A/N: Unless otherwise stated, events in flashbacks happen just as they do on the show. All mistakes are mine.
He wakes up in a hospital bed, slowly coming to consciousness to the sterile smell of the room. The only light comes from the hall and the steady beep of the heart monitor verifies he's alive. He must be on some pretty significant painkillers, because he can't feel the pain that must be in his leg.
Oliver shifts, feeling the wires attached to his body, but not disconnecting them as he sits up, eyes stopping on a looming figure in an arm chair by the door. It's not an accident that the figure manages to stay cloaked in shadow.
He falls back on the pillow with a groan. "I didn't contact anyone, I swear. I don't know how they know."
The figure chuckles darkly, leaning forward. "I think we both know what happened."
Oliver lifts a hand to run through his hair. They're both thinking the same thing. "They found her."
The other man nods, moving to the edge of his chair, a stern face coming into focus. "A couple months ago."
Oliver grimaces at the realization. "A year undercover in Russia down the drain because they managed to track down my soulmate. I didn't think they would keep looking after I died." He turns to the other man. "I thought you were keeping an eye on them."
"They stopped." The man sighs, like the years are getting too much for him even though he's only ten years older than Oliver. "Thea found her in a grocery store, of all places. And the search wasn't full scale, so all I did was tell Lyla." He runs a hand over his jaw, undoubtedly running through everything in his mind, trying to figure out where it went wrong. "The news was made public and Lyla was going to pull you out when they took you."
Oliver nods, knowing they had his back after the past year. They managed to get him out of some bad situations. He trusts them. "So how'd you get to Russia?" Lyla's supposed to be the one in Russia, so him being here...something big happened.
"Your girl. She passed out in the bathroom screaming and when she came to she said you were in Russia. I volunteered to look into it."
Oliver pales. "When was that?"
"Three days ago. I'm guessing about the time you got those injuries."
Strings of curses come out his mouth in whatever language comes to him first. So the Russian had been telling the truth after all. "How is she?"
"Physically, she's fine, but whatever happened has her freaked out. Lyla's bringing her in."
Oliver closes his eyes, but he knows better than to wish this isn't happening. If that worked, he would have been home years ago. So he just takes a deep breath and faces the shadow once more.
"So what happens now?" Oliver asks. "What do we do, Digg?"
John Diggle stands slowly. "What we have to: We bring you home."
About Four Years Ago, Lian Yu
A little over a month. That's how long it took for him to get caught by the masked men running around the island. Not that he really knew they were there.
He thought it was just him and Yao Fei.
Actually, he thought Yao Fei was going kill him long before now, probably about the time he shot him in the shoulder.
But no, this is how he dies: tied up and tortured for hours.
Giving up Yao Fei never crosses his mind as an option. He won't give up the man who saved his life.
Besides, this feels right. He should have died when that boat went down with Sara. He should have died in the lifeboat with his father. He should have died as soon as he reached the Island. He's been fighting against time since the Gambit sank. It's just finally catching up now.
Another scream rips from his throat as the blade bites into his arm. Blood leaks from his body to drop on the thirsty ground. It's vibrant and red, the only thing about him that stands out after all this time.
A month ago, he thought there would be a rescue. He thought he would wake up safe in his bed. He thought it could all be just a terrible dream.
The pain reminds him that it isn't.
About Three Years and Six Months Ago, Lian Yu
"You should get rid of that mark, kid."
He shoots a glare sideways at the hulking Australian from his cot in the corner, dropping his hand from where it rested against his mark. The motion always soothed him. He couldn't imagine intentionally doing anything to change that spot which represented his other half. He had never put much stock in what it represented: his soulmate.
Oliver never bought into the concept that two people were fated to be together. His parents had never been faithful and he had certainly carried on that tradition. There were plenty of his friends who fooled around, swearing they would settle down once they found "the one". Even his parents assumed that would happen. He knows they started looking for her.
In all honesty, he knew he was expected to spend the rest of his life with the woman with the matching mark. But he also knew he would end up in a similar situation to his parents. They were together for appearances, but the perfect power couple. They found solace in other people, people with different marks.
Then Laurel started talking about moving in together. She never talked about her mark or her soulmate, but they both knew their marks didn't match. The heart and gavel on her hip hadn't held even a passing similarity to his arrow, and she hadn't cared.
There was one afternoon where she had gone on about how marks didn't really matter anymore because plenty of soulmates never married or their soulmates died and they married someone else.
He hadn't taken her hints at marriage any more seriously than the rest of it. Everyone knew the only reason to not settle down with your soulmate would be if they died and your mark scarred over. Not that he wouldn't be willing to continue their sexual relationship.
It was only on the island that the mark came to mean more to him. On the cold, rainy nights he could almost feel warmth and comfort radiating from the mark. It gives him hope that he'll find her one day.
"It's better that way," Slade continues. "Then they can't get to you through her."
"Well, I don't even know who she is, so it's not like that will make a difference."
Slade chuckles. "You think that now, kid, but if they have your other half, you'll do anything to save her."
"Speaking from experience?" Oliver almost hopes he is. Slade's stuck up and growly, always calling him useless. It might be true, but Oliver's trying. He's trying harder than he ever has for anything else in his life. Slade just never thinks it's enough.
"What makes you think I've met my soulmate yet?"
"You were married. You had a kid." Everyone he knows only does that once they've met their mate.
Slade laughs loudly. "Not everyone's that lucky, kid. The rest of the world isn't as dependent on their soulmate databases as the United States. Sometimes you find someone you love before you meet your other half. You don't let it stop your life."
He frowns. "Really?"
"You dense, kid? This isn't a perfect world where everyone finds their soulmate. Some of us can't afford it. And when you love someone, it doesn't matter."
"But isn't the point of soulmate that you meet eventually?"
"Life isn't all flowers and sunshine."
Oliver snorts. "You don't need to tell me that."
Slade huffs and turns away on his own cot, staring up at the stars through the hole in the ceiling of the downed plane. "The best thing you can do is destroy that mark."
Oliver twists away from the other man, curling into the threadbare blanket, attempting not to even consider the idea. It offers him comfort, so of course he's going to keep it. He doesn't care about his soulmate, that this is his connection to his other half. Right?
So why does it matter so much that he keeps it?
Three Years and Four Months, Lian Yu
"Your mark. It's an arrow?"
Oliver lowers the bow at Shado's question, adjusting his ragged shirt to cover his side again. He wondered if it was her when they met because her soulful eyes took his breath away, but he had seen her mark on her forearm when she had him slapping the bowl of water.
He knows what she's wondering: she wants to know if his arrow also comes with an eyepatch, if he's her match. The answer is no, of course. His arrow is made of a series of unknown numbers he doesn't understand, but knows it has something to do with his other half and it's not Shado.
Sighing, he faces her, lowering the weapon he's just learning to use. He'd be lying if he said the mark wasn't a big part in convincing him that this was the weapon he needed to learn. It felt a hell of a lot better in his hands than Slade's fighting sticks ever did.
"Can I see it?" Shado asks, her voice hesitant, her hand reaching out haltingly for the hem of his t-shirt.
He doesn't move, just lets her lift the fabric to get a look at the mark. He can feel her disappointment, but she doesn't drop the shirt yet. Instead, she runs her fingers lightly over the skin. It takes all of Oliver's limited control not to jerk away at the contact.
"Have you met her yet?"
He shakes his head, letting his eyes land on her forearm and the inky mark there. He realizes how close they're standing and how much he wants to kiss her. It's only the fact that they're talking about soulmates that stops him, which is a testament to how much the last year has changed him.
"Me neither," Shado whispers, stepping back and rubbing comforting circles around her own mark.
Oliver takes a step back, giving himself necessary distance before his control deserts him and he tries to kiss her. Because chances are, they're not getting off this island or finding their soulmates. It's been a while.
She just coughs though and shakes her head.
He takes aim again and shoots.
They never bring up soulmates again.
"You're playing with fire, kid."
Oliver glares at Slade, but doesn't bother asking what the other man means. Shado kissed him today, and for the first time he's actually concerned about the whole soulmate thing. He knows why she did it: she thinks they're going to die here and her soulmate will wake up one morning with a scar where his mark used to be.
He doesn't feel good about it. He doesn't need Slade to tell him that was a risky move, but Oliver's never been able to resist a beautiful woman, especially one who wants to kiss him.
If he's being honest with himself, Oliver's also seen the way Slade looks at Shado. With three people alone on the island, it's not much of a surprise that it would become an issue. He doesn't want to step on Slade's toes, but Shado kissed him, not the other way around. He has nothing to feel guilty about.
He just pretends he doesn't notice Slade rubbing a scar on his forearm.
Three Years and Two Months, Lian Yu
It isn't until after he gets off the freighter that Oliver gets up the nerve destroy his mark. He's been shot, stitched himself up, and rescued Sara. Doctor Ivo was more concerned about his mysterious "Mirakuru" than soulmates, but several of the prisoners had noticed. It suddenly seemed more dangerous than before.
That night, while Sara tends to Slade's burns Oliver stares into the depths of their fire. It was a risk with Ivo's men looking for them, but they needed to sterilize cloth for the Slade's burns. So they were boiling water.
Oliver's gaze shifts to the knife in his hand and back to the hot coals of the fire, an idea forming in his mind.
He glances at Shado where she sits with Slade, tenderly washing his wounds. They've gotten closer. Any idiot could see that. And Oliver's willing to bet Slade's destroyed tattoo matched Shado's.
Slade's a lucky guy.
Oliver sighs. Maybe the man has a point.
Hardly aware he's made a decision, Oliver stabs the dagger in his hand into the coals, resting the blade on the coals until it gets white hot. While he waits, he grabs a stick, peeling back the bark.
He bites down on the stick as he pulls the blade from the fire and prepares to press it against his skin.
"Oliver? What are you doing?" Shado asks quietly, like she's talking to a wounded animal.
He ignores Sara and Shado, pressing the knife into his side. He screams around the stick as his skin melts under the direct heat of the blade. If possible it hurts even more when he rips the cooling blade away from the fused skin.
Sara gags and almost loses the contents of her stomach while Shado rips the knife from his hands and throws it into the ground, away from them. "What were you thinking?"
Oliver spits the stick out and collapses backwards. He grunts. "It's better this way."
"Better? Ollie, you just seared your side with a knife!" Sara cries, eyes wide in shock. "You just destroyed your mark!"
He hisses as Shado spreads the salve they created from the herbs Yao Fei used. "That was stupid," she adds.
"Probably." But he doesn't regret it at the moment. It's not like the mark ever did him any good.
"You're an idiot, kid."
He shoots a glare at Slade through his worry about the husky sound of his burned vocal chords. "You shouldn't be talking. Besides, you told me to get rid of the mark."
"I might have been wrong about that," he whispers before closing his eyes with a painful grimace.
"You need to rest," Shado admonishes, returning to his side. "You shouldn't be talking."
Sara moves to tend to his burn, but Oliver waves her off, crudely wrapping it himself. He already feels cut off, disconnected from the world, but this is how he lives now: in a world where soulmarks only endanger others and he's fighting for his life on a daily basis.
His mate will wake up one day with a scar and no explanation.
And for that, he's actually sorry.
Oliver blinks back tears at the broken scream. Hours after the gunshot, hours after the violence, blood, and gore, Slade is still devastated. It's proof that Oliver was right, that they were soulmates.
Losing Shado is driving his friend mad.
"Slade, listen to me! Shado died, but it's not the end of the world! You don't have to do this." He hates that he has to have an arrow aimed at his friend's heart for the whole speech.
"She's dead because of YOU! This is all your fault!"
Oliver can't argue with that, even if it would save his life. It is his fault. All he can do is defend himself against Slade's attack, the Mirakuru in his system, driving his superstrength, his speed, his madness.
The rising water hinders his movements, but he takes a moment to marvel at how much he's accomplished in the past two years to be able to hold his own against an enhanced Slade Wilson. Well, maybe holding his own is a generous term.
He grunts as he flies back into the metal wall of the freighter. Sara's still going in swinging, so he pulls himself back up. The bow was swept away in the slowly rising water, so all he has left are his bare hands.
Everything is slipping through his fingers. Just when he gained some stability on the Island, the freighter showed up and ruined everything. Not that life was perfect, but he had established a new normal.
And everything got so messed up that now he's fighting the man who had become his best friend, his brother.
He swings at Slade, his resolve galvanized in the face of his mad friend. He decided with the electroshock therapy that if he couldn't cure Slade, he would kill him. It wasn't out of desire, but for his own survival.
Oliver's spending more time in the water than fighting Slade. He's losing this battle and he needs something, a weapon.
His fingers wrap around an arrow shaft and Oliver already knows what he's going to do. He has a weapon in his hands and he just reacts, heart turning to ice as the arrow finds its home in Slade's eye socket.
He has a split second to morn his friend before the water pulls him under.
Two Years Ago, Hong Kong
When he wakes, Amanda Waller doesn't threaten his soulmate. She threatens his family if he doesn't cooperate. He only finds out from Maseo later that Waller had him searched for his soulmate mark, only to find the damaged scar instead. For once, he had actually done something right in destroying the thing.
Everything he's been through since the Queen's Gambit sank, has lead him here, turned him into the monster Waller uses to kill and torture her way through Hong Kong. And he's disturbingly good at his job, but it didn't take his soul until General Shrieve released his virus.
Sitting in the aftermath, blood covering his hands as Shrieve's body, he realizes he can't go back, even if he wants to. He's not the same boy who left his parents and his life behind. He's too broken to ever fit in with a soulmate, no matter who she might be.
About One Year Ago, Coast City
He gets on the first boat bound for the United States. It doesn't even take him that far from home, and he almost jumps on the first bus bound for Starling City, but instead he holes up in a cheap motel and gets a job at Ferris Air as a baggage monkey. He learns quickly that the motel is a rendezvous point for some less than legal activities. He recognizes bits of Russian here and there, but it's not really any of his business, even if he does hear Anatoli's name muttered in whispers.
The motel is seedy and he has no interest getting involved in any business there, just like he's completely disinterested in going home. So he's surprised when he wakes to a knocking on his door in the middle of the night.
He doesn't sleep much and when he does its light, so he has a knife in his hand before he's standing. He approaches the door like he expects it to be kicked in. Through the peep hole he spots a well-groomed woman who looks distinctly out of place in the dingy motel. But she's also staring straight into the peephole with an unimpressed gaze.
"Oliver Queen, we need to talk." She announces, glancing to the side where he suspects her partner waits.
"How do you know that name?" He asks, adjusting his grip on the knife so it fits in his palm more naturally.
"Amanda Waller sent us."
"Then you can fuck off." He steps back from the door, glancing around to room without ever taking an eye off the door.
"She sent us, but we don't work for Waller. We need your help."
"I think you have the wrong idea," he responds, slipping the knife back into its sheath.
He hears whispered voices on the other side that sound vaguely like an argument before the woman addresses him again. "It's something only you can help us with. But we can't talk about it here. We'll be waiting at the café down the street until 4pm."
Oliver sighs. He has to move on now. Someone knows he's here. The only reason his family hasn't found him is because they believe he's dead. If someone else could find him, so could his mother's fancy private investigators. It's not he's going to take her job.
"We need your help getting the Bratva out of Starling and Coast Cities," a deeper voice adds after he thought they were gone. Oliver pauses at the thought. That's what his father wanted, right? To clean up Starling City? "I don't trust Waller for crap, but she swears you're the only one who can help. That's what we want to talk about. That's it."
He listens to the heavier footsteps move down the hall. The voice had been quiet enough that he's sure any other ears couldn't have overheard. He turns to look at his duffel bag in the corner, still as neatly packed as the day he moved in a couple months ago.
Begrudgingly he grabs a sweatshirt. He has nothing to do today anyway.
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Queen."
Oliver winces. "Mr. Queen was my father. Just...call me Oliver." His eyes wander over the crowded café uneasily.
"Oliver, right. So, John and I need to infiltrate the Bratva." Lyla glances at the man next to her, who introduced himself as John Diggle. "John's been trying, but he's barely managed to get anywhere. Waller said you knew someone..."
"The only Russian I know is Anatoli Knyazev. And we met on a freighter in the North China Sea. I don't think he's going to be much help." He frowns as they exchange a meaningful look. After seeing the way they communicate without words like Tatsu and Maseo used to, Oliver's aware they're soulmates.
"Anatoli Knyazev is the head of the Bratva," Digg tells him in a dry voice. It's the first he's spoken since he whispered through the door.
Oliver pauses then snorts. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised Waller knew I knew him." He huffs and levels the pair with a gaze. Plenty of people have shifted under his attention, but Lyla and Diggle face it head on. "What do you want me to do exactly?"
"We...want to take down the Starling and Coast City branches of Bratva. They're led by a man named Alexei." Lyla takes a deep breath and glances nervously at John Diggle. "We've been gathering intelligence, but we need someone higher up. If you know Anatoli, you can get in higher up. It's a lot faster than working our way up from the bottom."
He frowns, thinking about what that would mean. "You want me to go to Russia, talk Anatoli into giving me a position of power in Starling or Coast City, and then turn everyone over to the authorities?"
"We had to think smalltime before. If you get high enough, we could bring down most of their outposts in the US. Do you know what they've been doing here? Human trafficking. They are taking girls and selling them, like cattle. They're turning innocents into sex slaves, selling drugs, weapons, you name it!" Lyla's voice gains confidence, passion as she continues. "We want to stop that."
Oliver scowls. "I won't go back to Starling. If I wanted that, I would have gone home after Hong Kong."
"You won't have to go to Starling. We have connections. We can keep you safe, keep you in the shadows," Lyla assures him.
He shifts. "And who is we?"
"A subdivision of A.R.G.U.S. run by me and John and specifically dedicated to this."
"You would have complete discretion over how much you do or don't do for this mission. You wouldn't have to do anything you don't want to. We don't do things the same way Waller does," John adds, seemingly sensing Oliver's reservations as soon as A.R.G.U.S. was mentioned.
He crosses his arms and stares out the window, contemplating the situation. If they're telling the truth, then this could help him fulfill his father's edict of bettering Starling city.
It also probably used his newly developed skills.
At least he could put them to good use.
One Year Ago, Moscow
"Oliver! My favorite American!"
"Anatoli!" He smiles, allowing the Russian to clap him into a hug. The man is all smiles and kindness, booming voice and laughter.
"What brings you to Moscow, my friend?" Anatoli claps him on the back, ushering him over to his table and sitting him down. He drops a glass in front of Oliver with a clunk. "Here! Have a drink. We must celebrate!"
Grinning, he takes the drink, and the drink after that, and the drink after that, until he's decidedly not sober. He and Anatoli laugh like old friends, but he keeps his head clear enough to further his mission, an eye fixed on John Diggle lurking in the corner.
He's here to do a job, after all. He's here to infiltrate the Bratva.
And he succeeded.
Which unfortunately opened a huge can of worms when Oliver's family started looking for him again. Now he's face to face with the leader of the Bratva, still unable to walk steadily on his busted leg.
"Was this necessary, Anatoli? I could have told you everything without your inept torturer," Oliver growls as he approaches Anatoli at an admittedly slower pace than was considered intimidating.
The friendly smile no longer graces his friend's face. "There were concerns of duplicity. We had to be sure."
Oliver scowls. "I wouldn't do that to you." He takes a deep breath and runs a hand through his hair, not faking his irritation at the whole situation. "I think..." He sighs, forcing the confession out. "If my family found my soulmate, they would know I was alive. It's the only thing I can think of."
Anatoli sizes him up. He stands tall under the imperious gaze until the other man nods. "I think you are telling the truth. Then this is good news, yes? Perhaps it is time for you to return home."
He nods. "I couldn't agree more."
"I shall miss you, friend, but I think we will meet again. Perhaps I will even meet your other half. I don't think this needs to be the end of our friendship."
"Of course not. I look forward to it." He shakes hands with Anatoli and a smile, pretending the implications of their conversation don't scare the life out of him. He never wanted to put his family in this type of danger, but he's run out of options. "Until we meet again."
"So what's the plan?" Oliver asks, trying not to hobble too much as he walks with Diggle towards the plane on the tarmac. He's sure if it was his mother's there would be a bold "Queen" on the side in some vibrant color so it could not be mistaken for anything else. If anything, all this does is make him more anxious. Because if it's not his family, it's A.R.G.U.S.
"We could admit we found you in Russia – it verifies your girl's story – or we could drop you back at the island and I can point one of the search groups in your direction, like we originally planned. Option two isn't a huge risk in your condition, but it is a risk." Diggle's eyes are on him as he outlines the choices ahead of them.
Oliver's familiar enough with the Island to know the risks. It was always the plan to go back there and be 'discovered' when the whole Russian operation was done. Oliver sighs. Getting on the A.R.G.U.S. plane will mean choosing the latter. He's fairly certain he can handle living on the Island for a couple weeks, but he doesn't know which idea makes more sense.
"What do you think, Digg?"
The other man sighs. "The original plan...it keeps everyone focused on the Island, it doesn't open your story up to further scrutiny."
"And that's the reason I grew the beard, right?" Oliver offers jocosely.
Digg doesn't crack a smile. "It's up to you."
"Any other cons – besides your worry about my ability to survive – that I need to be aware of?" He needs all the facts.
"Well, your girl...Lyla wants to read her in. She's waiting for me to talk to you, but she thinks we should."
Oliver sighs, running a hand through his hair as he turns around. "And you?"
"It's not the safest to bring her in, but she's a smart girl. Sooner or later she's going to start asking questions. I think she can handle it."
"But..." He can hear the hesitation and indecision in his friend's voice.
"It puts her in danger. She can't protect herself." The military man crosses his arms, looking Oliver straight in the eye. "And she will need protection, Oliver. She's already involved, one way or another. The Russians know about her. She's probably going to have to find out one way or another."
"So what you're saying is tell her? Just to be clear." That comes with its own complications, which they both well know. However, that doesn't mean it's not worth it. Keeping her in the dark could keep her safe.
"I'm saying I don't want to be in your shoes." Diggle allows himself a smirk as he waits for Oliver's answer.
Seeing that he's not going to get any more help from Diggle, Oliver turns his back to the plane. He doesn't have time to think this through like he wants to. He'd love the time to consider this from all angles. This doesn't just affect him.
"Shit." Oliver curls his hands into fists, wishing he had more control over the circumstances. "Drop me on the island and have Lyla read her in."
"Okay." Digg nods, moving forward to the plane.
Oliver stops him before he reaches the steps with a hand on his arm. "Make sure they find me as quickly as possible."
Diggle nods. "Will do. Be safe."
Oliver nods as he boards the plane. If only life were that easy