wishes she'd saved her breath. With his long strides and her short legs, she scrambles to keep up with Oliver as he sprints at Mach speed. Even as her injured leg screams in protest, she pushes herself harder and faster, only to watch him slide further away. Damn, she really needs more cardio in her exercise regimen if she's going to pair up with Oliver. Slow-moving Bratva captains have made her complacent and lazy.

Fortunately for her aching lungs, the criminals can't escape him, either. At the point where she's starting to get a stitch in her side and her panting probably sounds like Darth Vader under the modulator, Oliver tackles one to the ground. The member of the Bad Cliché Gang swiftly clocks Oliver in the jaw and knocks him to the ground, but Felicity finds her only regret is that she didn't get to hit her partner first. The asshole deserves it for Usain Bolt-ing his way across seven hundred yards and expecting her short-by-comparison, injured legs to keep up.

Despite her personal feelings, Felicity retaliates. When the criminal hauls back to hit Oliver again, she slides a blade against his throat. A healthy dose of self-preservation makes him stop moving immediately. "That's… a good… boy," Felicity manages between gulping for air. This whole being-winded thing is ruining the whole image her presence commands, and maybe she's just petty enough to care. "As much… as I'd love… to see you… punch him in the face—again—for that… nice little jog…" She touches his neck with the flat of the blade, nudging him from on top of Oliver. "No one touches my partner," she finishes with a raspy growl, pushing him down with a foot on his chest.

By the time she does so, Oliver already has Bad Guy #3 on the ground at bow-point. He throws her a smile so beautiful it should be illegal, and her blade droops before she remembers there are more important things than staring at his handsome face—even if it does make her feel strange inside. Strange in a good way. It takes her another moment to realize why he graced her with such a gift: she just called him her partner for the very first time.

The walls of the room feel like they're closing in, and suddenly her breath comes faster for reasons that have nothing to do with her run. "Part-time partner," she corrects, her voice turning high and fluttery. "Not always my partner. Just sometimes. A temporary alliance. Nothing more." Not even her harsh, stuttered words darken his megawatt smile and… "What the hell have you gotten yourself into this time, Felicity?" she mutters under her breath.

Oliver meets her eyes, watching her with a less intense smile—but one that makes her feel like someone twisted her guts in knots all the same. Of course he heard her; their comm link made sure of that. "I ask myself that all the time," he assures her quietly, his voice almost gentle. "More than I bargained for, but definitely everything I needed."

It's too much at once. His words almost make Felicity feel… things. They almost make her want to feel things. They almost make her want to tear down all the walls she's built and remember what it's like to feel all the things that she wasn't afraid to feel before Japan. But because she isn't an idiot, she knows exactly how that ends. She's allowed herself to form attachments twice—and that's twice too often. The first died to protect her—a sacrifice she feels every time she carries his swords—and she broke the second's heart the same way he broke hers. She isn't ready to try for three. Well, that's what her mind tells her.

Her heart isn't so sure.

When the other shoe drops, Felicity is almost relieved to deal with far less terrifying things—like police officers who would like to see her dead and armed bank robbers. The SCPD rounds the corner with six of their finest, the charge led by McKenna Hall herself. In the back of the line, supported by two officers, is the boy who she left unconscious earlier.

The man with the fleshette in his arm scrambles to his feet, no longer concerned with the arrow trained upon him. "No!" he screams, trying to stand, but injury and what Felicity assumes to be arthritis stop him. "Don't take my son! This isn't his fault!" His hand touches his gun for only a moment before sliding across the floor, out of reach.

It's a second too long. She sees the twitchy rookie in the back move, a second before the rest of them can react. Felicity is already running by the time the smoke leaves the gun, diving in front of its path. Fire rips through her side just as the gunshot carries across the space, but better her side than the man's head.

"Don't shoot!" she screams, but it's already too late. Hall reacts to the sound instinctively, and she puts a bullet in the man's thigh as he attempts to stand.

When it strikes home, Felicity knows it's over. Blood shoots across the space, far enough that some of it lands on the shoulder of her jacket. Femoral artery. From experience, she knows that he doesn't have long enough for the ambulance Hall is dialing before he bleeds out. With a fast-pumping heart, he's lucky if he makes it five minutes, but it doesn't stop her from crawling over to apply pressure.

The man groans as she presses her palms to the wounds. "You're going to be okay," Felicity says, but the words feel hollow as they leave her mouth. Another hand falls over hers, and she looks up to see the boy she stopped earlier trying to add pressure as he shrugs out of his jacket.

"Arrow," she barks, but it's to find Oliver already slicing through the leather jacket for something he can use as a tourniquet. His eyes stay trained on the cops as he fastens it around the robber's injured leg, and Felicity follows his glance to see them arresting the other masked robber. Oliver attempts to pull it tight, but the worn leather snaps in his hands.

"Go," the dying man declares, touching his son's shoulder. "Go back to your mother. Both of you need to leave now, before reinforcements come." His next words pierce through Felicity's dead heart: "I love you."

They're his last.

The boy screams a mantra of the word no through his tears, and her hands fall slack. It's like watching it all over again: the ricochet hitting her father in the leg and screaming over his dead body. Yet another father she couldn't save, and yet another child crying over senseless violence that claimed his life.

No leaves her lips in a whisper. Not again. A numbness falls over her as she stares at another man who didn't need to die—who didn't deserve to die. That eerie cold falls over her again—like the cold in the shipping container they kept her in. Whatever was left of her after Japan feels as though someone scooped it out, hollowed her out until she feels nothing but emptiness.

Then there's warmth. There shouldn't be, but there is. Warm, strong hands hook under her arms, pulling her to her feet as if she's little more than a ragdoll. "Felicity," Oliver whispers. "Felicity, I'm sorry, but we need to go." Even through the modulator, she can hear new exhaustion that wasn't there only moments before. "There's nothing else we can do for him now." Only when he attempts to carry her does she snap out of her daze, steps slow and shaky. He takes her blood-covered hand before pulling her out of the bank and into the cool night air.

The police don't give chase.