Chapter 04: Masks & Secrets

~o.O.o~

Oliver was furious when Roy told him that Bella had left the club, saying that she had her ride covered. He had Felicity check the security cameras to see if she was waiting for her ride outside, but she had walked off. Yes, the woman could draw blood from underneath his fingernails with just one look, but she didn’t deserve to be robbed, attacked, raped or even murdered in the Glades because of her icy personality.

He had quickly suited up and made his way out through the back, shooting an arrow up against the building to hoist himself on top of the roof so he could try and find her. Protect her from a safe distance. Oliver didn’t have to look far as he spotted her just a few buildings ahead and the roofs were flat enough for him to land safely as he started to run.

Bella walked towards the agreed meeting spot, a sensation that often plagued her of being watched tickled the back of her neck. She slowed a few steps as she looked around carefully, but more irritably, to find a figure ducking back into a dark crevice between the buildings to hide. Turning back to her walk, she continued on but whoever the person was easily caught up to her, grabbing her by the shoulder and shoved her back against the building, holding a gun to her ribs.

“Give me your money,” the man growled at her, but he had an amusement in his voice that she didn’t like. “Or maybe something more…”

“How about neither,” she suggested as her knee came up hard and fast, causing him to double over. What she didn’t anticipate was that he had a friend with him that jumped out and grabbed her, attempting to pull her off into the alley. “I don’t think so,” she grunted as managed to twist and wiggle her way out of his grasp enough to throw her fist into his nose.

He watched the scene unfold below him from his perch on the roof. He had his bow ready, but Bella appeared to be able to fight her own way out of this. And, if not, he’d help her out anyway, as long as she didn’t hurt herself or the guys didn’t hurt her. Yes, maybe it was childish of him to do so, but was ashamed to admit that his balls nearly receded with the way she glared at him angrily.

“Stupid bitch,” the first guy complained as he finally found his way to his feet again. Holding the gun up to her as she had her attention on the one she just sucker punched, he grinned. “You should know better than to hurt a man like that Baby.”

Bella turned around as she took in the sight of the gun aimed at her, but only appeared just as bored as she let out a breath as she held her hands up like the helpless idiot she hated to pretend to be. “You would never get away with it if you knew who I am,” she smiled. “But go ahead. Shoot me. See how long you last out on the streets then.”

Both of the guys laughed at her. “Where the fuck do you think you are? This is the Glades! Ain’t no body cares who you are here, lady. You just another dead whore for the police,” the would-be mugger said as his finger started to pull back on the trigger. “Say bye bye!”

“Bye bye!” the guy’s friend laughed as he moved out of the way, grinning as he waited for her to cry out in pain as the gun went off.

Oh, for fuck’s sake, Oliver thought as he jumped down while shooting an arrow through the gunman’s leg, readying himself to knock him out with his bow as soon as he hit the ground.

Bella grunted as she glared down at her dress, pissed off that it was ruined but she in turn went after the guy that had looked forward to getting off on her physical pain and eventual death. Throwing all her weight into her punch, she made sure she went for his throat to incapacitate him as much as possible before grabbing his head and throwing him into the building. “How do you like pain now, asshole?” she huffed before going over to collect her purse and ignoring the third man that arrived.

Oliver could do nothing more than to just stare at Bella after knocking out the guy he had shot with the arrow. Had she seriously dodged a bullet? How? She was clearly a decently trained fighter, he could tell, but there was no way she should have missed a gunshot? Switching on his voice changer, he spoke up. “The Glades is no place for a woman to walk alone, no matter what capabilities you might possess.”

She stood up, feeling utterly spent. “What is it you call yourself nowadays? I believe the news referred to you as the Hood, the Vigilante, some other dozen or so names,” she commented as she turned to face him, seemingly unsurprised by his presence as she just looked back at him with worn and tired eyes. “I don’t need lectures about safety. I know well enough what is safe and not. Thanks.”

“Ah, Isabella Swan, the new security heavyweight,” Oliver’s Arrow persona commented. “This city could use more job opportunities, but why the Glades? This is not the safest area of Starling City.”

She smiled at him indulgently. “I see you’re just as close minded as someone else I know. I don’t care for your opinions. I’m only here to do some good and if you know who I am, then you know that I have a very good track record of turning cities like this,” she said gesturing around them, “to something worth being proud of calling home.”

“Don’t do anything stupid. I do not have the time to watch you and your people all day.”

“I don’t need protection,” Bella scowled at him. “And my men are more than capable of taking care of themselves. If something happens to them on the job, they know its the risks of the field and in their contracts – not that its any of your business. You don’t have to worry about my employees. Just concern yourself with the civilians that aren’t capable of protecting themselves and then maybe, we just might get along a little bit.”

“Fair enough,” he replied as he put his bow back on his back. “Can you at least entertain me by allowing me to stay with you until your ride arrives?” He felt slightly giddy that he knew her secret, but now was the plan to figure out how it worked. He pulled the arrow out of the fallen guy’s leg and put it back in his sheath. No need to waste arrows if you can save them. “How long have you known that you’re bulletproof? Is it some new technology?” Hell, if it was, he was going to put resources into it at the applied sciences department to make him one, it would certainly save him some pain.

Bella raised an eyebrow at him as she crossed her arms, hiding the area she knew he was referring to. “What are you talking about?” she asked.

“Is your ability natural?”

“My ability? It’s called self defense training that I participated in with some of my staff. Between the whole vigilante thing and the costume, I’m beginning to think you’ve read too many comics growing up. Maybe I should have my driver take you into the hospital for an evaluation. Seems mental health seems to be on the decline around here, especially among the male gender.”

He looked behind him and then snorted. “Ah, you’ve met Mr. Queen.”

“Pompous idiot,” she muttered as she began walking closer to the rendezvous location just for something to do.

Oliver walked after her. “Your self defence training paid off, I was more talking about how that bullet ruined your dress but you don’t appear to be injured.”

“I don’t know. Maybe you just need your eyes checked. My dress got ripped in the fight,” Bella pointed out so factually that it could actually make sense if you weren’t able to watch the bullet in slow motion.

He chuckled. “Whatever you say, Miss Swan, we all have our secrets. Just know that your secret is safe with me.”

Bella stopped short as she turned to glare at him at the phrase he decided to use. “Even if I knew what you were talking about, which I don’t, I wouldn’t tell you. It’s not like you’re just going to rip off that hood to show me who you are, now would you?”

He wanted to say something, but that would make him sound like a madman. “Unlikely. Are you sure you’re not hurt?”

“I’m positive,” she said a little more softly. “Trust me, this isn’t the first rodeo I’ve been to. And if my dad finds out, I’ll be in the emergency room for a barrage of unnecessary tests and wasting doctors’ time just to make sure that I don’t have any injuries. Most I’ll have is a headache from everything tonight.”

“If you do require some medical assistance, I can help you with that. Hospitals are something I like to avoid myself.”

Bella let out a laugh as she looked at him and shook her head. “You know, if I wasn’t as tired as I am right now, I’d tell you more than just fuck off. If you want to figure out what is my so called ability, as you call it, then you have to do better than that to get closer to me,” she smiled.

Thankfully for her, she would also get a parting shot in as her ride flashed his lights as he came around the corner and stopped in front of them where she was able to open the back door and slid inside. Opening the window, she peeked out at him before he could disappear. “You can start with dinner one night perhaps. Have a good night Vigilante.”

He couldn’t help but to stare at the car as it drove away before his mind kicked back in gear and he went back to the roof. He texted Detective Lance about the two unconscious muggers with a firearm in the alley and slipped back into the basement. He wasn’t surprised that there were two sides to Bella; she had a company in what used to be a man’s only kind of job and she needed to be strong and ooze confidence. Now, the Bella he had encountered as the Arrow was still strong and confident, but a bit nicer.

“How did it go?” Felicity asked as Oliver stripped out of his outfit.

“Great.”

“Did she need help?”

“Nope.”

“Really? That’s amazing! Get back into your normal clothes and have a drink upstairs, people are wondering where you were.”

“Can’t I just go home?” To be honest, he wanted to stay in the basement and have Felicity tell him everything about Bella that she could find on the internet. He was definitely intrigued now. On the other hand, wasn’t it better to figure it out on his own? Bella was definitely very interesting but questionable still at this point.

“It’s your club, Oliver. Laurel will have your balls if you don’t go back upstairs.”

Oliver grunted as he walked up the stairs and opened the door to the club. Because they had put the door behind a wall of light, people wouldn’t really see the door anyway, but the moment he showed his face, people were in his face. Reporters mostly, others were congratulating him on the fantastic reopening and how great everything looked. He wished that Diggle had come down to meet him.

“Alright, alright,” he said with his big smile plastered on his face, pretending to like the attention. “I’ll give you a moment of my time for you to ask me some questions you’ve been now yelling at me.”

An attractive reporter, who hadn’t been happy with what she had witnessed on the stairs but couldn’t deny the obvious scene that her counterparts also had seen. “Are you and Isabella Swan involved?” she asked bluntly.

“Miss Swan is an investor of Verdant. So in that way, yes, we are involved,” he replied with a nod.

Another reporter spoke up. “She is a dangerous woman to enter a partnership with. Aren’t you afraid of losing not just your club but also Queen Consolidated to her if your relationship ends?”

“I know her reputation. Of course I’m a little bit scared,” he said with a smile. “But doing business with other people always brings risks.”

Because of the music being so loud, some of the writers in the back of the group were able to whisper between one another where the man was unable to hear them as they shared believed he was completely in denial about his new girlfriend still and that he would eventually learn, as the others before him. A few others among them asked a couple questions before they finally allowed him to pass to continue his night.

Coming down from the bar area, Laurel glared at him until he was safely away from the gaggle of squawking press so that she could rip into him. “What the hell is going on?” she hissed. “Roy just told me that Bella took off after her meeting with you!”

Oliver groaned. “Can we please stop talking about her?” Seriously, all day long people were all about Bella and it was Bella this, Bella that. He knew she was safely on her way home then so he could focus on the business. “What’s everyone’s obsession with her? I don’t get it.”

Straightening her back as she narrowed her eyes, Laurel pressed her lips closed. “If and when Bella decides to share her story with you, then you will know. Until then, deal with it. She has her problems just as you have your own, but unlike you, she doesn’t go running around town in a costume trying to make up for her shortcomings,” she whispered harshly before brushing past him in her anger, leaving him on his own in the crowded club.

Oliver moved to the bar and looked at Roy. “Can I please have a beer? And I swear, if you say the her name, I can and will kill you,” he threatened his protégé.

Roy just smirked as he set a shot glass in front of him and filled it with tequila. “I think you’re going to need something stronger after all that.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Oliver smiled gratefully, downed the shot and another, before trying to make his way through the crowd towards the stairs, intending on hiding in the office the rest of the night.

He managed to get to the stairs relatively unscathed, grateful for the area being people free and got into his office. Oliver knew the best way to handle all of this was to party it up like he used to, like they’d expect him to, but all that talk about Bella Swan made him feel uneasy. Mostly because there had been some sort of attraction to her that he could not explain and it was strange.

One thing he knew for sure was that he wanted to try to stay away from her as much as possible. He couldn’t get used to this feeling as it was only going to distract him from his duties as the Arrow. He was glad that the massive window was like a one way mirror, he could see the partying crowd beneath him that way he could change into the suit if he needed to but also use as a cover for meetings as he had earlier with his business partner.

He sat down behind his desk and booted up his computer to try to get actual work done. His inbox was filled with emails from Felicity, or other emails that she first vetted then forwarded for his attention. He was glad that he had her, even though she wasn’t really happy with the idea of working as his assistant at Queen Consolidated considering her skillset. Regardless, he was proud of how far she’d come since they’d first met.

As expected, his inbox kept pinging with new messages and it took awhile to sort through them. By the time he was finished, he was began to grow bored again. Oliver didn’t want to go downstairs to the club or the basement, he wasn’t ready to go home and he certainly wasn’t going to check if Miss Swan, as that was inviting other forms of trouble he simply wasn’t ready for. But – curiosity killed the cat.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” he muttered to himself as he opened Google and typed in her name. The search results brought up a lot of news coverage of her time in Seattle and he decided to read some of them to get an idea of her. He soon realized that she wasn’t that different from him. The same fake smile in every media photo taken, the same carefully chosen words when answering questions. He felt sorry for her and started to understand the coldness she put up.

It was obvious that she hadn’t taken up a persona like he had because of her being bulletproof. No. However, something had happened to her that had made her like this. Didn’t Laurel mention some sort of idiot boyfriend? There were plenty of images of her and this guy called Aaron and he was a businessman. And according to one item that he had read was that this Aaron guy wanted Bella to be a trophy wife.

Oliver chuckled. Bella and being a trophy wife didn’t fit together. She was an independent spirit, he knew that very clearly. He could feel it when she was berating him earlier. This Aaron had dumped Bella quite publicly and she took his balls quite in the same way. Oliver could not help but to cheer for the woman.

He then sighed and repeatedly hit his head on the table. “Get out of my head, Bella Swan,” he said every time his head met the desk. What was it with him and the women of the Lance family? First Laurel, then Sara and now Bella? What has his life come to?

~o.O.o~

When her driver delivered her to her door safely, Bella quickly made sure all the doors were locked as soon as she was inside. Running a hand through her hair, she paced the in her living room, trying to figure out what to do with this new masked man knowing about her secret.

No one ever learned about her ability before. Despite her father’s own observation skills, he tended to be somewhat shortsighted in regards to her, so she had managed to keep all the incidents as tightly guarded secrets. She’d known even before as a child that she was different and that it wasn’t normal. Where she had difficulty telling the lies, she quickly learned ways to cover the truth with enough camouflage that seemed plausible and repeated her stories. Most of the time, adults assumed the incidents shook her up enough to believe she was traumatized and let her go without pressing on the issue.

Lack of broken bones, cuts, lacerations and such injuries that would be common for a child growing up was not in her medical file despite the numerous emergency room trips Charlie forced her to endure when he believed her have suffered some catastrophe. Regardless, Dr. Cullen humored the man and ran the requested tests each time and that was how she had gotten familiar with the family and eventually into the relationship with Edward in high school. The biggest mistake of her life as far as she was concerned.

Bella’s phone beeped as a message came through. It was from Laurel. Are you okay? Can I call you?

She hesitated as her fingers lingered over the screen. Sure. I just got home. As soon as the message was sent, her phone rang. “Where’s the fire?”

Nowhere. I just wondered if you got home safe, I already bitched at Oliver for getting you pissed off.”

“Now why would you do that?” she asked as she started up the stairs towards her room as she inspected her dress for damage. Grimacing at the very obvious bullet hole, she knew that the hooded man was aware of her lie. “I didn’t ask anything of him that was unreasonable Laurel. If he said otherwise than he is full of shit.”

He didn’t. In fact, he didn’t say anything at all. I’m just sorry he pissed you off. He can be a stubborn ass sometimes.”

Bella let out a sigh as she reached her room, quickly slipping out of the dress and throwing it onto the shelf in her closet to deal with another day. “He needs more cameras for blind spots and the bartenders need to be more conscious of their female customers. It’s a club for crying out loud. Do you know the statistics of attacks and drugging of drinks for women in clubs in this country? If I’m going to be putting my money in his company, then it’s going to damn well be the safest fucking club for the two year old in your boyfriend’s pants to not get himself into trouble.”

Laurel laughed on the other side of the phone. “He’s not my boyfriend. He was, but he’s not anymore. I need someone less… prominent than him. He’s up in his office now, fuming and probably ordering those extra cameras.”

“Let him. He’s a petulant child as far as I’m concerned and he’s only proven my concerns that I’ve mentioned since you’ve asked for my help with his financial problem. Now I’ll keep up my end of the deal but it’s going to get really fucking complicated if he’s going to continue his tantrums,” she argued as a flash of lightning lit the sky outside her window just as she finished changing into her sweats, making her jump.

As I told you… he has a good team of people around him who make sure he won’t fuck things up. He’s learned to listen to them after what happened to Queen Consolidated last year. Believe me, it’s really hard to get through to him because he’s so fucking stubborn it makes me want to pull out my hair sometimes.” Laurel chuckled. “Other than being that, there’s a whole other side to him that just makes me so proud of him.”

Bella rolled her eyes as she left her room to move back downstairs for the night as her father chose to go away for a couple days fishing. “Well until I see this side of the man you claim exists, fat chance of me believing it. He’s a pompous asshole just like the others of his kind as far as I’m concerned,” she announced. “You could tell him what I said too. If he thinks that I’m some idiot that will get on my knees for him because I think he’s hot, then he has another thought coming. It just makes me want to twist his nuts up in a painful knot even more and make him beg for mercy.”

Ouch,” Laurel laughed. “Wait, what? You think he’s hot?”

She pulled the phone away from her ear and made a face at the device. “What the fuck Laurel! I threaten to rip the boy’s balls off and you’re concerned if I think he’s hot?”

Bella, if Felicity, Sara and I had our way, he’d already been castrated a hundred times over.”

“Then why the fuck haven’t you done so? Must I do everyone’s fucking job?” she whined. “Fine. I’ll have to go find Charlie’s rusty hedgeclippers. I think he has them in the basement.”

Because he has a whole different side that makes his stupidity okay to live with.”

“Says you. I just fucking moved back to Starling City after how many years? All I’ve read and heard about is his cheating ways so forgive me if I feel a bit vindictive for my cousin, considering he cheated on you with your own sister! Speaking of, where the fuck is the little bitch?” Bella questioned as she tripped when a bright flash of lightning struck a tree on the property but she was more than able to see it through the large window of the living room, making her gasp out. “Shit…”

Are you okay? Would you like me to come over?”

She closed her eyes and shook her head. “No. No. I’m fine. I just tripped is all. Clumsy me. Please, Charlie had me in and out the emergency room so much in Forks, I was on first name basis with the staff,” she joked as she slowly pulled the throw blanket from the couch to take with her on her way to the basement.

Alright well, we should definitely do something together this weekend. Like a spa day or something.”

“Sounds great. I’ll talk to you later,” Bella said before saying goodnight. After hanging up, she pushed the door to the basement open and made her way down the steps to the storm shelter her father had pointed out to her. It was probably the best part of the house for her when he wasn’t around but it didn’t help entirely because she could still hear the thunder as it rolled in the sky as she sat on her camping gear for another sleepless night.

~o.O.o~

Hanging up the phone from an interesting conversation with Bella, Laurel was both amused and confused by her cousin’s behaviour. “Well, that was odd,” she commented as she looked up at Felicity.

“What’s odd?” Felicity asked as she turned around from her computer, after having pretended she hadn’t listened in on this half of the conversation as she usually did.

“Um…I think for one, Bella might have the hots for Oliver. I mean, I think she admitted to him being hot or something like it, but when I called her out on it, I don’t think she realized what she actually said so I’m thinking she’s in denial just like that idiot is upstairs,” she started with as she glared at the ceiling in frustration.

“I think we should actually stop pushing him so much,” Felicity said, hesitantly. “Even though all my research and your stories tell me that they’re a match made in heaven, basically, I think that if we push him too hard, or scold him too much for it, that he’ll balk. But it’s good that she admitted it at least, so there’s some hope.”

Laurel agreed to a certain point. “You’re right but we can lay off – tomorrow. Bella just threatened to rip off Oliver’s balls and make him beg her for mercy. Tell me really that you don’t want to mess with his head just a little bit more…”

“Yeah… but he can kill us with a snap of his fingers, remember?”

“She threatened to rip off his balls and she’s practically done it before – legally,” she reminded the woman with a raised eyebrow. “A little push in her direction to show that him that sometimes the pain is worth the pleasure could work for all of our benefit.”

“How would it work in our benefit if he kills us?” Felicity chuckled and shook her head. “Alright, what are you suggesting?”

Laurel stood there for a moment as she considered their options. “Where is he now?” she asked her.

Felicity pulled up the security feed and pointed at his office, he didn’t look like he was going to be able to handle a joke. “Are you sure, Laurel? Because Ollie scares me sometimes, you know.”

She eyed the screen and could barely laugh. “Is he seriously hitting his head on the desk right now?” she grinned as she pointed before running out. “Oh I have to see this in person. I’m going up there! Don’t warn him!”

“Laurel!” Felicity called after her and decided to run after the woman. Yes, this was actually too good to be true!

Laurel was barely contained as she squeezed through the guests, all the while trying to keep the ridiculous grin off her face while security let her pass through and up the stairs. Throwing the door of the office open, she stared at the man with his head on the desk beside the computer. “Well, well, well. What do we have here?” she said as she crossed her arms.

“Go away, Laurel,” Oliver groaned as he kept his head on the desk.

“I don’t think so. I know we talked before after Bella left, but I’m being serious now. What really went down?” she asked innocently as she went to sit on the corner of the desk and playing with the cup of paperclips he had there.

Felicity was standing in the door opening, looking at Oliver and Laurel with a big smile on her face.

“Nothing, Laurel,” Oliver said as he looked up to her from his position on his desk, not bothering in getting up. “I’d be happy if everyone would stop mentioning Bella so I can get on with stuff.”

“Sure. Just, the thing is…I got off the phone with her a few moments ago and I learned a couple things. One is that she’s really unhappy with you. So much so that she threatened to twist and rip off your balls at least twice during the conversation,” she replied, as if having expected that reaction. “Oh and she also wanted to take them off with Charlie’s hedgeclippers that he keeps in the basement… I don’t remember.”

“I bet she did,” Oliver said, looking up. “Stop talking about her.”

Laurel ignored him and continued on. “I don’t think she even realized her slip, but I know my cousin. I mean she and I were like best friends. She actually said I can tell you this, her words, not mine. But she said that if you thought that she was some idiot that will get on her knees for you because she thinks you’re hot, then you have another thought coming. Now Bella just doesn’t think like that. She wouldn’t say hot for one thing. She would say something like attractive or good looking. No. She really likes you, and she fucking hates it. Oh yes! This is going to be so exciting!”

Felicity saw the look on Oliver’s face, yelped and ran back to the basement. He was pissed off and not just a little. No. This was major Ollie!Smash! mode.

“Get out, Laurel,” Oliver said as he leaned back in his chair. “I’m not going to ask you again.”

She turned back to him and smiled gently. “I’m leaving, don’t worry. I just wanted to make sure that you knew. She usually is in her office by 7:00 in the morning,” she said as she headed for the door. “In case you were considering surprising her you know. Assess the situation. Goodnight Ollie.”

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