FF#7: Affection, It's a Four Syllable Name
Flash Fic Prompt #7: Illusions
For a man who had spent the last two years of his life out in the open on a not-so-deserted island, the lack of natural light wasn't easy to get used to. Oliver felt trapped inside of ARGUS' Hong Kong stronghold. The blue glow from the multitude of computer screens, the hum of noise from constant yet clandestine activity reminded him way too much of those seemingly brief but endless moments trapped under the weight of the entire Pacific ocean following the sinking of the Gambit. If it wasn't for the woman standing before him and how he knew any sign of weakness from him would be something she'd pounce on and exploit, Oliver would have been searching for the nearest exit.
As it was, he didn't want to be there. Finally getting off of Lian Yu was supposed to mean going home, that he was rescued and given a second chance at being a good man – a better man; the man his father needed him to be; the man his mother, sister, Tommy, and Laurel deserved. And Amanda Waller was a member of the United States government; she was the government if he was to believe the amount of control and power she claimed to wield, and, so far, nothing he had seen had told him otherwise. But she wasn't his salvation, and she sure as hell wasn't rescuing him. Rather, Waller had just damned him to a different kind of purgatory – one that was even worse.
At least on the island he had a purpose beyond mere survival. Fyers, Ivo, Billy Wintergreen, they were the bad guys. He and his friends had been the good guys. They had fought, and tortured, and killed to protect and serve. Theirs wasn't a war recognized by others, but it had been essential nonetheless. Now, though? Now, Waller caged his assignments under the guise of national security and saving the world, but to Oliver it just felt like he was her little errand boy – sent to murder instead of picking up the paper. Waller, however, seemed to see no difference in the tasks.
He wasn't innocent in what he did for ARGUS, Oliver knew this. He had cast aside his conscience in order to better serve his own purpose. For someone who liked to think that nearly dying had changed him, he was still essentially the same man as he had been two years prior. He still made up his own code in order to justify his actions. Now, though, instead of excusing his life of debauchery, Oliver rationalized murder by telling himself that he was doing what was necessary in order to someday make it home. Waller had promised that his service to her secret organization was just temporary. He could earn his freedom by doing the time, and, when she was satisfied with his contributions... or more likely found someone she believed more capable of performing all her dirty little deeds, then he'd be given his walking papers. He wasn't her slave, just her indentured servant. And it wasn't like he had a way to fight against her. The entire world thought him dead, and, in a way, he owed her. After all, as she liked to remind him on a regular basis, she had pulled him up out of the ocean – saving him from a watery death... for the second time.
Discreetly casting his gaze around the room, Oliver found himself wondering about everyone else's stories. Were the men and women inside of the stronghold with them there of their own volition? Were they voluntarily serving their country with an agency denied by its government and unknown to its citizens, or were they pressed into the so-called battle like he was – bribed, blackmailed, and bargained with? Everybody looked content enough – focused yet purposefully intent... like they believed in what they were doing, agreed with the top secret missions. Would he, too, someday feel that ARGUS was a necessary evil? Would he lose his last shred of humanity and come to hold human life – bad or good – as inconsequential?
"Mr. Queen, have you heard anything that I just said?" Oliver met Waller's gaze blankly – not blinking, not giving anything away. "Your next mission," she prompted. Still, he didn't respond. "Very well. I'll allow Ms. Lask to fill you in." With that, Waller gestured towards an extremely young and innocent woman standing slightly off to the side.
The girl smiled, stepped forward hesitantly, and held out her hand. "Hi. It's nice to meet you. Not that we've actually been introduced officially or anything," she rushed to add, blushing. "I just... I've heard a lot about you. All good, I assure you... or, well, as good as it could be. Amanda... I mean Ms. Waller isn't so big on the compliments." The woman in question cleared her throat, obviously displeased, and the new player to their mix rushed to apologize – big, bright blue eyes wide with sincerity and unease. "I'm sorry. Please ignore me. Or, well, don't, because it's kind of important that we listen to each other since we'll be working together, but, anyway, as I'm sure you noticed, I tend to babble when I'm nervous. And I'm nervous now. You make me nervous. Ms. Waller makes me nervous. I make me nervous." All of a sudden, the woman shuttered her gaze from him, and Oliver watched as she seemed to take a deep, bracing breath. He counted three seconds before she looked at him once more. Amazingly, her hand was still outstretched. "My name's Alexandra. Call me Alex and I'll ruin you. I know the world thinks you're already dead, but trust me when I say that I have my ways."
"She does," Waller echoed, astonishing Oliver that she would offer such a playful remark. But then she continued talking, and he realized it was just another threat caged as a warning. "That's why she's here." As he finally shook Alexandra's hand, Waller continued, "despite the first impression she made here today, Alexandra is extremely talented at what she does here for us at ARGUS."
"Which is what exactly?"
"She's an information specialist and computer expert. I tell her what we're looking for, what kind of intel we need, and she finds it. Always."
"So, she's a hacker," Oliver read between the lines.
But Alexandra cringed. "Hacking is such an ugly word."
Waller ignored them both. "She'll be your contact from now on. When you have questions or need information on missions, you'll contact Alexandra, and she'll help you. She'll then pass along any instructions I may have for you as well, serving as our go between. Essentially, she'll be your handler."
Softly... as though she was just talking to herself or had no idea that she was even speaking out loud, Alexandra murmured – her head tilted to the side in appreciative observation, "and what a pleasure it will be to handle you."
"Ms. Lask," Waller barked. Alexandra jumped. "Don't make me regret this decision."
"Right," the younger woman agreed. Quickly, she spun around on her heels and walked away. Before Oliver could even think of something to say, she was gone – a wave of rich, mahogany hair rippling in her wake before falling in line down her back all the way to her waist. And then Waller was dismissing him, sending him on his way and back out into the bustle of Hong Kong with his glorified babysitters/jailers to await for his next mission, his next kill.
Information in hand, Oliver returned to base to find Alexandra crying softly at her computer station. Even his shock over seeing her risk her beloved tech to tears couldn't alleviate the pang of regret and sadness that washed over him at the sight of her misery. While she was the highlight of his Hong Kong existence – humor and warmth wrapped up in one attractive package, Oliver knew that she didn't belong with ARGUS. Unlike some of the other people he worked with, Oliver knew that Alexandra Lask didn't come to ARGUS of her own free will. He had yet to ask her why she worked with Waller, because, despite enjoying her company and liking her, he was trying very hard to keep his distance.
Alexandra was dangerous. She was sweet, and sexy as hell, and she was someone Oliver knew he could disappear into if he allowed himself that luxury. There were days when he wanted nothing more than to forget the mission his father had laid at his feet before taking his own life in order to give Oliver the chance to live and grab onto Alexandra with both hands, never letting her go. She made him miss his family just a little less, she made him question if Tommy Merlyn really was his best friend, and she made him all but forget Laurel. He still held onto Laurel's picture, but it was now as a reminder of his burdens, of the reasons why he was seeking a chance for redemption one kill at a time.
Needing distance between them or not, Oliver had never seen Alexandra cry before, and it proved to be his unraveling. "Why," he asked her. Softly, he closed the door behind him so that his guards couldn't overhear their conversation, and he crossed the small room, coming to stand at her side and laying a gentle hand upon her shoulder. "Why are you here?"
"I'm... I'm working," Alexandra sniffled, looking at him like she was afraid he had hit his head.
"No, I mean... why are you here... with ARGUS?"
He expected her to cover, to protect her secrets, to observe the wall he had carefully erected between them, but, instead, Alexandra crashed through it with a watery smile and a forthright nature the likes of which Oliver had never come across before. "I'm a hacker, Oliver. I've always been a hacker. I was never malicious about it, but, when you get caught breaking into ARGUS' database by someone like Amanda Waller, it doesn't matter if you were just satiating a curiosity. She arrested me, and then she gave me an ultimatum: join her or face treason charges. I was nineteen years old. I couldn't go to prison, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. And now that I do? It's too late."
Maybe he couldn't save himself. Maybe he was damned. Maybe there was too much blood on his hands. But Alexandra was different. Offering her a wink, he said, "it's never too late," before he turned and paced away – plans already taking shape in his mind.
"And you're sure it won't hurt? You promise? Because I have a very low threshold for pain? Like... I cry over paper cuts."
"You won't feel anything."
"Yeah... that's kind of what I've afraid of," Alexandra mumbled underneath her breath. Nevertheless, though, she came to stand before him, turning so that he was looking at the back of her head.
Lifting his arms, Oliver braced his hands upon her shoulders. He took a deep breath. Everything was set up. Her papers – birth certificate, immunization records, MIT diploma, California driver's license, credit cards, and a passport – were stashed in the agreed upon spot. He had been in Hong Kong long enough to have made some contacts even Waller didn't know about, his guards lulled into a sense of complacency by the months he had spent doing everything he was told. Once Alexandra made it someplace safe, she'd change her appearance – dye her hair, put on fake glasses, wear clothes brighter and more innocent than a life in ARGUS could ever allow – to match those altered pictures he had used for her new identity. And then she'd disappear.
Before he made her appear dead, using the move Yao Fei had taught him, Oliver needed to say his goodbyes. Afterwards, he'd have to call Waller, and he had no doubt that his boss would tell him to just dump the body, not caring that Alexandra was his friend. In Waller's eyes, she'd become nothing more than a liability once she lost her usefulness to ARGUS. But he wouldn't be given the task on his own. The guards would have to come with him, so this moment was their last alone. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Alexandra Lask. I'm glad I knew you." Silently, he added, you made me a better man.
"Same here, Queen. If you ever get out from underneath Waller's thumb, look me up."
"I just might do that."
And then she was sagging in his arms, a dead weight against him and in his heart.
Bracing himself emotionally for the next hour, Oliver started screaming for help.
She was oblivious to his presence. Lost in her work, he was able to observe her freely. Arms crossed over his chest, he was braced against the open doorway that stood before her cubicle. She looked nothing like he remembered but everything like he had imagined countless times, and he would have recognized her anywhere.
"Felicity Smoak," he greeted. She looked up, startled by the presence intruding upon her quiet solitary. "Hi, I'm Oliver Queen."
Her head tilted to the side, she blushed, and then she smiled.