"We have a problem."
Even with being the one who had called their impromptu, late night meeting and speeding his entire way to the foundry, Diggle had still managed to beat Oliver there thanks to how far outside the city the Queen mansion was located. This irked him, but, for now, there was nothing he could do about it. The Oliver Queen that everyone expected him to be would never willingly leave the lap of luxury, not to mention the servants who did everything for him, of his family, childhood home. Tossing his leather jacket on the desk, Oliver took his stance – legs braced apart, arms folded over his chest – across from Digg.
The ex-military man seemingly waited him out before finally responding, "you don't say." The tone was sarcastic, pithy, and Oliver found himself immediately annoyed. The last thing he needed in that moment was someone's attempt at dry humor, but it was too late to untell Diggle about who he was, and Oliver was self-aware enough to admit, at least to himself, that he needed help. Especially now. "From where I'm sitting," John continued. And he was doing just that – relaxed and reclined in Oliver's desk chair. "We have more than one."
While there was a lot that his driver was aware of, this – their current situation – wasn't one of them. Or, at least, it shouldn't be. Oliver found his brow furrowing in consternation. There was no way that Diggle could know about Walter, or Felicity, or the auction and everything that was supposed to have gone down there that evening – supposed to have because the auction had been canceled. Even with his plans for the evening foiled, Oliver had proceeded with at least one part of his strategy: bringing Digg into his secret. While the other man hadn't reacted well to say the least, Oliver wasn't behind bars, and, when he had called for Digg to meet him at the foundry mere hours after the two had parted with so much unresolved and unsaid between them, John had come. It wasn't a screaming 'I see your vision, and I join you in your mission,' but it was a start; it was something he could work with.
As if reading his silence and perturbation as permission to continue with his little one-man comedy routine, Digg remarked, "let's start with the fact that I was in bed and watching SportsCenter when you called. Do rich people not have a sense of boundaries... let alone courtesy?"
Oliver chose to ignore the question and, instead, focused on the statement. "I didn't realize you were a sports fan, Digg," though there was a complete lack of interest or patience to his tone.
"Man, I have a penis and a pulse. Of course, I like sports."
"I find them... pointless."
"We really need to find you a hobby... which brings me to our second problem: the fact that I just said we, because I don't know who's crazier in this situation: you... for obvious reasons... or me for going along with you."
Oliver exhaled, nodding once in acknowledgement. "So, that means you're in?"
"This means that I hope this gig comes with good health insurance, because I need my head examined." Becoming more serious, Diggle added, "this means that I'm at least not out."
"Which brings us full circle and back to our biggest problem of all: the fact that I just agreed to be party to you running around town in spandex, shooting arrows into people."
He frowned. "I don't wear spandex."
"Out of everything I just said, that's the part you focus on?"
Tilting his head to the side, Oliver observed the man across from him. "Is that what the reports actually say – that I wear spandex?"
Diggle stared back, unimpressed. "You can take the stupid idiot to an island, but an island can't take the stupid idiot out of the man."
"I wasn't taken to Lian Yu, Digg; I was washed up there."
Finally, John exploded, "Oliver!"
And, with that explosion, he lost any sense of humor he might have been experiencing. "Look, I called you here because this problem? It's serious. I need your help."
"I have a feeling that, with you, it's always going to be serious." Rolling his eyes and standing up, Diggle mimicked Oliver's pose. "So, what's up? What was so important that you felt the need to..."
Interrupting him, Oliver revealed, "there's this girl..."
And Diggle, in response, just about lost it with laughter. Shaking his head in amusement, he ribbed, "there always is." Sobering, he accused, "let me guess: Laurel Lance." When he glared at him, balking, John held up his hands in defense. "Hey, you're not the only one of us who did research on the other. And, besides, you haven't exactly made your... preoccupation... a secret either, not even from the man you've been trying to dodge since you met him."
Through gritted teeth, he refuted, "this isn't about Laurel."
"Well, then, if this is about some other girl you've slept with, I'm afraid I haven't even made a dent in that list yet."
It was Oliver's turn to lose his patience, to erupt in barely restrained frustration. "Diggle!"
"Alright man," his driver conceded, holding out his arms in a placating manner. "Just start from the beginning and tell me what's going on."
As Oliver started to talk – to really talk, he also started to pace. With tight, agitated steps, he stalked the width of the basement. "This afternoon, I... I asked someone on the outside for help. It was tech related, and, even before the island, I never had the patience for such things. I know enough to get by, but this..." He paused, pinched the bridge of his nose, and then sighed. "This was more complicated than I could even attempt to understand and the information I needed from it too important to not... try. So, I asked for help. Walter recommended her – said she was the best."
"Walter... as in your step-father," Digg questioned. There was no judgement to his tone, which he was grateful for, just curiosity and an intelligence that was trying to sort through the layers of words Oliver left unsaid. "What exactly did you tell him?"
"Nothing. Just that I needed some help with my computer."
"And this girl," John prompted. "When you went to her, what did you tell her?"
Meeting his gaze, Oliver answered, "I told her that I had spilled a latte on my laptop and needed help retrieving its information."
"But I'm guessing there was no latte."
"Nope. Just bullet holes," he confirmed.
Diggle rolled his eyes. "Of course there were. And, of course, a girl smart enough for your CEO of a step-father to recommend would not be foolish enough to not know the difference."
"Digg, none of this matters. You're not getting the point."
"Oh, no," John argued. "This matters, Oliver. This matters, because, evidently, you can't lie to save to our own ass... and I mean that literally. But, now, it's not just your ass that's on the line but mine, too, and I refuse to go down, because you crumble at the first sign of dimples and pretty blue eyes."
Vexed by Diggle's attitude and also by what he was accusing him of, on edge, and running from words that were hitting a little too close to home, Oliver yelled, "Walter knows!" The air between them stilled, became so silent only the rain dripping through the leaking roof, down through the abandoned foundry, and into the perpetually damp basement could be heard. "I think he knows about me, and I think he found out, because she figured it out and told him."
"I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, Oliver, but you need to start at the beginning."
He sighed, closing his eyes in an attempt to center his turbulent emotions, his need to act rather than discuss. But it was his impetuosity which had gotten him – them – into their current position in the first place. Oliver couldn't just go out and beat, or shoot, or kill his current problem out of existence. He needed to think, and he needed Diggle's help, and he needed both – and fast – if he was going to come up with a plan that might actually have a prayer in hell of working. "Earlier... after you and I..."
"Talked," Digg supplied, leaving what had passed between them before that night vague and simplified, something else Oliver was thankful for.
" … I went home, only to find Walter waiting up for me. We... talked, too."
"And he told you that he knew that you were the vigilante?"
"Not exactly," Oliver hedged.
"Well, then, what exactly did he say," John pressed.
Turning to walk away, putting his back towards the other man, Oliver said, "look, it's more about what he didn't say." Before his driver could say anything in response, he continued, "there's... something happened with Felicity."
"Felicity," Digg repeated. "This is the girl from this afternoon?"
"So, then, what happened with her?"
"It doesn't matter," he immediately refuted. When John snorted in argument, Oliver emphasized, "I said it doesn't matter, Diggle, so leave it."
"Oliver, I'm trying to be accommodating here – I really am, but you have to give me something to work with. You're talking in circles, and it feels like, whenever I even get close to what the actual problem is, you shut me down."
Spinning back around, he practically sprinted across the room so that he was standing before the desk once again. Dropping his fists onto the metal, Oliver talked over the rattling computer equipment. "Something happened with Felicity that made me leave. Without the laptop. The next thing I know? The police shut down the auction for Unidac Industries, meaning I lost my chance to go after my target. And then Walter's talking to me, doing everything in his power to defend and protect Felicity."
Confused, John asked, "what?"
"She's the only one who could have figured out what the information on that laptop meant, and I know for a fact that she went to Walter with what she figured out, because, before the auction could be shut down by the cops, Walter called my mother and told her that he wasn't attending and that he was pulling Queen Consolidated out of the bidding. But, when Walter later talked to me about Felicity, he didn't mention any of this. All he could talk about was what had happened between us and how good of a person Felicity is. It was the fact that he purposefully didn't accuse me while defending her that makes me think that, not only did she figure out who I am, but that she also told him as well."
Digg whistled out emphatically. "You, my friend, are up shit creek without a paddle."
"Well, then, I hope you know how to swim, Diggle, because, if I go down, you're going down with me."
That sobered the other man up rather quickly. "I haven't done anything, Oliver."
"You haven't done anything yet, but I think I have a plan." And he did. While explaining the problem and tap dancing around the incident with Felicity from in her office earlier that day, Oliver had started to realize what he could exploit to alter the situation – both to fix the predicament at hand and to turn it into an advantage. "I'm going to need your help."
"I don't want to know."
Ignoring his driver, he confessed, "if the auction hadn't been canceled, I was going to make it so that I was seen on camera pulling a hood from a garbage can of the same building where the vigilante was going to... make an appearance."
"Why in the hell would you do that?"
"Because Detective Lance won't let go of his suspicions towards me..."
" … very accurate suspicions," Digg interrupted, only for Oliver to talk over him.
" … until he's forced to, and I believed that the only way I could do that was for him to outright accuse me to the world and then prove him wrong."
When Diggle started to ask, "and just how were you going to do that," Oliver looked at him pointedly, making the other man glower. "That's why you pulled me into this mess – so that I could provide you with an alibi?"
"There were other reasons."
"Such as what," John wanted to know. Oliver realized that they had switched positions. Whereas he was suddenly relaxed – a plan helped do that, John was tense and rigid – arms folded in anger across his chest, face pinched with irritation.
He dismissed the request for further information, however. "Now, though, I think I can kill two birds with one stone."
"You're leaving out all the valuable information again, Oliver – information that I will, no doubt, disagree with, hence your caginess."
"I need to convince Felicity that I'm not The Hood, so that she, in turn, will convince Walter."
"We don't even know for sure that this girl figured it out... or, even if she did, if she went to your step-father."
"And she's exactly the type of girl that will kick Lance's over-protectiveness into gear."
Arguing with him, Digg chastised, "Oliver, you can't use this girl."
"I'm not going to use her, Diggle; I'm going to date her... or, at least, pretend to. Or, I don't know, maybe I'll really date her. We'll see. What matters, however, is that, while I'm flirting and seducing her out of her beliefs, I'll also be pissing Lance off to the point where he loses his cool and starts tossing around his accusations in public, because I'll make sure that he sees us together." And, if in trying to convince Felicity that he wasn't the vigilante, he also managed to convince her (and, in turn, Walter) that he didn't have PTSD, the more power to him. "Meanwhile, you'll be making appearances around town as The Hood, clearing me not only in Felicity's and Walter's eyes but in the entire city's."
When he finished, he found Digg watching him closely – studying him, looking at him as though he were trying to read his mind or see inside of him. It was unnerving. But he refused to back down, and he definitely didn't fidget under the intense gaze. Instead, he only waited in silence for the other man to react. Finally, John did just that. "Fine."
"Fine. I will help you." Before Oliver could respond, Digg held up a stopping hand. "For the record, however, I want you to know that I think this is the stupidest plan I have ever heard of, that it will blow up in your face, and that, when it does, I will tell you that I told you so."
Despite everything his driver had just said, Oliver grinned. "Thank you – for helping."
"Yeah, well, I'm not doing it for you," Diggle groused, picking up his own jacket and heading towards the stairs. As he made his way up them, he continued, "I'm doing it for this girl and for your step-father, because they didn't do anything to deserve having to carry the burden of your secrets." With one last parting shot, he added, "trust me, I would know."
The door slammed behind him, but Oliver was already turning – stripping off his shirt and reaching for his bow. While he was there, he might as well get a workout in.
He watched as he startled her – as she jumped in her chair, looked up and over from the tablet she was working on, and took note of him casually standing in her doorway – her eyes going startlingly wide, almost cartoonishly so. She hadn't even opened her mouth yet, and already he was amused by her.
"Oliver Queen," she returned. Using her feet to propel her chair, Felicity slid across the floor until she was turned around and facing him, legs tucked demurely under her table, while she had to use her forearms as friction against the desktop in order to slow down. She went for cool and collected, though her fingers absently fidgeting with her computer accessories were a dead giveaway. "I'd say I'm surprised to see you again, but... yeah, no. I'm totally surprised to see you again. In fact, I never thought I'd see you again. If you accidentally saw me on the sidewalk... not that I think you actually walk around town, because that would be a traffic accident waiting to happen – can you say rubbernecking!, but, anyway, I'd expected you to turn the other way and act like I did not exist at all. If we ran into each other at the bar – wait, I take that back. I don't go to bars. Bars are bad. I don't drink. Booze is bad. Please, don't have Walter fire me."
He chuckled. Before he could say anything – reassure her, tease her, or ask her out, she was already talking again. "Oh no, you're here for your" – and she actually used hand-gestured quotation marks – "laptop, aren't you." Oliver never had the chance to either confirm or deny her assumption before she was steamrolling over anything he might have said if given half the chance. "I destroyed it. Well, I mean I really destroyed it this time. It's long gone – black hole in space gone. Not even I could find or access it again."
"I'm so sorry. Please don't have Walter fire me... what? You're not mad?"
"I'm not," Oliver confirmed.
"Are you sure?"
Grinning, he teased her, "did it never occur to you, Felicity, that maybe the laptop was just an excuse?"
Her brow wrinkled adorably; her lips puckered in contemplation. "An excuse to do what?"
"To meet you. To spend time with you. To flirt with you."
When she snorted in outright denial, it was Oliver's turn to be surprised. "Either you hit your head yesterday and I was too busy... babbling to notice, or you just stepped off the banana boat." Felicity then flinched. "Oh. Crap. Boats. Sore subject. Sorry. Again."
Pushing off the doorframe, he strode into her office, already reassuring her. "It's alright, Felicity. And, you know, you don't have to be so nervous around me. I don't bite... unless you want me to."
She frowned. It was a cross between consternation and puzzlement. "You know, if you keep saying all of these suggestive things to a girl, she might eventually take you seriously."
"I'm hoping you will."
Apparently, she decided to err on the side of exasperation. "Oliver."
Settling onto the corner of her desk, he angled his body towards hers, hiding his humor when she slid her chair further away from him. "So, tonight – you, me, dinner, a good red wine. I heard that you really like red wine."
Leaning towards her, Oliver teased, "only you can tell me that, Felicity."
"No, I meant this." She motioned between them with her hands. "Why are you asking me... to eat with you?"
"In all fairness, I didn't ask."
"In all seriousness, if you don't want me to stab you with a pair of scissors, you'll call it asking, and I'll pretend to believe you."
Full on laughing, Oliver said, "someone made it seem like I owed you a meal."
She winced. "You heard all that? More importantly, you remembered it and are now using it against me?" Before he could respond, she assured him, "Oliver, I was just nervous. And babbling. Because I babble when I'm nervous. Did I mention that already? Anyway," shaking her head in what he could only assume was an attempt to focus, she continued, "you really don't have to feed me."
While it was downright fun to tease her – he enjoyed it more than anything else that had happened to him since he had returned, Oliver knew that, if he continued to do so, she'd simply continue to go back and forth with him, and he really needed her to agree to the date. His plan depended upon it. "Felicity, I want to feed you." Correcting himself before she could interject, he pressed, "I want you to go out to dinner with me this evening."
"As your friend?"
"Is this some kind of dare? Or a charity case – did Walter put you up to this? Oh man, please don't tell me this is a pity invite."
"None of the above."
"Well, then, I'm confused." And she looked dumbfounded.
Chuckling, he asked, "can't a guy just enjoy your company and want to spend more time with you?"
"Sure. A guy could," Felicity allowed. "But not you. Not that I don't see you as a guy," she immediately started to backpedal – her gaze dropping from his face to travel down his body, a blush staining her already rosy cheeks a deep shade of scarlet. "I mean, you're quite obviously a guy. A real man's man. A guy's guy. A... um, what are we talking about again?"
"You're agreeing to go out on a date with me," Oliver supplied.
"Right... I mean, no I'm not." She glared at him. "Ha! Nice try. But I'm not that easy."
Grinning, he taunted, "but I already thought that we had established that you were, especially when red wine was involved."
Now, it was his turn to be confused. "What?"
"That's exactly why I can't go out with you... as your date," Felicity explained. "Because you're you, and I'm me."
She ignored him. "And the two of us shall not meet."
"But we already did – underneath your desk."
Felicity surprised him when she stood abruptly and paced away from him. "You really need to stop doing that."
"Flirting with me," she exclaimed. "It's distracting. And misleading."
"I'm not trying to mislead you, Felicity."
Spinning around on the heels of her feet to face him, she inquired, "so you're sincerely asking me out? You're honestly attracted to me?"
He honestly was. It caught no one off guard more than it did Oliver himself. After all, she wasn't his type – not at all, but, oddly enough, that might have been what he found most attractive about her. She was a very welcome and refreshing change. "I am."
"Felicity," he started, only to be cut off.
"Look, Oliver. It's sweet. Or... at least, I'm hoping it's sweet and not insulting or, worse, hurtful that you're doing this – that you're trying this hard. But it's not necessary. You're welcome for helping you. It's been... surreal spending time with you these past two days. And I'm willing to be your friend. That I can believe you want from me... you know, the kind of friendship where you're nice to me. We don't see each other much, and we don't really hang out, but, whenever you get a new phone or your computer has a virus, you come to me for help. That I can do. But this..."
"So, dinner it is," it was his turn to interrupt her. Standing up and taking several steps towards her, Oliver only stopped once the tips of his scuffed boots brushed against her black dress shoes. "Will 7:00 work? I'll pick you up. I got your address from the staff directory."
Felicity sighed, the fight visibly going out of her. "Fine. Dinner. As friends. 7:00. We're going dutch, and, if I so much as see a flower within three feet of your hands, your car, or our table once we reach the restaurant – or if there are any flower deliveries before or after our meal as friends, then I will personally cram every last petal up your many orifices... your many facial orifices."
"Good. Dinner. As my date. 7:00. I'm paying. And I can work with you not liking flowers. I'm not exactly the flower-giving type anyway."
Before she could argue, before she could flat-out refuse him, before she could say anything else at all, Oliver slipped out the door and disappeared.