John Diggle likes to think of himself as a patient man, but he also thinks Oliver Queen is trying to test that seemingly infinite pool of patience. For eight months now, he's been hired as the man's bodyguard, and for eight months, Queen has been slipping his leash, each way more creative and cunning than the last. The first time, he jumped out of a damn car, but it's been followed by trips to the bathroom that he's never returned from, slipping into crowds so well Diggle wonders if he had been trained by ARGUS, and—on one particularly memorable incident—getting into the car and driving away without anyone who accompanied him.
But the last straw was when Queen got the slip on him by choking him into unconsciousness—a particularly impressive feat in itself.
It's clear that Queen isn't interested in having a bodyguard, but John Diggle will be damned if he lets a partying billionaire put a blemish on his spotless protection record. So he resorts to more subtle methods of protecting Queen. Slipping a GPS tracker into his brown leather jacket and his multiple suit jackets had been easy enough, with Queen none the wiser.
The first time tracking him, Diggle had found the location odd; a shack in the middle of the Glades seemed like a place for a crack addict, not a billionaire. But after two months of this nonsense, he's accustomed to following Queen into the heart of the Glades to Ocean Avenue with regularity. Sometimes it's only twice a week, but most of the time, it's at least four.
When Diggle saw the petite blonde open the door that first time, he'd figured it as just another of Oliver Queen's revolving door of women. He'd told his mother earlier that same day that he was ditching his bodyguard to meet a woman, so he'd thought nothing of it originally. But then Queen kept coming back, sometimes with a computer that he'd hand to her.
This time it's earlier than usual when Queen's motorcycle pulls in at Ocean Avenue, an hour of the morning that Diggle wouldn't expect to find the billionaire awake. The blonde is already at the door with a handbag draped over her shoulder, turning around to call to someone in the house before bounding down the steps, simultaneously pushing her glasses up on her nose. The boy she must have been speaking to appears in the doorway, clearly several years her junior and wearing a red hoodie.
Queen hops off the motorcycle long enough for her to stash her bag in the storage compartment and to offer her a helmet from the compartment. She takes it, and Queen's hands fix over hers in an attempt to help her center it. She situates herself behind him after he climbs back on, her movements a little slower with what Diggle can only assume is unfamiliarity. Her hands—with turquoise nail polish, Digg notes—grip the Queen scion's waist, but he places his hands over hers, pulling her forward by locking her hands together around his middle.
Without any warning, he peels away from the curb, flying down the residential street like a bat out of Hell. Sighing, Digg starts the car, pulling up the GPS locator app on his phone. The boy is long gone, especially with the heavy morning traffic. Fortunately, though, Diggle manages to find a shortcut in Oliver's path, pulling across from Queen's location long enough to watch him drop the girl at an ancient building advertising computer repairs with a flickering neon sign.
Her hand lingers on Queen's bicep as she presumably says her goodbyes, turning toward the building with an awkward wave and a swing of her blonde ponytail. Queen, on the other hand, lingers for a moment, staring after her. Though Diggle can't see his expression because of the helmet, he thinks that the boy seems a little longing.
After Queen has already picked up the girl after her shift from work, Diggle decides it's time for a side venture. He walks into the repair shop with a smile, leaning over the counter to talk to the boy running the desk, probably not yet out of high school. "Hey, you guys put in a new hard drive for me a few weeks ago," he lies with a smile and a lightness to his voice he doesn't feel. "My buddy has having some trouble, and I wanted to tell him the name of the tech that fixed it for me—send some business your way, you know." He shrugs, offering a self-deprecating smile. "The only thing is, I can't remember her name—she was blonde, wore glasses?" He lets himself trail off into a question.
"Oh, that's Felicity," he answers immediately, "and I know she appreciates the referrals—the techs are paid a commission." He smiles, looking about as enamored with the girl as Queen had earlier, then hands Diggle a business card for the shop, writing the name on the back of it in a haphazard print: Felicity Smoak. Then he bites his lip. "She doesn't like us handing around her name, though."
Diggle throws his best smile. "I didn't stop by, then," he agrees easily. "Thank you so much—you've been a big help."
"I should take him some cookies," Felicity declares out of nowhere one Saturday morning, her tone surprisingly cheerful as she shoves a spoonful of mint chocolate chip ice cream into her mouth. Oliver thought her moods were limited to dark and brooding that first night, but over the course of the past month, he's learned that she's rarely either of those things when she's not wearing her vigilante gear. Some days, she makes it easy to forget that he's watched her slice limbs from some of her victims, but other days, he's reminded quite clearly of it. "I wonder what he'd do if I walked up and introduced myself."
In the time he's known Felicity, she's been prone to jumping trains of thought without warning, and he's used to having her clarify. Still his eyebrows knit together in confusion; this is different, even for her. "Who are you talking about?" he asks, turning away from the building plans laid out in front of him, hoping he can convince her to work with him again. They've worked together a few times, but she seems perfectly content to pick her own targets and being some unlikely mix of friends and consultants.
"Your tail," she replies simply, throwing her head toward the window in a way that makes it look like she's rolling her neck. "I spotted him last week when my car broke down and you took me to work." She lifts a shoulder, as though this happens to both of them every day. "At first I thought he was on me, but I've only seen him when you're around."
Knowing it would be suspicious for him to look in the direction he pointed, Oliver asks, "What does he look like? Do you know him?" His eyes flick in the direction without tilting his head away from the blueprints, but all he can make out is a late-model Ford sedan—one that looks like every other car in the Glades.
Felicity's description is cold and impersonal, completely professional. "Mid-thirties, African-American," she says immediately, as though she's giving a police description. "Brown eyes, short-cropped black hair, arms twice the size of yours. Definitely ex-military." She pauses for a minute before adding as an afterthought, "Oh, and he wears really nice suits. Not as nice as yours, of course, but he didn't buy them from a K-Mart."
It causes him to sigh deeply. "That would be my bodyguard, John Diggle," he answers with a frown. "It sounds like he's upset that I keep disappearing on him." Though he admires the man's work ethic, he's less than pleased about the idea of having a babysitter follow him wherever he goes. "My mother thought that, after those men tried to attack Tommy and I, some extra protection was necessary." He doesn't state that it wasn't, but Felicity knows that better than anyone.
For some reason, it causes Felicity to break into a smile. "That is so cute—you have a babysitter," she teases. He doesn't find the humor in it, but a smile from her is rare, so he'll take one whenever he can get one. "I'm so glad you have someone to protect you from the boogeyman in your closet—especially because you're so defenseless." His frown deepens, and she chokes back part of a laugh. Admittedly, he can see the humor in the situation, since he could probably take the man down himself (and has before), but he doesn't want to encourage her. Even if her laughter is rare and infectious.
Throwing her a less-than-amused expression over his shoulder, he turns back to the blueprints. "The museum—" he starts, but she cuts through his sentence as though he wasn't speaking. It should frustrate him, but, truthfully, Oliver isn't used to people ignoring his attempts to change the subject and he finds it amusing.
"We can talk about that in a minute," she assures him, "but your shadow out there is of more importance." Her expression is all business now, not teasing any longer. "Last week, he showed up at my job just minutes after we did—and he didn't weave in and out of traffic like you did." Something about her expression is thoughtful. "He couldn't have done that in his little Ford." With no warning, she rises from the sofa, and Oliver watches her march toward the coat rack in the corner.
Instead of grabbing her own, she reaches for his gray zipup hoodie, pulling it on. The sight of her before him is absurd, even before that: her t-shirt with a green alien holding a pig that reads, "Tell me a story about giant pigs." It's nearly unnoticeable now under his hoodie, but her pajama pants—pigs in scarves and glasses—are colorful and stand out across the room. For the first time, though, he notices her feet are bare.
Without permission, she starts patting the pockets, feeling of the lining. Finally, she holds up a small, black disc in triumph, biting her lip as though she's trying not to laugh. "It looks like you're being stalked by your bodyguard," she says in a strangled voice. Then she holds up her hands. "That was the last one, I swear—I couldn't resist." Then she tilts her head to the side. "Does it ever occur to you how ridiculous your life is?" Finally she sobers. "Maybe you should leave it so he doesn't suspect anything."
Because he spends most of his time with Deathstroke (who likes to wear pig pajamas, apparently), his bodyguard slipped a GPS tracker on him, and wears a green hood at night, Oliver can honestly say he's given the absurdity of his life some thought. But that isn't important right now, not with a jewel thief on the loose. "It occurs to me," he starts pointedly, "that there's a jewel thief loose in this city who likes to use bomb collars, Felicity." She rolls her eyes and grumbles something under her breath about a one-track mind, but leans over the back of the couch to stare at the blueprint. "The museum has skylights and access tunnels that he could easily reach from the garage, where security is a lot easier to bypass," he tells her, pointing to each one. "One of these is how the Dodger got in. Then he would go to the museum floor, where the ruby was on display in here."
"If he decided to actually bypass security," she counters. When he turns to look at her in question, it's to find Felicity hopping over the back of the couch. She drops next to him so close that she's nearly in his lap, picking up another spoonful of ice cream and shoving it into her mouth. Her foot brushes against his leg, and, when he looks down, Oliver notices for the first time that her toes are painted the same color as her fingernails—except for her first toe, which is a sunny yellow smiley face. He shouldn't find that alluring or charming, but he finds himself fighting a smile.
"But you're thinking like a vigilante, Oliver—not a thief," she continues, and it takes him a moment to remember the thread of their conversation. Felicity pulls the spoon out of her mouth, leaning toward the coffee table and using the spoon to point to another doorway. "Thieves don't typically force their way in—even when they put bomb collars around people's necks. They sneak. It would be easy enough for him to fake a credential and slip past a guard with no one the wiser."
Abruptly, she turns back to Oliver, her face only inches from his. The phrase flirting with danger comes to mind; he could easily kiss her again if he wanted to—and he very much does. She's silent for a moment as if she doesn't notice, and her voice is slightly breathless when she continues, "But that doesn't matter." For a moment, he thinks Felicity is going to be the one to close the gap, but she rushes on an octave higher than normal, "You're not going to find the Dodger by his entrance strategy. It's more about the bait. You should find out what he goes after—what makes him tick. Then you won't have to go after him—he can come to you." She shrugs. "There has to be a veritable treasure trove in the Queen family vault. You could use something from it to trap him."
Oliver frowns when he hears the way she uses you instead of we. "You're sitting this one out, then?" he asks, and he can't say he isn't disappointed. Felicity is one of the few people in his life keeping him sane, and, though he's loath to admit it, he's barely slept since the night she let him into her bed.
Nodding, Felicity answers, "The Bratva is gearing up for something, and they've ordered several shipments of guns from my old bosses. I think I need to remind them that Starling City is off-limits." She sinks back against the couch as she looks at him. "But when you make your move for this guy, let me know and I'll try to back you up. I'd hate for this guy to run off with your family jewels." Oliver can't stop his eyebrows from rising at that one, and she cringes. "I was referring to actual jewels in the Queen family vault," she rushes to say, "not making a reference to your—" She breaks off, motioning to the area in question again before cringing again. "Making innuendos worse is my superpower, apparently."
He decides it's better to ignore it this once, for the sake of his own sanity, instead pulling information he has on the previous heists out of the stack of papers. "Can you tell what he'll go after next?" he asks, opening up the file folder and spreading its contents across the only uncovered space: the side table by his end of the couch. "I have the list of all of his previous thefts, thanks to that computer system you installed for me last week." When they had an impromptu sparring session last week, she had declared his computer a tragedy and came back the next day with a state-of-the-art system that could hack police databases for him, thanks to her coding.
To get a better look at his information, the blonde leans across him, spoon still in her mouth as she squints at the papers. With her this close, he can smell the fruity touch of her shampoo, but that thought fades as soon as Felicity places her hand on his thigh to steady herself in the awkward position. "Huh," she comments, her words garbled somewhat by the spoon, "it looks like these are from the last ten years of King Ferdinand's reign—the Ominous Decade." He can't help squinting at her in confusion, and she shrugs as she sits upright again. "When I can't sleep, I watch TV. You'd be surprised with the lack of selection at 3AM. I prefer historical documentaries to infomercials." She pauses, deliberating that a moment before allowing, "Well, unless they're the cheesy, overly dramatic ones. Then all bets are off."
Oliver releases a stuttered breath of a laugh. "I'll see what we have at the house and try to lure him out with one of our pieces." Then, for reasons he doesn't quite understand himself, he pats her knee. "I'll call you," he assures her. With one final indulgence, he presses his lips to her temple again before rising to his feet and gathering the blueprints. "And let me know if I can be of any use on your Bratva mission." Though he knows she doesn't need him, Oliver also knows that sometimes it's better with two.
"Roger that," Felicity answers with cheer and a smile, rising with him. "You'll be my first call." She licks her bottom lip then, hesitating for a moment as the smile vanishes without warning. "Oliver, you know you can always stay with me whenever you want, right?" she asks, as though she can read his mind. If it were anyone else, it would be unnerving, but Oliver has since come to terms with the fact that Felicity has the uncanny ability to understand him. "Just like after Tommy found out, I mean," she clarifies, alluding to the fact that he's welcome in her bed anytime. She confirms it with a quiet continuation of the thought, biting her lip hesitantly. "With me," she repeats with emphasis. Then she rises to her feet, pacing for a moment before uttering the next quiet thought. "I get lonely sometimes, too—the dark kind of lonely that eats away at me at night, the kind that most people don't understand. But I think you know what I mean."
He does, all too well. Oliver stops her mid-pace, pulling her into his arms before he realizes that they don't do this. In truth, he surprises himself; it's been a long time since he's wanted to initiate contact with anyone, but Felicity is always the exception. Sometimes when she does this—when her mood changes this abruptly—he realizes that the tough exterior protects something far softer on the inside. Most of the time she manages to make him think she's unbreakable, but every once in a while, he's reminded that she still has vulnerabilities, doubts, and fears. He's sure they share many of the same ones.
Though he fully expects her to recoil, Felicity wraps her arms around his waist as though her life depends upon it. After taking a moment to savor the feeling, Oliver assures her quietly, "That offer goes both ways, Felicity—you can always call me. It doesn't matter what time. I'll always answer, and, if you want me to, I'll always come over." With reluctance, he manages to pull away before adding hesitantly, "I'll see you tonight."
He manages to take several steps toward the door before Felicity calls, "Oh, you forgot your jacket." Oliver notices, however, that she makes no unzip it or take it off, just standing in front of the couch in the too-large hoodie.
He only winks at her. "It looks better on you, anyway," he replies before ducking out the door.
With the charity auction beginning in just a few minutes, Oliver makes another circle around the items for sale, mostly to ensure that his tracker is still in place on the piece he convinced his mother to donate. It was easy enough because Moira loves charity auctions, but convincing her to keep her dinner plans with Walter for the night hadn't been so simple. But she'd finally caved after he'd assured her that he would represent the Queen family interests. Unfortunately, her one condition had been yet another complication he didn't need.
Because John Diggle is far too observant for his own good.
As if he senses that something is going down tonight, the bodyguard is hovering a little too close for Oliver's comfort, staying just a few steps away at any time. It goes against everything he believes in to let someone watch him, making him antsy and causing the hair on the back of his neck to stand up. Tommy must sense his nervous energy because he leans in and teases, "Has anyone ever mentioned to you how ridiculous it is that you have a bodyguard?"
Though it doesn't help, he appreciates his friend's attempt to keep his mind off of things. Nodding with a slight smile, Oliver answers, "Felicity seemed to find it amusing." No way is he going to admit to Tommy that Diggle put a GPS tracker on him; he'd never hear the end of it. At his friend's accusatory eyebrow raise, the archer explains in a quiet voice, "I couldn't figure out how to track this guy, so I brought the details by her place." His best friend's expression doesn't change. Sighing, Oliver continues, "Felicity's able to think like a criminal—really gets inside their heads." He lifts a shoulder. "When I have trouble putting the pieces together, I go to her."
"To her house," is Tommy's answer, placing special emphasis on that for reasons Oliver doesn't quite understand. At his blank expression, the Merlyn heir clarifies, "Ollie, she told me she was held against her will for seven months in Japan. After an experience like that, I don't think she'd want to bring guys into her house any time soon—unless she trusts them completely."
He pauses to let the implications of that sink in. "And besides, have you seen the way she looks at you, Ollie? She has a thing for you." He nudges Oliver's shoulder suggestively. "And I know you haven't been spending your nights with the mystery girl you told your mom about." Well, Oliver has been spending his nights with a woman; it's just been Felicity and they've been sparring together before he falls asleep with her in his arms. "So it's probably been a while for you, and that girl is definitely willing. If I were you, I'd buy a ticket on that ride." The grin on Tommy's face could rival the Cheshire Cat's. "I get the feeling she's one of those quiet women who surprise you by being a wildcat in the sack—you know, the kind who leaves claw marks and makes you limp for two days afterward."
The thought makes Oliver balk immediately; there are some things he shouldn't think about, for the sake of his own sanity. "Don't talk about her like that," he snaps, and the harsh words make him feel guilty in an instant. If he was saying it for Felicity's sake, it would be one thing, but the reason why he says it is purely selfish: the idea would open up a whole new line of thinking that the vigilante isn't quite ready to admit to himself, much less to anyone else. "Felicity is a friend," he continues in a softer tone, placing extra emphasis on the word. He means to say more, but instead one of Tommy's statements come rushing back to him. "When did Felicity tell you about Japan?" As far as he knows, the two of them have only had one interaction, and he doesn't remember her saying anything about Japan.
"The other night, she came by to fix the computers again, and she stayed so late I bought her dinner at that twenty-four-hour diner down the street," Tommy answers with a shrug as they start walking toward their seats. "I couldn't wrap my head around…" He trails off, making a half-hearted attempt at miming a bow, so vague that no one else could probably understand it. "So I asked her why she was so cool with it." That secret is one Oliver knows she didn't give him; she's hesitant to let anyone know her other identity. "She told me she was held hostage in Japan and that she was able to get free. Then she said that it happens every day and most women aren't as lucky as she was." It's a chilling, sobering thought that Oliver doesn't even want to contemplate. What she went through was horrible, but it could have been far, far worse.
"Do you remember what the first thing you did when you started?" Tommy asks him. The archer has to think about it for a moment, but then it slowly dawns on him why Felicity would have suggested teaming up in the first place. "One of the guys you took down smuggled girls into the country. Something about a sex trade." In a quiet voice, he adds, "And you stopped it. He wasn't like your normal targets, but you found out what he was doing and stopped him anyway." The billionaire's voice drops even lower. "I know I gave you a lot of crap when I found out, but it's easy to see the worst in people. And you do a lot of good for this city, even though a lot of people seem to forget that. Me included."
For a long moment words escape Oliver. When Felicity told him how integral Roy was to her identity as Deathstroke, he didn't quite understand what she meant. Roy isn't in the field—by choice—and he spends most of his nights waiting for a call that lets him know she's survived another night. But now he thinks that mightt make his nights a little easier, knowing that someone both knows and cares anyway.
Before he can think of a way to thank his best friend for it, he turns, catching sight of something out of the corner of his eye. More accurately, it's what he doesn't see that unnerves him. While Diggle's presence is irksome at best, he's always just a few steps behind, surveiling the area with intelligent eyes. Currently, however, the glorified babysitter who takes his job far too seriously is nowhere to be seen.
Picking up on his best friend's sinking feeling of dread, Tommy asks, "What's wrong?"
Oliver studies the entire room to look for the man. "Digg's missing," he hears himself answer in a murmur, but his focus is more on finding the man than answering. "He doesn't let me get far—I'm too much of a flight risk for that." Accepting the thought that's been running through his head, the vigilante adds, "And I'd be a lot less concerned if there wasn't a jewel thief running around out there."
By the time he pushes his way out into the lobby, the place is deserted—as is the display case of the single piece from the Ominous Decade on display. Using the tracker Felicity designed, Oliver pulls his phone out of his pocket and selects the app. Sure enough, the brooch is on the move, probably in the hands of one of the deadliest jewel thieves in the world.
"Um, Oliver," Tommy calls out in a cautious voice. The archer looks to him to find a hand pointed several feet away, to one very alive, wide-eyed John Diggle.
Unfortunately, he has a metal collar sticking out from under his white shirt. "I caught a guy trying to take the brooch," he says, sounding a little shaken, but still oddly calm despite the circumstances. "I tried to stop him, but he hit me with a cane. Must've had a taser of some sort in it." Oliver reaches for his phone, and the bodyguard swallows. "He said that he had tapped into the police call lines and that if anyone tried to call the cops, he'd blow it."
"The cops would only make a mess of this," Oliver agrees as he looks for the familiar number in his dialed calls list. "That's why I'm calling someone else." He turns toward Tommy. "Could you go back and cover for me? Tell them my bodyguard is ill and I couldn't make for any other arrangements." He nods once before backing out of the room. "Come with me," he says to Diggle then, motioning toward the side room where he stashed his gear earlier. "We need to get you out of here before anyone notices what's going on."
As he reaches for the door, someone finally answers the line. Before she can speak, Oliver says to her, "Felicity what are you doing right now?" Diggle's eyebrows shoot up before narrowing into confusion, but instead of answering, he goes for where his bag is stashed behind a stack of chairs that isn't being used.
"Right now?" she answers, her voice masked by the dark modulator that is answer enough. "I'm saying farewell to Alexi Leonov at the moment." Despite the synthesizer, her tone is eerily calm and casual, as though she's discussing the weather instead of taking a man's life. "Would you like to say any last words to him first?" A flurry of Russian follows in a male voice, so muffled that it takes Oliver a moment to translate it: God have mercy. "God can't save you now," Felicity answers in kind, her Russian a little stilted and somewhat accented, but she wasn't kidding when she said she was good at languages. They've been exchanging languages for a few weeks, and already her conjugation is perfect.
Because he has nothing to do with her business as Deathstroke, he bypasses the question with a simple, "No, I don't." Unable to resist, he adds, "And your Russian is getting better." Before she can say anything, Oliver states as he starts going through his bag, "Is there any way I could convince you to come to the auction right now? I have a problem."
A muffled scream comes through the line before she replies dryly, "When don't you have a problem? I'm starting to think I should charge by the hour. You're lucky I expect other things from you." There's a long pause, and Oliver can't bring himself to speak; he can't tell which innuendos are intended or not any more, not since she commented on how he wore a tuxedo the night they took down Deadshot. "And by 'other things,'" Felicity rushes on with that frantic lilt to her voice, "I mean that I expect you to be my friend, not to pay me. I didn't mean anything else, despite how it sounded." There's a short pause. "Give me three minutes?"
"Make it two," the archer insists. In Russian so Diggle can't overhear, he adds, "In civilian clothes and with your field electronics kit, please." He turns to look at John, who is studying him as if in a new light. "We have company." The words come out in English this time. "It's a small storage area off of the main annex—your two o'clock as you come in through the main doors. I have a lead on the Dodger, but I'm going to wait until you get here to pursue him." When the bodyguard's eyes narrow in confusion, the archer pulls his bow out of the bag in explanation, causing the man's eyes to widen in recognition. "And Felicity? I owe you one."
She snorts. "This one can be a freebie," she assures him. "Because if we keep up at this pace, I'm not sure I'll live long enough for you to pay me back."
Before he woke up with a pounding headache and a bomb collar around his neck, John Diggle wasn't having a particularly wonderful day, and he doubts that either one of those things will improve it for him. Even worse is the bow and the green hood Oliver pulls out of his duffle bag, which explain well enough why a billionaire was able to get the jump on him and slip away without a moment's notice. Oliver Queen is definitely more than a spoiled rich kid and, judging by the way he spoke to his best friend earlier, Tommy Merlyn isn't completely unaware of the situation earlier.
In a way, it infuriates him because he should have known that something like this was going on. From the day he came home, Oliver's been playing them all, but Digg has seen enough deep cover assignments to know an act when he sees one. All this time he thought the kid was a horrible liar, but, as it turns out, he's a far better actor than they gave him credit for. Even more disturbing is the thought that playboy billionaire Oliver Queen has blood on his hands—and that he's the occasional partner of a homicidal psychopath.
"Guess I know why you didn't let Deathstroke kill me when I had that gun on you a few weeks ago," is all the man says. Oliver doesn't respond, but the corner of his mouth ticks up, which John takes as progress. "I thought you weren't as screwed up in the head as you have every right to be, but I'm starting to think all that island air got to your head, since you're running around at night in a Halloween costume putting arrows in guys."
"I don't expect you to understand," is the billionaire's response, hard and defensive, "even though I hoped you would." His tone softens as he starts changing into one of the most infamous suits in Starling City—following closely behind a black-and-gold face mask. "The cops are trying, but they're not enough to stop a crime rate like this. Every day, someone profits by scamming honest citizens, and no one can stop them from doing it." Though it's understated, Diggle can sense the passion behind those words. "I'm not saying that what I'm doing is right, but it's all I can do, Diggle. This city is crumbling a little more every day, and no one is doing anything but watching. What they're doing should be enough, but it isn't anymore."
He pauses, staring at the wall with a thoughtful expression. "As a friend once said to me, 'There are two means of fighting: one according to the laws, the other with force; . . . but because the first . . . is not sufficient, it becomes necessary to have recourse to the second.'"
It takes John a long moment to recognize the phrase, but when he does, he can't believe that Oliver Queen is the one quoting it to him. He'd been bored while off-duty in Afghanistan, and he'd borrowed a book from one of his fellow sergeants. The man in question had been aspiring to an officer rank, so he'd been reading all of the classic literature about military and leadership. And he'd loaned John his copy of The Prince.
Before the former sergeant can speak up, Oliver adds, almost as if it was an afterthought, "And Deathstroke wasn't going to kill you." Diggle snorts in disbelief, but the vigilante assures him, "If he wanted to kill you, you'd be dead and I wouldn't have been able to save you. He just wanted to make sure you didn't kill me that night."
He snorts again, but decides to let the subject drop. From experience, Digg knows that the archer is a stubborn bastard and he has no interest in arguing with the man. Instead, he decides to address something else that should weigh on the billionaire's conscience. "How do you think you're gonna explain this to Felicity Smoak when she comes in?" he asks. He expects the knowledge to surprise Oliver, but he doesn't even look up from situating his bow. "What do you think she's gonna say when she learns she's been an accessory to your illegal activities?"
"You figure that out when you were tailing me?" the billionaire counters in a casual tone. Diggle blinks in surprise. "She spotted your tail last week and found the GPS tracking chip you left in my jacket pocket." It makes him feel as though he's missing something; civilians like the Smoak girl typically don't notice surveillance unless it's sloppy and uncoordinated, and John is neither of those things. He was sure to even change vehicles on several occasions. One corner of the archer's mouth lifts up in something akin to a smile. "She was going to bake you cookies, but I convinced her not to. I didn't want you to get food poisoning from her terrible cooking.
Answering the question more directly, Oliver adds, "Felicity already knows. That's why I called her. Bombs are just circuits, and there's no one in this city that knows a circuit better than her."
"Flatterer," a new voice accuses from the doorway. Diggle jump in surprise, but Oliver doesn't even turn at the small blonde standing there with a black duffle of some sort over her shoulder. Someone who can move that quietly is rare, though—especially in a civilian. "Sorry it took me so long. The guards tried to stop me and then one of them had the audacity to call me 'sugar.'" She makes a noise of disgust in her throat. "Can you believe that?"
Though he's seen Felicity Smoak from a distance several times, tonight John feels as though he's seeing an entirely different woman. Her blonde hair is pulled back in a severe French braid that exposes an industrial piercing through her right ear, and now the only thing bright about her wardrobe is fuchsia lipstick. She wears heavy-soled black boots with her jeans, and a worn, black leather jacket over a t-shirt with crossed blades and the words Contractor Syndicate around the image, with Japanese lettering of some sort above it.
Oliver says something to her in a language that sounds Slavic—probably Russian—that John doesn't understand. Whatever it is, it almost seems to offend her. "Of course I didn't," she answers, her tone a little sharp. "I don't do that to misogynistic jerks. His hand will probably be sore tomorrow. And some other parts." The billionaire's mouth twitches as though trying to contain a smile, and John decides that he could probably study these two for years and still not have all the answers to the questions forming in his head. They shouldn't work because they're so different—the electronic genius and the billionaire drop-out—but it appears they do anyway. "More importantly," the blonde insists, "you said something about an emergency and a favor?"
The billionaire nods once before motioning to John as though he's the thorn in his side. "Diggle had an encounter with the Dodger that didn't go very well," he explains in a very laconic way. "I thought I could go after him while you tried to disarm it."
Felicity doesn't seem to mind her friend's lack of words. "I can see that," she agrees, flashing John a fuchsia-painted smile. She drops her back on the table next to the archer's as she assures the former soldier, "Nice to officially meet you, John, though I wish it was under different circumstances." Before he can answer, she's already addressing Oliver again. "Do we know anything about the type of explosive he used this time?"
"You studied the specifications in more detail than I did," Oliver answers, "and you're the one with a Master's from MIT." Diggle's eyebrows shoot up at that; he knew she was in IT, but he has no idea why she's at a mom-and-pop shop like Driscoll's with a background that impressive. "You know the Dodger's signature, and if anyone can disarm it, it's you."
This time she ignores his idle flattery. "I don't like to rely on signature," Felicity responds, turning all business. John has to admit that she's reacting well to the situation; most civilians lose themselves to panic in a situation like this. "A smart bomb maker would vary it up, and I'd rather be good than lucky, despite how the saying goes." She pulls a set of forceps out of the bag. "How much time is on the clock?"
"It's on a remote-triggered detonator," the vigilante answers as he pulls on the mask and starts smearing green grease paint around his eyes where the fabric doesn't cover.
"Cool," Felicity replies, sounding as though she means it. "So I do have a timer—only it's controlled at the whim of a sociopath and it's not a countdown clock." She motions for John to sit down on the table, and he does so, albeit with great reluctance. Her words aren't exactly inspiring confidence. "I always love a good challenge." She moves to her bag. "I have an EMP you can use to jam the signal, but it would fry all electronics in the area, including your comm link. You wouldn't be able to communicate with me."
In answer, Oliver grabs something from his bag before walking over to her. The two of them lock eyes in a way that's intimate somehow, despite the contact, so personal that part of Diggle wants to look away to give them their privacy. The archer slides a hand over her ear, positioning a Bluetooth headset over her ear. His hand lingers for a moment before he states in a low, vulnerable tone, "That's not negotiable. I need you in my head." It earns him a tentative, almost shy smile from Felicity as her hand locks on his for a moment.
Then, as though it never happened, the IT expert turns back to Diggle with her forceps as Oliver fastens his quiver into place. When she smiles this time, it's almost unnerving how cheerful she is. "Let's see if we can keep you from going tick-tick-boom today," she says to him.
Still reeling from their open yet secretive exchange, John can't help but blurt the first thing that comes to mind: "Are you sure you know what you're getting into, Felicity?" While he has no doubt the woman is intelligent, a lot of people are intelligent and yet know nothing about disarming bombs. And forgive him if he doesn't trust the judgment of a man who willingly works with someone like Deathstroke.
"I'm willing to bet my life on it," the blonde retorts without missing a beat. "Quite literally, in fact. I'm going to be close enough to the impact that, if I don't stop it, both of us are going to be the red mist decorating these walls before the night is out." She doesn't seem daunted by that fact, stating it just as casually as he might read a book to his nephew.
He opens his mouth to speak, but Oliver is faster. "You better know what you're doing, Felicity," he states, his voice lashing out hard and sharp. Judging by the wild look in his eyes, it comes from a place of panic and fear. Diggle once thought that the billionaire didn't care about anyone, but apparently he was wrong on that count because he most certainly cares about Felicity Smoak. Maybe instead the archer chooses to play his emotions closer to the vest.
Any sane person would cower at the idea of a murdering vigilante snapping at them, but the blonde surprises John yet again when she turns to Oliver with narrowed eyes and a sharp tongue. "Do I tell you how to shoot your arrows or put on your eyeshadow?" she snaps, and despite the situation, Digg chokes on a surprised laugh. Even the vigilante himself softens a little. "I've been building computers since I was seven, Oliver. Wires are wires, whether they're in an x-ray machine or a computer or a bomb circuit."
Sighing as though the fight has been drained out of him, Oliver states in a softer tone, "Just be careful." A long pause passes between them before he admits, "I want you in one piece." The words come out slow and methodical, as though it takes everything he has to confess this to her. There's an extra weight to it somehow, as if he's trying to say something else without saying it at all.
Whatever it is, Felicity must understand the underlying message because she softens, too. "I could say the same to you," she replies in a similar tone. Waving a hand she adds, "Now stop being adorable and get out of here—you have a jewel thief to catch." She scrunches up her nose. "Yet another sentence I can't believe I had to say aloud."
With a chuckle, he slips out the door, leaving John with the vibrant blonde. She reaches for the bomb collar around his throat without warning, but he pulls back now that the moment of truth is in front of him. "You sure you're not going to blow both of us sky high?" he can't help but ask her.
She humors him with a lot more patience than she gave her friend, probably because Felicity doesn't expect him to know better. "This isn't my first time disarming a bomb," she assures him as she tilts his head away to give her better access to the collar. "I've been working with Oliver for the last four months. This is doesn't even come close to the craziest thing I've done."
Because he thinks that talking will keep his mind off of what she's doing, Diggle notes aloud, "You don't seem like the type to join in a vigilante crusade." She finds something funny about that judging by her laugh, but she doesn't try to explain why. "How did you end up doing this, Felicity?"
With a cheeky smile as she regrips her forceps, the blonde answers, "I filled out an application." He snorts at her humor as she attempts to go at the bomb again. "It's kind of a long story, but the short version is that Oliver and I save each other." John gets the feeling that there's a lot more subtext in that statement than she actually spoke aloud. There's a short pause. "And I've always been a sucker for an idealist with an admirable cause. I was sucked into my first send-money-to-kids-in-Africa thing when I was sixteen. You can imagine how upset I was when I hacked their servers and realized that it was actually going to a CEO who was named Murton, of all things." He snorts. "I'm not as naïve now as I was then, but I still have a thing for noble causes.
"Have you heard Oliver talk about what he's doing in this city?" she asks him, changing tacks without warning. He has, but it's a rhetorical question. "He believes in what he's doing in the city, and he's received results from it. He knows it isn't legal and that it's dangerous, but he does what he can." She's quiet for a moment. "It's a sad world we live in, John, but sometimes the law isn't enough and we have to find different methods."
"He's controlling them by fear, Felicity," Diggle retorts. "Both him and Deathstroke do."
Felicity just shrugs. "Far better to be feared than loved," she answers, shrugging a shoulder, and John thinks she might just be the friend Oliver quoted earlier. There's a clicking noise. "Okay, I'm in the panel." Taking a moment to press a button on her headset, the blonde says, "Oliver, I'm looking at the circuitry now. It looks pretty straightforward—should be relatively simple to disarm. Where are you right now?" She answers him after a pause, "Roger that." She warns Diggle in an oddly calm voice, "Okay, here goes nothing."
John is suddenly too aware of the silence in the room, the ease with which she once spoke completely gone as she focuses on her work. With the bomb collar at his throat, he can't see what she's doing, other than when her hand darts out toward the table for her scissors. Just when he can't stand the silence a moment longer, Felicity says, "Just in case you're quietly freaking out on me, I'm looking at the mechanism again because I don't think this is to the charge." There's a pause. "I know better than that, Oliver. You live for this kind of thing. I was talking to John—he looks like he swallowed a squirrel." The phrasing makes the soldier release a laugh he didn't even know he had in him. "Yeah, this definitely isn't the bomb, but…" A small snipping sound makes his blood freeze, but then the cool metal around his throat releases. "I found the release mechanism."
The weight of the world seems to fall of Diggle's shoulders, and the blonde pulls away with the bomb collar dangling from her hand as though she's afraid to touch it. "Go get your guy, Oliver—we're good here. I saw a dumpster in the back of the building, and I'm going to throw this fashion disaster of a necklace into it."
Because he doesn't think Oliver would approve of him letting her go out there alone with a jewel thief on the loose, Diggle follows Felicity to the dumpster in question, listening to her half of the conversation as she babbles in Oliver's ear, ranging from random stories about her childhood to mocking things the Dodger must be saying. From what he knows of the vigilante, Diggle wouldn't think he'd appreciate it, but slowly he understands what Felicity must bring to the table.
Because, the best John can tell, it isn't about what she can do. It isn't about her electronics knowledge or her calm under pressure or even the way those two obviously trust each other. It's about Oliver having someone at his back who doesn't pass judgment about what he does or asking questions about his probably horrible experiences on the island. Instead, Felicity gives him a running commentary of random things to remind the vigilante that he's no longer alone.
While he's lost in his thoughts, he forgets the danger the bomb presents, but that comes rushing back to him when, just seconds after she drops the collar in the metal bin, it explodes—along with the dumpster's contents.
The smoke is so thick for a moment that he can't see anything, but when it finally clears, he breathes a sigh of relief to see Felicity sitting in front of the dumpster, slapping at her jeans with her leather jacket to put out a fire above her knee. Other than a gash across her forehead, she seems okay. "Tell your new friend thanks for setting me on fire," she comments to Oliver as she touches her fingers to the cut on her head.
"I'm fine," she continues to assure him, and John marvels again at how calm she is under pressure. That's a rare quality for a civilian without medical training. "On the bright side, I found out how you can repay this favor to me. There were some mirror shards at the bottom of the dumpster, and one gave me a cut on my head. If you'll drive me home and put in some stitches for me, we'll call this even." What's interesting about the statement is that she seems sure he can dress the wound for her. "It may not seem fair to you," she continues, "but it's fair to me. Do you know how hard it is to put stitches in your own head? I'd have to use a mirror, and that would probably result in me putting my eye out."
Diggle offers her a hand up, and she takes it with a smile. "Thanks, John," she says in a sweet tone as he hands her the handkerchief from his pocket, applying pressure to the wound. Then her attention turns to her headset. "Okay, Oliver. Obey traffic laws and make good choices."
She takes a few steps forward, wobbling a little. Digg catches her elbow to steady her. "You okay?" the blonde asks him, though she's the one to stumble. He nods once, and she keeps going, despite how unsteady she is. If it were anyone else, he might offer to carry her, but John gets the feeling that Felicity would be offended by that suggestion.
"Thank you, Felicity," he says to her, and she turns, eyes narrowing in confusion. He notices they're a little glazed, and he decides he'll tell Oliver about that later. After all, if she has a concussion, she'll need someone to stay with her, and he's fairly certain that between the billionaire and the boy in the red hoodie, she'll have more protectors than she knows what to do with. "For disarming that bomb. I appreciate it."
Her confusion clears, and she flashes him a cheeky smile before replying, "Nothing to lose your head over, John."