A/N: Ok, so you know how sometimes you build your whole way-too-long story to a certain high point, and you've sort been leading everything before that up to it, and then you actually write it out and it's really, really not as good as it was in your head? Well. Like, just an FYI, this chapter is not the crowning jewel of my fic-writing career.
Also, I am sorry that I literally only update once a month.
And I...hope you like this?
XVIII. Modern Warfare
It had been a month.
And it was fine.
Everything was fine.
"Oliver, are you listening?"
He blinked, to find that Felicity had lifted her eyes from the folders, scattered across the boardroom's table, and was now watching him with an annoyed little crease in her brow. It was just the two of them, going over possible new deals for Felicity's department; she was very excited about all the possibilities she was putting forward, which had translated into animated hand gestures and smiles – which, in turn, had distracted him. His eyes had stopped straying to the papers she waved around and focused only on her, and even the words coming out of her mouth had stopped making sense at some point.
He still had some trouble with not staring at her.
He cleared his throat. "Hmm, yes, of course."
She narrowed her eyes, and he found himself stifling a smile.
"What was I talking about?" she prompted.
Honestly, he had no idea. Something about Wayne Enterprises, maybe? He couldn't say.
She looked like she was about to push further, probably to ask what it was that held more importance than the future of the company, and he saw the exact moment when she answered her own unspoken question, pressing her lips together. She looked away, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
Oliver closed his eyes for a moment; he got too caught up, sometimes, in his feelings for her. And she noticed. Just like how he noticed her gaze straying a little south of his eyes sometimes, for just a little too long, when they talked.
But they didn't speak of such things.
"So, we have a few offers from Wayne Enterprises," Felicity broke the silence, like nothing had happened, "and I kinda want to take them up on all said offers, but I'm thinking that might be considered as playing favorites?"
He gave himself a split-second to feel the sinking in his stomach, then promptly shut it down. "What offers did they make?" he asked.
"Well, we already have a wholesales contract for my program, as you well know, but I have five – " she slid the folders over to him – "other proposals here, one that would give them a longstanding wholesale contract for every new patent my department dishes out, one that would give us dibs on all the – very awesome, by the way – new tech they're developing, and three offers for collaborative projects – you know, we make the software for their hardware, that sort of stuff."
Oliver nodded, giving the documents a quick onceover. "And you want all five of these?"
She chewed on her lip for a moment, like she was warring with herself. "Yes?"
He couldn't help his smile this time.
"They have the best tech, okay?" she said. "And they seem really, really determined to snag everything we put on the table." She frowned, then added, "I'd say it's because you and Wayne are old boarding school buddies, but I'm not actually sure that would work in your favor here – and before you ask, I know you went to school together because I looked into him. And you."
He nodded again, having expected nothing less. "Well, there's no reason why you can't accept all of these," he said.
She positively beamed, and he had to lock his hand into a fist, to snuff out the warmth filling his chest; everything she did made his heart feel lighter. And the more he felt it, the more it began to hurt.
"So, uh, any other offers you're considering?" he asked.
Her nose scrunched a little. "There's the one from Stellmoore International that we kind of have to take, and then there's the two from LexCorp, which are pretty good, but I'd really rather not tie QC to Luthor if I can help it – "
"He's got monopoly on basically the whole of Kansas," Oliver pointed out, "and subsidiaries in places we don't. It could open up a new market for us."
Felicity pursed her lips. "He's shady."
His mouth twitched. "I'm not exactly clean as a whistle either." Frowning, he added, "Isabel definitely isn't."
"We're not getting into business with Lex Luthor," she said, like it was final; he nodded his compliance.
Seemingly satisfied with this outcome, she went on. "Galaxy Communications is definitely out, but S.T.A.R. Labs have a project involving artificial intelligence that they'd like us to hop onto, which I think we should – of course, we'll also have to coordinate with Applied Sciences on it eventually."
"Artificial intelligence?" he echoed, not a little warily.
She promptly rolled her eyes at him. "It's a far cry from robots taking over and annihilating humanity, Oliver."
"So?" she prompted. "What do you think?"
He shrugged. "Close all the deals you think are best."
"You know, the whole point of this – " she gestured to the rest of the empty boardroom and the piles of papers – "is for you to go over these so I can get your approval on the deals you think are best."
"I trust your judgment," he said.
Her stern look slipped away, replaced instead by a small grin; she shook her head next, though she was still smiling to herself. "Fine," she told him, beginning to gather the documents as she rose to her feet. "But," she added, arms full of somewhat frumpy folders, "if I end up bankrupting the company, it's on you."
He watched her go, shaking his head at her battle with the too-many folders in her hands and her grumblings at their insubordination; he kept his smile up until she went out of sight, letting it slip when there was no more chance of her witnessing it.
It had been a month.
And everything was fine.
Felicity dragged her pen across the multicolored post-its, scribbling notes for Cheryl and sticking them to the relevant folders.
And her mind kept going back to Oliver.
Every time she managed to convince herself that things were as they used to be, she'd catch him looking at her, or on the flipside, looking away from her like it was an effort for him to drag his eyes elsewhere.
They didn't hug anymore. Or hold hands. Or really just touch each other in any way if they could avoid it.
It seemed to be an unspoken agreement they'd come to – and it should have helped their cause, too, except it had become unnatural for them to maintain strictly defined personal space. And so any time she had to remind herself not to brush her fingers against his after a patrol hadn't gone to his liking, or she didn't feel the weight of his hand on her shoulder when he stood at her side by her computers, it served as a reminder that things weren't the same; it was just a really elaborate act they put on.
On some level, Felicity acknowledged that it was probably unhealthy to be falling back on this sort of pattern.
They hadn't told anyone, either. Not John, though he'd asked if something was wrong, or Sara. And though she couldn't say with certainty, she was pretty sure Oliver hadn't mentioned it to his sister or his mother, or to anyone – no, actually, she was positive he hadn't mentioned it to anyone. It was their dirty little secret.
One they were both trying to hide and keep tucked away.
Except it got kinda difficult sometimes.
She'd watch him talk and find her eyes dropping to his mouth while her fingers drummed against her neck, remembering the marks he had left there – ones she'd had to conceal with turtlenecks and scarves afterward.
She'd track the play of his fingers while he sharpened his arrows and think back on the way they had felt in her hair and against her back, and her mind would conjure images of them trailing lower and lower, and then back up, under her skirt.
And then she'd second-guess herself, her decision to put the brakes on what they could have, before jerking herself out of that line of thinking. She'd chosen to play it safe, and that was it.
Blowing out a breath, she focused her attention back on her work.
Oliver pushed down his hood, stretching his steps as made his way to where Felicity and John were in the process of letting out annoyed sighs. "What's wrong?"
Felicity made a face, flicking her hand in the direction of her screens. "False Phobos alarm," she explained. "Thought we might finally have a ping, turns out it was just a new strain of LSD."
Next to her, Diggle echoed her annoyance in the form of a grumble, and Oliver shared the sentiment.
It had been over a month since they'd begun giving the drug their attention, knowing what it did, and they hadn't moved an inch from where they'd started at. He'd even made his short trip to Metropolis, taking advantage of an uneventful weekend, to have a little talk with Haze's assistant, and he had exactly nothing to show for it; he was also sure it had taken Felicity a lot to withhold her 'I told you so'.
"It's kinda starting to creep me out," Diggle commented. "I mean, Haze was killed about five months ago, so whoever ordered the hit has been sitting on the entire supply of the drug for a while...you'd think they would have used it for something by now."
Felicity nodded. "It sucks," she mumbled. "But to talk about happier things," she added, leaning back in her chair and tipping her head back to meet Oliver's eyes, "tell us about Roy's first night in the field." She grinned. "Sara said it was right out of Hollywood's best buddy cop movie before signing off."
And by that, she'd meant that he had spent most of it gritting his teeth at Roy's lack of discipline, his rashness and inability to follow directions, while channeling his own self-control into not banging his head against the nearest wall. Repeatedly.
Sara had tagged along, as she often did now that she was back in town, and as far as Oliver remembered, had spent most of the time discussing the apparent hilarity of the situation with his other two teammates. Not that Roy knew who they were, exactly; he knew they existed, that they were on the other end of Oliver and Sara's comms, but as he had no earpiece of his own, he'd had no direct contact or introduction. Much like how he only knew the members he did get to talk to as Green Arrow and Canary. He'd complained about that. A lot. Which had, effectively, only worsened Oliver's suffering.
So yes, Felicity knew exactly what his thoughts were. But she was looking at him upside down, the tip of her tongue trapped between her teeth and the corners of her mouth pulled into a wide grin, and he couldn't muster a single ounce of annoyance at being egged on; he just found himself smiling down at her.
"He's got a lot to learn," he eventually said – which was actually true. He hadn't meant to put Roy this close to his team yet, and he'd certainly not meant to begin his training, but he'd had to reconsider that stance, after Roy's own complaints and Mr. Lance's repeated calls, telling them to 'get the damn Harper kid under control'. Apparently, he was growing tired of Roy's somewhat sloppily executed attempts at saving people making him end up at his precinct. And, Oliver could report himself, Thea was growing tired of picking her boyfriend up from said precinct.
So, Oliver had taken the kid out in the field.
God help him.
"I'm sure you'll be a great teacher," Felicity told him, her voice growing softer. His hand was already halfway up to her shoulder before he remembered himself; he curled it into a fist instead, and let it drop back at his side.
"Yeah," he agreed, looking away; Diggle was watching the both of them, eyes flickering from one to the other. It wasn't the first time he'd noticed this sort of thing, and Oliver was sure he had his ideas as to what had brought it on; he was also sure he didn't know for certain, because he would have heard something about it by now.
Clearing his throat, he walked away from the computers, laying down his bow and unstrapping his quiver. "You guys should call it a night," he said. "Patrol's done anyway."
"You're staying?" Felicity asked.
He hummed, glancing over his shoulder as he added, "I have some paperwork to put in order."
The statement was met with a little furrow in her brow, and considering he'd been lying the last time he'd told them paperwork would be keeping him in the lair, he supposed it was justified. "Really," he assured. "I plan on convening a board meeting next week, have them vote on booting Isabel out of QC. I need to make a solid case."
Diggle nodded his approval, while Felicity asked, "You're sure the time is right?"
"We're not there yet," Oliver admitted, "but given all the deals we've been closing lately, I think they'll agree that we'll do just fine without her."
"Okay," Felicity said. "So, how long have you been working on this?"
She pursed her lips. "And why is this the first we're hearing of it?"
He rolled his lips together, noting that John too looked a little disapproving now, and settled for a small shrug. "I didn't want to bother you guys. Besides, this is on me."
"That's cute," Diggle deadpanned, while Felicity rolled her eyes in support of that sentiment.
"We'll help you out," she said, already on her feet and helping Diggle clear her desk and drag some chairs over before Oliver had even opened his mouth to wave the offer off; with a shake of his head, he decided that he probably shouldn't even bother trying. He left them to work while he changed, coming back with the load of papers he'd brought over.
Settling next to John at the desk's narrow end, he let the pile hit the metal with a clang, just as Felicity rolled her chair over to the corner. Both his partners gave the paperwork a wry look. "Hey," he reminded, "you offered."
"That we did," Diggle muttered, then cracked his knuckles.
"So, what arguments are you putting forward?" Felicity queried, dragging her tablet over.
"Well," Oliver said, "about ninety percent of it is going to be about you."
She peeked at him over the rim of her glasses, and smiled. "Never mind that neither of us knew what we were doing," she commented.
He mirrored her smile. "They don't have to know that."
"And what goes in the other ten percent?" Diggle piped in.
"She came to QC for a hostile takeover, we can't trust her, it's a family business," Oliver began ticking off the talking points. "We're not in danger of bankruptcy anymore, more investors are coming in every day – " he shrugged – "and that is thanks to the program Felicity released."
"Which was only possible because she was promoted, which was your move and not Isabel's," Diggle concluded, nodding along. "It's good."
"And props for not dragging the fact that she's a woman into this," Felicity added.
Oliver frowned. "You think I'd play that card?"
Shrugging, she said, "Most of your board is made of stuffy old men." Her nose scrunched in distaste. "They'd love it."
Diggle hummed his agreement, Oliver nodded his own, and with that, they started going over the documents point by point. Diggle pitched the idea of toning down the 'family business' argument, as the board members' priority was profit and not legacy, and only using it as a final touch-up.
"Make it the cherry on top," he said.
Felicity, for her part, was in favor of axing the linear presentation of QC's rehabilitation Oliver had put together, and opening instead with the numbers after the quake and the current ones, side-by-side.
"Shock value," she explained. "Elaborate once they've already been dazzled".
She then became engrossed in creating pie-charts and graphs, for 'visual aids', and she and Diggle started picking out the colors and the fonts and the figure placements, since John had a 'good eye for color and making things pretty', being a painter – which was something that had come as a bit of a revelation for Oliver.
He sat back when they decided that they apparently didn't need him for this, watching them huddle closer over the tablet, their shoulders bumping at the desk's corner.
And he thought about Shado and Slade.
It had been a while since he had thought about comparing them – there was a difference, between the past and the present, between his old team and his new one. We're not them, Felicity had told him, and he had accepted that, begun believing it, at some point. But they were here, helping him get rid of the woman who had brought Fyers to Lian Yu in the first place – Slade's plane being shot out of the sky, his partner getting the chance to betray him, Shado being dragged to the island, Shado watching her father die, Shado and Slade both getting stuck in Purgatory with him; it was all because Isabel Rochev had ordered a fake act of terrorism.
And she was never going to pay.
He could kick her out of his company, he could even find a way to destroy her, but she would never be exposed for what she was, and he couldn't make her pay in blood, either.
He couldn't think about her without thinking about Lian Yu, and with that, the ghosts of his old friends danced in front of him, circling around his new ones.
The soldier, who lived by a code of loyalty and brotherhood, and –
His eyes flickered to Felicity, then past her, to where he had laid his bow.
She had given him that bow. Just like Shado had given him his old one.
Drawing his gaze away, he let it settle on the brightly-lit glass casing, and the hood it housed. He wore it to honor Yao Fei, and to honor his daughter. Shado had tried to teach him, what it meant to be a killer and a hero, how not to lose sight of the two halves that made him – and that too, he thought, was a lesson he'd forgotten.
He was learning again, new lessons beyond the ones Shado and Slade had given him, and no one had instructed him more than the two people who sat next to him. They had made him, just as Slade and Shado had, and he could feel the fear rise in him, twisting his insides, just watching the ghosts dance around in front of him, thinking about what would happen if they spilled into the present.
If he had to watch Felicity being gunned down while trying to save him, even if he had never been worth the effort, not from someone so much better than him.
If he had to watch the hatred gather in Diggle's eyes when he betrayed him and gave his allegiance to the people who had killed her for his own survival, and in the end, pick up her bow, and nock an arrow, and drive it through his eye.
It wasn't the same, he reminded himself – they weren't. But he could see it so clearly; Shado perched over Felicity's shoulder, and Slade with his treasured swords, standing over Diggle, reminding him that he had lost them, in every possible way.
And it made it hard to breathe, watching Diggle and Felicity happily color-coordinate his pie-charts, and remembering that he could lose them the same way, too.
"You okay, man?"
He blinked and the ghosts were gone, replaced by his teammates' concerned faces.
"I'm fine," he said, but it sounded too strained and broken to be believable, even to his own ears.
Diggle shifted, turning to get a better look at him, while Felicity's forehead creased with worry.
Oliver tried to force another false reassurance out but it got stuck in his throat, when he realized that it would both be futile and unnecessary. He could tell them.
Part of it, anyway.
"All this stuff with Isabel, it...it reminds me of Lian Yu," he admitted quietly. "Of Fyers and his men, and – " he drew a quick breath – "my friends." He glanced over to Felicity, watching her nod in understanding. "And how much the two of you remind me of them," he added, shrugging. "It's – it's hard to think about it, considering...how it ended."
Neither Felicity nor Diggle asked anything further, seemingly satisfied with the vague references to his past he had given them. John nodded in support, while Felicity offered him a small, slightly watery smile to show her own, and he was reminded of his time on the stand at his mother's trial with sharp clarity, when they had been the only ones he could look at; he could tell them, because they didn't shy away from his horror stories, and if it had held too much meaning for him to even wrap his head around it back then, it did even more so now.
Which was why it frightened him to draw the parallel, to even think about losing them.
He had no idea what he would do, if he lost them.
Felicity tapped her pen against the desk in rhythm with her foot against the ground, stealing glances at her phone's clock every other minute.
It was finally happening.
Oliver had gathered the members of the board for an impromptu meeting, and she knew that right about now, he was halfway through elaborating on Queen Consolidated's progress since he had returned, with the help of all the pretty visual aids she and Diggle had helped him put together.
Isabel had been kept distracted with the deals Felicity was in the process of closing, timing it perfectly with an influx of reports on current sales numbers to ensure Ms. Rochev was fully occupied while the vote took place.
With a little luck, it would go in Oliver's favor.
Still, Felicity was restless as she waited on the verdict; while the anticipation certainly made her jittery, she also had the nagging feeling that this was all way too easy. Since joining her team, it had definitely not been her experience that things ever ran as smoothly as planned. And she didn't see Isabel Rochev going down this easily.
She had voiced these concerns to Oliver, though he didn't seem to share them – well, he was concerned, of course, but felt that it was precisely the simplicity of this plan that was going to make it work. She didn't doubt it, not really; she just had a bad feeling.
The minutes ticked by, half an hour, forty minutes –
And then both her phones went off.
Her office landline was loud and shrill, the ID showing Cheryl's extension, while her cellphone screen flashed with Diggle's name. She grabbed for the latter, a knot twisting in her belly as she answered it.
"You need to get up here," Diggle's voice sounded in her ear, quick and agitated. "Now!"
Felicity pushed away from her desk, leaving her landline to blare in the empty office as she hurried down the halfway and went for the stairwell; it was just two floors anyway. Diggle didn't say, but she knew to go straight for the boardroom when she pushed the door to the executive floor open; there were people in her way, some of whom she recognized as members of the board, mumbling and gesturing, stealing glances at the glass doors. John stood there, blocking the entry and telling people to scatter; Felicity pushed through to him, blocking her momentum as she grabbed his arm.
She had a spare second to meet his eyes, and all her demands for explanations died in her throat when her gaze slipped past him and into the room. There were papers scattered everywhere, coffee cups overturned and dripping their contents onto the carpet, chairs pushed back at odd angles and some of them tipped over, and behind the long table, on the ground, was –
"He just...freaked out," Diggle told her, looking more out-of-sorts than she had ever seen him. "I don't – " He shook his head, glancing over his shoulder. "They've called an ambulance, but I think – I think it's the drug, Felicity, it's just like in those videos you showed us, I think we found Phobos."
Felicity gulped, dropping his arm as she took a slow, careful step further inside. "Oliver?" she called out.
Oliver was on his side, his back to her, and she couldn't see past his shoulders with the table blocking her view, but his hands were over his ears and the closer she got, the louder his ragged breaths became. It was just like in those videos, the ones that had given her nightmares for days, except in her nightmares, it she was she who was writhing on the floor in fear, or John, or –
"Oliver?" she tried again, her voice coming out strangled. She could feel the sting of tears at the corners of her eyes as she brought one foot in front of the other, the click-clack of her heels beating faster against the ground, until John's hand curled gently around her arm.
"Steady," he cautioned, voice only loud enough to be heard. When Felicity dragged her eyes to the side and up to him, he added, "Nearly took one of those guys' – " he gestured to the board members outside – "head off when he tried to grab him." He swallowed tightly then, eyes trained on the room's far end. "I think he thought they were attacking me."
Felicity bobbed her head up and down in a small nod, on reflex, her eyes going over her shoulder, to the people in question; she could see them, through the glass doors, huddled in groups and talking, and pointing, and whispering, and with them was –
She was watching, too, but there was no concern or confusion on her face. From her crossed arms right up to her raised chin, she just looked...victorious. Like a queen who had just crushed the bones of her enemies under the sharp points of her red heels.
And it all suddenly made sense.
The three CEOs who had been institutionalized, whose companies had been taken by Stellmore International as a result, the tying of loose ends when Haze got a price on his end, the complete calm before the storm with Phobos...
It was Isabel.
All of it.
In that moment, Felicity wanted nothing more than to rip her head right off her cold-blooded shoulders with her bare hands.
"Hey," she heard Diggle call to her, feeling herself getting pulled back a step.
"It was her, Digg," Felicity ground out, her tears burning hotter. "It was Isabel, it was her."
John blinked at her, then cast a quick look over his shoulder before his eyes drifted shut, and he gritted his teeth.
They should have made the connection. They should have seen it. It was so obvious, and they should have seen it, but they hadn't, and now –
She broke away from Diggle, measuring her steps as she worked to swallow down her new violent urges; she had to focus on Oliver, she could think about killing Isabel Rochev later. She had to think about Oliver.
His unsteady breathing grew louder still the closer she got, and beneath it, she could hear every little sniffle and stutter that broke its rhythm; she watched his fingers twitch against the sides of his head, his palms pressing against his ears as though that would somehow make it all stop.
Finally at the table's corner, Felicity dragged her eyes over him, where he was on his side and curled in on himself, like he was trying to be as small as possible.
She bit back her sob, digging her nails into her palms against the urge to just reach for him. "Oliver?" she tried one more time, and it seemed to get through to him this time, his voice cracked and frail when he mumbled something that faintly resembled her name.
She went to her knees slowly, scooting up behind him. "Hey," she whispered, resting a tentative hand on his shoulder, "it's just me, it's okay."
His entire body jerked in response, and she heard it again, that broken sound that was meant to be her name, except now it was cut through by a sob.
Felicity bit back another one of her own, where it was building in her throat, and gently dragged her fingers down his arm; she felt his body shaking under her touch. Her other hand went under his head, slowly, and she let it rest at the crook of her elbow as she draped her arm across his chest, pulling him against her. She could see his face now, the creases in his forehead from screwing his eyes tightly shut, the tears clinging to his lashes and the ones running down his nose, and the ones that had already dried on his cheeks. He was crying and shaking in her arms, and she had the hysterical thought that this wasn't how she'd imagined them spooning.
Dropping her forehead to his shoulder, she curled her fingers into the fabric of his jacket, feeling every tremor, twitch, and quiet, small wail of his run right through her. She knew what the drug did, that it was trapping him in all his worst nightmares, making him so scared that he was curled into a trembling ball on the floor, and she had no idea what to do to make it stop.
"It's the drug," she found herself saying, "it's Phobos, it's – it's not real, okay, whatever you're seeing, it's not real." His hands were suddenly grasping at her forearm, gripping it like it was a lifeline, and she held him tighter. "It's not real, it's gonna be okay, it's all gonna be okay," she kept going, only half-aware of what was leaving her mouth. "It's not real."
His head jerked up and down in what might have been a nod, before his eyes popped open. "Di – " he choked out, sucking in a ragged breath. "Digg, wh-where's Digg?"
"I'm right here, man," John's voice sounded from beside them, as he made his way around; he crouched down in front of Oliver, resting a hand on his arm right next to where Felicity had laid her head. "We're both right here," he said. "Your team."
"Yeah," Felicity agreed, but Oliver's eyes slammed shut again, and every line of this face was etched with pain.
"M-my team, I had – I had a team before," the words tumbled from his mouth, "Shado, and Slade, they were – they were my friends, but I...I lost them, it was my fault, and I lost them – "
Felicity lifted her head, letting her own tears fall, and looked up at John; he met her eyes for a moment, his own far from dry, before he tightened his grip on Oliver's arm, to ground him back to them.
"We're still here," Felicity said softly. "We're here with you. You haven't lost us." Leaning back in, she laid her cheek against his shoulder. "It's gonna be okay."
Ten minutes later, she had her hands braced against the table, sucking in deep breaths to get her mind to clear long enough to figure out what they had to do next. They should – they should go to the hospital, after Oliver, they should go after the ambulance, and they should call...people, yes, there were people to call, they should do that, and then they should grab chairs and desks and smash them over Isabel Rochev's head and –
She sagged against the cold table, her latest attempt at a deep breath turning into more of a rough exhale.
"I can't think," she hissed, "we need to – " She sighed.
From where he was hovering at her side, Diggle said, "We need to think about Oliver."
Oliver crying on the floor, Oliver trying to snap the paramedics' necks when they came for him, yelling at them, yelling at her, things that weren't even English, things that were meant for ghosts that weren't there, Oliver having to be sedated so they could strap him to a gurney and –
She started, whipping her head towards Diggle. "We can't let them take him to the hospital," she let out.
Diggle frowned. "What?"
"We have to get the drug out of his system," she said, words coming out in a rush, "before it does more damage, that's what broke Haze's subjects, the long half-life and the time of exposure, so we have to flush it out of his system, but they're not gonna do that when they take him in, they'll send him in for a psych eval or something, and if they do run blood tests, they're not gonna find Phobos, how could they find it, they don't even know that's a thing to look for, and we can't just barge in there and tell them to trust us and stick him full of IV's so – "
"We have to take him to the foundry," Diggle concluded, nodding along and already digging for his phone.
"Call Roy and Sara," Felicity instructed, heading for the door, "I'll get Detective Lance – also, you'll need the leather."
"Because we're stealing an ambulance in broad daylight?"
She nodded. "Because we're stealing an ambulance in broad daylight."
"Where to?" Diggle yelled into his comm to be heard over the roar of his bike – Oliver's bike, technically, which he was riding in Oliver's get-up, speeding it down the street in the light of day, where everyone could see. But if Oliver was getting saved, and getting saved by Green Arrow, this was how it had to be.
"6th Street is quote-unquote 'closed for construction' so there's no traffic, and Lancelot is leading the ambulance down there so you'll be clear for the extraction," Felicity's voice sounded in his ear, and John could have laughed at the last-minute codename she had come up with for Detective Lance – a necessity, as Roy was in on the conversation.
"Lancelot?" their new pseudo-recruit echoed, from where he was tailing John and Sara in his car. "Who the hell is that?"
"Not your concern, Red," it was Sara who piped in, coming up at Diggle's side on her own bike. "Oracle," she addressed Felicity next, "what's the plan for the extraction?"
"Arrow in the front, stopping the ambulance, Canary and Red in the rear – Roy, you're getting Oliver away in your car, Canary's gonna make sure no one tries to stop you."
"How come all of you know my name," Roy complained, again, "but I don't know any of yours?"
"It's a clearance thing," Diggle told him, spurring his bike left, then right two turns down, until he was away from the clamor of the city and going down the deserted 6th Street, racing right at Lance's patrol car – one he had 'borrowed' from the precinct's parking lot, actually, so it wouldn't be traced to him. As he sped past him, Diggle gave him a nod of gratitude, even if the man couldn't see him or didn't know who it really was thanking him, because without his willingness to lead the ambulance down a different route, under the pretense of avoiding rush hour traffic, they wouldn't be saving Oliver right now.
The patrol car kept going while Diggle skidded the bike into a screeching halt, blocking the ambulance's progress; Sara and Roy drove on, flanking its sides, until they had blocked the way in the rear.
"Hey!" one of the medics, the driver, shouted. "What the hell are you doing?"
"We're in position," he heard Sara say, for Felicity's benefit. "Going in."
"Okay," Felicity said. "Arrow, do your thing."
And by that, she meant he had to make a bit of a spectacle out of all of this, even if his audience were just a pair of confused and possibly frightened medics.
He planted his hand on the hood of the ambulance, keeping his head as bowed and his face as obscured as he could, and yelled, "Queen's been injected with a drug! It's nothing you've ever seen before and we need to help him!"
"I was on the scene, he was having an episo – " the man in the passenger's seat began yelling, too, but then there was commotion in the back and the whole ambulance shook. The driver glanced at the side-mirror, his hand already on the handle as he shouted, "What the – you can't just take him!"
"Hey!" Diggle roared, banging his hand against the metal one more time. "His episode was induced, by a drug I've been tracking for months, this isn't what you think it is!"
By the time the medic was gearing up for a response, the screech of Roy's car's tires was already filling the air, and Sara appeared from behind the vehicle, almost carefully laying down the two medics from the back she'd knocked out on the ground. She nodded at Diggle, then mounted her bike again. "Extraction successful," she said. "We're en route."
It was quiet for a beat after that, as the driver just stared at the image in the mirror with his mouth wide open and his companion looked like he wasn't quite sure if any of this had actually happened. Eventually, he simply let out, "Dude."
"The longer the drug stays in his system, the worse it is for him," Diggle spoke again, and both the other men jumped in their seats a little. "I'll give him the help he needs."
"Wait, so..." the driver chimed in. "Someone injected him with this stuff to fake psychosis symptoms?"
"Something like that," Diggle said.
Both men's expressions soured at that.
Diggle left them to mull it over for a moment, then pried his hand away from the hood. "You may want to help out your partners over there," he added before revving the engine, seeing the men scramble out of the ambulance just as he rounded a corner.
"How was that for theatrics?" he directed his question at Felicity.
"Good," she said. "Now let's hope they spread the word."
John nodded, taking the more secluded road to Verdant. Rochev had made this sort of play before – three times, in fact – and there was no mistaking her endgame; get Oliver deemed psychologically unfit to maintain his CEO position, swoop in and take the company. Any attempt at damage control, no matter how feeble, was worth a shot.
Even though both he and Felicity knew, if they were being honest, that it had almost no chance of working.
"How's he doing?"
Felicity didn't turn her eyes to John as he came in, discarding pieces of leather as he went. Sara was adjusting the dosage on the IV, Roy was on his way to the Queen mansion to tell Mrs. Queen and Thea what was really happening, after having handed his human cargo off to Sara for carrying to the super-secret base he wasn't allowed in, and Oliver...
Oliver was laid on the metal table, still unconscious, with a needle sticking out of his arm.
"I did the math, so if I did it right, the drug should...be out of his system in a few hours," Felicity said, her words sounding oddly hollow to her own ears. From opposite her, Sara seemed to pick up on it. "Hey," she called to her softly, making her meet her eyes, "your math was good. And your plan was, too. We got him here, we're helping him, and he's gonna be okay."
Felicity pulled in an unsteady breath. "Is he?" she whispered.
Sara looked down, to Oliver, and sighed. "Yes," she eventually asserted, nodding. "We just have to wait for him to wake up."
Closing her eyes, Felicity managed to nod back, even as she tightened her hold on his hand. She was probably overcompensating, she thought, for having done her utmost to avoid touching him in a month, because she hadn't been able to let go of his hand from the moment Sara had come down carrying him over her shoulders and laid him down on the medical table.
After a moment, she felt Diggle come up beside her, having traded the too-tight green garb for sweats and a shirt. "So, do we have any ideas on how he got exposed?" he asked. "Did she put it in his coffee or something?"
Felicity thought back on how she'd joked that he shouldn't take any coffee Isabel offered him, 'cause it could be poison. He'd told her that she wouldn't be that obvious. And she hadn't been.
Gripping his hand so tight it might have actually hurt him if he were awake, Felicity said, "The drug has to be delivered into the bloodstream. It's ineffective if ingested. Unless – " She sighed, hanging her head. "Unless she found a way to make it work in the five months she's had to play with it."
"I don't think so," Sara spoke up and, when Felicity and John gave her questioning looks, proceeded to carefully turn Oliver's head to the side, drawing back the collar of his tattered shirt and holding it up for their inspection, so they would see the slightly discolored spot in the light blue material . She then pulled on Oliver's shoulder just enough to lift it off the metal, and she pressed her gloved finger just below the matching red spot on his shoulder blade. "It's too small for a needle," she said, "so I'm thinking it was probably a pin, dipped in a highly concentrated solution of the drug." Carefully letting his shoulder drop back onto the table, she added, "There are places on the body, blind spots, where a small enough object, at the right place, wouldn't even be felt. My guess is, she pinned it to his jacket when he wasn't looking. It's how I would've done it." She shrugged. "Could have taken her less than thirty seconds, if she knew what she was doing."
"When he was preparing for the meeting," Diggle let out on a sigh. "I left him alone to go down to the conference room and make sure all the board members were there." He shook his head. "She probably waltzed right into his office and pinned that thing when he was in the bathroom or something."
"She knew," Felicity said quietly. "What he was planning. And she timed the counterstrike perfectly."
"Guess you were right, Felicity," Diggle told her. "He should have planned something better."
She closed her eyes shut, prying one of her hands away from his to press the heel of it to her forehead; she should have made him come up with something better. And she should have protected him better.
"How bad is this going to be for QC?" Sara asked, almost calm, and Felicity admired the ability to keep her head on straight, truly; in both her and John. Because she, for her part, was back to dissolving into a mess now that she wasn't too busy orchestrating a rescue mission.
"Isabel will probably be calling a meeting tomorrow," Diggle said. "To make a case for herself. Kick Oliver out, take the company from him."
There was a beat, before Sara stated, "We could kill her." That too was said so very calmly, and Felicity thought that it made the words sound angrier than if she had snarled them.
"I'm not even opposed to that," Felicity muttered.
"Neither am I, actually," Diggle said. "But we'll see what Oliver wants to do."
They all knew the answer to that, though. "He's been wanting to put an arrow in her for a while now," she whispered, "but he can't do that. 'Cause he doesn't kill anymore."
"He doesn't have to be the one doing the killing," Sara commented.
What did it say, Felicity wondered, that her first thought was to thank her for the offer? "You don't kill anymore either, Sara," she said instead, shaking her head.
"I can make exceptions."
"Let's just wait for him to wake up," Diggle put an end to that line of discussion, a little abruptly.
Sara nodded, then said, "She'll have it easy, though, convincing the board to hand over the reins to her. We can't prove she was responsible for any of this. I'm assuming she can't be tied to the drug, otherwise you would have found the connection, and we can't prove Ollie was drugged because we're getting it out of his system right now, it's been degraded already. And we can't even use the pin as evidence of anything either – "
"Because his jacket's back at QC – " right on the floor where the medics had tossed it so they could sedate him – "and probably burned to ashes and destroyed by now," Felicity finished the argument for Sara, hanging her head; Isabel's plan hadn't gone as she had envisioned it, with Oliver in the psychiatric wing of Starling General, but in the end, she'd still won. They'd helped her win.
"At least 'Green Arrow' made it clear that Oliver was drugged," Diggle pointed out. "Maybe that will work out in our favor, in the end."
They didn't have much to say after that, and eventually, Sara excused herself to go change out of her black leather and call Roy to check on the situation at the Queen family home. Diggle stepped around to fill her spot at Oliver's other side, and Felicity remained right where she was, letting her hand drop back from where it had been raking her hair and cover Oliver's again; if she let it stray from that one point of contact, she'd probably do something insane, like start tracing the lines of his face, or combing her fingers through his hair.
"Still with the hand-holding routine, huh?" Diggle remarked gently, and Felicity held back a sniffle, eyes trained to where she was sliding her fingers through Oliver's, and drawing patterns on his palm.
"Not really," she mumbled.
"Yeah, I noticed that," Diggle said pointedly. After a beat, he asked, "Wanna finally tell me what's been going on with you two this past month?"
Felicity chewed on her lip, one corner then the other, before blowing out a deep, quiet breath. "I did a bad thing, John," she whispered.
"What was it?"
"I can't – " She sighed. "Can we not talk about it right now?"
"Okay," he agreed, and Felicity gave him a small smile of gratitude, the best she could muster, before dropping her gaze back to her and Oliver's hands; a moment later, John added his own to the pile. He didn't say anything, didn't ask anything further either; he just let his hand cover both of hers. And trapped between them, Oliver's.
Felicity closed her eyes, dropping her head forward and letting her forehead rest against Diggle's arm, where it was stretched over their unconscious partner.
"Roy has an update," Sara's voice reached her ears after a while; Felicity thought she had probably stood aside even when she was done with her call, to give them a moment. As she took her spot next to Felicity, she informed, "Moira and Thea had already been called by the PD when he got there. They were freaking out, still are, but he told them the vigilante's taking care of Oliver – not that that made them freak out less. I said we'd get Ollie back home as soon as he's in the clear."
Felicity rubbed her forehead up and down John's arm, in what she hoped would translate as a nod of acknowledgment.
There wasn't much left to do after that, except wait.