A/N: This update is brought to you through a shittier-than-shitty internet connection (but I love stopping by my hometown, I totally do) and I am only half-sure it'll go through.
[insert mandatory apology for updating once a month here]
Also, this thing officially has 100k words now and and there's still like a lot of stuff to cover, I mean how did it even get this out of hand? This was supposed to have like 60k words tops, how did this happen?
That said, I hope you like this update :)
XIX. Losing Side
"There is still no word on the whereabouts of billionaire and CEO Oliver Queen, going into hour three since his apparent breakdown at Queen Consolidated headquarters and subsequent kidnapping by Green Arrow – "
Felicity gnawed at her nails, splitting her attention between the monitors, where Diggle had brought up the news reports, and the still-unconscious Oliver; it had been a little over two hours since they had brought him in, and the news had already blown up on every channel. The speculation was rampant, with everyone questioning if his episode at QC was a result of PTSD or psychosis – and they seemed confused as to the definitions of both – or if it was really some sort of conspiracy, involving a never-before-seen fantastical substance that would warrant the vigilante's attention. The ambushed paramedics, so far, did not disappoint, repeating the story of getting cut off by Green Arrow and his team into ten different sets of cameras.
The fact that this team of his was spoken of was another problem; though The Canary had been seen every now and then, her father had taken Felicity's word on her worth and kept such reports under wraps as often as he could, and people had never known about the little helper in a red hoodie. Now, however, it was becoming public knowledge.
Felicity jumped when her phone went off, buzzing on the desk where she had thrown it after Cheryl's call, updating her on things at QC; they weren't good.
She reluctantly stepped away from Oliver, almost relieved when Lance's familiar face flashed across the screen. She took a deep breath, then brought it to her ear. "Detective?"
"Ms. Smoak," he said, "I figured this was a...good time to call. Wanted to give you some time to...well, do what you had to."
"Thank you, Detective," she told him. "For everything."
"Ah well, you said you needed my help," he waved the gratitude off. "And I may not be Queen's biggest fan, but what they did to him..."
Felicity gulped, throwing a glance over her shoulder; still no change.
"How's he doing?"
"He's – " She cleared her throat. "We're still waiting for him to wake up."
"At least we got him out on time, right?"
"Yeah," she agreed. "Um, Detective? This isn't – it's not somehow going to backfire on you, is it? I know you said you'd covered your tracks but – "
"Don't worry," he cut her off gently. "Didn't take my car, didn't take my nametag – and both officers I borrowed from were at the precinct when it happened, with witnesses. It's not going to backfire on anyone here."
She nodded, scraping her teeth over her lip. "Good, that's good." With a sigh, she added, "The news reports have been saying there's a manhunt going on – for the vigilante, to find Oliver."
Lance echoed her sigh. "We had to call for that," he said. "It's a kidnapping in broad daylight, of a high-profile CEO who should've been in the hospital. No one's going to find anything but...right now, we're canvasing, and the Captain's asking the feds for more resources." More quietly, he grumbled, "Waste of time."
Felicity's mouth twitched at that. "And Laurel?" she asked. "What's her stance on this?" Laurel wasn't pushing for the vigilante's apprehension as strongly as she used to, but nothing indicated she had become a fan either.
"She's – " Lance sighed again. "She's the one who called the Captain, to push for more resources. She doesn't trust our mutual friend, Ms. Smoak. Definitely not with Queen." After a beat, he added, "Maybe after today, she'll change her mind."
That depends on how it goes, Felicity thought, and fought back tears again. Still, she offered a simple, "Maybe."
He hummed in agreement before going quiet, long enough for Felicity to think he was weighing his next words. "Detective?" she prompted when he didn't speak. "Was there something else?"
"Not really," he said. "But I know that it was Harper back there, with Arrow and the woman in black – and thank you, for getting him off my hands." He paused again, then added, "Guess he's another aspiring vigilante for you to protect now, huh?"
It was spoken softly and with concern, and despite everything, Felicity found herself smiling.
"I worry about you, Ms. Smoak."
"You don't have to, Detective." She sniffled. "I'm fine."
"Yeah. But it's hard, being the one taking care of people who – well, who aren't all that easy to care for, I'd imagine. Laurel, she uh, had to take care of me, for a while," he lowered his voice as he went on. "I didn't make it easy, and it was...hard for her. So, I worry about you. With all these people you're protecting."
She was going to cry again, for entirely different reasons. "Thank you, Detective," she managed to wring the words out, even if they ended up a little choked and broken around the edges.
"Ah, don't thank me. Just take care of yourself, too."
"Yeah, I'll – "
The relatively quiet lair was suddenly very, very loud, the faint voices of the newscasters in the background getting drowned out by the screeching of metal, and shouting, and sounds of scuffle. Felicity whipped around, towards Oliver – except he wasn't lying still anymore, he was halfway off the table, with Diggle and Sara on either side of him, holding him back and yelling over each other, and him, to get him to calm down.
"I'll have to call you back, Detective," Felicity mumbled, throwing the phone away before Lance had had a chance to acknowledge her in any way; she was across the floor in a second, click-clacking in an awkward run and coming up next to Digg.
Oliver's eyes were wild and unfocused, like they had been only hours before, when he was looking at her and seeing someone else, and for a moment, she thought that it hadn't worked, that the drug was still in his system, that it had done its work anyway, that –
"Oliver!" Diggle drew his attention, voice loud and sharp. "You're safe, you're in the foundry with us. You're okay, man, it's okay."
It took a moment for Oliver to grow still, and when his eyes began flitting again – from Diggle's face, to the hand he had braced across his chest, to the one Sara had gripped his forearm with to keep him from ripping out his IV – they were more focused, looked more assessing than lost, and Felicity breathed a sigh of relief, though it came out as a strained little hiccup.
That made him look up, to her, and she already had her hands half-raised towards him before she realized she had no idea what to actually do with them; his eyes closed shut a moment later, his forehead creasing in a frown. Felicity thought he may be trying to center himself.
"We're gonna let you go now, Ollie," Sara told him, exchanging a quick look with John; with a shared nod, they both released their hold on him. He stayed right where he was, seated up on the table with one leg half off it, not moving an inch. His frown deepened though, the more the seconds ticked by, until he was clenching his jaw, too, his mouth thinning with the movement.
"Oliver." Felicity scooted closer, a hand at the ready to take hold of his, before she remembered that it might not be the wisest thing to do. So, she let it drop back at her side as she asked, "How are you feeling?"
She tried again. "Do you, uh – do you remember what happened?"
That didn't garner much of a response either, save for the little jerk of his head that might have been a nod. "It was Phobos," she said. "You got – you got exposed to it, when – "
"I rem – " The hiss that cut through his words was quiet and rough, and he took a sharp breath before quietly saying, "I remember hearing you say that."
And it was obviously not the only thing he remembered.
She pressed her lips together, bobbing her head up and down even tough he wasn't looking at her; his eyes were open again but he didn't let them stray to any of them, focusing on the metal he was sitting on instead.
After a moment, he let out a single, terse word. "Isabel?"
"Yes," it was Sara who answered him. "Pin on the back of your jacket, to deliver the drug into your bloodstream."
He seemed capable of filling in the blanks on his own, not requiring the step-by-step guide-through Felicity had needed to understand; he'd probably used similar methods on some people too, she thought.
He was also clenching his jaw again, in a way she knew meant he was angry – angry at himself, for letting Isabel get to him.
"You couldn't have seen this coming, Oliver," she told him.
"Really?" he ground out. "'Cause I also remember you saying that this was all too easy."
"We didn't know she was the one sitting on the drug, man," Diggle said. "Too easy or not, you couldn't have seen this coming."
Oliver was shaking his head even before Diggle was done, only to freeze mid-movement. "Wait, how am I – how did you get me down here?"
"We...kidnapped you, technically," Felicity informed. "Well, Green Arrow and helpers did," she corrected, to which Diggle let out a little huff.
"Had to wear those tights again," he said.
The comment did bring a small smile to Oliver's lips, even if it looked pained.
And the next moment, he was trying to rip his IV out.
Sara promptly clamped her hand down on his to stop him. "No."
"I have to – " He let out a frustrated sigh. "I need to go back to QC, the stock is going to plummet over this, and Isabel is going to – "
"Whatever she's going to do, it won't be happening today," Felicity cut him off. "Cheryl called and – well, it's a mess, but if Isabel is calling her own meeting, that won't happen until tomorrow."
His eyes lifted to her again, though he still wouldn't really look at her – at any of them. He was speaking to her shoulder as he asked, "What are they saying, at the office?"
"It's – I mean, Digg told the EMTs who were driving you to the hospital that this was all about a drug, so the truth's being tossed around, too – minus the part where Isabel is responsible, of course – along with all the – " She bit her lip, not quite knowing how to say it.
So he said it for her. "Along with all the talk of me being completely unstable."
Something seemed to occur to him then, and his eyes flashed with fear before he lowered them again. "What do – what do my mom and Thea think?" he asked, so very quietly.
Felicity felt tears in her eyes. Again.
"They know what really happened," Diggle took over. "That you were drugged...that Isabel did it." He blew out a short breath, adding, "Roy's with them, told them 'Green Arrow' was taking care of you. He helped rescue you, by the way – and he doesn't know about you being Green Arrow, or about any of our identities, so don't worry about that."
"He's been in touch every half hour or so," Sara supplied. "Too see how you were doing. I told him we'd be bringing you there as soon as you woke up."
Oliver nodded, mumbling, "Right, okay."
"But first," Sara said, "tell me how you're really feeling." She dipped her head closer because he still wouldn't look at her, prompting, "Any lingering effects? Hallucinations? Anything?"
When he said absolutely nothing at all, Sara's eyes went up to Felicity then Diggle in an unspoken request to be given a minute alone; they both complied.
"I'll go get you another shirt," Felicity spoke up, just as Diggle said, "I'll go get the car."
Retrieving the bag of spare clothing Oliver kept around, Felicity brought it to her desk, pretending to be searching for longer than necessary while tracking Sara and Oliver's reflections in one of her monitors. Sara seemed to be the one doing all the talking, asking quiet questions, as the only discernible movements on Oliver's part were little nods, or little head-shakes. Sara looked over his vitals, held his eyes open to assess his pupillary response, then finally moved to take the needle out of his forearm. Felicity counted only one instance of Oliver speaking, too lowly for her to hear, but it seemed to be a question of his own, because it was Sara shaking her head this time, right before she walked away to throw the used medical supplies in the trash.
Felicity supposed that was her cue.
She made her way back to Oliver, where he was sitting on the edge of the table now, clutching a plain gray t-shirt in her hands.
"Here." She held it up for him to see before laying it on the table next to him – and then she just stood there, not really sure if she should keep him company or make herself scarce while he changed.
She should stay, she eventually decided. In case he keeled over or something.
He didn't seem to have a preference on the matter either way, starting on the process of unbuttoning his shirt. Felicity watched him, noting the sharp precisions of his movements; every twist of his fingers was quick and efficient as he moved from button to button, as were the swipes of his hands as he shrugged the material off his shoulders. His breaths were measured and controlled, too, to match the very carefully neutral set of his features.
He was smothering it, all these horrible things he remembered.
So he could pretend he was okay.
"Don't do that," she whispered.
His movements stilled for only a moment; the next, he was resuming his task of getting efficiently dressed. "Do what?"
"That." She gestured up-and-down his body. "Putting yourself 'in the zone', where you can pretend like you're fine."
"I am fine," he said, slipping his arms through the gray cotton.
She felt like laughing. Hysterically. "You're not fine."
"I have to be!" he snapped.
Felicity held her breath at the outburst while the one he drew came out unsteady, and he gritted his teeth, his head bowing like it was too heavy for him to keep it upright.
"For your mom and Thea, I know," she said quietly. "But they don't expect you to be."
"Felicity, can you just – " He blew out a ragged breath. "Can you just drop it, please?"
"Okay," she agreed, blinking back her tears. "If that's how you want to deal with this, okay, but just – " She took one, cautious step closer, reining back on the urge to run her fingers through his hair – again. "Just remember that you're not alone in anything," she said – and she could tell, by the way he tilted his head just slightly, that he'd recognized her words as an echo of his own, from weeks and weeks ago. "You have Digg – and Sara." She shrugged. "And me."
It took a few false starts for him to say it, but she did hear him squeeze the words out in the end, mumbled and hoarse though as they were. "Thank you."
You don't have to keep thanking me. But this was probably not the time to bring it up, she decided.
"Come on," she said instead. "Let's get you home."
The ride to the Queen mansion wasn't as quiet as Felicity had expected it to be.
Oliver had questions. Short, precise questions.
What did his mother and sister know? How much had Roy told them? How much did they know about Roy's involvement with the vigilante? What exactly was out there in the public? What were the police doing? What was Laurel saying? Was there any chance of tying this to Isabel? What lie would they be spinning, to explain why he was driving up to his house with them?
And she and Diggle gave him the answers, clear-cut and to the point.
Mrs. Queen and Thea knew that he had been drugged, what the drug did, that Isabel had done it. Roy had told them that, and that Green Arrow was treating him himself, because he knew what ER doctors wouldn't believe. They knew Roy was Green Arrow's sidekick of sorts, and Thea hadn't reacted to it all that well – or so Roy reported. But she was more worried about her brother than she was angry at him.
The public had sensationalized reports from 'inside sources', and they had hearsay from two paramedics, speaking for the vigilante; they were gossiping about the people the vigilante had with him. The police were holding up a manhunt and had nothing to show for it. Laurel was angry about the latter.
There were no chances of tying any of it to Isabel. And that was their fault. Oliver's response, of course, had been that it wasn't.
As for the lie they would spin, they settled on saying Oliver had called them to come pick him up, after he had woken up and the vigilante had dropped him off somewhere in The Glades.
And they had one question for him, too. Just one.
Would Isabel Rochev get to stay alive this time?
Oliver's answer, much like they had expected, was very simple. No more killing.
When they finally pulled over, it was only after Oliver had already crossed the treshold with her and Diggle at his heels that she wondered if they were even supposed to come in with him. They'd sort of just assumed – well, she had, and all things pointed to John having as well. Oliver hadn't protested. Then again, they hadn't thought to ask.
She meant to do just that but she didn't get her chance, as they were already at the entrance to the salon, and the Queen women's sighs of relief tramped over her question.
Felicity noticed Roy in the corner, looking very much uncomfortable to be there, before her eyes were drawn to Thea and Mrs. Queen's tear-stained faces, as they both nearly ran to hug Oliver; Thea had her arms wrapped around his middle in a second while Mrs. Queen ran a hand over his hair, and placed a kiss on his forehead. Oliver brought his arms up, to wrap one around his mother and one around his sister, but it didn't look quite right. Felicity knew what a real, actual hug from Oliver looked like; this wasn't it.
She looked away, not wanting to intrude further on the family moment, even if it didn't stop her from hearing the mumbled questions, and Oliver's hushed reassurances that he was okay, that he was fine.
Such a bad liar.
John met her eye, then subtly tipped his head towards the door; she nodded in return, clearing her throat. "We, uh," she spoke, and suddenly had four new pairs of eyes on her, "we should – Digg and I are gonna go, and just – " She gestured around a little awkwardly. "We'll just leave you guys to your...family time."
Oliver was looking at her, at both of them, over his shoulder, and she thought it might have been the first time he'd done so properly since waking up – and she could be wrong, but it looked like the last thing he wanted was for them to leave.
And his mother, it seemed, was better at reading her son than he gave her credit for.
It was actually a noticeable shift, when she took a step back from Oliver and straightened her back. "There's no need for you and Mr. Diggle to leave," she said. "In fact, Raisa has been in the kitchen ever since...we got the call, I think it made it easier for her to wait for news." She paused there, turning to Oliver again to quietly add, "She's been worried about you." The next moment, her attention was on Felicity and Diggle once more. "She's probably made enough food for ten by now. So, why don't you stay for – I supposed it would be a somewhat early dinner?" she proposed. "Actually – " she looked over her shoulder – "Roy, you should stay as well."
In Felicity's personal opinion, Roy looked like there was nothing in the world he wanted less, but after a quick shared glance with his girlfriend, he was nodding his agreement with as much fake enthusiasm as he could muster. He too, Felicity thought, was a bad liar. And he didn't even have to open his mouth to make it obvious.
Mrs. Queen didn't seem at all put off by it, though. "Ms. Smoak?" she prompted. "Mr. Diggle?"
"Uh..." She looked to Diggle, then Oliver; in the end, she nodded. "Sure," she agreed. "Let's...do that."
She had been in weirder settings, Felicity argued with herself as she stuffed a forkful of mashed potatoes in her mouth – not that sitting at the long Queen dining room table, along with Oliver, his family, Diggle, Roy and even Raisa, didn't register high on the weird-o-meter by any means. Still, weirder things had happened to her.
Oliver was quiet, only speaking when he absolutely had to – which, as it happened, did not include him making it known that the two seats on either side of him were reserved for her and Diggle; everyone had sort of just assumed that going in.
She did think it made him feel a little better, though; having them there with him.
As did talking to Raisa.
She had fussed over him, brought out all his favorite foods, and talked to him in a mixture of English and Russian every now and then – which, Felicity concluded, made him feel a little better, too.
Not that he actually felt good. She knew his tells, which included but were not limited to the way his thumb rubbed up the down the handle of the knife he held; rub-rub, up-and-down, non-stop.
The talking points, the few that were broached, were about as far from what had gathered them all in that room together as they could get, and once their plates were clean of food, Felicity thought it really was time for them to hightail it out of there. John made the announcement this time, to her relief, and Roy seemed all too happy to jump on that bandwagon.
They got up, bid their goodbyes, and Felicity threw in a smile in there just for Oliver; next thing she knew, he was grabbing her hand, keeping her from walking away. John stopped, too, next to her, while she trailed her eyes down to Oliver's hand, where he had laced his fingers through hers, then back up to his face.
He didn't seem like he knew what he wanted to say, or how to put it into words, so she stepped up closer, bringing her other hand to close around their already joined ones as well. "We're just a call away if you need us," she told him, low enough that only he and John heard her. "And," she added, because she had an inkling as to why he seemed so reluctant to let them wander off away from him for too long, "if you get...antsy, just remember that we are safe and sound at home – which you can actually verify with one click on your phone. Because I made that easy for you."
And if offering to stalk them via their trackers for comfort brought a tiny smile to his face, then that wasn't weird at all either.
He squeezed her hand in thanks before letting go, then got one last pat on the back from John. They were leaving after that, Roy in tow.
"Moira, I know this is difficult, but we have to take a statement – "
"And I am telling you, Quentin, that it's not happening tonight."
"Mom, it's okay," she heard her son's quiet voice behind her.
She sighed. "Sweetheart, you need to rest. They can come back tomorrow."
"I'd rather get it over with," he said, and she sighed once again, in defeat this time.
Her son turned to the men in the doorway. "Detective Hilton, Mr. Lance," he greeted, then gestured for them to come in.
They took their seats in the salon, and while Quentin took out his pad to take notes, Moira took a moment to gauge her son's reaction; much like she had expected, he showed nothing. Save for a suitably bland look on his face, one she had seen so many times since he had returned from that island. She scarcely dared think about what he hid behind it, what he must have relieved today; it hurt, to imagine her child in the kind of pain that ran so much deeper than what any flesh wound could inflict. She didn't want to think about it, to know about it. But perhaps that had been her mistake all along.
"We'll keep this short, Mr. Queen," Hilton assured, though said assurance did nothing to make Moira stop regretting the decision to inform the SCPD that her son was safe at home again.
"Right so, maybe we can do this a little backwards, to make it go quicker – we'll tell you what we know, and you just fill in the blanks for us if you can," Quentin suggested, and Moira almost thanked him for his great, sudden consideration for her son's feelings; she bit her tongue against the remark, though.
"Okay," Oliver agreed.
"You were taken out of your offices by EMTs," Quentin proceeded, "the ambulance you were in got cut off by the vigilante, and a few others, then you – "
"I don't remember any of that," Oliver cut in, and for once, Moira believed he was being truthful. She couldn't say the same of his next statement, however. "The last thing I remember before waking up is being in the middle of a meeting with the board."
Quentin didn't look like he was buying it either, but surprisingly or not, he played along. "Right. And after you woke up?"
Oliver shrugged. "Green Arrow was there," he said. "Talked me through my confusion, told me I'd been injected with something. Then he blindfolded me and led me outside, drove me around, I think, before he dropped me off. When I took off the blindfold, he was gone. I had my phone in my pocket, so I called...my friends, to come pick me up."
"We tried tracking your phone," Hilton informed. "Couldn't get a signal."
"Must have been turned off."
"Good, okay. So anything you remember about the place you woke up in?"
"Not much. It was a...warehouse or something like that. Nothing that I recognized."
"And the vigilante? Anything you can tell us about him?"
Moira pursed her lips. "Are you here to take my son's statement, Detective," she demanded, "or is this is just an ill-disguised attempt to actually get somewhere in your wild goose chase for the man in the hood?"
Hilton looked a little offended while, to Moira's renewed surprise, Quentin looked like he might laugh; out of the corner of her eye, she spotted her son reining in on a small smile of his own.
"The vigilante is, in this case, your son's kidnapper," Hilton said. "It's procedure, to gather information on the kidnapper, in cases of abduction."
"The vigilante saved my son today," she countered.
"Well, he has a habit of that," Hilton muttered, before he asked, "So, you stand by what he said?" He turned to Oliver. "That you were drugged?"
"Yes," Oliver said firmly.
"No offense, Mr. Queen, but...you can't exactly prove that, can you?"
"No." Oliver shook his head. "But I know it's the truth."
Hilton opened his mouth to fire out another question, but Quentin was faster. "Any idea on who did it?"
Her son went quiet at that, as did she; of course they had an idea. They knew it for certain. But throwing the accusation out in the open was dangerous. It could taint Isabel's own image, of course; it could also backfire, and paint her son as a desperate disgraced CEO who wanted to discredit the contender for his position.
It was wiser to play it safe. "I have a few enemies," Oliver said, "being a high-profile CEO. Any number of them could have access to this kind of substance."
"And Green Arrow, he didn't tell you about any of the guys he dealt with hunting this thing?" Quentin asked again. "'Cause if we get a lead on manufacturers or suppliers, we can get them to talk, then cross-reference buyers with people who might've wanted to get to you."
Moira had to admit, this was not the treatment she had expected Quentin to give her son – especially as it had been just a little over a month since he had found out that his younger daughter was still alive, that she hadn't died as Oliver had said she did. That was a grudge she had expected him to carry forever. She had certainly not seen Quentin believing her son in the cards.
Then again, she thought, maybe it wasn't Oliver he believed. Maybe it was Green Arrow.
"I've got nothing for you on that, Detective," Oliver spoke, then frowned. After a moment, he corrected it to, "I mean, Mr. Lance."
"Okay," Quentin let out slowly, before clearing his throat. "Well, I think this is about a good a statement as we're gonna get. Also, uh...considering the circumstances under which you were being taken on that ambulance to begin with, we have to advise you to get that medical attention you were supposed to – "
"I'm not going to the hospital."
Quentin clucked his tongue. "Well, you seem lucid enough to me to make that call for yourself, so I think that settles that." He turned to his partner, who seemed a little reluctant, but still nodded.
"We got what we came for," Hilton agreed, rising to his feet; the rest of them followed suit. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Queen."
Oliver gave him a tight-lipped smile in response, and Moira gestured for the men to follow her to the door so she could escort them out; Quentin, however, seemed to have one last thing on his mind.
"My girls have been worried about you," he told Oliver. "Sara handled it pretty well, I think, but Laurel – not so much. So, just shoot her a text or something, will you?" he requested. "To tell her you're good now. 'Cause I don't think she'll take my word for it."
"I'll let her know, Mr. Lance," Oliver promised.
Moira let her eyes linger on him, even as she ushered the officers to the door. There was a time when she would have expected a much greater reaction from her son just at hearing Laurel's name – when she would have expected for Laurel to be the one he called to come pick him up, after he had been through what he had. And she would have been pleased by that, for him to still have that reaction, because she had liked, even before, who her son was around Laurel.
But he had called Mr. Diggle, and Felicity.
Despite what he had claimed to her once, Moira strongly suspected her son viewed Ms. Smoak as more than just a friend. If only because she had seen him, during the investors' party she had hosted in their home, letting his eyes stray to Felicity every chance he got – and often, with longing.
For all the thoughts her son hid from her these days, some of them were still plainly written on his face. And what she could read, was that he held a great deal of affection towards Felicity Smoak.
Once she had closed the door behind Quentin and Detective Hilton, she turned to Oliver, but before she could get any words out, he was already speaking.
"I'm gonna go to bed," he said. "Try and get some rest."
She doubted that was his real intention behind fleeing her presence. "Okay," she allowed him to have his lie for now. "Goodnight, sweetheart."
Sleep was out of the question.
Even if he managed to lull himself asleep with breathing techniques, giving up control over his mind to his subconscious was not an option; he knew what kind of nightmares would come if he did, and he couldn't allow himself that. So, no sleep.
Oliver was seated on the ground by his bedroom window, with his back propped against the wall; he'd left a lamp on to minimize the risk of his mind playing tricks on him in the dark, and the window open to have enough fresh air not to feel smothered.
And most importantly, he had his phone in hand, eyes trained on the two red blinking dots on his screen that told him his partners were both in their homes, keeping their phones on. They probably weren't sleeping either – no, in fact, he was sure they weren't. In case he called them. Their phones were probably kept right within reach, too – and Felicity, she had probably turned the volume on her ringtone all the way up, just so she wouldn't miss the call if it came.
He let himself think on that, picture them right now. John was probably on his couch, beer in one hand and a remote in the other, sifting through the channels – one foot propped on his coffee table, too. And Felicity was –
His mind came to a roadblock there, because he had no idea what Felicity's place actually looked like. He knew her address, even knew what her building was like – from recon and such. But he had never been inside her apartment. He imagined it had to be bright, and colorful – and full of trinkets. He couldn't imagine a living space Felicity called home without trinkets. Or pieces of tech everywhere, at random places. She'd probably pulled an old motherboard out of her oven at some point, he thought.
He busied himself with that for a while, constructing this imaginary layout of Felicity's apartment in his head. And once it was done, he thought about where she would be; after a short deliberation, he placed her in her bed, working on one tablet, monitoring something else on another, with an additional laptop on idle by her side, while stealing glances at her phone every now and then. It was comforting, thinking about Felicity.
Like it had been hearing her voice, before.
He remembered it. Her telling him that it wasn't real, that he was going to be okay. His nightmares had been dancing all around him, even when he'd closed his eyes not to see them, they were inside his head, and they'd felt real, they'd been living memories, and ghosts spilling into the present, and they scared him, they scared the life out of –
Shut it down.
He pulled air through his teeth, breathed it out slowly, counting his heartbeats until their rhythm evened out again.
He used to be better at this. Controlling the flow of his thoughts. Compartmentalizing.
And ever since he had woken up, he'd been using all his old tactics, everything he had learned about control over himself, but it had taken so much effort – so much more than it used to. It seemed a little foreign now, like he was rusty.
When the soft knock sounded against the bedroom door, he nearly flew to his feet, ready to fight, before his mother came into view.
"Can I come in?"
He blew out a breath, locking his phone and dropping it to the floor. "Yeah, Mom, sure."
She closed the door behind her, padding over to him in her slippers; she had changed into her pajamas, scrubbed the last of her make-up from her face, though her still-perfect hair told Oliver she hadn't even attempted to climb into bed to try and get some sleep. Much like he hadn't.
His mother lowered herself to his side, tucking her legs under her. "This is pretty much how I found you the first night you came back, too," she commented.
Except he'd nearly killed her then. And it was yet another reason why he shouldn't – couldn't sleep.
"I remember spending hours thinking about what must have happened to you, on that island, to make you react that way."
He clenched his fist. "Mom – "
"I didn't want to think about it," she went on like he hadn't spoken, though her voice was still soft, "but I suppose I always knew that...it was more than just solitude that made it hell for you there." There was a break in her words, just for a moment, before she was speaking again. "So when I first got the call from the PD today," she told him, "before Roy came over, I...didn't find it so hard to believe that..." She took a deep breath. "That maybe, it got difficult for you to deal with it."
He stared at his knees where he had brought them up against his chest, began counting his heartbeats again; they'd started ringing in his ears.
"I don't doubt that you were drugged, that Isabel did this to you," she said, "but even if – " She sighed. "I think there is...so much that you keep to yourself – terrible things, that you had to relive today, one way or the other."
"Mom," he tried to stop her again, his voice coming out much rougher than he liked. "There's nothing – " His breathing was uneven, too out-of-control, and he tried to rein in on it, level it, before any other half-broken sounds tumbled from his mouth; it didn't really work. "It was just – it was..."
"Oliver," she was the one who interrupted this time, voice firmer though she hadn't raised it, "when you came back, your doctor told me that twenty percent of your body was covered in scar tissue – and some of your wounds couldn't have been self-inflicted, or accidental. There were people with you there," she concluded, "people who hurt you. But when you were found, you were alone. So where did they all go?"
He held himself completely still, bracing himself. His mother didn't want to hear about what had happened to him in those five years, she didn't want to hear the story of his father putting a gun to his own head, but this – this was what he didn't want to hear. To hear his mother connect the dots, to hear her say that –
"I don't care, sweetheart," she said. "I don't care if they left on their own, or if you killed them all."
His breath hitched.
"Which is...probably not something a woman convicted of mass murder should be heard to say," she added, like it was an afterthought, like she hadn't just –
There were tears burning in his eyes, clogging his throat, and he couldn't fight it. "Mom," he whispered again, though she probably couldn't even hear it, not when it was so quiet and thick.
"I think you've tried to convince me, convince everyone," she spoke again, and her voice sounded strained, too, "that you're okay, that it wasn't – that you're better off than you actually are, because you didn't want us to see...what it really did to you. And I know –" She cleared her throat. "I know I have made it difficult for you to show anything other than what you thought would make it easiest for me, I know you sometimes act like you're alright for my and others' benefit – and it was obvious to me today."
He shut his eyes and the tears ran down his cheeks. "I don't – I don't want to talk about it, Mom. Please."
"You don't have to," she told him. "I just want you to know that it doesn't matter to me. Or to your sister. Whatever it is you're trying so hard not to let us see. What matters is that you're here, that we have you back." He felt her hand running along the back of his head, smoothing down his hair, like it used to when he was little. He gathered the courage to turn his head and look at her; she gave him a watery smile. "My beautiful boy."
My beautiful boy. She always called him that – even when he had been nothing but a disgrace, even when she had to sit down with the commissioner and negotiate a price so the department wouldn't press charges against him for peeing on a cop, even when she knew he was cheating on Laurel, even when he was as far from a boy as he could get. Those were the first he remembered hearing her say after five years.
Always her beautiful boy.
"That – " He sniffled. "That was never really true."
"It is to me," she told him. "And to all those who love you."
When she wrapped her arm around him, he let himself be pulled in, resting his head on her shoulder; her other hand came up, to brush along his temple. This was something he couldn't remember; the last time he was held by his mother, crying on her shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Mom," he whispered.
"I let Isabel get the drop on me, I didn't – I underestimated her." He sighed. "And now she's going to take our company, and...that's my fault."
"No." He felt her shaking her head. "If anyone is to blame, it's me. I kept her past with your father from you, and I didn't think she could do something like this...I didn't know what she was capable of."
He did, though. For a long time. And he'd still let her win.
"We're still going to lose the company," he remarked quietly.
"There are ways to fight her."
"None that are going to work. Not before the board takes her side."
His mother said nothing in return, only continuing to run soothing fingers through his hair.
"I tried, Mom," he muttered. "To get the company back on its feet, to be a good CEO...I really tried."
"I know," she assured. "And I am so very proud of you for everything you've managed to do. Your father would be, too."
"I still failed," he said.
"You didn't fail at anything, Oliver. And as for the company...we will try, to stop her from getting what she wants. And if that doesn't work, we will fight to take it back from her." She dropped a light kiss to the crown of his head. "She's not going to win."
The best he could manage in return was, "Okay."
He imagined his mother was probably not very satisfied with that answer, but she didn't press the issue. Instead, she simply said, "You haven't lost yet, sweetheart."
Maybe, he thought. But it felt like he had.