"You know, I thought this would be more exciting." Felicity popped a caviar canapé into to her mouth as her eyes flicked around the ballroom full of Starling City's rich and powerful.
Oliver lifted two glasses of champagne off a passing waiter's tray. "I'm sorry you find following an international money launderer boring." His lips were pursed in an amuse smirk.
"When you put it like that, I sound like an adrenaline junkie." She accepted the champagne glass he offered her, raising it her lips to wet them. Neither of them drank the alcohol. They needed clear heads. They had a job to do. "It's just with the hoo ha out there," Felicity waved a hand to the ballroom's open doors where the paparazzi's epilepsy inducing flashes were still going, "You would think that people would be doing more than pretending to eat fancy food and judging everyone else like they're better."
"It's what they do." Oliver shrugged. He'd been like that too, before. He would have been drinking champagne like it was oxygen and finding the hottest girl in the room to take back to the presidential suite. Old Oliver Queen had no clue.
"The movies make it seem so much more dramatic. By this point, someone should have thrown their drink or something."
Oliver's blue eyes flicked pointedly to his full glass of champagne to Felicity's whit gossamer gown. He smiled jovially.
"I didn't mean you." She glanced at the crowd around them, recognising faces from the news and gossip blogs. "You don't have to stay with me. You can go talk to your friends, if you want. It would probably be good cover."
"I'm not leaving you."
"When Anderson gets here, we'll get his phone and I'll slip the bug in it. Until then, you should be social."
"I'm being social now."
"Oliver." Felicity rolled her eyes. He was being difficult on purpose.
"Besides, they're not my friends. They just want to use me to get into the papers."
"It's all gossip blogs these days. No one gets papers anymore."
"I'll keep that in mind."
They fell silent. Felicity fake sipped her champagne. Oliver used the reflection of the ballroom door in the decorative metallic panel on the wall behind Felicity to watch for Anderson's arrival.
"Did I say thank you?" He didn't specify. He never did anymore. He was thankful for her in general these days. But she knew he was talking about coming out with him tonight, for braving the paparazzi even though she would delete all photos with her in them later that night. She had a way on understanding what he meant. Oliver attributed to her remarkable intelligence. Felicity thought it was obvious. Oliver was a man of secrets, yes. He was also predictable once you knew the variables. And she knew most of them.
"Not tonight. Not that I mind. I googled the dress. You spent two months' rent on this, which is ridiculous, even if it is one of the prettiest things ever." She ran her hands over the soft material, still marvelling at it. She couldn't even pronounce the name of the exclusive French label that made the figure hugging but movable long white gown. It looked like something for a classic Hollywood siren, not something for an IT girl.
"I was hoping you wouldn't know." He'd made sure that there was no price listed anywhere in the delivery box to Felicity. Oliver knew that she was more practical than whimsical and would protest spending so much on a dress when she already had several from previous missions. But money and fancy things were the things he could give her. Money was how Oliver Queen was taught to show appreciation. And he appreciated Felicity, probably more than she realised.
"Paper may be destroyed but nothing is ever destroyed on the internet." She sounded smug.
"So you keep proving," His eyes narrowed, squinting at the reflection of the slight man who just walked in. "He's here."
Felicity turned to face the door. Oliver grabbed her elbow before she could rotate an inch. "Don't." He relaxed his grip and guided her gently in the opposite direction. "The guy's KGB trained, remember?"
She nodded, posture tense. She remembered the photos of dismembered limbs sent to the respective security agencies where their former owners worked. She remembered the accompanying note on the attached postcard: 'From Russia, With love'. She'd never watch that movie again.
"Relax." His hand trailed up her arm to settle on her shoulder, needling the tense muscle slightly.
"Easy for you Mr-I-mediate-hanging-off-the-ceiling-by-one-hand."
"I use two hands."
She narrowed her eyes at him, irritation showing. "Not the point."
"I know." He was trained for this, in a way. She wasn't.
They stood on the edge of the dance floor. Oliver cocked his head at the dancing couples. "We'll blend in well if we do this now."
"Okay." She stepped in front on him, placing her full champagne glass on the edge of the buffet table. "I hope your fancy boarding school taught you to dance. Because even my school did that." She placed her hand lightly on his bicep. "And we didn't even get computers until sixth grade."
Oliver put his hand on her waist and took her other hand into his. "How did you survive?"
"Books." She smiled. They began to waltz slowly, moving back and forth in a small circle. Felicity followed Oliver's lead without any awkward stepping. She surprised him with how gracefully she moved. He chose a simple two-step and it felt like they were moving as one person.
They edged around the periphery of the dance floor, easily dodging other dancing couples. Oliver kept one eye on Anderson at all times. He stood at the bar, one hand with a nearly empty drink, the other already flagging down the barman. Oliver and Felicity were a few yards away and he was oblivious to them.
Felicity nodded. This was the part of the plan that she liked.
Oliver spun quickly in an uneasy circle, like he couldn't balance. Felicity stumbled in his arms, flashing back in her mind to her college days when she would stumble around pretending not to be drunk and wondering how on earth she was doing the opposite now with a leather pants wearing criminal-vigilante billionaire former playboy. She reached out and steadied herself on the bar, giggling. She wasn't sure if she was giggling for the pretence of being drunk or the fact that her situation and life in general was so extraordinary it would Grey's Anatomy seem realistic.
Oliver flopped into a bar stool next to her, hand brushing against Anderson's tuxedo jacket. Two fingers slipped into the pocket and fished out his phone. He dropped it into his pocket, nudging Anderson with his shoulder as he did to mask the movement. "Sorry dude."
Felicity giggled louder, genuinely. Oliver was better at acting than he gave himself credit for. She smiled broadly at him, reaching over and tugging at his bow tie. "I wanna keep dancing. You gotta keep your promise."
He'd promised her that they'd be out of the party in two hours and then he'd buy her all she could eat at the IHOP down the road. And she really liked pancakes.
He chuckled. "Lady's choice." He let her pull him off the stool and back onto the dance floor. Once they were on the opposite side of the room, blocked from view by the dancing couples, Oliver handed her Anderson's phone.
"That was more fun than I thought it would be. He seems to have lost his touch a bit." She peeled off the case and twisted a custom made charm on her bracelet so it lengthened into a micro-screwdriver, using it to open the back of the phone.
Oliver nodded his agreement but kept watching Anderson solicitously.
"I mean even Russian super spies have to have a use by date, right?" She kept talking as her fingers flittered over the phone's insides, attaching the minute bug where no one but her would be able to find it. She hoped. Because that would be bad.
"How about we don't take the chance that they don't."
"You're right. That would be a very bad idea."
Oliver smiled at her assessment. Bad idea was an understatement but he wasn't going to remind her about that. Felicity slid the phone back into its case and passed it back to Oliver. He checked it over before hiding it up his sleeve. "What do you want from the bar? We have time for a drink." By we, he meant her.
She'd never seen him actually drink alcohol since she'd known him. She wondered if it was part of his fitness regime or if he was scared of letting loose. She would never ask though. Even she had that much control over her mouth. "Even if it's one of those girly drinks with the umbrellas that you hate? That could ruin your reputation if you're seen carrying that."
He shrugged nonchalantly. "They've seen me with worse." He turned to leave but whirled to face her, teasing smile in place. "Don't wander off with any strangers."
"Only if they have an adorable puppy." She rolled her eyes at the jibe. "Or kitten. I'm not fussy."
"I'll remember that." He chuckled, shoulders still shaking as he walked back to the bar. He waved down the bar tender and ordered a French martini for Felicity. He rapped his fingers on the bar as he waited obnoxiously loud.
Anderson glared at him. "Do you mind?" He had a slight accent. Oliver could only identify it because he'd spent too much time around Russians.
"Sorry man. I hate waiting, don't you? It's like I've paid you, work harder." He rolled his eyes like a teenager missing social cues.
"Perhaps if you worked, you'd understand." His tone was acidic, his distaste of capitalistic Americans obvious.
"Maybe I would." The bartender placed Felicity's drink in front of him and Oliver slipped him a fifty dollar note. He patted Anderson on the shoulder, dropping his phone back into his pocket. "Thanks for the talk buddy."
Someone screamed. The lights went out. Oliver froze. Felicity.
He whirled around but couldn't see anything in the dark. He started running across the room, bumping into people but not pausing to apologise. "Felicity!"
She didn't reply.
This wasn't part of the plan. He was scared. He didn't want her to get hurt, especially because of him.
"Nobody move." A disembodied voice cut through the darkness, amplified by speakers and distorted by a Darth Vader-sounding like device. The voice was unrecognisable. "Or you will die."
Oliver weaved between unmoving people, closer to where he'd last seen Felicity.
The lights flickered back on. He stopped moving. He couldn't bring attention to himself. He wouldn't be able to defend himself without revealing his secret and that would put Felicity and Diggle and his family in danger. Oliver couldn't risk that. He glanced around the room, counting the masked men with guns. There were 8 that he could see but from their spread formation across the room he could tell that they were military trained. They had every exit and corner covered.
There was no escape.
And he couldn't see Felicity.
"Now that I have your attention," Oliver turned to see a tall man dressed in black wearing a Darth Vader mask standing on the stage. He had an AK-47 slung over one shoulder and a microphone in the other hand. "I will list my demands."
Someone yelled, "Let us go. The Police Commissioner is here."
One of the intruders fired three shots into the air. People screamed. They clutched at their loved ones as if the tightness of their grip could save them. Oliver looked around for Felicity. He still couldn't see her. His stomach felt like it had been drenched in freezing water and thrown off the steepest cliff. He needed to find Felicity.
"The police can't save you. The police are controlled by the criminals. We're here to correct that balance by taking away your money so you can't buy your way out of trouble."
Oliver's hand balled into a fist. Righteous zealots were the most dangerous. They thought they were serving the greater good. Causalities were of no importance to them. He had to find a way to stop them. He just didn't know how.
"All of you are going to put your fancy jewels and handbags and all your credit cards and money in the middle of the room or you will be shot."
Felicity had seen the group of men enter the ballroom, unmasked. She recognised their walk. They walked like Diggle. Military men. She knew immediately that they weren't at the party to help.
She tried to get Oliver's attention discreetly but he was facing away from her. Backing against the wall slowly, she edged towards the service exit that had been on the floor plans Diggle and Oliver had made her study. She texted Diggle as she walked, knowing they'd need help. Her back hit the door handle and she pulled it open, stepping backwards and closing it behind her.
That was her first mistake.
Her back hit something hard and warm and her heart sank. She whirled around, fake smile in place. "Oh, hi, you wouldn't know where the ladies room is would you? I am so completely useless with directions. I still get lost in my own apartment."
The man paused, staring at her. He hadn't expected her either.
Her phone chirped. Diggle had replied. The intruder's eyes darted to her phone, narrowing. She used his focused attention to distract him as her other hand snaked into her clutch to pull out the taser she was pretty sure wasn't street legal. She pushed the button and the cables shot out, delivering an electrical current large enough that he convulsed, eyes rolling into the back of his head and collapsed to the ground.
She stared at the unconscious man for a second, breathing hard. She could barely believe that she'd done that. Then she remembered a more important fact: Oliver was still inside.
So she did what she did best.
Oliver hadn't felt useless in a very long time. He'd forgotten how much he hated that feeling. He never wanted to feel it again. He watched helplessly as people were grudgingly herded to the middle of the ballroom to remove their jewellery and credit cards and put it on the growing pile. He watched Anderson doing the same thing as him. This wasn't the time or place to draw attention to yourself.
The lights flickered off again. There were 2 milliseconds of darkness then the lights came back on then they went out again for a whole second then the lights flickered on then off again for another millisecond. Oliver recognised it instantly. It was Morse code for the letter 'F'. It was Felicity.
He didn't understand how but he didn't care. Relief flooded his system like morphine. Felicity was safe. And able to help him.
The hostage takers didn't understand what was going on. They looked to each other than their leader. Each looked more confused than the previous one. The leader in the Darth Vader mask looked around the room. "What is going on?"
"You have failed this city." A deep booming voice echoed through the room.
Oliver hung his head, hiding his smirk. Diggle was here. The vigilante would save the day and Oliver Queen would be remembered for being too drunk to be of any use.
"What the he-" His words were cut off by an agonised scream as an arrow hit him in the gut. From the angle, he guessed that he'd at least have a perforated organ or two.
Some of the armed intruders followed the trail of the arrow and started shooting at the front door. Diggle fired a series of arrows in quick succession, each hitting their target in their chest or gut. Oliver felt proud. The archery lessons had paid off.
"Put your guns down and I might let you live."
Oliver thought that was a bit melodramatic but he wouldn't criticise Diggle yet. That would be saved for later. Preferably when all three of them were together and Felicity would giggle at him then chastise him for being hypocritical because he was a drama queen.
The last three intruders held up their hands. They didn't want to die.
"Guns on the ground."
They put the guns on the ground. Some braver people in the crowd stepped forward and picked up the guns. Others took the guns out of reach of the intruders lying on the ground clutching the holes in their chests.
Police sirens filled the air. The hooded vigilante ducked out of sight. Oliver sighed audibly as the slamming of car doors told him the police had arrived. He ambled over to the bar and picked up a bottle of whisky. The bartender was on the floor, shaking. Police officers streamed into the building like ants, each with their guns drawn. Oliver took a large swing of whisky, cementing his cover story as the drunken useless billionaire.
This was going to take a while.
It was 3:27 when Oliver finally walked back into the lair under Verdant. The police had taken his statement and the pappazzi had photographed him falling over while clutching the bottle of whiskey. He'd also seen Anderson slip away unnoticed by everyone else. Oliver carried a box filled with still-hot pancakes from IHOP. Walking down the stairs, he could hear Felicity talking.
"-I never really understood why electrocution was so bad, you know. Like you seem people in those ridiculous movies electrocuting themselves accidentally on purpose but it's never that bad. Not really. But this guy was like twice your size and he went down like BAM." She slammed her hand on the table next to her computer.
Diggle chuckled, shaking his head at her. "How did it go again?"
She rolled her eyes, spinning in her chair. "It goes like –Oliver!" She stopped spinning and leapt up, almost running towards him. "Are you ok?"
"I'm fine Felicity." He held out the box of pancakes. "I even kept my promise."
Her eyes widened comically behind her glasses. She'd removed her contacts and changed into a pair of sweatpants and an oversized sweater the second she'd gotten back to Verdant. "Oh my god, I love you. I am starving." She snatched the box out of his hands, freezing momentarily as she realised what she'd said. Her eyes flicked up to meet his, seeing his small smirk. "I hope you brought enough to share. I'm pretty sure I could eat a horse right now."
"I'm pretty sure I have eaten a horse before." Oliver followed her back to her desk, glancing between Diggle and Felicity. "You guys okay?"
Diggle nodded. "Are you?"
Oliver nodded. "Thanks to you."
"Did he just say thank you?" Diggle turned to Felicity as she pulled cutlery out of drawer. His tone was mock-incredulous. Oliver sighed softly and rolled his eyes. They were teasing him.
"I think he did. We must be dreaming."
"Very funny. I'll just take that back." He feigned taking away the box of pancakes.
"Stop trying to be funny and sit down and eat." Diggle used his foot to pull over the third chair.
"Yes sir." Oliver gave him a mock salute and sat down.