A/N: THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR REVIEWING, FOLLOWING, and FAVORITING! I would give you all a giant hug and make heaps of delicious cookies if it were possible to do such things over the internet, but alas 'tis not possible.
This chapter is longer than normal and I hope you like it. It gave me and my beta a bit (read: a lot) of trouble writing it, but let me tell you, the story is starting to get good. We're working on edits for Chapters 4 and 5 now (because the original Chapter 3 was so long that it expanded to cover three chapters...), and there's a lot that's going to be happening.
Anyway, I read and enjoy! As always review to let me know what you think! Feedback is always greatly appreciated!
"Mr. Queen...Mr. Queen, can you hear me?"
Lights and face blur before Oliver's eyes and he finds himself starting, instinctively lashing out at the shapes before they come fully into focus. It's too similar to the last time he woke up: he doesn't like waking up in unfamiliar places: it's happened far too often.
Several blinks later, he's finally pushed off enough of the drug in his system to process his surroundings. This isn't the old, iron warehouse. He's lying sprawled on a lawn, grass soft under his back. Beyond the people, he sees blue sky, townhouses, and the telltale vans of the nearby news stations. This isn't want he wanted to happen, but he also hasn't killed anyone so he'll take the win.
"It's okay, Mr. Queen. You're safe now."
Oliver's attention snaps back to the blue-uniformed people milling around him, carefully keeping their distance in an effort not to spook him. Two EMTs hover right in front of him, the closer one holding out a friendly hand as he speaks, his medical bag in the other hand. He smiles as he takes another tentative step closer.
"We just need to check you out."
The words are slow getting to him, like he's hearing them through syrup. It takes him a moment for his groggy brain makes sense of the sounds and then another before he nods, fighting the nausea that hits him at the motion.
EMT 1 and 2 immediately move, taking his vitals and asking him questions rapidly. He holds up a hand and grimaces at the sudden influx of noise directed at him. They pause, still tracking his vitals, but now watching him carefully.
"How are you feeling, Mr. Queen?" EMT 1 asks slowly, holding up a flashlight to look in his eyes.
Oliver blinks against the light. His words are coming through clearly now, no longer looking like a video on sound delay. "Just a little woozy." He moves and grimaces. "And a little sore."
"Okay. Can you tell me what year it is?" The flashlight falls back into the bag and he hands Oliver a bottle of water.
"2012." He reaches back to rub the sore muscles in his neck. Moving slowly to mask the discomfort from the taser burns on his chest. Hopefully no one will notice the marks on his clothes. He refuses to expose himself for these people. The last thing he needs is more ogling at his scars. Or worse, his tattoos. The police, for one, would undoubtedly recognize the Bratva tattoo and that's not something he needs to deal with.
"And can you tell me where you are?"
Oliver nearly glares at the man, but instead takes another look at his surroundings, noting the police barrier holding back the masses of people. "I'm guessing Starling," he responds acerbically.
The man scowls at him, unamused, unlike his partner who chuckles in the background. "This is serious, Mr. Queen. I'm trying to assess your cognitive function."
He points towards the ambulance where Starling City stands out in blue paint. "Well, last time I knew where I was, I was outside CNRI. I don't know how much time has passed, but based on who's here, I think Starling City's a safe bet."
EMT 2 grins. "He's got a point, Artie."
Artie glares at his partner. "Fine. You still feeling woozy, Mr. Queen."
He blinks away the returned blurriness, frowning. What was in those tranq-darts? "Yeah. A little...they gave me...something."
The EMTs share a glance. "Alright, we're just going to take a sample of your blood, but otherwise you seem fine, Mr. Queen. If you develop any more symptoms, contact your physician or call an ambulance."
He nods, letting his eyes wander over the milling police officers as they take his blood. Inside the police barrier, officers are talking with a couple civilians, probably the ones that called the police and witnessed whatever happened. He's still stumped that they dumped him in a public area. They clearly wanted him to be found quickly. But if he had to guess, this is a dead zone, surveillance-wise, not even a traffic cam in a four block radius. They're not going to find his kidnappers. He's sure the men have vanished with just a hefty wad of cash in their accounts.
The news crew and, based on the crowd, at least a dozen cell phones are capturing this moment. It might yield him more paparazzi interest, but it lets him play up the helpless angle. Maybe he won't have to be arrested this time. That's a plus.
As the EMTs retreat, two plain clothes detectives approach and Oliver shakes his head at the sheer number of times Detective Quentin Lance ends up working cases involving him. Lance is already glaring in his direction, a scowl taking over his face while his partner appears to be talking him off the edge.
Oliver rests his head in his hands, wishing he could shake the effects of the drug off quicker. He's not really in the mood to deal with Lance's anger. He had hoped to be more clear-headed for the inevitable confrontation. He'd also hoped for less of an audience because it's not going to be pretty.
"Mister Queen, looks like you've gotten yourself into trouble again. And you haven't even been back a week!"
Oliver feels at a distinct disadvantage looking up from the ground. He could stand and face the detective head on, fighting against the fatigue and dizziness, but that's not something his public persona should be seen doing so he continues to look up at them.
He grimaces against the bright afternoon sun. "Detective."
Lance glares, but his partner steps forward with a not-so-subtle glance at his partner to stand down. "Mr. Queen, I'm Detective Hilton of the Starling City Police Department, and you've already met Detective Lance. We just need to ask you a couple questions."
Oliver nods with a wry smile. "Well, I was kidnapped, so that makes sense. You should have heard all the questions they asked when I got off the Island."
Neither detective looks particularly amused by the comment, but Hilton muffles a snort. Lance crosses his arms over his chest.
"Well, we can ask the questions here or we can ask them at the station," Hilton offers.
Oliver glances around the open area. He's not particularly receptive to the idea of going to the station, but he doesn't like being out in the open like this.
"Actually, Detectives, you can interview him back in the comfort of our home. I think my son has had enough excitement for one day."
He's not sure if he wants to groan or laugh at the sound of his mother's crisp voice. Clearly, Detective Lance isn't too pleased with the development either based on the deepening scowl on his face.
"My lawyer assures me that should be just fine." Moira tilts her head to the side with a pleasant smile and all the royal condescension of a true Queen. She gestures gracefully to the woman at her side. "So why don't we leave this crowd behind? Oliver will be at our house, when you need him for questioning. I'm sure you remember how to find it, Detective."
Oliver pulls himself to his feet, swaying a little as the effects of the drug hit him. Hilton automatically reaches out to stabilize him and Oliver nods in thanks.
"You know, Moira, I would have thought it would take you longer to get here. Officer Stein only called you ten minutes ago." Quentin turns his suspicious gaze on Oliver's mother, cool contempt filling his tone. "You come down to protect your boy from the evil law enforcement one last time."
"The law enforcement is on my son's side, this time. Or have you forgotten, Quentin? He was kidnapped."
Oliver shakes his head at their antagonism. "Mom, it's okay."
"No. It's not, Oliver. This is harassment." Moira turns to her lawyer, who nods in agreement.
Oliver nearly groans. This is definitely not what he wants to be doing right now. Sure, Lance is pissed at him and his mother wants to defend him, but he doesn't need her to save him from Lance and he definitely doesn't want to get into this here, not in front of all the cameras and witnesses.
"Mrs. Queen, I apologize for my partner."
Lance snorts at Hilton's apology. Hilton sends him another quelling look, but Lance is done holding his tongue. "This son of a bitch killed my daughter."
"Now, Detective Lance that is an unfounded accusation," the lawyer starts and Oliver can feel the situation getting out of hand. There are too many people involved in this.
"No," Oliver whispers, but his voice catches their attention. He looks up at the curious faces and shrugs. "He's right. What happened to Sara is my fault." He's not about to tell them Sara's alive. That would pit them against the League of Assassins and he's not going to be responsible for their deaths. He refuses to let himself be a part of that.
"Oliver..." His mother shakes his head. "Don't say that-"
"It's true," he says with a grim expression, still speaking quietly so he won't be overheard. "I asked her to come on that boat with me. It's my fault."
Detective Lance doesn't seem to know what to do with his confession. His anger quickly drains from his body. Hilton stands awkwardly by and Moira seizes the opportunity. She pulls Oliver back into her arms, rubbing small circles into his back as she sighs into his ear.
"You aren't back even a whole day and you were nearly taken from me again." She steps back and sighs, running hands up and down his arms to convince herself that he's really there in front of her. She shakes herself and pastes on her public smile. "Let's get you home."
The silence in the town car is oppressive. The driver and his mom's lawyer are stoic as normal and he forgot how tense the silence in a car could be, especially with his mother worriedly clasping his shoulder. He can still feel the drug lingering in his system, but he's shaking off the last of its influence now.
"How..." His mother's head shoots up at the sound of his voice and he has to swallow in order to ask the question. He forgot how much she could worry. "How long have I been missing?" How long has she been freaking out?
She offers him a watery smile. "Too long, Sweetheart."
It's not much of an answer, at least not the kind that he's looking for, but he squeezes her hand while offering a reassuring smile. She squeezes his hand back.
"Tommy saw them grab you and called for help. Your sister is beside herself. She'll be happy to see you. I'm happy to see you." She reaches up to stroke his face, searching for contact as the only way to reassure herself that he's all in one piece. "Oh my beautiful boy."
Oliver pulls her back into a hug, glancing at the clock on the dashboard. It's been about four hours since he last checked the time, most of it drugged into unconsciousness. That's a long time for him to have been gone compared to the few questions they asked. That thought, coupled with the statement about killing him, sends a shiver down his spine. This could have been so much worse.
"Oliver! You're okay!"
Thea crashes into him as soon as his head clears the car, her momentum nearly dumping them both back into the backseat. Resettling them both on their feet, Oliver holds her tightly, eyes meeting Tommy's over her head. "I'm fine." He assures them both with a small smile.
Moira pulls Thea into her for a hug, allowing Oliver to close the car door. "I told you he would be alright." Her voice now confident and soothing, all traces of her distress from the car ride vanished into nothing as she reassures her daughter.
"Glad you're okay, buddy." Tommy pulls him into an unusually emotional hug before turning to follow his mother and Thea into the house. He throws a final glance over his shoulder at Oliver but seems to realize that he needs a moment.
The last of the drug's effects have vanished from his system, leaving him lucid and desperate for a few private moments just to gather his thoughts.
"Oliver? Aren't you coming in?" his mother calls back, her concerned tone resurfacing. Behind her Tommy and Thea's matching looks of concern, only remind him that they're related.
"I...just...need a few minutes, Mom. I'll join you soon. I told you: I'm not going anywhere."
Her features settle from trepidation into understanding, the acceptance a vast improvement over the worrying he's witnessed for the past half hour. She nods and closes the door behind her, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
Oliver breathes deeply. The quiet of the estate washes over him and he tries to recapture the peace he felt this morning. He can feel the warm sun on his face, the balmy breeze riffling his hair, but neither compare to the comfort of her smile, the electric contact of her fingers grazing through his stubble. The constant need for her isn't anything new, but the fact that they have no connection, at present, sharpens the ache. With this whole twisted situation, just the chance to touch her would ease him – his hand on her shoulder, the press of her hand, or if he was really lucky, a hug – but that wasn't an option here, where he hasn't met her yet.
His forefinger rubs his thumb in agitation. There will be no comfort from her today.
A man died today because someone wanted answers. He can't help thinking that he could have avoided this. If he had remembered the man, he could have done...he doesn't know what he could have done, but he should have done something, anything.
The slamming of a car door breaks his train of thought and suddenly the gunshots in the alley are drawn into stunning focus in his mind. They're not the first he's ever heard and they're definitely not going to be the last, but this was his first test at changing the future and he's already failed.
"You okay there, Queen?" Quentin asks, a taunting lilt coloring his voice. Just underneath the mocking contempt, he hears the accusing undertone of his voice and he knows he deserves nothing more.
"I thought it was over once I got off the Island," Oliver whispers to himself, staring past the detectives like they're not there. He's making an active choice to continue his crusade, and right now it's really hitting him. His crusade could have been over once he got off the Island. He's choosing to continue it, so he can make the rules. He can choose to be happy: he can choose her.
At this second mention of the Island, he can feel the uneasiness and sympathy radiating off Detective Hilton. It's handy how uncomfortable the Island makes people. Lance's partner shifts and can't meet Oliver's eyes, but Quentin scowls and steps closer, anger now clearly displayed on his features. Clearly, he hasn't calmed down on the drive over, but this discussion needs to happen sooner or later.
"And my baby girl, Queen? Did she even make it to the Island or did you leave her to drown?" So much for letting his anger go.
Oliver takes the verbal hit, physically wincing as he averts his eyes. "She didn't drown."
Lance freezes, the words shocking him out of his ire, "Wha..."
It escaped accidentally a moment ago, but now he makes a conscious choice: "Sara didn't drown."
That was the last thing they expected from him. He takes a deep breath and looks Lance directly in the eye as he repeats the truth, ignoring Hilton's astonishment. He waits patiently now as Quentin clenches his jaw, searching for the courage to ask what he wants to know.
Lance pivots and strides away, back towards the car, scowling and running an agitated hand through his hair. Oliver tries to ignore the unease in his gut. Should he be doing this? Should he tell Lance the truth? He knows Lance and Sara had always been close, but he can't share the whole truth right here and now. It wouldn't be right. And if the Undertaking never happens, who's to say she'll come back.
But the damage is already done. He can't take back what he said.
Hilton remains silent, watching his partner, waiting for the calm to end in the storm of anger he knows is coming. The guilt Oliver feels as he watches Lance's anguish reminds him why he only spent time with Quentin as the Arrow: Quentin Lance hates Oliver Queen. And with good reason, too.
Oliver wants to hunch his shoulders and hang his head, to make himself seem smaller, less threatening. Instead he stands tall, refusing to flinch away from this now that he's made his decision.
"What do you mean: 'She didn't drown'? Is this some sick joke, Queen?" cutting the silence, Lance finally asks the question Oliver's dreading.
Hilton stands silent and stoic.
Oliver sighs, staring at ground as his fingers glide together in repressed agitation. "It's a long story. And it's not a nice one."
"Did you leave her to die on that Island?" Lance advances on him, clearly no longer needing distance. The hate-infused glare stops just at the edge of his personal space.
Your daughter's stronger than you realize, Oliver thinks, even back then. Out loud he says: "She didn't make it to the Island at first. She found a freighter...it wasn't any better than the Island, really." He takes a deep breath, wondering how much about the Island he should reveal. He's telling the truth, so he would hate to ruin it with a lie. "I ended up on that freighter a year later and I found her there."
He can't continue from there. He has to pause to think about how much he wants to say. He's so absorbed in his thoughts that he only now realizes that Hilton has moved to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his partner and both men are staring at him with wide eyes. He takes a deep breath.
"The man who kept her there was experimenting on people. He didn't do anything to her, at least not that I know. We got away from him for a while...We lived on the Island for some time...We tried to use the freighter to get home, but there was an accident." He pauses for another shaky breath, dragged back to the moment in the freighter. "She got sucked out of the ship and I couldn't find her. Again. I passed out and by the time I woke up, there was no hope of finding her. That was the last time I saw her."
Lance's hands dig into the leather of his belt until his knuckles whiten from the pressure. There are tears in his eyes and he can't meet Oliver's gaze. Oliver stares him in the face all the same.
"I know I don't have any right to tell you this, but I'm sorry I ever invited Sara to come with me that day. I did everything I could to make sure she was okay and to get her home once I knew she was alive." And he'll figure out a way to get her back again. The League of Assassins will make it trickier, but he'll figure out a way. "I'm sorry, Detective."
Knowing there's nothing he can willingly add to his story Oliver makes his way inside to join his family.
Every member of the house congregates in the living room to witness the interview. Oliver waits for the interrogation. At least this one won't include torture. Although with Lance conducting it there might be...
It's always Lance who questions him. He's always the lead, so Oliver double-takes when Hilton hesitantly steps forward.
"Um, Mr. Queen, can you tell us what happened?"
Oliver nods. "Tommy and I went to see Laurel. We spoke briefly. I left her and Tommy to talk and when I got to the car, a van pulled up and these two guys came out of nowhere. One of them got me with a...dart-thing?"
"A tranquilizer. We're running it at the lab now, and checking it against whatever was in your blood," Hilton supplies for the benefit of his mother and Walter. Both are perched on the edge of the couch across from him, hands clasped, the picture of concerned parents. "And what happened next?"
The memory of gunfire jerks him back to reality. "What happened to that guy? The one from the alley?"
Hilton shifts, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, Mr. Queen."
Oliver closes his eyes, wrestling with the guilt. Today is turning out to be far more emotional than he thought it would be.
Time to focus.
This time instead of using this to feed them a story of the vigilante, he's going to use this to discredit him as a possibility. If they don't think he can handle stressful situations, they won't come after him as the vigilante.
"I woke up in a warehouse...tied to a chair." He's channeling his worst moments now, letting his hands shake and uncertainty creep into his voice. As his audience shifts, he knows they felt the difference. Now all he can see in front of his eyes is Ra's al Ghul's sword plunging into his chest.
He coughs to pull his head back into the moment and the story he's supposed to be telling right now. "There were...three men. They asked me about the Island and if Dad made it off the boat. Then I guess they hit me with another dart-thing and I woke up where you found me."
He swallows thickly. He didn't expect the memory to hit him that hard. That's apparently what happens when you relive last moments before getting kicked off a cliff.
"Can you describe the men?" Hilton asks, glancing up from his miniature notebook.
Oliver shrugs. The men were meant to be ghosts and with no dead bodies, there's no way to identify the men at all. "Red devil-masks, dark clothes, similar heights, I think. I didn't catch of glimpse of any faces."
"Only one guy asked me questions. He sounded...normal...aggressive..."
He could name each of their weapons and possible places they could have acquired them, but it's better to play dumb in response to this question. He doesn't need to raise more questions while answering this one. "Two had big guns, the other guy just had the shock-thing." He gestures for a moment before finding the word with a snap of his fingers. "Taser! He had a taser. That was the guy who questioned me."
"So the man with the taser questioned you. What did he want to know?"
"Just questions about my father? How is this relevant?" He frowned in confusion at the Detective's line of questioning.
"Just trying to figure out why they took you, Mr. Queen." He smiles tightly, glancing at Moira and the lawyer lurking around the room. Hilton clears his throat and continues. "And did this man use the taser on you?"
Oliver glances down at his hands, clenching them together before forcing himself to relax as he lets out a breath. He looks back up and nods slowly. "When I didn't answer fast enough."
Hilton glances at Lance in alarm. "Did the EMTs check those?"
"No," he says quietly but firmly. He's not going to change his mind on this one.
His mother squeaks, making a noise of protest at the question. "Why didn't you get them checked?"
Oliver's fingers dig into his knees. "I didn't feel the need to put myself on display, Mom." He rubs the burns through his shirt. "Besides, I've been through worse." She's heard about the scars. She knows.
"Honey, that doesn't mean you need to suffer..."
"I'm okay, Mom." He forces a smile at her before turning back to Detective Hilton. "Any more questions for me, Detective?"
"I have one," Lance interrupts. "What did you tell my daughter?"
He nods slowly in understand, careful of his words around Lance. "Just that I was sorry and I understand if she's mad and never wants to see me again." He meets Quentin Lance's assessing gaze, conveying that he didn't share his story about Sara with her.
Lance nods abruptly, stands, and turns on his heel. "Let's go, Hilton. We'll let you know if we find any leads on who was behind this."
His mother walks them to the door and Oliver stands, unable to sit still for a minute longer. The agitated feeling is back, and he wants to see her.
"We're glad you're safe, Oliver," Walter nods his sentiments before slipping from the room. No one seems to know what do to in the aftermath of the kidnapping.
"Are you okay, Ollie?" Thea asks, glancing at Tommy worriedly.
"I'm fine, Speedy." He turns back to the living room, fingers rubbing together. He misses his bow and reigning in his instincts has taken more of a toll on him than he expected.
He sighs. Of course, he's not fine. He sighs, opting to continue his path of honesty despite his desire to let his sister live in blissful happiness.
"Of course, I'm not okay. For the past five years, nothing good happened. I finally make it home and something horrible happens in less than a day, but I'm moving on. I need to move on. Like I said, I've had worse happen to me."
"I'm as fine as I can be, Thea." He cuts her off before she can really get going. "I'm just trying to go back to a normal life. Let's just put this behind us," because a kidnapping is the least impressive thing that could happen. He forces a smile. "I need to get some rest."
Back in his room, he looks over the computer at his desk. He can't help wincing at the five-year-old setup – especially since it's more like seven from his perspective – knowing that Felicity would be yelling at him as she started rearranging things and creating a list of what he actually needs. She's been too much of an influence on him: he can't even fathom using that computer.
He wants to see her, to tell her what his day was like, to hear what happened to her, to listen to her fingers fly across the keyboard as he spars with Digg. Tomorrow Digg enters his life. And with that thought, Oliver wonders if he can bring him in sooner, ideally without a life-threatening poisoned bullet.
But he's already done too much thinking. He needs to do something, like set up the Foundry.
Suddenly, he can't be in his room any longer and bursts out the door, neatly twisting around to avoid colliding with Raisa in the hallway. For the second time in two days, he steadies the tray before it can crash to the ground.
"So sorry, Mister Oliver."
"It's no problem, Raisa," he tells her in Russian. Her eyes widen in surprise and he smiles at her. "Thank you for taking care of me. I missed you."
"No cook on the Island." Lifting the tray to showcase the meal she brought him.
"No friends either." He smiles and moves to open his door for her. So much for escaping quietly. He can't leave when she's just now bringing him dinner.
Raisa sets the tray down for him. "You're a good boy, Mister Oliver."
"I didn't used to be, but I'm trying to change that." He sighs. One more night at home won't hurt. Maybe he needs to be here. "So, Raisa...what did I miss?"