AN: special thank you to my beta, Tanya, for all her help. :)
There's a breeze sweeping through the treetops above her. She can't feel it; the only evidence of its passing is the swaying and soft rustle of branches as they move against one another. Felicity keeps her eyes closed but tilts her chin up, toward the sound. The air smells like pine and impending rain. She pulls the quilt she's brought tighter around her shoulders and tips her head back farther, until it comes to rest against the back of the lounge chair, and listens to the world move around her.
Sitting still has never been a problem for Felicity. As a child, this spot had been one of her favorite places to sit and do her school work, or read, or just look out over the lake behind their house and imagine. She is not surprised to find herself here now, searching for that same tranquility and ease of spirit that she's long associated with this area.
Felicity has been here for hours, though, and has yet to find either of those things. It's cold out – not quite freezing, but far from warm – and she's probably going to catch a cold, but she doesn't care. She needs the tenuous connection to nature that she's trying so hard to cultivate; she needs to feel connected to something, because it frightens her how removed she feels from everything. It frightens her to look at the world, and see it moving, and feel like she is standing still.
She is frightened because part of her is still stuck in that gray room.
"'City, come inside!" Evie calls.
Felicity startles and slams her elbow into the wooden back of the lounge chair. Her eyes fly open and for just a second she expects to see an office building, or an eye patch, but all she sees is water; water reflecting pale sunlight, and tall pine trees.
She sighs and unwraps herself to head inside. The solitude hasn't helped her in any way, save one: she has decided on what to tell her family about her ordeal. She's finally found a way to tell them the truth without giving anything away. Not a lie, and not the full truth, but the gray area in between.
Gray words, gray rooms; so much gray, where once there was only color and light.
"Your phone rang a few minutes ago," Maggie tells her as she steps inside. "I didn't answer it. It's on the kitchen counter."
Felicity glances in the direction of her phone, wondering who would call and whether or not she wants to find out, and is saved from making the decision when her father appears and pulls her with him to the couch.
"You're a popsicle," he teases lightly, hugging her to his side.
"Don't you mean icicle?" Felicity quips, snuggling closer to her father's broad frame.
"Nope, definitely popsicle. They're much better."
She manages a weak smile – they all feel weak, now – and tucks her feet up underneath her.
"What does everyone want for lunch?" her mother asks.
"Before you do that, mom, can you come over here for sec?"
Felicity feels three sets of eyes turn immediately to her. The scrutiny makes her uncomfortable but she bears it quietly. Her mother comes in from the kitchen and sits down on the loveseat with Evie; her sister looks anxious and a little curious, but her mother just looks worried. She doesn't dare look at her father.
A part of her – the cowardly, weak part of her that Slade had thought to exploit – wants to run away from this conversation. Felicity acknowledges it, virtually shakes its hand as if to say "I know you are there, I see you", and then pointedly tells it to shut up and sit down. This is her family, and they deserve whatever answers she can give them.
"The man who kidnapped me said I reminded him of someone."
Different looks, similar temperaments, he'd said. Same talent for managing a man who'll always be a spoiled brat.
Felicity tells her family what she can. She re-words and re-labels the truth in ways that won't give away her connection to the Starling City vigilante. Diggle and Sarah she leaves out of the story completely, as well as the part where she basically catapulted herself and her captor out of a window.
The part where she killed a murderer to save a life that wasn't her own.
Her father holds onto her tightly, and when she's done speaking he kisses the crown of her head and refuses to let anyone ask questions. Felicity buries her head in his shoulder, exhausted and unable to block the memories, but grateful for the comfort of her father's embrace.
The sharp trilling of her phone interrupts the silence that has engulfed the Smoak family.
"Should I get it?" Evie questions. "See who it is?"
"Sure," she mumbles into her dad's shirt.
Her sister goes for the phone and Felicity tries not to hold her breath. She's afraid of who it is, and who it isn't.
"The ID says Detective Lance."
Well, that doesn't leave her with much choice, so she holds her hand out for the phone.
"Hello, Detective," Felicity greets.
"Ms. Smoak," the Detective answers warmly. "How are you holding up?"
Felicity wishes she knew. "What can I do for you, Detective?"
He doesn't seem to mind the brush off. "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we need you to come back to Starling. I realize five days isn't enough time, but I'm afraid it's all I could get you."
Has it really been five days? It feels like much less, and infinitely more.
"I understand, Detective. Thank you. Do I need to come in to the station?"
"Nah, the Captain's gonna let me come to you. Let me know when you get home."
"Will do. Thanks again, Detective."
Felicity's chest tightens uncomfortably. She hadn't considered how long she would stay with her parents, but she'd hoped it would be longer than this.
She doesn't want to admit it, but – like so many other things in her life, now – the thought of going home terrifies her.
Talking to Lance is different than talking to her family.
She calls him the second she's in her apartment and has watched her mom drive off. Her mother had repeatedly asked Felicity if she wouldn't feel better with one of them staying with her for a while; Evie had begged to come stay with her and then resorted to logical arguments for why her presence was necessary. She'd waved away all their protests and smoothed over all of their concerns with an equanimity that didn't extend past the surface. Felicity doesn't want to be alone, but this whole ordeal has opened her eyes to what her life has become: dangerous. The closer she keeps her loved ones, the more danger they'll be in.
Felicity knows (and has accepted) that her life has taken on a new level of peril since she began working with Oliver, but she had never appreciated just how perilous it had become until Slade had shown her. She's always considered herself somewhat removed from the danger - unless she does something stupid and puts herself there – because of her position behind the scenes. Now, though … well, she's not as safe as she'd once thought.
So as much as she wishes her sister were here to blare loud rock music and cover her kitchen table in paintbrushes and jellybeans, Felicity has resigned herself to being alone. Evie and her parents are safe, and that will have to be enough.
Detective Lance doesn't keep her waiting long. Their conversation is much harder for her to sit through; this man knows (most) of the truth concerning her relationship with the vigilante. Lance knows about Sarah, too, and it's a new level of Hell for her to sit through a retelling of the events that directly concern both of his daughters.
Lance only asks her the questions he has to, and his compassion shows clearly on his face as he guides her from one question to the next. As she gets near the end of her retelling, though, to the part where she has to describe the events that lead to her plunge out the window, Felicity stalls. She looks away from the kind man sitting across from her and down at her shoes, focusing on them instead. He doesn't press her to continue.
Quentin Lance is an ally – a friend, even – and yet there are so many parts of her story that she has left out; there is still so much he doesn't know. So much he will never know; just like her family. Felicity has never had to do this before: selectively decide who gets to know what information, and then try to remember what she's hiding and from whom. She's starting to wonder if she should design some sort of program that she can use to keep track of all the lies and half-truths.
How does Oliver do this?
He has her. Well, her and Diggle, the only two people – in all the world, possibly – that know both sides of his persona; the only two people that could, conceivably, bear the weight of his secrets without crumbling.
At least, Felicity had thought that she was one of those people, until Slade Wilson had snatched her off of a sidewalk.
Right. The window; she has to tell him about the window.
"Uh," Felicity clears her throat. "Right. So. Sarah was there, like I said, and they were standing, maybe, ten – fifteen feet in front of me." She's remembering all three of them, but doesn't mention Digg and lets the Detective think she's only referring to the Arrow and Sarah. "And Slade threatened to shoot if they moved. Then ... I don't know what happened, there was movement or something behind Sarah. I couldn't see. And he was gonna … he aimed his gun at Sarah, 'cause she moved toward me. Or maybe it was away. Anyway. So I threw myself back, and hit him in the chest, and then …"
Then there had been breaking glass and cold air; the rushing wind as she plummeted; fear, and then an overwhelming numbness.
"Then you both went out the window," Lance finishes. "And then you ended up in another office, five stories below the one you started in. How did that happen?"
Felicity inhales, and the air feels like it is catching fire in her lungs; she laces her fingers together in her lap and squeezes them until it hurts. Detective Lance has just given her an answer to a question that she has not once thought to ask: how far she had fallen. Now, she has the answer, and he's asking her for another one: how did she survive?
She had fallen roughly fifty feet, and the only reason that she's alive right now is because of Oliver; because he had jumped out of that same window to save her life.
Well that's just … that's too much. Felicity stands and starts to pace in the area in front of her couch, wringing her hands thoughtlessly as she tries not to panic. Who the hell does that? She asks herself. He had no way of knowing if he would reach me.
"Please, Felicity," Lance calls, and the distress in his voice finally gets her attention.
He's standing with his hands out, as if he had started to reach for her and then thought better of it. She stops pacing so that she can look at him – she means to reassure him that she's fine, but the look he's giving her cuts her off before she can begin. Lance knows that she's not fine, and Felicity recalls a fact that she sometimes forgets where he's concerned: he's a father.
The Detective reaches out to put one weathered, warm hand over her own, which are still clasped in front of her.
"I'm sorry," he tells her gently. "I realize this must be upsetting. We can stop, I can come back later."
"No. I don't want to have to sit through this again."
Lance nods and then takes a seat on the couch behind her, pulling her gently down next to him. "Okay. We're almost done."
A voice that sounds exactly like Digg silently reminds her to breathe, and Felicity sets her shoulders in determination. She can do this; she can get through this. She has to get through this.
In a bit of a rush, Felicity tells Lance about the Arrow suddenly appearing above her. She relates how he basically plucked her out of mid-air and then swung them through a window and into that office, where Lance himself had found them only moments later.
When she's finished, the silence in her apartment feels simultaneously comforting and overwhelming. The memories feel as if they're tangible, as if they've taken on a physical form and are now camped out in her living space, demanding her attention.
When did her memories become ghosts?
"Thank you." Detective Lance's voice is layered and thick, and when Felicity looks at him there are tears standing in his eyes.
"What? I mean, you're welcome, I guess, but what are you thanking me for?"
"You saved Sarah's life."
And almost died for it, he doesn't say, but she hears it anyway.
"It was Laurel," he continues then. "The movement, behind Sarah. She was trying to get to the phones when Wilson saw her."
Felicity doesn't know what to do with that information. Truthfully, she doesn't much care; in the long list of things that had happened, Laurel being the catalyst that sent Slade over the edge doesn't matter. Felicity probably would have done the same thing if they're situations had been reversed.
"How is Laurel?" Felicity queries, more out of politeness than an actual desire to know.
"Shaken, but mostly okay."
"Good." She wonders how true that is, considering that Laurel now knows that her ex-boyfriend is the vigilante, but doesn't pursue it further.
Does that mean she also knows about Sarah?
Lance sits with her for a little while longer. When he leaves, he does so with another apology for making her relive the experience and the assurance that she is welcome to call him any time, day or night, and for any reason. It's a kind offer, so she accepts it with an approximation of her usual smile and then wishes him a good day.
Felicity has barely closed the door when her phone starts to ring. She pulls it out of the back pocket of her jeans and feels the air rush out of her lungs when she sees Oliver's name displayed on the screen.
She ignores it.