Times Like These

Chapter 2

The one good thing about being an executive assistant was that she was virtually invisible. She slipped in a side door and slid into her seat next to Oliver without anyone looking her direction.

He did look her way though. She felt his eyes cut over her as she busied herself with her tablet and tried to half listen to the man that was talking, hoping she could figure out where in the meeting they were without too much trouble.

She did her best to pay attention. For a minute or so at a time she was able to focus on what was going on around her, and then her mind would wander. A sudden touch to her ankle made her jump like she’d been burned as her eyes flew to Oliver to see his hand still extended towards her. Her foot and leg had been twitching erratically as her nerves got the better of her.

Felicity cleared her throat and uncrossed her legs, planting both feet firmly on the floor hoping that would be enough.

For the next half an hour she was able to attend somewhat successfully. There was a small break and she busied herself off to the side fixing a cup of coffee while Oliver talked with one of the investors. She didn’t hear another assistant approach her from behind, and when he reached across her back, he accidentally brushed her hair with his arm causing her to let out a small shriek. The coffee mug she’d just filled crashed to the counter sending hot liquid spilling over the side as she stood stock still, hands pressed to her chest as her heart threatened to explode.

The other assistant was already apologizing and grabbing towels to clean up the mess, thinking he’d made her drop the cup. Silently Oliver took her by the arm and led her away.

“I’m sorry,” she blurted out, looking around frantically to see if anyone was staring at her.

He moved closer, blocking her from view as he stared down at her. “Hey, it’s okay. What happened?”

She ran a hand over her head and blew out a long exhale. “I don’t know. Someone reached past me and I didn’t see them. They touched my hair…I guess with…with Nate coming back it just freaked me out.”

“Maybe you should take the rest of the day.” his brows were drawn together in worry and as much as she wanted to protest and prove that she could handle staying she had to admit she was barely functioning.

“Okay,” she said quietly.

Oliver looked surprised by her answer and moved even closer until she felt his shoes just touch hers. The hem of her skirt brushed his pant legs and she thought if she rocked forward just a few inches there would be no distance between them at all. As she stared at his chest she was overwhelmed by the urge to know what it would be like to be wrapped in his arms. To be able to bury her face in his shirt and know that for a few minutes she’d be safe.

When she felt her hand lifting she curled her fingers into her palm and shut her eyes tight for a moment. She had to get control of herself.

“Digg’s going to follow you home.” he said and she nodded,

“I know.”

“Don’t worry about coming in tonight, it’s quiet.”

The lair was a secure place for her. She briefly considered having Digg take her there but she knew she needed to try and keep her life as normal as possible. But being able to hide underground with Digg and Oliver at her side was appealing.

“We’ll see about tonight.” she compromised, not missing how that certain muscle in his jaw twitched.

“Felicity…” he warned and she shot him a look, feeling a bit more like herself as her pulse began to lower.

“Oliver, I can’t completely upend my life. I need…I need things to stay normal until this is all figured out.” the hand she’d stopped earlier was now laying on his lapel, and she snatched it back,

He held her gaze for a long while until he finally looked away sharply. “Just be careful. And…call me if you think anything seems wrong. Promise me.”

His eyes drilled through her, the blue intense and hard. For a second she thought she’d caught a glimpse of something she’d never seen from him before, but then it was gone.

“Of course,” she managed to whisper,

“Promise me.” his voice was so low it was almost a growl and it stirred a reaction inside her she could barely speak around.

It took her three attempts until she said “I promise.”

His eyes fell shut and he leaned in over her, so close she could feel his breath touch her face. “Thank you,”

The air seemed to still between them and then there was movement behind him and she realized with a jolt just how public they were then. She took a full step backwards, distance suddenly a necessity. Oliver didn’t seem phased however. She watched as he turned and lifted his chin towards Digg who was just outside the main doors to the room.

They walked back to the table and Oliver picked up her tablet and phone and handed them to her. “Feel better, Ms. Smoak.” he said, loud enough for anyone around them to hear and she gave him half a smile for his cover.

Digg already had the door open for her as she approached and she could feel Oliver’s gaze on her until she turned the corner.

Being able to see Digg following her the entire drive back to her apartment was a relief. Her eyes kept darting to the rearview mirror, as if she needed the constant reassurance she wasn’t alone. But every time she looked he was no more than a couple car lengths back.

When they pulled into her parking garage he took the spot next to her and already had the door ajar before she grabbed her bag. “Maybe I should have just driven. Did you even see that Prius you almost took out?”

She shot him a look of surprise and gulped. “Um, no.”

“Didn’t think so.” the corner of his mouth lifted but the smile didn’t reach his eyes.

His arm was outstretched behind her, jacket open, and for the first time she noticed he’d moved his holster to his hip instead of his back where he usually kept his sidearm. A shiver went through her as he guided her across the empty garage. She’d seen him in bodyguard mode before when escorting Oliver or Thea through throngs of press but she never thought he’d be doing the same for her.

When she pointed to a door sized hole off to the side his head swiveled her direction. “There’s no direct access to the building from the parking garage?”

“No, you have to go out there and there’s a short sidewalk to the front of the building.”

They stepped out and he cut a sharp glance around, “A short walk that’s lined with bushes where anyone could hide and not be seen. The doorman can’t even see you from here.” he said with a shake of his head

Her stomach churned as she looked back to the dark garage and the shrubbery that she’d always admired in the spring for the blooms it produced, now it looked ominous. “Well, it’s pretty well lit at night and no one really uses this street except for people who live on it.” she said hesitantly. She wasn’t stupid. Oliver and Digg had both drilled it into her how important it was to pay attention to her surroundings. Not once had she ever felt unsafe walking to her building.

Digg stopped and waited until she was looking at him, “Felicity, I’m not trying to scare you or make you paranoid, but these are things someone trying to hurt you would use to their advantage.”

She swallowed heavily and nodded, trying to commit what he said to memory. “Okay, I understand, I’ll be more alert when I’m coming home late.”

“Well, until this is resolved it won’t be an issue.” his voice was hard and they were moving again.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean either Oliver or I will make sure you get home safe.”

She wanted to fight him on his declaration but decided it was probably best to listen to the man who was paid to keep people safe.

While Digg was practically grilling her kindly doorman she got her mail and took a closer look of her apartment lobby. It was amazing the things one never noticed until you bothered to really look. She was normally in and out so quick she barely cast a glance anywhere other than the elevators straight ahead. But the first floor hallway had emergency exits at each end and they couldn’t be seen from the front desk.

Digg joined her at the elevators and gave her an approving look.

“I showed Samuels picture to the doorman and told him the police would be around more. The only security camera is on the front door and the individual alarms for the apartments are directly tied to the alarm company not the police department.” he explained as they rode up four floors.

At her silence Digg sighed and pushed the stop button, “Do you know what that means? It means if the alarm is triggered it could be almost twenty minutes before any uniforms are sent over. Twenty minutes is a long time.”

“I get it!” she exploded suddenly. The ball of acid that had been swirling in her stomach made her swallow hard as she pressed a fist to her forehead. “I understand, Digg. I’m not completely innocent. I’ve lived in this city for four years by myself and I’ve been with you and Oliver for awhile.”

Digg was quiet while she tried to control her breathing, and when she finally lowered her hand and looked at him he wasn’t upset. “I’m sorry. He’s just got me rattled. I truly never thought I’d see him again. I had put it behind me.”

“I know. And I know you’re smart and capable. But you’ve never had to think like this before, and maybe…maybe that was an oversight on my part considering.” he didn’t finish the sentence but he didn’t have to. She knew what he meant. Considering how close she worked with Oliver and his alter ego and how many times now she’d found herself in danger because of that it was probably long past time for her to make some changes.

“You’re right, it’s…good stuff for me to know and not just for now. You’re just trying to make sure I don’t get hurt. Thank you.” she gave him the strongest smile she could. His reply was to unpause the elevator and turn back to face the doors, but she’d caught a small gleam in his eyes and leaned her head against one of his massive arms for a second to show her gratitude.

But when the doors opened he was all business again. One arm came out to keep her in the elevator until he’d checked the hallway both directions. When he deemed it safe he waved her forward. None of it was helping her calm down. If anything it was making things worse as she expected Nate to jump out at any second.

With his hand hovering over his gun he laid a broad palm across her back and ushered her quickly to her door. After her third shaking attempt to unlock her door he took pity on her and slid the key home.

The distinct smell of her apartment washed over her and she took a deep breath and immediately felt calmer. Digg followed her in and made her wait by the door while he checked the rest of the space. Whatever brief moment of normality she’d experienced was gone as she watched him clear her place, room by room, gun drawn.

Her phone chimed while she was waiting and she thumbed it on to find a text from Oliver. The corners of her mouth lifted as she could almost feel the worry pouring out from the message.

‘Are you home? Everything ok?’

She wrote him back immediately to let him know she was fine, and asked how the rest of the meeting had gone. He ignored the question about the meeting and reminded her to call him if there were any problems. With a sigh she reminded him that she had promised and he was quiet after that.

“Everything looks fine.” Digg said, coming out of her bedroom as he holstered his weapon. “But I want you to walk around and make sure nothing is out of place.”

Letting out a shaky breath she put her bag down in it’s normal spot and began to scan each room. Digg followed a few steps behind, but after walking through every room she couldn’t see anything that looked wrong. She even opened cabinets and looked in drawers, but nothing was out of place.

Some of the tension eased out of her and she kicked her heels into her closet before she walked back into the living room. It was three in the afternoon and she felt exhausted.

“I can stay if you want.” Digg said, and she knew he meant it. In fact he seriously looked like he was going to do it regardless of what she said.

“I’ll be fine. Besides, Oliver is done with the investor meeting. Remind him his mother has wanted to do a family dinner for over a week. If I’m not going in tonight maybe today would be the day to do it.” she suggested, mostly because she was tired of fielding the calls from Moira’s secretary who seemed to think taking the non-direct route was the best way of dealing with Oliver.

She was trying to go for normal and routine as a way to distract her from the fact that she was at home in the middle of a work day because a mad man from her past had tracked her down.

Digg narrowed his eyes at her, seeing right through her facade. In a rush she held up her hand and stepped closer, “I’ll turn the alarm on as soon as you leave. I won’t answer the door. I’ll keep the windows shut even though I’m four floors up. I’ll even text one of you every hour if that makes you feel better.”

He stared at her for a long moment before he let out a resigned sigh. “All of that. All of it, Felicity. And you text both of us.” he said forcefully, waiting for the agreeing dip of her chin before he shook his head slowly and reached into his coat pocket to pull out the small back up weapon he usually kept at his ankle.

She was already shaking her head no when he pushed it into her hands. “Yes.” he said, steely voiced. “You’re a good enough shot. I trained you myself.”

“Digg…” she breathed out as she stared at the gun through blurry eyes. “You know I hate this.”

“You can hate it all you want as long as you use it if you have to.”

With trembling hands she laid it on an end table and crossed her arms over her chest.

“Keep it near you.”

She nodded stiffly, unable to take her eyes off the gun.

“You want one of us to come back just say the word.” his tone was softer now and she swiped a rough hand under her glasses before she looked at him.

“I’ll be okay.”

“We’ll get this figured out.” he said, and clasped her arm warmly, “Text. In an hour. I’ll be waiting.”

“Thanks, and I’ll text you both, don’t worry.”

“It’s my job to worry.” he said with a smile as he made his way to the door.

She heard him wait outside as she shut the door and threw both the locks before arming the security system. She eyed the panel after she’d turned it on and wondered whether she could make any improvements. It was something she should have done when she moved in, but she hadn’t had the time.

But now wasn’t the time either. She’d need to take it offline in order to fix it and that was something she couldn’t do just then.

Still feeling jittery and out of sorts she looked around her place and felt like a stranger. She was never home anymore. It was more a storage facility and a place to catch a few hours of sleep most days. When she did have a rare night off it was spent doing laundry or attempting to have some semblance of a normal life.

It took a sharp, mental rap to get her to push herself off the door and move. Still feeling strange she changed in her closet, something she never did, as if there were eyes on her she could feel but not see. She emerged with her oldest college sweatshirt and leggings that frayed at the bottom.

Home in the afternoon with time to kill was such a foreign concept that she spent a good twenty minutes just wandering from one spot to another. She washed the few dishes she’d used that week, picked up some clothes from the floor, tried to watch t.v. and realized there was nothing she could focus on worth watching.

She spent the next forty minutes fiddling with her phone and watching the clock. When exactly an hour had passed since Digg’s exit she sent a text to both him and Oliver and as she tapped send a wave of relief washed over her, like that simple act somehow kept her safe.

They both responded within seconds and she allowed herself to settle back against the cushions and relax just a bit. She hadn’t realized how tired she was until she shut her eyes. Soon enough the absolute quiet lulled her into sleep.

She woke to her phone going off in her limp hand. Blinking open blurry eyes she looked down to see it was two minutes past when she should have texted again and Oliver had already written her. Before he could jump in a car and head her direction she answered him and apologized. He was in for the night due to the family dinner his mother had gotten him to agree to and Felicity let a small smirk cross her face. He’d probably love an excuse to leave early which is why he’d texted her so quickly.

It was dark out and she shivered as she made her way to the windows and double checked they were locked and the blinds drawn. The one to the fire escape had a habit of not wanting to shut all the way and she eyed it with apprehension until she made her way into the kitchen and grabbed a long wooden spoon to wedge in the top as an extra deterrent.

Her food choices were limited, but she didn’t want to risk ordering in or going out. The gun caught her eye again as she passed by and a chill went down her spine as she picked it up and took it into the kitchen with her as she made a simple dinner she knew she wouldn’t taste.

She ate standing up at the counter when a thought struck her and her face flamed at her own stupidity. Food forgotten she raced to her bag and grabbed her tablet. Within minutes she was attempting to hack the medical records of the facility Nate had been kept at. To her frustration she discovered quickly they had yet to put their files on line and there was nothing to access. She’d need the computers at the lair to get into the files at the police department in her hometown and even then she didn’t know if she’d find anything worthwhile. Lance was more likely to get more information word of mouth, cop to cop.

For the better part of an hour she tracked down anything she could get on the old case, which wasn’t much. She only barely remembered to send a message to Oliver and Digg. The case hadn’t really caught the attention of the local papers and had been kept as quiet as possible thanks to her aunt and uncle. There were a few old articles but nothing after he’d been admitted to the facility.

She let out a growl of annoyance and scrubbed a rough hand over her hair, her normally sleek ponytail disheveled and half undone. A shower and an early night was something she was willing to let herself indulge in if she wasn’t going into the lair. One more text was sent before she made her way into the bathroom.

Water going, she considered her reflection in the mirror for what seemed like an eternity. The room slowly filled with steam and she distractedly reached for the switch to the fan as she opened the mirrored cabinet to pull out the case to her glasses.

When she looked back the world stopped. All the blood rushed to her head as she stumbled backwards until she hit the wall.

Sitting on the second shelf was a box of hair dye. It was darker than her current color, and as she stared at it her mouth dropped open in horror. It was her natural hair color. And taped to the box was a note. All it said was 'Fix it’.

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