It was late morning when Oliver heard the knock on his front door. Despite not getting much sleep the night before and it being a Saturday, he was already dressed. Oliver had been thinking about his fight with Diggle all night and had called him this morning. He'd asked if they could talk. Since Diggle was already out running errands, he'd agreed to stop over.
Oliver answered the door and stepped aside to let Diggle in. Instead of his normal suit that he wore during the week, he was dressed in a black t-shirt and jeans. "Thanks for coming."
"Sure," he replied.
"Coffee?" Oliver offered.
Diggle nodded and took a seat at the kitchen table while Oliver poured him a cup. Oliver poured himself one as well before joining Diggle at the table. They sat in silence for a moment.
Finally, Diggle was the first to speak. "I'm sorry." He appeared more pensive than the day before. "I didn't mean to come down on you so hard. It's just that I've been where you are. I know what it's like to doubt yourself and your mission."
Oliver shook his head. "You were right, Diggle. Everything you said...it isn't anything I haven't already wrestled with myself. I thought that if I trained hard enough and just acted like my normal self, then I could forget about that night. But I was wrong. I am scared."
Felicity had asked him something similar last night. Although Oliver meant what he said and losing to Malcolm had shaken him, it was only a piece of the truth. He couldn't completely reveal why he was so affected. Not when Felicity was directly involved.
Oliver began, "I'd been close to death on the island. More times than I can remember, and I never feared it. Because I had nothing to lose." He stared at the dark liquid in his cup and took a labored breath. "But when Merlyn almost killed me, I stared death in the face then. I thought about all of the people I've let into my life since I've been back. My family, Tommy, Laurel, you and...Felicity. That made me afraid. Afraid of what would happen to those people if they lost me again. And for the first time in so long, I had something to lose."
"You really care about her." Diggle didn't need to say Felicity's name for Oliver to know he was referring to her. It wasn't even a question.
"Cooper is still out there. Who would protect her if I was gone?" It had been Felicity's face Oliver had seen just before losing consciousness. She was what propelled him forward those last few steps. Hours before Oliver had pushed her away, but at death's door he'd wanted nothing more than to hold onto her and never let go.
The corner of Diggle's mouth quirked up. It was the typical look he got before departing some words of wisdom Oliver's way. "What you feel for her, Oliver, it has nothing to do with Cooper. You've been drawn to Felicity ever since that night at Verdant. It's obvious."
Oliver didn't even try to deny it. "The path that I've chosen, Diggle, doesn't let me have much of a life. Not to mention everything I've been through. Everything I've done. I'm not exactly a catch at the moment."
"Maybe Felicity will change all that."
"It's not the right time," he said with a shake of his head.
"Oliver, let me fill you in on a little secret. There never is a right time, especially when facing the kind of danger we do every day," Diggle explained, getting that haunted look in his eyes. "When I was stationed in Afghanistan on one of my tours, I was injured by a roadside bomb. I was the only person in my unit who survived. For a long time I was angry and questioned why they all had to die while I was spared. I didn't know how I was going to return to the battlefield after that."
"How did you overcome it?"
"It was in my new unit that I met Lyla. Even she didn't completely understand what I was going through, and she didn't pretend to either. But what she did do was listen to me. She helped me take each day at a time and showed me how to live again. We were married four months later."
"You also got divorced," Oliver, not unkindly, pointed out. Diggle had told him a little bit about his previous marriage to Lyla Michaels. They'd been married while serving in the army. They didn't stay married long, however, once they'd finally returned stateside. It had been difficult adjusting to a normal life that didn't require them to fight a war. Afterward, Lyla had gone on to work for the government while Diggle circled back for his third tour.
"And now we're dating again. Life has a way of working itself out. Sometimes you can't help who you love." Diggle leaned forward to make sure that Oliver really heard what he was about to say. "Maybe you've got it backwards, Oliver. You think the people you let in have taken your edge. I think it gives you one. A strong one. You can stare down death with something to live for or not. Something to live for is better."
Before Oliver could respond, a rustling sound came from upstairs. Felicity's bedroom door opened, and she walked out still dressed in her pajamas and bathrobe from the night before. She smiled happily upon seeing Diggle and Oliver sitting at the table together.
"Well, this is a nice surprise first thing in the morning. Did you manage to get your bromance back on track?" Something passed between the two of them before Diggle acknowledged that he and Oliver were okay. Felicity had hoped that they would work things out between them sooner rather than later.
"Did you guys have breakfast yet?" When they both confirmed that they had, Felicity went into the kitchen to grab herself a muffin and some coffee.
"Nice jammies," Diggle commented as she took a seat next to him and across from Oliver.
Felicity looked down at the Russian nesting dolls print on her bottoms and beamed proudly. "I like to think so." She tore off a piece of her muffin and popped it in her mouth. "So, what were you discussing?"
"We need to find The Dodger," Oliver was quick to reply. He didn't dare look at Diggle, who was probably smirking. "He'll be looking to steal something else, since he didn't get the diamond he was after."
Felicity smiled, glad to hear that her words to him had sunk in last night. They would try again. "You want me to monitor the other museums in Starling?"
"Not exactly. I need you to pull up the police records, so we can see everything The Dodger's stolen so far."
Diggle crossed his arms over his chest. "What are you thinking?"
"We know The Dodger has a taste for a very specific type of antiquity," Oliver explained.
Felicity went to grab her tablet and glasses and rejoined them at the table. It took a couple of minutes for her to get the information they needed. She scanned the police reports and stood the tablet up so Oliver and Diggle could take a look. "These all look like they're from the Ominous Decade. The last ten years of King Ferdinand's reign."
"I'd ask you how you know that, but I think the bigger question is why?" Diggle teased.
"In addition to being a tech genius, I also happen to be a history buff. It's important to be a well-rounded person," she joked back.
Oliver interjected, "Are there any other places that sell or display items from the Ominous thing?"
"Decade," Felicity corrected while doing another search. "Not really. I guess people in Starling City prefer the Elizabethan Era."
"Wait, go back," Oliver instructed as something on the screen caught his eye. "The Starling City Cancer Society. It says right there they are holding a fundraising auction Monday night. We could lure him out into the open."
"With what? A fake?"
"No. The Dodger clearly has a trained eye for this sort of thing. He's not going to fall for anything less than the genuine article."
Felicity ran a hand through her hair, stumped. "Where are we going to get our hands on a rare Spanish antiquity?"
"I'll buy one and donate it. Problem solved," Oliver said with a shrug.
Felicity's eyes widened in shock before accepting it as a viable alternative. "You're a billionaire. Right." Oliver acted so normal-for a vigilante anyway-and selflessly that sometimes she forgot he had the world at his fingertips. "Looks like my shopping trip with Laurel today came at the perfect time." She'd need another dress for the charity auction.
"You're meeting Laurel?"
"Yes. She and Tommy are going out to dinner tonight, and she wanted some help picking out a dress." Laurel's text this morning had been a happy surprise. They'd been in contact on and off since that day at the cafe but both had been too busy to meet up again.
"I talked to Tommy yesterday, and he didn't mention a date."
"Technically, it's not a date," Felicity said. "It's a 'dinner,' but you never know. Maybe he'll finally make a move."
"Sounds like you've been playing a little matchmaker," Diggle commented.
Felicity shrugged innocently. "When I was at Merlyn Global the other day, I might have told Tommy about the hot new defense attorney that's been pursuing Laurel. I'd say some guys need a push, but usually it's a good kick in the butt. Totally clueless."
"I can agree with that," Diggle said, throwing Oliver a not-so-subtle look.
Felicity turned to Oliver. "And before you say anything, I'm taking Brad with us. Even though he is the most boring and uncomfortable man on the planet."
"As long as he keeps you safe, I'm okay with that," Oliver replied, giving her a pointed stare.
The blonde sighed to let him know that she was still put out, but the truth was Oliver's concern made her feel all warm inside. She'd felt the same way last night. After their moment on the balcony, they'd gone inside and watched a random movie on TV. Felicity didn't know when she nodded off, but she vaguely remembered Oliver picking her up and carrying her back to her room. She'd awoken in her bed this morning with the blankets tucked around her and a smile on her face.
"I'll see you guys later," Felicity called to them as she went back upstairs.
Diggle, who'd noticed the way Oliver's eyes followed her the entire time, turned to his friend. "Like I said, something to live for, man." He then patted his shoulder and let himself out.
"You're going to be late," Diggle told Oliver.
"I'm always late."
"That's true, but it's probably not the best strategy when setting a trap for a dangerous jewel thief," he advised.
Oliver, who was adjusting his tie in the mirror by the front door, glanced at Diggle. "Hey, for once it's not my fault." Felicity was the one who had yet to come out of her room. After leaving QC for the day, they came home to change for the charity auction tonight. Oliver hadn't seen her since.
"Maybe you should check on Felicity. We have to make sure that tracker she put in the broach is even working."
"Since it's Felicity, I'm sure she's got it covered," Oliver replied. At Diggle's firm look, he relented, "But fine. I'll check on her." Going back upstairs, Oliver made his way to Felicity's room and knocked gently on the door.
Oliver opened the door and peeked his head inside. He frowned at seeing the empty room. "Felicity?"
"Yeah," she called from the bathroom.
"We have to leave. Are you ready?"
"Almost. I need your help with one thing."
As soon as Felicity stepped out of the bathroom, Oliver was mesmerized. The gold cocktail dress she wore hugged her curves in all the right places while showing off her shapely legs. Her hair fell in waves against her shoulders, and Oliver's fingers itched with the urge to see if the golden locks were as soft as they looked. Without her glasses, he had the perfect view of her beautiful blue eyes and long lashes. Lastly, Oliver took in her full, pink lips and found himself licking his own.
Seemingly unaware of what she was doing to him, Felicity huffed, "I know we're late, but my stupid zipper is stuck. Hell, I'm lucky I remembered to pull it up. I'm always forgetting that." She turned around to reveal the open back of her dress. "Can you...?"
It took a second for Oliver to shake himself out of his stupor and approach her. He gulped at the sight of her bare back and took a much-needed breath. She was not making this whole platonic thing easy on him.
"Try not to force it," Felicity instructed. "If you do it too hard, you'll rip the dress."
As he placed his hands on her, Oliver wasn't entirely sure that would be a bad thing. He gave the zipper a gentle tug, but it wouldn't move. "Hold on, I think it's snagged."
Felicity had been in such a tizzy over being late that she underestimated what it would be like to have Oliver so close to her again. The feeling of his strong form behind her and fingertips against the sensitive skin of her lower back was making her weak in the knees. When the zipper finally moved and she felt his rough fingers trailing upward, her eyes closed.
After hooking the clasp, Oliver's fingers lingered for a moment. "There. Now you're ready," he murmured thickly.
Opening her eyes, Felicity turned around and smiled. "Thank you." She readjusted his tie despite the fact that it was already perfect. Her hands couldn't not touch him.
"Has the tracker been activated?" Oliver inquired and took a step back. It was hard to think with her so close. "Diggle wants to make sure we're getting a signal on the broach."
Felicity, thankful for the distraction, reached into her purse and pulled out her phone. "Yes," she confirmed after pulling up the app she'd designed specifically for the tracker. "I'm getting a strong signal."
"Good. We should go before The Dodger beats us to the punch."
"I very much doubt he could dodge one of your punches," she quipped and patted his chest before walking around him. "But you're right. We should go."
Oliver followed her downstairs and tried his best not to stare at her backside or the way the small slit in her dress revealed part of her thigh. It was going to be a very long night if he didn't get a grip. He was Oliver Queen, billionaire playboy. Women were supposed to be enamored by him, not the other way around. But Felicity wasn't just any woman. She'd been more right from the beginning, as Diggle had pointed out to him a couple of days earlier.
"You look lovely," Diggle complimented Felicity.
Felicity beamed. "Thank you. Love the tie."
"It was a gift."
"From your mysterious lady friend?"
"Whoever she is, she has good taste."
Diggle grinned and nodded in agreement. "That she does."
Despite Diggle's concern that they'd be late, they made it to the charity auction in record time. It probably had more to do with his superior driving skills than luck. Felicity knew firsthand how adept Diggle could be at weaving in and out of traffic. He was Oliver's unofficial getaway driver most nights.
Felicity took Oliver's offered arm before they entered the building. "There are a lot of cops here tonight," she noted.
"They're probably looking to capture The Dodger, too."
"Speaking of, have you given any thought to what might happen if this doesn't work and The Dodger absconds with your family jewels?" Oliver and Diggle turned to look at her. Realizing what she said, Felicity was quick to add, "I'm sorry. That came out very wrong."
Oliver patted her arm. "Let's just keep our eyes open, Felicity."
"I'm going to do a sweep and check out the security," Diggle spoke up.
Felicity suggested, "Should we check on the broach first?" They passed through the main room, which had white-clothed tables set up for dining. The buffet table of hors d'œuvre and desserts was over to the left. Across the room, a small set of stairs led to the auction area. Glass displays lined the walls throughout the section.
"Yes." He guided them toward the auction area while nodding at a few familiar faces. Felicity had pulled out her phone and was testing the app once more. It led them right to the proper display case.
"It's beautiful," Felicity commented as she took in the sparkling blue jewels and antique design.
"Yes, it is," Oliver replied with his eyes on her.
"Fancy seeing you here," said a familiar voice behind them. It was Ray. He was also wearing a nice suit and tie. Ray hugged Felicity in greeting before offering his hand to Oliver. Oliver shook it back, resisting the overwhelming urge to break his fingers.
Glancing at the broach, he whistled. "Wow, very nice piece. It's from the Ominous Decade, correct?"
Felicity grinned while Oliver frowned in disbelief. When Felicity spouted random facts, it was cute. When Ray did it, it was downright annoying.
"I'm impressed," Felicity complimented.
"Then I've met my goal for the evening. In truth, I did a bit of research when I saw it on the auction list. I'd hoped you'd be in attendance," he revealed with a charming smile. "I haven't seen you much around the office lately."
"My schedule has been hectic."
"Are you still consulting for Merlyn Global?"
"Yes, but most of their issues since the cyber attack have been resolved."
"Good. We really need you at QC. I think my guys have begun to rely on you a little too much. I have, too, truth be told. You'd be a difficult talent to replace."
Felicity returned the smile, flattered. "Thank you, Ray."
"You're very welcome."
Despite his calm exterior, Oliver felt an undercurrent of irritation. Ray was shamelessly flirting with Felicity right in front of him. Oliver shouldn't be surprised. This was the man rumored to have bought an entire restaurant once for a mere first date. Ray was about as subtle as a gun. "So, Ray, did you donate anything for tonight's auction?" Oliver interjected, forcing the other man to finally tear his eyes away from Felicity.
"I did. It's a new prototype for my next line of smart watches."
"I bet it will be a big hit." Felicity said to Oliver, "The thing practically replaces your computer."
"There are a couple of versions. I can give you one if you'd like," Ray offered her.
Felicity's inner techie fangirl jumped in delight at the prospect. "Ooh, really? That'd be awesome."
"I'll have it delivered to your apartment tonight. You'll have it by the time you return home."
"Wow, that's...thank you." She hadn't expected such a nice gesture from Ray. Glancing at Oliver, Felicity immediately noticed that he didn't share the same excitement. His shoulders looked tense and his hands were doing that shifty thing by his sides.
Diggle rejoined them just as another man, slightly older, in a suit approached. Thomas Moore was the charity director and had come to thank Oliver and Ray for their contributions. He then turned his attention to Felicity. "And who is your lovely date, Mr. Queen?" Mr. Moore inquired.
"This is Felicity Smoak," Oliver introduced and placed a hand on the small of her back.
Felicity shook the director's hand, all the while concealing her shock. The last time they attended an event like this, Oliver was always quick to clarify that she was an old friend. He offered no such explanation tonight.
"Very nice to meet you, Miss Smoak. I hope you enjoy the evening. If you'll excuse me, I have a few other patrons I must speak with."
"We should make the rounds, as well," Oliver rushed to speak up once Mr. Moore had moved on. "There are a few people I'd like to introduce Felicity to. Excuse us."
Felicity offered Ray a brief wave before letting Oliver lead her away. Diggle trailed behind them. "Who do you want me to meet?" Felicity, confused, asked after they were out of earshot.
"No one," Oliver answered curtly.
"Then why did you pull me away so fast?"
"We've got bigger things to worry about. We don't have time for distractions tonight, Felicity."
"I would hardly call a five-minute conversation a distraction."
Oliver scoffed, "I think he had more than conversation in mind."
Felicity stopped short and looked at Oliver. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Ray was clearly flirting with you, Felicity, or did that completely escape your attention?"
"Ray is always like that. He was being friendly." Oliver shook his head and was about to turn around when Felicity's hand on his arm halted him. The disapproval was coming off of him in waves. "Oliver, if you have something to say to me, say it."
"We need to stop The Dodger, Felicity. So what I need is your head in the game before he takes off someone else's. You can't do that properly if Ray is talking your ear off all night and distracting you."
"Sure, I will get my head in the game just as soon as you get yours out of your ass," Felicity whispered challengingly. She couldn't believe he was getting so worked up over one stupid, polite conversation.
"Excuse me," Oliver said under his breath.
"All right," Diggle intervened. "Let's all just take a breath."
"Good idea, Dig," Felicity agreed. "I'm going to get some air. I'll let you know if anything changes with the tracker-you know, if I'm not too distracted." Her back was to Oliver before he could utter another word.
"What?" Oliver said to Diggle, who was staring at him critically.
"Was that really necessary? Arguing with each other isn't going to help us catch this son of a bitch."
"Ray could talk a deaf man's ear off. What do you think?"
"I think you didn't have a problem with Felicity's ability to focus until she met Ray Palmer."
Felicity exited the bathroom stall and washed her hands at the sink. She was still fuming about her exchange with Oliver. He was being totally ridiculous. Her conversation with Ray had been innocent and even if it hadn't, it wasn't like Oliver was her boyfriend. There was no need to get so curt with her.
Needing another couple of minutes to herself, Felicity reapplied her lipstick and fixed her hair. Oliver was one to talk about distractions. They were supposed to be acting as a team tonight, and now they were at odds. The stakes were even higher after Oliver's first attempt at apprehending The Dodger failed.
The thought made Felicity pause. Oliver's outburst wasn't just about Ray. He'd been on edge ever since that night at the museum. Felicity had seen firsthand the toll Oliver's fight with Malcolm had taken on him. He was doubting himself, and The Dodger killing that hostage only made it worse. Nothing was more threatening to Oliver than not being in control-especially when it came to himself. Felicity felt her anger ebb slightly and resolved to find Oliver, so they could get back on track.
Felicity had barely walked out of the bathroom when she felt a rough hand on her arm. "What the-" A middle-aged man of medium height and dark brown hair pulled her into a supply closet. "Hey, let go of me!" She struggled against him, but he was too strong.
The man placed his hand over her mouth and pushed her against the door. "Listen very carefully," the man said, his grip tightening to keep her from shouting out. The hand that had been holding her arm reached into the pocket of his brown trench coat and pulled out a metal device. As soon as Felicity felt it clamp around her neck, she knew this man was The Dodger. "You are going to retrieve the broach donated by Oliver Queen and bring it to me. If you don't do as I've instructed and try to go to the police, this collar will detonate and you'll lose your pretty little head. Understood?"
All Felicity could do was nod.
"Good." The Dodger removed his hand from her mouth. "Now off you go, luv."
"Why me?" Felicity couldn't help but ask, unable to keep her voice from trembling.
"Because you're Oliver Queen's date. No one would suspect you of stealing it right out from under his nose." The Dodger smiled and pointed to his watch. "Tick tock."