"Hello, Shado," Oliver said.
"Good to see you, Oliver," Shado acknowledged. "I have to say I was a little bit surprised to get your call. I knew you were in Starling City but I didn't think it was going to alter our…status quo, if you will."
"And that's why I'm here," Oliver said. "I think we should have a conversation about how things are going to play out going forward."
He gestured to Diggle.
"This is John Diggle," he said. "He's a friend as well as my personal security consultant."
"A pleasure to meet you Mr. Diggle," Shado said, extending her hand.
"Likewise," Diggle said, shaking her hand.
Shado led the way into the conference room and asked for a pot of coffee to be brought in. When they were all settled, she gave Oliver an expectant look.
"My presence in Starling City is going to be permanent," Oliver said without preamble. "I'm moving back. There are a lot of reasons for that, most of them have nothing to do with the foundation."
"And the ones that do?" Shado asked.
"I want to be more involved, not necessarily in the day to day," Oliver said. "But in a way that helps us get the public support we need to complete some of the larger projects that we've identified. That said, I don't want anything I do to have a negative impact on the reputation we've already constructed."
"That's not going to be easy," Shado told him honestly. "Unless you plan on telling people that you created this foundation two years ago, then you're going to look like another one per center trying to rehabilitate his reputation by attaching himself to a good cause."
"And if you tell people the truth that opens up all kinds of questions about where you've been and why you haven't been more involved before," Diggle pointed out.
"So maybe it's not me," Oliver mused. "Maybe it's Queen Consolidated."
"What do you mean?" Shado asked.
"Queen Consolidated has been committed to rebuilding the city since Walter took over," Oliver pointed out. "They've focused a lot of their efforts on the economic side of that but it's not a stretch to think that with the Queen Family Foundation behind them they might start collaborating on more community minded projects."
"But how does that get you involved?" Shado asked. "You don't have any official role inside Queen Consolidated."
"Because I haven't wanted one," Oliver said. "But this is the exactly the kind of thing my mother would push me to do if she knew about it."
Shado thought about it.
"It might actually work," she said. "Mother of reluctant billionaire pushes him to reform and give back."
Oliver's lips twitched in amusement.
"Take a little less pleasure in the sordid headlines, why don't you?" he said.
Shado gave him an unapologetic smile and the made a few notes on her iPad.
"It sounds like the next step would be to pitch this to your family," Shado said. "Once we agree on how we want this to work, we can create a communication plan and get our PR people on it."
She gave him a sideways glance.
"You do know that once we do this, you can never go back to your scandal a week lifestyle," she said. "I know you've been keeping a low profile but just in case you were having thoughts of heading back in that direction…"
"It figures you'd be the one person in this city who didn't see that blog post," Oliver said. "Hadn't you heard? I'm a one woman man these days."
Shado feigned shock.
"You actually found someone to put up with you?" she said. "Has she had a full psych evaluation? She could be under the influence."
Dig coughed to cover a laugh and Oliver shot him a baleful look. He was about to reply to Shado but his cell phone rang and Felicity's face flashed on the screen.
"Excuse me," he said.
He stood up and moved to the window on the far side in order to have a bit more privacy.
"Felicity, hi," he said.
"I need your help," Felicity replied.
"What's wrong?" Oliver asked.
He could tell something was. She sounded stressed and her could hear agitated chatter in the background.
"Where are you?" he asked.
"At the seamstress with Francesca, my mother, my aunt Karen, Becky, and Francesca's best friend Melanie," Felicity said. "We're supposed to have final dress fittings. I mean we're still having those. That isn't the problem. It's…"
He heard her turn away for a moment and hiss something in a low tone and then he heard a thudding sound, like a door closing.
"Paparazzi followed us here," she said, coming back on the line. "It was a complete ambush. They were shoving cameras in our faces, asking me if you were going to be my date to the wedding, if this was a dry run for our wedding. They were asking Francesca if she was jealous of me, they wanted to know what my mom thought of you…"
"I'm so sorry," Oliver said.
"It's not your fault," Felicity said, automatically. "It's not like you knew they were going to start stalking me."
"But I should've anticipated it," Oliver said. "I should have had someone with you."
"It's not your job to protect me," Felicity said firmly.
"When it comes to stuff like this," Oliver countered, "when it comes to how my life or family or reputation affect your life, then yeah, it is."
Felicity started to protest but Oliver cut her off.
"Text me the address where you are," Oliver said. "I'll have Diggle and some of his partners come get you guys. Did you have more plans after the dresses?"
"I was coming to meet you at the foundry," Felicity said. "The rest of them were meeting Liam's mother for dinner. I don't know if that's still the plan though. Francesca's in such a state about all this I'm not sure she wants to go out."
"Let me speak to her," Oliver said.
"Oliver," Felicity said. "I'm not sure…"
"All I need is a minute," Oliver said evenly.
Felicity sighed but moments later he heard Francesca's frazzled voice come on the line.
"I'm sorry your day was disrupted by those vultures," Oliver began.
"That makes two of us," Francesca said.
"I understand from Felicity that you all had dinner plans," Oliver said. "If you'll let me, I'd like to make this up to you and your family."
"That's not necessary," Francesca said.
"I insist," Oliver said. "We have an open table at Settimo Cielo and Chef Pazzani is a personal friend of the family. I'm sure she'll be happy to accommodate you."
Oliver could practically feel Francesca's hesitation. She was tempted that was for certain but she didn't want to take advantage either.
"Look," Oliver said. "As much as I wish that my relationship with Felicity existed in a vacuum, the fact is that it doesn't. It's going to affect people in both our lives and it's going to be harder on her friends and family because it's new. There isn't a whole lot I can do about that but I can do this. So, let me."
"Thank you," she finally said. "That's very generous."
"I'll make the arrangements and have a car pick you all up from your mother's house," Oliver said. "Is 7 okay?"
"We'll make it work," Francesca said. "I better hand the phone back to Felicity before she decapitates me."
A moment later, Felicity's voice sounded anxiously in his ear.
"What did you do?" she demanded.
"I made amends," Oliver said. "Don't worry about it. I'm going to wrap up my meeting and then we can meet up as planned with Dig."
"We're so not done talking about this," Felicity warned him.
"I didn't think we were," Oliver agreed. "I'll see you soon."
He disconnected the fall, filled Dig in on the details and forwarded him the address that Felicity had texted over. Once Diggle left, Oliver turned his attention back to Shado. She was eyeing him speculatively.
"I can't wait to meet her," she said.
"I'm sure the opportunity will present itself sooner or later," Oliver said mildly.
He glanced at his watch.
"I'll speak to Walter later and find a time for us to sit down with him and my mother to hash out all the details," Oliver said.
"Will you tell them the truth?" she asked.
"I think so," Oliver said. "It'll be nice to have one less secret from them."
"Let me know the place and time," she said. "I'll be there."
"Thanks," Oliver said. "And in case I haven't mentioned it lately, you really have done great work here. I appreciate it more than you know."
"Always nice to hear," Shado said.
They exchanged good byes and Oliver hailed a cab to take him back to Queen Manor. The boys were still out with his mother since they'd convinced her to take them to the movies so after a quick change of clothes and a couple of phone calls to make the dinner plans he'd promised Francesca, Oliver grabbed a helmet and headed to the foundry on the back of his motorcycle.
Diggle and Felicity were already waiting when he walked in.
"Do you think it would be too obvious if I crashed all their servers?" Felicity was asking Diggle. "They do know I'm an IT specialist so coincidence is probably stretching it, huh?"
"Oliver," Diggle said, clearly relieved not to have to answer the question.
Felicity whipped around to look at him, her ponytail flying over her shoulder.
"There's video," she told him, gesturing to one of her monitors. "I was contemplating crashing the entire Internet but I'm having second thoughts. Want to weigh in?"
Oliver crouched down at her side and took her hand in his. He kissed each of her fingertips, gratified not just by the spark of desire that flashed in her blue eyes but also by the way her entire body relaxed.
"We're going to get a handle on the press and the paps," he told her. "I promise. But why don't we talk about what we heard on the news this morning first, so we can put Diggle out of his misery?"
Felicity nodded her agreement and Diggle took that as his cue.
"I'm already getting a little heat," Diggle told them. "My friend, Lyla, doesn't really believe in coincidences. Me asking about Bertinelli so soon before this happening…"
"Will it be a problem?" Oliver asked.
"Not for now," Diggle said. "She trusts me and knows I'll tell her what I can, even if it isn't much. But the hits are going to keep coming, Oliver. We knew that."
"The Russians won't stop until they obliterate Bertinelli's entire organization," Oliver said. "The other Italian families will try to retaliate but the Russians will crush them."
"We also have to keep in mind that the Russians aren't the only ones who will want to step into that gap, in Miami or in New York," Diggle said.
"We knew all that," Oliver said. "I knew all that before I set this in motion."
"So we stick with Felicity's plan," Diggle said. "Use the feds. If you think about it, at least as far as Bertinelli's organization is concerned, the Feds and the Russians want the same thing – to take it out of play."
"I've been thinking about this," Felicity said. "We can't feed intel straight to the feds, even anonymously. It'll raise too many red flags with the Bratva."
"You have something else in mind?" Oliver asked.
"So glad you asked," Felicity said with a grin.
Her fingers flew over her keyboards and seconds later there was an image on her monitor.
"Detective Quentin Lance," Diggle read.
"Laurel's father," Oliver said.
Felicity turned to look at him with wide eyes.
"I…did not know that," she said. "But that weird quirk of fate aside, I think he's the guy we need."
"He hates my guts," Oliver said.
Felicity and Dig both stared at him.
"You're not expecting us to be surprised, are you?" Felicity questioned. "Because…not going to happen."
"Let's get back to why you think we need to involve him," Oliver said.
"He's a by the book kind of guy, right?" Felicity said. "The last person any one would suspect of being involved with any mafia dealings."
"Right," Oliver agreed.
"So we feed him the intel," Felicity said. "He'll look into it, the Feds will catch on to his investigation and involve themselves."
"Isn't it hitting too close to home?" Diggle asked. "Tipping off the SCPD?"
"That's the beauty of it," Felicity said. "I mean, obviously, I'll reroute the thing through a gazillion different encrypted servers but no one would ever think the source of the information would be right under his nose."
Oliver and Diggle shared a look.
"It won't hurt to try it," Diggle said.
Oliver nodded just as a beep sounded from one of Felicity's monitors.
"What was that?" he asked.
"I set up some searches when I got here earlier," Felicity said. "To scan through the information that Miami PD has compiled on the bombing. The alert went off because of an update to the casualty report."
She skimmed through the pages scrolling across her screen and her eyes widened.
"The bomb went off at a Chinese restaurant called Jade Garden," Felicity said. "And Oliver, Nick Salvati was in there too. They just confirmed his identity – and his death – with a DNA test."
Oliver blinked at her.
"Those Russians are crafty bastards," he finally said.
"You thinking what I'm thinking?" Diggle asked Oliver.
"That they framed the Triad for taking out Bertinelli and his right hand?" Oliver said. "Yeah."
"It means the Italians will be focusing their ire on the Chinese while the Russians just pick them off like low hanging fruit," Diggle said.
"Felicity, I need you to see what you can find on contracted killers most often used by the Bratva on the East Coast," Oliver said. "We can feed a few of those names to Lance along with a few potential targets from Bertinelli's people. With Salvati already out of the picture, they'll keep going down the ranks."
"I'll set up the parameters," Felicity said. "But it could take a while to sort through all the international databases and those will just be the ones that are on record. We probably won't have a useable list until tomorrow."
"That's fine," Oliver said.
Diggle looked at his watch.
"I have to head out," he said. "We're consulting for a client in the Middle East. Keep me posted if anything else comes up."
"Will do," Oliver said.
They exchanged a quick, half hug and Diggle shot a Felicity a smile as he left. Once they were alone, Oliver held his hand out to Felicity and she took it, allowing him to draw her to her feet and into his arms. She wrapped her own arms around his waist and pressed her cheek to his chest. He was so steady and solid that she immediately felt lighter and safe.
"So I heard you had a rough afternoon," Oliver said.
"It wasn't the most pleasant experience," Felicity agreed. "But if you apologize again, I'm going to have to hurt you and then the twins will be mad at me and there won't be any rocket building and then they'll be mad at you and it's all downhill from there."
Oliver couldn't help but chuckle, even as he laced his fingers together behind her neck and tilted her face up so that he could ghost his mouth over hers, teasing almost there kisses until she said his name with that intense urgency that he loved and he gave in and kissed her properly.
She opened to him instantly and Oliver sank his tongue into her mouth, greedy for the taste of her even through it had been less than twelve hours since their last kiss. Felicity's hands slipped under his shirt and her nails dug into his back as she pressed herself closer to him. Oliver growled in response and bit softly on her bottom lip before dragging his mouth down to her neck and beginning to bite and suck a path down to the curve of her shoulder.
Closing her eyes, Felicity allowed herself to float on the pleasure that flooded through her but only for a few minutes before she reluctantly pulled away.
"You can't kiss your way out of this conversation," she told him, her words a little bit choppy since she was trying to catch her breath.
Oliver blinked at her and she saw the effort it took for him to bring his physical needs back in line. He cleared his throat.
"That wasn't supposed to have…" he started.
He huffed out a breath.
"I guess what they say is true and a kiss is never just a kiss," Oliver said.
"At least not with us," Felicity said.
Oliver sat down in the chair she'd vacated earlier and pulled her into his lap. She could feel him still semi erect under her and she had to fight the urge to squirm on top of him.
"We need to talk about what happened before," Felicity said.
She focused on Oliver's eyes in an attempt to keep herself on point but they were three shades darker than normal which just made them even more intense.
Felicity groaned and Oliver's laugh wasn't at all the response she expected.
"You think this is funny?" she demanded.
"What, you mean the fact that we can barely keep our hands off each other long enough to have serious, relationship altering conversations?" Oliver said. "It's not funny at all. But if I don't laugh I'll cry or start howling at the moon so…take your pick."
Felicity couldn't help but giggle at the image.
"There is a simple solution to this," she murmured. "It involves four walls and a bed and a couple of hours uninterrupted time alone."
"We'll have to work on that," Oliver agreed. "In the meantime…"
"In the meantime," Felicity repeated. "You can't throw fancy restaurants and fancy things and fancy money around every time some unexpectedly weird Queen universe thing crops up and affects people close to me."
"I know," Oliver said. "And I won't."
He reached up to stroke her cheek.
"But there is something that I do need you to consider," Oliver said. "When it comes to the wealth and the influence and…"
"The bubble," Felicity finished.
"I'm trying to work out how to say this without sounding like an entitled asshole," Oliver admitted. "But I'm not sure it's actually possible."
"Go for it," Felicity said. "I promise to give you points for effort."
"I have it," Oliver said with a small shrug. "The money, the connections that go with it…it's part of who I am, part of the world that I was born into. And people can judge and argue about the ethics or how fair or unfair it is for anyone to have a fortune this size but at the end of the day, it's there and it's mine and spending it on people I care about or the people they care about is something I'm lucky enough to be able to do."
He searched her eyes with his.
"I try not to take it for granted," Oliver said. "I definitely try to make sure that the twins don't take it for granted. But on the other hand when something as simple as a phone call can give your family a good time to make up for something that only happened because you happen to be my girlfriend? I can't not do that, Felicity."
Felicity took a moment to digest everything that Oliver had said.
"I understand where you're coming from," she said slowly. "And I don't want you to feel like you need to hold back or shield me from that part of your life."
"But?" Oliver asked.
"But I don't want you to think it's necessary or expected," Felicity said. "I don't want anyone to take advantage. I don't want to take advantage. We just need to be careful about the balance, I think."
"We can do that," Oliver said. "Just remember that the end of the day material things are exactly that – material. What matters to me more than anything is having you in my life."
"Under normal circumstances that would earn you a kiss," Felicity said. "But if we start again with the kissing, we'll never finish this conversation and we need to. We need to talk about how to avoid more of what happened today. I get that there's interest because of you but I don't want to be looking over my shoulder all the time. I don't want my family and friends to have to do that either."
"The quickest and fastest way to deal with it is the public way," Oliver told her. "But doing that does mean it could get worse before it gets better."
"Tell me what you mean," Felicity said.
"If we take our relationship public," Oliver said. "And basically all it would take is us going to a couple high profile events together, then it's out there. There'll be a buzz, the intensity of the attention will go up for a bit but eventually it will die down and they'll move on to the next thing."
"And by 'intensity of the attention' what you really mean is that they'll dig into everything they can find about me and my family," Felicity said. "And also about you and the boys and where you've been…"
A thought popped into her mind and she clutched at Oliver's forearm.
"The twins' birth records," she said. "Is Helena named as their mother? Because if anyone…"
"The records are sealed," Oliver said. "It was part of the deal I originally made with the Feds. But she's not listed on their birth certificates so even if anyone did find them, they wouldn't make the connection."
Felicity huffed out a breath and scrambled over to her computers. Oliver didn't ask but he suspected she was checking for herself just how sealed the records were. His thoughts were confirmed a few minutes later.
"You'd have to be a hell of hacker to find those records now," Felicity said. "And I'd be on to you before even got close."
Oliver simply smiled and wrapped his arms around her when she settled back into his lap.
"Part of me likes the idea of going public and just…getting it over with, if that makes sense," Felicity said. "But I'm not sure I like the implications for our families, especially so close to Francesca's wedding."
"We can talk to them about it," Oliver said. "My family knows how to play the media game and the boys will continue to be off limits. It's going to be a bigger adjustment for your friends and family."
"My friend Lola already texted me three times to make sure I was okay," Felicity said. "I guess she saw pictures. And oddly enough I'm getting texts and emails from people I forgot even existed that's how long it's been since we were in touch."
"The bottom feeders will come crawling out," Oliver said. "And since we're on the topic of media, there's something else I should tell you."
"Something like what?" Felicity asked.
"You remember I told you a while ago that I was putting something in place?" Oliver asked.
"Yeah," Felicity nodded.
"It's coming to a head now and it could start to involve some media exposure," Oliver said. "Which means that you could get sucked in by default even if we decide to keep our relationship under wraps."
"Can you tell me what "it" is before we continue discussing the ramifications?" Felicity wanted to know.
Oliver was quiet for a moment and Felicity could tell he was trying to decide where to start.
"I was in an awful headspace when I left Starling City," Oliver said. "Everything I thought I knew about my father and in a way about myself, had just proven to be a lie and worst of all, that lie had cost hundreds of people their lives, thousands their homes or livelihoods."
"That would mess with anyone's mind," Felicity said softly.
"My father and I always had a complicated relationship," Oliver said. "He obviously indulged me in a lot of things but there was disapproval and disappointment too. I spent a lot of time wondering if the reason he didn't care about all the scandals was because he stopped expecting anything better."
Felicity looped her arms around Oliver's neck and ran her fingers through his hair, in the same soothing circles he often used on her, to great effect.
He leaned into her touch as he continued speaking.
"By the time Helena was pregnant and I started screwing my head on straight," Oliver said. "I knew that I wanted to find ways or at least one way, to undo the damage that he did. I know part of it was purely selfish. I wanted to be the opposite of him in every way that mattered, for my own sake but also for the twins."
"I can understand that," Felicity said.
"Anyway to cut a long story short," Oliver said. "Two years ago, I set up a foundation called Rebuilding Memories."
"That's you?" Felicity asked, in surprise.
"I set it up and funded it," Oliver said. "And with a bit of help from the family law firm, I found someone to run it who knows what they're doing. Her name is Shado Fei; we've collaborated on a lot of the nuts and bolts, things like deciding what projects to take on, picking a board of directors, that sort of thing."
"I don't know if I should be worried or impressed by how good you are at keeping secrets from the people close to you," Felicity said wryly.
"I don't have secrets from you," Oliver said. "That's a first for me."
"I think this relationship has a lot of firsts for both of us," Felicity said.
"Which is kind of awesome," Oliver said.
"It is completely awesome," Felicity said.