“You seem calm, considering.”
Didn’t take Hal long to find him, apparently. Ollie pauses on the rooftop of S.T.A.R. Labs, but it isn’t as though he can pretend he wasn’t going anywhere – he’s still all suited up, bow drawn and at the ready. Sighing, he pushes his hood down, glances up at where Hal’s hovering above him with that smile of his that always looks like he’s afraid someone would actually see it. He touches down beside him – “But then, for you, calm is never a good thing, is it.”
“…He got Roy, Hal. He threatened my city.” Ollie glares down at nothing below. “I’m not about to just let it go.”
“I wasn’t about to ask you to.” Hal shrugs. “Just wanted to make sure you remember you’ve got a team.”
“Fuck the team! He made it personal. He’s my mark now.”
“Personal to who?” Ollie startles at her voice, and turns, watching Dinah stride over to them with a steely look in her eyes. “I care about Roy as much as you do. Star City is my home, too – it’s not just your vendetta.”
“Di, tracking is what I do. I know I can move faster on my own.”
She raises her chin in defiance. “But that’s not the real reason why you want to do this alone, is it? None of those arrowheads are blunts. You’re out for blood.”
“…He got Roy,” Ollie repeats, by way of explanation.
As if the statement had confirmed her worst fears, Dinah’s shoulders fall, and she sends him a crestfallen, imploring look. “Ollie, don’t. Don’t make me go through that again – I can’t.”
“It’s not… unreasonable,” Hal ventures. “Isn’t that why this whole thing started? Because we want more effective justice?”
“You stay out of this!” Dinah turns on him, furious. “You’re not the one who has to pick up the pieces in the aftermath, are you? All of the benefits with none of the responsibility.”
“What?” Hal’s eyes flash. “Oh, you mean until the next time you call me because you’re tired of having to?”
“Stop it, don’t fight.” Ollie sighs, resisting the urge to rub at his temples to stave off the headache that’s already building. It is so, so tempting to fall back on old bad habits, to leave the both of them to it and go off while they’re distracted. But the cost is too high, now. This still takes some getting used to. He doesn’t know how to need someone else, let alone two whole people – but damn it all, he does, they’re a part of him as inalienable as his hands and feet. “Fine, let’s— regroup, or something. Just. Don’t.”
They exchange one last deadly glare, but concede – sort of. Dinah has her fists shoved into the pockets of her leather jacket and a tremble in her eyes that must mean she thinks Ollie stopped them because he favours Hal (untrue, though every second of every day he hopes against hope that he never has to choose). Hal just lets the anger boil under his skin – he’s been doing a lot of that, lately, Ollie observes – as if half-insulted, like he feels scolded. Ollie sighs again. Well, better they both be mad at him than each other, he’s used to that, at least.
(Maybe this is why he needs them both. Maybe he’s so shit at being a functioning person that he doesn’t just need an “other half” to complete him, he needs his other two-thirds instead.)
He clears his throat. “Does this ambush have a point? Either of you have a clue where to start?”
Hal seems to unclench ever so slightly. “So we are doing this as a team?”
“If it makes you that happy, flyboy.” Ollie’s aware he sounds exasperated. “So long as nobody’s deadweight.”
The rules of the hunt are simple. Study your quarry, get to know his habits, where he feeds, how he moves, where he sleeps. If he kills, even better. A study of his prey helps understand him. Then it’s just a matter of choosing your weapon… something humane, something you have practiced on so diligently, you’re sure of every shot… and to remember not to let the prospect of the kill overshadow the thrill of the chase.
Except the hunt can’t begin without knowing where. “This guy’s got a hell of a head start as it is.”
“Start at the Watchtower.” All traces of vulnerability disappear from Dinah’s face, as she gathers herself and slips into team leader mode – as easy as that. “He’s only human, right? And Donna beat the crap out of him before we had to let him go? If he’s human, he bleeds. If he bleeds, there’s a blood trail. And if there’s a blood trail, it’ll be at the Watchtower.”
Ollie half-grins, filled with pride. He’d forgotten. He’s a hunter, but she’s a bird of prey. Her ways of tracking down quarry are a lot more atavistic.
“Bill’s been discharged. He’ll be faster at following it than you, he can scent it. But Ollie, this will mean not doing anything without running it by me first.”
“I hear you.” He pulls his hood back up, not sure if he means it yet. “Are we going, or what?”
She looks like she wants to say something, but whatever it is, she seems to decide against it in the end. “Yeah. Let’s.”
“What is it with you and teams, anyway?” Hal shakes his head. “You’re fine with the two of us. You’d think after both the League and the Outsiders—”
“Older instincts than that, pal.”
An arched eyebrow in response. “Something I don’t know about your time with the Seven Soldiers of Victory?”
Ollie swats at him with his bow, unimpressed. “Even older.”
The official story has it that the Queens come from Gold Rush money, Frank Queen and his contemporaries being the lucky ones who found their fortunes – as it were – in the 1870s at Presidio San Georgio, which would of course become Coast City by the turn of the century. And then a couple decades later and a hop and a skip over San Francisco away, the Great Fire of 1897 would break out at Fort Plymouth and the cattle town therein, razing it to the ground and driving its former occupants further along the coast. So they built a dream of a modernist city upon its ashes instead, naming it after its (technical) founding father, Colonel Jeb Star. Rent attracted a certain kind of people, and by the second generation the Queens were therefore well-established in this place they’d come to make synonymous with their name.
The official story is missing one detail. That in the third generation, Robert Queen would squander the family billions down to millions, and dire measures had needed to be taken if he wanted to maintain his habits.
So enters Moira Ellis. From money as old as her native Virginia. Able to trace her lineage back to some proud Patriots, if you care for name-dropping, and maybe that should have been warning enough that rebel blood was in her veins but at the time all Robert had wanted was a little more disposable income and maybe an heir or two. She sauntered her way into his life with all of that Southern Belle charm, took his name but refused to give up her own, causing quite the scandal as Moira Ellis-Queen for the time. And then she deigned to give him a son, not one more beyond. Having propped up his throne and made herself comfortable upon her own, then, she promptly drew a civil yet absolute line in the sand between them, shunting Robert to the role of husband in name and name only.
Growing up, Oliver Jonas Queen never had the sense that his father was his father. Nature itself must have been in on the joke, at his conception, because the only resemblance he shared with the man was possibly his blond hair. And even that was up for debate, because Moira had golden locks of her own; in fact, Ollie’s tended to curl, like hers. Aside from that, everything from the distinct emerald green of his eyes, to the patrician turn of his nose, down to the way that he tends to smile out of the corner of his mouth – it was all Moira.
To Robert, it was the ultimate insult. Ollie’s about thirteen or fourteen when he realises the extent to which it infuriates the man, having made the mistake of scoffing at something he had said, while alone with him in the parlour, while he had been drinking. That singular breath of amusement sends Robert into an indescribable rage, and he leaps to his feet, one accusing finger pointed at his son – “You think you’re so smart, don’t you. You— you look at me with that fucking woman’s eyes, and you’re not just looking, you’re seeing. Well, I will not stand to be laughed at in my own house, do you hear? Answer me when I’m talking to you.”
“Yes, sir.” And Ollie can’t help his nature, there’s unmistakable sarcasm dripping from the word. That seems to cross the line. Robert raises a fist. Daunted at last, Ollie flinches—
The click of a pump sliding into place and suddenly Robert finds the barrel of a shotgun pressed to his temple. “Get your hands off my son, Robert.” Her voice is cool as ever, making the threat sound more like a nonchalant suggestion. It’s the casual yet experienced way that Moira holds the gun that makes her look powerful, but it’s the glint in her eyes that promises she wouldn’t for a second hesitate to follow through that cements it. Robert slowly lowers his arm, swallowing visibly. And even in her dress and pearls and high heels, Moira had still made him look like the idiot in the equation.
At length, she eases the gun away, but keeps it cocked. “Come along, Oliver,” she says in her most cavalier tone. Still stunned, all he can do is follow after her.
That incident alone does a great job of putting them all in their places. Moira had made it clear that Ollie was hers – Robert, irrelevant, only involved in the mechanics of it. And Ollie has enough of her nature to get that she must have loved him, in her own way, but it wasn’t really about love, between them. It was more… mutual respect. Moira was more matriarch than mother, and if he cared for her at all it was less an affectionate kind of care and instead that she was his partner-in-crime, the only other person on the planet who got the inside joke.
But a memory that will forever stand out in his mind is the time when he, fifteen, watches her as she’s sitting at her dresser, pinning her curls into place. And she has this flowing dress on that sparkles white and blue like ice, and he remembers thinking that it suits her. The dress. But the ice descriptor, too. Ollie is leaning against the doorframe, waiting for his parents to finish putting their faces on, in-a-manner-of-speaking-but-also, and Robert has just picked his coat up off the bed. Moira pauses in twisting her earring on and says, “Aren’t you going to wait for me?”
“Show up alone. I don’t care.” Robert’s voice is always a little bit gruff, like someone had taken most of it. Which, well. He brushes past Ollie without looking at him, which is fine by Ollie, whose default response to his father looking at him is to appear supremely unimpressed, anyway. He watches him until he’s rounded the corner of the hall, and then he turns again.
“He’s cheating on you, you know.”
Moira makes a noncommittal sound, dabbing powder onto her cheeks.
“I saw her come out of his office the other day.”
“Mm-hmm.” Her lipstick is never red, she thinks that’s gauche. Instead it’s a close approximation of her natural lip colour.
“Russian lady. Red hair. Long legs. Great big honkers.”
“Don’t speak like an indigent, Oliver.” Moira arches one delicate eyebrow at him in the mirror, so he shrugs.
“You don’t give a— you don’t care at all, do you.”
“Why ever would I give him the satisfaction?” Moira drawls. “Here’s a lesson for life. I’m a powerful woman, Oliver, and a rare thing that is for a woman to be. Powerful. Now I could waste my time acting like a heroine out of the pictures, crying my eyes out that my husband’s an utter buffoon, and give him the idea that he has something over me after all. Or, I could carry on living my life regardless of how he lives his. Who do you think it’ll reflect badly on when he arrives without me? You keep your feelings in check and you can’t ever be controlled, child.”
She doesn’t need to tell him this aloud, really, it’s something he’s picked up from her instinctively anyway. But he mulls the words over regardless, which earns him an amused look, and with all the grace of good breeding Moira stands and walks over to him, chucks him under the chin. “If you’re not secure in your own self, people will make or break you. Learn how to stand alone and they will never find the leverage. Now.” Her eyes are dancing. “Handsome young men don’t leave their mothers without an escort to important shareholder dinners.”
Ollie rolls his eyes, but sends her a grudging smile regardless, and then he obliges, tucking his arm in, elbow held out for her to link hers through. “Still, for what it’s worth, it’s your side I’m on, Mama.”
“I know.” Something in her expression softens ever so slightly, there and gone again. “You’re the only ally I need.”
Congo Bill does the best he can, but both he and Vixen agree – the trail inexplicably goes dead at a certain point. “Sorry, Ollie. It’s like he disappeared off the face of the planet.”
“Don’t be sorry, that helps us rule out the planet.”
He thinks that’s a grin, but on a gorilla’s face it isn’t exactly easy to tell. “Can never say if you’re being smart with me or not. You’re too much like her.”
“Her, who?” Dinah wants to know, and Ollie hopes that isn’t suspicion he can hear in her voice. Maybe he isn’t the only one tempted to revert to old bad habits under this much stress.
Bill catches his eye, and exhales, bittersweet. “No one, Dinah. An old… mutual friend.”
If Moira is ice, then Minnie Barnes is sunlight distilled into human form. Minnie Barnes is hired help, the woman that actually raised him, from diapers to games to lullabies, all the nitty gritty that Moira would never condescend to. Ollie loves her with a real, honest love distinct from the vague acknowledgment of the existence of people other than yourself that seems to be all his parents are ever capable of, and he still hopes that she’d found it in that generous heart of hers to be able to love him, too.
Minnie Barnes lights up his life from the ages of negative one up until seven. And then he goes and ruins it.
As Ollie remembers it she’d taken him to the park, and he’d been particularly restless that day, eager to shake her off and go on his own adventure. So he’d done exactly that, because no one else would have dared – cared – to tell him no. Minnie, however, is worried sick, and when she finds him she yells a lot. And it had made him feel all kinds of bad inside, an awful mix of shame and hurt pride he wasn’t used to, so when they got home, he’d done the only thing he knew how to do. Told his Mama.
Come the next morning, Minnie’s gone. He asks for her and asks for her and asks for her, and all he gets in answer is that she’d been sacked. What does that mean, he wants to know, and he gathers that it boils down to Minnie never being welcome back. Which is hard, because now he wants to cry a lot and Mama doesn’t like him to cry because she says it means you’re “spineless” and Minnie isn’t around anymore to let him and not tell.
He’s a clever enough child to understand that his questions infuriate his parents and baffle the house staff, so he stops, but he misses her so much, he can’t put her out of his mind. What does it mean that Mama had been able to make Minnie go away? He watches other maids and nannies come and go and understands. What does it mean that he – as a child – had been able to take away the thing that got Minnie food to eat and clothes to wear and a house to live in? He watches peers he’s not allowed to play with for longer than one evening and understands. What does it mean that he can’t visit Minnie because she lives in segregated housing? He watches the Black help all board one bus to go home at the end of the day and understands.
He stops asking, but he watches and watches and watches.
Ollie keeps whetting the broadhead in his hands without looking up to meet Hal’s eyes, watching the glint of green reflected back at him getting clearer and clearer. In the old days people would whet arrows on blood-soaked stone believing it would make them stick to flesh longer, he muses. “I wasn’t being sarcastic. It does help us rule out anywhere on Earth.”
“Maybe he has an accomplice who’s meta. Teleports.”
“Either way, this is shaping up to be in your ballpark, more than mine.” He lets the point of the broadhead stay slightly dull. A sharp blade is a kind blade, a quick kill. He’s not feeling particularly kind at the minute. “Just let me gut the bastard in the end and I’ll be a happy camper.”
Dinah wanders over to their corner bench, surprises them both by throwing herself down beside Ollie and wrapping her arms around him in a tight embrace. Hal meets his eyes over her head – should I stay or should I go? – and Ollie subtly signals unawareness.
“…What is it?” he ventures, a hand soft on her shoulder.
“You go down this path again and I’ll lose you.” Her hold is vice-like now. “It’s not that I give a fuck about this guy’s life. But the last time started with exceptions as well and it’s a slippery slope from there, isn’t it? …Isn’t it, Ollie?”
Hal looks slightly chastised, and Ollie wonders if his face is mirroring that at all. He closes his eyes. “You know I’d do anything you ask, Pretty Bird. So please don’t ask.”
Dinah’s breath against the skin of his neck is trembling.
“You’re both tired. Go get some rest,” Hal coaxes. “We can pick this up in the morning – he’ll be long gone by now, it’s not going to make that much of a difference.”
Dinah lifts her head, nodding in hesitant, jerky movements. “You coming?”
“No.” Hal smiles kindly, like the fight before never even happened (Ollie thinks he’s stupidly lucky, it’s bizarre sometimes). “I’ll keep the night safe for you.”
Ollie sends him a grateful smile of his own. Dinah doesn’t let go of him even as he stands, and she lets him take them to their quarters attached like a burr to wool. “…I hate how when you get like this, you act like you have nothing left to lose,” she whispers. “Even now. Even when you have everything. Are you going to make Mia an orphan again? Leave Connor when he finally has a chance of getting to know his father? Dick called. Roy’s awake. If not for me, if my feelings don’t count for much—”
“Don’t count— you’re my wife. You’re my world.” Ollie ducks to meet her eyes.
She shakes her head, breaking his heart. “When you venture that far into yourself, I can’t pull you out.”
He swallows. Hard to make her understand that it’s not her, that no one can, and no one has ever been able to.
Ennui is a bizarrely privileged problem to have, and even as an adolescent he knows it. From the Latin in odio, or its more complete mihi in odio est, the same root as the word annoy. Literally, “it is hateful to me”. Within the bubble that is the Queen estate, shut off from the world going crazy outside with a war nobody understands and civil rights and women’s lib and gay lib and man racing to the stars, what Ollie’s plagued with is some nebulous sense of distaste from too much time on his hands.
It’s ridiculous. Everything’s ridiculous. His peers are preoccupied with the most mundane concerns and his parents are worse and sometimes he feels like he’s the only one among them looking. “Are you actively trying to alienate people?” Is a question he gets often, at school, or sometimes even more directly, “The way you talk is like you want someone to punch you in the face.” And maybe so. Maybe he’s sick of the sycophants and wondering who the hell the show they all put on is for, who the audience is. Before he knows it, there’s a thick glass wall between him and his immediate society, and he’s starting to feel a little like a scientist living among a bunch of experimental subjects whose irrational behaviour he’s supposed to observe.
(His conclusions so far are that the world is made up of power relations and power is the ability to take away one’s free will and rich is power and white is power and man is power and he is all three. For whatever that means.)
“Oliver, you’re such an angry young man,” is another peculiar one – he’s no Jimmy Porter, it’s just that nothing ever seems to add up – and small wonder really that accusations of misanthropy are going to follow him for the rest of his life. (Alongside accusations of having a bleeding heart, however that adds up. Oliver Queen the bleeding heart misanthrope.) The pockets of happiness he finds are far from private school and high society; mostly they take the form of afternoons spent in the library on the Horton estate where the widowed Abigail Horton lets him huddle in her books away from other people for as long as he likes.
Or it’s his horses. Star City had never quite been able to shake off its moneyed history, being made up primarily of neat suburban neighbourhoods, gated communities on hills, a gazillion parks, and stretches and stretches of woodland. It means a bland lack of character, but it also means a lot of space to ride – and hunt, when that was legal. Moira taught him how to do both, so the list of things he shares with her now includes a love for their equestrian companions (a love that he’s going to share with his own sons too, but that’s for another lifetime), and the thrill of a shot well-landed.
It’s why the summer he’s sixteen going on seventeen is set to be spent on an African safari, with some of his mother’s best friends, notable game trappers and professional huntsmen and – as a treat for her son – Howard Hill himself. The Robin Hood film is one of the few things that genuinely excite Ollie in the simple way that kids his age are meant to be excited, and on the trip, for once, he deigns to get out of his head just so he can pester Howard for discourses on archery. Particularly the trick shot. You know the one.
“The enthusiasm on this one, Moira,” the man laughs amiably, “I might just have to show rather than tell.”
“Really!?” Ollie’s eyes go wide and eager, leaning across his seat on their private plane out of sheer delight. “You’ll teach me?”
“Now don’t set yourself up for disappointment, I’d imagine it’s not like guns.” But Moira’s amused exhale is fond. “It’ll take years to get as good with a bow and arrow, won’t it, Howard?”
“Well he’s a boy, he has years.” Howard gives him a wink. “I can teach you the basics, son, but your mother’s not wrong, it’ll be on you to practice.”
So while Moira chases game with her companions, and Robert complains about mosquitoes, or whatever it is he does in the cabin, Ollie gets lessons from Howard and spends hours, often losing track of time, attempting to hone them on his own. Natural talent doesn’t even have a chance to enter the equation – years with the rifle have taught him aim well enough, and the rest is more than made up for through sheer determination. By the end of the week, the trees around their camp are more battered than the excess population of hartebeests their hunting group is after.
“And all this with my longbow.” Howard beams with pride. “Can’t wait to see what you’ll do with a compound.”
Looking back on it, it’s ironic that that trip is one of the clearest instances of genuine happiness Ollie can trace in his monotonous youth. Because, of course, it’s also the trip of The Incident. It’ll brand their excursion a tragedy, but the truth of it is—
(“Why don’t you come out with us tomorrow, Oliver? It’ll be our last day here.” “Do I have to?” “You know there’s plenty of time to practice archery when we get home.” “It’s not that, Mama…” “What is it, then?” “Don’t you ever think maybe it’s a little cruel? On the animals?” “Oh, where do you get that soft heart from.” “How’s it different from killing people?” “They have no mind. No feelings.” “You could probably kill people anyway.” “Hmm?” “You’re powerful. You could probably kill people anyway.” “…You worry me, sometimes. Put it out of your mind, child – tell you what, why don’t we leave your father to snore the dead awake and go make that chili you like on the campfire.” “Yeah. Alright.” Out the tent they go, hand in hand…)
The truth of it is that when Ollie remembers it to this day, it isn’t so much with grief as—
(“That smells alright.” “What’s that noise?” “Hmm?” “Like growling…”)
It had been like finding the ultimate answer to everything that had ever kept him up nights, the way those leopards had just gone for her throat as if she—
(“Oliver, run—” “What the devil is going on out— Moira!” Crunch. Shoot, Ollie, just shoot, get the gun, shoot—)
The leopards hadn’t cared that she was Moira Ellis-Queen and he was Robert Queen and together they ran a global empire. The leopards hadn’t cared about rich or white or man and still, still to this day Ollie remembers that glint of green that meets his own and the absolute terror that fills him, until for some reason he never will learn, the creature turns away like she isn’t interested in taking him, too, and it had been luck, just luck, just luck—
(“Oh my God, Moira and Robert…” Bang. “Howard, we got them!” “Oliver? Oliver, can you hear me? He’s in shock, Bill, get the jeep.”)
Nature knows no Queens. Nature knows no Queens.
Even in her sleep Dinah’s hold across his waist is tight, and he has to ease himself away as slowly as possible else risk waking her. She doesn’t, thank fuck, and from there it’s only a matter of pulling his uniform back on, unhooking the bow and quiver from behind the door. Hal would be more difficult to evade in theory, but he’s also, lucky for Ollie, about as gullible as a toddler.
“Dick called. Roy’s awake,” Ollie says, borrowing Dinah’s words, as he passes Hal on the observation deck. Hal looks sympathetic, and he has to push down the guilt.
“Yeah? You want me to fly you to S.T.A.R.?”
“No, I— I need to do this on my own. You understand.” Not a lie.
“’Course.” Hal reaches out, hesitates, gives him a squeeze on the shoulder – their stupid dance of acceptable touch. “Good luck.”
Ollie smiles vaguely.
The teleporter takes him where he needs to be, and then all he has to do is wait. Shade finds him, like he always does. “Oliver.” Raise of his top hat hello and a tap of the cane against concrete to announce his arrival. Ollie turns, nods.
“Funny, I’d thought I’d squared all my debts when I did as asked, after your… time away from this plane.” Cuts straight to the chase, Shade does, which is probably why Ollie doesn’t mind him. “And yet the look about you suggests you’re here for another favour.”
“You’re thinking of it all wrong, pal,” Ollie returns with a glint in his eyes. “Maybe it’d be nice to have me in your debt for a change. Yeah?”
“Strong argument.” Shade hums. “Let’s hear what you need, then.”
“There’s some magic thing you’re supposed to be able to do. Jason Blood said so. You can transport somebody to where somebody else is without knowing the precise location, just by getting a sense for the target.”
“And I think you mean essence, not sense.” Shade holds out a hand. “In this hypothetical, would you have something I might draw from?”
Ollie chucks a piece of metal into his palm, the dent where an arrow had broken through still obvious. Prometheus had taken his helmet with him when he fled, but he hadn’t exactly had time to pick up the broken bits. Ollie, on the other hand, had had nothing but time. “Can you do it?”
“Perhaps now it becomes a matter of why I would do it, even if I could.”
Half a crooked, challenging smile. “I don’t know if you and Mik have ever met, but Jack Knight was a friend of yours, wasn’t he?”
“…Right to the emotional blackmail. Well done.” Shade exhales. “I have not had the pleasure of being acquainted with Mikaal, no, but Jack was… quite something.”
“Then can you honour his legacy? Aid Mik’s cause?”
Shade sighs. “Tread carefully, Ollie. This piece of metal has already whispered its secrets to me. I can tell that the place it points to is a place impossible to escape from without my portals. And I am not without my limits. I can only hold one open for an hour at the most.”
He grins, dangerous. “All I’d need.”
“If you insist…” Another sigh, and then the man does something funny with the piece of metal Ollie had brought – tosses it up like a coin, till the air around them very literally swallows it up as it falls. A beat, and then ripples shift behind Shade, the way a city looks when heat rises off of the pavement on a hot day. “Step right through.” He gestures. “But take a moment, my friend, for beyond this point lies dragons.”
Ollie arches an eyebrow. “Metaphor?”
“Well, if it weren’t, literal dragons would be easier than what you’re asking of me.” Shade smiles, almost taunting. “No turning back now, Ollie.”
He scoffs. “I don’t do turning back.”
And then he follows Shade into the darkness.
Orphaned as a teenager, it turns out, is an awkward position to be in. He’s capable – adept, even, thanks to his solitary nature – of taking care of himself, but from a legal standpoint, he needs a guardian. That means sending him off into the care of some distant (Ollie has no idea how accurate the descriptor will turn out to be) uncle for the better part of two years, before he gets to come back home.
He makes one last visit before he leaves.
Downtown Star is almost never called that by anybody local, mostly because downtown elsewhere would be a hell of a lot bigger than this. Instead they call it the City Core, and it’s rare that he needs to visit for anything other than leisure or shopping. Today, however, he asks Wilson to drive him to a street close to the coast (“But, sir, that’s—” “I know where I’m going.”) and then he climbs up to the second floor of a rundown apartment building, and he can’t see them, but he can feel eyes on him regardless. He rings the doorbell.
The young woman who answers the door looks so much like what he remembers of her that it floors him for a second, leaving him standing there, cap in hand, speechless.
“Yes?” she asks, equal parts wary and confused.
“Um… good afternoon.” He swallows. “Does… Minnie Barnes still live here?”
“That’s my mother.” Something shutters closed in the woman’s expression. “Could I be of help instead?”
“I’d much prefer to talk to her in person, if that’s possible. It’s kind of… it’s a private matter.”
“Well, I’m sorry to inform you she’s no longer with us.”
Ollie stares, a cold feeling curling in the pit of his stomach. “That’s— my condolences, how—”
“Cancer. It’ll be four years now. I’m sorry, but who exactly are you?”
“I— my parents— she was in our employ. She— well, she basically raised me.”
“I see.” Something in the woman’s expression softens, and it’s the guilt of it that pushes Ollie to tell the whole truth.
“I, um, I came here to— apologise, actually. Minnie— she was fired, a-and— it wasn’t deserved. It was me, I was— a brat, a-and I got her fired for nothing. I’m really sorry.”
He doesn’t dare look up, and when the woman speaks again her voice is dull, numb, devoid of all feeling. “Mr. Queen, then?”
“What are you hoping to accomplish by apologising now, Mr. Queen?”
Ollie frowns. “It felt like the right thing to do.”
“So – because it makes you feel better?” The woman arches an eyebrow, her eyes world-weary. “Won’t change a thing for Mama, Mr. Queen. You were the last family she worked for, did you know that? Did you think being fired from your house of all houses would do nothing to hurt her reputation? None of you rich white folks wanted to have her around their kids again. She had to work the most demeaning, soul-crushing jobs instead, just so me and my sisters don’t starve. Make no mistake, Mr. Queen. That drove her to an early grave. So you tell me what an apology’s supposed to do for her now.”
“I…” Ollie’s lost for words, horrified. “L-Listen, I’d be more than happy to offer you and your family some kind of financial compensation—”
Her eyes flash. “You take yourself and your money off of my property right now, please, sir.” She all but spits it out. “You think I’ll absolve you of anything, well, I won’t. Mama died. Live with it. Now let her soul rest in peace.”
And she slams the door in his face, leaving him hollow.
Back in the car, Wilson meets his distant eyes in the rear-view mirror, concerned. “Have you, ah, been sleeping well since the funeral, sir?”
Ollie absently traces an infinity symbol over and over again in the fogged-up glass of the window beside him. “Know how much a million dollars is, Wilson? At one thousand dollars a day it would take you almost three years to spend it. A billion dollars would take you almost three thousand years.”
“What do you think separates me from a Black single mother struggling to feed herself and her children? Lord knows I don’t work harder. I sure as hell am not a better person, either. All it is – is luck. Isn’t that absurd? All it is, is luck.”
Awkward silence. “I’m not sure—”
“No, I haven’t been sleeping well, Wilson.” Ollie smiles tightly. “Not since the funeral and not since I figured it out – I’ve been sleeping on a pile of corpses.”
In the place between worlds, the mad knight paces his castle of stairwells, unaware that he’s under siege. It would be so easy, Ollie muses, from this vantage point. Something Anarky had said comes back to him – He would not anticipate you, and he nocks an arrow, takes aim. Prometheus isn’t even posing a difficult target, standing still now as he looks up at a map on the wall, one hand poised under his chin like he’s lost in thought. Right between the eyes when he turns, Ollie thinks. It would be so easy.
The lost look in Dinah’s eyes as she says slippery slope assaults him, and he stills.
Lowers the bow.
Simple enough to aim for the cape, instead. Never understood the use of those things, full offence to Bruce intended. Prometheus makes a shocked sound as arrow after arrow pins him to the map behind him, and he screeches, “You!? How did you—!?”
“Which is it? You’re a power-crazed idiot too cocky to think anyone could find him, or you just underestimate me, specifically?”
He keeps one eye on the arrow trained on his forehead and laughs, somewhat hysterical. “Underestimate…? What’s there to estimate at all? You’re no hero. You use humankind’s most primitive weapon, for Christ’s sake.”
“Oh, this little thing? Not scary enough for you?” Ollie smiles.
And then without warning he shifts his aim and looses one right through the palm of the smug fucker’s dominant hand, earning a sharp yell.
“Barbed arrowhead, by the way. Being shot ain’t the painful part. It’s when you try to take it out, see. You’ll need it cut out or risk tearing something vital – though please don’t let me stop you if you want to try. Not that either way’s going to save you from the potential nerve damage. No such thing as a flesh wound with arrows.” He nocks another. “Primitive only means time-tested, my friend.”
“What do you want?”
“What do I want.” Ollie scoffs. “Did Red Arrow and Star City mean so little to your grand scheme that you fucking forgot?”
Prometheus cackles. “Revenge. Of course.”
“Not revenge. Justice.” The arrow is poised for the other hand. That’s not Ollie’s target though, he just wants the asshole thinking it is before he puts one through his eye. A matching injury for each of Roy’s. “You put a hand into the wolf’s mouth and expect him not to bite down, do you?”
“Kill me already, then.” Prometheus grins. “Or don’t you dare?”
“These arrows have tasted more of death than you before you were ever out of your nappies, son. That’s not what I came for.”
“No. Rules of the fair chase.” A corner of Ollie’s mouth tilts up, almost malicious. “Now this is the part where I hear that villain monologue you promised. Start talking.”
“…I suppose you’ve earned it.” Prometheus laughs even as he sweats, proof of the pain he’s in. “It’s not hard to understand, for someone like you, Green Arrow. Power to the people, isn’t that right?”
His uncle, predictably, chucks him into boarding school for the whole of the two years he has with him. Ollie’s grateful that thanks to Abby, he gets to spend some of the summers in Star. “And Bonnie’s so blatant about it, too, Abby, my God.” Ollie continues regaling her, scoffing in derision. “She caught me sneaking out to practice once and started taking up archery lessons herself.”
Abby laughs, indulgent. “Well, you’re a rich young man. As a woman her age, Ms. King is right to start thinking about her future prospects.”
“It’s a modern world, she can inherit.”
“Double the money is always better.” Abby shrugs. “And so – aside from the ever-opportunistic King heiress who’s insinuated herself to you – you still made no friends?”
“People are stupid,” Ollie drawls, sliding lower into his couch. “I don’t like holding conversations where I can feel my brain-cells decaying as we talk.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, then.” Abby smiles fondly.
“There’s no way in hell I’d marry someone like Bonnie. She’s like Mama if Mama’s cruelty had been less refined.”
“Would you marry Cynthia?” Abby asks, setting her teacup down. “She likes you, you know. Beyond the inheritance— well, I’m giving her a sizeable one of her own, so, that ought to go without saying— and I’d love to be able to call you my son and have it be real, Oliver.”
Ollie hesitates. “…Cindy’s great, Abby, and you know I consider you family too, but…”
“But there’s still a restlessness in you that needs expending before you put down roots. Yes, I can tell.” Abby nods, serene. “What are your plans? College? Trip around the Continent?”
“College…” Ollie looks away.
“…City College.” He bites his lip. “Abby— I’m tired of doing the whole ivory tower thing literally. I want to be at the heart of it for once. Maybe— maybe I might find a higher calling, too. Beyond marrying well and settling down here. Uh… no offence.”
“You remind me so much of my husband.” Abby chuckles, something in her eyes pitying. “Just, don’t be surprised when you find yourself back here, Oliver. We are who we are, in the end. And I’ll do my best to make sure Cynthia waits for you.”
The ominous statement echoes through the years, but for the moment, Ollie puts it out of his mind, insisting on his college of choice and moving to the City Core. He’s not entirely free – he still has to pick a major relevant to inheriting CEO status at Queen Industries – but it’s a good degree of freedom, letting him explore his interests more. Not in the sense of art or music, he doesn’t have much of a sensitive side, for better or for worse. No, his passions happen to lie somewhere a little more material…
He folds up the FREEDOM NOW flyer he’s offered on campus, slips it into his pocket. The bus is painted the most garish shades of orange, green, and yellow, and he can’t help cringing even as he boards. People are singing We Shall Overcome, and someone pulls out a guitar to help, but Ollie treats it like background music to the book he’s reading, figuring he ought to save his voice for chanting at the rally. In time, someone thrusts an identical flyer in his face, with an enthusiastic, “—On the steps of the Capitol, Saturday at 1:00 PM! Be there!”
Ollie blinks. “…What’s this for, the people who thought this was the Greyhound Express?” He arches an eyebrow at the redhead holding her hand out. “I mean, most of us pretty well know what we’re here for.”
“Good point.” She puts the flyer away, sheepish, then takes the empty seat next to him without so much as a by-your-leave, grinning wide. “Brianna Stone. City College.”
Ollie backs away by the slightest inch, a little overwhelmed – from her deep red hair to the bold patterns of her dress to her overly-eager voice, the woman is loud. “…I know. I’ve seen you on campus. Oliver Queen.”
“What’s your major? I’m Poli-Sci.”
“You and half the student body.” Ollie snorts. “If this war keeps up there are going to be more political scientists and philosophers than you can shake a stick at – and most of them will wind up pumping gas or bagging groceries. No offence.”
She crosses her arms, making an indignant but playful sound. “What’s your major?”
Ollie talks to his book for a second. “…Business.”
“Oh.” Predictably, the atmosphere between them turns chilly, and she looks ready to stand up and go find her company elsewhere.
“Don’t say it like that.” Ollie frowns. “Oh. It sounds like I just said I eat babies for breakfast. I believe in democratic reform—”
She whirls around, suddenly enraged. “How can you say that, when thousands of people are dying in an unjust war!? When— in our own country, millions of Black people are treated as second-class citizens?”
Ollie exchanges an amused look with the Black woman sitting across, who’d also glanced up from her newspaper to watch the drama. “Third.”
“Third class. Women are treated as second class. I don’t know what that makes Black women.”
“Mad as hell, sugar.” The woman across grins.
Brianna huffs, settling, but still clearly irritated. “I don’t know how you can sit there and say you support a system that allows for this sort of oppression.”
“I don’t. I support a system that allows people like us to change it. Isn’t that what we’re doing right now? Exercising our right to stand up and speak? Make a difference?”
“You don’t seem politically illiterate, which is even more baffling.” Brianna points at his book with a raised chin. “What are you reading, there, anyway?”
“Like, a novel?”
“No, I don’t like make-believe.” He turns the page.
Brianna’s persistent. “You ever read Marx?”
“I thought I said I don’t like make-believe.” Ollie scoffs.
“Everybody thinks they know Marx without ever actually reading him.” Brianna rolls her eyes. “What’s your party, then?”
“I don’t vote.”
“Of course you don’t. What’s your, like, general affiliation? Politically?”
Ollie shrugs. “I’m kind of an independent, I guess.”
“Yeah, but what do you believe in?” Brianna shakes her head. “If you stand for nothing, you fall for everything, Queen.”
“Jesus Christ, woman.” Ollie sighs, closing his book. No point, he’s never going to finish it here. “I’m here, aren’t I? I believe in freedom.”
“Okay, so you’re a liberal.”
“Liberalism isn’t freedom, it’s compromise.” Ollie gestures at her with the edge of the book. “Look, I don’t have the answers, okay? I’m doing this on a… case-by-case basis. What I know at the moment is this war is unethical, and if you can stand to have this capitalist running dog swine on your side, can we just go protest?”
She looks at him for a long, loaded minute, and then slowly grins again, crooked. “Hidden depths, huh. Fine. This commie pinko hippie says— truce.”
“Superheroes, you see.” Prometheus smiles, distant and not quite sane. “An insult to humanity, don’t you think? Most of them aren’t even human, not really, freaks of nature and alien invaders posing as one of us. And yet they all look down on us from their tower in the sky, declaring that they will protect us, as if we need that. As if we’re incapable of doing it for ourselves.”
Ollie’s eyes narrow. “So your plan was to prove we’re fallible.”
“Ah, I knew you’d understand.” A malicious grin. “After all, what’s to stop non-humans from turning on us? How many degrees of separation are there from a superhero and supervillain? A bad night or two? The myth of the superhero-divine needs to be abolished. We need to show the world that we can do without.”
“…Can’t say I haven’t said similar myself, before,” Ollie grants, “But I’m a twentieth-century man. Seen too many people trample on basic human rights for a good cause. In my experience, it’s not about the validity of the problem you point out, it’s about the solution you offer. So go on. What genius solution do you offer?”
“Simple. Levelling the playing field. Everyone should be able to protect themselves from superhero and supervillain both, should they have need to.”
“By which you mean mass-producing your Amazo suit, is that it?”
The grin grows wider, manic almost. “Ha! Spoken like a socialist. Why would I do that? If you and I can do it, anybody can become a mask. And anyway, that’s only the final stage. First, every hero would need to be disgraced in the eyes of the public.”
“Ah. Create a threat so massive we couldn’t possibly keep up, making us all look like a bunch of flakes.”
“Then it’s only a matter of time before people take matters into their own hands.” He nods, eyes wild. “The same genesis as Batman himself.”
“And what about all the people that don’t do that? The ones that are going to die while you taunt us? Necessary sacrifices?”
A casual shrug. “Well, it’s the rule of the jungle, isn’t it. Survival of the fittest. Those who can’t adapt are slated to die by nature.”
“Perfect. Not only are you in La-La Land, you’re a hypocrite to boot.” Ollie clicks his tongue. “So far, what you’re saying is you want to fight weapons by building more weapons and neutralise a perceived threat by creating an actual threat.”
“The vulnerable have no choice but to fight fire with fire.”
“Oh, spare me, the vulnerable aren’t the ones you give a shit about.” He glares. “They’re the ones most likely to burn. You don’t fix a power imbalance by usurping power yourself.”
Prometheus laughs. “You truly are naïve.”
The very next day, as he’s trying to get to class, Ollie finds himself accosted by a familiar blur of red and headache-inducing tie-dye patterns. “You’re that Oliver Queen,” Brianna says as if she had unlocked a secret of the universe. “I should have known. Come on, I want you to meet some people.”
“Uh… class—” Ollie starts to protest, but Brianna links her arm through his and pretty much drags him out with her.
“Shut up, there’s no Econ classes before one o’clock, I checked.”
“…Are multiple classes a foreign concept to you, or…”
She blinks. “Why, what else are you taking?”
Colouring in spite of himself, Ollie grumbles, “Philo.”
Brianna barks out a laugh, and Ollie has to admit it’s pretty funny, and she wheezes out, “You fucking – hypocritical – goodness gracious.” By the time they get to the quad, approaching a circle of students among several basking in the sunlight, she’s bulldozed through his thorny disposition like it’s nothing.
“Okay, capitalist pig, meet your reckoning.” Brianna makes a wide gesture toward her friends. “That’s Digg, John Diggle—” The Black student in question gives him a confused nod— “Our angel, Sandra Hawke—” This beautiful Afro-Asian girl waves at him airily, saying, “Call me Moonday,” and Brianna corrects herself accordingly— “Moonday Hawke – wow, I love it, you think it’ll stick this time? – the hag over there is Andrea Zercher, call her Andy and don’t get in her bad books—” Wink from the woman wearing men’s clothes— “And this is Delbert Zoukas, on his way to writing the next Great American Novel.” Nod from a spaced-out man.
“This here’s Oliver Queen, gang.” Brianna smiles, with a glint in her eyes that spells trouble. “And he’s not insufferable, though he’s going to do his damnedest to make you believe it. Anyone up for turning Queen Industries’ crown prince into a class traitor, or what?”
“…And here I thought I was finally making friends,” Ollie drawls, smiling crookedly. But he lets himself be pulled down onto the grass, shucking his coat and shoes off, for the heat. “Sorry she’s subjecting you to me, but I get the feeling Brianna’s just like this.”
“You don’t know the half of it.” Andy laughs. “So what’s the Queen heir doing slumming it with us?”
“Oh, he’s enlightened. For the most part.” Brianna sends him a deliberate sideways glance, and he rolls his eyes. “Antiracist…”
“Only as an advocate and extremely pro-woman, for the record.”
“And then I say anti-capitalist.” She crosses her arms.
Amused, Ollie shrugs. “Hey, I acknowledged the system’s broken when you convinced me yesterday.”
“The system’s not broken, the system’s functioning exactly like it’s supposed to! It’s a shit system, designed to create a wealth disparity, among other issues!”
“…Are you sleeping with Bri?” Delbert asks, eyes narrowed in suspicion.
Ollie’s about to answer with a vehement fuck no, have you met the woman when Brianna cuts in herself, indignant. “Oh my God, Del, welcome to the 19-freaking-70s. You don’t own me.”
“Ain’t it quicker to ask who’s not sleeping with Bri?” Andy chuckles.
“Right, nice to meet you and all, but what is this—? Guys, we were supposed to be discussing the next march, not playing hooky with rich boy over here,” Diggle speaks up at last. Ollie instantly gets the impression he isn’t welcome to this guy, the way he doesn’t even bother meeting his eyes. It’s the years of being around sycophants and Yes-Men that sets something pleasant off in him whenever he meets people who don’t hesitate to stand up to him, so Ollie sits up, immediately intrigued.
“Oh? That sounded almost personal.”
Diggle huffs, scornful. “It isn’t.”
“You don’t have something against me?” Ollie presses, smirking.
“Nothing against you, Queen, but I know your type.” Diggle isn’t fazed, meeting him head-on.
“White, bourgeoisie intellectual types.”
“You got a problem with Marx and JFK too?”
“Ooh.” Andy laughs, and Diggle turns on him, annoyed now.
“Okay, smart guy, stop me when I say something false. You were born into privilege. You had minimally more sense than the rest of your family and decided hey, maybe it’s a little unfair that everything in life comes so easy to me, but not to the general population. Felt really bad about it. Read up some. Now you want to fight the good fight.”
The grin falls from Ollie’s face, and he frowns, confused. “Well— what’s wrong with that?”
“Even in this, even in this, you somehow found a way to make it about you,” Diggle answers with a scoff and a shake of the head. “So yeah, I got something against you. I live this reality, and you, you just condescend to it. Advocate away, if it makes the guilt easier to bear. Just don’t expect people like me to be fucking grateful.”
Ollie mulls it over, nodding to himself, contemplative. “…Yeah. Yeah, I see your point. I’m sorry.”
“What for?” Diggle arches an eyebrow. “Existing?”
“The point, Queen, is that your guilt is useless to me. It’s your problem to deal with, you want to help, help. Allies are appreciated – martyr complexes? Not so much.”
“Damn, Digg, rip him a new one and a half.” Brianna whistles. “Listen, Oliver— we’re all involved in some type of activism or the other in this group— Andy does her gay lib thing, Del’s all about protest art, Digg and I tend to take the reins for anti-war and civil rights related stuff. You want to feel like you’re doing something more, we’d love to have you on board.”
Ollie considers it. Diggle was right, he muses. Lavishing in the decades-long melancholia that’s been plaguing him is doing absolutely nothing to fix the status quo, and his feelings aren’t about to help anybody in a meaningful way. He stares at the grass for a while, eyes flicking up, accidentally catching Sandra— Moonday’s gaze. Come to think of it… “What do you do?” he asks, curious.
Moonday holds eye contact for an unsettling amount of time, her smile vague, and then she suddenly leans forward and grabs his cheeks in both her hands, startling him.
She makes an odd humming sound, squinting at his face… stares… and then she beams. “I like him!”
Everyone bursts out laughing, the ice evaporating just like that. “Well, then, that’s that!” Andy says in between guffaws, draping an amiable arm around his shoulders. “Welcome to the team.”
“You never did get into that sob story,” Ollie taunts. “Go ahead. What’s your Freudian excuse for wasting hundreds of innocent lives?”
Prometheus cackles. “It’s hardly connected.”
“What is it?”
“Really, how simplistic do you—”
“You know, I got a bad shoulder. One would think you’d love the chance to keep stalling before I get tired of holding my bowstring taut and just… let go.”
The grin falls, replaced by a scowl. “My parents were anarchists. Gunned down by police whilst on the run from a bank heist.”
Ollie barks out a laugh. “You have to love irony.”
There’s this thing Abby would say about him, especially when he goes on a tirade. “Oliver, you were born out of your time,” it was – “Sometimes when I listen to you, I feel like you ought to be fighting a war, a real war, not this sham in Vietnam. That’s why you’re never happy unless you have a cause to champion. There’s just no place left for men like you in this strange new world we find ourselves in.”
With Brianna showing him the way, he thinks he’s finally found the battle he’s been itching for all his life. The group becomes something of a second family, hanging out at all the best jazz bars to talk poetry and politics, organising protests and marches, doing sit-ins, die-ins, bed-ins, any and every kind of resistance – Ollie even spends more nights at their shared loft than his own city apartment, of late. Bri introduces him to the student cell she works with to get pamphlets out (“Hey Luke, meet Oli—” “Ollie.” “You got a last name, there, Ollie?” “Does it matter?”), and it turns out to be bizarrely cathartic, writing against injustice. He thinks maybe he ought to do that with his life, become a columnist for some left-wing publication or the other.
“But when there’s so much wrong with the world it’s kind of hard not to get overwhelmed, isn’t it?” He toys with the grass under his hands. “I mean – I used to think, like, if the problem is that I’m sitting on all this wealth while people are starving, couldn’t I just give away whatever I don’t need, then? And I do, you know, I do charity and shit. But it’s, like, so selective. Like, I can only help where I can see help is needed. But I’m only one person. What if there’s issues going on around the world that I don’t have the slightest clue about? It’d be better if someone else took my money and redistributed it for me, but we all know that’s never going to happen. You know? Sometimes you wonder what the point of it all is.”
Moonday, beside him, makes a contemplative sound, doing that thing where her head is turned up to look at the sky, taking so long to answer that if Ollie hadn’t gotten to know her he would’ve assumed she hadn’t heard him in the first place. Maybe picnic dates are meant to be spent on more romantic conversation than this, but something about her always pushes Ollie to share what he’s thinking in a way that literally nothing else can, and it’s only to her that he’s an open book so dumbed down a baby could read it. He’d always thought he was too much a man of the world, to believe in love. She – this absolute space case of a hippie with a smile like the morning sun – proved him wrong.
Not that he’s complaining.
“I think it’s an American problem,” she says at last, after enough time had lapsed that anybody else would have changed the subject. “America and its uniquely Calvinistic, individualist attitude… pass me a sandwich? Thank you! What was I saying? Oh, yeah. You assume the onus is on you and you alone. But you said it yourself. You’re only one man.”
He toys with the wildflower he’d managed to pluck, randomly decides to tuck it behind her ear, earns himself a beaming smile. “That’s what I’m saying. Am I really making a difference at all?”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Moonday counters. “As a Buddhist, it’s always felt silly to me, how you centre the human subject like that.”
“Oh, right. That all is one thing.”
“Not all is one. One in many. And many in one.” She holds up a finger, twirling it around absently. “Like the idea of a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere, causing a tornado in another place. Or the food chain. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, even Christians say. It’s about…”
“…Interdependence.” Ollie nods, following.
“Interconnectedness. Cooperation. You phrase things so nihilistically, sometimes.”
“I’m not a nihilist. I’m… an absurdist.”
Moonday shakes her head, amused. “You atheists baffle me almost as much as Christians do. My point— what was my point, I lost it— oh, right. As long as you’re trying, of course you make a difference. How can you possibly calculate what the impact of something you said, or wrote or… some small gesture you did could have been? Maybe you influenced the mind of a future leader who will change everything. Maybe you influenced the mind of the person who will influence the mind of… do you see?”
Ollie mulls it over. “It’s not a solo fight.”
“Foreign concept to you, Mr. Queen?” Moonday smiles.
Heart hammering, Ollie leans forward and tries, “Well— maybe not so much anymore…”
“Mm-mm. I won’t be exclusively yours.” Moonday hums the most serene rejection. “Or anyone else’s. You’re sweet, though, Ollie. Really sweet. Oh, look there, a rabbit!”
Ollie sighs, too fond to be bitter. It’s impossible to hold her nature against her. Head in the clouds, is what most people call her, but it’s true in more ways than one – she just can’t be tethered.
And the years keep marching on. In his final year, Ollie has to confront the inevitable. “It’s not like I can just run away,” he grumbles, though the thought is tempting as fuck. “The board needs somebody on that CEO chair, and I don’t have the excuse of being too young anymore.”
“No, I know, it just— it feels so wrong.” Brianna sighs, dropping her head into her hands. In the background, a saxophone solo makes for an odd tonal clash. Bri gestures for another drink. Del obliges, as usual. “You, having to be all corporate. When’s the next time you’ll be able to come down to the Core, hang out at a jazz club like this? It’ll be different.”
“Yeah, well. Things change.” Diggle toys with the salt shaker on the table, rocking it back and forth, back and forth. “We were always going to go our separate ways after graduation. Let’s face it. The dream got gunned down with JFK and MLK and all those kids at Kent State. Time to pass the baton.”
Ollie takes another swig of his drink, arches one questioning eyebrow. “You’re cheery today.”
“To have your problems, Queen.” Digg laughs, silent and bitter.
Bri seems to notice it as well, sitting up with a frown. “Something wrong?”
He doesn’t answer, for a while. In the space between, Ollie’s weirdly hyperaware of the empty seats around the table. Del would be right back, and Moonday’s just at home, sick, but Andy isn’t going to be taking hers again for a long time – she’s moved back to San Francisco to be closer to her sister Honore, who’s timid as a mouse and had somehow latched onto an abusive prick for a husband. Ollie wonders if his is going to be the abandoned chair next, and if anyone else is going to inherit it. Digg clears his throat. Reaches into his back pocket. Pulls out paper.
“Nothing. ’Sides that I got a date with Uncle Sam.”
The feeling that rushes through his body is an odd one – something like static, all heat and impossible terror. “You— what do you— are you saying—”
“Oh, God, no. Oh, no.” Brianna has both hands over her mouth, eyes wide, horrified.
Ollie finds his voice. “But— but you’re a college student!”
“Not come summer, I won’t be.” Digg makes a half-bitter, half-derisive noise. “Deferment’s expired already.”
“What the fuck. We’re not going to let it happen, Digg, no way! Tell them— tell them you’re a raging homosexual,” Ollie suggests, frantic, and Brianna immediately seizes on that tangent, too.
“Yeah! I had a cousin who swallowed a cotton ball, apparently it shows up on the scans as a weird lump so they think you’re sick—”
“If you need to stay in school longer, I can help with tuition, you know that—”
“Stop it. Both of you.” Digg sounds both furious and exhausted. “Ollie— I get that you grew up spoiled enough to think things are always going to go your way if you throw some money around but they’re not. And Bri, you ought to know better.”
“No! I’m not about to just sit back and let this happen to a friend.” Ollie slams both hands on the table, making several people nearby jump. “Christ! All that protesting for some— some luckless fucking strangers, and I can’t even save someone who matters!?”
“Ollie, you don’t mean it like that.” Brianna’s close to tears.
“The hell I don’t!” Ollie shouts, and then he turns and storms off out of the club – not trusting himself to not do something that would get him thrown out anyway. Behind himself, he can hear a tired voice say, “Just let him go, Bri.” And he ends up just standing outside in the alley, the bite of snowy air a welcome distraction from his thoughts.
When Digg finds him, he isn’t fuming anymore, but it all still stings something bad. “It’s just not fair,” Ollie mutters as Digg leans against the wall next to him, lighting up a cigarette.
“Life’s not fair, Ollie. Isn’t that why we do what we do?”
“Yeah, well, kind of hard to see the point there when you’re going to be forced to kill people down in fucking Vietnam and I’m going to be forced to kill people from behind a desk.”
“So you’re just going to give up trying? Baby’s first experience with compassion fatigue is enough to knock him down and out? Man, come on. If there’s one thing you got going for you it’s that you have always been tough as hell.”
“I know, alright, I know it’s about – little drops of water making the goddamn ocean or whatever the hell Moonday always rambles about – but maybe I want a more direct fight, yeah? Maybe I want to see tangible good done when I try to help. I’m sick of feeling like, like some things are just inevitable.” Digg opens his mouth, and Ollie cuts him off with a sharp glare. “Yeah, it’s about the guilt. It’s always about the guilt. So I’m not a saint with only the purest of motives, so what? Never claimed to be. Fucking sue me for giving a shit.”
Digg sighs, long and exasperated. “I’ll miss you too.”
“…You better write. Asshole.”
And so the state whisks Diggle away from them, widening the rift just that little bit further. When he stops showing up to the bars Brianna comes looking for him herself, finds him, predictably, in the college library. “Shakespeare?” Bri frowns, startling him, he’d been so absorbed. “Thought you said you didn’t like fiction.”
“Fiction…” Ollie huffs. “Shakespeare’s the truest thing you’ll ever read. All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
“In a mood, I see.”
“What do you want, Bri?” Ollie closes the book, sets it down on the table in front of him. Brianna comes over and takes the chair opposite, and there’s something nervous about her smile.
“Look. I know it makes you angry, what happened to Digg. What’s happening to all these young men. Not to mention the innocent people they’re out there killing.”
Ollie frowns. “Of course it does.”
“Maybe…” She hesitates. “Maybe there’s more we could be doing. To help.”
“Bri— give it up. Clearly none of the protests or music festivals or whatever else were ever going to stop a government hell-bent on war.”
“That’s exactly the point.” She leans forward, desperation in her eyes. “Maybe we need to radicalise, Ollie. There’s this group. Revolutionary Youth Movement— RYM III. I think I might join.”
He meets her eyes, shocked. “What kind of group?”
“They’re like a Leninist revolutionary vanguard thing.” Brianna waves a dismissive hand. “The point is, their methods get results. I’m so tired of feeling helpless, Ollie. Aren’t you? Come on. Join with me. We could force change to come. It’s time the powers that be were afraid of their people again.”
“Bri— are you nuts!?” Ollie stares. “What, join and be your Patty Hearst? No thank you. Most of those groups are infiltrated by FBI, CIA— you know that. I don’t want to pick up a newspaper at some point and find your name on some headline saying you blew yourself up with a homemade bomb! You ever ask what happened to RYM I and II!?”
“And here I thought you’d changed!” Brianna snaps, jumping back onto her feet. “You’re a coward, Oliver Queen. And a stupid flower power liberal and— a-a corporate shill, at that!”
“Brianna, I’m just worried—”
But there’s no talking Brianna out of anything when she’s on the warpath, and she joins. Del follows because he always does. Digg has his marching orders, and even Moonday doesn’t seem to have time for him anymore. Abigail’s prediction comes true – Ollie finds his way back behind the gates.
Neither Dinah nor Hal notice his return, their backs turned to him as they stare out at the expanse of lifeless stars off the observation deck. “Where is he?” Hal’s whispering, and Dinah has both arms wrapped around herself as she shakes her head.
“I don’t know what to say. Even when things are good, you know how he can be.” She sounds so helpless. “Hal— I’m all turned around. I don’t want us to make the same mistakes, but after— after Roy and Star City, I— I’m numb.”
Hal wraps an arm around her shoulder, and she lets him, her head falling onto his chest. He pulls her closer, kissing the top of her head. They look good together, Ollie muses, pausing a second to lean against the threshold and watch. He’s glad they have each other when he’s gone, because sometimes…
He clears his throat. Dinah whirls around, and before he knows it he has his arms full of her, holding on tight as she half-scolds, half-kisses him. “Where the hell have you been? I said no move without consulting me, you complete and utter— God. Why do I bother?”
Hal sends him a knowing look. “Is he dead?”
Confronted with the anxiety in Dinah’s eyes up close, Ollie’s grateful he didn’t make the call he’d wanted to. “No. Not dead. Took an arm and an eye as payment for Roy’s, but he’s kicking.”
Dinah’s exhale is relieved, some of the venom dissipating from her glare. “You still should have run it by me first.”
“Sorry, milady, take it out of my hide in the training room as much as you like, later.” Ollie smiles crookedly.
“…Is that wise?” Hal asks, looking worried. “You found him, hurt him, and let him go? He’s just going to come back smarting and vengeful, isn’t he?”
“Give me some credit.” Ollie chuckles. “It was the Phantom Zone. His hideout. Shade got me in and out, but it wouldn’t be possible to do it again on a mass level, it’s designed to be inescapable, you follow?”
“Ah.” Hal’s face slowly clears, and he can’t help a small grin. “Smoking the fox out from the hen house, is that it?”
“I see.” Dinah sighs, exasperated. “You spooked him by following him where he thought he couldn’t be followed, and now he thinks his lair is compromised…”
“He’ll rush his plan, hopefully.” Ollie nods with a smirk. “Sometimes, if you can’t find your quarry, you got to let them find you.”
“You’re leaving too much up to chance.”
He gives her a roguish wink. “Chance is usually a good bet for me.”
“…This means you don’t get your one-on-one revenge,” Hal points out, a question in there, somewhere. “If he takes the bait, we’ll end up retaliating as a team.”
Ollie absently kisses Dinah on the same spot he had. “Well. A wise soul once told me… you can’t win a battle alone if it costs you the war.”
He hates the turn of the decade. He hates it so much. Decade of death, disease, and apathy. The experts say there’s a virus of the blood that’s going to wipe out thousands, come the eighties. The war ends, but a new one escalates, one fought in the shadows and not in plain sight. Red Scare 2.0 – he’s afraid of opening the papers and finding Brianna is behind bars or worse because she doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone, when to keep her mouth shut for once.
Or is it envy that he can’t be out there doing the same thing anymore? Revolution had been in the air, once, hadn’t it? Where did it go? Died a sad death with the kid shanked at Altamont, like a hippie would say? Or are they all just growing old, growing disillusioned, are they just worn to the bone…
Here’s a fact about alcohol, scientific and proven and everything. Alcohol is a depressant. To drown one’s sorrows is quite often literal, and if he’s going to be a wretched coward, now, anyway, he figures he might as well go the whole mile. He downs his gin. And then some.
Little wonder that his first marriage crashes and burns within the year. Cynthia has too many better prospects to stick around waiting for him to get out of rehab yet again only to be chucked in for twice as long, the next time. “It’s like you came back with a death-wish, Oliver,” and there’s something imploring in her voice, mourning the childhood friend she once had. “Never mind that I almost never see you sober anymore, what’s with this sudden penchant for travelling to the most— godforsaken— if you’ve been struck by some strange wanderlust, fine, let’s go to Paris, or something, not bungee jumping into some hellish gorge in Zimbabwe—”
Three or four years after the divorce (they all tend to blur together, lately), he quite literally stumbles into a familiar face, down in Nepal. The hotel bar’s about ready to cut him off, and he can tell, so he exchanges a few choice words with the bouncer and is about to head back to his suite – if his legs can only muster up the energy to take him there – when he bumps into somebody. He registers who it is, and he can feel the colour leave his face. He’s not that drunk, is he?
She’s there on a pilgrimage, as it turns out – he’s only there to climb rocks. It feels too surreal, having a conversation this normal with her, in the back of a hotel lounge, as he tries to sober up enough to appreciate the miracle. She seems to feel it too, her normally carefree face all scrunched up in worry. “Ollie, you’re very drunk,” she cuts him off mid-ramble.
He laughs, silent and rueful. “About halfway to clearheaded, I promise.”
“Something’s different. You seem… unmoored. Aimless. Stuck.”
“Aimless…” he chuckles at the pun only he would get, and it isn’t even that funny. “I don’t know, Moons. Time happened. The consume-era happened. Nothing worth fighting for now.”
“The Ollie I know would say that’s an awfully privileged sentiment to express. And probably something about ostriches and sand.”
“The Ollie you know had to be silenced with extreme prejudice so this one could run a multimillion-dollar corporation, hon.”
“Alcohol? Thrill-seeking adventures across the globe? What are you trying to numb? Who are you running from?” Her face finally comes into focus as his eyes clear, and she’s as lovely as ever, that understated kind of beauty, though there’s something incredibly dignified about the way she sits, now, despite the fact that she has a flower crown on her head for no particular reason.
“…I can’t be the only one who feels it,” he muses under his breath, and hopes it doesn’t sound as desperate as it feels. “Look around you. Do you recognise this world anymore? Don’t you ever get the sense that you should start going by Sandra again? The slogan of the new era is get real, Moons. No more flowers in your hair. No more dreaming up better.”
Her eyes on him are sympathetic, and she reaches out to caress his cheek. “The name I want is Moonday. And you can still have flowers in your hair if you like.” As if to prove it, she takes off her wreath and places it on top of his head, gentle. “There. Look, the world didn’t end.”
“Feels like it will, though.”
“You pick the worst fights, lover. Acceptance. That’s the life lesson you need to be learning.” She smiles, all tender. “They say old rebels only gather more grace.”
He scoffs half-heartedly. “Rather die than mellow.”
“See? He’s still in there, somewhere.” Her laugh is delighted and childlike, and she places a hand over his heart. “I know what you’re trying to escape. Yourself. But that’s the one enemy you can’t outrun, Ollie. Hide in alcohol or chase a high around the world – you’ll still have to face him at some point.”
“I’m not strong enough,” he all but hisses it out, but she hears him anyway, and now she’s holding him, kissing him, and then they’re—
But he knows better than to ask her to stay, after. It’s Moonday, and she never will. Regardless – “Why don’t you answer my calls, more often? Or write back? Rumour said you and Digg were shacking up, but you’re not committed or anything, are you? You don’t usually…”
“Of course not. John is a good companion, though.” Ollie can’t help but notice that he’s John now, in spite of it. “And I have to admit that none of us are… well, all that comfortable with the new company you keep.”
“It’s not like I can help it.”
“I suppose with John and Brianna and Del you have plausible deniability, but as far as I’m aware neither I nor Andy received an invitation to the wedding.”
“…Well, I…” He looks away. “I didn’t have a say. Abby just felt that—”
“That we were too different.” Generous as ever, is Moonday, but there’s something in her smile that cuts deep, too. Like resignation. “Never mind, Ollie. Life is life. We’ve accepted it – now it’s your turn.”
She sits up and starts putting her clothes back on, and, scrambling for a reason to keep her there just for a moment longer, Ollie tries, “You have to know that if it was up to me—”
“It’s always up to you.” Her look is kind, but somewhat faraway. “You take care, now. Oh, and watch out for that bodyguard of yours.”
“Hackett?” Ollie blinks, confused.
She nods, pulling her hair back into its ponytail, her words spoken around the scrunchie between her teeth. “Mm-hmm. Never trust a man who prefers Velcro over lace.”
“You ever think maybe it isn’t right, what we do?”
Dinah’s so exhausted she’s passed out on the bench behind them – but Hal seems content to share the view with him a while longer. He arches an eyebrow in Ollie’s direction, and when he fails to get a clarification, he exhales, amused. “You’re asking me of all people that?”
“Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t like the concept of policing, and sometimes I have to question if this ain’t just— a rose by any other name.”
“Depends on who you ask, doesn’t it? Some people would see it as using an absurd amount of power for good. Being responsible.”
Ollie laughs, derisive. “For a meta-human, maybe, but what the hell is Bats weaponising?”
“Ask him. I’m bored and I want the fallout.”
He can’t help an actual laugh this time, almost choking on his glass of water. Hal’s smile goes from entertained to mellow to bittersweet, and Ollie watches, fascinated by the shift.
“…No, I… get what you mean. Power… it can really go to your head. I would know, huh.” He sighs. “Dark times.”
“For you and me both, pal,” Ollie answers softly.
“Th—” Hal cuts himself short, chuckling to himself and shaking his head. Ollie blinks.
“Was about to thank you. But I’m not in the mood to get yelled at and Dinah needs her rest, poor thing’s been running on full power all week.”
“…Damn right.” Ollie makes an offended sound. “Some things you’re meant to take for granted, idiot.”
Hal smiles, watching him for a quiet second. “I wouldn’t worry too much about the ethics of being in this business.”
“Of course you wouldn’t.” Ollie rolls his eyes. Hal thumps him lightly.
“I meant because there’s people like you around. Questioning things. Making sure power is never absolute.”
Ollie hums, noncommittal. “Eh. I’m getting old, won’t be long before I hang it up and let Connor take over. Fulfil my inevitable role of cranky grandpa who embarrasses Lian by not knowing how to work some new gadget or the other.”
“You think Connor’s any better just because he knows how to be nice?” Hal chuckles. “There’s always going to be people like you around, Ollie. For as long as injustice exists.”
“I doubt that’s enough to effect meaningful change on its own.”
“That’s ’cause you’re a bitter old cynic.”
“And you’re a space cop, Jordan, nobody’s perfect.”
Hal pushes him by the shoulder, hand lingering a while after.
The waters are so frigid they feel like they could cut through bone. Ollie’s only half-conscious, not quite convinced this isn’t a nightmare, but as a notorious adrenaline junkie he’s beaten his fair share of survival courses, enough that he knows he could fight the current if he wanted to. But what’s the point, he wonders. He could start swimming. He could. But why should he? It’s not as though anybody’s waiting for him to. Hell, the only person who would care enough to anticipate him at all is on the other side of drowning.
There could be people who care in the future.
They aren’t here now.
Well, if you drown, there never will be.
Can’t lose what you never had.
Mama would think you’re pathetic if you don’t at least try to put up a fight before you see her again.
Mama can go to hell. He’ll meet her there, in any case.
The water lifts him up and down like a lover— no, like a mother rocking her child to sleep. Sleep. Yeah. It’s tempting. His head’s still throbbing where Hackett rammed into it and—
Fucker tried to kill me.
Ollie’s eyes shoot open. No way, nuh-uh, he’s not dying if it’s because somebody else wanted him to. Survive. Survive out of spite. He musters up all the strength he has left and swims with all his might. Thank the God he doesn’t believe in that his mind’s still addled enough that he can’t keep track of time, because he gets the feeling that knowing how many minutes – hours, days? – he’s been at this would horrify him so bad he’d quit. And then at last— at last, land on the horizon.
He’s shaking all over when he grasps at soil again. It isn’t just from exhaustion, either, he can tell. Fuck. Withdrawal. Don’t pass out. Not yet. Wilderness Survival 101. Shelter first.
He hoists himself up onto trembling feet. Looks like a remote island. Of-fucking-course it is. No sign of human habitation, no idea what kind of fauna could be lurking around, or if he’s even still in the same country. Withdrawal to deal with, on top of it all. And he’s so hungry. He’s never known hunger before, not like this.
For a second he calculates the odds and wavers. But another thought buries that one. Everything he has ever had, he’s lucked into, hasn’t he? If Fate loves him so much, maybe it’s time to put her to the test.
On autopilot now, Ollie sifts through his bank of Boy Scout knowledge and manages to make himself a torch because light makes everything feel better. “…Okay, then,” he mutters, staring into the fray that is the dark jungle ahead (once more unto the breach—), “Let’s hope Valhalla isn’t too picky about what kind of battles…”
And then he takes his first step forward, alone.