Getting called into work at 3:00am was not his idea of fun. Far from it.
But with a quick stop at a 24-hour fast food place, he walks into the office, trying to pretend he isn’t as tired as he really is.
If he shows weakness, sluggishness, then that makes it okay for his team to slack. And considering the frantic phone call he’d received from Curtis Holt an hour ago, this is a case that needs their full attention. Their A game.
Oliver pushes through the doors of the conference room, setting the iced coffee he’d ordered for Sara down in front of her. His partner groans with appreciation, but says nothing. He’s perceptive enough to catch the glances from the other agents, but he ignores them, keeping his expression stern. How he and Sara spend their free time is none of their concern.
Taking the seat at the head of the table, Oliver leans towards Curtis, gesturing for him to explain what’s brought them all to work in the dead of night.
His team hovers around the room, all of them looking tired and inattentive. Oliver’s eyes flicker to Curtis, who sits at the conference table with his laptop open, his fingers typing furiously across the keys.
“What do we have?” Oliver asks lowly, knowing that like many cases, until Curtis worked his magic, the rest of the FBI will be useless.
“An SOS was triggered somewhere in the mountains between here and Central City.” Curtis replies, not looking up from his screen. “I tried to narrow it down as soon as it reached us, but I haven’t had any luck. Whoever is doing it...they’re honing in, boosting the connection. All I can do is wait until it’s enough to pinpoint.” Suddenly, a grid of the Holland Forest appears on the screen behind him, and Oliver turns to watch as Curtis showcases the narrowing signal, giving his team a visual.
“Not only that, but whoever triggered this sent it directly to the bureau,” Curtis explains, “I armed these systems and encrypted the data myself. I can assure you, this is no amateur. Whoever is doing this knows exactly how to work their way around a firewall.”
“So you think it could be a trap?” Sara mumbles, her eyebrows furrowing as she takes a sip of her coffee. “Someone sending this signal out for us to follow, leading us to a landmine?”
Curtis shrugs in response, “it’s possible...although logically, I think if that were the case, the signal would be more precise. It’s like the person doing this is still trying to zone in.”
“Maybe hackers aren’t as smart as they think they are,” Sara retorts, smirking at Curtis. To his credit, he simply shrugs, not bothering to be baited by the constant teasing he’s been subjected to for the last few months. He is green. The newest member on the squad. But it also doesn’t help that he’s their first and only non-field agent. He works from the office, while the rest of them put on bulletproof vests and load their guns.
Oliver had quickly learned the value of a teammate like Curtis and gained an appreciation for what he could do. Others on the team, like Sara, were a bit more hesitant to the change. They have a hard time respecting someone who isn’t risking his life for the team like the rest of them.
Still, Oliver was hoping they’d come around. He’d also meant to tell Sara to back off, but they didn’t really discuss work. Or much of anything.
“Curtis,” Oliver says, getting the attention of the chuckling team, “you keep working to get a better location on the SOS. The rest of you, get dressed.”
“You’re kidding,” of course, it’s Rene who starts the complaining. But the others aren’t far behind.
Holding up a hand, Oliver throws hard glances at the loudest whiners, reminding them who is in charge. “We head out for Holland Forest in fifteen.”
Rene points up at the screen, “that’s forty miles of trees, hoss,” He argues. “What the hell are we supposed to do? Start turning up rocks for a Curtis wanna-be? We don’t even know that this isn’t some stupid college kid seeing if he can hack the FBI.”
To be fair, that had happened once. But that was before they brought Curtis in. Since then, Oliver had become quite confident that no one would be able to stumble into their business.
“If Curtis says it wasn’t an accident, then it wasn’t an accident, Ramirez,” Oliver says sternly. “If there is someone out there who needs our help, and we ignore it because you want a few extra hours of beauty sleep...your head will be the first in the guillotine.”
With narrowed eyes, Rene steps towards him, and Oliver can feel the rest of the room freeze. “Are we going off your gut again here, Oliver?”
He asks as if Oliver Queen’s gut isn’t a valid member of the team. As if the idea is ridiculous. As if his judgment hadn’t gotten them out of dangerous situations on numerous occasions. Oliver doesn’t bother responding, he just narrows his eyes at his agent. He knows better than anyone that engaging Rene into an argument is like fighting with a relentless three year old.
“His instinct saved your life ten times over, you idiot.” It was Sara who broke the silence, cutting through the tension.
Oliver closes his eyes, wishing her temper didn’t rival his own. Because...
Ramirez takes the very obvious shot, wheeling towards Sara as if he expected her to defend Oliver.
He slams his hands down on the table in front of her, smiling, knowing that he’d gotten the reaction he’d been trying to provoke. Even if it wasn’t from Oliver. “Defending your boyfriend, Lance?” Rene sneers, “or is he just a fuck buddy? Are we still supposed to pretend we don’t know, or are you two finally going to air out the dirty laundry? See, I feel like we should know. If Queen is going to take a bullet for you, while he lets me die, that’s information I think should be shared with the group.”
“Don’t be dramatic, Rene,” Sara rolls her eyes, completely unfazed by the fact that the elephant in the room was finally being addressed. Oliver knew that they knew. He’s a detective, after all. “Everyone on this team would rather run into a burning building after a kitten before they saved your ass.”
Oliver has to work very hard not to let his lips curve into a smile as Rene’s face twists with irritation and their teammates laugh. “All right, that’s enough,” Oliver mutters. “I said get dressed, we head out—”
The team sobers as a woman’s voice rings out from Curtis’ computer. Oliver darts to his side, not seeing anything different aside from a tiny box in the corner that reads the audio from wherever the woman is, spiking when she coughs. “Hello?”
“What the hell is that?” Oliver snaps.
“The SOS signal...” Curtis’ fingers move unnaturally fast. “I didn’t do it.” He shakes his head in awe. “This is all her.”
“Can anyone hear me?” The voice asks.
Oliver’s eyes are glued to the screen.
He’d been in this life long enough to recognize desperation in someone’s voice. Raw, terrified desperation. And it somehow sounds worse on this mystery woman.
Curtis pulls out his phone, plugging it into his computer and making his skill look like an Olympic sport as he types furiously.
“Please,” she chokes.
“Curtis...” Oliver has no idea why his throat is tight. He’s seen a lot worse. He’s watched life die in a man’s eyes. Held mothers who would never see their sons and daughters again. But somehow this voice...it tears through his chest, cutting into him unexpectedly. He has to help her.
“I can piggyback the channel,” Curtis answers, “I just have to merge the connection and—” the screen of his phone turns blue, and he picks it up immediately, “hello?”
“Hello?” The woman asks, louder this time. “Oh my god, you can hear me?”
Curtis smiles as Oliver takes the phone. “yes. Yes, we can hear you.”
“Oh my god,” the woman breathes. “You have no idea how good it is to hear your voice. Or someone’s voice. Not you specifically, whoever you are. Are you with the FBI? I’ve been trying to reach the FBI but I’ve had no fracking clue if it’s working or not.”
Looking around the room, Oliver sees that his whole team is attentive now. “Ma’am...” Oliver mumbles, “what’s your name?”
He hears her let out a deep breath. “Felicity Smoak.” Oliver nods even though she can’t see it, silently encouraging her to continue as he stares at the screen, watching the sound waves on Curtis’ computer spike with each noise she makes. “My name is Felicity Smoak. And I’m pretty sure I’ve been buried alive.”
The room becomes eerily quiet, each agent raking their mind for the last time they’d heard that. Oliver’s heart sinks into his stomach. “Felicity...talk to me. What do you see? What do you feel and hear?”
“I can’t see anything,” she answers. “But it smells musty, like dirt. And it’s cold. I’m in some sort of box. I felt around until I found a camera. He’s using a hotspot to connect to it, and I jammed the signal and rerouted it to you. I...I didn’t know where else to send it. I thought you people might be my best bet.”
“No, that’s incredible, Felicity.” Oliver tells her, feeling a spark of pride for the stranger. A woman who refuses to let a terrifying situation paralyze her. A fighter. “Can you hear anything? Cars, water, anything that might help us find you?”
He holds his breath as she hesitates, listening. “No,” she finally sighs. “I can’t hear anything. I have no idea...oh god, how far underground am I? Can you develop claustrophobia at twenty five? Because I’ve never been claustrophobic but I swear this box is getting smaller. Oh my god, oh my god!”
Oliver can hear her breath hitching, hysteria rising. She’d probably been so focused on connecting with them that she didn’t let herself panic before. Smart girl. But now that she’s realizing how hard it will be for them to find her, even with the narrowed down location...
“Felicity,” Oliver leans toward the phone, closing his eyes and ignoring his team. He was hardly ever the one to comfort the people they saved. But obviously he knows how to handle it. How to calm someone down. “Listen to my voice and take deep breaths,” he instructs. “We’re going to find you, okay? You’re going to be just fine.”
“Okay,” Felicity gasps, and he can tell that she is trying to stay calm. “Okay.”
Oliver looks up at Sara, and he can see that she’s thinking the same thing as him.
There was only one case that had all of these elements. Holland Forest. People being taken without a trace. Buried alive. And what came later was truly the terrifying part...
Oliver shakes his head, forcing himself not to wonder if Felicity Smoak will have the same fate. She won’t.
It was a case he’d learned about from his mentor. A case that had ruined the career and life of that same man. Nodding once to Sara, Oliver knows that she’ll understand when he says, “call him.”
As she walks out of the room, Oliver refocuses on the woman, “okay Felicity, my friend Curtis is the best cyber analyst at the bureau. And it seems like you’re quite the genius yourself.” She laughs a little bit at that, making him pause in surprise. “Between the two of you, I know we can get a closer location on you. Can you do that? Can you help Curtis?”
“Good. Good, Felicity. You’re going to be okay.”
He listens as she inhales and exhales, trying to slow her breathing down. “What’s your name?” She finally asks weakly.
“Thank you, Oliver.”
After making sure that Felicity is getting enough air, that she’s calming down and thinking straight, he clears the room and leaves the phone with Curtis, giving him some space to work. He can already hear Felicity troubleshooting suggestions as he walks out of the room, and he can’t help but be impressed.
Fight or flight is real. But the theory neglects the most common reaction to something horrifying. From his experience, most people freeze. Their minds go blank, their muscles brace, and they don’t react at all.
But the woman on the phone was all fight. He could tell, from the moment she woke up in that box, she’d been fighting.
Waiting by the door isn’t necessary, since John Diggle knows his way around headquarters just fine. But Oliver wants to get the initial, inevitably awkward greeting out of the way before they go upstairs and become the spectacle of the department’s gossips.
FBI agents aren’t qualified for honorable discharge. But John received the closest version of it that they could give him. He was an incredible mentor who Oliver would always be grateful for, but Oliver had also learned from his mistakes, as well.
He’d learned to never take a case home with him. Although, bringing Sara home was probably worse in a number of different ways. He’d also learned to never let his personal emotions get wrapped up in a case.
Luckily, that had yet to become an issue.
Looking down at his watch, Oliver becomes more and more inpatient. He wants to get back upstairs to Felicity. To see if she and Curtis have gotten any closer. If his math is right, then Felicity only has about eight hours before...unimaginable horrors. Haunting pain that had destroyed the agent assigned to the case.
He also knows that bringing John into the fold is a risk. But no one knows the killer better than him. No one else has dedicated their career, and their life, to finding the man responsible for thirteen women dying in the Holland Forest.
That had been nine years ago. Nine years without a body. Nine years without any trace of the killer’s MO...until Felicity Smoak’s voice crackled through their communications.
Finally, the front door swings open, and Oliver jogs over to the officers that try to stop Diggle from blowing past them. “He’s back?” John demands as soon as he sees Oliver, his eyes wild.
Holding up his hands, Oliver answers, “we think so...”
“The woman is alive?”
He nods, realizing that he isn’t sure how much Sara had shared. Not that there’s much to share.
But there’s no way this guy is barreling upstairs and scaring the shit out of Felicity Smoak with his intense obsession. “She doesn’t know what she’s in the middle of,” Oliver explains, “I haven’t told her anything about the cold cases. We’re hoping to find her before he comes back.” Oliver swallows, “before she finds out for herself what happens next.”
Realization colors John’s face. And he lets out a deep breath, knowing that making an already terrified girl panic when she’s trapped in a box won’t help anyone. Diggle scrapes a hand over his face, “how long has she been down there?”
“We’re guessing about three hours.”
“So she has eight more,” he knows immediately. “Do you have a team out there looking?”
“Yes,” Oliver nods sharply. “They’re searching around every site where the other bodies were found. They’ve been instructed to look for loose dirt, footprints, and any kind of ventilation mechanism. We’re tracking down her family, working on getting something of hers for the dogs to sniff out.”
Diggle nods, “good. Let’s catch this son of a bitch.”
It’s the resolve in his eyes that makes Oliver certain that calling him in was the right move. Not only did no one know the case better, but no one would work harder to save this woman’s life than John Diggle.
"I’m glad to have your help on this,” Oliver offers his hand. “John,”
“My friends call me Dig,” he replies lowly, his eyes narrowing at Oliver. “You can call me nothing.”