February 21, 2014:

In the darkness of Verdant after hours, Sin's mind returns to its usual task lately of trying to piece together rumors and gossip about the free clinic on Water Street as she wipes down the bar. She likes the last shift and the early hours of the morning – people who stagger in at this hour are just as crazy rich and as stupid as she expects them to be, but there're less of them, and she likes the peace and quiet to think after the last few stragglers are pushed out the door.

Verdant is definitely not a place she would ever find herself of her own free will, not if she didn't work here, but there's something about the shadows of the cavernous ceiling, the dim, mostly neon lighting, and the remnants of the factory that the place used to be that she finds comforting, especially when the music is off and she feels like she could hear a pin drop on the concrete floor. It's more industrial than posh, no matter the expensive, modern furniture and hundred-dollar drinks on the menu.

Sin's self-aware enough to know it probably has something to do with the fact that the rest of the Glades are just right outside, and half the employees are from the Glades anyway. It probably also has a little something to do with how easy it is to fall into the shadows here too. Yeah, people get pissed at the bartender sometimes (and other people don't know when to shut up), but they never get a good look at her face. The lighting isn't right for that. She knows better than most that the dark can be threatening too though, so she's a little surprised at how safe she feels in a shadowy nightclub for the one-percent, in the Glades or not.

Regardless, she has come to feel safe here, so her mind wanders easily whenever she settles into her routine tasks. She almost doesn't notice Thea sidle up to the bar just past close, looking as frustrated and twitchy as she's been for the last few weeks. Almost.

Sin considers ignoring her. It's not like she or Roy have been giving Sin the time of day lately, aside from dropping Roy's doped up status on her abruptly and then explaining absolutely nothing. Still, she remembers the other woman swinging a pipe with wild abandon, and she knows Thea Queen well enough by now to know how stubborn she is. And how little she wants to be on the other woman's bad side – not that she's the one in the wrong here. (And yeah, Roy's probably going through a bit, but that doesn't mean they have to shut her out.)

She sets down her cloth. (Not a rag – Verdant's too fancy to use rags to clean things. Still, a rose by any other name…) "Yeah?"

Thea either doesn't notice or doesn't care about Sin's bluntness. "I asked Roy to give you a ride home tonight," she says. Even now she's barely focused on Sin, eyes constantly flitting to the back of the club.

Sin stiffens. "Home?" she sneers. That's not what she's mad about. She knows that's not what she's mad about – weeks of little to no contact and now Thea's making decisions for her? No thanks – but still. Home?

Thea scowls at her, mostly still friendly, but Sin picks up on the undercurrent of irritation too. "You know what I meant. What with Iron Heights –"

"Oh, that's how it is now, is it?" It takes Sin a moment to realize she's said the words out loud. Thea and Roy can go distant whenever they want, but the moment a few prisoners break out of Iron Heights…

Thea finally seems to focus on her, however distractedly, only to narrow her eyes and frown. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Sin's fingers curl almost without her noticing before she catches on and relaxes them. "The Glades have been a crazy place to be for years. Decades – long before I was born. I'm used to it. A few escaped prisoners – who were in the Glades before the Arrow ever caught them – aren't gonna make a difference. And you never cared before." She almost doesn't voice that last sentence. Almost. But Thea's momentary focus on her has already evaporated, the other woman's attention fleeting as she fidgets unhappily, looking around for her boyfriend.

She snaps to attention well enough at those words though. "What?" she blurts out, shocked out of her daydreaming to really actually look at Sin, eyes widening slightly. "Of course I did. Do."

Sin doesn't want to argue about it. It's been weeks, months, and if Thea hasn't noticed anything amiss then maybe there isn't anything there to care about in the first place. It'd been nice, having friends, but she'd known from the beginning it wouldn't last, hadn't she? Roy might be a Glades rat through and through, but Thea definitely isn't. She doesn't know what it's like, and now Roy's caught up again helping the Arrow, so where does that leave Sin?

Alone, again. Even Sara hadn't cared enough to say. (She cared enough to leave, her thoughts remind her, but it's not enough for Sin, right now, no matter if she knows, logically, that if something was enough to scare Sara, it was serious business.)

"Whatever," she says, picking up the rag again. At the very least, she's gotten a fairly steady source of income out of the bargain, and she's not going to storm off from her paying job just because Thea Queen is having a fit. "I can catch my own ride home." Meaning she'll probably walk, unless Shawn's still around by the time she finishes up.

Thea opens her mouth – to argue, no doubt, knowing her – but movement out of the corner of her eye catches her attention: Roy, slipping into the little hallway to where the back door is.

Going home early. Sin's noticed that too lately, both of them often cutting their shifts short by just a few minutes here and there, thoroughly removing any chance that they can catch up at the end of the night.

Whatever. They can do what they want.

"Go on," she half-sneers at the woman in front of her now, Thea's torn expression beyond obvious. "You know you want to."

Thea gives her one last helpless look, then hurries after Roy.

Breaking news hits Star City in the middle of the afternoon on Friday. Apparently, not only were green arrows found sticking out of the mayor's chest a month ago, but there have been several other murders lately with the same MO. The newscasters on the television in front of her don't go so far as to say Green Arrow is the responsible party – in fact, they seem altogether reluctant to do so, mentioning that the SCPD hasn't yet realized a comment on the connection between Star City's vigilante and the latest deaths, which is telling enough in itself. Any other murder suspect with this much evidence behind them would have a mug shot plastered on the evening news and the city clamoring for their arrest. Instead, the news does remind viewers of their hero's dark past, but seems much happier to spend the majority of the segment ruminating on the motives a potential copycat might have.

Moira finds herself breathing a sigh of relief as the segment ends, but her body doesn't entirely relax. The news might not be willing to blame Green Arrow, the hero of their city, but others will. And the more the bodies pile up, the more people will be swayed against him. She tries to think back for the past month or so, searching her memories for any hints of the serial killer that is apparently lurking in her city, but for the most part she comes up blank. She remembers the mad bomber's manifesto well enough, which had been when Green Arrow had first been accused of murdering the mayor, but no one had really believed it then, especially given the source.

Other than that, she can't think of any indications that something's been amiss since January. Or rather, she can't think of anything that stands out as anything different than the way things usually are, which is, admittedly, a little worrisome to consider. She used to know all the gossip about Star City. Has she really become that disconnected from the world around her, or has it been this bad the whole time – had she only paid attention to those in her social circles – and she's only now realizing that?

The worst thing is, there's not much she can do about it, either way. Her children are letting her back into their lives, but slowly – they've got their own lives now, lives she isn't a part of, and she doubts either one of them is ready to engage in a discussion about a Green Arrow copycat with her. Oliver's made some vague statements about bringing her back to Queen Consolidated, enveloping her back into the fold, but he's been too busy to actually set a date and time. Too distracted by other things, Moira realizes, eyes flickering back to the television. Distracted enough that she's heard him mention more than once the board isn't happy with him currently.

She'll continue to be there for them, continue to press for family meals, continue to…

To do what? For the first time in her life, she doesn't have a plan for her future. She's adrift in the manor with little to do and few to talk to. She'd never realized how much she enjoyed managing her husband's business until she found herself with nothing else to do. Not even necessarily that, because before she ever dove into Queen Consolidated she was managing fundraisers and throwing galas and coordinating other high society function. She'd kept busy. Now, despite all Oliver's done to save their family name – and even now the tabloids are starting to pick up again, spreading rumors and what Moira's pretty sure are lies about what her son's been up to lately – she knows no one wants to be associated with the woman who would have destroyed the Glades.

Well, not no one. There have been a few subtle overtures of friendship, a few sympathetic callers who've mentioned their own children and claimed to understand Moira's motives. She's put in the effort to reconnect with her own family, the rest will take time. Maybe it's time she puts herself out there, accepts a few of the offers, reconnects with her peers too. She's going out to lunch with Walter shortly – had only put on the news to pass the time – but maybe she can do more.

There was that one offer, of a book club… Something simple, small. Nothing that her name can ruin, but a chance to dive back into the world she was once a part of. Moira doesn't miss the shady deals with Malcolm, fearing for the lives around her (Frank, oh god she can never forget Frank), and yet… Some part of her does. Not the danger and the death, but the challenge of it all, the manipulations, the deals and the bargaining. She thought she'd been doing the right thing, at some point, after all.

No. Not the right thing. She'd known nothing about Malcolm's plans had been right. She just hadn't cared. The lives of those in the Glades against the lives of her children (child, when Oliver was still thought to be dead)? It hadn't been a difficult choice. And Moira had been good at it. Terrified, but good. If she can focus now on the right thing to do…

Something to think about. Something to consider. For now, she needs to make connections again, needs to start a new life. So, this book club… Moira knows she still has Regina Urbina's number. It's a thought, something to consider. For now though… Ms. Ambler steps into the room to tell her the car's been brought around, still nervous around her even though Moira's been home over six weeks by now, and Moira steels her nerves as she readies herself to meet her ex-husband.

She still loves Walter. She'd never stopped loving Walter. He's kind and steady and patient, and he was always so good with Thea, even when she'd hated him for taking Robert's place. None of this means that Moira thinks they still have a chance together, but her heart still aches a little when she sees that he's not waiting for her alone. She'd thought, she'd hoped… But she'd locked him in a cage for six months to protect her children and she doesn't expect him to forgive her for that. If she'd spoken out earlier, if she hadn't waited until the night Malcolm had chosen to enact his plans to finally do the right thing…

She had though, and there is no changing that. She'd wondered, if Walter could move past that, but she had known better than to expect it. She'd known better, but she'd still hoped…

Well. She won't dwell.

"Moira," Walter says, warm but distant as he stands to greet her.

Moira smiles back at him, but she knows her smile is the one she puts on for company, not her family. "Walter," she returns politely. She smiles at his guest. "I didn't realize we'd have company."

"This is Mark Frances. Mark's CFO at Kardak Holdings. We've been putting in some hours with the party's election steering committee."

"Oh." This is politics then. Nothing more, nothing less. Moira takes a moment to put her feelings in a box, steel her spine, and turn toward Mr. Frances as if she'd known he'd be joining them for lunch all along.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," he says, as if he's not lying to her face. Maybe he isn't – not if he wants something from her. Moira's just not sure she has anything to give.

"Those are words I'm not accustomed to hearing these days," she says, keeping her tone light as she shrugs off her coat and passes it absentmindedly to the waiting server.

"Oh, well. You were a lioness doing what she had to do to protect her cubs," Frances says, easily and without accusation. "You know I'm not the only person in Star City who sees it that way."

"That's a comfort," Moira says.

"It's the truth," Frances returns.

Moira knows it is. She knows she has her supporters – she'd be in jail otherwise – but that doesn't excuse what she'd done.

"Please," Frances says, gesturing, and Moira takes her seat next to Walter.

Moira hadn't expected Walter to be interested in politics. In fact, he's never been all that interested (what else has changed, since they last saw each other?), and she says as much.

Frances does, in fact, want something from her. It's just not anywhere close to anything Moira was expecting him to ask for. Money is usually what people want. Frances wants her to run for mayor – and Walter's not opposed to the idea.

She can understand his concerns about Blood's financial policies, but to suggest her as an alternative… Yes, Moira knows perfectly well Frances is not the only supporter she has in Star City. That doesn't mean her supporters are in the majority, or that the people of the Glades, people she was willing to let die to save her children, will show her an ounce of support.

Moira laughs off the suggestion, and Walter and Frances are gracious enough to let her change the topic for the rest of the meal, but the thought lingers.

February 22, 2014:

Laurel is upstairs. Felicity blinks at the video feed on her screen. It's two in the afternoon on a Saturday – Verdant is closed, and it's not their usual vigilante hours either. Either Laurel's guessing, or Tommy'd told her they'd be here today. If he had, he hadn't gotten that information from her. Her last text conversation with him is filled with practical talk; he needs IT people for his clinic too, unless he wants to outsource, and she's the only expert she knows.

Although… did Oliver even tell Laurel that they were based out of Verdant? Or did she pick that up from Tommy too?

Felicity glances over at Oliver and Digg, taking a brief ten-minute break from their research to not so much spar as they are testing forms. Oliver's ankle is all but healed, but Digg's still making him take it light in the lair since he's more or less resumed his usual Arrow activity – and especially since he's going to be out all night tonight, and probably for the next week or two, tracking down the fourteen men who'd escaped from Iron Heights two nights ago. (It's more pressure, something else to do, but at least it hasn't divided them. At least they're all equally committed to getting those men off the streets so they can go back to tracking down the Mirakuru.)

"Visitor upstairs," she announces, because she honestly has no idea what to say. Laurel looks nervous and uncertain, even through the grainy, zoomed out camera feed, and Felicity hasn't spoken with her since Laurel had turned down her offer to talk. Of course, not knowing what to say has never exactly stopped Felicity's mouth before. "She's not going to turn us in to her dad, is she?" she finds herself asking, and immediately regrets it.

It's not that she doesn't wonder – that's been one of her fears lately, ever since Laurel had reacted to the truth by fleeing the state – it's just that she knows better than to ask, and she also knows which fears are more reasonable than others. Then again, she also doesn't really know Laurel – all she really knows is what Oliver and Tommy have told her about her, which is to say, all of her virtues and none of her flaws.

Oliver stiffens at the question even as he and Digg venture over.

"Laurel?" Digg asks.

Felicity grimaces. "Sorry, I didn't mean that. Well, I did, because she could, but I don't really think –" She manages to cut herself off as Oliver leans over her shoulder to get a good look at the screen.

"I'll take care of it."

Oliver doesn't sound worried. He doesn't sound happy either. So… good news or bad news? Felicity honestly couldn't say. Oliver's tense as he heads upstairs, which means that maybe he doesn't completely trust Laurel either, but he's not frowning, which means that he isn't necessarily unhappy that she's here, so… Maybe they've been making progress?

True, Oliver doesn't really trust anyone, so that's nothing unusual, but he's also always trusted Laurel, so the fact that maybe he doesn't anymore…

But there's no audio for the upstairs camera, so Felicity can't hear what words Oliver uses to greet his old friend, his ex-girlfriend, his best friend's current girlfriend, and she can't hear what Laurel says in return.

She glances up at Digg instead. He looks… mildly worried, but not overly so. Concerned about Oliver, more than he's concerned about what Laurel might do, Felicity assumes. That's reassuring, a bit, though she knows that Digg can't really know Laurel that much better than her, even with all the time he's spent the last year or so at Oliver's side. Regardless, the conversation doesn't last long.

Laurel leaves and Oliver comes back downstairs and ushers them back to work. Felicity hesitates for but a moment, wanting to ask, but Oliver's right – there're fourteen highly dangerous criminals on the loose, and they can't waste any time looking for them.

Oliver only returns to the foundry because his wound needs stitches. He doesn't need to do field dressings, he doesn't, so even though it isn't along his route he comes back anyway.

"All good?" Digg asks as the team comes into view.

"One down," Oliver replies.

In the background, Felicity glances toward him. There's worry on her face at his injury, but it's nothing like the worry it might have been even half a year ago. Good. She's learning to tell the serious wounds from the minor ones.

"Thirteen to go," she finishes for him.

David Freud hadn't gone down easy, having already amassed a crowd around him in the two days he's been out, but it hadn't taken Oliver too long to take down him and his lackeys and one stray bullet graze on his left bicep isn't too bad of a tally given the close quarters and the number of people he'd gone up against. At least Oliver didn't have to worry about destroying evidence – Freud was an escaped convict. Oliver could have dumped him at the door to the SCPD wrapped in chains and they would have arrested him without question.

Off to the side, where she was exercising with Roy, Thea has stood up and is facing him now. "What happened?" she asks quickly, worried, full of the concern that might have been Felicity's a few months ago as Oliver unclips his quiver and carefully hangs it up.

Indecision stalls Oliver's brain for a moment, torn between his desire to protect his sister and his desire not to lie to her any longer. She won't react well to hearing he got shot, however barely. But she won't believe him if he says it's a minor wound and then lets Digg stitch him up in front of her.

This is normal. It's not good, Oliver's not enough of an idiot to ever say that getting wounded in the field is a good thing, but it's expected. He's fighting against people who wouldn't hesitate to kill him if they could. Once, he might have been the same. At the very least, he'd been willing to kill without hesitation too, though it hadn't been his first instinct.

Thea, like Felicity might have once, is going to blow his wound out of proportion. She can't understand this life. Oliver doesn't want her to, doesn't want to lose her to the violence that's consumed him. But forcing her out from it, letting her frustrations with him pile up until she can't stand it anymore, might just mean he's going to lose her anyway. At least from his life.

"Stray bullet," he answers shortly, because he doesn't want to. He glances over at Digg, who nods in response. He's already pulled out the first aid kit, and worry pulls at the lines on his face, but it's subtle at least.

Thea stiffens a bit, tenses, bristles. That isn't the answer she wants from him. "Why didn't you let the police handle it?" she says, accuses, like he's in the wrong here for not stepping back the moment he'd finished tracking down the escaped felon.

Oliver has no answers for her. Not any she would want to hear. "I handled it," he says instead.

"You got shot!"

Behind Thea, Roy looks uncomfortable. Felicity is very pointedly focusing on her computers, though from the set of her shoulders Oliver knows she's listening to every word. Digg's trying to act like he's ignoring Thea too, waiting patiently as Oliver slowly takes his jacket off.

This moment's been coming for a long time, Oliver knows. There's no point in trying to stop it now. Tommy's stuck around. Laurel has accepted what he does even if she's still not happy with him personally. Felicity and Digg have argued and fought with him and they've always returned. Roy thinks he owes Oliver more than his life. But Thea…

Thea can't understand this and she's already lost so much in her short life. Oliver knows that she doesn't want to lose him, that that's what motivates her anger. He's seen enough of her these past few weeks to know that at least.

Over Digg's shoulder, as his partner disinfects his wound, Oliver meets his sister's gaze unflinchingly.

"I thought you were okay with me being the Arrow," he says, and there's a purposeful accusation in his own tone. Purposeful, because he puts it there, because he aims his words to hurt. Because he knows that first reactions aren't always genuine, and he knows that maybe Thea doesn't approve, not anymore, but he also remembers Thea's arms tight around him, her hug warm and her smile blinding and her thanks genuine. He wants her to remember that too.

She's thanked him for this, once. Now she keeps hinting that he should stop, step back, stay safe.

He won't.

Thea flinches back at the words, clearly not what she was expecting him to say. It takes her a moment to regain herself, but she does – she's not backing down without a fight. This is going to get ugly.

"You could have taken Digg with you!" she argues back. "Or Roy!"

And risk them instead? And let himself get distracted by having to watch someone's back? By worrying about Roy's lack of experience? About someone catching a glimpse of Digg's face? About either of them getting arrested and having their lives ruined?

If Oliver gets caught – if Oliver goes to jail – it'll be nothing he doesn't deserve, for the crimes he's committed over the years. He holds no illusions that he can do this forever. He knows what he's doing – he's good at this, and that's not arrogance speaking – but one way or another, he'll have to stop eventually. He just wants to make up for the wrongs he's committed as much as he can until that time comes, to keep his friends, his family, his city safe.

Digg though? Roy? Oliver'll let them help when he needs them, when there's something he can't do, someplace he can't go, but when it's something he can handle? No. No, that's all on him.

(And turning it over to the police? Oliver'd done that with Gold. He'd let them take Gold in, and the end result had been Gold dead, an officer dead of his injuries on the way to the hospital, and two more that would probably never work again. No. No, Oliver'll let people help, but he's not getting the police involved in that way again. He doesn't want any more blood on his hands.)

"I had it handled," he repeats.

"You got shot!" Thea repeats too.

If she's expecting him to shout back at her, she won't get what she's looking for. Oliver wonders, briefly, how he would be handling this if it was anyone other than Thea, if it wasn't his little sister yelling at him out of concern for his own safety. But that doesn't matter. He can't treat her like anyone else, can't put that wall up in his mind. Not that he doesn't want to – he can't. (He'd be harsher, crueler, with anyone but Thea, but Tommy, but Laurel, even, but that doesn't matter, because this is Thea.)

"This was always a possibility," he says, low and dangerous and certain. "If you can't handle it –"

It's the wrong thing to say. Thea inflates, draws herself upward, takes a step forward. "You're not letting me handle it!" she exclaims, hurt and furious. "I just sit here and do nothing, because you won't let me help you!"

There are a million things he could say in response. Oliver picks the one that seems least likely to draw out the argument – and most likely to convince Thea to stay away from danger.

"You are helping me," he says, low and careful – not because it's not true, but because he wants her to know that he means it at the same time that he doesn't want her to get any ideas about involving herself any further than she already has.

The answer doesn't placate Thea much. "I've been sitting on my ass listening to recordings and sorting through files," she shoots back.

Oliver cuts her off before she can continue. "I'd be dead ten times over if I hadn't had someone sitting in that chair telling me where to go and who to target," he says.

Is it true? Probably not. There's no doubt Felicity and Digg have saved his life, but he'd planned to do this alone, after all. It is true that having someone in the foundry has expanded the range of situations he's willing to throw himself into, knowing someone has his back, however distantly, and in that way, having partners has helped him to save far more lives than he would have been able to do alone.

That argument, he feels though, would not be nearly as persuasive for Thea. So Oliver yanks at her concern for him instead, and, sure enough, his words stop her in her tracks.

Being his backup on the radio and getting involved in the more menial aspects of vigilante work (the kind they never show on TV shows and in movies) hasn't been enough for her – partly because it's hard to see the immediate benefits of what she's doing. It's her inexperience that has her searching for danger, aiming for the big moments, not understanding how many lives might be saved because Felicity spotted a subtle line in a month's old email or Digg managed to keep track of Oliver's quarry through camera feeds he doesn't have access to while in the field.

It's the paradox of their situation: Thea having more experience with the dark underbelly of the world would let her see that what she's doing matters, that she doesn't need more experience, doesn't need to be on the streets with him. It doesn't matter though, because Oliver very much does not want Thea to ever gain that experience, doesn't want her to lose what little innocence she's managed to obtain.

Yes, she's been through a lot, losing him and their father, falling into drugs, learning of Moira's plot, forgiving her, and the few violent experiences she's had, but she still doesn't really know how the true criminals operate, how they think and plan.

Oliver doesn't want her to know. He wants her safe, and gone.

"I want to learn how to fight," Thea decides on, eventually, once she's processed his words and realized she doesn't really have a proper argument against them. (She doesn't know enough to call him out on the small lie. Frankly, Oliver's not sure even Felicity and Digg think it was a lie – is that him overestimating his capabilities, or them underestimating how differently he'd operate without them there? It doesn't matter. That's not the point of this conversation.)

There's determination in Thea's tone. Certainty. She wants this, even if she doesn't fully understand the implications of what she's asking for. She's wanted this for a while. She's been building up to asking for this, he can tell. Except, no – she's always wanted this. She'd asked for it back at the beginning. She'd wanted him to train her back then too.

But he won't.

He trains Roy, because he's from the Glades, because he knows how to fight, but only barely, because he's seen a rougher side of life already, because he's got Mirakuru in his blood and he needs to know how to control himself.

He lets Digg fight alongside him, sometimes, because Digg already knows how to fight too, even if not as well as Oliver, because Digg's a solider, because he's been through war and seen death.

He'd brought Felicity into this because she hadn't flinched at his requests, hadn't asked him for more answers, hadn't started looking into him, just gave him the answers he was looking for. Because his mother had shot him and he'd been dying and he hadn't had a choice, and in response she'd dragged his bleeding body to the foundry door even though she'd barely known him. (Because she hadn't been afraid to tell him what she thought of his violent techniques.)

But he's not training just anyone to fight. Not Thea.

It's their choice, he keeps hearing over and over. Digg's choice to help him, Felicity's choice to help him, Tommy's choice to stick around. Their choice, not his. And some part of him knows that, agrees with it – he'd presented Digg with that choice very clearly at the beginning of their partnership, had revealed his identity and told him to make his decision.

Except a large part of Oliver had already known what Digg's choice would be, and it's his choice too, who he wants to work with, who he wants to let out in the field, who gets exposed to the worst humanity has to offer. (Not even close. Star City can be violent and ugly and tragic, but what he's seen since coming home isn't even close to the worst he's seen.)

Maybe this is Thea's choice, to want to fight, but he made his own choice on that a long time ago.

And he won't do it.

"No," he says, harsh and just as determined. No. He is not teaching his little sister to fight.

"You're training Roy! How am I any different – because I'm your sister?"

"I'm training Roy to manage his emotions, because if he loses control, he might kill someone," Oliver snaps out. (Roy flinches in the background, where he's hovering warily, not yet picking a side.) "Last I checked, you don't have that problem."

"Oh, so if I get myself injected with Mirakuru, then you'll train me?!"

It's lucky Digg's already done with his few stitches, because Oliver physically jerks back at the statement, not expecting those words and horrified by the mere idea of it.

"Thea!" Roy cries out, equally as distraught, if more visibly so.

Thea grimaces. "I didn't mean it like that," she says, a bit more subdued, clearly regretful.

Oliver's heart settles a little. Good. Good. He doesn't want to train Thea because he doesn't want her in the thick of the trouble he always finds himself in. But the thought of her going after trouble on her own…

"I won't do it," he says, firm and unmovable. Thea's stubborn, he knows that well enough. She's always been stubborn. But if she thinks that this is a fight she can win, well then, she doesn't really know him at all.

(That's kind of the point though, isn't it? She doesn't understand this, can't understand this, which means she can't understand him.)

Thea stands equally as firm, facing him, eyes flickering around the group as she thinks of a response to say, a rebuttal she can give. But she has been asking for months, and she knows it as well as he does, and even if she can't fully understand him, she can see his resolve, at the very least.

"Fine," she says, "fine. I'll get someone else to do it then, if you won't." And she storms from the basement, gait faster than normal in the force of her anger.

Roy hesitates in her wake, glancing over at Oliver uncertainly.

"Go," Oliver tells him. He's not sure he trusts Roy completely, not with the Mirakuru, but he trusts him not to hurt Thea.

"Looks like it's just the three of us again, then," Felicity comments hesitantly into the awkward silence.

Tommy hasn't distanced himself from them again, not completely, but Oliver knows what Felicity means. His oldest friend's too busy with his clinic at the moment to pay anyone else much mind.

"No," Roy cuts in, and his voice is stronger than Oliver had been expecting. He hasn't left yet. That's surprising too. "I'll keep Thea safe," he says, to Oliver and Oliver alone, meeting his gaze without flinching. "I promise. But I'm not leaving. I don't care how long it takes to train me. I'm not leaving."

Thea's anger hasn't triggered him then, hasn't pulled him into a Mirakuru enhanced rage. Oliver can tell, and he can tell Roy means it. It triggers something warm in Oliver's own chest, at the same time that it pulls at his guilt.

He doesn't deserve Roy's faith in him.

He nods once, still meeting Roy's gaze. It's an acknowledgement, and an agreement, a thank you, and also permission to leave. He knows Roy means what he's saying, but Thea still needs him now, so he is leaving (should be), at least for the night.

Roy nods back, glances over at Felicity and Digg, then follows Thea's footsteps up the stairs.

February 23, 2014:

Sin doesn't notice the other woman at first. The clinic's always full, understaffed as it is, with no other clinics nearby, so the small lobby's usually crowded enough that it's difficult to overhear conversations and there's usually several people without seats, or standing and moving around at any one time.

She distantly notes that something about the woman looks familiar, and that her clothing is perhaps a bit too nice for someone waiting at a free clinic in one of the worst areas of the Glades, but it's not so nice as the man who the nurses had let through the side door last week, so she doesn't pay it any mind.

She's too busy watching the side door in question. A couple weeks of surveillance – meaning three visits so far – have helped her to find the perfect seat to pick in the lobby so that she can angle herself just right to see into the hallway behind the receptionist's desk. She can't really see the side door, but she can see enough that she'll catch a glimpse of anyone who uses it. There's definitely something strange going on at this clinic. There's more than one thing strange going on here.

Sin had come initially because of the rumors that criminals can get their wounds treated here without anyone the wiser. Then she'd seen a rich guy ushered in through a side door, and there's this one doctor who doesn't even seem to take any patients, which… that has to be weird, right? The doctors are all volunteers, far as she can tell – none of them are there full time – but there aren't many of them. Few enough that Sin's managed to get a good idea of their schedules.

True, she's only been here three times, but she's been here for two of this particular doctor's shifts. No matter how crowded the lobby, no matter how many people there's been in need of help, he hasn't taken a single patient.

There's more going on here than just dodging the cops. And as focused as she is on what's going on behind the scenes, she's not paying attention to the other patients. Rather, the real patients, because she doesn't actually need any help.

But the woman is making her way around the room, and eventually she gets to Sin, and says "Hi", and asks if Sin is willing to answer a few questions.

Sin just stares at her for a moment. She seems familiar, somehow. Something in her eyes? The shape of her face?

"Sorry, who the fuck are you?" she finds herself asking, not altogether sure what the woman wants from her. She'd caught Sin by surprising, staring back behind the desk, and Sin's missed half her words.

The woman doesn't introduce herself, and the smile on her face rings a little false. Forced. "I'm doing a survey about clinics in Star City. Do you have time to answer a few questions?"

Okay, what? Sin glances around the room, but the few others looking her way at the moment quickly turn their gazes aside when their eyes meet. She turns back to the woman in front of her. "Has anyone actually filled out your damn survey?" she asks in response.

Judging by the slight grimace that crosses the woman's face, her answer is no.

Sin glances around again. Seriously? Has no one really said anything? "Fuck this," Sin mutters under her breath, but she knows what the right thing to do is. She knows what Sara would do – if Sara was ever willing to walk around in public.

Standing, Sin grabs the woman's arm, dragging her toward the front door. The woman blanches, pulling back, struggling a bit – okay, so she's not completely helpless, she's got some fight in her, but, seriously? A survey? Sin ignores her struggling.

"Calm down," she snaps under her breath. "You're making a scene. I'm not trying to murder you, lady." She's making a scene too though, by being part of this. It'll be a while before she can come back here – in the Glades, where treatment comes slow and cheap, the patients in the lobby don't necessarily change day by day.

The woman's still tense in her grip, the fight or flight instinct written into every line of her body, but she lets Sin pull her outside, and just to the side of the door. Sin lets go as soon as they're out of the way. She's trying to help here, not scare the stupid woman.

"You can't do that, okay," she hisses, well aware of the height difference between her and survey-lady.

The woman doesn't screech or cry or whine or any of the things Sin would expect from some rich downtowner on her first time in the Glades. She narrows her eyes instead, fierce and defiant. "Why not?" she asks.

Oh yeah, she's got some fight in her. Maybe she would have been fine on her own. Sin almost finds herself respecting the hard set of the woman's shoulders, the steel glint in her eyes – the respectable flats on her feet. She hadn't even given Sin her name.

Maybe she can handle herself.

She still doesn't seem to know anything about the Glades.

Why not? Sin wants to swear again. She bites it back. "Are you trying to get yourself killed?" she finds herself asking instead of answering.

"I'm trying to get some answers," the woman bites back.

"Maybe that would work at your fancy little clinics downtown," Sin snaps at her, "but here in the Glades no one wants to give away personal information!" Especially not at this clinic. "How many people actually answered you? How many surveys have actually been filled out?"

The woman doesn't roll her eyes like she thinks Sin's warnings are stupid. She doesn't bristle at the implication that she doesn't know anything about the Glades. She doesn't even grimace at what has to be an astonishingly low number of filled out forms.

"I appreciate you looking out for me," she says instead, firm, with a hint of a bite beneath her tone. She's angry at something, and it's not necessarily Sin. "But if there's one thing I've learned in the Glades, it's that people tend to mind their own business."

Hypocrite, Sin thinks immediately. She knows what the woman means – she's telling Sin to get lost, except she's doing the opposite herself.

She finds herself bristling. This woman's angry? Yeah, well Sin's got a lot of pent up anger too, and she knows how to use it just as well.

"And what are you doing in there then?"

"Look," the woman says. "Thanks, but I don't need your help."

But Sin learned stubbornness from a vigilante, and she's gone toe to toe with spoiled rich-girl Thea Queen. She's trying to do something here, something good. She's trying to help people. Why not this woman too, Glades resident or not?

She plants her feet, and doesn't move from where she's blocking the woman's way to the door.

"I really think you do."

Irritation flashes across the woman's face, but it's gone quickly. Instead, the woman looks away from the door, narrowing her eyes at Sin. "You know something, don't you?"

Panic flashes through Sin, but she doesn't let it show on her face. She knows better than that. She scrutinizes the woman as much as the woman scrutinizes her. "You're looking for something in particular, aren't you?" she asks in return. She doesn't wait for a response. "Do you think no one'll notice some stranger asking questions in the lobby?"

She doesn't specify that by stranger she means not one of us, means someone from outside the Glades. From the look of the other woman, she doesn't have to. But there's something else that flashes across the woman's face too, and that Sin takes note of. She feels herself straightening where she stands.

"Unless that's what you want," she finds herself saying. "Unless you're trying to get noticed."

The woman's eyes flicker up and down her form. "And you look remarkably well for someone waiting to see a doctor. Don't think I saw you go to the front desk either. Trying to stay unnoticed?"

Stalemate. Man, this woman's good – better than Sin thought she was, back when she'd thought she was dragging her to safety. Sin underestimated her. She won't make that mistake again.

It takes Sin a moment to think up the words to respond, and she stays where she is in the meantime, unmoving, blocking the woman's path. The woman shifts, like she's thinking about moving, but she doesn't push past Sin just yet, or step into the flowerbeds to go around her.

"The way I see it," she ends up saying, "we're both looking for information about this clinic. Only, your method's gonna get you killed." Perhaps a bit dramatic. The woman'll be threatened, certainly. Kicked around a bit, maybe, if she fights back. Worse, potentially. But whatever secrets are in the building beside them, Sin isn't completely convinced that their secret keepers believe they're worth dying for.

"And your way'll take too long."

Sin can't keep the scowl off her face at that, because the woman's right. Sin knows it'll take ages before she finds anything, and even if she does, where does she go from there? The police? Yeah, right. Like they'd believe her.

It'd be easier if she was doing this the way she – they – had originally intended too. The police would listen to Thea Queen. And if they didn't, Roy could always call Green Arrow. Or Thea could have passed it along to her lawyer friend, the one the Arrow works with sometimes.

They'd had options, if they'd done this together.

They're not doing it together though. Thea and Roy are busy enough with their own stuff – with each other, Sin can't help but think bitterly, though she's seen enough of them at Verdant to tell that whatever their problems are it doesn't have to do with their relationship – and Sin's here on her own.

"Like you know anything about what I'm doing" she sneers anyway, because even if she knows it's true she's not about to admit to this woman that she's right.

The woman takes a step back, her look assessing at Sin's sneer. She's scowling too, but Sin doesn't think it's directed at her.

"What do you know?" she asks. Unlike Sin, her words aren't an insult. They're a genuine question, a prompting for the sharing of information.

Sin had just been lashing out, but this woman hasn't let go of her original goal. The question gets Sin's mind back on track too. She takes a moment to stop thinking about Thea, about Roy, about friends she thought she'd had that seem to have abandoned her.

She's here for the clinic. She's here because the Arrow's victims – victims who deserve his attention and should be behind bars – have been crawling into the building behind her at night to fly under the radar. She's here because there are doctors behind her who don't seem to be doing what they claim to be volunteering for.

She's here to help the people of the Glades, her fellow kids on the street, not to sulk about rich kids and would-be-heroes who aren't giving her the time of day.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Sin's going to spill everything to this stranger in front of her. She raises an eyebrow right back at the woman. "What do you know?" she returns. "Why go around questioning people who aren't going to talk?"

"Like you said," the woman says shortly. "I'm trying to get attention."

It's not a proper answer, and Sin can see the future stretching out in front of her, nothing but a repetition of the same words over and over. They're speaking in loops here, and neither of them are willing to break it.

Sin's done with living the same old life. She's done with standing by. That's the whole point of what she's trying to do here.

"I think they're helping criminals. You?" she asks, because she could give another non-answer, but she doesn't have the patience to run 'round in circles and she wants to know what this woman's doing here.

The woman blinks, takes a moment to visibly process Sin's decision to talk, then stiffens her stance. She straightens where she stands in front of Sin, shoulders square. "Malpractice," she says plainly. "Dr. Anderson. Nobody's talking."

"And they won't, the way you're going on about it."

"I'm not trying to get them to talk."

Okay, so they're still going in circles a bit. Sin glances around surreptitiously, and she can tell that this woman's shoulders are tense too. Might just be from the confrontation, but… Sin might be new to the whole, acting as a vigilante thing, but she knows better than to discuss something like this out in the open, where anyone can hear.

"Name's Sin," she says. "Maybe we should talk about this somewhere else."

"Wait, Sin?"

"Sorry, do I know you?"

"No, but Thea's talked about you. I'm Laurel Lance."

Laurel Lance. Occasional partner to the Green Arrow. Lawyer. Friend to the Queen family. Daughter of Detective Lance of the SCPD. General do-gooder. Maybe that's why Sin had thought she looks so familiar. Has she seen Laurel before?

It doesn't matter now – Sin might be reluctant to trust a stranger, and she doesn't really know Laurel Lance, but she knows enough about her to not have to worry about being knifed in a back alley somewhere.

"I can't stay much longer – I'm on my lunch break," Lance says, "but here." She hands Sin a business card. "If you know something about the clinic, we should talk."

"I'll show you mine if you show me yours," Sin retorts defensively, taking the card.

Lance smiles, and yeah, she's got teeth. "Give me a call when you're free," is all she says. "I'll be happy to tell you everything I know."

Walter asked her mom to run for mayor. Walter asked her mom to run for mayor of Star City. Thea's mind blanks at the news, even as her mom gives a little self-depreciating chuckle.

"I mean, can you imagine?" Moira is asking. "He actually ran polls to get my approval ratings already."

Her mom's words run over her as she processes everything. She'd come home furious, only to get blindsided with this, and for a second she'd thought the idea just as ridiculous as her mom seems to think it is. And yet…

And yet, now that she's actually considering it…

"Why not?" she asks, interrupting Moira's soft rant.

Her mom stops where she stands, blinking at Thea. "What?"

But no, Thea's got in in her mind now. She can picture it. She wants to help Star City, the same way Oliver does. What would Oliver think, of their mom running for mayor? Does she care?

What does it matter, what Oliver thinks – he won't let her help his way, but his way isn't the only way.

Thea steps forward, clasping her mom's hands. "Just think about it, Mom," she starts to say.

Moira doesn't pull away, but it's a near thing. "I don't need to think about it," she chides Thea softly. "After what I've done –"

Thea's had a lot of time to think about what her mother's done. She's still not entirely sure she'll ever be able to move past all the subterfuge and lying and intent about everything she'd done with Malcolm. But she also knows perfectly well how she feels about Moira's choice, in the end.

"What you did was save the city," Thea cuts in, because she had – regardless of whether or not she'd been half the reason it was in danger in the first place, there's no denying she'd helped save the Glades. Thea doesn't want to take the time to figure out if that makes her mom a good person or not; she's spent enough brain power already thinking about whether or not means justify the ends, or intentions vs actions, or everything she'd done in the beginning as compared to the end result. This isn't about that.

"Mom," she continues, "tell me you don't want to help this city."

Moira blinks again, startled. "What?"

"Tell me you're not interested in helping Star City, and I'll drop it," Thea explains. "But I think – I know – you could do some good."

"I… Thea…"

Thea smiles softly, and holds her mom's hands tighter in her own. "You can do this, Mom."

AN: Hello there, it's been a while, hasn't it? Sorry about that - life's gotten crazy lately, and I ran out of my buffer chapters back in December, I think. I can't promise another quick update, but I can promise that this fic isn't abandoned. I want to try and get a few chapters written before I post another one, but if several months go by without posting I'll push another one so you don't forget about this.

I've also been spending a lot of time outlining the rest of this fic and the start of the next one (as well as the ongoing Flash fic, for those who read that one). It looks like we'll have somewhere from 42-46 chapters. My current outline sits at 44, but there are a few things that might change. I can say we're nearing the end game though (is it the end game if there's still ~10 chapters left?).

If anyone's interested in letting me bounce ideas off them, or even being a beta reader, let me know. I've had some great help in the past from some interested readers and I wouldn't mind a second opinion on some of the directions I plan on taking. You can leave a comment here, or send me a message on tumblr (user name: justafandomfollower).

Finally, on a semi-related note, I recently finished watching the first season of Stargirl, which I absolutely loved! It will not be incorporated into this 'verse as part of "Earth-1", the way Supergirl's/Superman's Earth has been merged here, but I enjoyed it so much it'll probably have a few cameos somewhere down the line, once we start getting into the multiple Earths plot points. If I manage to get that far in writing this... Anyway, if you're subscribed to me as an author, you'll probably see me churning out some Stargirl oneshots for a while, but don't worry, like I said, I have no plans to discontinue work on this 'verse.

Stay safe out there, stay healthy, and take care of yourselves!