Chapter Three: Love's a Crime

"Thea said you disappeared for a while last night." Moira's voice remains casual, her gaze steady on her son's face. The two are in the sitting room of the manor.

"Right, there was an emergency at work," Oliver waives off Felicity's call of the previous evening, warning him of the psychotic villain in their territory. "But I did make it back in time for the verdict," he points out, leaving the 'no harm, no foul,' left unsaid.

"At work," Moira repeats. "So that would mean you were at the office around the time Count Vertigo fell out of your window."

For a change, Oliver's flashback does not involve the island at all. For one moment he's back on the witness stand, being grilled by Laurel.

He forces his attention back to the present. His interrogator this time may not be an attorney, but she's no less calculating. He's reminded that this is the woman that took over as CEO of a multinational corporation during Walter's absence.

"I don't understand, Mom. What are you saying?" Even if he can no longer get away with the dumb blond act, he can still fake confusion.

"I'm saying that I know that it's not a coincidence that you and the Arrow both disappeared right after the Undertaking and both reappeared right when we needed you the most."

Well, she reflects, maybe that's not quite right. She could have used her son by her side during the early days of her imprisonment, especially since she had been snubbed by both Walter and Thea at the time. Back then it had seemed that the only person who would stick by her was her attorney.

"I don't know about the Arrow, but I already explained that I was on the island," Oliver does his best not to grit his teeth. The key, he knows, is to remain outwardly unaffected.

"That's where you learned how to use a bow and arrow, isn't it?" his mother asks. Her voice has gone soft. "To hunt game, perhaps, or to just stay alive."

To kill, Oliver thinks, before being assaulted by the memory of a powerless Slade Wilson receiving an arrow to the eye.

They'd realized that they didn't need to choose between giving Slade the cure and killing him. The one would make it easier to accomplish the other. He'd killed Slade in cold blood, adding to the deaths on his conscience before he'd ever returned to Starling City.

Tommy was right; Detective—no, Officer Lance was right. He was a killer…

"That island helped forge the person you are today," Moira continues. "And after…what happened, you needed to go back there to remind yourself who you are. I understand that," she lays a hand on his arm. "And I want you to know that I'm proud of who you are. I couldn't be more proud."

"You're proud?" Oliver can't help it; he quirks an eyebrow. "Didn't you once shoot the Arrow?"

Moira frowns as she withdraws her hand.

"I hadn't figured out your secret at that point and, to be fair, you had broken in to my office and were holding me hostage at the time. I was afraid for my safety and for your wellbeing. You should have known I would act in self-defense, dear."

"Oh, my mistake," Oliver shakes his head, incredulous that this conversation is taking place.

"You will notice, Oliver, that none of that would have happened if we hadn't been keeping secrets from each other. We have to be truthful with one another from here on out.

"I wouldn't have confronted you about your secret if I didn't have to tell you something. You didn't kill him."

"I know I didn't set off the earthquake device, but Tommy would still be alive if—"

"No, I wasn't referring to Tommy, although this lingering guilt of yours is unfounded. Oliver, Malcolm Merlyn is still alive. You didn't kill him."

The breath leaves Oliver's lungs in a rush as he tries to process this bombshell.

"What are you talking about?"

"He waylaid me on my way home after the verdict last night. He wanted me to know he was alive, that he," she steels herself for the admission, "that he corrupted the jury. He's the reason I was acquitted."

Oliver knows he should reassure his mother, to persuade her that even without Merlyn's interference she would have been acquitted anyway. But he's a bit too preoccupied with trying to grasp the fact that his nemesis is out there and has apparently been biding his time for months without anyone on his team being any the wiser.

"What does he want?"

Author's Note: Thanks to neal4grissom, atlan2007, Aaron Leach, lilolivia179, Aneeta Potter, TheOddManOut and Cry-Pom for reviewing! And thanks again to those who have added the story to your list of favorites and/or alerts.

Now, this story, out of deference to the prompter's wishes, is gen. However, should there be any Quiver fans reading this and disappointed by the conspicuous lack of slash, you can get your fix from my current fic, "Black Bird; Green Arrow."