Summary: Post 1x09. Oliver's trying to cope. Diggle's there to help him through the first night at the hospital.
Warning: May contain PTSD triggers? Although probably not bigger than the show itself.
At times, we are a bridge that allows another to re-enter the world after a loss. ~Danielle Pierre
John Diggle was no fool. When he told Oliver that he was going to 'give it' to the man who'd hurt him, he didn't mean tomorrow. And yet, Oliver asked, "When do you think I can get out of here?"
"You know, you have a concussion and a few broken ribs, don't you?" he said after a moment, when he decided to recognize Oliver's question as legitimate. "Not to mention that pneumothorax that can still be more trouble than you'd like. I think they're gonna' wanna' keep an eye on you for a few more days."
Oliver didn't respond but the way he squared his shoulders made Dig nervous.
"Hey." He stood up and approached his... How should he refer to Oliver? 'Friend' was still too intimate and 'boss' didn't convey the complexity of their relationship. His partner? His colleague?... Oliver's hand gripping the cane was trembling slightly, his jaw was set with stubborn firmness and his eyes fixed far ahead. "You should get back to bed. Shouldn't be taxing those sore muscles so much yet."
"I'm fine," Oliver responded and Dig shook his head, amused that he didn't really expect anything other than that.
"You need to lie down," he tried again, nonetheless, noticing a barely perceptible quiver in Oliver's stance.
Oliver's voice, as he denied the truth his body was betraying, was less resolved now. "I'm good, Diggle." He paused and turned to Dig and it must have been the first time ever Dig saw something else in those eyes than mockery, or sheer determination. It was a plea. "I just want to stay here, look at the city, a little while longer."
"Then let me at least get you a chair." Dig settled for a half-measure and Oliver nodded.
Then they sat like this, Oliver in an armchair by the window, Dig on the edge of his hospital bed, for at least fifteen minutes, until Oliver's eyes started drifting closed.
"You ready to go to bed now, Oliver?" Diggle started and Oliver's head snapped up at the first sound of his voice, eyes alert, wary even. He glanced around as if expecting some threat.
"I'm good," he grunted and, having scanned the room, turned to the window again.
Diggle gritted his teeth and waited a bit, until the surge of anger at Oliver's stubbornness passed. Then he aimed for a rational argument. "Sleeping in a chair with broken ribs is not a good idea."
"Been through worse."
"Still," Dig insisted. "You should lie down." He didn't want to argue, not when Oliver was weak and hurting. The pigheaded kid - there were moments Oliver reminded him so much of his younger brother Andy - didn't seem to leave him much choice though.
"Don't you want to go home, Diggle?" he looked up suddenly, with this all-too-familiar politeness and fake sincere sympathy he adopted when he wanted to deflect someone else's concern for him. "Shouldn't you be spending Christmas with your sister in law Carly and your nephew? I'm sure they'd appreciate you being with them in the morning." And just like that, Dig's anger evaporated. Instead of flaring up, like he'd expected, it dissolved into some sort of warm affection, the need to wrap Oliver in a soft cotton blanket and protect him from all the evil in the world.
"I'm staying right here," Diggle responded with conviction, leaning into Oliver's space and meeting his eyes dead-on. "Not going anywhere, not even for a minute. You can sleep easy, 'cause I'll keep watch."
Oliver gaped at him for a long moment, thrown off guard. He shook his head and opened his mouth, like he wanted to say it was not about that, like he wanted to deny, but clamped it shut and looked away. Diggle knew he had him. He recognized hypervigilance when he saw one; Oliver was barely sitting upright and yet he refused to allow himself the rest his body so desperately needed. Simply because his mind needed something else entirely and that was the certainty that he was safe. Something he couldn't have, not now, maybe not ever. Not after years of watchfullness, day-after-day of not knowing when and from what direction he might be hit. Diggle understood that, to some extent. He had been through his own personal hell after all.
Admitting this weakness was almost as difficult as living with it. Asking for help. Allowing another to take part of the burden. Trusting them, that they would carry out their duty as needed. Maybe it was impossible. Dig watched Oliver's inner struggle, manifested in sharp intakes of breath, minute shakes of his head, then resigned sighs - his own heart aching. No clever retort. No witty argument. Dig didn't say anything either; he knew he needed to give Oliver time, to let him process the situation in his own way.
Finally, his hand in a tight grip around the cane, Oliver tried to push up. Only to wince and groan.
"I think you're gonna have to help me stand," he admitted in a strained voice, his eyes closed.
Dig didn't comment, simply stood next to his injured colleague and held out a hand. When Oliver pushed against the armrest once more, Dig deftly grabbed his elbows and pulled up most of his weight. Still, the proceeding wasn't without another grimmace and, even standing, Oliver wobbled on his feet. "Damn," he cursed lightly, but it was all he said.
As much as Dig admired Oliver's stamina, right now he'd rather Oliver just let go, just tried to relax. But he couldn't. He let his head rest against the pillows, allowed Dig to arrange the covers around him. He even closed his eyes, but the moment the nurse's steps staccatoed down the corridor, he jumped up, glancing left an right, breath hitched and his expression fretful.
"It's okay," Diggle's body moved before his consciousness even registered the need to move. He pressed his palm to Oliver's shoulder, grounding him, aiming for futile comfort. "You're safe. You're at the hospital." Oliver's eyes found his, fear turning into gratitude laced with exhaustion. He was at the end of his rope. And this was going to be a long night, Diggle thought with sudden glimpse of self-preservation. He needed to figure out something for their both sake.
Oliver didn't sleep much on a good day. He still hadn't really confided about all he'd been through, but it was enough to observe his patterns. The way he was sparring, the way he excercised like his life depended on it. It may have worked on the island, where threats were real. Transposed to a simple city life, those rigourous training routines were but a coping mechanism, an overexaggerated method of convincing himself that he still had control over his life. Without them, Oliver had nothing to hang onto. Here, at the hospital, bedridden and injured, he was helpless. No wonder his anxiety was in full-force.
There must have been a way to overcome the unease, other than running out of the hospital and hiding in his den, underneath the abandoned factory. Diggle believed in medicine, he was certain Oliver's injuries would heal best right here.
"You need to sleep," he said, when another unexpected sound from the outside startled Oliver out of too short rest.
"I know," Oliver whispered.
"I'll ask the doctor to give you something."
Oliver pursed his lips and shook his head.
"You won't fall asleep this way, Oliver. You've been waking up every five minutes. You need something to put you under."
"No meds," Oliver grunted and Diggle realized something else.
"I can handle."
"No, you can't!" Enough was enough. Diggle squeezed Oliver's arm to gain his attention. "Look," he stated firmly, when Oliver's eyes, dark with pain, met his, "I'm gonna stay here, I said I would. I may not be as fit as you are, but I can hold my own in need." Oliver looked at him, focused now. It was the right approach. If Diggle was to get anywhere with him, he had to speak his language. "If something happens, someone comes, I'll protect you. But you need to trust me." Oliver nodded. He closed his eyes briefly, then looked up again, and Diggle saw the unspoken, but desperate need to believe, to trust, to let someone else take the burden. "You need to get better," Dig whispered, "you hear me? You need to rest, and you won't, if you keep jumping everytime the nurse comes out of her station. The sedatives are supposed to help you with that. I promise I won't go anywhere while you sleep."
"Promise?" Oliver mouthed.
"Promise," Dig repeated.
Oliver closed his eyes again and nodded, his nostrils flaring, breathing fast and uneven. He was terrified but he knew he couldn't get through this on his own this time. Or maybe he knew he didn't have to and it was even more dificult to accept. His hand went to Diggle's and held on for dear life and Diggle held back.
Ten minutes later Diggle listened to Oliver's breathing even out, watched his features relax. He sat back in an armchair, knowing full well that he was not going to sleep himself. He made a promise to keep watch and he was going to stay true to his word.
After all that's what friends were for.