A/N: Hi again! So this is the same story from the same prompt that I've posted once before, but I have updated it. Instead of a snippet, this is now the whole of chapter one! YAY! I am definitely continuing this fic, probably on a biweekly schedule for at least the first couple of chapters (so two weeks from today you'll get chapter two). It's a longer time between updates, but I want to make sure the updates are regular. That said, if I get further ahead in writing chapters, I'll update sooner. Thanks in advance for your patience.
And please review after you've read. I'd love to know what you think!
Disclaimer: I do not own Arrow. Significant lines below are taken directly (or almost directly from the tv show). Chances are, if you recognize the words, they aren't mine.
Also, a HUGE shoutout to mabscifiromantic for proofreading this for me! You're amazing!
So without further ado:
That's all he knows in that first moment of stunning clarity.
He can't breathe through his crushed windpipe and the sword angled through his chest certainly isn't happening matters. The Head of the Demon speaks in Arabic. Even if he had the mental capacity to understand, Oliver's not present in the moment anymore.
Before his eyes, he sees everyone he loves on display in terrifyingly clear quality: Dad...Mom...Thea...Felicity...
He clings to the last memory: that simple kiss in the hospital hallway that feels like years ago. He should have taken the chance. He should have held her close and loved her while he had the time. He shouldn't have pushed her away. Now, he's never going to get to see her again, to hold her, to love her in all the ways he imagined.
He's falling, plummeting from the cliff. At first, he thought it was just his spirit leaving his body, but he feels the weightlessness and the rush of the wind flying him. He can't feel the pain anymore. He's numb to all but her image in his mind – that moment in the hospital branded into his eyelids with no hope of escape. So he embraces it and closes his eyes, waiting for the impact, waiting for everything to end. There's no way he can survive his injuries, let alone the impact with the ground. At least he told her he loved her before he left.
He should be dead by now. It doesn't take this long to fall off a cliff. He doesn't even feel like he's falling anymore. The air's not whipping past and it's almost like he can feel solid ground under his feet. It's almost like he's standing...
Frowning, he opens his eyes and his heart seizes in his chest. This isn't possible.
Sprawled out in front of him is Starling City – the Glades still standing? The glow from hundreds of windows illuminates the night sky, bringing light to a city that should probably be asleep. It's home, but irrevocably different. He doesn't know when, but he got used to the destruction left in the aftermath of the Undertaking and the new buildings that sprang up in its wake. Looking at the old skyline, he feels lost, like this place is mocking him, showing him what he was unable to save.
He looks down at his white t-shirt and blue scrub bottoms, an interesting choice for...wherever he is because this must be some version of Heaven or Hell, right? God forbid it's another Purgatory.
His body's all in one piece or so it seems: no pain, no open wound spouting blood, no limbs hanging at odd angles. He flexes each of his joints in sequence from toes to his knees, taking careful stock of each movement. It's like years have been erased from his body. His damaged knee no longer grinds. He almost feels...lighter on his feet. Hip, spine, shoulders, all the way down to his fingertips yearning for the familiar feel of a bow and arrow: they all respond and react with defined clarity. His heart has resumed pounding in his chest. As far as he can tell, he's alive...somehow. Or at least possesses the illusion of life.
But there's something about his surroundings: the view of the city, the antiseptic smell of the hospital room, the starchy feel of the clothes. They don't feel familiar exactly, but the memory of them echoes faintly in his mind. There's something about them that pulls at the edge of his conscious, begging him to remember something. It's almost like...but that can't be right.
The familiar voice stops the heart in his chest and ever so slowly he turns away from the window. "Mom." It escapes in a strangled gasp, sounding almost foreign as he takes a step closer. Maybe this is his personal hell showing him everything and everyone he failed to save because this absolutely isn't possible. She died with a sword through her chest. And symmetry of him dying the same way isn't lost on him.
But that simple fact doesn't stop Oliver from taking two quick steps forward and enveloping her in a hug because right now, for the moment, she is as solid and real as he is. She's right here in front of him and she died thinking he didn't love her. He relaxes into her touch, enjoying the familiar warmth that he didn't realize he missed so much until now.
"My beautiful boy," she whispers in his ear as her tears hit his neck and he wrestles with his own emotions.
"I missed you, too. Mom." He pulls back, drinking her in with a sad smile. So this is the afterlife. It might not be so bad. They'll get along without him in Starling. Digg, Felicity, and Roy can handle it on their own. Maybe they'll do the smart thing and forget about the mission altogether and move on with their lives. He just wants them to be happy.
Moira smiles happily up at Oliver. Reaching out reverently, she strokes his face. "Five years. I thought you were dead for five years and now you're back. My beautiful, beautiful boy."
That's the first clue that has him stopping in his tracks. Five years? That...
He lets her pull him into another hug as his eyes lock onto the muted TV on the wall and the bright green banner across the bottom of the screen: Oliver Queen Alive?
It hits him then and tears the breath from his lungs: He's lived this day before.
He doesn't know how this is possible, but this is the day he got back from the island, at least the official day anyway. Somehow he's back here again. Or at least, that's what appears to be happening because now the clothes and the hospital room all make sense. It clicks into place with the memory he has of coming home to his family again. It's more than just familiar. It's the exact same.
"What do you say we get you home?" His mother asks, pulling back and squeezing his arms. "The doctor said you could be released and I'm sure you want to see Thea."
Looking at her expectant smile, he swallows hard as he realizes that it really doesn't matter if this is real or some fabrication because right now he's been given an opportunity, a chance to change how he did things. He can save the Glades, Tommy, and his mother. He can save Sara. And even if this is just his mind playing tricks on him, he doesn't have a choice because it's worth the risk. He can change everything for the better.
So he nods with a sad smile to his mother, reaching over to grab the wooden chest he dragged back from the island, its weight familiar and comfortable in his hand. He turns back to her, thinking about his homecoming and seeing Thea again for the first time in years. "Yeah. I'd like that."
It's surreal reliving the first day back from the island like it's never happened before. He just keeps wishing he could go talk to Felicity or Diggle to sort this thing out, but right now he doesn't know either of them...not yet. Which is really a pity because he get the feeling that Felicity would be great with the whole time-travel thing. Or at least that's the conclusion he drew from her diatribe after he asked about the blue, square police box mug she had in her cabinet. But she's not here to assist right now, so instead he lets his mother baby him, ushering him into the mansion with a big smile.
While everything unfolds the way he remembers it, his reactions are different. He can't help it. His regard for the people around him has changed so much over the past couple of years that he can't image brushing Walter off the same way. He could. He could choose to act this out the way he remembers it happened, but after everything Walter's done for him (or will do for him), he can't insult the man.
So when he walks through the door, he willingly shakes Walter's hand because he respects the man more now: he's actually family. He lets out a laugh or a genuine smile this time because he's not dragged down by recent horrors. He's reveling in this chance to be around his loved ones again while they were still happy and carefree. He wants them to stay that way, ignorant of all the horrible things that may or may not come. He just doesn't know how much he can actually change, if anything, or how much he should change because how can he change the events if it means losing Diggle and Felicity? Because what he does know for sure is that he can't make it through this without them.
And later, in the peace and quiet of his own room, after his first real shower in a while, Oliver pauses in front of the mirror, staring at the scars decorating his body. He doesn't usually do this, doesn't take the time to stare at the scar and think about how he got them. Some of them are still the angry red of currently healing injuries, but that's not what draws his attention.
It's the absence of scars like the bullet wound from his shoulder – the one his mother gave him, the one that brought Felicity on to the team. Or the other grazes he's acquired over the years that were dutifully stitched up by Diggle or Felicity or even Sara. And then there's the new ones he almost expected to be shown, the ones he just received from Ras Al Ghul. He never realized how much the new scars told a story and how their absence makes this whole things seem so much more permanent. His body is now living proof that he's rewriting history and he's not sure how he feels about that.
"What did I tell you? Yachts suck."
Now that he knows what's going on, he's prepared this time as he turns to face his best friend with a bright grin. He's missed Tommy almost as much as his mother, more because he's been gone longer. "Tommy Merlyn."
"I missed you, buddy." Tommy pulls him into a hug, clapping him on the back in a familiar movement that cannot be erased by years of absence. This is his friend, the friend who isn't mad at him for committing murder.
Oliver smiles, the words 'me too' caught in his throat. And he vows in this moment that this time he'll stop the Undertaking completely. The Glades won't fall and he won't lose Tommy. They'll shut down the machines, both of them, before anyone can get hurt. He can change things.
He's antsy. He can't seem to stop his leg from bouncing under the table as Tommy attempts to update him with some pop culture, but all he can think about are the movie marathons at Felicity's with Diggle and Roy that they started over the past summer (or two summers in the future? He really doesn't know how to label that.). He knows this needs to happen. He needs to hear these things or they're going to get suspicious when he knows things he shouldn't.
More than that, though, he has to go through the motions. He has to do these things in order to get to know Diggle and Felicity. He's been given an incredible opportunity, but he feels like he's just going to mess it up and at times like this Felicity's nerdy babbles about time travel would be incredibly helpful. Plus, he just misses her.
"What was it like there?"
Thea's abrupt question drags him from his thoughts. Quiet descends and Oliver smiles politely. "Cold." He's not about to change that answer. It's short, sweet, and true. There's no way he's about to explain everything right here and now. That would ruin all his future plans considering one of the people behind the Undertaking is sitting at the other end of the table. He needs to get his whole operation running before he can explain this to them...if he explains it to them. He's still not sure about what he's going to do on that account.
"Tomorrow. You and me, we're doing the city. You've got a lot to catch up on," Tommy declares in between mouthfuls of food.
"That sounds like a great idea." His mother smiles down the table over her wine glass. Even he can't help the royalty comparisons in his head because she always reminded him of an actual queen.
"Good. Then I was planning to swing by the office." There's a blonde IT girl he has to meet so he can get her to fall in love with him. More than that, he just needs to hear her babble. He needs to know that she's okay, that everything's fine, and that he can get them back on track. He needs to know she's safe. He's going to go crazy if he does hear her, see her.
"Well, there's plenty of time for that. Queen Consolidated isn't going anywhere." Walter diverts and Oliver fights back amusement at the glance Walter and his mother exchange. They think they're being covert.
Motion stirs his periphery. Without looking, Oliver catches the bowl of fruit and hands it back to Raisa, brushing away her apologies with some whispered Russian and ignoring the questioning glances. He smiles at her, patting her hand carefully. She stares back at him.
"Dude, you speak Russian?" Tommy blinks, eyes wide in surprise like he didn't think Oliver had the attention span to learn another language.
"I didn't realize you took Russian in college, Oliver." Walter watches him from down the table with polite interest. It feels very British of him.
"And I didn't realize how much I missed family dinners." He smiles, deciding to spare them the scathing comment he remembers: 'I didn't realize you wanted to sleep with my mother'. Instead he leans back in the chair. "I suppose I should say congratulations on the wedding."
His mom and Walter freeze at the other end of the table, glancing at each other with wide eyes. The rest of the room tenses, like his words were a bucket of ice water on an otherwise pleasant conversation.
Thea holds her hands up. "I didn't say anything."
He chuckles. "She didn't have to. I was able to figure that one out on my own. Welcome to the family, Walter, even if I am a little late in saying it." He picks up his fork, but none of the food on his plate looks particularly interesting. He hasn't eaten anything rich since the island, except for the occasional meal, so he just pushes food around his plate, lifting the fork to his mouth only occasionally.
"Oliver, I just want you to know that we-"
"It's fine, Mom." He cuts her off with a smile because it really is. He's gotten used to it. Walter is just like family to him and he understands her need for comfort. His mother found somebody. Without Walter, he would never meet Felicity or save the company from Isabel Rochev. He sighs and stands. "May I be excused?"
His mother nods and he ignores the still-tense atmosphere around the table, pretending they aren't going to start talking about him as soon as he leaves. He slips an apple from the bowl Raisa almost dropped, patting Tommy on the shoulder and winking at Thea as he saunters out of the room. Let them talk. He has better things to do.
Tossing the apple in the air as he makes his way back to his room, Oliver considers his options. Last time, he waited a few days to set up the foundry and almost killed his mother in the middle of a nightmare. That's not something he really wants to repeat. Then again, the nightmares aren't as common anymore. He doubts they're going to return now.
He munches on the apple as he considers his options. He could do everything the same way he did last time, going through the motions to get his team back together and then once Digg and Felicity are on his side, he can try to change things. If he changes too early, he might never meet them, but there are certain things he cannot do again. He won't watch Tommy die, and he doesn't want to be the killer he was the first time. No more taking lives. From the start this time.
Should he search out Digg and Felicity, get them in on this now? Would they agree to it? Felicity would probably be intrigued by the idea, but Digg would call him crazy. No. He can't let them in sooner.
And that's another thing. Constantly worrying about Felicity and her safety...does he really want to do that again? Can he manage this without bringing her into the life? Without putting her in danger?
No. He shakes his head at himself. That's not what he wants, and he knows exactly what she would say if she were here: her life, her choice. Plus, it's not like he can find another computer hacker who could do her job.
He sighs. So he's going to have to wait to contact Digg and Felicity. He met John Diggle after the kidnapping his second day back, which means tomorrow.
Oliver grimaces as he starts to pace his bedroom. The kidnapping. He killed all their kidnappers last time because they knew his secret. They can't know his secret, but how is he supposed to fight to save himself and Tommy without being seen? It's not possible. He groans. He forgot what it was like to work solo.
The storm assaults the windows outside as Oliver continues to ponder his options until he can't take it anymore. He has to do something, so he slips through the house on silent feet and out to the garage. He flips the same light switches and everything livens up.
With the rain, he bypasses his motorcycle and pulls the keys to the plain black sedan from the hook on the wall. He doesn't want something flashy right now. Something normal feels right, even if he misses the quick navigating he gets from the Ducati. It's worth it that he's comfortable and not drenched.
He pulls to a stop in the parking lot of the convenience store Felicity buys her ice cream from. The rain falls slower now, the thunder further in the distance where it can't stir up as many memories. He slips from the car and down the sidewalk towards her apartment. He slips between the buildings, sticking to the shadows. The fire escape creaks at his added weight and he nearly slips three times before he finds himself at her window, peeking in like the stalker he's apparently turned into. The light in her living room is on, the same bright colors vividly on display as she sits, curled in the middle of her couch, munching on popcorn in her fuzzy, oversized pajamas.
He smiles as she yells tearfully at her TV. "Why would you do that Rose? You know he loved you!"
That's his Felicity. It's all he needs to soothe his soul. He feels more comfortable now, knowing that she's okay. He's seen her with his own eyes. Water soaks through the seat of his pants as he sits on the fire escape and just watches her watching Doctor Who until she falls asleep sprawled on the couch.
It's a huge invasion of privacy and she would chew him out if she was awake, but he opens the window and slinks into her living room. Oliver smirks at the lack of a Robin Hood poster. He knew she bought it only after working with him. He picks up the blanket from the back of the couch and drapes it over her. He would move her into her room, but he doesn't want to freak her out when she wakes up.
He brushes the hair back from her face, running a thumb over her smooth cheek. "I promise I won't mess this up again," he whispers before pressing a light kiss to her forehead, heartrate accelerating when she presses back into his touch.
Flicking off the lights and TV, Oliver makes sure all the doors and windows into her apartment are locked before leaving through the window. Walking back through the dark streets, the rain a distant memory, Oliver finally feels at piece, no longer worried about the consequences of his actions because he has confidence in what he's doing and that it will lead her back to him.