Chapter 125: The First Day
Unlike most new employees, Tommy was familiar with the layout of his new employer's headquarters; in this case, Queen Consolidated. Ever since his mother died, Tommy had spent his childhood and teenage years at QC, not at Merlyn Global. His father had been too distant and 'busy' to take his son with him to work, and Tommy had mostly spent his afternoons and nights with the Queens instead. This included visits to their family company, alongside Oliver, the heir presumptive.
The visits ceased after Oliver disappeared with the Gambit, the memories too painful for him to bear. He had been lost in a haze of drugs, alcohol and sex, and then after that had gone to college while working at Merlyn Global. He had come here for business, of course, because prior to the Undertaking, Merlyn Global and QC had been frequent business partners. Tommy had always wondered why he had been sent for these kinds of meetings in his father's stead. The benefit of hindsight, however, made the answer obvious — neither Robert nor Moira had ever forgiven Malcolm for Oliver's 'death'.
Tommy couldn't blame them for that, even if he resented how they had escaped the fallout of the Undertaking's failure with not even a mark on their record. He wasn't sure if he had forgiven his father for that, even though Malcolm seemed genuinely regretful for what happened to Oliver. The boy had been his godson, and then turned out to be his actual son, Tommy's own half-brother. It was another thing to work through when Oliver joined them and learned the truth, because even if Tommy found it in himself to forgive his father, he doubted Oliver would. Oliver had been the actual victim, after all.
But even if Oliver never forgave their father, he would have to work with them. The moment Ra's al Ghul learned that Malcolm was alive, their lives were forfeit. They were currently operating under the assumption that Ra's didn't know, that he was completely unaware of not just the fact that Malcolm was alive, but that Oliver was Malcolm's biological son. But if there was anything Tommy had learned during his time with the Shadows, is that they couldn't operate under the assumption that things would remain that way. Ra's al Ghul's influence was far greater than theirs, and if someone like Amanda Waller could figure out the truth about Oliver's heritage, it would be only a matter of time until he did as well.
This was why Tommy was taking this so seriously. It was to protect Oliver. After the last couple of years of gradually growing to resent Oliver, Tommy let that feeling fade away in the face of the danger his younger brother was unknowingly in. While he was sure Oliver had learned how to survive on that island of his, whatever skills he picked up there couldn't compare to the lethal training the average Assassin went through, let alone elites like Green Arrow. For once, it was Tommy who knew what was going on, and Tommy that was in a position to do something about it. And, inevitably, when Oliver learned the truth, it would be Tommy he would turn to for guidance and protection. His heart swelled at the thought of it.
The first thing that greeted him when he arrived at the Marketing Division at QC was Oliver's smiling face. His best friend and brother had personally come to see him settled into his new job. That was a good sign. That truly meant that Oliver was truly committed to healing the rift in their friendship. One step closer to fully introducing Oliver into their family and, thus, the downfall of the al Ghuls.
"Nobody gave you issues on the way here, did they?" Oliver asked after their customary hug. "If they do, I'll talk to them personally. Mom and Dad have already sent out a missive to the entire company to treat you no differently from any other junior executive and overall employee, and anyone who disregards that is crossing all of us."
Tommy shook his head. "There weren't any problems. Or at least, none that I noticed." He glanced around. "So, the marketing division. I gotta admit, this is definitely my speed."
"Almost seems like fate. One of our junior execs left for greener pastures, none of our current employees fit the criteria for a promotion, and then you ask for a job and tick all the boxes," Oliver laughed, clasping his hand on Tommy's shoulder. "I'm not complaining, though."
"Neither am I." Because Dad went through a lot of trouble to make sure it happened.
One thing that had not changed about his father during his imprisonment and then captivity was his sharp mind. After all, this was the man who had usurped control of the League of Shadows from Talia al Ghul in a mere matter of days. When Tommy cited the unlikelihood of QC hiring him without some sort of necessity on the company's end, regardless of his longstanding history with the Queen family, Malcolm had revealed that he had already handled that issue after he had assumed leadership over the Shadows.
Knowing intimately of his son's abilities, Malcolm had done a gradual and systematic gutting of the division. First by offering most of the middle management more lucrative positions at other companies under his control, either through his more privileged recruits or through one of the many alternate identities he had created with the Shadows' resources. Most accepted, and those that didn't were quietly 'encouraged' to take the offers anyway through other means. Nothing threatening, of course — that would bring too much attention — but through incurred debts through unexpected emergencies and other sources.
Once the middle management was mostly gone, leaving inexperienced and unremarkable employees, it was a matter of getting rid of the executive. Lethal force had been considered but quickly discarded; it was paramount that the suspicion of the Queens not be aroused. While it was unlikely they would immediately jump to the conclusion that Malcolm was still alive and gunning for them, they would nonetheless keep their guards up if they believe themselves to be targeted, which would have limited Tommy's access to Oliver. Instead, Malcolm had gone through the tried and true method of indirect bribery, offering a better-paying position at another company in another city. The executive in question, a bachelor with no ties and a great amount of spending issues, didn't hesitate to accept and head off for greener pastures. With him gone, Tommy would be in prime position to take his position at the company, further ingratiating himself to his brother.
It had been masterful. As far as he could tell, none of the Queens had noticed anything amiss with their marketing division. They had chocked all the losses to coincidence and had concerned themselves with filling out the positions. Tommy could not help but admire his father's ingenuity; for all his more deplorable actions, his father was brilliant.
"This is your office," Oliver guided him to a door, revealing a small, but cozy office with a nice view of the city. "Your assistant will meet you in a bit to discuss the transition, including leftover assignments your predecessor left you and the duties expected of your position. He should know everything — but, if you have any questions, please contact the Head of Marketing. She shouldn't give you any problems, but if she does—"
"—Tell you," Tommy finished, smiling. "I understand, Mr. Queen."
"Only in front of others," Oliver told him, wincing. "Please, Tommy. I can barely handle hearing that from strangers. I don't want to hear it from you."
Tommy shrugged, smirking. "Well, you are the boss."
Samantha Arias let out a sigh of relief as she set her suitcase down onto the hardwood floor of her hotel room. A-Corps had been thriving the past couple of years, and while Sam was happy for that, it didn't come without its downsides. Business trip after business trip after business trip. Sam could only hope that Ruby was getting on without her. This was the longest they would ever be apart.
Well, at least I know that Kara will take care of her while I'm gone. Sam sighed in happiness as she flopped onto her bed. God, I don't know how I managed to find a friend like her.
She remembered the first time she had met the younger woman. Ruby had just started sixth grade at Balliol Prep. Ever since she had started attending the school, Sam had designated a specific spot for them to meet once the final bell rang. Everyday, like clockwork, they would meet there, Sam would bring her to the car and drive her home, while Ruby told her about her day. It had been their little ritual, a sacred thing that they shared with no one else. Sam cherished it with everything she had, because she knew that once Ruby left Balliol's halls, it would end.
Then, one day, Ruby didn't show up.
Sam was distraught, of course. Where was she? Did she get kidnapped? All these terrible scenarios ran through her head like a freight train. At the time, it was the most stressful moment of her life. She had no idea of what would come later, but that was irrelevant — Ruby was gone, and for those precious few moments, she didn't know where her daughter was.
It felt like a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders when she found Ruby in front of the school, talking with what looked like a new student and his family. It took her a moment to recognize Thea Queen, which immediately piqued her attention. The Queens had been the talk of the town ever since the unexpected and downright miraculous return of their son Oliver to civilization. Sam had always been a great admirer of Robert Queen, considering him something of a hero, and so had been keeping up with the news with a little more enthusiasm than usual.
Of course, all thoughts of the Queens fled her mind once Ruby introduced her new friend. Clark 'Kal' Kent was a shy but sweet boy, a solid contrast to her more expressive and boisterous daughter. While Ruby had never been lacking in friends, Sam had never seen her take to another so easily as this boy. It made her interested in knowing more about the child. Which, of course, led to Kara.
The first time she saw the other woman, Sam couldn't help but marvel at how young she was. Kara looked like she was barely old enough to graduate from college, and as she later found out, that was exactly the case. She was far, far too young to be the guardian—really, mother—of a child Kal's age. It made her wonder how the two of them had fallen in with a family like the Queens.
The truth had sobered her curiosity considerably, for understandable reasons. Learning that her friend had gotten an in with the most powerful family in the city because her and her son/brother/cousin were stranded on the same island as Oliver Queen for ten years killed any burgeoning envy she might have had. Sam had worked hard all her life to get where she was, suffering homelessness while raising a baby essentially all on her own. But no amount of success was worth the kind of suffering Kara went through, far from it.
Perhaps that is why they had bonded so easily. They had both been forced into parenthood at an early age with a lack of a general support structure. It made them understand each other in a way very few others could. That, and the fact that their children had soon become best friends meant that they had no choice but to spend more time with each other and get along. Not to mention — having an in with the Queens? Sam wasn't afraid to admit that being friends with Kara had its own benefits too.
Years later, that hadn't changed. Kara was unquestionably her closest friend, perhaps the best friend she ever had. These days… Sam didn't know how she'd ever get by without her.
Sam lifted her phone, took one look at the photo ID and laughed. "Speak of the devil…" she accepted the call, placing the phone on speaker. There wasn't anyone else staying in her room, after all. "Kara! What's up? Is something wrong?"
"Oh no, Sam. Everything is fine." There was a pause over the line. "With Ruby, at least."
Sam frowned. That sounded… ominous. "What happened?"
"Why that manipulative, conniving old—!"
"Sam, SAM! Please, calm down!" Kara begged. "It's okay, I shut her down before she could try to sway me any further. Not that it would've worked…" she muttered darkly.
Sam grit her teeth. Her phone lay on in the middle of her bed, on top of the ruffled sheets, while Sam herself paced around in a fury. "That's not the point, Kara! She should've never approached you at all!"
"I know, Sam, I know. I told her that myself before kicking her out."
"Good," Sam huffed, throwing herself back onto the bed. There was a brief moment of silence as Sam tried to calm herself into a more reasonable state of mind. Even so… "I'm not going to talk to her. Ever."
"No, Kara. I know you're all about forgiveness and stuff, but this is a step too far!"
"And I'm not saying you need to forgive her, Sam," Kara elaborated soothingly. "But think about this logically. The fact that she's still sticking around and went so far as to seek me, a stranger, out as another avenue to you means she's not going to stop until you at least talk to her. She's desperate, Sam."
"So? Let her remain desperate!"
"If she remains desperate, then she's never going to leave any of us alone. She might go after Ruby next… or maybe not, considering she didn't even know Ruby's name until I told her."
Sam's mouth fell open at the last statement. "Are… are you serious? Did she not read a single invitation I sent her? Post cards? My Facebook? My Wikipedia page?"
"Nope. Don't worry, I gave her hell for that too." Sam could hear Kara bite her lip. "But now that I've put the idea into her mind…"
"If she goes near Ruby, I'll strangle her myself," Sam promised.
Kara couldn't help but chuckle slightly. "That's probably going a bit too far, Sam." She then turned serious again. "Sam, I think we need to look deeper into this. It's like I said before, she's desperate."
"How can you tell?"
"… if there's anything the island taught me, it's what it means to be desperate." It was a cold, clinical admission that almost immediately doused the fumes of Sam's rage.
"Don't, Sam. It's fine. I lived. Kal lived. Oliver and Barry lived. That's all that matters." That said, Sam heard Kara take another deep breath. "Back to the matter at hand. I know desperation, and Patricia is very desperate. I do think she still cares about you Sam, but… I don't think her reasons for trying to reconnect with you are entirely altruistic."
Upon hearing that, Sam felt a deep exhaustion settle into her bones. She had figured as much, but it still hurt to hear, especially when it came from her closest friend. How many times had she dreamed of her mother coming back into her life? Of apologizing, of trying to reconnect with her? Of meeting Ruby and giving her another strong support figure in her life? For years and years, it had been her deepest wish, her strongest desire.
But as the years passed by, it had become nothing more than a pipe dream. Sam had graduated from college, got her Masters, started up A-Corps, was now one of the fastest-rising CEOs in the world. Ruby was in high school now, happy and healthy and completely ignorant of the grandmother that had abandoned her mother and scorned her very existence. In the end, the dream was gone, nothing more than a passing fancy. Sam had moved on.
And now Patricia had come roaring back into her life, finally ready to offer something that Sam had long given up and no longer needed. That small part of her, that young girl who still loved her mother and still desperately sought her approval, wanted to welcome Patricia back with open arms, and almost pretend the last fifteen years hadn't happened. But Sam squashed that part of her down with ruthless logic.
Kara was right. Patricia wouldn't go so far to meet with her unless something else had happened. Especially since she didn't bother to read up on Sam or her life before coming to Star. Sam knew it in her heart, and it pained her almost as much as it strengthened her resolve. She needed to know what it was. It was the only way this was ever going to end.
"I've already contacted the private investigator," Sam revealed, breaking away from her dour thoughts. "He said it shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks until he comes back with his findings. We'll just have to endure her until then."
"That should be fine. Hopefully what happened at my office will cause her to retreat for a little while, lick her wounds for a bit before she tries her next big stunt." Kara paused. "That, and the fact that you're out of town for a bit. No point in trying to reach out when you're not here."
"Right," Sam agreed, breathy. "Right."
Sam hoped she was right.
Okay, this is the last chapter I had written up during NaNoWriMo before I lost steam. That means the story is going back on hiatus again for the time being. Don't worry, it just means I'm working on something else for a little while (the superhero game, to be exact).
You know the drill: please review, flames are not wanted, and don't forget to update the TV Tropes page (including the Characters Page, that one really needs some work).