Conversations

CONTENT:

Rating: Teen

Flavor: Drama

Language: some

Violence: some sparring

Nudity: shirtless guys

Sex: none

Other: none

Author's Note:

Next up in our exciting saga, the characters... sit around and talk to each other! Woo! ::Felicity Fist-Pump!::

These conversations got dumped from my Brain in disparate pieces. I tried to reassemble them in some kind of logical progression. Wish me luck!


Conversations

===#===

Merlyn Global Building

If anyone had told Oliver at the start of this year that he was going to 'do lunch' with the Dark Archer, he probably would have laughed out loud. And he didn't laugh at much these days. Yet, here he was, riding the private elevator to Merlyn's eyrie. The man was so busy with his work, this was the best Oliver could do to sit down and talk to him: a lunch between meetings. At least he hadn't crossed paths with Tommy.

His eyes cast about the penthouse office as he entered, reflexively looking for danger. He did note how perfect everything looked, completely repaired from when Deadshot blew out the window-wall with an RPG. Lunch had already been delivered; styrofoam food containers stood open on the conference table, paper-wrapped sandwiches within.

Malcolm came out from the washroom, having hung up his jacket on the back of the door. "Oliver, welcome. Thank you for coming."

"Thank you for seeing me."

"I hope you don't mind an informal lunch," Merlyn said, pulling his tie loose. "I need to get out of these suits every once in a while, or I'll go insane."

"No, and I don't blame you." Oliver took off his jacket and placed it over the back of one of the conference chairs. He glanced over at Merlyn, who seemed to have gone still. The man had an unreadable expression on his face, his eyes dark. "What's wrong?"

The businessman shook himself. "Nothing. You just... remind me so much of your father." His cold mask slipped just a fraction more, revealing a hint of sorrow.

Oliver looked down. He tried to remember his father, remember him as he'd been before the wreck. It was hard. Oliver had been a contentious son in his rebellious years. Often he'd seen his father as an obstacle, something to work around, to sneak past. To hide things from: booze, women, parties.

Now when he tried to picture his father, he only came up with the haggard and starving man, the deep sorrow and hopelessness in his eyes as he pulled the trigger. Or worse, that gaunt grey face the seagulls had been at.

Malcolm's voice broke through his musings. "Robert would have been proud of you. Of the work you are doing."

"It was his dying wish," Oliver murmured.

"He spoke to you before he died?"

Oliver didn't answer. He tried to push back the tide of memories. They could drown him all over again.

"I'm sorry," Malcolm said gently. "I'm sure you didn't come here to talk about that. Please, sit down." He reached into the bag to take out the bottled water and napkins.

Oliver was grateful for something normal and immediate to focus on. The two men ate in companionable silence for a while. Oliver unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled his sleeves up, but noted that Malcolm did not. Apparently, the relaxing of his guard only went so far.

After a while, he said, "I've been thinking. About the Undertaking."

"Oh?" Malcolm paused and looked up.

"I can understand... to some extent... your willingness to destroy the Glades and even the people in it."

The man watched him intently now. "And?"

Oliver forged directly ahead. "You seem to be focusing on the evil and discounting the good. If you went through with your plan, not only would you wipe out the drug dens and whorehouses, you would destroy places like CNRI and Rebecca's clinic."

"I've closed down the clinic." Malcolm looked down. He clearly didn't like where this was going.

"That's not the point. The point is, you'd destroy the good - however miniscule you think that to be - along with the bad."

"You don't believe it is worth it."

"I will never believe it is worth it," Oliver told him.

Malcolm pondered this a few moments. "We see things differently, you and I. It's all right, I understand. You're young; you haven't had to compromise your principles to deal with the real world. I've had many years' experience doing just that. Making weighted decisions. The world is not perfectly divided into good and evil, and it never will be."

"I compromised a lot on that island," he said low. He looked at his hands and willed them to unclench.

"And you still believe the world at large is different." Malcolm looked directly at him. "It's not so different, Oliver. Take away the trappings of civilization, and I think you'll find it quite the same."

Oliver shook his head.

"Well, we'll see."

Oliver bit into his sandwich, disturbed by the thought that Starling City could be just another Lian Yu. It would be his worst nightmare, still being trapped on that island. And all this? Would be one hell of a psychotic break.

"Was there something else you wanted to discuss?" Merlyn asked him.

He nodded and gathered his thoughts. "I'm afraid that my... crew," he decided to call them, "have a few issues about working with you."

"I've noticed," Malcolm said wryly. He finished swallowing the last bite of his sandwich and wiped his mouth with a napkin. "I don't know what else I can do to put them at ease."

"I think the root of the problem is, they don't understand you, and the reasons behind the things you've done."

"But you do." It was only a partial question.

"Yes. I know about what happened with Rebecca."

Merlyn tensed immediately. "I told you that in confidence," he said, his eyes darkening. "That's highly personal."

Oliver held up a hand. "I haven't told anyone. And I wasn't planning to." The other man relaxed a notch. "But it isn't a secret that your wife was murdered. Perhaps they need a reminder," he mused.

"They haven't lost anyone to the Glades, have they?"

Oliver folded his lower lip under his teeth, making his short beard bristle. He honestly didn't know the details of Diggle's and Felicity's pasts.

"I can tell they haven't," Merlyn continued. "If they had, they would understand."

Oliver didn't think so. There were people out there who dealt with tragedy. They healed, they moved on. He didn't think it would be diplomatic to mention that at this time. Instead he just said, "I haven't."

"You lost your father," Merlyn pointed out.

"That's... not the same."

Merlyn leaned forward, forearms against the table edge. "That encounter with the councilman changed Robert. It stained his soul. Your father was a good man, and this did not change that. But guilt weighed heavily on him. He was scarred."

Had Oliver lost his father to the Glades? He tried to remember if he ever noticed a change. It was just after Thea was born... He remembered being jealous of the new baby. No longer the spoiled only child, the spotlight on him. Had his father become colder, harsher towards him, or had he just been a horrible brat?

"I'm sorry," Malcolm told him. "I didn't mean for this discussion to go to such a dark place."

Oliver shook his head. He could analyze things later. "Did you bug Felicity's apartment?" he asked suddenly.

"Yes." No hesitation. The man didn't even blink.

Oliver's left hand closed. "And Diggle's?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I need to protect myself, Oliver. As you say, your crew has issues with me. If they get cold feet or decide to come after me, I need the earliest warning I can get."

"This is not helpful to our continued... partnership." Did he really just admit they were partners? Semantics. Just semantics. "It would go a long way to engender their trust if you turned over the Markov device."

Malcolm actually smiled and chuckled lightly. "I was wondering when you were going to get around to that." He sobered. "The answer is no."

"But-"

"You have your friends. I have my Markov device." He grimaced wryly. "As long as they don't trust me, I feel better hanging on to it. Do you trust me, Oliver?"

He met the frank, penetrating gaze across the table. Playing for time to think, he unfolded his napkin and wiped his mouth. He crumpled it into a little ball and set it in the styrofoam container. "I think it's fair to say that some of the things I thought I knew about you are unfounded, or simply untrue. I'm still researching things. I trust you - to an extent." He picked up his water. "But not completely."

Merlyn nodded. "That's wise."

"Do you trust me?"

It was the businessman's turn to consider an answer. "I know you are trying to do what you believe is right - and I agree with that. I also know that, until recently, you believed I was your enemy. You don't want to make a mistake, or fall into a trap, so you don't take my assertions at face value." He spread his hands. "I'm trying to prove myself, but until you are convinced, you are still an unknown quantity. If you get skittish, I could be in quite a bit of trouble."

Oliver nodded. It reassured him that Merlyn still held some fear of him, but not enough, apparently, to classify him as an risk that needed to be eliminated. "If you won't concede the Markov device, will you at least remove the surveillance on my team?"

To his annoyance, Merlyn shook his head. "It wouldn't do any good," he explained. "Ms. Smoak, for one, would never take my word that all the devices had been removed from her apartment."

All right, he had a point. "Fine, but I want to sweep for them and take them out. I can't just leave them there, knowing."

"If your companions don't know about them-"

"They already know, or at least suspect. It's making them paranoid. If they were going to get cold feet, they wouldn't do it out loud in their apartments."

Merlyn's countenance darkened once more. "Can you guarantee they won't turn on me?"

"I'll talk them around."

Reluctantly, Merlyn said, "All right. You talk to them. If that goes well, then go ahead and remove the bugs." He sighed. "But I doubt Ms. Smoak is going to be talked around so easily."

Oliver grimaced. The man had no idea. Or, actually... he probably had. "She can be reasoned with. In time." He chewed the inside of his lip. The problem with Felicity was... complex, much like the young woman herself. "Felicity is familiar with the work of your group, of course. But she takes exception to the murder of the UNIDAC scientists." He didn't sugar-coat or euphemize it. He wanted it clear up front: Malcolm was a murderer. Oliver wouldn't gloss over it. Would Malcolm try to deflect it?

The older man looked disturbed. "It was a difficult decision," he said slowly. "In the end, I thought it best to protect myself."

"To cover your own ass."

Malcolm's eyes narrowed a fraction. "Yes, if you want to put it that way. No offense, Oliver, but if you get caught, or killed, your family will be able to carry on. Your family business, quite frankly, doesn't need you. You've made a great effort to make sure those dependencies never developed." He made a divisive gesture with one hand. "I'm the head of Merlyn Global. If I am removed..." He shook his head. "Tommy isn't fully prepared to take the reins."

"There goes your empire?" Oliver asked sarcastically.

"I'm not just in this for myself. I have a vast number of employees. My son's future depends on this company. He doesn't deserve to suffer any more from my actions."

Oliver digested this. He means Rebecca. Malcolm must blame himself for his son losing his mother. His reasoning for the murders was logical, if ruthlessly cold. "My crew tries to operate on a higher moral standard," he warned the businessman.

"You have that luxury."

"Even you must see that slaughtering those people was wrong!"

Merlyn moved back slightly. "I regret it," he admitted, though his voice was not apologetic. "If I had to make the decision all over again, now... I don't know what I would do. But there is no way I can undo what has already been done. And you have to remember, the team in that lab was capable of building a device to trigger earthquakes. If the government or the military got ahold of that type of tech-"

"Don't try to paint it as doing some service to the world," Oliver snapped. "That might let you sleep at night, but I'm not buying it." He put his fists against the table and stood up. Merlyn pushed his chair back, turned it, as Oliver paced the length of the table. The man didn't rise, but he was prepared for an attack.

"I don't know what you expect from me." Merlyn's voice was hard. "It was my decision, and I am the one who has to live with it."

It didn't seem right. Merlyn was rich and privileged. Should that let him get away with murder? Felicity had a point. What would Oliver, himself, do if he accidentally killed an innocent? Would he turn himself in? "Atonement," he said, his voice rumbling low in his chest.

"I am willing to consider suggestions. As long as it doesn't involve me going to prison, or my company being destroyed."

Oliver paced a bit more, tapping his thumbnail against his teeth. The only thing he could think of was paying off the families for their loss. It was stupid and crass, and more of that rich, privileged bullshit. But what else was there? He ventured the suggestion to Merlyn.

"Moira's already taken care of that," the businessman told him. Oliver blinked. "The UNIDAC employees, as part of their package with the Queen Consolidated Applied Sciences division, had generous life insurance policies."

Oliver turned away, just in case his expression revealed anything of his thoughts. Had his mother set that up before those people were killed? That would mean... she had known that Merlyn was going to do it. His blood ran cold. He turned back, the words on his lips to ask the extent of his mother's involvement, but he bit his tongue. Merlyn was being quite forthright and honest with him today. Did he really want the man to answer that question?

Merlyn forestalled that train of thought with his own question. "Do you ever regret any of the killing you have done?"

"I..." He looked towards the windows, where the sun was brightening the cityscape as it moved out from behind the clouds. "I regret... having to kill."

"But you did what you had to."

"It shouldn't be necessary." Oliver crossed the office and looked out over Starling City. "Not here."

Merlyn rose and came to his side. "Yet again, you fail to see the similarities between civilization and your island."

"You weren't there," Oliver said sharply.

"I traveled through some wild places on my sojourn."

"You were not there." He didn't know what was on that island. Not wild animals, not raw nature; no, those hadn't done a fraction of the damage that Oliver had suffered in that place.

Merlyn backed off, rebuked.

"I thought we were fighting to make this city a better place."

"You're right." Merlyn's tone was apologetic, but didn't go any further than that.

Oliver had to count his victories. Merlyn had been honest with him about spying on Diggle and Felicity, and willing to give that up, if not to release the Markov device. Oliver couldn't fault his logic with that, and as long as Oliver and his crew didn't threaten the man, nothing untoward would happen.

Merlyn had also been open to Oliver's point of view, if somewhat jaded towards it. He'd also shown a willingness to pay for his crimes. Oliver couldn't see any reason not to give the man a chance.

"If you work with us, you'll need to operate under our moral standards, and what we deem acceptable risk. Harming innocents is never acceptable."

"I understand." Merlyn took a breath. "Do you want me to pull back? Now that you have your friends with you again, I'm sure you don't need me."

Was that a note of bitterness in his voice? Oliver scratched his nose. "Actually, I think we should continue to work together."

Merlyn turned to face him, a brow cocked. "'Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer'?"

"You keep saying we're not enemies."

"And you keep not believing me," he said with a deprecating smile.

"If we want my crew to trust you, they'll have to get used to you. And you can help me clean up this city my way, see how it works, firsthand."

"Thank you, Oliver." His tone was sincere.

"Well, it's either that or I'd have to turn in reports. And that's too much like having a boss." That earned a chuckle. "I did major in slacking off, in college."

"That sounds similar to Tommy's degree," Merlyn said in a lighter tone.

"How is Tommy doing?" Oliver's best friend had been his strongest anchor to his life before the island. Steadfast and loyal. And simple, unlike the tangled snare that was Laurel. Until Oliver had sacrificed it all to save Tommy's father. He missed his friend more than he'd realized.

"He's doing quite well, here at the company." A small smile of pride escaped Merlyn's tight control.

"That's good," he said with a touch of melancholy happiness. He didn't imagine it was as much fun as running the club. Tommy had loved that job. But at least he still had his father, which to Oliver, was worth all the money, fun, and friendship in the world. "How are things between you two? If you don't mind me asking."

This time, Malcolm's smile came a little more easily. "Much better. Well," he amended with a shrug, "sometimes better than others. He's still upset over Laurel."

Oliver's spine tensed. "You know about that?"

"Yes, Oliver; we do talk about personal matters."

Of course, it had been too much to hope that this particular vulnerability would never have been exposed to Merlyn. "You leave her out of this," he growled. "If you even think of threatening her-!"

"Honesty, Oliver! What kind of man do you think I am?"

"The kind who kidnaps and threatens my friends to get me to do what he wants." And how that stung, even still.

Merlyn gaped at him a moment. "Those friends," he pointed out, "were working with you. All three of you attacked me; I had to defend myself." Oliver ground his teeth. "I thought we were past this."

"Laurel is..." He choked down the words. "She can't find out about my other life." If she turned away from him with hate in her eyes, the last spark of humanity would drain out of him. He would become a machine, cleaning up his father's mess and not caring if he came out of it in one piece.

"Oliver, you have my word. I would never harm Laurel." Merlyn shook his head. "Tommy would never forgive me." He turned from the window, heading to retrieve his tie.

A black thought suddenly occurred to Oliver. "Are you going to force me to give her up?"

"What?"

"If I broke it off with Laurel, Tommy would be free to be with her." The implications tumbled through his mind. "You could use your leverage against me... then Tommy could be happy..."

Merlyn stared at him for nearly a full minute. Then he laughed. Oliver just gaped back at the man. "Oliver, if you or Tommy believe you have any say in who a woman falls in love with, you are sorely deluding yourselves! No one is going to decide who Laurel will be with, except Laurel herself." He put on his tie, neatly tying the knot while Oliver's mind whirled. The older man shook his head. "If you're done insulting me, I do have to get back to work."

"Right." Another character misjudgement. "Sorry." Chagrinned, he retrieved his jacket. "Thanks for the lunch."

"Of course. Give me a call."

"Yeah." Oliver flipped his jacket over his shoulder and made his way out. Yeah, that had to have been the most surreal lunch meeting in Starling City's entire business sector.

===#===

Big Belly Burger

"Did you leave your phone in the car?" Diggle asked Felicity.

"Yes."

"And your tablet? And palm top? Ipod? And anything else that might have been in your apartment?"

"Yes. Yes! I left my entire purse in the car." Felicity gave him a stabbing glare. "That means you'll have to pay for lunch, by the way." She grabbed her grilled chicken sandwich off the plate almost before the server set it down.

Diggle sighed to himself. Well, he had his wallet, and he was sure it wasn't bugged. He thanked the waitress and opened his burger to make sure there was more than enough ketchup on it. "We're going to have to do something about Oliver."

"What is wrong with him? I thought we'd be charging gung-ho back to Merlyn Global after I got back." The crisp lettuce in her sandwich crunched as she bit into it with gusto.

"He's lost his nerve." Diggle frowned. He hated having to say that about Oliver, but he had to face the truth. "Merlyn's beaten him, twice, very badly - nearly killed him. His confidence is shattered, his self esteem took a big hit..."

"He's damaged his delicate male ego?"

Diggle winced. Talk about a low blow. "It's not just a case of losing a game, or losing a bet, or losing a girl," he explained. "Oliver's been close to death on that island, and it's honed him to fight, to survive."

"Yeah, he's like super ninja warrior. I mean," she gestured along with her words, "running through the streets, leaping from building to building, shooting a whole basket of tennis balls and never missing?"

He took advantage of her animated narration to take a few bites of his own lunch. "And then Merlyn slammed it painfully home how he is not an super-powered, invulnerable man."

"I don't understand. How? How can Malcolm Merlyn beat someone like Oliver? He's just... an ordinary guy."

"Anyone can study Martial Arts, Felicity. They don't all wear ninja masks or tattoos or symbolic brands on their arms. We don't know where or how long Merlyn has been training. Hell, it's possible he started even before Oliver was born." He hadn't thought of that before, but if Merlyn had started in high school or college... Damn.

"Whoa." Felicity's face said the same thing.

"The Queen and Merlyn families have been close for all of Oliver's life. Quite frankly, I'm not sure he has his head on straight for this one."

"Did you ever... you know, wonder if maybe...?" She toyed with her straw. "Maybe we could be wrong about Malcolm?"

"He's a killer." Diggle harbored no doubts.

"Well, so's Oliver." She bent to sip her soda, then peered up at him. "Come to think of it, I believe that describes you, as well."

"He's a murderer, Felicity. He murdered those UNIDAC scientists."

Pain crossed her face, and she looked away. "Yes." He'd heard her go on about that to Oliver enough times. She must identify closely with the scientists, having a job with computers and technology, like they had. Those people had done nothing but their jobs, and they were killed in a 'clean-up' operation.

"The man is evil," Diggle told her. "After what he did to you, how can you think otherwise?"

"He didn't hurt me," she said defensively, drawing her arms closer to her body.

"Maybe not physically, but imprisonment can be its own kind of torture."

"But... have you read the manuscript? Malcolm and his project group, they were fighting crime in their own way."

"And now it's his way to slaughter thousands of people. Clearly, he has strayed from the path." He popped the plastic lid off his soda so he could gulp it properly from the rim.

"Maybe... he can, I dunno, get back on it?"

"After the things he's done?" He gave Felicity a critical look. "Those nightmares you have are not the side effects of a weekend at the spa."

She bit her lip. "Well, my rational, waking mind says... those fears are irrational."

He sighed again. "Is this like the thing with the mobster and his little boy? Why do women always try to see two sides of everything?"

"Because we live in a three-dimensional world, not Flatland," she shot back. "And real people are not cartoons. The days of black and white TV are ancient history. We have sixteen million colours, in hi-def!" He started to get lost on the technical details of her point.

"So you make yourself crazy trying to think of every angle, of every reason why, of every childhood trauma that could make people behave the way they do," he complained. "It's not that complicated, Felicity. Just go with what your gut tells you. When you look at Merlyn, when you think about him, what do you feel?"

She paused a moment, staring into space. Her face paled slightly, and she looked queasy.

"That's your gut, telling you the truth," he told her. "The man is dangerous. He's evil. And it's up to us to stop him."

"So... what are we going to do?"

"If Oliver isn't on board with us..." He opened his hands. "We should look for the Markov device ourselves, without letting Oliver find out about it. Once we pull Merlyn's fangs, there won't be anything he can threaten us with."

"Except, he knows our secrets," the IT girl pointed out. "Oliver's identity, and our technically illegal activity." She punctuated her points by poking a blob of ketchup with one of her fries.

"Well, we know his."

"Which still leaves us in a stalemate."

"If the city is safe, that will have to be good enough," he said. "Maybe Merlyn will show his true colours, and Oliver will take him down once and for all."

She frowned thoughtfully. "Do you think he can? I mean..."

"He can," Diggle said confidently. "He's got something Merlyn doesn't have."

"Us?"

He smiled. "Us."

"All right." She swirled a fry in the ketchup. "But we already know I can't crack Merlyn Global's servers from remote access. And we can't show our faces in there, either. They probably have 'WANTED' posters up in there..."

"I have some contacts in government agencies," he said. "I'll see what help I can pull from there, if it comes to that."

"Well," she said cheerily; "I hope it's not any that I've hacked into...!"

===#===

Queen Mansion Grounds

Oliver walked, his hands in his pockets, out across the lawn to the lone gravestone. There was still a patch of scraggly, sickly grass next to it, where his own gravestone had been. He shouldn't be surprised. After being dead five years, it was difficult coming back.

He stood looking down at his father's memorial, unsure why he was here or what he meant to do. "I know you're not here," he started. His father's remains lay beneath a crudely-built cairn of stones, probably scavenged and decayed -

He squeezed his eyes shut to banish those images. "I know...," he said when he'd regained control. "But I don't suppose you're anywhere, really." He opened his eyes and looked to the grey clouds over the trees. "So this is a good a place as any to talk to you."

His eyes lowered and traced the letters carved into the granite surface. "Who is Malcolm Merlyn? Dad..." He gestured helplessly. "Is he your best friend or your worst enemy? Did you work with him, or did he force you to work for him? I just don't know. I don't know who to trust." Maybe his mother and Merlyn were both lying. "I just wish..."

He bit his lip and rubbed his eyes. Then he turned them skyward again. "I wish you could have explained things to me. You could have... We could have made it," he said, his voice becoming a hoarse whisper. "You could have explained everything to me; you could have helped me."

Emotion choked Oliver. If only his father had lived. But how would he have survived the trials and tortures of that island? And worse, would Oliver have survived if he hadn't been on his own, cut loose, and forced to become his own man? Would he have stayed a spoiled, weak child, letting his father make all the hard choices for him while he avoided responsibility?

Oliver rubbed his face again, and exhaled harshly a few times, to bring his mind and body back under control. He closed his eyes once more and tried to remember his father before the wreck. Home, chatting with his wife. Home, working. Getting ready to go to a gala affair in the evening. Getting ready to head into the office. Robert could be a real bear at the breakfast table.

Oliver's mouth twitched. Then he tried to focus on his father and his business associates. They were a hazy group of suits and ties. Oliver never went to any board meetings when he was a boy, of course. When he was a teen and his dad had his friends over, Oliver had mostly avoided them.

He focused on Malcolm Merlyn. He'd been invited to many Queen family dinners. He'd been at the club many times when Robert had brought Oliver there to learn racquetball and tennis. For God's sake, he was just an ordinary guy!

"I'm not the man you think I am."

Neither is Malcolm Merlyn.

Then an older memory surfaced suddenly. It was Tommy's birthday party; they couldn't have been older than seven or eight. Tommy's mother Rebecca always made a chocolate mousse pie. Actually, she'd end up making two, because it was so light and fluffy and delicious, everyone would want seconds. And thirds and fourths.

Oliver had been sitting with Tommy and the other kids, talking, laughing, eating, playing. Yet he remembered a glimpse of his dad, so much younger then, sitting and drinking with Mr. Merlyn. They'd gotten into the beer and were laughing at something. Oliver's mom gave them one of those exasperated mom looks, though Rebecca had an indulgent smile.

Oliver blinked and returned to the gravestone before him. "That was before," he mumbled to himself. Before everything changed. Rebecca had died - been murdered - and the happiness and laughter seemed to have deserted the Merlyn family.

Tommy had recovered, bounced back. A little morose as a teen, but that wasn't unusual. Malcolm, Oliver seemed to recall for the majority of his boyhood, had been a distant, cold man.

Oliver tried to think again if his own father had changed after he'd killed that man at the foundry. But how could he not be different? He had a new baby, and his son was entering adolescence. Nevertheless, he hadn't seemed to be a completely different man.

Oliver shook his head slowly. Malcolm's tragedy had changed him. He would never be able to regain what he'd lost with the death of his wife.

"I just don't know, Dad. But for the sake of the friendship you did have once, I'll keep trying."

===#===

Verdant Basement

Sparring with Diggle was familiar, comforting. They shared a bond of trust, of mutual support. Their familiarity allowed them to move together, strike to block, forearm to forearm, in an endless random cycle. Oliver circled, concentrating on the rhythm, the pulse. He fell into a relaxed fighting trance.

Suddenly, Diggle's forearm wasn't there. Oliver's hand flew wide, and the other man struck at his head. Oliver twisted from the blow, but Diggle followed up, clubbing him on the side of his head, following down and around. He fell heavily to one knee with a short bark of surprise. Oliver put his hands up in surrender, and Diggle backed off.

"Change it up, man," he said as he gave Oliver a hand up. "Just like you told me."

"I remember."

Both of them were panting, covered in a sheen of sweat. Oliver nodded his intent to end the bout, and turned to grab a bottle of water. He saw Felicity, swiveled around in her chair, staring. "I thought you were supposed to be working," he said. "Didn't you get anywhere yet?"

"Do you have any idea how distracting all that thumping and banging, and sweaty, half-naked men grunting is?" She tipped her head to peer at him, and he gave her a flat look. "No, I suppose you don't."

"I need to know those things about Merlyn, Felicity," he told her in his stern voice. She turned her chair back to her screens.

Diggle grabbed a towel to pat sweat from his face and chest. "You know, Oliver, it's high time we went after this guy."

"No. It isn't."

"Say what?"

"We're not going after Merlyn." He avoided looking at his comrade by casting around for a clean shirt to put on.

"Oliver, he still has the Markov device."

"We're not going after the Markov device," Oliver stated flatly.

Felicity spun her chair back. "If we don't get that thing away from him, he'll destroy the Glades."

"That's not going to happen," he said, trying to reassure her.

"You think the threat of us going to the police will be enough to stop him? Nothing is going to stop him!"

"She's right," Diggle said. "He doesn't have leverage over us any more. We have to go in for the kill."

"No!"

Felicity and Diggle shared a worried look. The bodyguard looked at Oliver "You're still afraid of him."

"I'm not-"

Felicity cut him off. "I understand how you feel. I'm afraid of him, too, but-"

"I'm not afraid!" Oliver glowered at the both of them. "We're going to continue working together. Nothing has changed."

Felicity and Diggle shared another one of those looks. Her eyes were wide with concern when she turned back. "Oliver... what did he do to you?"

"Nothing! He hasn't done anything to me - why does everybody keep asking me that?"

"Only because you're acting like a brainwashed Merlyn fanboy," Diggle told him.

Oliver shook his head and stalked off a few paces. He pulled his shirt on. "He's not evil."

"Have you forgotten what he's done?"

"No. But... listen to me." He returned and leaned back against the table. "When my father gave me that list, I promised to cross off every name. But I also made a decision not to blindly seek vengeance and retribution. I would not be a murderer. I swore I would give every single person on that list a second chance. A chance to turn it around and make up for their past mistakes by doing the right thing."

He looked at each of them in turn. "That's why you believe in my work. That's why you joined me instead of turning me over to the cops.

"Malcolm was my father's best friend. And yes - I know he's done bad things, and I know he's threatened both of you. But he has given me his word - a word he has not broken - that he would halt the Undertaking. That he would work with me, and that if I could convince him that my way does work, he would destroy the Markov device. That was the deal."

"Oliver...," Diggle began with immense patience.

"I know you think that's bullshit, Diggle. But I have given all of my father's enemies a second chance. How can I do less for his best friend? We are not hunting down and killing Malcolm Merlyn."

Felicity looked guiltily down at her hands. Diggle rolled up the towel and draped it over his neck. "All right, Oliver. But let's say he doesn't end up changing his mind. What then?"

"We'll deal with that when the time comes." Oliver turned away. He had quite some time before he had to worry about that.

Or so he hoped.

===X===


"If I broke it off with Laurel, Tommy would be free to be with her." The implications tumbled through his mind. "You could use your leverage against me... then Tommy could be happy..."

-::waves at KC:: this almost didn't make it in, but merlyn had to give his two cents on that idea. ;)