Chapter 124: The Stranger
"So, how are things between you and Ollie going? It's been over a year, right?"
Laurel smiled. "Yup. Almost two years, in fact. Things are going well, and we've been talking, and… well, we're thinking of moving in together soon."
Tommy blinked. "Good for you. Honestly, I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner."
Laurel gave a shrug. "I think the main reason he hasn't really thought about moving out of the Mansion until now is because he wanted to spend more time with his family, especially Thea. Now, however, it's been almost three years since he came back. We've been dating for almost two, and he's slept over here plenty of times in the recent months. It's time for us to take the next step."
There was a brief pang of jealousy in Tommy's heart, as an image of Isabel flashed through his mind, and he squashed it down. "I'm happy for you two. Truly."
His friend smiled, but before she could thank him, Oliver's voice cut through the conversation. "Dinner is ready!"
It was a scramble to get the table ready. Laurel handled the place settings since she was the host, while Tommy pulled out the chairs. Oliver, of course, handled the food, divvying up the stir fry among three plates and garnishing some of the sides. He placed them upon each of the mats, and then lifted the bottle of wine and poured an equal amount of the drink into each of their glasses. Tommy had to admit, Oliver's stir fry looked very appetizing.
Then he took a bite. One taste of the food, and Tommy mused that Laurel's diet was going to be so much better when Oliver moved in.
Kara hummed as she shifted through her paperwork, reading the fine print of various reports and requests. Her office was located in a corner of the mall, on the upper floor. Unlike the various shops that populated the establishment, it deliberately did not stand out. It just had a simple sign outside denoting what it was and minimal decoration on its windows. The customers weren't here for her, after all. At least, not usually.
The sound of her door opening caused her to look up. Cindy Simone, a resident of the Glades and her assistant for the past year or so, stood in front of her. "Call me Sin," she had told Kara the first time they met, and that is when Kara knew that she was the assistant for her. Sin was a God-send; Kara might have spent a year and a half on an island before she was inducted into the League, but before that she had grown up as a scion of the House of El, one of the most elite houses of Krypton. Down-to-earth as she was, she had a certain bearing to her that was off-putting to many of the shopkeepers she met when Oliver and her were still in the midst of the building phase of the mall.
Sin remedied that. As a fellow resident of the Glades, the shopkeepers were naturally more comfortable with her than they were with Kara. Not only did that make them more willing to report any issues they had, but it also softened their disposition towards Kara herself. Sin wasn't afraid of her, wasn't afraid to talk to her, and if she wasn't afraid, then why should they be? It's exactly what Kara needed, especially after Oliver had been forced to resign his own position to take up one at Queen Consolidated in preparation of becoming QC's eventual CEO.
Her assistant was wearing a pair of jeans, a red blouse, and a navy-blue blazer. Kara had insisted that she get a more professional wardrobe than her original one. While Kara wasn't asking for her to wear pantsuits and skirts or anything like that, she did have to draw the line at ripped jeans and spiked jackets. When Sin admitted she didn't have the money for new clothes, Kara had taken her shopping herself, buying from the mall itself. Sin had been grateful for the gesture, and Kara was satisfied she had secured the girl's loyalty.
"Yes, Sin?" Kara asked, setting down her pen and smiling brightly at the young woman.
"There's this woman that wants to see you," Sin explained. "She doesn't have an appointment, so I tried to turn her away, but she's refuses to go. I wanted to go to you before I called security or something. She's very old, and she seems desperate."
Kara raised an eyebrow. "Well, I don't have any urgent work that needs to be done right now. I could see her, and see what she wants. Let her in."
Sin nodded, then stepped out for a moment. Kara used her superhearing to listen to her hushed words, and froze for a moment when she recognized the voice that responded to her assistant. Sam's not going to be happy about this, Kara thought, now frowning.
She watched as Sin stepped aside to let Patricia Arias, giving a nod to her boss before closing the door, allowing the two older women some privacy. Kara flourished her hand towards the chair in front of her desk, gesturing to Patricia to sit. Patricia did with some hesitation, smiling awkwardly. The expression faded as Kara kept her cool expression.
"Patricia Arias," Kara said, no inflection in her tone. "What are you doing here? How did you find me?"
Patricia twisted her hands in her lap nervously. "I admit, it took a lot of searching. I finally found the website for this mall on the city's official page, and saw your picture displayed there. It's nice to meet you, Kara Danvers."
Kara's cool expression remained, making it clear that the sentiment wasn't reciprocated. "Again, let me ask: what are you doing here?"
The older woman swallowed, before steeling her expression. "Who are you to my daughter?"
Unimpressed, Kara finally allowed herself to frown. "She's my best friend. What is it to you?"
"I just want to make sure you won't hurt her."
"Or rather, you want to impress on me the idea of that so it will make me more sympathetic to you and cause me to assume that you sincerely do wish to reconcile with Sam and have her best interests at heart," Kara summed up calmly. At Patricia's stunned expression, she furrowed her brow. "Mrs. Arias, I might be young, but I have experienced more than people twice and even three times my age have. You'll be hard-pressed to manipulate someone like me with such basic psychology."
"So," Kara continued, pressing her hands onto her desk and leaning forward so she was face-to-face with Patricia, "let me ask again: why are you here?"
Patricia didn't answer, instead looking down. Kara sighed and leaned back into her chair, observing the woman thoughtfully. "You really do want me to put in a good word with Sam for you, don't you?"
"Yes," Patricia admitted.
"Why would you think I would do that?" Kara asked, genuinely curious. "I literally didn't even know you until a couple of weeks ago. I've known Sam for far, far longer, and trust me, the way she talks about you does not put you in a flattering light. Have you even tried talking to her? Apologized for abandoning Ruby?"
Patricia blinked. "Who's Ruby?"
Kara stared at her, genuinely stunned, before her expression grew flat and her nostrils began to flare. "You're telling me you don't even know the name of your own granddaughter?" she hissed.
Quickly realizing what a massive screw-up she had just made, Patricia was quick to defend herself. "Sam isn't talking to me at all, no matter how much I reach out. How was I supposed to know?"
"According to Sam, she sent you several letters and invitations, asking you to meet Ruby and her, asking for you to reconcile. And even if that weren't the case, Sam is on the fast track to becoming a Fortune 500 CEO and has a Facebook page, a Twitter, and a Wikipedia page. That is no excuse not to know Ruby's name."
Patricia flinched, shrinking back with each word that spilled from Kara's mouth. She opened her own to respond, only for no words to come out — she seemed to have realized she had made a grave mistake in judgment, coming here.
"You lost any and all right to be part of Sam's life when you threw her out all those years ago," Kara proclaimed, standing up. "It's up to her now over whether or not you'll reconcile — not me, and certainly not you. So I suggest you keep on reaching out to her instead of trying to take shortcuts." She straightened her back, staring coldly into Patricia's eyes. "Now get the hell out of my office before I call security. I don't want to see you here ever again."
"You seriously visited Eddie without me?" Iris asked her best friend as they followed her father down one of the halls of the hospital. "How is it that this place is still standing then?"
Barry nudged her with his elbow. "C'mon — we aren't that bad."
Iris had to give that to him. "Yeah, I guess not. I'm just… surprised. You two don't like each other."
Her best friend shrugged. "I was bored, and I thought we could relate. And we did. Or at least I think we did. I've been visiting him on my own lately."
The detective seemed skeptical upon hearing that, but didn't call him out on it. "Well, I'm glad you two are getting along. I just wish it'd been sooner," she muttered the last sentence beneath her breath.
Barry smirked, but didn't retort. Soon, they arrived at Eddie's door, and opened it. To their surprise, Eddie was already standing there, dressed in street clothes and making some small talk with Ralph of all people. Iris blinked upon seeing her partner there and stepped forward. "Ralph?"
"Hey guys!" The senior detective turned around to wave at them.
"What are you doing here?" Joe asked, equally perplexed as his daughter.
"I was here to visit Eddie," Ralph answered, shrugging.
"And now…?" Barry followed up, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, it turns out Eddie is getting checked out today!"
Iris blinked again, in further disbelief. "Wait, seriously?"
Eddie stepped out of Ralph's shadow, rubbing his head sheepishly. "Yeah. Physical therapy went faster than everyone thought it would. They gave me a full bill of health this morning."
Barry raised another eyebrow, his eyes sharpened for a moment as he gave Eddie a quick look over. While he couldn't give a solid diagnosis without an in-depth look at the other man, he had to admit that Eddie looked perfectly fine at a glance. The man's skin was glowing, he didn't look emaciated, and there didn't seem to be any strain in his movements. If it weren't for the longer hair, you'd never guess he had been in a coma for nine months.
"Well, if the doctor says it's okay for him to leave, then there's no reason for us to stop you," Barry stated, giving a pointed look to Joe and Iris, who were looking very unconvinced at Eddie's claim. The two backed down, acceding to his point.
The next hour was spent waiting for Eddie to check out of the hospital. Barry used that time to make a call to a nice, moderately upscale Japanese restaurant downtown and made a reservation for the five of them. He had already cleared it with Eddie and his doctors, and had told him not to worry about the bill — it was all on his considerable dime. As soon as he was done, he turned the phone off and glanced at the group.
Eddie, of course, was talking to the receptionist and finishing up the last of his paperwork. Ralph was hitting on a nurse off in the corner (and yup, there was the slap). Joe and Iris were conversing with each other next to Eddie, with Iris pointedly standing the farthest away from her ex-boyfriend. The two still hadn't talked about their breakup, Barry quickly deduced. Thinking about it, Iris had yet to actually visit Eddie on her own since he woke up. Her visits were always accompanied by either Joe or Barry himself.
You can't run from this forever, Iris, Barry thought to himself. Something would give soon, he was certain.
But, that was for another time. A couple of minutes later, Eddie finished with the paperwork and told them all he was ready to leave, picking up his bag of spare clothes and other personal items and leading them out of the hospital. Small talk was exchanged as they headed to the parking lot. It was decided they would split up, with Eddie riding with Ralph while the other three rode together to the restaurant.
"THERE! THERE HE IS!"
Collectively, the group turned their heads. "What the…?" Joe asked, eyes wide.
A crowd of people, each carrying cameras, recorders, microphones, charged at them eagerly. Barry, on instinct, almost used his speed to escape but quickly got control of himself. Paparazzi, he quickly realized, seeing the same revelation dawn on everyone else's faces. But why would they be here? The speedster asked to himself, flickering his eyes through the crowd. He got his answer when it parted to reveal a vaguely familiar face.
"Uh… Eddie?" Iris asked, stepping between her ex-boyfriend and her best friend. "Isn't that your dad?"
Before Eddie could answer, Hugo Thawne had managed to get close. He put on a picture-perfect TV smile, throwing his arm around his son's neck and pulling him close. The younger Thawne, stunned, didn't bother to struggle.
"Today… is a wonderful day," Hugo started passionately. "You can't imagine how much it broke Charlene and mine's hearts when the news came in that our son, our beautiful boy, was one of the casualties of that vile Zoom's attack on our beloved Central City. Thankfully, he wasn't dead — simply sent into a coma, leaving us wondering if he would ever wake up."
"We waited hopelessly for months, hiring the best experts and waiting by his side as much as we could, hoping desperately for a miracle. Hoping that our boy would open his beautiful blue eyes and greet us with sparkling smile…"
The speech continued on for some time, Hugo speaking with clarity and passion. Barry had to admit, if he wasn't a politician, he would've made a killing as an actor. If he wasn't a master of duplicity himself or seen the bastard's real character all those months ago, he would've genuinely believed the show he was putting on. As it currently was, he couldn't help but pity Eddie for being propped up like this for the sake of his family's political ambitions.
"… so, in honor of my son's awakening, he'll be making an appearance at the benefit gala my wife and I are hosting next month to raise awareness for coma patients like him!" Hugo finished with a flourish. This immediately caused an uproar among the press, and they began crowding the two Thawnes further. Eddie was cringing and looking increasingly more distressed.
A glance at the other cops, and a plan was formed. Iris passed Barry the car keys while Joe cleared his throat, announcing that he was a cop loudly to everyone present and holding up his badge. This immediately caused a lot of confusion, especially after Ralph and Iris followed his lead. While everyone was trying to figure out what was going on, Barry slipped through the gaps, locating Eddie and tugging at his sleeve. The other man saw him, and Barry gestured with his head, telling him to follow. Eddie took one more look around before doing exactly that.
Barry guided him through the crowd, pushing past reporters and cameramen alike, and the moment they were free they headed directly to the Wests' car. He took out the keys Iris had handed him and unlocked the car, sliding into the driver seat with Eddie quickly following up in the passenger seat. Barry slid the key into the ignition starting the car, and quickly backed out of their parking space, driving past the group of reporters. Some saw Eddie and tried to follow, but it was too late — they were gone.
The moment they were a suitable distance away, Eddie leaned back into his chair and let out a slow breath of relief. "Thanks for the save," he told Barry gratefully.
Barry shook his head. "Think nothing of it. Sorry you had to deal with that."
Another sigh. "It's fine," Eddie replied, sounding slightly glum, "it's nothing new, really. Just something I haven't had to deal with for a while. By the way, are we still heading to the restaurant?"
"Yeah. Joe, Iris, and Ralph will meet us there after they manage to escape the crowds like we did. They'll take Ralph's car."
"Great. At least that hasn't been screwed up by dad showing up like that," Eddie muttered. A little louder, he asked another question. "So what kind of restaurant are you taking us too? Buffet, or…"
"Oh," Eddie uttered, blinking. "Haven't had that in a while. Isn't that a bit pricey?"
"I'm paying," Barry explained. "Consider it a gift. It's not like I'm hurting for money right now anyway."
"Right. Thanks for that." Eddie looked down. "Hey… Barry?"
"Did my parents visit me at all while I was in a coma?"
Barry fell silent upon hearing that question, before sighing. "I don't know. If they did, it was on one of the few days where none of us visited you. Because we didn't see them at all during those nine months."
"Oh," Eddie said in reply.
There wasn't any sorrow in his tone. But he didn't sound particularly surprised.
Like I said, this arc is going to start off slow. Not a lot of fighting, mostly character interactions and relationship developments. Don't worry — it will all make sense by the end.
Until then, the usual: don't be afraid to review, flames will be ignored/deleted, and don't forget to update the TV Tropes page!