Author's Note: I'm not 100% sure what this is, but here! Have another chapter! We're finally in Chicago!
Home Sweet Home
Once it had been his home away from home: the place he spent his summers with his mother and his cousin. Then it became his home permanently for several years when his father all but vanished from the face of the Earth. Turns out he'd spent all that time in Nanda Parbat, but at the time, all he'd been was a frightened preteen who'd lost his mother and his father in a short span of time.
It was in those years that he'd taken the name Connor Rhodes. It allowed him to hide within his aunt and uncle's family, to become one of them instead of the Merlyn heir who had lost his mother.
And then his aunt died.
Suicide, they called it.
It had messed Connor up for a long time. He'd been carted to therapist after therapist after that, Uncle Cornelius having decided they had waited too long and should have done that when he first came to them after the death of his own mother.
Malcolm had come to drag him back to Starling the summer before his freshman year of high school, but by then there was a part of him that had already made Chicago his home. He could tell in the relief that flooded his system as he stepped off the plane at O'Hare. It was in that first breath of Illinois air, the bite of the wind at his exposed skin, the cold he hadn't felt in the last couple years when he was away in Riyadh.
He pulls the scarf tighter around his neck with a grin as he lifts a hand to hail a cab. The city looks just as he remembers it the last time he flew in to visit Claire, when he had the epic shouting match with Uncle Cornelius and vowed to never return to their house. It looks the same, and yet it also seems foreign to his eyes, eyes that have seen haggard, war-torn streets in Riyadh and Starling City. He can't look down neat, manicured streets without seeing the potential for destruction and the ways to help stem the damage should the worst happen.
Maybe that's what makes him a good trauma surgeon.
He's trained for emergency situations, to look at a situation, assess the damage and treat the worst injuries so he can save the whole.
Chicago is his first step. A couple years ago, he entertained the idea of moving back to Starling to help with Oliver's…mission, but that thought is a vestige of the past. He's here to do a job, to make an impact in a large city were violence on the street sends kids to the hospital all the time, where they don't have a vigilante looking out for the little people.
It's his second home.
The apartment he got is far from extravagant. It might be nicer than what a surgical fellow still paying off med school loans would be able to afford. But he's lucky enough to have no loans left over from med school to worry about. He could have gotten a better apartment, gotten Claire to shop around for him instead of surfing the web to find an acceptable one person apartment. He'll have to go shopping for furniture soon. The only things in the room are boxes stacked neatly off to the side that hold his random knickknacks from when he was last in the states. But they take up a pitiful amount of space since he'd had Digg wait on sending the bigger pieces.
Honestly, he really doesn't know how much more he has. He left most of the furniture in his last apartment.
Either way, the apartment is eerily empty. The kitchen is recently updated and sleek, but the lack of table or couch in the main room makes it feel uninviting. His footsteps echo around the room as he walks up to the window and looks out at the city. He sprang for the room because of the view. It's not stellar, but it's also not a brick wall. He can see mostly just other apartment buildings, but the view from the bedroom gives him a straight shot down a city block and a nice view of a slice of city life.
Connor turns to the rest of the room with a sigh.
That's what he forgot: a bed.
He could, presumably, go out now and buy one. Sleep on the floor for a couple days until he finally relents and buys a bed frame to put it in. But he's just spend almost twenty hours travelling to get here. He's tired. As much as he tried to sleep on the plane, he couldn't. And for better or worse, he starts his new job in two days at Gaffney Chicago Medical Center.
Because who wants more than a couple days to acclimate to a new time zone?
Definitely not his smartest choice.
The way Connor rationalizes it, he was basically living in this timezone with his night shifts, so he could tough it out for the next two hours and then pass out. His sleepless nights and unusual sleep schedule for the last eight years have to help with something, like easing his way into a new time zone. He'd wake up and spend a day getting settled into his new apartment. Then tomorrow, with any luck, he'll be accustomed to the new time zone and have enough time to make sure he looks presentable and to show up early to his first meeting with the Chief Administrator and the Head of Trauma.
It was a good plan, but one that hadn't accounted for his need to find a bed.
Maybe he should have gotten a hotel room for the night…
Connor laughs as he plucks his phone from the pocket of his carryon bag. He stopped asking how Felicity changed his ringtones from a distance years ago. This one was one of his favorite changes.
"Hey, John." He turns back to the window to look at the crowded streets and sidewalks.
"Connor. Sounds like you got home safe." John Diggle's voice sounds worn, the way it has since his falling out with Oliver. Connor doesn't know all the details, but it involves kidnapping Lyla, leaving an infant unsupervised, and teaming up with Malcolm. A baby coos happily in the background.
"Yeah, you too. How did Sara like Disney World?"
John laughs. "She bypassed all the princess toys and wanted to go on all the 'big kid rides', which of course AJ found hilarious. I think it's safe to say she's not going to be anyone's damsel in distress."
"Just like her namesake." Connor smiles softly at the reminder of a vibrant blonde who might have been his sister-in-law in another life.
"Just like her mother," John corrects with chagrin. "Next thing I know she'll be learning how to fire a gun and asking for weapons for her birthday instead of new clothes."
Connor laughs at the image. He's only met Lyla once and talked to her a couple times, but he gets the impression that's not far off. She's definitely a tough woman. "So I guess there'll be no need to scare off any teenage boys."
"Any daughter of mine will be able to take down any man who tries to do her wrong," Lyla shouts from the background. "Won't you, honey? And then Daddy and I will step in and take care of the mess. Yes we will."
Threats and baby noises make an interesting combination.
"Connor. How's Chicago?"
"Just like I remember. How's everything there?"
"Good. Good. You start the new job tomorrow?"
"No. I've got a day to settle in." He runs his hand over the back of his neck sheepishly. "I probably should have given myself a couple more days."
"You forgot about furniture, didn't you?" John asks.
Connor laughs. "Am I that predictable?"
"Felicity called it," John supplies. "In her words: 'Connor needs his stuff sent to his address.' She bet you wouldn't admit it and would buy all new things."
She definitely knows him better than he knows himself. "She's still out of town then."
"She and his Royal Broodiness are still out of town. She reaches out regularly though."
The bitterness in John's voice has only festered since Oliver and Felicity drove off into the sunset like a sickeningly sweet happy ending of a romantic comedy. The cliché made Connor throw up a little in his mouth.
He was happy for his friends, of course. They deserved their happiness after a year of turmoil, but he's equally happily that he doesn't have to witness it. He's gotten photo updates of their world tour. If you told him that Felicity and Oliver would be hiking and camping around the world, Connor would have laughed in their faces. Felicity was not the outdoorsy person. She preferred her computers, much like Connor preferred places filled with people.
"Well, next time you hear from her, tell her I said hi."
"You're not going to call her?"
Not when Oliver might be the one to pick up the phone. He can just imagine that disaster of a conversation. 'Hey, Ollie. So I'm alive and your girlfriend's known for years. Bye.' He has no doubt he'd have Oliver at his door in record time with a reluctant Felicity right behind him. It's been over two years, but he's not ready to jump back into Thomas Merlyn. "Nah."
John sighs, yet accepts his word as an answer. "Alright. Well, I'll leave you to run out and buy a bed. I promise not to tell Felicity."
He laughs. "Thanks, John. I'll touch base with you once I've finally gotten settled in."
"And if we don't hear from you tomorrow, good luck with the new job."
Lyla echoes the sentiment from further away and Connor grins.
"Thanks, guys. Talk to you later."
Connor smiles as he slips his phone into his back pocket and grabs his wallet and keys. He takes one last look at the barren apartment before heading out the door. His smile can't be held back as the door clicks into place behind him. He can imagine his life here already: living in the city he grew up in, talking and skyping with the Diggles and Felicity, saving lives in the hospital. It's all here in Chicago.
He finally feels like he's home.