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A Professional Observation

Chapter Text

Prologue

The rain was monotonously beating against the barred windows of the interrogation room. It was small almost to the point of being claustrophobic, heavily shadowed in the corners, but strongly lit in the centre from the ceiling lamps. Currently it was occupied by only one person — a handcuffed man in his early thirties, sitting by the table placed in the center. The bright light gave his costume an unnaturally vivid shade of green. His hood was pulled off his head, lying flat on his back, the mask gone altogether, probably locked up alongside his bow, quiver and other equipment in the evidence locker.

Two days ago the whole city knew him only as the Arrow or the vigilante. Today the identity of the man under the hood was no longer a secret to anyone.

He knew this room and the rest of the police precinct in Glades like the palm of his hand. He had been here countless times, on occasion even breaking into here as the Hood to obtain some piece of information, back in the time when he hadn’t had his own police contact in Lance. He was once even interrogated here, arrested on the suspicion of being the vigilante shortly after he had started his crusade. Back then all was carefully planned and he was quickly exonerated. The district attorney office couldn’t pursue the same charges against him again. Since then only one turn of events could have dragged him down into the gutter. He was going to find himself in a hell of a lot of trouble if he was ever captured wearing this hood and with a bow in his hand. Which did eventually happen.

He didn’t see it coming. He always thought that they would get him only one way: if they managed to shoot him down. But apparently fate had something different in store for him.

His fall.

To his own surprise he felt some kind of relief, despite the fact that his secret was laid out in the open. There was no coming back from this. But at least he didn't need to pretend anymore that he was someone else. And he didn’t care what they would do with him.

He never changed expression when they were talking to him. He didn’t say anything. He was so stone-cold and unmoved that the detectives who tried to interrogate him were quickly driven to the brink of frustration. He might be willing to talk with only one person within the police force, but they didn’t allow Captain Lance near him. Oliver caught only a few brief glimpses of him, his face always grim and difficult to read.

So eventually they decided to try a different approach.

Chapter Text

An Initial Inquiry

When he was taken from the precinct cell for another questioning, he immediately sensed that something was up. To start with, there was a small modification introduced to the interrogation room — a solid horizontal bar screwed to the heavy table on one of its shorter ends. Normally the most dangerous criminals were handcuffed to it. Oliver guessed that he fell into this category, but so far they hadn’t used this method of restraint until today. The vigilante remained indifferent when the escorting officer opened one ring of the cuffs he was wearing just to snap it on his wrist again. The only difference was that this time each of his forearms was placed on the opposite sides of the bar in front of him. Then Oliver was left alone in the room. He sat motionless, staring into space, mildly interested in what would come out of it.

The door opened a short while later. He expected some detectives, perhaps from the central police station this time. But when he shot a glance at the person who appeared in the doorway with a police officer, he noticed that it was a civilian. A middle-aged woman, in her mid-forties perhaps. She was of an average height and had short dark hair. Her face looked somehow familiar. He pondered for a short while where he might have seen her before and then suddenly everything clicked into place. She was a medic working in St. Walker's Hospital and also the shrink of Carrie Cutter. He talked with her to better understand Cutter, who had developed some obsession with the Arrow, and to find out how to stop her. The doctor did help him, albeit reluctantly, and also advised him that he could use some professional therapy himself. Now it seemed to be the irony of fate that they met again in such circumstances.

He observed her in silence when she walked past the table to sit down opposite to him, putting a folder and a pencil before her. Something in the cold expression of his eyes must have brought to mind a hunter keeping track of a moving target. He got a feeling that she must have felt at least a bit intimidated by this behavior, but when she spoke her voice was steady and well-composed.

“You can leave us, Officer Weir,” she said to the policeman, who let her in into the interrogation room.

“Are you sure, Doctor Pressnall?” The officer threw a quick glance at the vigilante, which clearly indicated that he had serious doubts if it was safe, despite the fact that the Arrow could barely move while handcuffed to the table like this. Somewhere deep inside, Oliver felt almost offended. They had little reason to treat him differently than any other criminal, but they should still know better than to seriously consider that he would ever hurt a civilian.

The doctor just waved her hand in dismissal, already focused on her patient. The policeman stepped outside and closed the door behind him, apparently still unsure if he should leave the woman alone with the vigilante.

Even if the psychiatrist was indeed afraid of him, she did a good job of not showing it. She cast a quick glance at Oliver and then opened the folder to take out some documents. She studied them for a while, flipping through the pages of a clipped file. A very thick one. At first Oliver intended to ignore it, the same as everything else happening in the interrogation room, hiding behind an invisible wall of silence and withdrawal. But it was hard not to look at the documents, which clearly were some kind of psychological profile. They drew his attention as if they were a target’s centre on the archery board. Somehow, up to this moment, it hadn't occured to him that SCDP kept such a file on him.

“So, Oliver, I think an introduction is in order,” she said, folding up the file and looking him in the eyes. “My name is Avery Pressnall and I’m a psychiatrist. I work at St. Walker's Hospital. SCPD asked me to examine your case.” The tone of her voice was casual, as if she were speaking to the most ordinary patient, not an enigmatic vigilante who had remained elusive for so long.

Well, good luck with that, he thought sarcastically, pretty sure that he had an upper hand here. No way she was going to succeed in making him talk.

“Is it all right if I call you Oliver? Or would you prefer to be addressed as the Arrow?” There was no mockery, just the professional tone of someone who was trying to perform an initial inquiry, as if she were exploring an unknown territory.

Still, he didn’t react in any way. She could call him whatever she liked. It didn’t have any effect on him. He also didn’t pay attention when some (definitely unfriendly towards vigilantism) policemen were calling him a “fucking psycho”. And that had been the most kind of the names.

“You need to let me help you, Oliver,” she said, choosing his given name instead of the pseudonym. Her voice was calm, as if she believed that she could reach out to him, showing patience and pretending to be genuinely concerned.

He didn’t answer. He didn’t need any help, certainly not from a psychiatrist.

“You were much more talkative when we met last time. You had come to me to ask about Carrie Cutter. I must say you really scared me, when you appeared all of sudden, stepping out of the shadows in my office...”

She waited a while, giving him a chance to say something, apparently no longer intimidated by his somber glare.

“Do you know what I think, Oliver? You could have easily obtained the file about Carrie from the catalogue and learned much more about her than you did from me. And yet you came to me in person. You might not have realized it at that time, but in fact you subconsciously wanted to ask for help for yourself.”

He narrowed his eyes, hearing this analysis. She was talking as if he were out of his mind. It was harder to remain silent now, and telling her not to be ridiculous was on the tip of his tongue.

“You know, Oliver, that one person can’t have two identities,” Doctor Pressnall carried on. “One or the other has to win eventually.”

She kept steady eye contact all the time, and to his own surprise Oliver was the first one who had to give up. For some reason her gaze turned out to be surprisingly... piercing, for lack of better word. He lowered his eyes to his handcuffed wrists, wondering when it would become clear to Doctor Pressnall that he didn’t give a damn about any psychiatric diagnosis she might come up with.

He was not mad. He would know if he was, wouldn’t he?

“You can’t hide forever under this hood. Living this kind of life causes a great damage both to you and to the people closest to you. Lies, secrets, obsessions...All of those combined lead to an inability to form any stable relationships, makes you push everyone away.”

He felt a sting of uneasiness, as if he were walking on a rope hung high in the air and about to lose his balance. She had a way of words. And some of them were disturbingly close to the truth...

“So, instead of facing the problems, you have engulfed yourself in the Arrow persona, to distance yourself from suffering...Am I right, Oliver?”

Something stirred inside him. Suddenly he felt like a caged tiger, taunted by a stick rattled against the bars. What did she think, using his given name as if it were an anchorpoint for drawing a string back? That he had some personality disorder and the Arrow was a meaner, more ruthless side of him he needed to be freed from?

He raised his eyes abruptly.

“Save your breath, Doctor Pressnall.” He heard himself saying it before he realized he had spoken. “You are wasting your time.”

He could almost sense the commotion on the other side of the one-way mirror when he finally decided to speak. So far he hadn’t uttered a single word in the interrogation room.

“I beg you pardon?” She stared at him intently, a pencil in her hand, ready to take notes.

“I’m not crazy,” he said through clenched teeth. “So stop talking to me as if I'm one of your patients, living under some delusion and unable to tell lies from reality” An edge of threatening tone crept into his cold voice. It was the Hood speaking all over again. He regretted it almost immediately, seeing anxiety mirrored in the psychiatrist’s eyes. After all, he didn’t want to scare this woman.

“I’m not crazy,” he repeated, his tone much more level. “And contrary to what you might think, I don’t consider myself to be Robin Hood.”

“Then why do you wear this green hood? Why did you choose a bow and arrow?” she pressed on. “Does it have something to do with the island you were marooned on for five years? What exactly happened to you out there?”

When he didn’t answer, she went on.

“I read your medical report. I know you were tortured on Lian Yu and that it was a nightmare. A hell on earth. A man can’t deal with something like that alone. You have to open up and accept that you desperately need professional therapy.”

Her voice was soothing, but it couldn’t fool him. He didn’t like the direction this conversation was going. The chain of the handcuffs rattled against the metal bar, as he shifted a little, leaning back in his chair. He didn’t want to talk about the island. Certainly not with this doctor. And certainly not when there was at least half a precinct’s crew listening, invisible behind the one-way mirror.


Chapter Text

The Hood of Honor

This time he is truly alone on this godforsaken island.

First Yao Fei, then Shado, when they were still around, taught him how to use a bow and arrow. But he still nearly starves to death before he turns into a true hunter. He quickly discovers that the knowledge of how to aim and shoot doesn’t necessary mean that he will succeed. He learns to track and to observe his quarry, to study its habits and to anticipate its next move. He can’t allow himself to lose too many arrows — it’s hard to make them here, with limited resources — so he learns to wait until he is absolutely sure of his shot and that he won’t miss.

He doesn’t remember when his plan to right his father's wrongs starts to crystallize in his mind. There is no calendar on the island, just days so similar to each other that they blend seamlessly, one into another.

But on some level he always knows that he will wear this green hood not only to honor his own father, but also in memory of another father and his daughter, who both lost their lives on Lian Yu. Save for the two stone covered graves, it is all that is left of them.

 


Chapter Text

Denial

“So this is your way to deal with it? Denial?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” growled Oliver, sucked back into reality.

“A psychological defense mechanism. To put it shortly, when a person is confronted with a fact which is too uncomfortable or too hard to accept, he or she rejects it instead and insists that it isn’t true. Even when presented with overwhelming evidence. Does that sound familiar?” she asked calmly.

He opened his mouth as if to speak, but didn't say anything. To his own surprise he sensed that his heart was beating a little faster and he was starting to get nervous. He rarely felt overwhelmed by the situation when he was out there, fighting crime. But it was one thing to face an enemy with a bow firmly in hand, and quite another to be examined like this. As if truly was something not right with him.

He knew he was paranoid. But it had helped to keep him alive for so long.

“Are you not going to say anything about it, Oliver?” asked doctor Pressnall.

“What’s the point? No matter what I tell you, you will twist it to fit your theory,” he said grimly.

“Oliver, please believe that I’m not your enemy.”

He didn’t comment on that. She wanted to break him down and pick through the darkest corners of his mind. Get inside his head and make him believe he was suffering from some psychological disorder. How could he regard her otherwise? Right now Doctor Pressnall, despite her ordinary look, seemed to be a much more dangerous foe than the Dark Archer and Deathstroke put together. They wanted to take everything from him, and in the end kill him. But what she intended to do was even worse. Deprive him of everything that gave meaning to his life and force him to live without it.

“Can you at least tell me why don’t you want to talk with me?” asked Doctor Pressnall. She was quite persistent, he had to give her that.

“I’m not insane. But you claim I've lost my mind. Hard to assume that we will come to agreement on that matter,” he said tartly. He paused for a while and asked sarcastically: “What you are going to do next? Show me some cards with ink blots splashed over them to determine my mental health or something?”

“You are talking about Rorschach test,” she said, apparently undismayed by his mocking tone. “In fact psychiatrists never use personality tests. We talk with our patients. It’s also rarely used by psychologists, sometimes in forensic assessment. In some cases it helps to determine mental disorders, but overall it’s not easy to interpret the results. Technically an appropriate scoring system should be applied but some of the examiners make the mistake of using subjective judgment instead. Big Five personality test is proved to be much better method. However, it also requires some cooperation from the test subject....”

He felt a burst of indignation. Test subject! That was what he was now? An extraordinary case to be examined and then described in articles in the specialist press? Or perhaps she planned to write a book or two about him if she managed to do enough research? Label him with some fancy sounding term like “Robin Hood syndrome”?

“Funny that you are the one talking about subjective judgment,” he said venomously.

“What do you mean exactly?”

“I’m pretty sure your professional observation hasn't changed since the first time we met.”

“Well, then it may came as a shock to you that first and foremost, my diagnosis is going to be objective,” she said, placing an emphasis on the last word. She observed him for a while, tapping the pencil on the table. “If your actions are all rational and justified and I’m the one who judges everything wrongly, why don’t you convince me of that?”

He raised his eyebrows slightly, mistrustful. He knew that she was setting a trap. As a vigilante he had been hunted for so long, both by the police force and by his enemies, that he could recognize in at instant when a trap was laid before him.

“Explain what was driving you when you were putting on that hood and going out every night to mete out justice. Why it was worth putting your own life at risk and sacrificing everything for this cause,” she persuaded.

He glared at her grimly. How he could explain? She wouldn’t understand. Nobody understood. At first he intended just to ignore her. But then again, a chance to prove his point was just too tempting...

“I did it because I could. To stand up for those who couldn’t do it for themselves. To right the wrongs which have been done to them. And there wouldn’t be a need for me if the system worked fine,” he said dryly.

“So you decided to work outside of it.”

“I’m not an anarchist, if that's what you intended to write in those notes of yours.” He pointed with his chin at the papers which were lying before her.

He turned his head slightly toward the window behind his back when he heard the loud wailing of sirens. He quickly estimated that they sent off at least three police cars, maybe four... Apparently there was a need of SCDP intervention somewhere in the Glades. Adding this to the forces sent earlier was enough to get the full picture. All the scum from the underworld who had been lying low up to this moment had crawled into the open. With the Arrow being held in custody, there was no one to be afraid of. No one who could stop them.

And he was sitting idle here, trapped. And could literally do nothing.

“Oliver.” Doctor Pressnall’s voice drew his attention back. He fixed his eyes on her again, although reluctantly. “Then who do you think you are?” she asked gently.

He didn’t answer, confused. He had no idea what she was asking about. If she was going to start talking again about dissociative identity disorder or some other crap...

“Have you ever wondered how your actions may look from the outside?” she asked, cutting into his thought. ”What other people think about you? People who you so desperately want to protect?”

“I don’t care what other people think,” he said indifferently. However, her next statement took him by surprise.

”Some view you as a hero.”

“The Flash is a hero. I’m not.”

He felt a little uneasy when she made a quick note of it, scribbling it with pencil on a document which was a personal file about him. As if he had revealed some valuable piece of information.

Was there really something significant in what he had just said? He was never under the illusion that one day he could become something other than a vigilante. It was impossible with such a bad reputation, after all the crimes he had committed. All those murders. After he had saved the city, the cops turned a blind eye to his doings and didn’t really try to apprehend him. But it couldn’t last forever. His arrest warrant was valid at all times and he was still a wanted man. Even his cooperation with Captain Lance couldn’t help him in any way. It was much more likely that it would backfire on him one day.

“If you realize it, then you must be well aware that your actions are...questionable, to put it mildly,” said Doctor Pressnall, making an attempt to touch upon a sensitive subject.

She didn’t need to tell him that. He knew he had made mistakes he would have to pay the price for eventually. He had red in his ledger he knew he couldn’t wipe out, no matter how hard he might try. But those were the decisions he had made, his choices, and he was ready to bear their consequences.

“I was only doing what I thought was necessary,” he said with conviction.

“And you don’t feel any remorse about what you did? All the people you have killed or hurt?”

"Don't tell me what I do or don't feel,” he said with a hard edge in his voice. He was sorry for what he had done, but being sorry couldn't change anything. Couldn’t return the lives he had taken too rashly in some cases. But then again, he was not able to feel too much remorse about the fact that he sent lowlifes like Count Vertigo or Cyrus Gold to an early grave. He broke his short-lived no killing vow because of them, but at that time he didn’t really have any other choice than to dispose of them. Permanently. “All I wanted was to save my city..."

"It's perfectly understandable. But you have chosen the wrong path to do so."

"You don't know even the half of the story," he said grimly.

"Then pray do tell me, Oliver. Tell me what you think you achieved," she coaxed him.

"Another time, perhaps," he said, not even trying to hide hostility. He was not going to elaborate on what he was doing as Oliver Queen, using the remains of family wealth to support non-governmental organizations working in Starling. He could have done much more if he hadn’t lost almost everything because of his own stupidity.

"You see, you are doing it again. Evading the answer when something doesn't go as you would like."

Perhaps she was right, but he had no intention of confirming it.

How he wished he was still a free man and could just run into the night. He always escaped into night from all he had. Or perhaps the night was all he had.

If only he could feel the chill of wind on his face and breathe in rain-soaked air. Look at the city’s skyline from the top of the highest building, the hood down over his head and the reassuring weight of the bow in his hand... He didn’t need it to be efficient in what he was doing; he shaped himself to be the most dangerous weapon. But still he viewed his mastery of archery as something to be proud of.

This was making it even more difficult to accept that the part of his life as a vigilante was over. And that he would never again hear the rustle of an arrow’s fletching being taken out of the quiver, when the feathers softly rubbed against each other, or bowstring’s ring when it was released. He loved being the Arrow, he couldn’t deny it. When he observed people from the rooftops, living their normal lives, he knew that it was something he would never have, but accepted it as the consequence of the path he had chosen. It had not only given him the sense of purpose in his once dull existence. It had also provided him with a shot of adrenaline he craved.

“Care to tell me why when you had started your... career as the Hood, you were claiming that certain people had had failed this city?” asked Doctor Pressnall, trying to get his attention back.

Again he chose to remain silent. Looking on the matter from a few years' distance, he had to admit that it was not the best catchphrase. His father’s notebook, focusing on punishing one-percenters who didn’t see anything wrong with raising themselves up by stepping on other people’s throats... The beginning of his crusade and him crossing names off the list seemed to be almost a lifetime ago.

“Or perhaps you can explain to me why over time you focused more on fighting street-level crime?” she tried again after a while. She turned a pencil over in her hand, apparently wondering how to get another piece of information out of him.

After a longer while, when there was still no response from him, Doctor Pressnall broke the silence again.

“It may came as surprise to you, but I personally knew one man you killed,” she said unexpectedly.

He looked at her suspiciously. Who did she talked about? Hard to expect that a respectable doctor had acquaintances among arms dealers or paid assassins ...

“Does the name Doctor Andrew Webb sounds familiar? He was a psychiatrist at St. Walker's, in case you don’t remember. You shot him in the heart.” She paused for a while and then went on. “We were all shocked when it turned out that he was behind flooding the city with a new version of Vertigo. Seems financial problems drove him to it...”

“His drug killed two people in the span of a few days,” said Oliver harshly. “As a medic he knew exactly what he was doing and how deadly it would turn out. He made it look as if the Count escaped from the asylum and even pretended to be him to cover his tracks...So sorry to say, I don’t care what his reasons were to turn to crime.”

“His son has cystic fibrosis. Did you know that? There is no cure and the treatment prolonging life is very expensive.”

He narrowed his eyes. He had never wondered what Doctor Webb’s reasons were. He had just assumed that he was another greedy person who used an opportunity to make money.

“And your point is...? That a wish to pay for antibiotics for his kid justified his attempt to kill other kids?”

“No, I'm not suggesting that by any means,” she said, shaking her head. “And I won’t tell you that he was once a kind-hearted and friendly person who suddenly changed for the worse once he was faced with personal problems. He was always hard to get along with, to be honest. But he was also a parent who was forced to watch his son slowly die. While one might find some understanding for his motives, it’s hard to show any for what he did to get the money he so desperately needed. Still, you didn't need to murder him. He could have faced justice in court.”

Maybe it was true, but he'd still had little choice back then. Doctor Webb discovered his secret identity. He had to go. Not to mention that the doctor wanted to get rid of the vigilante, making it look like he overdosed on the drug. That gave Oliver enough justification to dispose of him.

He was not sure if his decision would be the same today, if he had known what Doctor Pressnall had told him. Not to mention that passing judgments didn’t come to him as easily as it used to. He avoided taking lives if he had another choice.

Her next statement took him completely by surprise.

“Out of all types of crime, you seem to despise drug dealing the most. Is it because your sister had an addiction problem and nearly died because of it?”

“Leave Thea out of this,” he snapped instantly.

“Where is your sister, Oliver?” asked Doctor Pressnall, immediately latching on the topic. She sensed that she had apparently hit a bullseye, even if it happened by chance.

When he didn’t answer she went on.

“She is your closest living relative. Do you keep in touch?”

Oliver still remained silent. The last thing he wanted was to give the cops a lead on where to find his sister. They phoned each other quite frequently and met from time to time. Rather often, if one took into consideration that Thea lived in London now. She said that she couldn't come back to Starling. Not after what had happened to Mom. There were just too many memories.

“You never let her in on your secret, did you?” It sounded more like she was stating a fact than a question. It was almost as if she were able to look through him and read his very soul.

Was it really that obvious? — wondered Oliver resignedly. Although he kept still, the mere thought of his sister made him feel disturbed. Of course he didn’t tell her. He couldn’t. Not after how badly it ended up with Tommy when he had found out. Oliver was afraid he would lose her as well. He had very little doubt that she would hate him for lying to her for so long.

How would she react now, when she learned about him being arrested? About him being the Arrow?

All he felt was a hollow, sinking feeling in his chest. She would never forgive him, he knew her too well. Now he had lost her for sure.


Chapter Text

Sister

“Wish you could stay longer, Ollie,” says Thea. “Isn’t it a bit ridiculous to fly all that way just for a few days?”

“No, it isn’t when one wants to see one’s sister.”

He smiles at her, hoping that it covers a certain tension he starts to fell. Heathrow Airport is huge, busy and loud, not like the one in Starling which only has two terminals. All this commotion and people running around in all directions makes him a little nervous, or rather more vigilant. In places like this he always gets that bizarre feeling that someone might easily sneak up on him and attack him. However, he doesn’t show it, and Thea doesn’t even wonder why he has moved his chair to sit with his back to the wall. “Sadly I don’t have too much spare time lately,” he explains, forcing himself to take his eyes off a guy who has stopped near their table. He doesn’t even look at the two of them, busy with checking something on his phone, a suitcase in his other hand. He is just a bit...too close.

“Still, I can't believe that you didn’t like Kew Gardens,” says Thea, cutting into his train of thought. “ The Palm House is so amazing...”

“In my time I’ve seen enough tropical rainforest,” he says calmly, sipping his black coffee.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize it might bring back bad memories...”

“No harm done.”

They both remain silent for some time. There are so many things they were talking about over these few days and yet, when they have so little time left, it seems that those days have passed in the blink of an eye and they didn’t even touch the half of it .

“Really glad you managed to drop in, Ollie,” says Thea, touching his arm. “Talking on the phone is not the same ...”

“It was good to see you.” He pauses for a while. “And Walter.”

Despite the fact that he had warmed up to his step-father eventually (well, ex-step-father to be more precise) and that he treats him as his own son, occasionally it is still hard to think of him as family (of sorts).

But Walter was always kind and patient. He showed him a great deal of understanding when Oliver, still a bit lost after his return, kept him at a distance and didn't even try to act nice towards him. He knew that he needed time to adjust and accept the fact that during his absence another man had taken a place by his mother’s side. A few months back he was promoted to Chief Financial Officer of a branch of Starling National Bank, which had recently opened in Canary Wharf in London. He invited Thea to stay with him as long as she would like, since she was already living in the city.

“Wish I had you closer, Speedy, not on another continent,” he says, feeling guilty about telling this particular lie. He misses her, of course, and would like to see more than few times a year, but at same time he thinks that doing what he is doing as the Arrow is a bit easier when she is far away. He doesn’t have to deceive her. At least not as much as he would if he had to come up with lies on a daily basis about what he was doing last night, or why he didn’t pick up the phone again, or why he looks so exhausted.

“Sometimes I think about coming back to Starling, but...I just...” Thea breaks off. “All that stuff that happened with Mom right before her...” She doesn’t finish, as if she is afraid that her voice will tremble.

She couldn’t forgive herself for the fact that shortly before Mom’s death they weren't getting along. Moira Queen was a woman of many mysteries and had a lot on her conscience. But she had loved her children deeply and sacrificed her own life to save them.

“You want it, but you are afraid at the same time,” says Oliver. “I know the feeling.”

“After the island?” asks Thea understandingly.

“After the island,” he confirms. “For some time I wasn’t sure if I could...adjust again to normal life. I barely spoke to anyone, I couldn’t sleep, every sudden noise made me nervous...Or even when people were talking too loud in the corridor outside my hospital room.”

“You have never told me about this.” Thea has a worried look in her eyes.

There is are many things I’ve never told you, he thinks bitterly.

“But you overcame it eventually,” says Thea when he stays silent for a longer time.

“You were there. And Mom. That was enough reason to come back.”

And the need to right our father’s wrongs, he thinks to himself. But that is always the part he skips in his conversations with his sister.

They talk a while longer, but time is up. He has to proceed to the passenger lounge and wait for his flight there. Thea sees him as far as she can go. He hugs her tightly, promising that he will visit her again as soon as he can.

“Take care, Speedy.”

“Yeah, you too, Ollie.”


 

Chapter Text

Withdrawal

"You are afraid."

What on earth was she talking about again?

"That by keeping such a huge secret from her you have lost her," explained Doctor Pressnall. "But she is your closest living relative. And save for your double life, based on what I know, you seem to have quite a strong bond, despite the considerable age difference. Moreover, you came back after your long absence and put that hood on again to save her a few years back, when she was abducted by the Hoods... Oh, don't look so surprised, Oliver. Those files SCPD have on you and your activity are quite thorough. I analyzed some reports in order to find a certain pattern. And your family comes up relatively often in the cases regarding your activity as the Arrow. Which basically means that reconciling with your sister will be a very important step in your treatment."

"Moving into family therapy area now?" Oliver didn't even try to hide the sarcasm in his voice. "And what makes you think that I will actually agree to any treatment?"

"You have little choice, Oliver," Doctor Pressnall informed him matter-of-factly. "The only question is how long your incarceration at the psychiatric facility will last."

"You can't force me. I know the law," he protested coldly.

Doctor Pressnall just raised her brows slightly. She was too professional to make any comment about that, but she clearly thought that an outlaw stating so forcefully that something was illegal sounded rather ridiculous.

"Then you must be also well aware that people can be admitted to a mental hospital, detained, and treated without consent if they are proved to be dangerous to other people. Or to themselves. In your case, I'm afraid it would be both."

Suddenly he was at a loss for words. How naive was it of him to think that she hadn't already made up her mind about his mental state even before she stepped into the interrogation room? He felt a cold shiver run down his spine at the mere memory of a room in the basement of the mental hospital and psych bed. He has been through far worse than prison, but this...His hidden fear was about to come true.

You will end up where you always should locked up on a psychiatric ward. The words of his enemy's accomplice echoed in his mind.

"Considering what you have been through, it's incredible that you managed to hold on for so long and keep the act up. Especially because you have suffered a great deal of personal tragedies," Doctor Pressnall carried on, apparently oblivious to the effect her earlier words made on him. Or maybe ignoring it. "Both of your parents died tragically. But you had also to face some hard truths about them. That they were not the people who you thought them to be..."

This shook him out of a momentary stupor.

"Don't talk about my parents," he bristled, looking at her angrily. "They are gone and what they did or who they were...What wrongs they committed...It has no meaning any more."

To his surprise she abandoned the topic. She just wrote something down in the margin of his file. Those notes of hers were really unnerving him.

"May I ask you about your friend then? Thomas?" She paused for a while and then clarified, after his lack of reaction, "Thomas Merlyn. You disappeared after he perished in the earthquake."

For a brief while he didn't know who she was talking about. Nobody who knew Tommy ever called him Thomas. He was always Tommy. Oliver's friend, who was as close to him as a brother. Who turned his back on him when he learned what he had become. Who died hating him. Even now the mere memory of him and his tragic fate was as hurtful as a sharp arrow driven into his flesh.

"You couldn't accept that another person close to you was gone so rapidly, could you?"

It was like reopening an old wound. Tommy, who he let down. Who he couldn't have saved on time... And the same story repeated when his mother died... Because he wasn't strong enough to oppose Slade. All those memories combined engulfed him like the dark, cold waters of a sea, much like on the night Queen Gambit sank... It was just too much to bear.

"I don't...I don't want to talk about this. Do you understand?" he said in a hushed voice. He hated that it sounded almost like a plea. When he lowered his eyes he was surprised to notice that his fists were clenched. He uncurled his fingers slowly. His arms were already going a little numb due to an uncomfortable position, especially left forearm, leaning against the metal bar he was cuffed to. It was very bad time to discover that the wrist once broken by the Dark Archer was still bothering him. He moved it slightly, changing the position of the hand a little bit, as much as the short chain of the handcuffs allowed him to.

He thought that Doctor Pressnall won't stop now, since she had discovered his weak side, but she respected his wish.

"I see, Oliver. I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable. We can come back to this in another session, when you will be ready to talk about this."

What other session? he wondered blankly.

How long did she intend to pester him? Why couldn't she just leave him alone?

"Speaking of your actions... You have started quite a movement. The Huntress, the Red Archer, the Black Canary... Some say that there were even two of them, one taking up the mantle after another. There is also the Flash in Central City and the Devil in Hell's Kitchen... Lately there is even proofs that this Batman people are talking about in Gotham is not only an urban legend. What do you say to that?"

"You clearly overestimate my influence," he answered with a detached tone, not even bothering to correct the names of his fellow vigilantes.

"But still, you weren't operating alone. You have accomplices, right?"

"I work alone," he cut in almost immediately, feeling a pang of anxiety.

"But it wasn't always like this, was it? Not according to the police reports. People you used to work with... They abandoned you, didn't they? Did you ever wonder why?"

He turned his gaze away. Another arrow had hit the target. How the hell was she doing it? It couldn't be a mere guess. Was he really so easy to read?

"Maybe they couldn't accept who you have become," suggested Doctor Pressnall. "Did it ever occur to you that this might be the reason?"


 

Chapter Text

The Parting of the Ways

Roy is the first to leave. It is a hard blow, coming just when he's gotten used to having him by his side. But Roy wants to go his own way. On some level Oliver always knew that he wouldn't be satisfied with being his sidekick forever. So Arsenal eventually settles in Bludhaven, where over time he becomes a much more appreciated hero than the Arrow could ever be.

Dig is as close to him as a brother. He is his conscience and his moral compass, watching over him to keep him from going astray. To keep from becoming exactly the same as the people he fights. But finally even the patient and level-headed John has enough of his secrets and lies. Seems like an honest guy like Dig just can't take any more of it.

Come to think of it, they fell out over something which seemed to be a trivial thing at first —Oliver again decided to do a mission on his own, switching into his lone wolf mode. But everything turned out very badly when he accidentally interfered with an operation A.R.G.U.S. had been setting up for the last six months, partially ruining it in the process. Amada Waller was furious, but what was even worse, she suspected that agent Lyla Michaels, Dig's wife, might have been disloyal and had something do to with it. That whole mess didn't make her look good.

At first Oliver pretended that it was just a very unfortunate twist of events. But finally, when Dig sensed that he is hiding something, he admitted that he might have used a contact he had gotten earlier from Lyla while working on a completely different case. The guy was cunning and used the opportunity to get even with the vigilante, deliberately misleading him.

Dig doesn't take this reveal too well. He thinks that Oliver betrayed both his and Lyla's trust. And probably he's right.

" It will destroy you, man," Dig warns him. "Your obsession, you manipulating and using people. I followed you as far as I could, but I think it's time for us to part ways."

And they drift apart. Felicity is torn in two. She tries to talk some sense in both of them. Pleads with Oliver to give in, admit his mistake and make amends with Dig. He tries. He really does. But the words of apology get stuck in his throat. Unfortunately there are things that can't be solved by talking. Especially when they both know that Oliver just couldn't keep to his word when he promised that he would be completely honest with Dig from now on.

John eventually becomes an A.R.G.U.S. operative. Oliver only wonders blankly if one day Amanda Waller will use his former accomplice's knowledge against him. He believes that Dig will never betray him that way. After all, Dig is a much better man than Oliver himself. Much more righteous. And despite being at odds now, they share too much history together. But one can never be sure.

His relationship with Felicity is the most complicated of all. Over the time it becomes obvious that what she feels for him is much more serious than a mere crush. The girl is so fascinated by the enigmatic outlaw that she helps him without reckoning with the consequences. As if she is not aware that aiding a criminal might put her in a great deal of trouble. She doesn't even hesitate to put her own life at risk. Or perhaps she is just willing to sacrifice everything. For him.

He doesn't get her hopes up, making it clear that he values her as a friend and ally. And thinks about her as another younger sister. But nothing more. Felicity is kind-hearted, smart and funny. And wants to see good in people. Wants to see good in him. She is also naive. She loves some idealized version of him, as if he were a modern version of Robin Hood.

He keeps her at a distance for a long time. But one day, he lets his guard down and allows her close. Too close. It seems that he was lonely for too long. Apparently some things don't change, and Oliver Queen was never a man who could remain insensitive to an attractive woman's attention forever...

But if something happens between them, it can be only described as one-night stand, and it is clearly not what Felicity had truly wanted. He regrets this moment of weakness and is not glad that it has happened. Especially since he always knew that if they ever went to bed with each other, it would ruin their relationship, because then it will become clear to her that he lacks the kind of emotional commitment she has dreamed about.

After that one night, she realizes that he will never return her feelings. Their relationship becomes awkward. They can't look each other in the eye, and it gets harder and harder to cooperate, despite the fact that Oliver is out in the field and Felicity in the foundry behind the computers' screens. He feels like a heartless bastard who just took advantage of the opportunity that this girl was ready to jump into his bed at his beck and call.

This status quo doesn't last long. Life has dozens of ways to surprise, mostly bad. Before they manage to solve matters between them, they get horrible news about the tragedy which has struck their friends in Central City. Due to a tragic twist of events, Caitlin turned into a meta-human and became a villainous Killer Frost. Shortly after, Felicity leaves for Central City to support Barry and Cisco.

He sees her to her train. Her suitcase is quite big and pretty heavy, which he personally finds out when he helps her carry it on the platform. It seems that it is going to be a longer stay.

" I hope that you understand, Oliver, Barry needs me right now and..." She flounders, not knowing what to say. Her fingers fiddle nervously with her pendant, that golden one shaped like an arrowhead.

" Felicity," he interrupts her gently. "It's okay." He pauses for a while and then says awkwardly: "I wish the that things between us had worked out...differently."

Felicity only smiles sadly when she hears this attempt at an apology. She knows that he says this only to make her feel better.

" Don't lie. At least don't lie..." She hesitates for a brief while and adds softly."...Ollie."

She blushes and explains hastily:

" I always kinda wanted to call you that, like Thea and Laurel do, but didn't have the courage. Stupid, eh?"

" You can call me whatever you like, Felicity. Or call me if you would like to talk. To tell me about your day." He smiles faintly. Although the offer is genuine, he knows that it is a path leading nowhere. Felicity has never wanted him to be her friend or an elder brother. She has wanted him to be something more, and he can't give that to her.

She kisses him on the cheek and hugs him closely. He notices that there are tears in her eyes. She clearly still has strong feelings for him, despite the fact that he hurt her.

" Take care," she says, wiping away the tears with a handkerchief, smudging her mascara a little under one eye. "Don't get yourself killed, okay?"

After she leaves the foundry feels terribly empty and silent, filled only by the soft hum of running computers. Nobody will call it Arrowcave any more.

Felicity left him a farewell gift, however. He has no idea when she managed to smuggle it into the foundry without him noticing. Probably when he was out earlier this afternoon. It is one of her houseplants apparently. An emerald palm. He finds it on one of the metal desks in the foundry, standing tall and proud in its square white pot next to the old battered chest he had brought back from the South China Sea, its peculiar dark green leaves shiny and smooth.

" It hardly needs any water or light," he reads on a note attached to one of its slim pinnates. "It's an extremely strong plant and its name somehow brings you to my mind. Please, take care of my green friend, as I can't take it with me."

He watches the plant for a while. He is occasionally called The Emerald Archer–that is probably why Felicity had that association.

He places the plant in a different spot, under the skylight where it has the minimum amount of light it needs. He keeps forgetting about watering it, but the emerald palm indeed is a very strong plant. It survives everything and seems to be easily satisfied even with his occasional care.

However, even after his team ceases to exist, he is not left without any allies. He continues his cooperation with Lance, who was promoted to captain. Over the years they have built a stable pact. A cop and a vigilante, a deal which could work only in a city like Starling, where nothing is black or white, but painted in shades of grey. They have come a long way to find themselves in this place, but sometimes Oliver wonders how long it will last. How long Lance's superiors will tolerate him aiding a criminal. And if it is really so smart on his side to cooperate with a cop so closely, allowing him to gather intel which can be used against him one day. But he shoves those thoughts out of the way every time they surface. He learned a long time ago that he can't do this alone. That he needs whatever support he can get.

There is one more person who is very important to him. Laurel. Once, he cheated on her in the worst possible way. But he is not that kind of a man any more. And she is not that naive girl who thinks the world of him. With the passing of time, they finally reach a place where they are slowly starting to rebuild their relationship and become true friends. When it becomes clear that Sara will not come back from the League, Laurel takes up the mantle of her sister. Eventually she becomes the Black Canary.

At first Oliver is reluctant to take her out in the field with him, despite the fact that she trained with Ted Grant, who as it turns out was a former vigilante, Wildcat. But he figures out that she has made up her mind, and he can't change her decision when she is so adamant about it. So all he can do is to prepare her the best he can.

For a while there is two of them. It seems that it is how it always should be. From time to time they are even called Green Arrow and Black Canary in the press. Apparently some journalists get confused or feel a need to add color to his codename to make it look better in print.

They even make an attempt to be together again as a couple. Oliver is surprised to discover that there might be a life for him outside this hood after all. Every time he wakes up in Laurel's apartment, having her at his side, he feels...normal. Maybe even happy. He used to think that there is just too much painful history between them to make it work. Sara. Tommy. Sara again. But Tommy died and Sara left, perhaps to never come back. And so many things in his life are so messed up that eventually he starts to think that these two people don't actually divide him and Laurel.

They unite them.

Unfortunately, in the case of Oliver Queen, happiness just can't last too long. The fact that they are still very much attracted to each other quickly turns out to be a double-edged sword. He can never see straight when it comes to Laurel.

He realizes it one day when he wakes up by her side in her apartment and notices, in the faint light of a breaking dawn seeping through slightly open curtains, the Arrow's jacket and hood hanging from the chair. The bow and the quiver are lying on the floor next to Laurel's Black Canary outfit. He thinks with terror how stupid and reckless it was of them to come to Laurel's place in the costumes. What if her neighbors had seen them? They weren't paying attention because they had something entirely different on their minds.

He thinks bitterly that this relationship just can't work out with the type of the life they are leading. He doesn't know what to do (he is not able to give her up, even if it would help keep his head in the game) and this makes him angry (the mission should come first).

Laurel senses that something is up, but he avoids honest discussion. He fudges instead of telling the truth and sharing his concerns. He is too afraid that he will lose her again.

This whole situation puts a strain on their relationship. And as a result it affects Oliver's actions. He is not as sharp and well-controlled as he used to be. But he even doesn't realize it. Its Laurel who notices those alarming changes in him first.

One day, after he gets a drug dealer and treats him quite brutally, she admits openly that he scares her.

" You almost killed that guy. Ollie, what is happening with you?" she asks when they are back in the foundry, giving him an anxious look.

He notices dried blood on the arm of his jacket. Red against green. Not so long ago he would say that this drug dealer deserved it. Now he is not so sure about it. If Laurel didn't stop him, he would probably have just killed that miserable criminal.

After that their relationship starts to fall apart for good. Soon Laurel and Oliver as a pair are finished. Again. The paths of Black Canary and Arrow still cross from time to time, but they don't operate as a duo as often as they used to. It is harder to work on his own, without backup, but it is not like he hadn't been doing it that way earlier.

And then the things start to get complicated. A new enemy appears on the horizon, seemingly out of nowhere. A figure so shadowy and mysterious that Oliver knows nothing about him but his name. Damien Darhk. His people are everywhere, installing themselves in the most prominent posts, and over time it becomes clear that they aim to seize the control of the city. Not to destroy it, but to start a new order. They cover up their swindles with legal businesses and there is no way to get to them, not to mention to their leader.

Oliver manages to thwart some of Darhk's plans, but they are petty victories. He slowly comes to realize that he has been groping in the dark all the time. When one doesn't see the target, one can't shoot it with an arrow. Seems that a lone man with a bow is just not enough when confronted with a well-organized syndicate. All he manages to do is to draw attention to himself. And they decide that it is time to get rid of the vigilante who is messing with their businesses.

Suddenly all odds are against him. As the noose starts to tighten around him, he cuts free from Laurel as from everyone else before her. To protect her.

At least, this is what he tells himself.


 

Chapter Text

Defiance

The driving rain pattering against the windows suddenly turned heavy. Its beating became monotonous. The grayish daylight seeping into through the barred windows dimmed, making the interrogation room look even more lifeless and gloomy, save for the place lit by the blindingly bright overhead lighting.

"I see you are not going to elaborate on this topic. Just as I thought," Doctor Pressnall summed up shortly. Her tone was flat, as if she hadn't expected anything else.

He didn't even care to look at her, sitting with his head hung, his back slightly hunched. He heard the soft rustle of paper and a pencil's scribbling. Apparently Doctor Pressnall had turned over a page in the file to write down some more notes.

He didn't need to wonder how it must have looked for the cops observing this interrogation through the one-way mirror. As if he were driven into a corner, lost for words. The background of the man under the hood and the motivations behind his actions could have been mysterious. Oliver Queen's were not. An apt professional, which doctor Pressnall undoubtedly was, could read him like a book. Make him overwhelmed by the facts and her accurate analysis. As if everything he was doing as the Arrow made absolutely no sense. And who he was without all of this? No one.

Only a broken man.

Slowly he felt resistance welling up inside his chest. Not so long ago, no matter how bad things looked, he never gave up. He was always stubborn. Too stubborn to agree to compromise or to admit to having made a mistake. But also too stubborn to die on Lian Yu. And many other times when he was literally bleeding out for this city. He survived against all odds. He lived this kind of life for over ten years. So if he was about to fall, he had no intention to go quietly without making at least one more attempt to prove his point.

He raised his eyes slowly and observed Doctor Pressnall for a longer while as she indulged herself in reading some excerpt in his file. Studying her as he would study his quarry, trying to figure out what tactic would be best. Giving some thought to what he already knew about her, what he had learned during their conversation, and what he could make out of her appearance. If she looked at him at this moment, she would probably be greatly surprised that he was watching her like a hawk. Thoughts flashed through his mind one after another, piling up, building up a bigger, more complex picture out of little pieces. Unlike one of his fellow vigilantes, the Arrow was no detective. But still he was able to make some deductions on his own.

Doctor Pressnall was persistent to start with. Dedicated to her work for sure. Intelligent. Inquisitive. Meticulous. A little overworked, as there was a slight trace of shadows under her eyes which careful and discreet make-up couldn't completely hide. Perhaps yesterday she was burning the midnight oil, studying his file in order to prepare for this professional observation. She seemed to be a good psychotherapist. She was exploring subjects she thought were relevant in greater depth, but had enough understanding to leave them alone and back down when she sensed that they were too disturbing for her patient to talk about. And yet she had suffered a failure with Cutter. It didn't interfere, however, with her determination to face the Arrow's case. Whether it was only a professional curiosity which had brought her here, or some other reason, he honestly couldn't decide. There were dozens of psychiatrists in Starling City. Did SCDP choose her because she had previous experience with "costumed freaks", as the officers from SWAT team who were guarding him were calling him? The Doctor was not fond of him either, although she tried to keep up the appearance of being professional and objective. He still had in the back of his mind that look she had given him when he had visited her in her office to ask about Cutter. She felt an intense dislike and contempt of him, which was probably partially caused by the fact that he had startled her. He reminded himself how her office had looked. Back then he'd had an opportunity to look around, and since he had a habit of scaning his surrounding all the time, he'd noticed something which might come in useful right now. He cast a brief glance at her right hand holding the pencil and then decided to finally make his move.

"Now can I ask you a question, Doctor Pressnall? If you don't mind?" he said calmly, breaking the silence. His voice must have sounded unusually gentle, without the hard edge of the vigilante's tone, and this surely didn't escape the psychiatrist's notice. She gazed at him, clearly intrigued by this sudden wish, and put the pencil aside. So far she'd practically had to wrest every piece of information from him. She must have thought that his willingness to talk was a welcome change in behavior.

"I'm listening, Oliver. Believe it or not, I'm here for you. What would you like to know?"

"Your family. I know you have one." He realized in time that the way he had put it had sounded rather ominous, as though intended to make a threat. He went on, trying to keep his voice steady. "Aren't you constantly worried for them, living in the city like Starling? For your husband and son, and daughter? Especially now, due to this series of random killings? When no one is truly safe?"

"How did you...?" asked Doctor Pressnall, clearly astonished. Then she realized. "My wedding ring, of course. But how do you know about my children?" She sounded more curious than worried. A good sign.

"Saw the photos in your office." Oliver's glance became distant for a while. "My mother used to keep photos of my sister and me in her office too. She might have done terrible things and was despised by people because of it, but still...she loved us. Her family. As much as I'm sure you love yours."

He hated that he had to open up that way, but he had to give her something, pretend that he was breaking down. He assumed that Doctor Pressnall would answer sincerely, using the opportunity to establish a bond with her patient. He remembered too well what she had told him about Carrie Cutter, how she diagnosed her. He was almost certain that she viewed him in the exactly same way.

Her mistake.

"You are very observant, Oliver. Yes, I have a husband. And two children." She paused for a brief moment, as if she were pondering what she should reveal of her true self. Something outside the professional picture of her. Then she made a decision. "The son is our own. His name is Timothy. He's seventeen, plays soccer and wants to become a professional goalkeeper." She smiled briefly, a sign of a proud mother. "And the girl you saw, Jeanette, is actually my niece, who we have adopted. She just turned eleven last week. She is a very silent, calm girl, loves to draw. Exactly like her mother." Here, the affectionate smile was mixed with worry. She paused for a while and explained: "My sister and my brother-in-law were among those who fell victim to the quake four years ago. You see, Oliver, that you are not the only one who lost people close to you in a sudden and unpredictable way."

She had sadness in her voice. Well, at least this was something he could relate to.

"Coming back to your question: every mother is worried for their children. Wants to shield them from every danger the world might hold for them since the moment they are born. This is what mothers are like. Why did you bring up the topic of my family?" she asked, looking at him expectantly and indicating that now was his turn to talk.

He didn't respond immediately, remembering with a gnawing sorrow that his own mother used almost exactly the same phrasing when she was worried sick about Thea, kidnapped by Slade. He remembered her regret, her wishing only to get her daughter back home safe and sound. Who would think that these two women, with such different backgrounds, could actually have so much in common? He had counted on hearing a statement similar to this, he just hadn't seen coming that it would make viewing Doctor Pressnall as an enemy...a little harder.

"So? What did you want to tell me, Oliver?" asked Doctor Pressnall gently.

He didn't even realize that he had remained silent for a longer while. On some level he knew that what he was about to say would probably only serve to incriminate him further. But he couldn't back down now. He never did.

"What I want is to make you understand that what I do, I do for people like you," he said slowly. "You and your family. So you can have normal life, walk the streets without looking over your shoulder in fear." He paused for a while and then went on, his voice full of deep conviction. "You call me crazy? Maybe indeed I am. But I am also what this city needs me to be. Maybe to find clarity, one has to let go of the restraints that society puts on an individual. Acknowledge that life is not what is seems... That everything is a mess, and most things happen by chance... Today you might think that you have everything under control, perfectly ordered. By tomorrow it can change completely, in a split second..." He thought briefly about his own situation, bitterly acknowledging how rapidly the only part of his life that mattered came to an end in the way he would never ever predicted. "This is the reason why the world of law and order works right up to the point that it doesn't. After that there is me."

Doctor Pressnall was apparently shocked, hearing such a long statement coming from him. She looked at him searchingly, as if he had set her thinking.

"And who do you think gave you the right to be a judge, jury and executioner?" she finally asked, very calmly.

"Nobody has given me any right," he said impatiently. He shifted anxiously, which caused the chain of the handcuffs to rattle against the metal bar. He had almost forgotten that he was chained to that damn table and forced himself to hold still. Especially when he noticed the concerned look Doctor Pressnall had given him, sensing his agitation. "It is just something that needs to be done. And since the courts and the cops proved to be inefficient, I took this responsibility."

"Are you convinced you can make everything right? All by yourself?" asked Doctor Pressnall. He hated the tinge of false understanding in her voice. As if he were obsessed to such a point that he didn't know what was happening around him. Didn't she hear a word he said? Didn't he made himself clear enough?

"No, I'm not," he said harshly. "I can't be at several different places at the same time. I can't succeed every time. Even the Flash couldn't achieve that. But every life that is saved, every crime that is stopped... Don't you think that it matters? That it means something?"

Doctor Pressnall didn't comment on that straight away, instead looking at him. Her face wore an expression which was difficult to read. Her brows were slightly knitted, as if she were pondering over his words. She looked like someone who was faced with a puzzle they thought they knew how to solve, but found out that the pieces didn't quite match each other. Was there also a trace of compassion in her gaze? It unnerved him in an instant. Why was she looking at him like that?

"You don't seem convinced," said Oliver quietly. Then he realized the truth. Not like he hadn't suspected it earlier, but it still struck him. "You think that I'm talking complete nonsense, don't you?"

"I didn't say that. What is more, I think that you hold your beliefs very strongly," said Doctor Pressnall. Something in her tone, however, alarmed him.

"But you don't think they are true," he pressed on. He had to know.

"It is good that you are able to acknowledge this possibility." She nodded approvingly.

He remained silent, too disturbed to say anything more. He felt like a fox, caught fast in a leghold trap.

"Speaking of the Flash," said Doctor Pressnall, carefully choosing the topic. "That was not the first time you've referred to him. Who he is to you? Can you call him your friend?"

She noticed his distrustful glance.

"I won't ask about his secret identity," she assured him. "Is it really so hard to admit to having a friend? Someone who understands you? Someone who is exactly like you?"

"Flash is nothing like me," muttered Oliver. "He is a good guy. A good person."


 

Chapter Text

Inner Fire

Viewed from the high rooftop, with its busy traffic on the main street arteries, Starling looks like every other city aspiring to be a modern metropolis. Long torrents of cars, with gleaming yellow and red lights, from this height small like toys, are streaming in all directions. And for a change it is not even raining today. From this vantage point all dark corners of the city and its poor, badly reputed districts are invisible, hidden in shade of skyscrapers, towering over the whole surrounding area.

Once it was one of the busiest docks on the West Coast. But the last of them were closed in the late nineties, and over the years the former wharfs were redeveloped and turned into a business district. Now it is full of office buildings, as impressive as constructions of metal, glass and concrete can be, and although the revitalization of the area is not a bad thing, on some level Oliver hates those skyscrapers; their only purpose seems to be raising themselves above others. Modern, elegant yachts are moored next to them in newly constructed marinas. The port itself introduced some major changes as well. New quays were constructed in the north part, and all the wet docks were deepened in order to handle vessels with bigger displacement. Only recently four gentry cranes were put into service in the container terminal, though there are still a lot of people who can't find their place after the last big shipyard was closed down. Oliver poured a lot of money into a program which was supposed to help them retrain and get a new job, but it didn't work as well as he planned.

So, to put it shortly, Starling pretends quite well to be something more. Something other than what it truly is. However, on a global scale, it means nothing.

Just like him.

There was a serious hostage situation in one of the main banks. He knew he had no chance to help those people — not only would it be extremely hard to get inside when all the nearby area was surrounded by the police, but he would also have little chance of success. So instead of taking the risk of screwing everything up, he had called Barry. It took Barry less than an hour to get to Starling and no more than two minutes to zoom past the whole building, knock the offenders unconscious, and get all the civilians and bank workers to safety. And there were over two dozen of them. Oliver knows he could never be as efficient.

A gust of wind, a flash of lightning, and in a split second a familiar figure in a crimson red costume appears next to his side.

" Thanks for the help down there," says Oliver.

" You're welcome." Barry nods slightly.

He peeks at Oliver, as if he expects him to say something. They haven't talked for some time, and they didn't really have time to exchange more than two or three short sentences when Oliver called him to inform about the situation in the bank and ask for aid. Now he apparently notices how dreary his friend looks... More than usual, to be precise.

" Hey, man, is everything okay?"

Oliver turns his head slightly to gaze at him. The glance he shoots him from under the hood must look very gloomy, because Barry adds quickly:

" I mean, I know you had some trouble with your team and..."

" You mean the part when Dig left after we couldn't meet eye to eye over trust matters? Is that what Felicity has told you?" asks Oliver grimly.

He remembers very well the last time he saw Dig, a few weeks back. They came across each other by accident, when Oliver paid a visit to A.R.G.U.S.'s headquarters. He came to see Amanda Waller to talk about Damien Darhk. At first she was not willing to share any intel on him, strongly indicating that Oliver was only wasting her time. He thought that it was caused by the fact that she still held a grudge against him because of that A.R.G.U.S. operation he had ruined some time ago. But when he pressed on Waller admitted, albeit reluctantly, that they had hardly any information about Darhk and his organization. That was the first time he had heard the name H.I.V.E. What A.R.G.U.S. had on Darhk could be collected in one thin folder. After giving to it some thought,Waller shared with him the modest amount of information she had at her disposal, saying that he owes her a big favor for it. All of it was very vague, to put it mildly. Darhk was covering his tracks so efficiently that it seemed as if he didn't exist at all. There were only few photos attached – all of them blurry except for one. There was not one hundred percent certainty that it that was indeed Damien Darhk in person, but if so, Oliver finally got a chance to see the face of his enemy. A man in his late forties or early fifties. He had icily cold blue eyes and short blonde hair, and looked like someone accustomed to giving orders which were fulfilled immediately. There was also ruthlessness and a certain ominousness written all over that face. Just looking at that photo was disturbing.

When Oliver left Waller's office, an agent was waiting to escort him to the exit. And then, at one of the corridors, he came across Dig. It was an awkward meeting, to say the least. They had exchanged only a few words. Polite and civil, but at the same time wary. It was hard to believe that John was once as close to him as a brother. And it was Oliver who pushed him away. There was no hostility between him and Dig, not any more. Only the sad realization that after all that had happened, they couldn't go back to the place they once were.

" Felicity made only a brief mention and didn't exactly explain anything." Barry's voice brings him back to reality. Flash pauses for a while and finally asks hesitantly: "Speaking of Felicity... What exactly happened between you two? Because she acts kinda weird every time you come up in conversation. I mean, weirder than usual."

" Long story." Oliver cuts it short. He doesn't want to dwell on the subject of their uneasy and painful relationship. Barry knows that Felicity has had a weak spot for Oliver for a very long time, and by this time he must realize that there is something else behind her arrival to Central City than solely the wish to aid him and Cisco after the loss of Caitlin. That it was also an escape from Oliver.

" Did you have an argument?" Barry tries to sound him out about this matter.

Oliver clenches his fingers around the bow's grip.

" Not really," he answers enigmatically, thinking that maybe if they had that argument it would reduce the tension between them, which didn't magically disappear after they slept with each other. It got even worse. And after giving to it some thought after they parted ways for good, Oliver honestly couldn't tell what she truly expected from him.

" Okay, I think I get it," says the Flash, shooting him a disturbing look.

Right on time, Barry, thinks Oliver bitterly. But he can't be really angry with him. He is too angry with himself, because he seems to screw up every type of relationship he has with people closest to him. Dig and Felicity, and earlier Tommy and his mother...Walter. Laurel. He is terrified every time when he realizes that if the truth about him ever gets out, he will lose Thea as well.

" And...how is Laurel?" asks Barry. He has no idea that bringing up her in conversation makes Oliver even more disturbed, because of their recent breakup.

But Oliver is wearing his mask and hood. They cover his face quite well, and when he speaks his voice is so steady that he can almost fool himself.

" Fine. We operate together from time to time, but often do things on our own. She is out of the city for a few days, actually, went to see some friend from Hell's Kitchen. A lawyer. They are working together on some old case, as far as I know..."

Barry nods, as if he buys all his explanations. And then he says suddenly, catching him off guard:

" Okay, now tell what really bothers you."

" I've no idea what you..." Oliver utters.

" Cut the crap, man, okay? I know you too well. Something is not right. So spit it out already. You will feel better once you talk about it, you will see," he encourages him.

At first Oliver doesn't answer. He doesn't like to talk about his problems. A long while passes. He stares into distance, looking onto the cityscape, the sky lightened by the glow of the numerous lights. The muffled sounds of the city—cars' engines and horns, wailing of sirens, a helicopter clatter somewhere far away in the distance—are coming from down there up to the roof. And Barry still waits, until the Arrow breaks under that silent pressure.

" Sometimes I wonder..." he pauses. Barry is looking at him expectantly, so he swallows hard and goes on: "...how long I'll be able to carry on. I chose this life. I became a vigilante, I use the night. But sooner or later I'll go down. It might be the Dark Archer, or Deathstroke, or just some punk who gets lucky. Or perhaps some overzealous cop who'll shoot me down. And when this moment comes, my last thought will be probably whether I made any difference."

" Oliver, the city would fall apart without you."

" Maybe. Maybe not. You know what they say... When you look too long into the abyss, the abyss looks back through you. And the longer I look on my city from up here...the less sense in all of this I see."

" You know what I think? That you are talking complete rubbish."

" That is really reassuring of you to say."

But he just can't be angry with him. And the mere presence of a friend lifts his own spirit up a little bit. To be honest, he doesn't know what is happening to him lately. Sometimes only a sense of duty makes him leave his hideout and go out every night to fight crime. Sometimes he feels as the fire of conviction which drives him barely flickers in his chest. He is terrified by the mere thought that one day it could fade away completely. Because if it disappeared, he would be left...with nothing. A lost soldier standing on a scrap of no man's land.

" You know what my father says?" Barry's voice cuts into his thoughts. "That sometimes you just have to slow down to get back where you want to be."

Oliver rubs his forehead. He has no wish to ponder over puzzles. Not at this hour. Not when he feels so...drained.

" Meaning?"

" When was the last time you got a good night's sleep?" asks Barry.

Oliver blinks. He is so tired that his eyes are burning. There is also piercing pain in his temples and stiffness in his arms. And his back..damn... it really hurt. He must have strained it, and he doesn't even know when it happened.

" No idea," he admits finally.

" Take the night off early, Oliver."

" I can't take..." he starts, but Barry cuts in.

" I'll guard your city for you."

" You need to get back to Central," he protests.

" Central can do without me for one night. Besides, nothing out of ordinary's been happening lately. Nothing the cops couldn't handle. We have zero meta-human activity, ever since..." Barry hesitates.

Ever since they lost Caitlin.

It has been a few months since it happened. On some level it is worse than if she died. Barry didn't talk much about this, but he doesn't need to. He is well aware that his friend understands. Oliver knows this feeling all too well, how it is to see a close friend turned into an deadly enemy. The very same thing happened with Slade. Once he was as close to him as a brother. He didn't merely help him survive on the island, he taught him how to survive. He was a harsh teacher, but that was how the island was. So why he should treat him differently? Their brotherhood was forged in the fire of fighting for survival, but in the end Slade was consumed by madness due to the influence of Mirakuru. The serum saved his life, but at the same time the man he once was, was lost.

For the time being, Barry wants to believe that a little part of the Caitlin he used to know still lives in the villainous Killer Frost. With every day this belief fades away bit by bit, but he will never stop sustaining it, because that is how he is. Given an opportunity, he will try to reach to Caitlin, to get her back. And that's what separates him and Oliver. Although it took him some time to understand that his friend is gone for good, when he realized there is no hope to save him, he drove an arrow through his eye to finish him without hesitation. Especially since he'd threatened Laurel and his mother and sister. Oliver hopes that Barry will never be confronted with such a situation and choice, because it could destroy him.

" So, what's the decision?" asks Barry, unaware of Oliver's dark train of thought. " And please, don't be stubborn. At least this one time."

Oliver hesitates a while longer, pondering Barry's offer. It is so tempting to accept it. He is a wreck lately. He can't go on like this anymore. After all, he isn't made of iron. The exhaustion makes him inefficient, and he can't deny to himself any longer that his response time is much slower... What if he hurts or kills someone innocent by accident, because his aim slipped and an arrow flew astray, missing its intended target?

" Thank you, Barry," he says finally.

The Flash smiles widely. He is always so full of energy, thanks to his powers. And heals so fast. Oliver could have bet that Barry doesn't remember the last time that something really hurt him. Oliver also heals fast – for a normal human being. But even Yao Fei's "magic herbs" can't help him with all injuries he suffers. Can't fix him in a few hours.

" I'll be in the foundry in case..." Oliver has to say that.

" Yeah, yeah, right. Just go already and have some rest. You know, even the hooded heroes need it sometimes."

" I'm not a hero. Only a vigilante," corrects Oliver.

" You wouldn't be yourself if you didn't had the last word, did you?"

Oliver smiles briefly, twitching a corner of his mouth. He doubts Barry noticed it. It's too dark and his hood covers most of his face.

" Do you need a lift? You know, I can take you to your home in no time..." Barry hesitates. "Where do you live now, by the way?"

" The foundry," says Oliver shortly. "Thanks for the offer, but no. Let me save at least a bit of dignity. Besides, I have my motorbike parked in the alley down there."

Barry shoots him a worried look.

" You know, even our common acquaintance, although he spends like twenty hours a day in his cave and dresses up like a bat, doesn't exactly turn into a bat himself...Why don't you live in your mansion? You still own it, don't you?"

" I do. Nobody wanted to buy it, so I have to pay for the maintenance of the house and the grounds. Wish I could get rid of it. It's too expensive, eats up too much of the money I have left."

" You're still a millionaire," Barry teases him. "I imagine it's a tragedy."

" It's not funny," says Oliver sternly. "I could be using that money to help people. Do you know how many citizens of my city lead a hand-to-mouth existence?"

" Still, you could use that mansion, since you own it. Sleep in normal bed, not on the floor in a dark basement."

" I don't sleep on the floor," he corrects. "And the mansion is located too far from the city. Over twenty miles. I know, for you it's nothing, but it's too far for me. The Glades are almost in the heart of the city. I can rush to action in no time when I'm needed."

" Makes sense," Barry says. Apparently he has believed in this particular lie. Because it is not exactly truth what he has said. Of course, being so close to the city is important. But there is also something else.

Without Mom, Thea and Dad...Or even without Walter, who tried to replace his father in his life the best he could...It's not the house anymore. He doesn't care about his ancestors, no matter what they did, or what they achieved. They are just empty names. Probably put a lot of effort to raise themselves up over others. He wouldn't have the means to finance his crusade without the money he inherited, but he prefers to not think of that. Because it would lead him to thinking that he is no better than other wealthy and well situated people using their position to do whatever they want. But to do what he does nowadays, having a plain English longbow and some wooden arrows wouldn't be enough.

Damn, he really should go catch some sleep, since he's comparing himself to Robin Hood now. He doesn't like this association, because on some level he thinks that Robin Hood should belong to those romantic ballads and stories, where everything was so simple, painted in black and white colors. Robin and his merry men were the good guys, the Sheriff and his thugs the bad ones.

He doesn't exactly remember when, but he learned that in Robin Hood's time, the bow was not viewed as a noble weapon. It was associated with peasants, and what's worse also with thieves and bandits, men who had no honor. No nobleman would touch such a thing. So maybe after all he had more in common with Robin Hood that he wanted to admit. He was no thief, but according to the law he was a bandit, and the fact that he used his skills to fight crime and injustice had no meaning to that law.

" Thanks for this, Barry. I appreciate it. Really," says Oliver, reaching to his quiver for a grappling hook arrow. It is much faster to get down using a zipline than stairs.

But before he manages to shoot an arrow, Barry stops him, putting a hand on his shoulder.

" Oliver, you know that no matter what... Whatever is happening... Just give me a call and I will run to Starling as fast as I can. In a flash," he smiles. It was Oliver who gave him that name. The Flash.

Oliver just nods, and Barry takes as granted that everything is settled.

Barry is a good kid. And a hero. And he doesn't deserve to be dragged down with him.

So when all hell breaks loose, Oliver doesn't ask for his help. He just hopes that the Flash will not interfere with what is happening in Starling and will realize what the Arrow truly is.

Only a lost cause.


 

Chapter Text

The Arrow Day

"Do you know that SCPD is seriously afraid that the Flash might try to break into here to rescue you?" Doctor Pressnall's voice cut into his mind. He blinked, lost somewhere between memories and consciousness. On some level he still felt as if he was standing on that rooftop under the open sky. Surrounded by comforting darkness and the muffled sounds of the city, feeling a gust of fresh, cold air on his face. Freedom. But then reality reached to him, to grab hold of him brutally. Bright light over his head, metal rings of the handcuffs closed around his wrists, Doctor Pressnall's watchful gaze and the folder with the file on him lying before her... All of this reminded him where he was now. What he was now—not a vigilante hero, but a prisoner. And this time there was no escape.

"Do you think that he would do this for you?" asked Doctor Pressnall.

Oliver had to admit that this thought had crossed his mind. He hoped... He didn't know what he had hoped for exactly. Perhaps that Barry would be smart enough to sit this one out. Or that Detective West would stop him from doing something stupid. Barry's surrogate father hated the Arrow, thought he was a crazy man. He was probably more than content that the vigilante got arrested and would soon get what he deserved.

"You are unusually silent when it comes to this topic, Oliver. But I see you want to protect your friend. I guess that asking you about your relationship with the vigilante known as Black Canary doesn't have much point either." She turned over a page in the file. "Although it's obvious that you were much more than merely partners in crime."

Oliver noticed a bunch of photos lying next to the documents over the opened folder. At least one of them looked like a picture of him and Laurel together, both of them in their costumes. It was not the best quality, as far as he could tell, probably taken by someone on a cell phone. There was no way to avoid that nowadays, when everyone was carrying mobile devices... The net of cameras in the city's surveillance system didn't make a vigilantes' life easier either. Staying completely out of sight was just impossible, even in Glades, where the main streets were included in CCTV some time ago as well. Oliver was well aware that no matter where one went, there was always some camera watching, mounted on a wall of building or on a high pole over the street to monitor traffic. Not to mention smaller surveillance systems, such as those in local corner shops. When he could he kept to the roofs in order to avoid at least some of those eyes. Still, it was getting harder and harder to move from place to place without drawing too much attention.

"Do you seriously think that I would say anything which could give the cops a tip on either of them?" asked Oliver, trying to hold back his anger.

"No, I very much doubt that," Doctor Pressnall shook her head. He glanced at the photograph of the Arrow and Black Canary, and then her steady gaze met his eyes again. "But I think that to get a full picture all SCPD needs to do is take a good look at your contacts from real life."

"Flash and Black Canary... They did nothing wrong...unlike me," said Oliver quietly, depressed over what he had heard from the psychiatrist.

He felt as if he were tied to post, defenseless, and she was using him as target practice. Treating him as he'd treated all those unfortunate people he had tortured during those few months he spent off the island, when he was forced by Amanda Waller to become an A.R.G.U.S. operative. If the psychiatrist realized that examining his contacts from his life outside the hood might bring the answer to who was aiding the vigilante, then the police were certainly already checking out all his acquaintances.

Maybe he deserved all of this—to be treated exactly the same way as the criminals he fought with, and to be locked up on that damn psychiatric ward for the rest of his life. But not the people who he pulled into his crusade! He felt a cold shiver run down his spine at the mere thought that they wll would get to Laurel, Felicity, Dig... Eventually to Roy, and maybe even Barry. And all of that would be his fault. Not to mention that he also dragged down Captain Lance, ruining his career a few years before his retirement. He will be lucky if he only gets fired from the force. It was quite possible, however, that he would be sentenced for aiding the vigilante and hiding his identity. No one will believe that he didn't recognize a man who used to frequently visit his house, who dated his daughter and was close to becoming his son-in-law, simply because he was wearing a hood and a mask.

"SCPD got me. I worked alone, and there was no one else," said Oliver with emphasis, lowering his eyes and clenching his fists. Those words weren't directed only to Doctor Pressnall, but to the cops observing this interrogation as well. Maybe if he agreed to fully cooperate, he would be able to cut some deal... Take the police off the backs of others... Getting the vigilante was always SCPD's top priority. But since they'd marked him as a crazy man, they won't be willing to listen to his side of the story any more.

You are a serial killer. A criminal. And a homicide maniac. Nobody will believe you. The disheartening words he heard not so long ago when he had talked with Darhk's accomplice again echoed in his mind. To his utter dismay, it turned out to be the truth.

"It's not up to me to decide," said Doctor Pressnall. "You are my concern, Oliver, not other vigilantes."

He didn't answer. He preferred that he wasn't her concern or anything else. Again he had the disturbing thought cross his mind that she was interested in him only because he was such an extraordinary psychiatric case. That all she wanted was to look into his mind and discover what he was hiding from the outside world. What made him put on that green hood, and mete out justice with a bow and arrows. He was not afraid of prison—after all, he'd been in different ones over the years, and no matter what had happened, the people who held him there never succeed in breaking him. Even Amanda Waller was not able to suppress all of his resistance. But the perspective of becoming a test subject...Being locked up in a place where people had no intention to torture his body, but his mind, to understand how it worked...That was bloody terrifying.

"You might think that your masked friends didn't do anything wrong," said Doctor Pressnall, unaware of his hidden fear. "But they are also operating outside the law. According to it they are vigilantes, just like you. And the fact that The Flash Day became an annual event doesn't change it."

He didn't comment on that. Flash was a very appreciated hero. Doctor Pressnall might doubt that, but there were thousands of people in Central City to say otherwise. Unlike himself, Barry had wide support not only among the citizens, but also from the city's officials. There was no risk that Starling's authorities would ever host The Arrow Day. They thought he was a nuisance and hoped that the problem with the vigilante would one day miraculously solve by itself. They probably dreamed that he would get killed during some shootout between gangs or some other mess he'd get himself into.

Starling's citizens, however, didn't share those views. For some he was representing hope they needed so much. Since the city's officials and other people in charge couldn't provide them any, they preferred to look up to an unnamed man who appeared out of nowhere and took the law into his own hands. Most of them thought that he was one of them, someone from the lower or middle class of society, who got angry with the situation and how inefficient the cops were; but others leaned towards a speculation that he was someone well-situated. Everyone who was smart enough sooner or later realized that all those arrows and gear must have cost a lot of money.

While people from City Hall were doing all in their power to lessen the Arrow's influence on violent crime rates steadily declining, and ignore all the good he was doing, the "little guys" showed their appreciation in whatever way they could. True, there were no cool gadgets like Flash action figures one could buy in a gift shop, or The Flash coffee, but people found other ways to express their gratitude. There was a small tea room on Grell Street, run by an old lady, which was serving Green Arrow tea, which was basically a jasmine green tea with a fancy name. In some stalls one could buy a T-shirt or a green hoodie with an imprint of a hooded man with a bow. He looked more like Robin Hood or a comic book character in those pictures (Oliver had no idea why some artist drew him with a distinctive goatee), but still, there was no doubt that all of those were supposed to represent the local vigilante. Him.

Shortly after the Arrow saved the city from Deathstroke and his Mirakuru soldiers, some street artists painted a huge graffiti on a wall of one of buildings in Glades of the Arrow, watching over the city. Most of his face was covered by the shade of the hood. Someone from City Hall decided to paint it over, but once the people from Glades heard about it , they protested so vigorously that the plan was dropped almost instantly. The mural stayed in place.

Over the years the Arrow, become something more than only an elusive, shadowy figure. Sometimes someone managed to catch a glimpse of him. People were looking up on the roofs or peeking into dark alleys, knowing that those were his "favorite" places. Kids from Glades hoped that if they got lucky, they might find a stray arrow with characteristic green-and-yellowish fletching, or an arrowhead that police overlooked while they were securing the area and gathering the evidence. That part of the public interest was relatively harmless. Oliver was, however, getting more and more annoyed with people who wanted to take a photo of him or record a film on those rare occasions when he had to appear in open space, close to civilians. Not only because the police could use it as evidence against him later on. They put themselves into harm's way—some were so reckless that they would walk into the middle of shootout just to get that precious photo of the Arrow.

One of the most original and unexpected forms of tribute he was given was an unofficial archery contest. He learned about that Arrow Day after it took place. Felicity showed him the article about it in a local newspapers. Later Oliver found the information about an event on Facebook. It was hosted by a group of people who were members of an archery club. He looked through photos they posted on their page. Some of them shot traditional bows, others had compound ones. There was quite a considerable variety, and certainly had it brought some warm feelings—he loved archery, it had saved him on the island many times, and he couldn't imagine that one day he might not be able to practice it any more.

The second edition of The Arrow Day, which took a place exactly a year later, was... different. Once he reminded himself of that, the memory slipped into his mind smoothly, and he felt as if he was there once again.


Oliver learns about the second edition of the contest by chance. He is about to go out for his usual patrol when he stumbles upon information about the event while checking reports the tracking application had found. There is nothing exceptional in them, save for that one note about The Arrow Day. Since Queen Consolidated's business software, which was reconfigured by Felicity a long time ago, is set to gather all data which might be useful, it also caught a post about the contest. Oliver is sure that it is already over, but then notices the time. 8 pm.

He can't help but wonder why it is so late. At this time of the year it's going to be completely dark. And then he understands. They hope that the Arrow will show up. Or at least will watch the contest.

At first he has no intent to approach that archery range. But after giving some thought to it, and after making a round in Glades and realizing that absolutely nothing is happening in the city for a change, he decides to drop by. Not officially of course, he can't show up in public. But he has to admit to himself that he is too curious to not check out Arrow Day.

The archery range is located in the woods, close to the suburbs of the city. But Starling is not big, so getting there on his motorbike from Glades takes him no more than fifteen minutes. He veers from the road into the forest when he sees archery range's building in the distance and hides the bike behind some bushes. Then he goes on foot. He is an urban hunter, but this environment feels almost... natural to him. The frosty night air has a fresh scent of wet earth and leaves. The color of the foliage matches his costume. And it reminds him of Lian Yu's woods.

He studies the area from some distance. Around twenty people are gathered on the open space, and a small building stands on the one end of the archery range. The targets are located opposite it. The contest's participants brought camp lights to throw some light on the archery boards and the place where all of them are standing, but overall the whole range is covered in night's darkness. Good for him, he can stay out of sight this way. He quickly finds a place, where he can easily go over the surrounding wall. The archery range is located in something which looks like a small ravine, so the building's roof is on the same level as the higher terrain. Oliver creeps onto it, the bow held tight in his right hand, and crouches in deep shadow. It is a good vantage point, he can see the targets and the whole length of the archery range from here, without being seen himself.

He observes the people who gathered here to participate in this Arrow Day. They are of different ages, from adolescents to adults. Men and woman alike. Mostly between twenties and thirties, but he sees at least two men who must be well over forty. One guy with a beard and glasses, in a baseball cap and with a compound bow, might be over sixty. They shoot different types of bows. Oliver notices that one guy even has a takedown recurve, looking very similar to his old bow, which had been broken in his struggle with Merlyn. It is useless now, and Oliver is not a sentimental man, but he still has the pieces of that bow, which he keeps in the chest he brought from Lian Yu.

He honestly has no idea why he has come here. He doesn't crave getting such... attention. He was never envious of the kind of widespread appreciation Barry gets, and has never even wasted time thinking whether the authorities will one day acknowledge what he is doing to save this city. But then he realizes that maybe he came here because he missed other people's company. Even if just looking and listening to them talking and laughing, and teasing each other in a friendly manner when someone sent an arrow astray and had to look for it in darkness, was a very poor substitute for it.

The contest is coming to an end. It turns out that a young dark-haired woman was the best shot. Others congratulate her. Oliver rises to his feet from his crouch position. It is high time he goes, but... Suddenly he has an idea which is just too tempting to stop himself from doing. He reaches to his quiver to take out one of the green-and-yellowish feather fletched arrows. He nocks it on the bowstring, and drawing it to the corner of his mouth, aims, looking at the farthest target. It must be well over sixty-five yards. But it is not a challenge for him, he can shoot a far greater distance. The bowstring rings and he sends the arrow flying.

He hears the shouts of surprise when it hits the board, exactly in the middle. Some people gathered down below who spun around quickly enough manage to catch a glimpse of the archer standing on the roof, a bow in his left hand.

" It's for the winner," says Oliver. "She can keep it."

Then he turns around, and without looking back he disappears into the night.


 

Chapter Text

Diagnosis

"Oliver? Do I still have your attention?" asked Doctor Pressnall, gazing at him sharply.

"What?" he said absentmindedly. He felt as if she'd blown out a candle. He could have sworen that a while back he was crouching on that roof, looking down on the archery range. Finding himself back in the interrogation room was a shock. He had no idea how long he was out, but surely long enough for the shrink to notice.

"I suspect that you are experiencing involuntary recurrent memories... Am I right?" She was looking at him calmly, as if she had found another matching piece to the puzzle she was trying to solve. Oliver neither confirmed nor denied her statement. Something else was occupying his mind as he noticed a very disturbing thing about his interrogator. It struck him—and he had no idea why he didn't notice it earlier—that Doctor Pressnall's eyes had a very similar color to those of his mother, especially in this light. Almost the same shade of pale green. Moira Queen seemed to always know when her son was hiding something from her. After all, they were so alike, they both kept many secrets and told lies on a daily basis... It was really unnerving to realize that Doctor Pressnall might be able to look through him in exactly the same manner... And she didn't know him through his whole life like his mother; all the psychiatrist had at her disposal was that file on him and the short time they spent with each other in the interrogation room... Or was it a long time? There was no way to tell.

"I have no idea what are you attempting to suggest..." he started to lie, but broke off. He knew he wouldn't be to deceive Doctor Pressnall on that one. She must have noticed the symptoms.

The psychiatrist turned over the page in the file and took the pencil to jot something on a scrap of blank space on the page.

"Are those memories so intense that you feel as if you were reliving the experience?" she asked.

If he could, he would surely try to escape right now. He shifted nervously, leaning back in his chair, but the handcuffs again held him in place.

"Are you unable to fully recognize it as a memory and not something that is happening for real, here and now? Does it happen often?"

He still didn't answer. But the truth was that those vivid memories flashed through his mind and he had no control over them. The night of the Queen's Gambit catastrophe... His father shooting himself in the head on the raft... The moment he washed on the island half-alive, completely lost... His first meeting with Yao Fei... shocking view of an arrow sticking out of his shoulder, its arrowhead covered in blood... Times when he was tortured, or when he was forced to torture. His fight with Slade on the freighter. Watching Sara sliding into abyss of dark ocean's waters... Dying twice. Shado being shot in front of his eyes... Slade's blade piercing the chest of his mother. There was so many of those horrific memories, that he was not able to count them. Sometimes they left him in peace for days. But then in the most unexpected moments they were coming back to him, resurfacing again, again and again. It seemed as if every single one of those painful memories had its weight, and with such a burden it was getting more and more difficult to live. They were dragging him down and sometimes he felt as if he was sinking. Being the Arrow... having a clear objective... focusing on helping ordinary people allowed him to keep those memories at bay. At least to a certain extent.

"Oliver, given your experiences and what you have been through, you are clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. You have never undergone therapy, haven't you?" asked Doctor Pressnall, her tone of voice concerned.

It was another question which didn't get any answer. Doctor Pressnall shook her head lightly, as if she couldn't believe that he could remain silent so stubbornly when the truth about his condition was laid out in the open.

"I know that you are terrified and you don't know what is happening with you... But it's high time to face those memories. You can't push them back into your subconscious and make them go away that way. Most people think like this, but actually this make their condition even worse... You can't just lock yourself behind your wall and pretend that it doesn't concern you."

Her steady gaze was unnerving him. He felt pushed back into a corner, defenseless, much like when the Dark Archer broke his bow and defeated him.

"And you obviously know how to put together those who are damaged..." He broke the silence finally, just to say something. He intended it as a sarcastic remark, but it didn't come out that way. He was surprised when he heard how his voice sounded—weary and hushed, as if he really started to give up.

"Well, there is cognitive behavioral therapy," said Doctor Pressnall, apparently assuming that he'd indirectly asked about what kind of help she could offer him. "It's focused on changing unhelpful thinking and behavior, and also works well to solve current problems."

Oliver didn't comment on that and only glanced at her blankly. A lifetime wouldn't be enough to solve his problems.

"You see, the human brain has a very delicate construction," Doctor Pressnall carried on. "It's just not prepared to deal with extremely stressful and dreadful experiences. That's why traumatic experiences are often not recorded properly in our memory. A mind is just not able to process them. A person suffering from PTSD can have only a vague or no memory of what exactly had occurred, and at the same time be haunted by recurring intense feelings of fear or anger, which he can't place... Or at some other cases it can be a returning memory, while the emotions which would normally accompany it are completely detached. A patient might be not even aware of what exactly he buried; it's a therapist job to help uncover it. A 'self' which is damaged and shattered to pieces can be put together by re-experiencing distressing trauma-related memories and reconstructing them."

That made him alarmed. She wanted him to do what?

"You would like me to tell you everything that's happened to me... out there... in detail? To live through all of this again?" he asked with disbelief. "Then I guess you are the one who is out of your mind," he said harshly. He wanted to discourage her, but no matter what he said, she didn't seem to be offended. The more he resisted, the more determined she seemed to break through to him. Or maybe to break him.

"Not for satisfying my curiosity, I assure you. You might find it hard to believe right now, but it has been proven to be most successful form of psychotherapy."

"I'm not interested in your psychotherapy. And I'm not your patient," he said icily.

"Well, maybe not yet. But for your own good you should realize that you need a professional help."

To his ears it sounded almost like a threat. She really intended to send him to a mental hospital and lock him up in a room with a door without a handle on the inside. Why did she have it in for him? What did she want to achieve that way?

"You know what your problem is?" said Doctor Pressnall, after another long moment of silence.

"I bet I soon will," said Oliver sarcastically.

The psychiatrist ignored his tone and explained professionally:

"In some ways, you've never left the island were marooned on for those five years. Out there you could count only on yourself, so you find it extremely hard to trust anyone. Moreover, you've lost people close to you. In normal circumstances, the death of family member or close friend is a traumatic experience, and you had more than your fair share despite fairly young age. That's why you keep others—like your accomplices—at a distance and push them away if they get too close. You are afraid that you won't be able to cope with another loss."

He didn't answer, feeling irritation welling in his chest. She seemed to think that she could provide an accurate diagnosis to everything. As if his state could be described with a few brief sentences. Summed up in those short notes she added to his psychological profile.

"Uncertainty is a part of life. Bad and tragic things happen no matter if we want them to or not. But we can't be afraid of living. Escaping from the problems doesn't solve them. You will never be truly happy this way."

"Cut down this psychiatric crap, Doctor," he bristled. "Do I look to you as if I am afraid of living?"

"Of your true life, yes. The one apart from that hood and the bow."

"You must have really given a lot of thought to it," he said with contempt. He didn't even try to keep his tone civil any more. "That hood and the bow are my true life."

He noticed that her glance again had that concerned look, and realized that in that moment he was probably classified as a very difficult case.

"Well, you surely found quite an unusual way to deal with you trauma," said Doctor Pressnall finally. "But from the very beginning it was a path leading to self-destruction. It would have gotten you killed sooner or later, if you hadn't been captured. That life you've been leading was putting a lot of strain on you... Eventually you couldn't bear it anymore... That's why you turned yourself in, right?"

Oliver didn't bother to make a correction on that last part. She could believe in whatever version she liked. He didn't care.

"So maybe you should think about this as an opportunity to finally deal with the past which is haunting you and stop running from it. Sometimes the only way out is through..."

At first Oliver wanted to protest, enraged. He didn't run from anything. But words got stuck in his throat when he heard that last sentence. In that short moment Doctor Pressnall sounded exactly like Amanda Waller. Was it by accident or design? Or perhaps his mind was playing tricks on him after all?

"I wonder how many of your own private nightmares you have, Doctor," he said after a while, making one more attempt at defiance. "If you have ever tasted your own medicine and were made to tell about all bad things which have happened to you."

She hesitated briefly before answering.

"After my sister's death, yes, I did," she admitted. "I held up—at first, because others needed me. Not only my niece, but also my parents... Madeline's death hit them really hard, especially my mother. Losing a child is always a terrible experience for a parent, even if the child is an adult. And then... one day I reached some... breaking point. And realized that I couldn't carry on like this any more."

Oliver didn't expect to hear such an honest confession. He suspected most psychotherapists would reveal as little as possible about themselves, to keep their professional picture intact, not to mention admitting to suffering a mental breakdown themselves And yet she crossed that boundary twice. Did she think that it was the only way to reach out to him and gain his trust? Or perhaps she was using on him some psychological techniques while he was not even aware of it. He reminded himself how she made him talk, and realized that imperceptibly she steered their conversation into a desired direction, making him reveal much more than he previously intended.

"But it was your choice. Your decision," he remarked.

"Yes. And I hope you'll make the same decision. There is nothing bad in asking for help," Doctor Pressnall assured him gently. "You probably think about this as showing weakness, something you can't allow yourself to do. But we all are human beings, Oliver, not machines. Suppressing emotions does more harm than good. You're not on the island anymore, where your only objective was to survive till the next day. You don't need to fight against the whole world anymore," she said with emphasis.

He scoffed and turned his glance away. Sometimes he felt as if he still was marooned on some desolated island. Nobody seemed to fully understand what was driving him and what his mindset was. He reminded himself how many times he couldn't see eye to eye with Dig about the way he was doing things. He though Oliver took unnecessary risks too often, especially when he rushed into a fight without proper backup—there were situations when John couldn't provide him much aid. And Roy was not around any more. He remembered also the worried looks Felicity shot him from behind the computer screens when he showed distress and agitation after the mission went wrong, or when he couldn't make on time to stop the crime. When the lives of innocent people were lost.

"Some problems can't be solved by talking," he muttered.

"And others can't be settled any other way," pointed out Doctor Pressnall.

"Isn't it pathetic? And doesn't it bore you? People coming to you and whining about everything and nothing in particular?" he asked harshly, partially to provoke her. It was really annoying that she seemed to have a riposte to his every statement. He wanted to make her lose that composure, slip on something. And reveal her true intentions. Maybe it was his paranoia speaking again, but the more he thought about it, the harder it was for him to believe that their meeting here was solely pure coincidence. Various scenarios shot past his mind, including the suspicion that she worked for Darhk and was sent by him to grind him down. That mere though made his hair stand on end, because that would mean that his enemy had his people practically everywhere.

"There are many ways to help others," said Doctor Pressnall. "And they don't necessary need a bow and arrow," she remarked. He had an impression that the look she shot him was tinged with condescension. "You're probably convinced that nobody would be able to fully understand what you have been through. Especially not some psychotherapist, who never shared even a small fraction of your experiences. But please, do believe me, that there are effective forms of therapy which could help in your case. And I would like to make you realize that you don't need to suffer any longer."

"Really."

Something in the tone of his voice must have made that one short word sound particularly ominous, because Doctor Pressnall gave him another of those concerned looks of hers. She turned a pencil over in her hand and tapped it on the table in what seemed to be a nervous gesture. So she wasn't as self-confident as she wanted to appear.

"You really want me to believe that it's pure coincidence that we met here," Oliver said venomously.

„And what is it according to you?"

"A way to get even with me, perhaps?" he answered dryly.

"I don't understand what you mean." She knitted her eyebrows.

"Oh, I think you do. I broke into your office, startled you... Breached your territory, so to speak. So now you're using your position to show me my place."

"Is this really what you want to believe?" she asked calmly.

Oliver didn't answer, just glowered at her.

"Well, it's true that I took some interest in your case after we had met." She paused for a while. "But not the way you suspect. You apparently think that I see only a test subject in you. That's not true, Oliver. What I see is someone who urgently needs help."

He didn't react. He had already made clear what he thought about the kind of help she wanted to offer him.

"I've been working with SCPD for years as a consultant," Doctor Pressnall went on. "They contact me when they need an opinion about a suspect to determine his mental state."

"I've told you that I'm not crazy," said Oliver coldly.

That earned him another compassionate look from Doctor Pressnall.

"One of most horrible things when it comes to mental disorders is the fact that the patient is often not aware about his state," she said slowly. "He will insist that there is nothing wrong with him, that others are wrong... even when confronted with bare facts."

If she had expected that this diagnosis would meet with aggressive outburst, confirming her suspicions, she must have been disappointed. At first Oliver didn't say anything and kept completely still. Everything he had been through during those last few months, ever since that unfortunate business with Darhk had started, was coming back to him. The extreme strain it put on him, making him question himself more than ever. An enemy that turned out to be way out of his league. His inner struggle to carry on, to walk alone the path he mapped out, even when everyone else abandoned him. And eventually the ultimate sacrifice he had to make.

"You probably won't believe a word I say," he said grimly, as determined as a man who has nothing more to lose. He didn't care any longer if she used some reverse psychology or other tricks to get information out of him, or what she would write in those damn notes of hers. He was also not exactly sure why he wanted to make her see the bigger picture. Out of all people, a shrink, who was not a decisive person, and was probably not even interested in learning the truth, but only in proving her professional observation, was right from the very beginning. "But I've got a bare fact for you, Doctor. Over the span of few last weeks, people have been killed at random while going about their normal business. Starling citizens. Ordinary, perfectly average people, who didn't do anything wrong. Who didn't have any criminal associations, not to mention enemies who might want them dead. It could have been someone you know. Your acquaintance, or a person you knew by sight. Or if you were unfortunate it could be you. Or someone close to you. The youngest victim was not much older than your son..." he broke off for a while, remembering all those unfortunate people, who got killed solely to send the vigilante a message. "And the city's officials and cops did nothing about it. They claimed that the have found no connection between the victims. But of course you wouldn't know, since they have done everything in their power to cover it up. To avoid panic," he said bitterly.

His words hung in the air. It was hard to determine what effect all he had just said had on Doctor Pressnall, as she didn't say anything. She must have been surprised hearing another long statement from him. But before the psychiatrist managed to pull her thoughts together and make some remark, Oliver's mind drifted away from the interrogation room. He got sucked into his memories again.


 

Chapter Text

Missing Piece

" It seems to be so calm down there... at least from this perspective, says Laurel to Oliver, who is standing a few steps away from her with a bow held firmly in his hand. It is around midnight, what means that they are both wearing their costumes-"working their night shift" as Felicity would say.

The high office building which towers over the area is completely dark and empty save for the two of them on its rooftop. Laurel is sitting on the wide ledge, her feet dangling over the edge. Her fair hair is blowing in the wind—recently she started to dye it blonde. Some time ago she gave up wearing the wig, after she learned the hard way that it was blocking part of her vision. Oliver warned her that it could turn out to be a grave mistake. Someone might recognize her. She only answered flatly that it was a risk she was willing to take for the sake of having more awareness of her surroundings. Now looking at her Oliver wishes that he could get rid of his hood as easily. He has to admit that it is not the most functional part of his costume. The edges of the hood are narrowing his field of vision, and there is always possibility that it will slip off his head during the fight. But he has no choice. He needs to hid his face under the hood in order to protect those he cares about. He prefers not to think about what would happen if his identity was ever outed. How would Thea react... And what is worse, into what danger it would put his little sister. Even despite the fact that she is an adult now and off on her own, he can't help that he still sees her as someone vulnerable, who needs protection. If he only could be honest with her and tell her the truth... But that can never happen.

He pushes those thoughts to the back of his mind and focuses on the present moment. Laurel is also one of the people he cares about. Over last couple of weeks the two of them have been cooperating more often. There are a lot of worrying things happening in the city lately, but at least they are on better terms again; two always have more chances than one, especially against such a shadowy enemy as Darhk. In the past few days they have been checking leads Oliver has gotten from Amanda Waller on people A.R.G.U.S. suspects of working for H.I.V.E. and Darhk. But they might as well have been trying to catch ghosts. They managed to track down and nail some suspects, but they all were small fry . And they preferred to go to jail than betray the organization they belonged to, let alone their boss. Even if Oliver made them talk—an arrow to the shoulder proved to be a very effective way to loosen a tongue—it always turned out that they knew surprisingly little about the person in charge. It seemed that Darhk was extra careful and covered his tracks so well that there was simply no thread to grasp...

" What are you thinking of, Ollie?" asks Laurel. "You look as if you were a million miles away..."

" Darhk," he answers curtly.

" We'll get him. Sooner or later," she says with conviction. He wishes he could share this belief so strongly. Sometimes he can't help but think that she hasn't gone through her own purgatory yet. Sure, she has struggled with her severe issues, suffered a mental breakdown after Tommy's death that she blamed herself for, and succumbed to drug and alcohol addiction. But all of those happened to Laurel Lance, not the Black Canary. That is why he fears for her. In some respects she seems to be blissfully oblivious of what it really means to be a vigilante, as much as she doesn't seem to be intimidated by the height now. Even though there are twenty-six floors below them.

Oliver comes closer to the ledge and looks down. From this vantage point the streets resemble pieces of broad black ribbon, crossing each other. Tiny cars looking like toys are moving in all directions, their headlights glowing yellow and red. People are no bigger than ants; some of them are hiding under colorful dots of umbrellas, looking like the heads of thumb-tacks. It is beginning to drizzle.

The downtown is full of lights and life. Oliver, however, turns his eyes towards west section of the district, which borders on Harrow. The vast dark spot of Harrow Park looms over there. Oncology Hospital, visible behind it, is the tallest building in the area. It takes around four minutes to get from there to the underground station which is on Harrow Lane. The shortcut through the park is the fastest way to get there and everyone uses it. The place is generally not considered to be a dangerous one. Oliver can't remember the last time something bad happened there. Until two days ago. A woman was assaulted in that park. Shot down by someone who appeared to be a professional killer. It was not a robbery. The killer didn't show interest in the wedding ring she was wearing, nor her handbag, which was found lying beside the body.

Little could be told about the victim. She was a nurse, working in the hospital. She was on her way home after the night shift. No one saw or heard anything, and as it quickly turned out, the surveillance in that part of the park hadn't been working in months. The killer appeared as if he was a ghost and disappeared in thin air, and everything indicated that it was another one of the mysterious murders which had been happening in Starling over the last few weeks.

All of this is bringing Oliver to the brink of frustration. He knows that he couldn't have done anything to stop that crime. The victim was killed shortly after six a.m. At that time he was back in his hideout. Even in autumn, at this hour it is simply too bright, and he can't operate on the brink of a new day. But he knows that even if it had happened when he was patrolling the city, there were really a slim chance that he would have been in the proximity of Harrow and could have done anything. He hates to admit that too often, his decision where to intervene is based on chance, or even worse—on a pure coincidence. Barry is so much more effective than him... And he... he is just a man. All he has at his disposal now is police radio which he has tapped and a simplified version of the tracking application on his phone. It was a bit easier when he had his team backing him up—Dig and Roy in the field, and Felicity sitting at the computer console in the foundry, keeping the watch, filtering the information and passing the most important straight to him. But even then he was doomed to fail. Way too often.

" Ollie?"

Suddenly he realizes that Laurel is saying something to him. He looks at her and realizes that she was looking at him intently the whole time, a worried expression written all over her face.

" Sorry. You were saying...?"

" I asked why you wanted to come here?"

It takes him a moment to fully withdraw his attention from the dark thoughts occupying his mind.

" I thought that maybe if I look at the locations where the murders took place from a different perspective, I'll be able to find some pattern. But they appear to be so random..." He again fixes his eyes on Harrow Park, then looks towards Percy Street and Upper Holloway in Glades. Gospel Oak and Archway are in entirely different places, almost opposite sides of the city. Then there is Mile End and Smith Street, both in really quiet neighborhoods. And Georgia Street in downtown, one of the primary streets in the old financial district. It simply doesn't make any sense. And yet he is sure that there is a connection between those killings, and all those victims were shot down by the same person. He is not the only one. Captain Lance shares those suspicions. But it doesn't change the fact that the police's investigation came to a standstill. What is more, the citizens of Starling are not really aware that every one of them seems to be in danger. The press is writing hardly anything about those murders. Oliver is surprised by this turn of the events, until he finds out that the city officials are blocking the flow of information. Apparently they don't want to admit that there is a serial killer at large.

" We should go. The night is still young and it's not like standing here idle will help solve anything," says Laurel, standing up. "We still have some leads to check."

Oliver only nods and reaches to his quiver for a zip-line arrow. He shoots it to attach near the edge of the roof and checks the rope—it holds strongly.

" Need a lift, pretty bird?" He outstretches his left hand towards Laurel, the bow with a rope attached in his right. Laurel only smiles briefly and nods, coming closer to him. He wraps his arm around her waist, while she embraces him and they take a jump off the ledge to slide down.

Some hours later they find themselves back in Oliver's hideout. Unfortunately, tonight their efforts have turned out to be futile. They haven't gotten even a step closer to Darhk. They have dealt with some criminals though, putting them out of business. Hopefully they won't get out of prison too easily.

Laurel packs her costume in a duffel bag while Oliver puts the jacket and the hood into the chest where he keeps his outfit. Then he places the bow into a hard case. A long time ago he abandoned putting the Arrow's equipment out as if on a display. He doesn't even keep those glass cases in the foundry anymore.

Their gazes meet for a longer moment when Laurel is ready to go. A while back, she would have stayed, and they would share also the rest of the night. But those times are gone to never return, and they both know that. That is why Laurel only sends him a sad smile and says:

" I must be going."

Her car is parked in the underground garage. He sees her out. Laurel puts the duffel bag in the trunk of her car, and kisses him on the cheek before she gets in.

" Try to catch some sleep, Ollie."

" Yeah, you too."

She only shakes her head.

" Four hours tops. I prefer not to think about tomorrow's day in the office..."

He waits till she drives out of the garage and closes the automatic door using a remote control. Then he goes back to the foundry and looks at one of the screens showing the camera view from the alley behind Verdant. The rear of Laurel's car appears, its taillight glowing red when she stops before turning left on the narrow street. Shortly after, she disappears from sight.

Instead of taking some rest, Oliver sits before the computer console and opens the victims' files, looking for the clues. Leads. Anything. There must be some connection between them. A missing piece he is not able to spot. But nothing comes up, although he sits over those files till dawn. Finally he gives up shortly before 6 a.m. and decides to catch some sleep after all. He can't focus. The writing on the screen blends before his eyes, and he can't comprehend what he is reading. The last half-conscious thought he has before falling asleep is the hazy memory of the victims, who seem to look at him accusingly from the photos, as if they want to ask: "Why can't you figure out who killed us? Why didn't you stop it?"

He wakes up abruptly a few hours later, feeling as if he hasn't rested at all. But he can't stay in bed any longer. He wouldn't be able to sleep a wink even if he tried to. He does his basic workout, then takes a shower and has a bite to eat. Then he gets back to the computer and files to study them again.

At this point he knows what is in them by heart. Victims' names and their occupations blend into one. A librarian. A student. A florist. A bus driver. An accountant. An office worker. A pensioner. A nurse. Their ages vary from twenty- two to eighty-one. No enemies, no conflicts, no suspicious acquaintances.

Who would like to kill any of them?

When he feels that he can't sit still any more, he takes his bow and practices for nearly an hour. When he focuses on shooting his mind is free from worries. It is the best way to clear it. He releases one arrow after another, ten in each series. Then he removes them from the target, and repeats the activity, at each round standing a little further from the archery board. At the end of the training he releases some tennis balls, sending them bouncing towards the opposite site of the foundry. Normally shooting those moving targets wouldn't be much of a challenge for him. And yet this time his aim slips, and he misses two out of six. Tennis balls which avoided being pinned to the wall roll to the dark corners of the hideout, as if they want to find a shelter. Oliver follows them with his eyes, thinking that maybe he is not able to switch off completely after all.

He goes back to studying the files, and absorbed in them, completely loses track of time. He is almost surprised when Laurel comes into the foundry. He hasn't realized that it is already afternoon.

" Hey." She stands next to his chair, resting her hand on the back, and shoots a glance at the computers' screens, then at the copies of the files spread all over the table. "Still doing the detective work?"

" Some detective I am," he scoffs, rubbing his temple. "I just can't find the connection. The longer I look at these files, the more I can't understand who would like to kill those people, and why?"

He turns over a page in the file of the last victim. Her name was Maria, and she was thirty-nine years old. She'd left two orphaned children, age ten and fourteen. She was a perfectly ordinary citizen. Why had someone targeted her?

" I talked to my father today," said Laurel. "The detectives who were put in charge of the investigation are also running in circles."

" Are they even looking? Did they finally acknowledge that it's the job of the same killer?" There is a harder edge in his voice. The fact that SCPD still hasn't made resolving this case their top priority is beyond his understanding.

Laurel hesitates for a while before answering:

" Not really. They're still checking various possibilities."

" Just as I thought," he comments. "How many people have to die before they'll start to treat it seriously?"

" They do treat it seriously. SCPD is just short on people. And they have a huge problem with cooperation between the precincts, you know that."

He knows all too well. And maybe he shouldn't complain about that, because both him and Laurel wouldn't be able to operate as vigilantes effectively if not for the general mess in SCPD.

" How long have you been sitting over those files?" asks Laurel.

He shakes his head.

" No idea."

She puts hand on his arm gently, what makes him glance up at her.

" Come. You need a break."

" I can't..."

" Ollie, your mind will still work on this case, even if you're not here. Have you eaten dinner? Because I didn't, and I'm going to grab some. So, are you coming?"

At first he wants to refuse, but then he ponders over the proposition. It is still at least two hours before nighttime, when he will be able to go out as the Arrow. Besides, he is hungry and could use a proper meal for a change. So he nods and gets up to grab his brown leather jacket hanging from the chair.

Half an hour later they are sitting in a small restaurant lead by immigrants from Poland, which serves mainly a wide variety of dumplings. It is not the most busy place in Glades, so they easily find a table for two at the far corner, which offerers some privacy. Oliver took a liking to Eastern Europe food while he had stayed in Russia for a few months and then traveled to neighbouring countries. Some time after his return, he discovered that in Starling there is a restaurant serving dishes from that region. Since he had to avoid places lead by Russians after he had cut his ties with Bratva in not the most reasonable way, Polish Pierożek became a replacement of sorts.

Saying that this place is their special spot would be an overstatement, but he can't remember visiting it with anyone else than Laurel. When Dig, Felicity and Roy were still around, they occasionally went together to Big Belly Burger. Come to think of it, that was rather reckless to show up in public in such a large group, since someone might start wondering why Oliver Queen still hung out with his former bodyguard, former secretary, former girlfriend and former boyfriend of his sister. When his team fell apart, he avoided Big Belly Burger, only seldom grabbing a take-out lunch from there. That place was full of memories, and when he looked at the tables, he remembered the people he was sitting at them with. The one by the window, where he told Dig about the list and the promise he made to right his father's wrongs. On the other side, close the front door, where Felicity declared that she would help him find Walter. Or the one in the middle, where he sat with his mother when they shared a rare moment of reconnecting.

Now he has only Lances, and in moments like this, when he goes with Laurel for a dinner like a pair of friends, he feels almost normal. While he can't completely forget about those killings, he decides to put it on the back burner for now. He will back to detective work soon enough.

While Laurel chooses khinkali with spinach, he as usual orders pierogies with potato and cheese. He always finds it peculiar that they are called "Russian", while in fact they were popular only in Poland and Ukraine, and almost unknown in the country they were named after.

As they wait for their meal, he asks her how her day went. It is one of the few "safe" topics to discuss in public places. She talks about it a bit, but suddenly stops and shoots him a concerned look.

" You look exhausted, Ollie," she says. "You know, you sometimes remind me of Dad so much..."

" What?" He is genuinely surprised. The last thing he has expected is being compared to Captain Lance.

" There were cases which brought him to a really dark place. And I'm afraid you're following the same path."

He doesn't find a suitable answer. Fortunately he is saved by the waitress, who brings them their order. They eat in silence for some time before Laurel breaks it, firstly making sure that they are out of hearing of other customers:

" Speaking of the case..." She doesn't need to specify what case she has in mind, because lately there is only one that matters. Even trying to nail Darhk has become less important. "Maybe you're looking at it from a wrong angle..."

" Meaning?"

" You're focused on discovering how the killer chooses the victims... But since they were killed in different places and there is no pattern, and if he doesn't choose them by chance..."

" I'm sure he chooses them on purpose," Oliver cuts in.

"Maybe you should check what connects them then? I don't know, maybe there is something in their past, maybe they met somewhere..." she speculates.

" Highly unlikely that any of them knew each other. Too different backgrounds, too huge age differences. I've checked that already..."

They discuss various other possibilities, but it doesn't really get them anywhere. Nevertheless the suggestion Laurel made stays at the back of his mind. What could possibly connect the victims apart from the most obvious fact that all of them were Starling citizens? When he sits again to the computer after finishing his patrol earlier than usual, he decides to widen his search in all databases he has access to. He intends to check every scrap of information he can find on the victims, even if the search is going to return him only unpaid parking tickets. Maybe that thought causes him to start with Lucas Morgan (age forty-nine, occupation: bus driver, line 910). He adjusts the keywords and the time span of the search, and looks through the results. He finds nothing exceptional until he comes across the driver's testimony about an accident he barely avoided. He opens it and scans the text, not really expecting to find some breaking point, when suddenly he reads:

" The Arrow stopped the bus before the railway track, if it wasn't for him, I would have driven the bus straight under that train..."

Oliver reads that part again, at first feeling only vague pang of anxiety. Almost automatically he adds to the search one more keyword, to combine it with the names of the victims.

Seconds later he gets results which make his blood run cold. He reads fragments of testimonies of those people—all come straight from SCPD archives. In every single one of them his moniker comes up. "I was trapped under some ceiling debris... There was fire everywhere... The Arrow pulled me out.", "An archer in black took us... He wanted me to read a statement addressed to the vigilante... I didn't believe that he would come. But he saved us, told us to get upon the roof. I don't know what had happened later, he stayed behind...", "...that man, who assaulted me... He had a knife. Told me that he will cut me in pieces if I screamed... I dread to think what would have happened if the Arrow hadn't appeared and taken him out..."

That nurse... He remembers her now. He saved her from a rapist. How he could be so blind to not find all of this earlier? But then again, he hasn't been checking the info about the victims under that angle. And he doesn't remember the face of every single person he has saved over the years...

He stares blankly at the screen, and with that discovery the horrible realization comes upon him. That missing piece... The connection between all of those people is him.


 

Chapter Text

Deal

"Oliver? Are you still with me?" asked Doctor Pressnall, gazing at him searchingly. She actually sounded a little worried.

He glanced at her as if he had seen her for the first time in his life. He had no idea if she had reacted to his earlier words, lost between the past and the present. The memory of the outcome of his investigation, when he finally figured out the connection between the victims, was a particularly depressing one. He know better than to blame himself, as if he'd personally had a hand in those people's death. A madman had ordered a hit on them, and he was the one responsible. But there was almost a twisted irony in all of this—he saved those people's lives, but eventually fate claimed them back. It turned out that he hadn't managed to buy them much time after all.

"You really have no idea about the stakes here," he said finally, not without difficulty grabbing a hold on reality.

"Then please enlighten me," suggested Doctor Pressnall. That made him wary. Suddenly she started to show an awful lot of interest in the case.

"Did they set you up for this?" he asked, shooting a cold glance toward the one-way mirror. He knew that the cops were attentively listening to every word he said. "Very well then," he added, when Doctor Pressnall neither confirmed nor denied his suspicions. "One man is behind all of those crimes. His name is Damien Darhk."

"You say that name as if it was supposed to mean something," commented Doctor Pressnall.

"On the contrary, hardly anyone knows about his existence," he pointed out.

The psychiatrist hesitated for a moment, before she said:

"Oliver... Do you realize how that sounds? Making up enemies, suspecting that everyone has taken a set against you... I'm afraid that you are in worse shape than I've previously assumed."

He scoffed upon hearing this summary. It sounded almost as if she was mocking him, or again spurring him to tell more than he had intended to in the first place. He reconsidered his options. At first he wanted to abandon the topic altogether, especially because he knew that at this stage all his efforts to make anyone from the force realize Darhk's scheme were futile. Out of all cops, Lance was probably the only one who was truly aware of what was happening in the city, but it seemed that he was not going to be holding his rank much longer after the Arrow's identity had been revealed. What was worse, there were quite a number of policemen who were on H.I.V.E.'s payroll, and Oliver was pretty sure that the new commissioner who was appointed a few months ago, was one of them too. But then again, it was not the first time he was about to swim against the tide. He was not going to back down easily.

"Darhk is as real as Malcolm Merlyn and Slade Wilson were," he said sternly. "Was the quake device which killed your sister something made up? Was an army of almost invincible soldiers tearing down the city not real enough for you?" When Doctor Pressnall didn't find an appropriate answer to that, he carried on: "The city has been too calm. People started to forget how it used to be. And this time...this evil...it's invisible."

"So, according to you, what is about to happen? Another terrorist attack in May?" She had changed tactics, and again her voice was soothing and understanding, and if she wanted to delude him about believing in what he had just said.

He ignored it and said simply:

"No. Damien Darhk doesn't want to destroy Starling. He wants ultimate control over the city. And he will crush everyone who tries to stand in his way."

It was hard to determine what effect his words were having on Doctor Pressnall, as she didn't say anything, only glanced at him intently. Her gaze was really hard to bear, once he'd involuntarily made that association of the similarity to his mother's eyes. She can't see through me like Mom did, he tried to convince himself.

"Are you satisfied with that answer?" he said, pushing away the disturbing thought about his interrogator. "I know that you had asked me about that only because they've told you to," he added. "You don't give a damn about the victims of those killings."

"I'm not a detective," she answered calmly. "I don't have any knowledge about the case you brought up. It would be up to investigators to verify what've just said."

It was another way to say that she didn't care. All she was interested in was proving that he was a menace to society and making sure he would end up on St. Walker's locked ward, where she could study his case and force him to undergo whatever treatment she could come up with. At least, that was what he would be certain of at this point if he had to deal with a man. But when it came to women... The motives of women were so inscrutable! The most trivial action might mean volumes, while an extraordinary one could be caused by something petty. Maybe she truly saw in him a broken thing, and the concern she had shown him was not a part of the game. Maybe she truly believed that she could cure him, whatever she meant by that.

"I would like to ask you a few more questions, if you please," said Doctor Pressnall, turning over a page in the clipped file lying before her on the opened folder. "Is this okay with you, Oliver?"

"Ask whatever you want," he said indifferently. "I can't guarantee that you'll like the answers, though."

She glanced at him thoughtfully, as if wondering if he would be willing to cooperate. Then, apparently after deciding that it was worth it to give a try, she moved on with her interrogation.

"Your choice of...wardrobe is quite unusual."

"Are you going to bring up Robin Hood again?" he asked with a weary tone. "No, I don't consider myself to be him."

"I've never suggested you do. But why the costume?"

At first he wanted to dismiss her question with silence, but then he realized that so far it hadn't proved to be an effective technique in dealing with the psychiatrist. Knowing her persistence and tendency to delve into a subject, she would probably keep asking him about the suit until she finally wrested something out of him. It was better to brush her with a piece of information and be done with that.

"People pay attention to everything they find extraordinary and ignore the rest," he said. "Do I have explain any further?"

"Not really. I suppose you assumed that they will remember the outfit, not your face. And green, it's obviously a nod to the jungle environment of Lian Yu. I doubt leather could protect you from serious injuries, but I assume what's more important for an archer is agility. Right?"

"You assume correctly," he said shortly.

Oliver thought that they were done with this topic, since Doctor Pressnall occupied herself with making notes of what they had been talking about. He observed her in silence, listening to rain drumming against the window panes. It was completely dark outside, and since it was late afternoon when he was taken to the interrogation room, he realized that they must have been here for at least two hours, maybe even more than that...

"Some parts of your costume seem to be special though. Unique." Doctor Pressnall's voice shook him out of his thoughts. Apparently she was not quite done with the topic of his suit. "And I'd even say very meaningful to you." She cast a glance at his costume, much in the same manner as on the day of their first encounter. He shifted in his chair, since he couldn't help feeling a bit anxious. He had no doubt that what she had on her mind was his hood. He fully expected that she would ask where it came from, but to his surprise she skipped it over:

"Leave it for the time being. First I would like to ask you about something else—your mask. You weren't always wearing one. I wonder why the change?"

When he showed no intention to dwell into the topic, Doctor Pressnall went on:

"Do you want to know what I think?"

"Not particularly," he said frostily. In other circumstances it might have worked as discouragement, but not in his current position. Not to mention that at this point, Doctor Pressnall wasn't too afraid of him.

"Over time it became harder to do what you did. Passing judgments, deciding whom to spare, and whom to kill... Behind the mask you were safe from shame and self-consciousness."

For a moment he was out of words. Every time she seemed to make some sense, like when she made correct assumption about the main purpose his suit served, she shortly after came up with something as ridiculous as her last statement.

"Interesting theory. Very scientific," commented Oliver sarcastically. "And at the same time completely wrong. Now it may be a shock to you, doctor, but it fact it was a Christmas gift from a friend."

At first, it seemed that she didn't know what to make of that. Then she finally decided that there was some truth in what he had just said.

"Well, at least you've admitted to having friends," she remarked.

"Yeah, we have our own association. It's called Vigilante Club," he said, and added bitingly, his voice laced with false civility: "Not going to take any notes this time?"

"And I thought the name was League of Justice," retorted Doctor Pressnall, to his surprise showing a dry sense of humor of her own. She tapped the pencil on the table, leaning slightly back in her chair and giving him another of those intense looks of hers. "I wonder if you are aware that what are you doing right now is also a psychological defense mechanism?" she asked after a while. "When we're faced with an extremely stressful situation, we try to channel unacceptable impulses or thoughts into something more light-hearted. That helps to reduce the intensity of a situation. At least on some level you must be aware that the life you've had is over and nothing will be ever the same..." She paused.

He fixed her with a piercing gaze, but kept his emotions at bay. He had the impression that she was provoking him on purpose. Checking his reactions to the subjects she thought were the most sensitive to him. Did she expect that her diagnosis would meet with an aggressive outburst? That would give her a valid argument that he was dangerous and needed to be kept in isolation under a lock and key?

"Are you done with your professional observation?" he asked coldly, not losing his composure.

Doctor Pressnall pondered for a short moment over something, before she spoke.

"Let's make a deal, Oliver," she proposed. "I won't bother you for much longer, and you'll make an effort to treat me seriously."

He almost trembled. That one sentence brought immediately an echoing memory of very similar words that he had heard not so long ago. Let's make a deal, vigilante.

"Agreed?" prompted Doctor Pressnall.

He pushed the memory to the back of his mind. He didn't want to involuntarily get swallowed up by it and again lose touch with reality. Control. Keep control, he ordered himself silently. He tried to imagine himself holding the bow and aiming at the target, the string pulled to its full draw, the feather brushing the corner of his mouth. In some strange way, that image helped him to relax a bit, and when he spoke again his voice was level:

"I also have one condition, Doctor. Stop talking me into believing in your theories and keep them to yourself," he said flatly, and carried on before she had time to answer. "You came here armed with your knowledge and professional experience, claiming that you intend to be objective. But in fact you've labeled me before you've stepped into this room. You've read some files and articles in the press and you think you know everything about me?"

"I'd never dare to make such a claim, Oliver," she stated dryly. "I'm sorry if that's the impression you have and..."

"I very much doubt that you're sorry," he cut in sharply. "You'll be sorry only if you won't be able to push your diagnosis through. And use what you've learned from me as a part of your research, most likely..."

Doctor Pressnall suddenly shot him a very hard look. It seemed that he'd finally managed to get to her.

"What I care about the most is the good of a patient, even if he himself doesn't believe that," she said firmly. "I would never betray his trust. You accused me of being biased and labeling others. And now you're doing exactly the same."

Oliver realized that he'd gone too far. He had no intention to apologize though. He also stopped himself from snapping back to not call him "her patient". It was really annoying, but he felt that it would sound childish. Instead he brought up his condition of their "agreement".

"I'll talk with you. Answer your questions as long as I'll see them fit. After all, it's only your job, and I suppose you want this inquiry finished as soon as possible," he said, narrowing his eyes. "But don't assume that something is true just because it's what you make out of those notes and observations of yours."

"That seems fair. Then give me an example when I assumed something incorrectly."

He was not sure if she wasn't playing him again, but decided to roll with it.

"You've said that I've turned myself in because I couldn't stand what I was doing as the Arrow any more. It's complete nonsense."

It seemed that it truly surprised her. One piece didn't fit the jigsaw puzzle.

"Then why did you lay down your weapon?" asked Doctor Pressnall curiously.

He hesitated for a while and then said quietly:

"I did it because it was the only way to save lives..."


The Arrow perches on the landing of fire escape stairs, a bow in his hand, its upper arm resting against his right shoulder. He observes the parking at the back of the city hall. He has been waiting for the better part of an hour for his quarry, but he is patient. Fortunately for him, Mr. Harold Leeds is a creature of habit. He works long hours, but lately he has been leaving his office between 6:30 and 7 p.m.

Oliver is alone today. Laurel has some additional work in the DA office, and in consequence decided to put on hold operating as the Black Canary tonight. Sometimes it is simply impossible to reconcile the two sides of her life. Good for him. He hasn't needed to come up with some lame excuse why they can't check another lead together. So far he hasn't told her about the breakout in his investigation. He needs to process all of this on his own.

Finally his target appears. A middle aged man in business suit and light coat. African-American. Bald and wearing glasses. He has left the city hall through the back door used only by personnel, and now walks toward his car, parked on the far end of the parking lot. Oliver slips down from the fire escape stairs silently, keeping close watch on the man the whole time and sneaking behind him. Leeds doesn't sense any danger. He has his eyes glued to the mobile phone's screen he has been holding, a document case in his other hand. Even if the Arrow didn't creep as silently as a cat, Leeds wouldn't notice him—he is so absorbed with the phone. Oliver has spent too much time far away from civilization to care about all those technological innovations and applications—all that stuff Felicity and Barry and his sister are so obsessed about.

Leeds has been working in the Mayor's office for over three years. He started as an ordinary clerk and has risen to the circle of the most trusted coworkers quite fast. It was impossible to tell if H.I.V.E. helped him reach that rank, or if he was recruited by them after he became a more prominent figure. Either way the result is the same. He has been H.I.V.E.'s operative, but since he has been doing a good job of hiding his allegiance with the organization, Oliver was not able to nail him down. He couldn't just assault him and make him confess to everything without having solid proof. He was not some goon he could shoot with an arrow to the knee without consequences. But this time, he needs him for a very specific goal. And for this reason, Oliver is almost glad he left him walking free.

" Harold Leeds. We need to talk," he says with his deep, grim voice, when the man he has been following stops by his car.

It has a tremendous effect on Leeds. He drops the car keys he has just fished out of his pocket, which land on the asphalt with loud jingle, and spins around, completely surprised. He opens his eyes wide when he sees the vigilante standing several feet away from him. The nearest street lamp is located behind Oliver, outlining his silhouette with yellowish light. His suit appears to be almost black though, and his face is completely hidden under the shadow of the hood.

He must look particularly ominous, because Leeds, who definitely has something on his conscience, takes a step back and shrieks:

" Stay... Stay away from me, you hooded freak!"

Oliver comes closer to him, deliberately making it slow.

" I know you work for him," he says, a threatening edge in his tone. "Damien Darhk."

Leeds swallows hard and utters:

" I have... I have no idea who're talking about."

Oliver narrows his eyes. He has no idea what expression they have exactly, but he could have bet that to Leeds they appeared to be not human. His victim looks around nervously like a trapped animal, as if he hopes that someone will come to his aid. But the parking lot is empty. Knowing that he can count only on himself, Leeds musters up all his courage and asks angrily to cover his fear:

" Threatening the Mayor was not enough? What do you want from me?"

Some time ago the Arrow had a chat with Mayor Celia Castle. The city wanted to close the oncology hospital in Harrow because it was severely indebted. Oliver managed to convince her that the hospital should be given more time to get out of the woods. He thought that this talk went rather smoothly and civil, until a couple of days later he read an article in The Starling Guardian about his attack on the mayor. He had no damn idea who released that information. One thing was sure—Ms. Castle was far from being happy that the public learned about this. The official statement from city hall of course denied that it had ever happened. Fortunately the Mayor kept her promise and the hospital was given more time to pay their debt. Oliver didn't have enough money to significantly support them, but he had found another way to obtain the funds. Over the next few days he paid visits to some one-percenters, carefully selected from the List, to have an arrow-sided conversation with them. He strongly suggested to consider making a generous donations to Harrow Hospital. Most of their money was dirty, earned due to swindles, and this way they could actually do some good. It turned out better than he expected; apparently none of those guys were looking forward to the prospect of the vigilante paying them another visit and this time breaking something more than window glass. The hospital was saved, but the side-effect was that he had made himself a powerful enemy. Ms. Castle was not a bad mayor, but like most of politicians, she was short-sighted in certain aspects. Obviously she couldn't take that some outlaw tried to dictate the rules and made a fool of her. Oliver was sure that from that moment she disliked him wholeheartedly. Captain Lance didn't hide his discontent with the whole situation. He even called him a reckless idiot for provoking politicians like that.

Lance surely wouldn't approve of him assaulting Leeds as well, but in this particular situation Oliver simply doesn't care. He needs to make contact with Darhk somehow, and the Mayor's coworker is his best bet.

" Tell your boss that I've got his message. He wanted my attention. Now he has it."

" Man, I don't know who you're talking about..."

The Arrow seizes him by collar and pushes him hard against the side of the car. The man groans, as the vigilante hasn't been particularly gentle.

" You know very well."

" I... I'll call the cops!" Leeds makes another empty threat.

" Go ahead," says Oliver with a mocking tone. "How fast do you think Captain Lance will send his men here after you had proposed to cut down his retirement?"

" He should be fired from the force for working with you!"

" He is one of few really good, honest cops who keep the force together," says Oliver forcibly. Leeds apparently decides that it is better to not argue with that statement and keeps silent. "Tell Darhk what I've told you. Do you understand?"

Leeds opens his mouth as if he has wanted to keep the game up, but the cold glance the Arrow gives him make him to rethink that strategy. Finally he nods stiffly.

" You think that I don't know what you're doing?" Oliver carries on heatedly. "Installing people in prominent posts, making investments to turn dirty money into legal income, buying real estates in East Glades?"

" Something... Something needs to be done with Glades..." Leeds cuts in, and Oliver is not sure if he says it as a worker of city hall or a member of H.I.V.E.

" Yeah. You'll level it with the people who live there," he retorts.

Suddenly Leeds drops his mask.

" They're unlucky," he says with a sneer.

Oliver sees red. He stops himself from doing something reckless, although he is tempted to put an arrow through his shoulder to punish him for arrogance. He needs him to deliver a message. He could pass it on with a pierced shoulder as well, but Oliver knows better than to provide more pickings for the vultures from the tabloids. He could imagine the headlines about a crazy vigilante again attacking a politician.

" Deliver the message to Darhk. If you fail to do so, remember that I know where to find you."

He releases him, and before Leeds reminds himself how to breathe steadily, the vigilante disappears from the view. After a while he pulls himself together and moves from the side of the car. He looks around nervously, but it seems that this hooded lunatic is gone for good.

" You son of a bitch, wait till I call a SWAT team on you," he mutters to himself, apparently thinking that the vigilante can't hear him anymore. He takes his phone out of a suit pocket and chooses the emergency number frantically, trying to ignore that his hands are shaking.

Suddenly an arrow flies out of the darkness with a swoosh and knocks the phone out of his hands. The device breaks to pieces after hitting the asphalt.

" It looks like you're going to need a new one," calls the Arrow from a distance.


The next couple of days pass uneventfully. Oliver, whose patience is very limited recently, starts to think that he should pay another visit to Mr. Leeds, when he gets a call from Lance, saying quite mysteriously that he has something for him. Apparently he is not alone, because he doesn't give him any details. Oliver doesn't prolong the conversation and quickly sets a meeting with the Captain in the usual place—the back alley behind the precinct, at early evening.

He comes first to the place. It has been drizzling almost the whole day and the narrow street is covered with large puddles. The rain has ceased an hour or so ago, but an icy wind rises in its place. With the hood pulled low over his eyes and head hung down, Oliver lurks in shadows, hiding from the strong gusts and waiting for Lance. Despite feeling some discomfort due to cold (again it turns out that his leather suit doesn't offer too much protection), he thinks that it is nothing compared to the conditions on Lian Yu.

The Captain appears a few minutes later. Almost instantly he notices the vigilante and approaches him.

" Sorry, needed to get rid of Jones and O'Brian. They've just come to report back."

The Arrow nods and asks a bit impatiently:

" You've got something for me, right?"

Lance reaches for the inside pocket of his jacket.

" That came addressed to you," says the Captain, handing the archer an envelope and glancing at him suspiciously. "You don't seem to be surprised. Don't say that now I'm your P.O. Box when someone wants to send you feedback or fan mail."

" This is not fan mail," says Oliver grimly. He studies the envelope for a while. It looks peculiar, definitely not like an ordinary one bought in the nearest stationery shop. The paper is stiff and refined and brings to mind a special invitation. Especially because his moniker is printed in a neatly font...

Oliver puts down his bow on a step of the fire escape stairs and reaches to the holster on his hip to take out a flechette. He slices open the upper side of the envelope, cutting the crease with the arrowhead. It turns out it contains only a sheet of thick yellowish-tinted notepaper. It reads only a place, a day and an hour.

South Pier. Tuesday. 8:30 pm.

Lance, who the whole time has been keeping an eye on him in silence, comments:

" It's a bit old fashioned, don't you think? Care to explain what's going on?" He narrows his eyes when the Arrow doesn't answer. "It's business with that Darhk character?"

" Yes, it seems so," answers Oliver enigmatically. "I need to go now." He puts the flechette back in the holster and slightly unzips his jacket to hide the envelope and the note into an inside pocket. He reaches for his bow and intends to leave, but Lance stops him, touching his arm.

" Wait. We haven't been working together since yesterday. I know that you're hiding something. And it's higher caliber than usual."

Oliver doesn't look him in the eye. He is glad that most of his face is hidden behind the hood, because if Lance could see his expression, he would figure him out in a fraction of a second.

" For the time being I don't know... I can't explain much. Tomorrow I'll know more."

" Don't you want some backup? It could be a trap."

" Maybe. But I need... answers."

Although Lance doesn't show too much enthusiasm, he promises that he will keep away from South Pier. Oliver assures the Captain that he will contact him immediately after the meeting with the author of the mysterious note.

" I would never agree to that if I wasn't sure that your capability of survival against all odds is almost limitless." Lance wouldn't be himself if he didn't manage to throw some one-liner in order to have the last word. Oliver wishes he could crack a smile, but he is not in the mood.

The problem is that he is just a man, not a meta-human, and certainly he is not invincible.


Usually when someone wants him somewhere it means that they want to kill him. Oliver comes well before the time and circles around, checking the surrounding. There is no sign of any trap though. Not many possible hiding places in the area as well, since this part of the port is remarkable mostly for its emptiness. South Pier is just a long strip of metal and concrete stretching out into the Starling Bay. A long time ago it served as the mooring place for a local cruise company. It used to have a number of connections with other port cities of the West Coast, including a ferry going to Coast City two times a day. Unfortunately the company bankrupted years ago. Although a revitalization process of the unused port area has been gradually put into motion, and over time South Pier became an official part of Harbour Green Park, none of the plans to somehow restore it have been so far successful. The sole remnant of its historical significance is an rusty archway, which used to serve as the entrance to the pier. Original shipyard lettering—"White Star Line" is still clearly readable.

Looking up at the company's name, Oliver briefly remembers the trip to Coast his parents took him and Tommy on when they were both nine or ten years old. Sunny day, gusts of oceanic wind, a huge white ship and both of them ferreting about the deck, getting in every hole—especially if the entrance was prohibited to the passengers. On their return journey they were allowed to the helm though (nobody refuses Robert Queen). During the whole trip his parents looked genuinely happy together. He even saw them holding hands when they stood by the ship's side, talking about something softly. Much later he was wondering bitterly if at that time his mother was already sleeping with Malcolm. And if his father was cheating on her with his secretary. After all, Isabel Rochev was not the first woman he had an affair with—he knew that there were others "lapses" in his life, much earlier.

Now all of this seems to have a spectral place in his memories. His parents and Tommy are gone forever, and that ship (he still remembers the name written with golden lettering—"Olympic") was scrapped shortly after the company ceased to exist. That archway and few bleak, distant images in his mind, like a bunch of old photographs, are the only proofs that it ever happened. If he dies tonight—and he can't exclude that possibility—the only link with that past event will disappear for good, as well as those little parts of his parents and Tommy which are still alive in him.

He keeps to the shadows, waiting. When there is still around ten minutes left to the time of the meeting, his acute sense of hearing picks up the distant purring of a car's engine, much earlier than most people would be able to do so. The vehicle is clearly coming toward him. A short while later, a black car appears and stops some distance from the archway leading onto the pier, in a place well lit by street lamps installed along the seaside promenade. The driver turns off the engine and gets out. Oliver looks at him briefly and then glances around. It doesn't seem that anyone has been following him. He would hear another car. Anyone approaching on foot? Not very likely, since the area is so open...

" You needn't linger in shadows, vigilante," says the man suddenly, his tone of voice firm. "I know you are there."

Oliver decides that there is no point to hide any longer.

"Guess again," he says dryly, approaching him from exactly the opposite side he was looking at. He shifts the bow in his hand to hold it by its lower limb and stops several feet from him.

" Glad you could make it," says the man.

Oliver doesn't answer, glancing at his opponent. Judging by his look he must have been around forty. He looks completely ordinary, bespectacled, his fair hair swept-back. He is neatly dressed in a black coat over a gray suit. He could have been easily mistaken for some clerk or a small businessman.

The man takes a good look at the Arrow as well, studying his suit and fixing his gaze on his bow.

" You have a taste for theatrical," he comments. "And you don't seem to look as scary as some of our people tried to portray to justify their own incompetence."

" You mean those few who managed to slip out," corrects Oliver. Most of Darhk's men who have been unfortunate enough to be targeted by the Arrow have ended up getting shot with an arrow in a thigh or a shoulder; he could count on the fingers of one hand those who have escaped him.

" Indeed," his interlocutor confirms curtly, the expression of his face sour.

" So who you are? Darhk's errand-boy?" asks the Arrow after a moment of silence.

" I'm Mr. Darhk's assistant and that's all you need to know." There is a trace of pride in his voice, and also true, deep devotion, and that sets Oliver thinking that Darhk's men are showing a great deal of faithfulness to their boss. He wonders briefly if H.I.V.E. is some sect or cult.

" You wanted me here. I'm here," he says dryly, not having patience for small talk. " And I only want to know one thing. Why kill all those people?" he asks, a hard edge in his voice.

" We've been wondering how long it will take you to figure out," Darhk's accomplice says enigmatically. "You have become a nuisance for Mr. Darhk. He has plans for this city. Great plans. And those don't involve some wannabe Robin Hood running around. So sorry to say, but you are the one responsible for those killings."

" What?" Oliver feels anger welling up in his chest. What sort of sick game it is?"Others have tried this before. You would have to try better if you want to pin them on me."

" It's you who put people in danger on a daily basis, vigilante." There was a tinge of disgust in his voice, as if the Arrow was some ragged outlaw who crawled out of the woods. "You think about yourself as a savior and pose to be the people's hero, and yet you've quite a number of dirty secrets. Like that girl you killed a couple years ago."

" Maybe you should spend less time reading tabloids," says Oliver frostily. The expression of his face doesn't change, but he shoots him a very hard look.

" A.R.G.U.S. covered your ass, didn't they?" asks Darhk's accomplice rhetorically. "But it doesn't matter. The true question is what you are willing to sacrifice for this city." He looks at him curiously.

" Get to the point," says Oliver through clenched teeth.

" Let's make a deal, vigilante. The killings will stop under one condition..." he makes a pause, apparently for a dramatic effect. Oliver waits in silence, although anxiety knots in his guts. Darhk's accomplice carries on, realizing that the vigilante is not going to prompt him. "All you need to do is to turn yourself in to the police."

That was one thing Oliver hasn't seen coming. It must be visible in the expression of his face, even under the mask and the hood.

" I see that you're surprised," says Darhk's assistant, not taking his eyes off him. "You probably thought that we want to kill you. Oh no, that would make a martyr out of you and a hero, and we certainly don't want that."

" And what if I won't listen?" asks Oliver, trying to keep himself under control, even though he is tempted to hurt the man standing in front of him really badly.

" Well, terrible things happen to the people living in this city. It would be a great shame if a certain police captain meet a sudden death. Or his daughter, working in DA office. She used to cooperate with you as well, didn't she?"

On the spur of a moment, Oliver pulls an arrow out of his quiver and nocks it on the bowstring, drawing the bow back in a split second.

" And what if I just put an arrow through you?" growls the Arrow, aiming straight at the heart of Darkh's assistant.

He raises one eyebrow, apparently trying to act nonchalant. But he is not as self-assured as he poses to be, as he has gone visibly pale. Still,he manages to keep his voice quite level when he speaks:

" Barbarian thing to do. But something which could be expected from a thug like you." He pauses for a while and adds: "You're hiding behind that mask. Let's see if you're brave enough to take it down and reveal your true face to everyone. Everything for the people of Starling you claim to care about so much..."

" I have no guarantee that you'll keep your end of the bargain," says Oliver sternly, slowly lowering his bow.

" Indeed, you have none. But let me assure you that Mr. Darhk is a man of his word and abhors unnecessary violence."

Now Oliver is sure that he is mocking him, and that infuriates him even further.

" And what had happened to the part where you threaten me that if I tell anyone about it, the deal wouldn't be valid any more?"

Darhk's accomplice smiles coldly and says:

" You are a serial killer. A criminal. And a homicidal maniac. Nobody will believe you. You will end up where you always should have—locked up on a psychiatric ward."

Oliver wants to come up with some reply, but he realizes that he has no words to argue. As much as he hates to admit it, Darhk's man is right.

" You have twenty-four hours to mull over our offer, vigilante. If you ask the Flash for help—rest assured that we have something prepared for him too. But we can always start with your blonde girlfriend in the black bondage outfit. Oh, and in case you plan to follow me. All I need to do is make one phone call, and your cop friend won't make it till dawn."

Having said that, he gets into the car and drives off, leaving the Arrow alone on the pier. Oliver clenches his fingers around the bow's grip. Over last ten years, he had faced many challenges and enemies who wanted to destroy him. But for the first time he experiences a sense of complete powerlessness against the enemy. A helpless rage wells up inside his chest, as he realizes that this time a bow and arrow is simply just not enough. He has no moves left, except for one—turning himself in and revealing his identity in the process. At the thought of what that means, his blood turns to ice.

He has always been convinced that he will die as the Arrow. Literally. That one day he will just meet his end out there, trying to stop some crime or saving someone's life. That it will have some...meaning. Now it seems that he knows the exact date and time of the Arrow's death, but what he didn't see coming is that Oliver Queen is going to be present at his funeral.


 

Chapter Text

One Night

"To save lives? What do you mean by that...?" asked Doctor Pressnall hesitantly.

Despite Oliver's opinion about her, she was not as narrow-minded as he had perceived her to be. In fact Doctor Pressnall was a good listener and keen observer. Although this particular patient was a really tough nut to crack, his tone of voice and his body language when he was showing agitation had told her enough. She was able to find a pattern, applying both deductive and inductive reasoning to distinguish truth from lies. And in this case she was sure that he was telling the truth. She wouldn't be true to herself if she just decided that Oliver was delusional. Not only was it way too early to come up with a diagnosis, she herself had heard something about mysterious killings that had been taking place in the city over the last few weeks. The press, except maybe tabloids like the Starling City Sentinel, didn't elaborate about them, and since she didn't read that type of newspapers, it was easy to miss. People were more occupied with things that affected them directly—the latest tax increase, high unemployment, the never-ending problem with traffic jams and public transportation due to extended renovation of the underground network, the coming mayoral elections... Even the existence of vigilantes and their activity in Starling blended into the background. Definitely there was no sense of danger caused by a serial killer being at large... Or perhaps in a city like Starling, even the deaths of citizens became so common that it rarely the made news.

Unless someone was indeed trying to block the flow of information.

Doctor Pressnall was hesitant to believe that there was some greater conspiracy. But then she thought with a pang of guilt that Oliver's assumption that she didn't care might be not that far from the truth—she really didn't pay too much attention to information about the killings, as she was busy with going about her normal business. Work and her family were her main focus.

"Oliver?" She tried to get his attention, but it turned out to be futile. He didn't react in any way. He didn't even raise his eyes to meet her concerned gaze. Again it seemed that while his body might be present in the interrogation room, his mind was in an entirely different place.


"He wants you to do what?" asks Lance with disbelief.

The Arrow doesn't turn around. He stares into space, standing by the edge of the roof, so still that he brings to mind some monument. The night sky is unusually clean, without a single cloud covering it. A narrow crescent of the moon, crawling slowly up, shines coldly. He briefly reminds himself of another sky—the one he had seen countless times over Lian Yu—inky, dappled with innumerable stars formed in constellations that were completely alien to him.

Not that he can name many of them in his current location, except maybe for the Big Dipper. It is one of the few visible over the city, where the sky is so polluted with light. Before he had washed up on Lian Yu, he had little idea how dark the night can really be when one is away from civilization, alone and frightened, unsure about one's own fate. Today he has an unpleasant reminiscence of that feeling, even though he is accompanied by Lance.

" Exactly what you've heard," the vigilante says quietly. "He wants me to turn myself in by tomorrow night."

" And how exactly is you being stuck behind bars going to help the city?" Lance's voice is surprisingly stern and far from being enthusiastic.

" The killings will stop," says Oliver curtly.

There is a short moment of silence, before Lance asks sarcastically:

" Do you want me to bring you in now, or do you have some errands to run beforehand?"

" Please, don't make this harder than it already is." Oliver finally turns away from the edge of the roof to glance at the captain. A lamp over the nearby door leading to the roof casts some pale light on him. Thanks to this, he can see that Lance's face has that typical stone-cold expression of his, and as usual it is very difficult to read him. Over the course of their rocky relationship, Oliver always had a thought stuck at the back of his mind, that no matter how good the things between them were and how long they had been working together, Lance wouldn't hesitate to take him down if he thought that the vigilante had crossed the line.

He shifts the bow in his hand slightly. The weight of the Oneida Kestrel, which is much heavier than his old recurve, is reassuring and helps him to focus on the present. Surely the Captain won't be weeping over his fate now?

" It's the only way. I've been always afraid that something like this will happen one day. That someone innocent will die because of me. Even since Merlyn took those hostages..."

" Yeah. And do I have to remind you how many times the city's been a target of terrorist attacks in the last five years?" remarks Lance. "Ironically always in May?"

" Two times are more than enough," says Oliver with a weary tone. "This time... it's different."

" What about those government guys from that agency... What's called? A.R.G.U.S.? You're on rather good terms with that shadowy boss of theirs."

Obviously Oliver had already thought about asking A.R.G.U.S. for help. But he has also been aware that he wouldn't be able provide them any useful information that could help to deal with H.I.V.E.

" Waller was fully prepared to level the whole city. She won't give a damn about a few civilians dying. Besides, what she could do since she knows as much about that killer as I do?" he breaks off and finishes bitterly: "That means practically nothing."

" Your fast-running pal from Central?" the captain tries again.

He scoffs. Does Lance really think that he hasn't already considered every possible option?

" The Flash could help," he admits dryly and adds self-critically: "If I knew where to strike."

There is another long moment of silence before he speaks again:

" Darkh's left me no move—except this one..." He looks away, his attention momentarily drawn by the distant wailing of police cars' sirens. On the spur of the moment, he wonders what is happening downtown and if he should check it out . Then he reminds himself that very soon it won't be his call anymore. That he will never again be able to help his city. Although it is a relatively mild October night, the sudden gust of wind seems to be particularly cold and makes him shiver.

" And you really think that he'll kindly keep up his end of that fucked up bargain?" Lance's voice cuts into his thoughts. "Just because you have a word given by some no name guy working for him?"

Oliver shifts uneasily. He has been wondering the same thing.

" His problem is with me. It's me who he wants out of the way. It's the only option left," he repeats automatically.

" And are you trying to convince me or yourself?" Lance shoots him a very piercing look, which makes Oliver feel as if he is already sitting in the interrogation room, being put through questioning. A very through one.

He finds no firm answer. He turns away and takes two or three steps aside to gather his thoughts. But apparently the captain thinks that the vigilante intends to leave.

" Queen. Oliver. Don't turn your back on me like that," says Lance suddenly. There is a hard edge in his voice. It stops the Arrow in place.

" It was always so obvious, wasn't it?", he asks calmly, not shaken by this revelation at all.

" You don't seem surprised that I know," observes the Captain.

" You are too good a detective to not figure it out. You did a good job pretending that you don't know."

" Yeah, the same goes to you. Keeping up appearances that you were not aware that I know," sums up Lance. "Now, since it's clear where we stand with each other and who knows what..."

But Oliver doesn't let him finish.

" There was time when you would do everything to put me away," he interrupts, glancing at him over his shoulder. "Looks like your wish will come true."

" Stop talking nonsense," scoffs Lance. "You can't do this. I won't let you to throw your life away like this!"

It is a bizarre feeling to hear this from him, after all those years. Despite the seriousness of the whole situation, Oliver feels some strange relief upon hearing that Lance accepts his activities. Even despite knowing who was hiding under the hood this whole time. Or, maybe because he knew.

"Are you sure that you're prepared for what is about to come? Have you thought about what it means to the people closest to you?" asks Lance harshly. "Maybe Harper can take care of himself. But what about Felicity? Sooner or later—and my gut's telling me that it will be sooner—it will be discovered that she worked for you. And what about Thea, who doesn't even know about your night-time activities? Have you thought about her?"

" I wanted to keep her out of this. To protect her," says Oliver unconvincingly, as he knows it is a very poor excuse. He has been telling himself that he keeps her out of harm's way. But in fact he has never told her the truth because it made things easier. For him. Now that strategy has backfired on him. Thea will learn about his secret identity in the worst way possible, and he will never have a proper chance to explain.

" What about Laurel?" Lance finally asks.

" Laurel doesn't know anything about this... deal. And let's keep it that way. She would try to talk me out of this. Just like you."

Before Lance manages to say anything, Oliver admits:

" Don't you understand? I wouldn't actually consider this if there was any other option left. But I'm pushed into a corner." Frustration makes its way into his tone. He takes a few nervous steps. "They know that we work together. They've threatened you too. And not only you. Laurel as well."

Lance has gone visibly pale. Oliver knows that he doesn't fear for his life, but for his daughter. It has been hard for him to bear that she became the Black Canary, taking on Sara's mantle. Oliver is aware that they had a rather nasty argument after Lance found out. It hadn't taken him long to figure out who was the blonde woman in black who continued the Canary's legacy less than a year after she had disappeared from the city. It was not like he wasn't able to recognize his daughter just because she was wearing a mask, even if the footage SCPD had was not the best quality. At that time, he was already worried sick for Sara, with whom he had very scarce contact ever since she had to get back to the League to pay off the debt. Discovering Laurel's secret was a hard blow. He was afraid that being a vigilante will get her killed. It is somehow an ironic thought that right now she's found herself in the crosshairs for an entirely different reason—simply because of her old allegiance with the Arrow, when she worked at CNRI.

" I can't gamble with that threat," says Oliver silently. "I don't value my freedom over the lives of Starling's citizens. And certainly not over yours. And Laurel's."

He turns away to once more look on the cityscape. The cold gust of night air on his face, the muffled sounds of the city coming up from the street level and the weight of the bow in his hand usually offer him some comfort. As much as his cooperation with Lance used to provide him with a sense of stability—that his way turned out to be the right one, since such a just and dedicated cop decided to bend the rules and step outside the law in order to help him. A vigilante. Working together with him will be one of the things he will miss. When he is unmasked, Lance will most likely lose his post. One of the few really honest cops in Starling won't be able to do any good anymore because of his close ties to a criminal. What is worse, he will probably be replaced by a man loyal to Darhk. Now Oliver knows that having too many tight connections was one of the crucial mistakes he had made. He reminds himself of Slade's cynical words about attachment to others being what makes people weak. Now he fully understands what he meant by that. And it is not the only thing that doesn't leave him at peace.

" The lives I took... during those first months..." he starts to speak and breaks off. But Lance waits patiently, sensing that he needs to confide in him, so he swallows hard and carries on: "The more I think about it... Some of them deserved to die, of that I've no doubt. But I was also killing on the spur of the moment. It was either me or them, but... Some of them were just bodyguards."

Once he says that, a vivid memory from the night when he went to take down Justin Claymore flashes before his eyes. It was a slaughter. He came back to this memory more often than to those of his other ventures . He was furious, because Claymore didn't listen to his warning. He had no intention of reducing the price of the medicine his factory was manufacturing—a price he increased tenfold without any justifiable reason. His men found themselves on the receiving end of his anger.

He should... He shouldn't... He is not sure about anything anymore. The interior of the office building was a small enclosed space. There were many of them. Most of them armed and quick to fire a gun. He had to take them down fast. He had no other choice. Or perhaps he had?

" Maybe it's a just punishment," he finishes.

Lance restrains himself from making any comment. And suddenly Oliver has a feeling that he at least partially agrees with that statement. Only by asking him a question could he learn for certain, and it wouldn't be easy for him to do that. For he isn't sure he really wants the answer.

" Please, be at the station tomorrow night," he says instead.

Lance shoots him another grim look.

" I wouldn't be able to help you in any way."

Oliver shakes his head. That hadn't been what he was asking for.

" I know. But... it will be good to see at least one kind face." It is as close as he can get to admitting that he doesn't want to be alone when his life as the Arrow comes to an end.

" I'll be there," promises the Captain.

Oliver nods in gratitude. This time he really intends to leave, as there is nothing left to say. But suddenly Lance stops him, his hand brushing his arm.

" Que... Oliver. Wait."

Oliver glances at him, and to his surprise he sees his right hand outstretched.

" I've never thanked you for what have you been doing for this city," says Lance. His face bears a sour expression.

" You never had to. I don't do this for a thank-you."

But he shifts his bow to his left hand. The handshake they exchange is brief but firm. And also strangely reassuring. Oliver wishes they dropped the game long ago. It is a pity that they had a chance to talk honestly only during this one night.

Lance doesn't say anything, as they both know that in fact there is nothing he could say to make him feel better. So they part in silence. Oliver doesn't look back. He takes out an arrow with a rope, shoots it to attach it to a ledge, and slides down. He has done this countless times, but ever since he talked with Darhk's accomplice, everything that happens is marked with an awful awareness that he is doing something for the last time. Him going out into the night to help Starling's citizens... Him meeting Lance on the roof.

Oliver can't see the Captain from the street level. So when he mounts his motorbike, he is not aware that Lance hasn't left. He is still standing by the edge, his hands in the pockets of his coat, looking surprisingly lonely.

From this moment on, the picture will never be complete again.


 

Chapter Text

Beyond Saving

It took some time before he realized that Doctor Pressnall was saying something to him. Her voice was like the light from a lighthouse, guiding him back to reality from out of the shadowy realm of memories. It was getting harder and harder to focus on the present, especially since he wasn't entirely sure whether hiding back behind an invisible wall of indifference wouldn't be a better option. It was certainly more tempting. He started to regret deciding to talk with the psychiatrist in the first place, and found her attempts to wrest information out of him more and more irritating. Why couldn't she simply leave him alone? Hadn't she collected enough condemning material already?

"Oliver? Would you be willing to elaborate...?" she asked.

"What for? You made it quite clear that you don't care about that case," he answered evasively. He didn't feel like sharing the story any more. There was simply no use talking about it with the psychiatrist, who from the very beginning had treated everything he said with a huge dose of skepticism. Not to mention that he didn't know who else was listening to this interrogation, hidden behind the two-way mirror. Since he had no idea exactly how many men loyal to Darhk were among SCPD's force, he preferred to not lay all his cards on the table.

"Do you remember what I've told you about your tendency to evade the answer, when something doesn't go as you would like?" asked Doctor Pressnall. The tone of her voice was calm, but Oliver found the statement particularly irritating—she was quick to break the deal they had made.

"I remember telling you that you should keep your observations to yourself," he said warningly.

But it didn't intimidate the psychiatrist. Without hesitation, she breached the territory she had promised to not touch. "Every time when we get closer to actually talking about your problems, you back down and react defensively," said Doctor Pressnall, casting another glance at his costume, looking him up and down. He shifted in place slightly, feeling a little uneasy and wondering what that thorough examination was supposed to mean. "You donned this hood to make things right, as you'd put it. Now, I'm sure you won't like what I'm going to say, but I think the truth lies elsewhere. You use adrenaline to hide the pain of real life and real feelings."

It brought a distant memory of hearing similar words being spoken to him, so long ago that he couldn't really place it. Still, it made him feel uneasy. "I don't..."

But she didn't let him finish. "What's more, I think that it's danger that attracts you. It's like addiction. Living on the edge, taking risks..."

"You've got it all... wrong," he protested. "Completely wrong."

He would bleed out for this city. He was ready to die for it. Now he had sacrificed for it what he valued the most—his freedom. His identity was revealed, and nothing would ever be the same, as there was no going back from this. There was no way to make people forget, or for some crazy rescue plan with someone dressing up in his costume and claiming to be the Arrow. And she thought that he was doing all of this only because he wanted to draw attention to himself. Because he liked a prickle of excitement. But what was worse, he realized he couldn't find the words to argue. He was just not able to convince her. Everything he'd told her was for nothing, and apparently only confirmed her earlier suspicion about his mental state. He began to think that she had played him this whole time, persuading him to confide in her, and then cherry-picking whatever fit her theory.

"Turning to vigilantism is one thing. The risks you took when it comes to your relationships are quite another. And no, I'm not talking about the Black Canary. I imagine that you were well aware of each others' secret identities and shared both pieces of your double lives." She paused and looked at him piercingly, as if she counted on him revealing something more about the nature of his relationship with the woman in black.

But Oliver's expression remained unchanged and he held very still, although he felt anxiety twist his guts. Doctor Pressnall's words made him realize one very disturbing thing—what a damn fool he was to not warn Laurel about the possible consequences his arrest might bring upon her. He was so focused on his own problems and his own misery, that he hadn't thought too much about the danger his identity being outed presented to her and any of his former accomplices, even though Lance had pointed it out. If he wanted to be honest with himself, he had to admit that he didn't contact them for a very simple reason—he sensed that every single one of them would react exactly like the captain and try to talk him out of turning himself in. And since he already had doubts about taking this course of action, it wouldn't have helped him at all. Still, he should send them at least some sort of a warning. They would most likely treat his silence about the matter as another betrayal on his side. Who knows, maybe it would lead them to the conclusion that cutting ties with him was the right decision...

The last thing he needed right now was a sense of self-blame eating him from the inside, so he was almost glad when Doctor Pressnall spoke again, turning his attention away from this dark train of thought.

"What I'm referring to is quite a surprising fact in light of your double life." She picked up the topic, sensing that Oliver won't speak again without prompting. "Shortly after your return from Lian Yu, when you were already operating as the Hood, you started to date a police detective, McKenna Hall. She used to work on your case alongside Captain Lance. So unless it was some way to get intel..."

Oliver clenched his fist, feeling a stab of anger. Was she openly suggesting that he wanted to get close to McKenna solely in order to get some information about the investigation? Was it another thing the SCPD set her up to ask about?

"Again, you're completely wrong," he snapped back, putting a swift end to her speculation.

"Then it seems to be as good as asking to get captured." Doctor Pressnall was not even trying to hide her surprised tone. "How long did you think it would take Detective Hall to figure you out if your relationship was not cut short by her accident?"

"She didn't have an accident. She was shot while she was on duty," he corrected, his tone of voice grim. He'd started to date McKenna when he thought that he could have it both ways—do what he did and still have a normal life. With anyone. Back then he was able to forget sometimes about the vigilante and his mission—before the Arrow started to dominate every single aspect of his life, casting a long shadow over all his relationships. He had no idea why he even deluded himself into believing that it could work between two of them—a criminal and a police detective. It was extremely stupid to get intimate with her. He wasn't thinking clearly when he approached her and kissed her. He was so thirsty for the closeness of another human being...for being with a woman, that he just let go of all restraints. Gone was the calculating, cool-headed, always planning everything three steps ahead vigilante. Apparently McKenna had some strong feelings for him as well. He had no idea why she hadn't figured him out after seeing his naked chest. Why she didn't wonder where he'd gotten all those bruises and scars left by gunshot wounds. Some of them very fresh. Apparently the devil looked after its own. Or perhaps like Thea would say—she fell under his spell... What was worse, he hadn't thought that he was jeopardizing her career. If he was discovered back, then it would have put McKenna in a very difficult situation... Hell, he had no idea if him being outed now wouldn't cast a shadow on her current work. They had lost touch over two years ago—before then, they'd exchanged some texts and Christmas wishes. She had also sent him her condolences after his mother's death, apparently learning about his loss from the press. He knew that McKenna had left the police force, and after she had mended she started to work in private security, but that was all he knew.

"Yes, Detective Hall was shot," confirmed Doctor Pressnall. "By Helena Bertinelli. The Huntress. You seemed to be quite close with her as well."

The memory of his short relationship with Helena was a particularly painful one. He'd opened up to her, thinking that he could help her deal with her grief and show her a purpose other than vengeance. But he made a mistake. And he paid for it dearly. Maybe the vigilante was so focused on his own mission that he didn't notice the damage it was doing to his life until it was too late wasn't exactly the best candidate to change the ways of someone else, especially someone as troubled as Helena. He was not surprised at all that Doctor Pressnall had brought up that subject. SCPD connected him with the Huntress, although in fact they had operated together for a rather short time. And they didn't part ways in a friendly manner.

"So what? Are you surprised that I didn't hook up with Cutter?" he asked bitterly, wondering why she had brought all those facts to light. "Since, just like Helena, she perfectly mirrored my emotional state?" he said with a touch of grim irony. He remembered how the psychiatrist diagnosed Cutter when he had come to her for advice on how to stop her patient. She said that Carrie had an attachment disorder and was unable to form any real, lasting relationship. He wondered if she was going to write the same about him in her papers. And deep down he was afraid that this diagnosis might be not that far from the truth. Luckily for him, Doctor Pressnall didn't know even half of the story. Otherwise she would probably start to dig deeper into his private life. Laurel, Samantha, Sara. Shado, Helena, McKenna...Sara again...His one-night stand with Felicity that eventually ruined their relationship...Finally getting back together with Laurel, finding some stability...An anchor point. Only to lose it again. His history with women was kind of fucked up. And there were so many from his "playboy days" whose names, let alone faces, he didn't even remember...

"I'm not here to judge you," answered Doctor Pressnall. She hesitated for a moment and then said slowly, weighing every word, as if she wanted to make sure that they would have meaning only for the two of them. "But if what I've heard from Carrie afterwards was at least partially true...Then you've acted really unfairly towards her by doing what you have done." She shot him a look full of contempt, which made him feel anxious.

"Listen, Doctor, I've no idea what story Cutter sold you, but you're gravely mistaken by thinking that there was anything..." he broke off, when he realized that a tinge of defensiveness betrayed him.

"Really?" She raised her eyebrows slightly. Her tone of voice suggested that she knew more than Oliver would want her to. There was no use lying, especially since he did feel a little ashamed about what he had done. He lowered his gaze and hoped that Doctor Pressnall would just leave that topic aside.

That woman...Carrie Cutter...terrified him in some way. Not because he couldn't take her down. She was a good shot and was determined, but emotions clouded her judgment. Also, despite being well trained as a former police special force member, she was no match against him when it came to either skill level or physical strength. But she'd stalked him, was obsessed about him almost to the point of worshipping him. She was killing for him, solely to draw his attention, offering a murdered criminal as some weird present in her sick vigilante foreplay.

And her only purpose seemed to be to try and screw him.

After he denied her, they had a fierce fight, and she almost succeeded in killing them both by throwing herself under a train. He'd saved her again, pulling away from the track, which had caused Carrie to make another one hundred eighty degree turn, from hate to love. He'd had to change his approach to take her down and use cunning instead of force. So he turned the feelings she had for him against her. He allowed her to kiss him, and kissed her back. Stroked her body to distract her and waited for the right moment to put a tranquilizer dart in her neck. It was not easy to fish it out from his pocket with a hand that had a dislocated thumb. He needed time, and perhaps that caused him to take the game a little too far.

He remembered her body pressed against his own, her arms embracing him, her feverish kiss on his lips...The fresh scent of her hair and the perfume she wore mixed with sweat. She acted like a she-cat in heat, whispering into his ear to take her here and now... He would have to be a piece of wood for it not to stir some response in his body. Especially since she was a very attractive woman. Crazy and terrifying, but attractive. It felt almost like betrayal to deceive her. He had no reason to feel guilty—he had to take her down. He had done much worse things. And yet he couldn't help feeling really bad about what had occurred between them. He had given her a small piece of the feelings she craved so much, just to brutally confront her with reality. It must have been a very hard landing, especially because she was so unstable mentally...

But what was the most disturbing to him was the thought that slipped into his mind when she fell into his arms, quickly losing consciousness. For a brief while, he wondered how it would be to be with her. To let go of all restraint. Especially since he'd been alone for a long time...For a moment, he felt as something was drawing him to her. It was a sick and disturbing thought, and he pushed it out of his mind as fast as he could.

"Your doings inspired Carrie. But I won't blame you for her deeds," said Doctor Pressnall, shaking him out of his thoughts.

"Oh, thank you very much for that light sentence," he said sarcastically. But in fact he was secretly glad that she wasn't able to guess what he was thinking just moments before. He could only imagine what far-fetched conclusions she would draw from it.

"But I wonder if you are aware that to the outside world, you might seem to be perfectly matched?" she asked.

"Is that another of your observations? I'm not like her. She is a serial killer." Once he said that, he realized how ridiculous it must have sounded. "She...she was killing on a whim," he added hastily. He felt as if he'd fallen into a trap he had sprung himself. Of course Doctor Pressnall didn't miss an opportunity to point out a huge logical flaw in his statement.

"I'm afraid you're not in a position to judge anyone, given your own criminal record and how many victims you have on your conscience...I'm sorry for the harsh words, Oliver, but someone has to break it to you. Especially because you act as though you don't realize how serious the charges against you are."

He glared at her and retorted: "I'm handcuffed to the table. I get it." The chain of the handcuffs rattled against the metal bar when he shifted to back up his words with a gesture.

He knew that operating as a vigilante he had been breaking the law, probably every single one according to the criminal code, but up to this moment he hadn't viewed himself strictly as a criminal but as...something else. His actions were all justified, right? But Doctor Pressnall managed to plant a little seed of doubt in him.

He thought about Cupid again. What freaked him out the most about her was the fact that she didn't seem to realize that she was crazy. A stab of uneasiness in his chest felt as if he was shot by an arrow. What if the same had happened to him? What if he had gone over the edge and didn't even notice that it was too late to turn back?

"Now, Oliver, I need to ask you one more thing," said the psychiatrist after a brief glance at her notes. "Do your tattoos bear special meaning for you? How did you get them while you were stranded on an island?"

He didn't respond, cursing silently. She got him there. Obviously he couldn't tell her that he spent over a year and a half off Lian Yu. Not like he had wanted to. He preferred to not remember the time he was forced by Amanda Waller to become an A.R.G.U.S. operative. When all that horrible business with the Alpha-Omega virus was over, he'd been free to go and bid his farewell to Yamashiros, leaving them to mourn their son, Akio, who was one of the victims of the fast-spreading illness. He had no idea what to do with himself. He felt as lost as when he washed up on the island, and was simply too afraid to go back home—he was not the same Oliver who'd left Starling, and as much as he wanted to see his mother and sister again, he wasn't sure they could bear seeing the damaged version of him. He also wouldn't be able to look Laurel in the eye; he still kept that photograph she'd given him, but that image was silent—he had no idea how he could make amends with its living counterpart. Could his betrayal ever be forgiven and forgotten? Not to mention that he didn't feel ready to fulfill the promise he made to his father—he simply hadn't figured out how he should do this. So for some time he roamed Russia without any clear purpose, until he met Anatoly. He'd taken him under his wing and introduced him to Bratva. Oliver decided that it wouldn't hurt to learn how a criminal organization operated from the inside, but at the same time hadn't had everything figured out as well as he had thought. One couldn't simply completely cut ties with an organization like Bratva whenever one saw fit. It bit him in the ass years later, when he wanted out—only his friendship with Anatoly saved him. But right now, the fact that he had that tattoo put him in a very difficult situation. He just knew that the next question of Doctor Pressnall's would be about that mark. After all, the cops must have been greatly interested in where he got it.

"That star tattoo you have on your chest..." the psychiatrist pressed on, looking at him watchfully. "I was told that it's associated with the Russian mob. Bratva, is that the correct name of the organization? Now care to explain how that is possible?"

"I spent some time in China after I was rescued. I got my tattoos there. How that's for an answer?" he asked cynically, just to brush her off.

Doctor Pressnall shot him a very doubtful look.

"You aren't telling the truth, obviously. What are you trying to hide, apart from your connection to a criminal organization, of course?"

As if I'm going to tell you, he thought sarcastically. But to his surprise it turned out that she was able to make a clever guess on her own.

"Did you perhaps leave the island during those five years?"

He was taken aback. "It's none of your business," he snapped, momentarily losing his composure.

"Very well," she answered calmly. "We'll come back to this later, whenever you're ready to talk about this..." She made another note in the file.

At this point she seemed to be so sure that she would his psychotherapist, that it made him feel more than ever like a cornered animal. Did he really have no say in the matter? Was her opinion enough to declare him insane? He had known that he was treading uncertain ground here, he sensed that she was setting a trap. And yet he still walked straight into it. Once he realized that, he didn't have too many warm feelings toward Doctor Pressnall, although he could only blame himself for falling for that trick. He used similar technique many times before—deluding the victim into a false sense of security...having them exactly where he wanted them to be to guarantee that the arrow he fired would hit its intended target. He'd learned that on the island, where he needed to hunt to survive. Later on he applied this knowledge when he was operating as a vigilante. Now he kept glancing at Doctor Pressnall as she flipped through his file. To anyone observing this interrogation his gaze might have looked piercing and defiant, but in fact his confidence fell to a low ebb. He knew she wasn't done with him yet, and he wondered if it was even worth it to continue the fight.

Time passed by, and the only sound interrupting the silence in the interrogation room was the soft rustle of paper and the buzz of the fluorescent lamp. Even the rain ceased, and there was no more drumming against the window panes.

Although that short break in their conversation lasted no more than a couple of minutes, it seemed an age before Doctor Pressnall finally left the file aside and again focused her attention on Oliver. He had no doubt that she had stretched it deliberately—after your arrow reaches your victim, you wait till it bleeds out. In this case, the "bleeding out" was giving him time to mull over the bare facts laid before him and accepting how hopeless his present situation was. She cast another long look at his outfit and asked:

"Would you be willing to share the history behind this hood now? It doesn't look like something that can be bought in just any clothes shop. You brought it with you from the island, didn't you?"

So that was what she had left for the end, and once she asked that, it seemed that their conversation came the full circle. After all, it was one of her first questions. Oliver lowered his eyes to his handcuffed wrists, suddenly unable to bear her steady gaze. He couldn't come up with some biting remark, either.

"Why?" he asked quietly. "Why do you keep asking me about the hood?"

"Because I can't help you if I don't know the whole story. And obviously the hood is the key."

"I've said I don't want your help, Doctor," he said coldly. "I'm not insane. I didn't lose my mind on that island, although there were times when I came close. Those were five years when nothing good happened and I don't want to talk about any of it," he added bitterly.

She realized she had touched a raw nerve.

"I understand that it's hard..."

"No, you have no damn idea," he said forcefully.

All these questions made him nervous. Why did she want to force him to relive all those nightmares? If that was what her therapy with Cutter had looked like, he wasn't surprised at all that she hadn't succeeded. She shouldn't ask him about his hood and his tattoos. He didn't care about Bratva's star. It was a closed chapter for him—and only thanks to Anatoly had he managed to get out from under his allegiance with the mob. But it made him think about that red dragon he had on his left shoulder blade. The one that was forced onto him as a punishment. A mark of shame. A constant reminder of another woman he loved, and was not able to save.

Shado.

...the light of the flashlight blinds him. All he can see are dark silhouettes surrounding him. The tree leaves and twigs above his head rustle, shaken violently by wind, growing rapidly in strength with every passing minute.

" Choose," demands Ivo. He points his gun to Sara's head, then to Shado's. "Or I'm going to shoot them both."

Shado looks at him pleadingly. Sara lets out a sob. He shouts something to Ivo, tries to reason with him. He has what he came for, why can't he just go away? Or why won't he kill Oliver himself, he is the one he has the problem with. But there is no use trying to reason with a madman.

" Ten seconds." Ivo points the gun to Shado's head.

" You freaking psychopath!" shouts Oliver. White-hot hate toward Ivo shots though his veins, but what he hates even more is his own powerlessness.

" History will make that judgment. Five seconds." The barrel turns toward Sara.

On the spur of the moment Oliver lunges forward and shields Sara with his own body. All he thinks about is that he can't watch her die in front of him again.

" I guess you've made your choice," says Ivo coldly. Oliver, paralyzed with fear, can only look helplessly as he points the gun toward Shado.

There is the loud thud of gunfire...

He didn't want to live this memory again. Not here. Not now. It kept coming back to him way too often. He hated the feeling of complete, utter helplessness. He pushed that memory away, forced it into the darkest corner of his mind. And found himself back in the reality that was no better. He blinked. The bright light of the overhead lighting mirrored by the smooth surface of the metal table blinded him. His hastily summoned determination and strength to resist was ebbing away in the confrontation with bare facts. He hunched his shoulders, suddenly feeling very weak, as if all his vital strength were being sucked out of his body.

"You know what? It has been a long day, and I'm tired. Just leave me alone," he muttered. There was no anger or hard edge in his voice anymore, just resignation. "I'm done talking with you."

Doctor Pressnall achieved what his enemies were not able to. He doubted himself before, struggling with a lack of conviction. But never before had he felt so utterly...powerless. And her only means to do so weren't any lethal weapon. It was just...words.

He saw himself through her eyes. A pathetic, sick man, driven by vengeance and obsession. Violent, ruthless and cruel, killing not at the last resort but simply because he enjoyed it. Someone who was dangerous both to other people and himself. She pitied him, but it was a pity one could have for a sick dog or a twisted tree. And those were beyond saving. A dog would be put down, a tree cut down, but when it came to other people, society thought that it would be too inhuman to get rid of them permanently. So they were satisfied with keeping them in isolation, under lock and key, far away from normal, healthy individuals. The Arrow might fight outside the system, but the system had enough means to deal with people like him.

He fixed his gaze on one point of the table, refusing to meet the psychiatrist's eyes and ignoring her attempts to pull him into the conversation again. To do her justice, she didn't ask him about his tattoos or the hood again. She was smart enough to realize that she had made a mistake, progressed way too fast to such sensitive topics, which as a result made him so unresponsive. But he was beyond caring. and withdrew behind an invisible wall of indifference.

Maybe he was living in some false dream all this time. A dream that he could become something else, to change the world around him to be a bit better that it was. To save his city. Maybe he was always meant to fail miserably. But even if it was true, he didn't want to be woken up from it. Doctor Pressnall should just leave him to that dream.

After all, just like others, she was not able to understand.


 

Chapter Text

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Oliver returns to the foundry much earlier than usual. He could hear wailing of police sirens in the distance on his way back, but kept well away. It was better to leave it to SCPD to take care of whatever had been happening in the city that night. And to get accustomed to the idea that he will never have a chance to do again what he has been doing for the last five years.

It is hard to believe that he has less than twenty-four hours of freedom left. Less than a day before his whole life will be turned upside down. Up to this moment, he hadn't realized how deeply his presence has been rooted in the past. Every step and every decision he made was driven by the promise he had made to his father, so long ago that it seemed to be an age...an eternity. And all of this is about to end. He is aware that it will be a living death for him... But also the true test of his character. He musn't fail himself. He needs to do what is needed, even if it means giving away the only part of him that matters. It is as simple as that.

However, he can't help that deep down, he feels anger when he thinks of how he has sacrificed almost everything for the sake of his mission. His normal life, his relationships, any sense of stability... And yet it wasn't enough—fate demanded a much larger chunk of his soul.

He takes out his frustration on one of the training dummies, but it doesn't make him feel much better. Finally he stops, panting. His gaze falls on the Oneida Kestrel and the quiver full of arrows, lying on one of the metal tables. He picks up both and goes to the part of the foundry that serves him as an archery range. No thoughts disturb his mind when he fires arrow after arrow, and at least for a moment he is free from worries.

The last one sinks particularly deeply in a block made of polystyrene foam he has been shooting at—and he struggles for a while before he manages to retrieve it, pulling it out of the middle of the target. A depressing thought that most likely he will never shoot a bow again in his life passes through his mind, poisoning the moment, and suddenly he doesn't feel like carrying on his activity. He puts down the bow on top of the table, realizing that he is actually scared of tomorrow. And what is the worst, it will be here before he knows it.

He reaches for his mobile phone lying beside a computer keyboard and leans slightly against the table, unlocking the phone and opening the contact list. He scrolls through it, looking at the familiar names. Barry, Dig, Felicity, Laurel, Roy, Quentin... But he doesn't choose any of them. He even has Cisco and Caitlin on the list—he got that last contact shortly before they lost her, when her meta-human abilities, dormant for over three years, suddenly came to full power and caused her to go over the edge. He has also Walter's number and a few others, including Sara's, who is most likely well out of range, since she had to return to Nanda Parbat. He hasn't heard from her in months. The sight of Tommy's and Mom's names makes his heart sink—he could never bring himself to delete those numbers from his contact list, although the people they belonged to are gone forever. He hesitates for a longer moment over Thea's name and almost taps the green button.

Almost. Because what could he say to her?

" Hi, sis. How's life in London? By the way, I'm the Arrow and I'm going to turn myself in by tomorrow night. If I don't, a madman will kill more innocent people. Sorry I haven't told you all of that earlier. So long."

He sighs deeply, wipes his face and puts aside his phone. Finally, since he has nothing better to do, he takes a shower and then goes to bed. It is barely half past midnight, and although he is drained, he has never feel farther from rest. His mind is too agitated for that. Worried thoughts run and run around in his mind until he finally dozes off to an uneasy sleep.

He awakes early, and his first thought is how totally screwed up he is, which doesn't make him feel particularly well. The morning is bleak—a faint light is seeping through the hatches, the sky visible over his head covered with gray clouds. But as is typical for coastal weather, it changes in a blink of an eye. When he emerges from his hideout, the first sunrays start to break through, and it seems as if it will be a beautiful autumn day. However, his current mood makes it hard to care about that at all.

He passes through his usual shortcut—a market that is located near the Verdant. The sellers have already laid out various goods in their stalls. He has never bought anything here, except maybe some bread and rolls in a small bakery, but this place reminds him of the marketplaces he had seen in Russia. They were much bigger and usually not as organized as Glades Market. Russians loved to buy stuff over there, not only food but also clothes, shoes and various other things—usually fakes of well known brands.

He quickly finds himself on one of the main streets of Glades. It is full of life, as usual at this hour. People are going about their normal business, in a rush to get to work on time. He has a strange impression, as if he has been separated from other people by an invisible wall. This is probably what someone who has just learned that they have a terminal disease feels like. Normal life flows around them while they have only that one thought stuck in their head—what now?

More out of habit than anything else, he goes for breakfast to a nearby bar on Grell Street. He visits it quite frequently. He has blended into the background so well that neither the staff nor regular customers pay much attention to him. He doesn't exactly look like the Oliver Queen from his playboy days, and after his return, he has not been as attractive to the press as his hooded persona. During the past few years, he has been living almost like a recluse, and disappeared from public life altogether. He enjoyed this particular kind of invisibility and being anonymous in the crowd.

Suddenly he realizes that very soon he will find himself in the spotlight again. Once his identity is outed, everyone will start to dig into his past and wonder if he went mad on the island. He cuts this grim train of thought short. There is no use beating himself up over what is inevitable. Especially because the public opinion's views will be the least of his worries.

Since at least he feels no rush for once, he might as well make some use of his last day of freedom. He reaches for a newspaper, apparently left on the table by another customer, and as he eats his breakfast he flips it page by page, scanning articles and occasionally reading an excerpt here and there. He doesn't remember the last time ordinary news held any interest for him—he read the police bulletins and crime section, and did research on specific cases, but that was pretty much all. So it is a real surprise to discover how much is happening in the city. Things he was not aware of, as they had nothing to do with his mission. He had no idea that a new underground station, Crossharbour, has just been opened... As well as a new shopping mall downtown. A renovation of Palm House in the Royal Botanic Garden has just been finished. Meanwhile people have been protesting against tree cutting on Harrow Street. He had followed the news about the coming mayoral elections, but not particularly closely. Come to think of that, maybe he should—what if Celia Castle's rival for the position of Mayor was a man loyal to Damien Darhk? Somehow up to this moment it hasn't occurred to him.

Since he made an effort to flip through the whole newspaper, he reads even the sports section. Local football team the Wild Dogs won the game against the Falcons from Hub City... He realizes that the names of apparently famous players are no more familiar to him than those of kids from a school league. For a short while, an article about the soccer team from Richmond High School, the Panthers, noting an unexpected victory in the league, draws his attention. After a really bad beginning of the season, the team seems to finally be back on track... A game against their most challenging opponent, a leader in the tables... an outstanding performance from goalkeeper Timothy Pressnall... A goal scored in injury time sealed the victory... It makes him wonder how long it's been since he was in a game? In any game?

He reminds himself that some time after his return—it must have been no more than a few weeks—he went with Tommy to a baseball game. But it was a horrible experience. All that noise and commotion, not to mention being surrounded by a crowd, made him nervous; it was way too soon for him after living for almost a year as a recluse on the island. Tommy hadn't suspected a thing, as Oliver tried to not show his anxiety, but secretly he couldn't wait until it was finally over. He didn't even remember who won that game. Maybe that is why afterwards he hadn't felt the need to go to a stadium again. From that moment on, a night when a game was being played meant for him that the streets will be a little more quiet during that time, as even the most hardened criminals usually followed sports events. Even if afterwards there was some turmoil caused by folks who had too many beers, police could easily deal with them. Taking care of drunks didn't exactly belong to the Arrow's profile of vigilantism.

Reading all that news makes him realize one thing. He hadn't noticed ordinary life until it was too late. When his family was around...and his friends...he has some links that kept him anchored in...normality. But then his team abandoned him, and his relationship with Laurel fell apart. Eventually all his mooring lines were gone. Over the last few months, he practically hasn't had a life outside of this hood. He hadn't even realized to what extend he was committed to his mission. Every night he has been out on the streets, keeping watch over the safety of the citizens. He came back to his hideout in the morning to sleep off those hours during the day. The rest of his time has been dedicated to working out, practicing archery, doing research, making arrows and maintaining his equipment. He has never taken a break, unless he suffered from some serious injury that kept him out of the game. Only when he went to visit Thea in London a couple of times did he have some poor substitute for vacation. But he couldn't truly relax.

At night, he wasn't able to fall asleep till dawn, as he was constantly thinking about the city he had left unprotected. He wondered if anything bad would happen during his absence. Even when his team was still around, he felt that bizarre nervousness he couldn't really place—although he shouldn't have worried that much, since they were taking care of Starling in his absence. It was some time before he realized that he just missed going out in the hood with a bow in his hand. As if he was an addict on a detox. It was a bit worrying, but he pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind every time they surfaced, explaining to himself that it was just hard to break the habit after living this kind of life for so long. When Thea asked what was wrong with him, he came up with lame excuses—usually saying that his tiredness was caused by jet lag. He regrets now that he never told her the truth, especially when she had seemed to suspect something and gave him thoughtful looks, bearing so much similarity to the glance of their mother. Now it is too late for that. It is also too late to wonder if he hasn't been focused on his mission a little too much.

He closes the newspaper full of the news about all the ordinary things that won't be concerning him any more and gets up from the booth, leaving the payment for his meal with a generous tip next to a mug of unfinished coffee. Then he goes back to the foundry. He doesn't have any concrete plan formed in his head, and yet he knows what he should do next. He looks briefly at the computers, but he decides that he can take care of the contents of their hard drives later. First he packs a few really valuable things for him in a backpack—pieces of his first recurve bow, his father's notebook with The List, a pouch with the herbs from the island, an old family photo... As well as a faded photograph of Laurel he had with him during his five years of wandering. He knows that the cops will raid his hideout before long, but he won't let them to lay hands on that. He leaves the foundry again, taking the backpack with him.

Again, he doesn't have any specific destination. He just goes straight ahead, walking around Starling for hours. Passing familiar buildings, places, streets, squares... He knows all of them, although everything looks different from this vantage point and in the daylight—after all, most often he has observed the city from rooftops at night, and gone deep into corners most people preferred to avoid. Now it is his last chance to say goodbye to his city. The city that will be left defenseless once he is gone. The city that found itself in danger because of him. He can't escape the thought that maybe it will be better off without him.

He eventually finds himself around the bay. But instead going to the embankment near Harbour Green Park, he heads to the port, specifically to the part that hasn't been revitalized yet. And maybe never will. An old abandoned power plant looms in the distance, its striped white and red chimney rising high. He passes a terminal container and enters an area that is a pathetic sight. He goes along a narrow street with cracked asphalt, passing long chains of railway wagons standing on the sidings on his left. On the other side, empty warehouses with broken windows and dirty, shabby-looking walls are towering over him.

He takes a short-cut through the closed ship assembly plant. A half-finished hull, lying under a gantry crane, reminds him of the skeleton of some deep-sea creature, dragged onto the bank. He goes through a large gap in the fence and finds himself under a brick wall of the abandoned power plant. He enters the building through a side entrance—it is one of his alternate hideouts. He is pretty sure that even Amanda Waller doesn't know about the existence of this one, nor does his former team. Here he keeps some backup gear, even a spare motorcycle. But today he hasn't come to grab some equipment, but to leave the backpack with the things he took from the foundry.

The hideout is set in one of the storage rooms on the ground floor of the plant. Without unpacking it, he puts the backpack into a crate placed near the motorcycle, closes the lid and leaves without spending here more than half a minute.

He walks back though the port area, this time heading to the waterfront—this part of the former port, the city can be proud of. Here old warehouses have been revitalized and changed into apartments and offices. There is also a new yacht port and large green areas.

He buys a take-out coffee from the Starbucks located near the boardwalk. The girl who serves his coffee smiles at him. Perhaps she has recognized Oliver Queen in him, perhaps she smiles to all customers.

" Cream, sugar?" she asks.

" Thank you." He shakes his head, giving her a ghost of a smile.

He goes to one of the piers, sipping his coffee. There are hardly any strollers in the vicinity. It is an ordinary autumn Wednesday after all, well after the end of the peak of tourist season. Although the day is quite sunny, Oliver finds the breeze blowing from the bay to be surprisingly chilly. He leans against the barrier and just stares at the waves being tossed against the shore. He is not too fond of boats after the Queen's Gambit sinking, but he likes to look at the ocean. The swoosh of the surf calms him down.

Without any concrete thought in his mind, he takes his phone out of the pocket and again looks at the contact list. He hesitates for a very long moment over one name, so long that the screen automatically locks after being idle. He activates it again, and on the spur of the moment makes a decision, tapping the green receiver. He listens to the signal of the connection, sensing that his heart is starting to beat a bit faster. And then he hears her voice.

" Hi, it's Thea Queen. I can't pick up the phone right now. Please leave a message."

It takes him a moment to realize that right now in London it is past one a.m. He has completely lost track of time and forgotten that there is eight hours of difference between Starling and England. Of course Thea must be already asleep, and it seems she has switched her phone off for the night. He doesn't know if he feels relief or disappointment. But nevertheless he has something to tell her, although it will be probably a hell of a shock for her when she listens to the message tomorrow.

He takes a deep breath and says:

" Hi, Speedy..."


On his way back to the foundry he makes one more stop—in Big Belly Burger, although he doesn't feel particularly hungry. But he still has an hour to kill and wants to visit one of the places that he has only fond memories of. Even if only to have the last meal of condemned.

Carly is still working here, and as it turns out, she is on the afternoon shift today. They exchange a few words, she asks how he is doing. He responds that he is fine. There are enough customers to keep her occupied, so fortunately she doesn't have an opportunity to mention Dig and ask how things between them are. Maybe because she and John also drifted apart after he married Lyla for a second time. Oliver knows that there was a time when they tried to be together, but something hadn't worked out between them—perhaps the shadow cast by Andy was too long after all. Eventually Dig's ties with his sister-in-law and nephew loosened, reduced to occasional visits.

Still, that is more than could be said about John and himself. He reminds himself of their last awkward meeting in A.R.G.U.S. headquarters a couple of weeks ago, then drifts back to the moment when he decided to tell him about the List and the promise he had made to his father... They were sitting in the very same booth near the window Oliver occupies now. It is hard to believe that this conversation ever took place...that Dig was first of his allies he revealed his identity to.

Would Dig help him now if he had reached out to him? Perhaps yes. Perhaps not. After all, it was Oliver who let him go, he hadn't tried to stop him. So he couldn't bring this crap to him now. Besides, what could Dig do? What would anyone be able to do in less than twenty-four hours? Even the Flash wouldn't be able to achieve anything without any leads. Yeah, he is totally screwed, there is no point in denying it.

He thinks about the times when everything seemed to be easier and he was convinced that all the answers could be found on the List. Now he knows better. Nothing is that simple. If it was, he would be able to track down Darhk and put an arrow to his heart this very night. But first he would wring out of him who is the killer he had hired. And get rid of him as well—permanently. He doesn't know if it would solve the problem with H.I.V.E., but at least he would cut the snake's head off. And he has no doubt that those two murders would be justified.

No one bothers him while he eats his burger. Although the food here hasn't changed, he discovers that today it tastes bland for him,. Since he has nothing better to do, he observes people coming in and going out. Curly is busy with customers, then she disappears to the back of the bar, and nobody familiar appears in the door. Oliver wonders if he has been subconsciously counting on this, and to have someone to talk to. For some time, he watches the news on Channel 52 on the TV screen that hangs over the bar, but the evening approaches imperceptibly, and Oliver realizes it is time to go back to the foundry and take care of some things before he sets off as his vigilante persona and go to the police station. He leaves Big Belly Burger with a heavy heart.

When he steps in the Arrowcave, he is struck by the impression that it looks as if has already been abandoned, although he can't really place this feeling. Maybe it is caused by the awareness of what he needs to do. To tell the truth, he has always been prepared to put an end to all of this—and reduce the damage if his identity was under threat of being revealed. That is why the computer system in the Arrowcave, apart from the tracking application and the terabytes of data stored from all possible sources—from SCPD to Homeland, FBI and even A.R.G.U.S.— also contained a special encrypting program. A small but very powerful one, that could and should be used in an emergency situation—if there was a risk that the foundry would be compromised. Felicity used to say jokingly that it was their red button that when activated will turn everything into data pulp—no one would be able to recover anything useful from the hard discs.

" So better not push it hastily. Or activate it. Since the program can't actually be 'pushed,' right?"—Oliver can almost hear her voice.

Sometimes he had wondered if it was her copying mechanism, allowing her to downplay the unpleasant prospect of facing consequences for what they have been doing illegally, or whether she was simply truly unaware that the day when any of them would need to use this program would mean that the whole team had found themselves in a hell of a lot of trouble.

He finds the encrypting program on the master computer unit, but doesn't start it yet. He needs the application to do one more thing for him. He quickly types a short message and sets a time when it should be resent from the backup sever located in Russia in order to get delivered to the person it is addressed to. Once it is done, he leaves the computer console and moves to the part of the foundry where he stores his equipment. He takes out the bow from the case he keeps it in and puts it on top of the metal table, then he inspects the contents of his quiver.

He has always glued all his arrows himself out of separately ordered elements. What was more, he had dyed all his shafts, feathers and custom-made hunting arrowheads. Any of those painted green by the seller and ordered in higher quantities would be too suspicious. He has several suppliers from Eastern Europe and England. None of them have any idea who has been buying their products and what purpose they have been used for.

Now he brushes the nocks and stiff feathers of the arrows with his fingertips, pondering over the trick ones. They are four inches longer than his normal arrows, as the section right behind the arrowhead contains specialized devices. He usually carries a number of them next to ordinary ones: arrows that could produce high tensile strength polymer cables he could use as a zip-line or to ensnare opponents, depending on the type, flashbang and explosive arrows, tranquilizer darts and many, many more. Some he constructed himself, but most used advanced technology created by A.R.G.U.S. Others, like the one that stored a parachute in a small container, were Cisco's inventions. A bit irrational thought that these are another of his secrets he will have to reveal passes through his head. He is going to throw everything anyway, so what difference does it make? And it is not like the cops hadn't already gotten their hands on a lot of his arrows. But the trick ones in most cases left little to no evidence. Some even disintegrated to little pieces, and unlike the normal arrows couldn't be reused. Maybe that is the reason why handing them a quiver with full set ready to shoot raises his qualms.

Finally he decides to take out the explosive arrows and puts them aside. He prefers to not march into the station with a whole arsenal on his back. He leaves in his quiver some relatively harmless ones, like bola arrows. They don't need to be treated with extra care.

He places the quiver next to the bow and finally opens the chest he keeps his suit in. He takes out his hood first and looks down on it for a very long while. It means so much to him. It is hard to believe that it has been over five years since he started his crusade. For him it seems as if it were yesterday. Something twists in his guts when he realizes that it is going to be the last time he wears that hood. But in spite of it all, Oliver has never once thought of refraining from turning himself in. He has already made his choice. Once he had learned the truth about the reason those innocent people were killed, he wouldn't be able to bear the thought that someone else died because he was too stubborn to admit that he was defeated.

However, tonight he puts on his suit much slower than usual. Although he doesn't need a costume to be the Arrow—that part of him is not something that can be switched on and off, or kept caged like a monster—he feels different when he wears it. Over time it has become his second skin. He straps a quiver to his back and puts on the rest of the equipment—a holster with flechettes on his hip, and another set he carries on his left gauntlet.

He takes a long look around the foundry, trying to memorize every spot, from his little internal archery range to the shadowy corner with the fold-out bed he has been sleeping in, knowing that most likely he will never see this place again. In many ways it has been his home during the last few years, ever since he moved out from Queen Mansion for good a couple months after his mother's death. A place that provided him with a sense of security, just like Yao Fei's cave on the island.

He reaches for his phone and looks down at the screen for a while—there is no sign that the voice message he had left Thea has been listened to. He hasn't expected anything else, since right now in London there is middle of the night, but he can't help that deep down he feels a sort of disappointment. He switches off the phone and puts it back on the table. It is time to go.

He grabs his bow in his left hand and approaches the computer to send the message he has written. Roughly fifty minutes from now, a journalist from the Starling Guardian, Victoria Much, will get an anonymous tip about Captain Quentin Lance making a stunning and unexpected arrest of the vigilante. It is the least he can do for him. He doubts that it will work in the long run, but maybe initially it will save Lance from the wrath of his superiors. After it is done, he activates the encrypting program. In a blink of an eye it spreads though the internal network to every computer unit. It doesn't take long before the system shuts off completely. Without the constant hum of running fans, the foundry becomes dead silent. Once he turns off the lights—completely lifeless.

He puts on his mask and pulls the hood down over his head, and emerges into the calm and very silent night through the side exit in the garage, in the same manner as hundreds of times before.

The sky is unusually clean. Only an occasional darker streak of cloud blown by wind passes over the crescent moon that hangs low over the rooftops. It has been quite a warm day, but at evening the air has cooled rapidly, and there is a distinctive nip of autumn chill. Oliver gets an impression as if he is the only one who is awake and alive. It is so silent that he is sure he can hear the beating of his own heart. He passes the empty streets, dark back alleys and courtyards, feeling more and more lonely, his shadow the only one that walks beside him. He wishes Barry was with him right now. He knows he would try to cheer him up, no matter how serious the situation was…

The sudden clatter of an upturned trash bin sounds as loud as a thud of gunfire, interrupting his train of thoughts. Oliver stops in place and turns his head sharply toward the direction it came from, catching a glimpse of a scrawny looking fox taking a cover behind a pile of garbage. He stands very still, observing the dark corner for a while. The animal peeps out timidly, glancing mistrustfully at the hooded man. It must be very hungry, as instead of waiting till the human disappears from view, it creeps out to dig through the trash that spilled out of the bin. Oliver notices that the animal is limping heavily; its right back paw seems to be badly hurt. It seems that life has been treating the poor beast very hard. It clings to existence just like Oliver did on the island, in the unfamiliar and dangerous environment, not sure if he will last another day. Similarly this fox hasn't wondered if it has sense to bother at all, even though with such an injury it is highly unlikely that it will see past the winter. Survival instinct has indeed been a very powerful force, driving both animals and humans. You keep going until your struggles are over. He leaves the fox to sort through his pickings and moves on.

He walks slowly, much slower than usual, still keeping to the shadows when he passes the next streets, disappearing from view whenever he notices someone coming his way or hears the purr of the engine of an approaching car. When he reaches a more lively area of the district, he climbs onto a rooftop, using a zip-line arrow to walk around it. He uses the opportunity to look down on his city one more time. This view alone from a high vantage point is one of many things he is going to miss, although this part of Glades doesn't offer anything spectacular compared to the night panorama of the port or the business district full of glass skyscrapers. The bright lights of flashing neon are mirrored in puddles left after yesterday's heavy rain, as some corner shops and bars are still open. A typical local neighborhood. He observes the traffic and normal citizens, unaware of danger they are in because of Darhk's scheme, strolling about the wide boulevard. He has been protecting them for so long. Now he can't do it any longer.

Finally he reaches the police station in Glades. Tonight it seems to look particularly ominous. It took him surprisingly long to get here, although it isn't located very far away from his hideout—there is some irony in the fact that he has been hiding under their nose for so long. It would be no challenge for him to get inside unnoticed. He has done that on more than a few occasions, bold and unafraid. But today he wants to be spotted, even though going into the open is contrary to his nature. He hesitates for a moment, wondering how he should do this. Should he just walk into the reception area of the police station and report to the front desk officer? It seems he had everything figured out—up to this moment.

Before he makes up his mind, a group of officers, apparently off duty and ready to go home, leaves the precinct through the main entrance. They stop at the side of the parking lot where the policemen park their private cars, chatting. Oliver hears their laughs. He makes his decision and starts walking towards them.

Although the Arrow stops in a well lit place, they don't notice him instantly. Apparently it is impossible to just abandon his acquired skills, and he has approached too quietly. However, before he makes another step forward, one of the officers looks by accident towards him and notices a hooded figure, standing in the parking lot near a line of parked cars. His eyes pop out on stalks. His astonished expression draws the attention of the rest of the policemen. They all spin around quickly. Predictably, someone reaches for the gun and points it at the vigilante's chest, and the rest follow his example.

" What do you want?" demands one of the policemen.

It is not like the Arrow has a tendency to appear in public, especially in the proximity of the cops, but still he thinks that they are overreacting. As if they have seen the devil himself.

" I mean no harm," he says calmly.

Usually when he shifts his bow from his left hand to his right to hold it by a bottom limb, upside down, he wants to show that he doesn't intend to hurt anybody. He does it now slowly, but apparently the officers don't read this gesture as a peaceful one. On the contrary, they seem to get more nervous. As if they think that the vigilante might attack them.

Well, here is a fine situation. One wrong move and he will end up shot down on the doorsteps of the police precinct. Maybe this is what Darhk has been counting on?

" We have a situation here. Call some backup," orders a cop in the front, still holding him at gunpoint. The young officer to whom those words are addressed nods and quickly rushes toward the main entrance of the station. Oliver doesn't move. It is not like he has any intention to go anywhere. Although even now he has the thought stuck at the back of his mind that at this point he could still escape. Throw a smoke bomb, then disappear in the night before the cops realize what is happening.

It doesn't take long before more people appear before the entrance. It seems as if the whole precinct came here to see for themselves that the Starling City vigilante had the audacity to appear before the Glades precinct and challenge SCPD. They have been turning a blind eye to his doings, and on the rare occasions when they meet him in the city, they have just pretended they hadn't seen him. But in such circumstances as this, he can't be given a free pass.

Still, no one tries to apprehend him, or even approaches him. The policemen keep glancing at Captain Lance, who has stopped on the stairs leading to the entrance to the station, waiting for his orders. Oliver also looks up at Quentin Lance—the only person that matters here—and says simply:

" Captain Lance, I'm here to turn myself in." His voice sounds a little hoarse to his ears, but the modulator hides it.

All eyes are riveted to him as he kneels down to put his bow on the ground. Then he rises slowly, takes off his mask, and pulls down the hood.

There is a moment of complete and utter silence, and for a moment nothing happens. No one moves, as if everyone has been immobilized by some spell, so unexpected is what has been happening tonight at the police precinct in Glades.

" Why is Oliver Queen dressed like the vigilante?" someone asks suddenly, his voice full of surprise.

" Because he is the vigilante, you moron!" someone else answers, standing in the back.

" Cuff him," says Lance shortly, stone-faced. He is a good player, when it comes to keeping up appearances. Absolutely nothing can be made out of his tone; he shows no surprise, nor any feelings altogether, as if he is seeing Oliver for first time in his life. Some of his subordinates throw him puzzled glances—it is no secret that Lance has been in contact with the archer. Not to mention that the complicated nature of his relationship with Oliver Queen is well known. Now they don't know what to make out of this turn of events.

The policeman approaches him as if he is a venomous snake, about to bite. Oliver had thought that when his secret identity was revealed, they wouldn't be afraid of him any more. He was wrong. The man under the hood who has the face of Oliver Queen is even more disturbing. Oliver holds himself very still when the officer disappears from his view, moving behind his back. His bad knee aches in protest when he is forced to kneel. This is so unnecessary, but apparently this cop wants to show that he has control over the situation. He doesn't put up any resistance when the officer twists his arms to cuff his hands behind his back.

One of the cops picks up his bow and mask, but he doesn't see it. He catches a glimpse of Captain Lance when he is led toward the entrance of the police station, but he quickly disappears from his field of vision. Someone opens the doors to the precinct. The bright light and the commotion are engulfing him, pulling him in. For a moment he is authentically terrified. More than ever he realizes that from this moment on, he won't have any control over the situation. He is swallowed up, like on the night of the Queen's Gambit catastrophe, when the cold waters of the ocean closed above his head.


 

Chapter Text

Lonely Island

The door to the interrogation room on his left opened. Oliver caught out of the corner of his eye a narrow slip of light falling in from the corridor, shortly after blocked by officer Weir's silhouette as he peeped in. He more sensed that actually saw the policeman's gaze gliding over him before it turned toward the psychiatrist.

"Sorry for the interruption, Doctor, but Commissioner Moorgate would like to know if you need more time with the suspect," he said.

"Just a couple of minutes, officer. We are almost done here," answered the psychiatrist.

The policeman nodded and stepped into the interrogation room. He closed the door behind him and stopped near them, his hands clasped behind his back, apparently intending to wait until the doctor was finished. His hanging at the side of Oliver's field of vision what was rather irritating—maybe because his silent presence put an end to the illusion that everything that was said in this room was the concern of only two people.

The psychiatrist focused her attention back on the archer. When she spoke directly to him, her voice was so firm, that he involuntarily raised his eyes to meet her gaze.

"Oliver, taking under consideration what you've been through... all the traumatic experiences that affected you both physically and mentally, I strongly believe you can't be tried for the deeds you have committed as the vigilante and will testify the same before the judge. Still, I consider you to be currently a danger both to other people and to yourself. The most likely scenario you should prepare yourself for is that you'll be committed involuntarily to St. Walker's locked ward for a period of indeterminate incarceration. You'll be entitled to a mental health attorney to represent you in the court, at no cost if you can't afford to pay for the service..."

"I don't care," he said indifferently. He preferred not to think about what she had just said as a prospect that was taking a very firm shape.

"You should care about your own health," she said with concern in her voice. "Being arrested right now might turn out to be the best thing that has happened to you. Maybe you should treat this as a chance to finally get better. To be saved."

He shot her a very nasty look. He hated how she twisted his own words. Him getting "better" or being happy wasn't what was the most important. Being the Arrow was making him feel better and provided him the only happiness he was asking for. Killing that part of himself was the hardest choice he'd had to make since he had become a vigilante. And she was speaking about burying it before he had time to accept that fact. To mourn his loss. He didn't want to feel sorry for himself, but he was beginning to get very bitter over his own fate.

You probably thought that we want to kill you. Oh no, that would make a martyr out of you and a hero, and we certainly don't want this. Darhk's accomplice's words again echoed in his mind, and finally he fully understood the dreadful meaning hidden in them.

Doctor Pressnall collected the folder and her notes, and got up. He didn't take his eyes off her, observing her in the very same manner as when she first came into the interrogation room. His look must have had some intimidating effect, as she had nearly dropped the pencil. However, it didn't give him any satisfaction. He knew he was defeated. Still, he couldn't believe that this woman had turned out to be his greatest enemy. Neither Malcolm Merlyn, nor Slade Wilson had managed to pick him apart in the manner she did, look through him and leave him so defenseless.

Before Doctor Pressnall left the interrogation room for good, she stopped just a few steps from him and said:

"No man is a lonely island, Oliver, if you'll forgive me bringing up this quote. It must have been quite overwhelming, talking about all of this. Rest assured that I will do everything in my power to help you."

"Yeah. Sure you will," he said grimly.

This declaration was what he was afraid of the most. She was so determined to help him... But he didn't want to be helped. He didn't want to be saved. Not in the way the psychiatrist imagined it for sure.

"It does feel good, doesn't it?" he said suddenly, fixing her with a last defiant look. "Being in control. Thinking that you can't possibly be wrong."

Doctor Pressnall hesitated for a brief moment, but didn't say anything. Apparently for once she couldn't find a proper answer. They looked each other in the eye for a moment longer, and eventually Oliver turned his gaze away. He stayed oblivious to the last concerned and compassionate glance Doctor Pressnall gave him before officer Weir let her out.

Once he was left alone, he lost himself in depressing thoughts. The future that lay ahead of him seemed to be painted only in the darkest colors, and he could resist what was about to happen as much as the flame of candle against a hurricane.

They would take his hood away from him, telling him that it is for his own good. They would drag into broad daylight every nightmare he managed to bury and make him to live through it again and again, and again. Ask about each of his scars and his tattoos, digging in the past he wanted to leave behind. It will be as painful as trying to yank out an arrow from his flesh. And as damaging. They will tell him that thanks to therapy, he will soon feel better. But only one thing could make him feel better—if he had dealt with all of those who were poisoning the city. But he will never again emerge into the night as the vigilante. He will be locked up in some claustrophobic room in the asylum with bare walls and small barred windows, where he won't be able to see the open sky any more.

He dreaded to wonder if he would ever see his sister again... If she would even want to speak with him at all after she discovered he had lied to her for so long. But one thing was certain—he would never have another chance to repair his relationship with Laurel or those few people who were close to him. He didn't want to listen to the small voice at the back of his head saying that he had lost them because he was too obsessive over his mission and too manipulative. How will they remember him?

And himself? How long will he remember who he truly is? He knew what they did to people in those hospitals to keep them under control. They will put him on meds, which will break down both his spirit and body, dulling his senses to the point that he will become completely indifferent to everything. Staring at the empty wall will be probably be all he will be able to do. A distant, terrifying memory of the empty look of the Count, strapped to a chair in the basement of St. Walker's, flashed through his mind. If he will find himself in a similar state, he might indeed forget about his mission and the Arrow, and lose any sense of purpose.

And when there was no Arrow any more, what would be left of who he really was? The island forged him into what he was now. How he could let go of this part of himself?

He hung his head, clenching his fists. Powerlessness. He hated this feeling with every fiber of his being. But he couldn't deny the awful truth. He wasn't able to save his city. He had failed. And soon he wouldn't even be able to save himself.

Chapter Text

Between Loyalty and Duty

" Quentin, what the hell?" These are the first words major Frank Pike greets Quentin with once he steps into his superior's office, called on very short notice to Central Station. It has been less than two hours since Oliver Queen turned himself in, and the news about this unexpected twist of events has spread like wildfire to every unit within the Starling police force.

Lance has very little doubt what he has been asked about. Pike looks at him piercingly from his place behind the desk and doesn't invite him to sit down. All subtle things indicating that it won't be pleasant small talk. And to be honest he wouldn't expect anything else.

"I wish I could tell you something that will actually make sense. But it's...complicated," says Quentin.

Pike shoots him a look that is hard to read. On some level Lance is happy that he doesn't know what he is thinking about right now.

" Did you know?" he asks finally.

Uh-oh, so it begins. And again Lance has no doubts about what he has been asked.

" I didn't know who he was...until today," he answers without hesitation.

Pike wipes his brow, giving him another are-you-fucking-kidding-me look.

" Quentin... Do you have any idea how damn unbelievable this sounds? Work with me here, man, if you want me to save your ass."

Lance decides to tell him something that is at least partially close to the truth.

" I've had my suspicions. But my suspicions are my private business."

For a moment there is deep silence in the office. Quentin can hear rapid footsteps in the corridor when someone passes the door, even a printer turning on in the adjoining room and spitting out some printouts fast. Frank seems to be both surprised and offended by such an answer, and Lance realizes that this is no a proper way to talk with someone who is not only your boss but also a friend. For a moment he is sure that Pike will throw him out of his office, but instead he asks simply:

" Why? Why now?" he says, and before Quentin has a chance to reply, he adds: "Is he behind these killings?"

" What? No. Of course not," protests Lance. "Where did you come up with that idea?"

" Is the only explanation I can think of. Instead of killing criminals, he starts to kill innocent people, because he can't stop himself. Eventually realizes what he has been doing, and turns himself in to put a definitive end to it."

" You couldn't be farther from the truth," remarks Quentin.

" Enlighten me then."

Lance hesitates. He has known Pike for over twenty years, but he is not sure if he can trust him now. His gut tells him that he is still the same honest cop, one of the few that hadn't gotten corrupted after being promoted to a high post. But perhaps some of the Arrow's paranoia was affecting him after all.

" Darhk has his men everywhere," he had warned him not so long ago. "In the police force too. It might be anyone, your most trusted detectives, men whose behavior never raised any suspicions... Even someone you have been closely working with for years."

" The Arrow thinks it is the only way to stop these killings," he finally says, not even realizing that he has used Queen's moniker instead of his actual name. "To stop the true killer from murdering more innocent people."

" And? That is all you can say?" Frank asks after a while.

Damn, he should have been better prepared for that conversation. But all he can think of is Oliver, who is currently being put through interrogation. Well, at least they have been trying to interrogate him. Detective Jones said that so far he hasn't uttered a word. He hasn't even requested a lawyer. Stubborn son of a bitch. It wouldn't save him or anyone close to him in the long run. He must be aware of that. No matter whether he decides to cooperate or not, before long he will be taken to court on a bail hearing and then to jail, to await the trial—due to severity of the offenses Oliver will be charged, no judge would even consider releasing him on bail. He is simply finished. It seems that his plan hadn't gone further than appearing on the doorstep of the police station and counting on this Darhk character keeping his end of the deal.

On the one hand Lance is cross with him—he agreed to play by the rules set by that shadowy villain. On the other, he knows that if he were in his place, he would do exactly the same.

" There might be something bigger happening in the city. Again," Lance finally says.

" You mean another madman like Merlyn or Wilson, planning mass destruction?"

" Maybe. I don't know much…"

" Then tell what do you know," insists Pike.

For a moment he wants to share with Frank what he knows about H.I.V.E. and their faceless boss, pulling the strings. But then he reminds himself about Oliver's warning again. It might not be Frank, but someone who eavesdrops on this conversation. Central Police Station is not the best place to discuss such things privately. If he says something now, he won't be able to take it back. Better be safe than sorry. He takes a deep breath, and ready to face the consequences, he says simply:

" I can't."

Pike seems to be really disappointed in him. He knits his eyebrows and shakes his head slightly.

" You're not too cooperative, Quentin. Do I have to remind you how it ended up last time?" He doesn't need to tell him that. When he was demoted to the rank of an ordinary police officer, he eventually got arrested for actively supporting the vigilante. He won't be surprised if the story is about to repeat itself.

" Then lock me up," he says simply.

" Nobody is locking you up, Quentin," says Pike sternly.

Yet, Lance finishes that sentence silently to himself. All his work with the Arrow was off the books. Pike had known about their cooperation, and he was given the green light to make a deal with the hooded vigilante after he had saved the city from being leveled three years ago. He deserved some credit, after all. SCPD never acknowledged the individual known as the Arrow as someone other than a criminal, but after the part he had played in stopping Slade Wilson, they hadn't tried particularly hard to apprehend him. In Glades precinct he was treated as a very unusual kind of informant. At the Central Station there had been talk that they have been sympathizing with a criminal, and Lance was one hundred percent sure that he will never get a promotion because of his allegiance with the Arrow. He was made captain only because Pike moved up and vouched for him. Not to mention that nobody would want to take a post in Glades, which was commonly known as the worst and the most difficult district of the city.

" Especially since apparently you're a new hero who has made this spectacular arrest."

Quentin has no idea what he's talking about until Pike turns his laptop toward him to show him an opened article. Lance can't believe his own eyes when he reads the title and the lead. "Oliver Queen is the Arrow. Captain Quentin Lance's 5-year investigation leads to an arrest."

" Who has put it out?" He is so surprised upon seeing this that he is not able to say anything more constructive.

"Victoria Much. And you don't find too many warm words about the Arrow in this article. It seems that the Sentinel sides with the City Hall recently, doesn't it?" asks Pike rhetorically.

" How have they managed to learn about it so quickly? We haven't released any official statement yet..." He really doesn't know what to make out of it. Except for the fact that some small voice at the back of his head says that Oliver has to have a hand in this.

" Apparently someone in your precinct talked and now journalists from every damn paper and television station are hammering on our door," Pike's voice cuts into his thoughts. One doesn't need to be a genius to guess that he is not particularly happy with him.

" Yeah, I've noticed," scoffs Quentin. He had to enter the station through the back doors, otherwise he wouldn't be able to get inside.

" I've been wondering if it would be better if it this case was taken over by Central Station..."

Before Quentin has time to voice his opinion, Pike adds: "But they will keep asking anyway. You would be in the spotlight one way or another, due to your history with Queen. However, no matter what the public opinion is imagining right now, I don't want you near him. For your own good. I'll send someone from my station to supervise the case..."

He doesn't protest, as he hadn't expected to hear anything else due to his personal connection to Queen. If Pike hadn't ordered him to step aside, Commissioner Moorgate surely would. Some guy from Central Station wouldn't have the same moral dilemma that he has. Their paths rarely crossed with the Arrow, since his case has been—at least in theory—assigned to Glade's precinct.

" Who did you put on the case?" asks Pike.

" Jones and O'Brian. They have been trying to interrogate him."

And trying is a good word, he adds silently to himself.

" And? Did he say anything?"

" No, not yet."

" Quentin... I know what you're thinking about right now," Frank remarks.

" How so? Are you a meta-human who can read minds?" Lance asks sarcastically.

Pike ignores his improper tone and carries on: "Take an advice from an old friend. You can't do anything for him. You can only reduce the damage."

" You want me to throw him under the bus?" Lance asks rhetorically. The bitterness in his tone of voice is not lost on Frank.

" For God's sake, where you were thinking this cooperation leads?" asks Pike with a sudden anger. "He was... useful, and you were given a free hand, but sooner or later..." he breaks off.

Lance is not sure what he has been thinking. He wonders if he hadn't been given permission to work with the Arrow only because his superiors assumed that the hooded archer would get himself killed sooner or later and "the vigilante problem" will miraculously resolve itself. He is torn between his loyalty to Oliver and his duty. It takes him a long while to remind himself that according to the law, the Arrow is a criminal. Always has been, always would be, no matter how many times he has saved this city. Even if there was no damn city any more, but a deep hole in the ground.

Maybe his original plan had indeed been to get close to the Arrow, to learn more about him and his methods. To use him to do some dirty work he couldn't do himself without breaking the rules. But wasn't cooperating with a vigilante, giving him intel and using him as a weapon against other criminals also breaking the rules he had believed in his whole life? He told himself that he would collect as much evidence on him as he could, and at right moment, would end the deal and make the arrest. But every day the line got thinner. Over time it became harder to think about him as some faceless man. Especially since he became more and more sure that Oliver was hiding under that hood. He made his peace with him. It turned out to be much easier than he had expected, since Sara was miraculously returned to him. For the sake of his own sanity he preferred to not think about the disturbing fact that Oliver was in a relationship with both his daughters. Seduced one, betrayed another...But they were all adults. He decided that it was up to them to resolve matters between the three of them. Otherwise he would have to shoot him down.

" If you don't want to think about yourself... and your retirement, maybe you should think about Laurel," says Frank.

" What are you attempting to suggest?" asks Lance stiffly, feeling a icily cold stab of fear.

" I'm not suggesting anything. But you know as well as I do that all connections Queen has in his real life will be meticulously checked, and Laurel hadn't quite given up on him, has she? And there is that blonde woman that has been frequently seen with the Arrow..." he paused.

" It's a preposterous assumption, Frank." Lance doesn't let him finish.

" Oh, really? I'm sorry to be that guy, but you must consider that possibility, however unpleasant that sounds. Guys like Queen have a very strong, charming personalities... And this may attract not only nutjobs like Cutter..."

" There is no reason to believe that a respected lawyer dresses up in black leather and runs around the city in a mask," comments Lance sarcastically, trying to brush off Frank's words, turning everything into a joke. Even if it is an extremely forced and weak one.

" A while back, I would say the same about billionaire playboys wearing green hoods and wielding bows..."

" You're taking it too far, Frank," says Quentin through gritted teeth. He feels like a boxer pushed into a corner of the ring, forced to cover himself from incoming blows.

" Maybe. But it's better I ask you these questions before Moorgate or anyone else does," says Pike coldly.

Lance wishes he had some line of defense prepared. But for once he has no clue what he should say to turn suspicions away from Laurel. Fortunately Pike finally leaves the topic aside.

" I've got a meeting with the Commissioner in twenty minutes," he says, looking down on his watch. "We'll talk again soon. And for your own sake... and your daughter's, better think over what we have been talking about... and give more convincing answers next time."


"He is even more fucked up than I'd thought," commented Commissioner Moorgate with disgust, looking through the one-way mirror at the Arrow. He took a sip of coffee from a paper cup and winced. Apparently the beverage produced by the espresso machine from the kitchen on the second floor wasn't to his liking.

Quentin bit his tongue, before he made some sarcastic comment. He was lucky that he could be present in this room during the interrogation, although the Commissioner was looking at him sideways every time he reminded himself about his existence. Lance had known that he hadn't been kicked outside only because he had Pike's support. He wished he could somehow help Oliver. But his hands were tied.

What was worse, it seemed that Oliver had reached his breaking point. The vigilante's gaze was fixed at one point of the table. Most suspects looked nervous, or tried to play some sort of game, act nonchalant or aggressive. Apparently Queen's strategy was to hide behind silence and indifference. A plan that worked up until the moment it didn't. When he listened to what Oliver had been telling Doctor Pressnall, he felt more and more agitated. Eventually his only thought was "Stop talking, you idiot!". He condemned himself with every word, and if Lance hadn't known him better, he would also be convinced that this man was insane.

At least the whole conversation was not recorded, so according to the law it couldn't be used in court—at the very beginning Doctor Pressnall said that she couldn't agree to that. "I'm here to determine his mental state, not interrogate him," she said. The psychiatrist insisted also on getting some place more private than an interrogation room, suspecting that Queen wouldn't want to talk with her knowing that the cops could hear every word. But Captain Robinson, who was sent over from Central Station to supervise the case, refused to fulfill that wish. Lance happened to overhear their exchange.

"I won't leave you alone in a room with a dangerous psychopath without any sort of supervision, Doctor. There is no option."

"Well, I'm willing to take a risk."

"And I'm not. It's either the interrogation room and this madman chained to the table, or we'll look for another psychiatrist."

The Doctor hesitated but eventually agreed on these terms, even though she must have been well aware that they were not exactly ethical. Apparently an occasion to talk with such an extraordinary case like the Arrow was not something she could miss.

"...someone take this lunatic back to the cell," ordered the Commissioner. "And bring that psychiatrist here, I want to have a word with her..."

Lance glared at Moorgate. Fortunately he was standing in the back and no one noticed. He was never his fan, and he couldn't even tell exactly why. Something was off in this guy, maybe because he was an outsider without previous ties to SCPD. He had gotten transferred from Hub City less than a year ago. Quite surprisingly, he was nominated by the city's council for the commissioner's post, although initially it seemed that other candidates, including Frank Pike, had better chances. He also hadn't exactly seen eye to eye with Captain Robinson. He was a good cop, but he despised vigilantism with every fiber of his being. Quentin had a strange impression, as if he had seen himself in some distorting mirror—he couldn't believe that not so long ago he used to think exactly like Robinson.

"That shrink sure took her time," muttered Moorgate, displeased with the fact that the converstation lasted so long. Even though he had arrived at Glades precinct less than an hour ago, and contrary to the rest of men gathered in the room—Robinson, Lance, detectives Jones and O'Brian, the District Attorney and the two or three other cops who came and went at various stages—he hadn't heard most of it. "Picking apart such a rare specimen must have been more entertaining than an ordinary workday in a loony bin..."

He broke off rapidly, when Officer Doyle let in the psychiatrist into the room.

The doctor shot the commissioner a somehow doubtful glance that seemed to indicate that she had heard at least a part of his remark. Moorgate, however, hadn't seemed to be particularly embarrassed.

"So? What's your professional opinion, doctor?" he asked, as if the unfortunate words had never been spoken.

"It's well too soon to come up with any firm diagnosis, commissioner. It may take weeks, months, even years in some cases. But Mr. Queen certainly qualifies for treatment in St. Walker. Of that I have very little doubt."

"He seems to be fit to stand trial," said the district attorney suddenly. Through the whole conversation that had taken place in the interrogation room, he had kept mostly to himself, only occasionally exchanging some remarks with the police officers, and occupied a place in the back, just like Quentin. Now he came forward. "I believe we haven't had the pleasure earlier, doctor. Adrian Chase," he introduced himself.

"Avery Pressnall," the doctor shook his hand.

"Tough nut to crack, this one, huh?" said Chase, pointing with his chin toward the interrogation room.

"Oh, he is a puzzle by any measure," said the psychiatrist, with one last glance back at the vigilante.

The Arrow was just being lead out by Officer Weir, who did his best to not show how nervous he was due to the responsiblity he was given. Every time he had to escort the special prisoner to holding area, he must have imagined that at any moment, the station would swarm with the vigilante's allies, and what was worse, his meta-human friends, trying to break him out. That was a valid concern indeed. Quentin wondered where was Oliver's hot-headed sidekick, Harper. Why hadn't he, Felicity and that former bodyguard of Queen, who was one of his allies as well, tried to interfere in some way? They paths might have parted, but one thing was certain about the type of people Oliver pulled into his crusade—they were all extremely loyal, they wouldn't leave him alone...

At least he knew where is own daughter was. Fortunately far away from here, in New York, which at least for the time being prevented her from doing something stupid. The same couldn't be said about Oliver's fast running pal from Central City—the distance was no obstacle for him. Lance had seen him in action only a couple of times, but it was enough to form an opinion about his skills and capabilities. These morons from Central Station thought that a SWAT team would be enough to stop the Flash. They should watch a couple of videos on YouTube recorded by bystanders, that showed something which looked like lightning passing by, to get an idea what kind of friends the Arrow had. The guys from SWAT wouldn't even have time to blink...

"I'm not denying that Mr. Queen was quite responsive. Surely much more than some people I've examined. He is clearly well aware of what he has been doing as the Arrow, and at the same time he reacts to his true name."

"If that's the case, then he can be held responsible for all the crimes he had committed over the span of last five years," said Captain Robinson.

"I wouldn't condemn him so hastily," retorted Doctor Pressnall. "It's not that simple. We can't forget that this man is also a victim. Everything he has been though on that island he had been stranded...or wherever he has been wandering during these five years...it left deep marks on him, both physically and mentally. He has suffered a lot, his medical report tells enough, even if he himself is not willing to share the story. In order to survive, he created a persona that was able to deal with inexplicable cruelty—the Arrow. He could take what Oliver wouldn't be able to. He is clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and never received any treatment. It seems that he takes it out in a rather unusual way..."

"That's a very nice way to describe shooting people with arrows and being involved in domestic terrorism," commented the commissioner sarcastically. "With all due respect, doctor, we are not talking here about a bird with a broken wing. Although some people present here might not agree and think of him as tamed, he is a dangerous criminal." He cast Lance a particularly nasty look.

"From our viewpoints, his actions, of course, are unacceptable," said Doctor Pressnall. "But he had thought that he was doing some good, and stepping outside the law was the only way to repair the system he refused to be a part of. Now, many people try to give some meaning to what happened to them by helping others—it can also be a form of therapy. And he helped others as the Arrow... or rather thought that he helped. You have mentioned the crimes he had committed, commissioner. But there is something very unusual in his M.O. I don't recall anyone killed by the Arrow over last three years. And I've never heard about a serial killer who was able to change his ways. He used to be much more ruthless. If he was the blood-thirsty monster some of the reports I've read portray him to be, he wouldn't be able to hold back..."

"I wouldn't be so sure, doctor. There is a case of murders of eight innocent victims that we have been investigating," remarked Captain Robinson.

"But they were all shot down by firearms, as far as I recall."

"Someone who is so skilled with bow and arrows, surely also knows how to use a gun..."

Lance couldn't keep silent any more. He knew he would regret this later, but he couldn't allow blame for these crimes to be shifted on the Arrow. Especially since he practically sacrificed his life to prevent more murders from happening.

"You have no proof to support this statement, Robinson," he said, loud enough to draw the attention of everyone present in the room. "It's a wild speculation, nothing more."

"You're not the most suitable person to voice your opinion on the matter," retorted Robinson, giving him a contemptuous glance. He used to look up to him, but now in his mind Lance represented a cop who had stepped out of line and threw away his career in the process. "Especially due to Queen's connection to your family."

He put it much nicer than some of the man from the force. The old story of Oliver's relationship with both his daughters naturally resurfaced again. While his close coworkers had enough tact to never mention this topic, others tore him to pieces. Over the last few days, Quentin had the dubious pleasure of overhearing many malicious comments. Some said that they would shoot a guy who did something like that to their daughters. Lance only grit his teeth. They had no damn idea how close he was to doing exactly like that when he had seen Oliver alive after five years.

"I'm speaking about facts," said Quentin calmly. "If you have read the ballistic analysis closely, you would know that it's not very likely that a man of Queen's height was the murderer..."

To his surprise he found an ally in Doctor Pressnall.

"Speaking of these murders. The name he had mentioned... That Damien Darhk. Are you going to check this?"

"We have already checked this in our database," admitted Robinson reluctantly. "Predictably no one like this exists."

"You're giving too much thought to that, doctor. Guys like Queen always came up with some fantastic stories, you should know that. And despite what Captain Lance might think, a serial killer will always be a serial killer, sooner or later he would snap again..." said Moorgate dismissively.

Doctor Pressnall shot him a very stern look.

"When it comes to psychology, diagnosing someone is never as simple as most people want it to be. You've called me here to give my opinion about Mr. Queen. So please let me finish, commissioner, before you make a comment."

Moorgate didn't apologize, but at least he hadn't interrupted mid-sentence.

"Carry on," he said, trying his best to look at least a bit interested.

"As I've said, Mr. Queen's case is a most unusual one. He certainly holds a very strong set of beliefs. But they don't seem to be delusional. Don't look so surprised," she said, noticing policemen's doubtful looks. "He is able to acknowledge the possibility that other people don't share them. What's more, for a long time he was able to function in normal society without drawing too much unwanted attention to himself. He had even come up with a plan to turn away suspicions from himself. But he has finally broken down. Until it's proven otherwise, I'll assume that he turned himself in because he wasn't able to do any longer what he has been doing for the last five years. His mission quickly became his obsession that dominated every aspect of his life. It took its toll on him, even if he himself doesn't want to admit it. Since his own family was torn apart, he was deeply convinced that by protecting others from the same fate, he could somehow make things right. But he failed to realize that he'll never be at peace with himself since it's impossible to save everybody."

"So it all comes back to the family, does it?" muttered Adrian Chase. Quentin heard some strange note in his voice. The DA appeared to be pensive, as if only a part of his attention was dedicated to the psychiatrist's diagnosis.

"It was not hard to notice that this topic is very sensitive for him," said Doctor Pressnall, apparently assuming that Chase had just asked a question. "His reaction when I touched the subject was very impetuous, contrary to his controlled behavior. He clearly idolized his parents. It must have been a hard blow when he realized neither his father, nor his mother were the people he had imagined them to be. Now his sister is his only living relative. The strong family bond stretches over their relationship. Over the course of his career, the Arrow seemed to come down hard especially against drug dealers—part of the reason might be the fact that Thea Queen was a drug addict and nearly died because of it. And don't forget that four years ago, he put that hood on again only because she was in danger. There was that longer break in the Arrow's activity, the only one over the span of five years. Naturally he would be extremely protective of her."

"Speaking of Thea Queen," said Moorgate. "I won't even ask if you have managed to locate her."

Robinson gave Detectives O'Brian and Jones a very meaningful look. They hesitated for a moment, before Jones said:

"Not exactly. We're sure that she is somewhere in London though..."

"Somewhere in London is not good enough," said the commissioner with such a tone as if he had disciplined a pair of school boys. Lance grit his teeth. He hated the fact that those guys from Central Station came to his precinct and treated his men like dirt and he could do nothing about it. Unlike him, his policemen had enough common sense to never tangle themselves with the vigilantes. Now good, honest cops like Jones and O'Brian were paying a price for their captain's mistakes.

"If I may offer a piece of advice," cut in Doctor Pressnall. "I think that all you need to do is just... wait. It's obvious that the Queens have a very strong bond, and since their parents are dead, they have only each other. Although finding out the truth about her brother must have been quite a shock for Thea Queen, I would be surprised if she hadn't caught the first plane available and came to Starling."

"Do you think that she might really not know about him being the vigilante?" asked Captain Robinson.

"She might suspect something. But then again she probably explained some of his odd behaviors as the burden of the years he had spent in isolation on that island... or wherever he was. And since she moved out of Starling, they hadn't seen each other as frequently as before. It's easier to keep up the game through a phone than when meeting face to face."

"Hard to believe that he had never slipped on something," said Adrian Chase.

"He mastered to perfection keeping two halves of his life separate. And he convinced himself that he did this to keep her out of the harm's way. It was easier to justify not being honest with her that way. It's quite easy to understand what he was thinking. However, some other things about him are far more intriguing. How did he choose his targets? How did he decide whom to spare, and who deserves the most severe punishment in his book? Did he take pleasure in killing? Or was simply having total control over the situation, something he was deprived of on the island, enough to satisfy him? Those are few of many questions I would like to get an answer for. Maybe by understanding how his mind works, we can understand other people like him. And see the bigger picture."

"One thing is not hard to understand for me—he started all this madness," commented the commissioner.

"It looks as if he had given the beginning to a movement of sorts. But at the same time, we can't ignore the fact that apparently something is not right with our society and with our system of values, if some individuals decide to step out of it and take justice into their own hands. Maybe all of us created the Arrow in some way," said Doctor Pressnall.

"Uhm, yeah, thank you for that input, Doctor."

Lance couldn't keep silent any longer. He didn't really care that he was going to incriminate himself.

"Stating that he is responsible for everything that happens in this mad city would a bit of overstatement," he said. He took some satisfaction in the fact that every time he spoke Moorgate seemed to get slightly annoyed. "No man has such an influence. Not to mention Merlyn put his plan into operation a long time before Oliver Queen even thought about wearing that green hood."

"He might not have started the fire, but for sure he added fuel to the flames," retorted Robinson. "Merlyn is only an exception that proves a rule. Wilson targeted the city only because he had some personal conflict with your hooded friend, Lance. Ever since the Arrow appeared, we had a whole army of costumed villains and copy-cat vigilantes. And we might have a new one."

"My God, what now? Another archer?" scoffed Moorgate.

"Not exactly. One of my men reported that just a couple of hours ago, someone had seen a moron running in a hockey mask with firearms."

"Terrific." The commissioner shook his head. "It hasn't even been two days since we got the Arrow, and there is another one... Where do these guys come from?"

"I'm afraid there is no way to stop this," said Doctor Pressnall. "Unless we understand how a vigilante's mind works..."

"I see you point, doctor. But what do you propose exactly? You think that you can come up with some treatment for... vigilantism? That you can cure him? Make him move on to something else besides running around the city in a hood and shooting people with arrows?"

"Oh, he knows very well that what he does is wrong. He is just not able to follow the rules and norms of society. Not in his state. It's not up to me to decide Mr. Queen's fate, but I think that sending him to a prison is not a resolution," said the psychiatrist. "This hood and the bow... it's just like had said, it was his true life. The only one that mattered for him. He sacrificed everything for the sake of his mission. His chance to get back to a normal life, his relationships... In some way, he still feels as if he were on a deserted island and had to fight to survive another day. He might become depressed or suicidal when he won't be able to pursue his goals. And this should be taken into consideration when he's put on trial. I'm ready to testify the same in the court."

"Thank you for your time, doctor. We'll keep in touch..."

"Of course. May I keep the case file?" she asked Captain Robinson. "There's a couple of things I'd like to have a closer look at."

"Sure, we've got plenty of copies of this stuff..."

Moorgate left the room with Robinson and Chase. The commissioner wanted to see the vigilante's equipment with his own eyes, and the district attorney showed an interest in the physical evidence as well. Jones and O'Brian, as the lead detectives assigned to the Arrow's case, were ordered by Moorgate to join them—apparently he had some questions for them. Lance was the only person that was omitted, and without any doubt purposefully excluded from the party. As a result he and Doctor Pressnall were left alone in the room. The psychiatrist seemed to not even be aware of his presence. She hadn't looked his way, busy with putting files back into her briefcase.

SCPD worked with various specialists, psychiatrists and psychologists. Quentin had known Pressnall for some time. He had consulted her on a few cases, including the one that still gave him nightmares—Dollmaker's murders.

He hesitated for a moment, and then approached Doctor Pressnall. His move caught her attention.

"Oh, you're still here, Captain Lance?" she asked with mild surprise, raising her eyes. "Shouldn't you join the meeting?"

"I'm not invited," he said curtly. "Do you have a moment, doctor? I've got something that might be of some interest to you..."

Chapter Text

The Kind of Man He Truly Is

When Doctor Avery Pressnall returns to her office the light is off, which she finds rather peculiar. She flips the switch a few times, looking up at the ceiling lamp. No effect. Everything was okay just moments ago. Many unusual things tend to happen in her workplace, but it is highly unlikely that both light bulbs have burned out at once.

She left her office for a couple of minutes, after she had gotten a call from the reception desk that a courier delivered a letter for her, saying it was urgent. It turned out that it was an envelope containing only advertising leaflets, some information about the upcoming revitalization plan of the unused port area, mainly South Pier and its long abandoned warehouses. When she looked through them, she realized there were from a few years ago. Who on Earth had gotten the idea to send old leaflets about it right now, especially since nothing happened there in years, and claim it was "urgent"? A stupid joke, most likely.

But come to think of it...it is a pity that this once lively part of the city is so neglected—another dark spot on Starling's map, just like Glades. Avery remembers very well the times when the ships of the local cruise company had their mooring place at South Pier. They were called White Fleet. A sea voyage used to be one of the main tourist attractions of the city. She had been on a couple of trips like that, the last time with her future husband, then fiancée. That was over twenty-five years ago. Before long, White Fleet had ceased to exist. City Hall spoke about revitalization from time to time, but eventually their only success was bringing Harbour Green Park back to life.

She throws the folder into a trash bin on her way back. It is a couple of minutes past six p.m. It has been long and exhausting day. The morning report brought some worrying news for starters; not all patients had done well overnight. There was a lot to cover at the team meeting with residents and interns where the individual cases and treatment plans were discussed. Among the new overnight admissions was a man who attempted suicide and was brought in by the police. One of the patients suffered another major depressive episode, even though her therapy had seemed to be progressing in a good direction. One step forward, two steps back... Unfortunately it was not unusual in her line of work. The rest of the day was filled with seeing patients one-on-one and working on treatment plans. And she still has some paperwork to finish. However, with the light out, it has become impossible for obvious reasons.

She leaves the door half-open and steps into the office to search for the file she needs. She will just take the folder with her back home and will ask the maintenance man to check the ceiling light tomorrow morning.

She doesn't suspect a thing when she starts to flip through the files. That is why she is so completely taken aback when all of a sudden she hears a deep stranger's voice in her seemingly empty office.

" Doctor Pressnall."

Her heart misses a beat. She raises her eyes abruptly to see a hooded figure stepping out of the dark corner.

" Oh my God!" she cries and instinctively takes a step back, moving behind her chair and desk, as if they could offer her some protection from the man. He has a quiver full of arrows on his back and a bow in his hand. She recognizes him immediately. The Arrow, Starling City's vigilante. For some a modern Robin Hood, for others a criminal that has a taste for the theatrical and took the legend a little too literally. Also a favorite topic of conversation for some of her colleagues, who came up with new theories about the motives driving the vigilante every week during conversations over coffee, as if it was possible to diagnose someone without even meeting them in person.

She has no idea how she could not have noticed him earlier. Probably because he has been lingering in the shadows, chosing a place that allowed him to stay out of her field of vision when she entered her office. The vigilante seems to be a bit surprised by her reaction, as if he had no idea what an effect his sudden appearance seemingly out of nowhere can have on ordinary people.

" I'm not here to hurt you," he assures her.

Well, that is comforting. But her heart is thumping away like a drum. The Arrow is something that belongs to the darker, more ominous part of the city. Bad neighborhoods, fighting against street-level crimes... even though he has a colorful history of attacking one-percenters to talk them into sharing part of their wealth with the less fortunate (usually using sharp arrows as an argument to do so) and acting as a social justice warrior of sorts.

However, it is not the first time he has appeared in St. Walker's. A distant memory about Doctor Andrew Webb found with an arrow in his chest flashes through her mind.

" What do you want?" asks Avery, not able to hide a tinge of uneasiness in her voice. Even though she probably already knows the answer.

" To talk about Carrie Cutter," he says, confirming her suspicions.

Yesterday she had a conversation with two police detectives about Carrie Cutter. So it was not too hard to make a connection between that case and the Arrow's visit. Especially since Carrie's obsession has taken an unusual turn. For some reason, she had fixated upon the vigilante. Started to run around the city with a bow and arrow. She killed one person and injured two cops. It was hard to believe that such a fragile-looking woman, who not so long ago came to her for therapy sessions, lost and deeply hurt, had turned into a cold-blooded murderer, ready to do everything just to achieve her goal—whatever she imagined it to be. Nevertheless, Avery can't speak freely about anything that had been confided to her in her office during the time she had worked with Carrie.

" I can't. Doctor-patient privilege," she says curtly, and mustering all her courage she demands firmly: "Just please, get out!"

Predictably, it is not that easy to get rid of the archer. He doesn't move, just shoots her a look that sends a chill down her spine. Avery feels it even though she can barely see his eyes—they are hidden in the deep shadow cast by the hood. There is something intimidating about him, even though his outfit doesn't look particularly scary. From what she heard from the police detectives working on Cutter's case, Carrie has lost the touch with reality for good, and Avery can't stop thinking that the man standing before her is no different. And most likely he is going to blame her for Carrie's deeds.

" Your patient killed a man, kidnapped another..." he says with a hard edge in his voice. To her surprise, he doesn't come closer to her, even though it would be the easiest method to intimidate her even further. "And I'm trying to stop her before she hurts anyone else. To do that, I need to... understand her."

Avery clenches her fingers around the back of the chair, hesitating and reconsidering her options. She sighs, wondering what she should do. During therapy nothing indicated that Carrie was going to hurt someone. Avery simply has no right to talk about her with a stranger...

The vigilante seems to be well aware of her doubts.

" Please," he says.

She raises her eyes to look at him. There is something in his tone that makes her want to help him, a mix of urgency and desperation. Apparently he considered her to be his last resort. He has some really strange notions in his head. But then again... he has said that he wants to stop Carrie before anyone else gets hurt. The police have already proven to be unsuccessful in that regard...as well as her earlier therapy. Maybe the vigilante Carrie has been pursuing is also the only person that can capture her?

On the spur of the moment, Avery makes a decision.

" I can only diagnose her," she says, taking a step forward, adamant about not revealing directly anything she has been talking about with Carrie in the therapy sessions she had with her. "Attachment disorder, the inability to form real, lasting relationships... They push everyone away, and fixate on a single person. Someone they feel mirrors their emotional state."

He listens to her words attentively, keeping to the dark corner of the office.

" How do I stop her?" he asks.

" Give her the connection that she craves...honesty, sincerity... If you lie to her, she'll know."

" Thank you," he says, and rushes toward the door.

" If you'll permit a professional observation..." she says suddenly.

He stops at the doorstep and turns back. He seems tense, as if he has sensed that he is not going to like what he is about to hear.

" You could use a little therapy yourself."

She doesn't know what makes her say that. It is not a very smart move to provoke him. It is also very unethical. But she can't stop herself from delivering that sarcastic remark. He has irritated her. He has not only broke into her office where she keeps confidential documents and personal medical records, and given her a hell of a scare, but what is worse, he has forced her to bend the rules of doctor-patient privilege.

" What gives you that impression?" he asks sternly, shooting her a piercing glance.

She looks him up and down, before her now steady gaze meets his eyes again.

" You mean, apart from the mask and the Robin Hood costume?" she asks casually.

He doesn't come up with any riposte. He just looks at her a while longer, turns away and leaves. Moments later the light in her office is suddenly back on. Avery shoots a glance at the ceiling lamp. It seems there will be no need to call the maintenance man after all. Then she decides to abandon her safe place behind the desk and approaches the door to peep out on the corridor. It is well lit and fortunately empty.

She feels a draft of colder air and notices that one of the windows at the end of the corridor is half open. She approaches it to close it, at the same time taking a look into the back alley down below. Not much can be seen in the yellowish dim light cast by a single light hanging on the wall of the building, but it seems that the vigilante is really gone. She feels a surge of relief. How had he done it, anyway? It is the second floor... Well, not much of a challenge for him, apparently. As well as slipping into St. Walker's without any of the staff or security noticing.

She is already starting to regret her harsh, unmerciful words. Damn, that was one really crappy thing for a psychotherapist to say. She must have touched a nerve with him. He hadn't been wearing that hood without a reason. Who knows what made him to do what he has been doing for… how long was it since he had appeared? Was it three years already? She has never given much thought to the Arrow, although many of her colleagues, especially the young ones, seem to be fascinated with him.

He seemed to be quite...rational. Save for wearing a leather costume and wielding a bow, of course. And he'd had no intention to hurt her. Why should he? The Arrow wasn't known to attack civilians. Unless he thought that they had done something wrong. Apparently an unsuccessful therapy course was not damning enough...

Even when she drives home, her mind keeps coming back to her encounter with the hooded vigilante. What are his motives? Why does he do what he has been doing? Maybe he had suffered some serious trauma that caused a rather atypical self-defense reaction, and as a result adapted another persona?

When she gets home she doesn't mention anything to her husband. It was Gary's turn to cook tonight, and he predictably brought some Thai takeaway. Avery is okay with that. She herself rarely has time to cook, especially when she had more work during the week, so usually she prepared something "special" only on weekends (she has most of them off, except for three or four times a year).

Tim comes back from practice with new bruises, but beaming, as it went particularly well today—he has been thinking really seriously about playing soccer professionally in the future. Jen is talking happily about her drawing class. It really warms Avery's heart to see her smile more often. The months following Madeline's and Allan's sudden deaths were difficult and left the whole family shattered. All Avery's experience and professional knowledge hadn't made her better prepared for a tragedy that struck her personally. No one is ever prepared, especially because it usually happens in the moment one expected it the least. But somehow she managed to pull through—they all have.

She doesn't think about the meeting with the vigilante any more that evening. But the next day, when she steps into her office, the first thing she does is shoot a glance toward the corner he had been lingering in yesterday—even though it is a bright early morning. She never mentions the Arrow's visit to any of her coworkers. There is nothing to talk about. But involuntarily she keeps thinking about that unusual encounter for a couple of days. She keeps an eye out for any news about Carrie Cutter—but her name never appears in the newspapers, contrary to the Arrow's moniker. Eventually life goes back to normal, the matters at hand becoming her primary focus once more.

She honestly hopes that she will never meet the hooded man again.


"Oh, you're still here, Captain Lance?" asked Doctor Pressnall with mild surprise, raising her eyes from her briefcase she was putting the files back into. "Shouldn't you join that meeting?"

"I'm not invited," he said curtly. But his dry tone suggested that he is at odds with his superiors.

Avery hadn't exactly understood why the policeman who was the head of the longtime investigation of the Arrow's case and had eventually arrested the vigilante was being pushed into the corner. It was not hard to notice that Commissioner Moorgate was looking askance at Lance, and Captain Robinson appeared to be in conflict with him as well. Perhaps the fact that he had known Oliver Queen in person and his family had close ties with him made things complicated and put him in bad light.

"Do you have a moment, Doctor? I've got something that might be of some interest for you..."

"Yes, I have. I guess I'm not needed anymore..."

Lance led her to his office. Avery had no idea what exactly he had meant by his rather enigmatic remark. They knew each other, as they have had to cooperate on cases that involved difficult subjects more than one occasion. However, they hadn't seen each other for some time. She was not the only consultant SCPD worked with, and sometimes they hadn't needed her for weeks. One of the cases she was involved in, when Lance was the head of the investigation, were Dollmaker's murders. She was never able to forget that one—he had killed eight girls in the span of a few months back in 2009. Women had been afraid to walk the streets, and the atmosphere of terror in the city in the late fall of that year was almost palatable. A difficult case, extremely hard for everyone who worked on it. After that, she could never look at a porcelain doll without remembering the empty look of Dollmaker's victims.

When they found themselves in the captain's office, Lance closed the door behind them and made sure that the shutters were down. Then he approached his desk and opened the bottom drawer. He took out a thick case file. Avery noticed that its spine was cracked in a few places, as if the folder had been frequently opened and closed. He handed it out to her.

"Here. Take this and read carefully if you want to learn what kind of man Oliver Queen truly is."

Doctor Pressnall took the offered case file and glanced at the cover. It looked like an ordinary folder for police documents, similar to the one she got from SCPD about the Arrow. The only difference was that there was no title or any sort of description. No case number either.

"What is this exactly?" she asked.

"My private file."

Avery put her briefcase down on a chair by Lance's desk and took the case file in both hands. She opened it to examine its contents. There were copies of police reports and a bunch of photographs of the Arrow—most of them of rather poor quality. Nothing that she hadn't seen before. She was about to comment on that when she came across cuttings from newspapers. She flipped through the first batch and read the titles.

Tobias Church arrested. SCPD refuses to comment on Arrow's involvement in case.

Vigilante saves woman and 5-year old daughter from fire.

School on lockdown — hero takes down gunman, rescues students. 'Could have been a bloodbath'

Mysterious vigilante resurfaces. Police stymied, no new leads.

Vigilante stops knife attack.

Is this the Hood? CCTV photo shows mysterious man wielding bow.

SCPD investigates reports of hooded vigilante.

"Why are you showing this to me? I don't understand... Wasn't it you who arrested him?" asked Doctor Pressnall.

Lance only shook his head.

"Technically, yes. It looks like that. He wanted to save my skin. A nice try, but completely useless. I can already start packing my stuff."

"Over the years... He has became more than just a police contact to you, hasn't he?" she said with sudden realization.

"It might be one of your most accurate observations made tonight, doctor," he commented dryly. "No offense."

"You think I'm wrong about him," she said. It was a bit surprising to hear that an experienced cop like Lance seemed to not only sympathize with the criminal, but apparently supported his activities outside the legal system he himself was a part of.

"I used to hate him and everything he represented. There was a time I would have sold my badge to nail him," admitted Lance sincerely. "But... that's changed. In city like Starling normal methods just... fail. And if we had realized that earlier, maybe we could have avoided tragedy...Four years ago, he tried to warn us about the quake in Glades, you know."

That piece of information was something she hadn't expected to hear. What? So it could have been stopped?

"Somehow he had learned about Merlyn's plan and reached out to me," Lance carried on. "I was about to make considerable progress in the investigation, had a chance to get to him through someone who had worked with him. And she was careless enough to leave a trail. But given the gravity of the news he had shared, it didn't seem to matter that much any more. There was something...I don't know, maybe in his voice, maybe in what he said that made me believe him...despite common sense and all my reservations toward him."

The captain shot her an expectant look, as if he hoped that his story made sense.

Avery nodded. She could understand that. She had felt something similar when he came to her office to ask about Carrie Cutter. The Arrow seemed to have a particularly strong influence on people—the sole fact of how many others he had inspired to take up vigilantism was proof enough. Whether that were due to his personality or his dedication to his mission, she wasn't exactly sure. Of course she had known better than to fall for that charm—but during their conversation she had begun to understand why so many people did.

"It was not the first time we had to cooperate out of necessity," Lance added vaguely, without specifying what sort of cooperation it was. "But it was futile. When my superior heard that I had intel from a criminal and a murderer,he suspended me. What else could he do? So I was left alone, without aid, with terrifying knowledge."

He paused for a short while. Avery waited for the rest of the story. It seemed that he needed to tell it somebody, and that somebody happened to be her.

"The Arrow's ally I've mentioned...It was a hacker. I worked with her to find the earthquake device and disarm it, while the Arrow took care of Merlyn. At first it seemed that we succeeded. But...there was a second device. And the outcome...well, you surely remember, like everyone who was in the city on that day..."

Avery remembered it very well. Even though she would have preferred not to.

I'm sorry, it appears that both your sister and your brother-in-law were inside when the building collapsed. We are still trying to reach them, but...

The whole street had been in ruins, it looked like a war zone. There was no chance for them to survive. There had been on the fifth floor of a building that practically ceased to exist.

Madeline had her study next to the flat. Apartments in Glades were much cheaper than in the better parts of the city, and both she and her husband needed space. He was mainly interested in design, she wanted to focus on painting. Like all artists, they had struggled to make ends meet. A couple of months before their deaths, it seemed that things were looking up regarding their careers. Allan's sculpture won an international competition, Madeline had her own exhibition in Starling's Gallery of Modern Art, and for the very fist time she had a considerable number of orders for her work. Soon all of that stopped mattering.

Not much was left of them. A bunch of family photos. An abstract painting hanging in Avery's office that her sister gave her shortly before her death. They were survived by Jeanette, though—she had been at her grandparents' house during the quake.

"Things looked quite different a year later, when the city was under the siege," Lance went on. His words helped her to distance herself from the painful memories and focus on the present. "This time we cooperated with the vigilantes, and the outcome was less tragic," he paused. "We wouldn't be talking right now if the Arrow hadn't succeeded. The government guys higher up were prepared to nuke the city to stop Slade Wilson."

"Excuse me?" she asked, not sure if she had heard right. Today offered her one surprise after another, breaking some record. What had he meant by "nuke " the city? In the twenty-first century, on United States territory, the government had seriously considered entirely wiping out half a million people just to stop one terrorist and a handful of his men?

Newspapers definitely hadn't written anything about that.

"The name of A.R.G.U.S. probably doesn't ring a bell to you," said Lance grimly.

It shouldn't, but unfortunately it did. At the very last moment, she reminded herself that she was not allowed to talk about her work with A.R.G.U.S. under any circumstances, as it was strictly confidential. So she chose to say nothing. Fortunately Lance interpreted her silence his own way.

"I thought so. Well, better keep well away in case you come across them."

"I'll remember," she nodded. "You still haven't explained why you're telling me all of this, captain..."

"Because you've got incomplete data. I know what they've given you in the Arrow's file. More or less. And what they haven't."

She didn't know what to say. She assumed that she had gotten information about the most representative cases. SCDP's archives were bursting at the seams, filled with documentation about vigilante's activities. He had appeared in the city almost every night, so there was plenty to cover. One of the detectives, Jones, told her that they had to adapt another room to enlarge the archive, otherwise they would have run out of space long time ago.

Not much could be fitted into one tiny folder. But a lot could be omitted, she realized. Like the small fact that to a certain extent SCPD cooperated with the Arrow. At least the precinct in Glades. Now she understood the tension between the local detectives and the Commissioner, and why Lance and Robinson were at odds.

"The lines are getting thinner, the longer I'm in this line of work," he explained, his tone sounding weary. "I used to think that you don't need to step outside of the law to get justice. Starling taught me otherwise. And right now all I know is that—no matter how absurd it sounds—a hooded guy with a bow is...was the only one who stood between us and other masks running around the city. And this city is hurting. There were guys like Merlyn, or Wilson, or Brick who wanted to tear it apart. Bertinelli, Triad, Bratva, Los Halcones, Church... The never ending list. Cut off one head, two new take its place... But right now we are about to put away the only guy who could do something about it."

"Didn't he turn himself in?" she observed.

"Only because he had no other choice."

I did it because it was the only way to save lives...

It seemed that this story had more and more layers. Merely thinking about that could make one's head hurt.

"So is it true? What he has said about that...Damien Darhk?" she asked hesitantly. "Who is he?"

"Nobody knows, that's the problem. But since it was his idea to kill eight innocent people just to send the Arrow's a message, I dread to think what kind of psychopath he is..."

Someone knocked on the door, interrupting their conversation.

"Come in," said Lance.

The door opened and a young woman around her thirties stepped inside.

"Dad, we need to talk..." she begin to say, but stopped when she saw Avery. "Oh, excuse me, I was told that you'd returned to you office alone."

"It's my daughter, Laurel. She works in the DA's office. Laurel, this is Doctor Avery Pressnall, from St. Walker's Hospital," said Lance, introducing them to each other.

Both women shook hands. Laurel gave her a ghost of a smile and muttered "pleasure", but it was clear that her mind was occupied by some urgent matters she wanted to discuss with her father in private. Avery couldn't help noticing that she had long blonde hair. It brought to mind a female vigilante that frequently accompanied the Arrow.

No, it couldn't be that obvious of a connection. But hadn't they shared a history with Oliver?

"Maybe I'll wait outside..." said Laurel, shooting her father a meaningful glance.

"Actually, I should go," Avery cut in. "We're quite finished here, anyway." She took her briefcase and carefully put Lance's private file inside next to SCPD's folder. "Thank you, captain. What you have told me... it's quite a lot to process. And I'm afraid it might not change the inevitable outcome," she admitted sincerely.

She might begin to see the bigger picture, but it hadn't changed the fact that at this point, it was not a debate whether Oliver Queen had a right to do what he had been doing as the vigilante. His life as an outlaw was finished, and the only question was whether he would end up in Iron Heights or St. Walker's. She didn't think he deserved to go to prison, but she was still convinced that he needed professional help.

He nodded. "I'm well aware."

She bid farewell and left the office, leaving the Lances to have a conversation that she sensed was not going to be an easy one.


The entire area near the precinct was closed. Avery was instructed which route she should take. It was quite a detour to make, but since there was a large public gathering on the main street and the nearby square, normal traffic was blocked. The policeman she talked to looked rather nervous. He kept looking around—anywhere but at her. His anxiety was understandable though—SCPD had quite a lot on their plate right now. From the stairs leading to the station's main entrance Avery could see a large crowd in the distance—it seemed it had grown in number during the time she was inside. A solid barrier was put across the road to cut them off from the Glades precinct. Two police vans stood nearby and there was also a SWAT team to back up the officers.

When she walked to her car, parked in the small parking lot beside the precinct, she accidentally looked up and noticed a dark figure with a long firearm standing on the one of the rooftops. He was probably on the lookout for other vigilantes that might try to break the Arrow out of prison.

When the news about the arrest of the archer hit the headlines, the citizens of Starling reacted very vigorously. First a group started to gather at the city hall and Central Station the next day. The authorities gave only a very vague statement and a not well thought-out order to just disperse the gathering, which made people outraged. In the afternoon the unofficial information that Queen was in fact held in Glades's precinct, not Central Station, somehow got released onto the web. People quickly organized themselves via social media to meet at the station. Some also stayed around during the night. The gathering occurred again the next day, and the number of participants seemed to grow with each passing hour. By that time a counter-demonstration appeared on the scene—not everyone were fans of the vigilante, and before long there were some incidents. Police desperately tried not only to keep the citizens away from Glade's precinct, but also the two fractions at safe distance from each other. Avery didn't exactly regret that she wasn't staying to watch how the events unfolded.

When she was driving home, her thoughts kept drifting back to Oliver. When she was asked to talk with him, she was a bit surprised that out of all the psychiatrists that they had at their disposal, SCPD decided to reach out to her. She had known, or at least suspected, that she had lost a good deal of credibility after her history with Cutter. The police had no idea that she had met the vigilante before and spoke to him. So it was probably just pure coincidence, nothing else.

Avery didn't know how that whole "interrogation" had turned out. It was clear the detectives had no clue how to make him talk. His attitude was very unnerving to them.

"It's like trying to talk to a stone," admitted one of them, Detective Jones, not exactly trying to hide his frustration. "He basically walks onto the station, then refuses to cooperate, as if he had some second thoughts or used superficial knowledge of the law. And my bosses demand results..."

They wanted her to ask some specific questions if possible, but otherwise she was given a free hand in how to approach the problem. The knowledge they would acquire this way couldn't be used as the evidence in court, but perhaps it would throw some light on the vigilante's actions. There were plenty of condemning factors about Queen's situation already—wearing the costume with the characteristic green hood and wielding a bow were the top ones—so the main question was to determine if his case could be put before a judge in a normal procedure.

Oliver wasn't aggressive, he didn't hurl insults at her like some of the suspects she was asked to examine. He even seemed to be quite rational. He was distrustful and wary, but it was to be expected given his horrible experiences. She reminded herself about the excerpts from his medical report she had read. How had he managed to survive all of that, especially in the severe conditions of that island? He wasn't particularly willing to throw light on what had happened to him. But he didn't need to. He might put his mask on and try to discourage her, evading answering her questions, but his eyes told his story most vividly. There was a hardness about them and a sort of coldness in their expression, mixed with a sense of defeat and overall sadness. Those were not the eyes of a young man, but someone who had been through a lot and struggled hard to survive.

It puzzled her why no one had noticed earlier what was happening with him. Where was his family? Nobody could be forced to undergo treatment of course, but they should have reacted somehow when he was returned to them... He could have gotten therapy, and with proper help deal with the scars left by the island...or wherever he was wandering for those five years. But instead he hid the state he was in, even from his closest ones—or maybe especially from them—and decided to follow another path. It was not out of the ordinary for people after an ordeal like Oliver's for people to deny that they had a serious problem and refuse to seek any help. But in his case it seemed like a choice. He treated his vigilantism as if it was some sort of mission.

Why had he given up the comfortable life he could have had and his position? He must have been aware that if he were captured, neither his family influence, nor his money would save him.

Was it for a rush of adrenaline? To subconsciously reconstruct a hostile environment? It made some sense. His archery skills helped him to survive on the island, so he transferred them into his life in the city, becoming an urban hunter. It also gave him an element of surprise—who expected a hooded guy with a bow appearing out of dark? She personally could give confirmation that it could have a stunning effect on a person.

And there was also another reason. Some people affected by trauma tried to give what had happened to them some meaning by helping others. Lance had just provided her with much more material to analyze, and perhaps a new perspective. It was amazing that a down-to-earth man like him had completely changed his perception of the Arrow—from considering him a menace to someone who kept this city together. A protector. A savior.

A hooded guy with a bow is...was the only one who stood between us and other masks running around the city.

But did it justify adding fuel to his obsession, confirming his belief that the path he followed was the one and only possibility? What about Oliver's well-being? How long before doing this would get him killed?

This time... this evil... it's invisible.

It was often said that a psychotherapist helped to deal with invisible enemies—disorders, depression, trauma... all that was happening in the head of a patient. But if everything Lance had told her was true, then Oliver Queen hadn't needed to make up enemies. It seemed that this city attracted plenty of extraordinary criminals. Was Damien Darhk next after Merlyn and Wilson? Was he plotting another mass destruction? Similar to the one Oliver saved the city from, according to Lance?

The more rational part of her resented from acknowledging that Starling was really on the brink of such a catastrophe. But Lance wasn't a guy who would make up something like this. And not so long ago she wouldn't have believed in the existence of a device that could cause an earthquake either...

Besides... she had met Amanda Waller. Maybe only briefly, and she'd merely had a few occasions to talk with her, but she was rather skilled in reading people. She would be able to make a call like that, of that Avery had very little doubt. That meant that everyone was in the Arrow's debt without even knowing it.

After giving thought to it, she realized she was all at sea. The shadowy villain Damien Darhk and whatever he was intending to do, Amanda Waller, A.R.G.U.S., mass destruction of the city, ironically always happening somewhere around the middle of the year... it was really a lot to process. But they were not her primary concerns. Oliver was.

He had said that the hood and the bow were his true life. Maybe nobody made it clear to him that there was another option. She hoped that if she would only be given a chance, she could find a way to reach out to him. But at the same time, she had started to feel doubt that in this particular case she would be able to find all the answers in the DSM.

The Arrow seemed to be just one of a kind.


She got home shortly after 8 p.m. and parked in the driveway, as she was sure that the garage was already occupied by her husband's car. When she entered the house, she noticed that it was rather silent, what made her wonder what her family was doing. She put her handbag and briefcase on the cupboard in the hallway, took off the coat and changed out of boots into more comfortable home shoes with relief.

She peeped into the living room, as she had noticed the blue flashing light of the TV's screen. Gary was dozing on the sofa in front of it accompanied by the family cat. Although the sound was muted, it wasn't very hard to guess what they were talking about on the evening news service on Channel 52—a shot of a crowd holding banners and placards with slogans, and a briefly shown photo of the Arrow told enough.

She decided to not wake Gary up. He was tired, working overtime on an extra project for his company— a new piece of internal software that was to facilitate the work of the employees. She had only a very vague idea of what it was supposed to do—just like he didn't exactly know how she was able to "put people's hearts and souls back together" as he had once said.

If only it worked like coding, where a properly used function always gave the same outcome. But it was not that simple.

It does feel good, doesn't it? Being in control. Thinking that you can't possibly be wrong.

She shook her head. Was that really the impression she had made on Oliver? She wasn't an authority. And there were times when she was unfortunately wrong.

She went upstairs to check what her children were doing. Jen was in her room, making good use of the large box of crayons she had gotten on her birthday last week. Every time Avery had seen her drawing, she was reminded of her sister. When Madeline was Jen's age, all the margins of her textbooks and notes were covered by pencil doodles, which hadn't exactly made her teachers happy. Jen had more orderly approach, although from time to time she also drew on the last pages of her notebook.

They talked a littleabout school, until Avery asked at one point:

"And where is Tim?"

"Uh... He went out just after dinner." Jen hesitated, as if she knew something more and didn't want to accidentally rat on her foster brother.

"I know he is out, his room is dead silent," noticed Avery with a gentle tone. "He isn't doing something illegal, is he?" she asked half-jokingly.

"He said he was going to hang out with some friends. That's all."

Avery decided to not bother her about it. It was not that late, after all. Yet.

She went downstairs to move her handbag and briefcase to another room. She was about to look through the file Lance had given her, when suddenly she reminded herself about her mobile phone. It was switched off when she was at the police station and she forget about that when she had collected her handbag. She pulled it out and switched it back on.

Almost instantly it chimed. She felt a pang of anxiety. She hoped that it was not some emergency in the hospital. She had taken half of the day off today due to her obligation to SCPD.

It turned out it was a text from her son. She raised her eyebrows. Was he going to inform her that he would be late? It would be a rare occurrence. Usually Tim texted them when he was already late.

She read the text, at first not exactly understanding what it meant. Then after a brief while a sudden realization flooder over her, and she felt a shot of fear. She would have phoned him instantly if at the same moment she hadn't heard the scraping of the key in the front door. She quickly went downstairs.

"Oh, hi Mom," said Tim when he saw her. Fortunately he was safe and sound.

"Please, tell me that you haven't been where I think you were," she said dryly.

"And that would be?" he asked innocently.

"Glades. Grell Street. Protesting at the police precinct to be precise."

His expression told her everything. He looked as if he had been struck by lightning.

"Did you use your psychopowers, Mom?" he tried to downplay the situation.

"No, I've used my reading powers," she said sternly, and waved her mobile phone that she still held in her hand. "Do you realize that you have sent a text to me, instead to one of your friends?"

"Oh, crap. Must have slipped. Wanted to text Meagan, and she called me at the same time, because she couldn't find us... Hey, don't get anxious."

"I'm already anxious. What on Earth got into your head to go over there? Do you have any idea how dangerous it is?" she asked with concern.

"Oh, c'mon, Mom. We didn't even get a good look. They've blocked off the precinct and put barriers everywhere..."

She was well aware of course. She had seen for herself. If only she had known that her son was somewhere out there in the crowd!

"And people were acting very peaceful, really," he added, clearly hoping that it would calm her down.

"Still, it's not a place I want you to go. Think what could happen if there was some disturbance? It only takes one person acting recklessly, and then outcome can be the most tragic..."

Tim's expression clearly showed that he hadn't thought about that.

Their exchange was loud enough to wake Gary up. He emerged from the living room and looked at his wife and son.

"You're back. You're both back," he noticed. "What caused this lively discussion?"

"Did you know where your son has been wandering?" asked Avery rhetorically. "In Glades! In the middle of those protests!"

"Technically not in the middle," corrected Tim.

"And practically?" asked Gary.

"Uh... it's true we went there to have a look... I was curious."

"Who is we?"

"Rory and Jake... And Meagan."

"At least you had enough common sense to not go there alone..."

"Gary!" Avery glanced at her husband disapprovingly.

"What? I didn't say he should go there."

"Promise me that you won't do this again," insisted Avery, shooting Tim a worried look.

"Listen to your mother. A crowd is unpredictable," Gary gave her timely support. "Especially during events like this."

"And those demonstrations..." added Avery. "It can escalate. You know, not all people consider Oliver Queen a hero. And the cops might get pretty nervous, as well, and lose control over the situation."

"Okay, okay, I promise," Tim assured them. "Sorry," he mumbled.

Only after he went upstairs did Avery noticed that Jen peeped out of her room and listened to the whole conversation attentively, but hadn't joined them.

Later, when the whole family went to sleep (or pretended to go to sleep; she was sure Tim only switched the light off and was playing on his smartphone or chatting on Messenger with his girlfriend lying in his bed), she brewed herself some black tea and sat by the kitchen table. Initially she planned to go to bed as well, but after she took a shower, some of the exhaustion after a hard day had worn off. She decided to at least have a brief look at the content of Lance's folder.

She opened the case file and started to go through the various documents and cuttings from the newspapers. Lance had to bave been collecting them for years, ever since the Arrow appeared on the scene, as some were from the fall of 2012. It turned out to be very involved reading indeed, and an even more complex picture of the hooded man that she had previously thought started to emerge.

When she glanced at the clock, stifling a yawn, she was surprised to discover that it was half past midnight already. She had completely lost track of time. She closed the folder, deciding to return to it the next day. There was still a lot to read. Fortunately it was Saturday tomorrow. She knew she would be called to Oliver's bail hearing to give her opinion about his mental state, but it wouldn't happen until late afternoon—SCPD wanted to make good use of the 72 hours they could hold him. She would have enough time to put some order in her notes.

She wondered if she would be able to give a statement convincing enough for the judge to send Oliver to St. Walker's. And for the time being, she was blissfully unaware of what part she was about to play in the Arrow's story.

Chapter Text

Behind Closed Doors

The Arrow's equipment was lying on a table in the evidence locker. A bow, a quiver full of arrows with dark green and olive green fletching and two sets of flechettes—one the vigilante kept in a holster on his hip, the other stored on his gauntlet. There was also his domino mask lying off to the side, definitely not as interesting as the weapons.

Over the years, the police had collected quite a lot of physical evidence. The vigilante, apparently convinced that he would never be captured, had left a clear signature everywhere he appeared—his characteristic arrows. Up until a certain point, he had completely neglected retrieving them. Something had changed around two years ago. There were traces left still, but fewer arrows, proving that he'd started to collect them whenever possible. Still, by that point the amount of ordinary arrows SCPD had gathered from various crime scenes could have supplied a few shops with archery equipment for at least six months. Pieces of trick arrows were a much rarer find—and not much was left of them after they were used.

All arrows had been carefully examined—the laboratory looked for fingerprints or some biological traces, anything that could give them some lead. But they had found nothing. Apparently the vigilante always used gloves when he had glued his arrows. There was nothing unique about the Easton carbon shafts, four-inch-long feathers, and hunting arrowheads, apart from their color—but he most likely dyed them himself. He could also have had a number of suppliers outside the country and order necessary arrow components in relatively small quantities. Archery was a popular hobby, after all, and no one was able to track all packages with sporting equipment.

And now, thanks to the fact that the Arrow was well equipped when he turned himself in, SCPD could finally have a closer look at some of his inventions, although specialists from the tech lab were greatly disappointed that the famous parachute arrow was not found in the quiver. Some policemen considered it to be a hoax, while others swore that they had seen it with their own eyes. That mystery for the time being remained unsolved, at least until the vigilante's hideout was found.

"He has a whole fucking arsenal," commented Moorgate. He picked up one arrow to inspect its strange-looking tip. "What the hell is this?"

"An arrow with a rope. Hidden inside," answered Detective Jones, his tone of voice calm as usual. The commissioner shot him a glance full of disbelief, as if he suspected that his subordinate was pulling his leg. "High tensile strength polymer cables are stored in that small container behind the arrowhead..." explained the policeman. "And the arrowhead itself turns into an anchor of sorts."

"Where did he get all that crazy shit?" scoffed Moorgate, putting the arrow back on the table.

"Someone had to supply him with the high-tech materials. But it's untraceable. It's obvious that he has allies, God knows how many. Not to mention that being a billionaire surely helped," commented Captain Robinson. "Our tech lab is examining his equipment, trying to trace who manufactured it. But no luck so far. He might glue the ordinary arrows himself, but somehow I don't believe that he invented and constructed all of those trick ones. He is not that smart."

"We have frozen all his assets," added Detective Jones. "But there was a surprisingly small amount of cash. He has lost the family company, but a bankrupt billionaire usually turns into a millionaire. He must keep most of his money in offshore bank accounts... His bank records also show that over last few years, he made a number of donations to various non-governmental organizations. Also to a free clinic in Glades, The Women's Center... Even to the fund of preservation of Harbor Green Park. Apparently for donating a certain amount of cash, you can sponsor planting a new tree. He got two in memory of his parents, and a memorial plaque..."

"How very moving," commented Moorgate. "What about his hideout? Don't tell me that you haven't located it yet."

Jones exchanged a look with his partner, O'Brian. The latter only shook his head slightly. Jones interpreted it accurately, and since his coworker was a very silent person, who spoke only when it was absolutely necessary, he continued talking for the two of them.

"We've been checking the Queen Mansion and the grounds, but it's a huge area and..." he paused.

"What about other real estate belonging to the family? Where has he lived over the last few years?" inquired Moorgate.

"The funny thing is that nobody really knows. Queen hired some people to maintain the Mansion and a guard to keep watch over the property but he was rarely seen there in person. Once in a while. Sometimes he didn't go over there for months."

"That's strange as hell. Where has he been living then? In a bunker?" scoffed the commissioner. "Maybe he rented an apartment in the city?"

"He would have left some trail. He might stay with his partner though."

"You mean that blonde chick?"

"The Black Canary. Yes, it's one possibility. But I would put my bet on his hideout," said Jones.

"Yeah. The one you can't find," observed the commissioner critically.

"What about that club...?" asked Robinson. "What was its name?"

"Verdant," O'Brian decided to give his partner some aid. "The building was severely damaged during the quake. Still standing though. It was never sold, never reconstructed either."

"That would be the first place I'd check."

"Actually it had been thoroughly searched a few years back," explained Jones.

"Let me guess—by Lance?" asked Moorgate rhetorically. "Then search it again. Thoroughly."

"I support that," said Adrian Chase. "You'll get a search warrant in hand."

Detective Jones was about to tell them that back then Quentin Lance was the greatest enemy of the hooded vigilante and surely left no stone unturned. But it had no meaning, given his current situation. So for his own good he decided it was better to say nothing. He couldn't help his boss anyway.

Meanwhile Moorgate reached for the bow. "It's damn heavy, I hadn't expected... " he muttered, surprised by the Oneida Kestrel's weight when he picked the weapon up.

Like many before him, he tried to draw back the string. The Arrow's bow had seventy pounds of drawing weight, but relatively high let off. Not familiar with compound bows and how the system of cams and pulleys worked, Moorgate was greatly surprised upon discovering that it was quite easy to keep the string once it was drawn back to a certain point. Ignorant to the number one archery rule that a bow should never be dry fired, he carelessly loosed the string. Being more resistant to damage than most compound bows, the custom modified Oneida Kestrel didn't break to pieces, but still suffered a lot as the whole energy normally used to fire an arrow spread through vibrations over the limbs.

"That was very careless, commissioner," remarked Adrian Chase. "It might break, and we'll be left without an important piece of evidence."

"Huh? What do you mean?" asked Moorgate suspiciously.

"Never dry fire," Chase pointed at the weapon. "May I?"

Moorgate handed him the bow. The DA grabbed the riser adeptly. He weighted the Oneida Kestrel in his hand, then stood side-on to the imaginary target, his feet shoulder-width apart and drew the string back to the corner of his mouth. He held it for a while as if he had an arrow nocked, aiming at something or someone, not to an empty wall. Then he delicately relaxed the string and lowered the bow.

"Very fine weapon," he commented. "Custom-made, most likely."

"You seem to have some experience," observed Detective Jones. "Have you been practicing archery in your spare time?"

"Not really. But I've shot a bow at the last birthday party of my elder son," replied Chase looking at him with a crooked smile. "Does that count?"

The policemen chuckled, while DA placed the bow next to the quiver.

"What about others?" he asked suddenly, brushing one of the trick arrows lying on the table, with an arrowhead shaped like a half-moon. "Any sightings of other vigilantes? There was that guy in the red hood. Red Archer? Red Arrow?"

"Arsenal," corrected O'Brian.

"Yeah, him."

"He hasn't been seen in Starling for months," said Robinson. "But there were reports about an archer in Bludhaven. Over the last...a year and a half I think... he became quite the appreciated self-made hero over there."

"What's wrong with people that they put criminals on pedestals right now?" said Moorgate.

"Modern society, I guess," remarked Chase with due consideration. "People desperately need to believe in something or someone. It's kind of disappointing that they don't trust the authorities and public services enough, and that costumed outlaws are the ones they look up to, thinking that they can solve all their problems. But then again, let's not forget that in ancient Greece and Rome there were stories about heroes. And there is, of course, a medieval legend about Robin Hood that Queen seems to take a little too literally..."

"Yeah, right. That's all very fascinating," interrupted Moorgate. "But he is not a hero. He is a loose cannon. Or more precisely a loose arrow," he said. "And it won't be easy to put him away. Not without causing another riot in the city. And that's the last thing we need right now."

"Doctor Pressnall apparently thinks that she can treat him," remarked Detective Jones.

"Yeah, just like she did with Cutter," Moorgate commented sarcastically. "You've all heard that shrink. It can take months before any diagnosis can be made. She spent nearly three hours with him and all she had to report was a bunch of vague psychocrap."

"Well, she got him to talk at least..." Jones pointed out.

"And what useful info has she gotten out of him, please remind me?" he shot him a nasty look. "That he is also a victim. Good riddance." He paused, and then admitted unwillingly: "If it was only up to me, she could have him, do research on this nut job, or experimental treatment, or whatever she wants. Queen is crazy, but unfortunately not to the point that could justify sending him straight to the psychiatric hospital without a trial. He has too many connections. Not to mention that people are already out on the streets."

"We should send him to Iron Heights" remarked Robinson. "He might play the people's hero, but he is just a criminal dressed up in a Halloween costume..."

"And how do you imagine that would work ? We can't keep him with other inmates. He had a hand in putting at least half of them behind bars. Keep him permanently in protective custody? Even over there, the guards won't be able to watch over him all the time. Sooner or later, he would end up with a shiv in his guts. And we can't allow that, since he's not some no-name with a taste for theatrical. He is Oliver fucking Queen, and the press would drag us over the coals. Especially since people think he is their hero." He expression full of disgust clearly showed what he thought of this. "Mr. Chase and I both have a meeting with Mayor Castle tomorrow morning and she would like to hear what the plan of action is."

"Psychiatric hospital then?" said Robinson. "But he is fit to stand trial."

"Oh, he should have a trial, I fully agree," said Adrian Chase. "Everyone has a right to defense. And we should prove to him that the system he rejected does work. Otherwise someone might say that we are not just. Still, the outcome might be...satisfying for all parties involved," he added enigmatically. For a moment some strange dark expression appeared in his eyes.

"So it's a trial then," the commissioner summed up. "God, it'll last months. Maybe years."

"Unless he pleads guilty," observed the DA casually.

Moorgate looked at him thoughtfully.

"Yeah. Unless he pleads guilty," he repeated slowly. "Jones, O'Brian, Robinson, you're dismissed," he said curtly. "Mr. Chase, will you stay for a while? I think we should talk before the meeting with the Mayor..."


"You shouldn't be here, Laurel," said Quentin when they were left alone, worry written all over his face.

Laurel didn't answer. She shot a doubtful look toward the door that had just closed behind Doctor Pressnall.

"They've really brought a mental doctor to talk to Oliver?" she asked with disbelief, instantly guessing the reason why the psychiatrist was present at the station. "Whose idea was that?"

"Don't look at me like that, since it was certainly not mine. I'm no longer in charge here, in case you didn't notice," he said sourly, and added after a brief pause: "Thought you wouldn't be back from New York until next week."

"I've cut my stay short. Rebooked my ticket and caught the first available flight."

"You shouldn't be here," he repeated. "There will be talk..."

"There would be talk if I didn't took any interest in what is happening with my..." She hesitated.

"Your?" prompted Lance. He knew that some time ago they had gotten back together. He was not entirely sure whether they had broken up again, this time for good, or perhaps were simply giving each other some space. After all, the Arrow and the Black Canary have been seen together from time to time. If there were still some feelings between them... It would make everything even more complicated than it already was.

Laurel bit her lip. "A friend," she said finally, and changed the topic: "Did he ask for a lawyer?"

"He didn't ask for anything. Refused to talk with anyone actually. Well, with the exception of Doctor Pressnall. But it would be better for him if he continued to be silent."

"I can only imagine." She folded her arms and glanced at him reproachfully. "Why didn't you let me know about what happened?"

"Would it change anything?" asked Quentin grimly. He didn't say it aloud, but talking about such matters on the phone wouldn't be too reasonable. One could never be sure who was listening. "Besides... it was too late."

A sudden realization appeared on her face. "My God, you knew..." she said slowly. "You knew all along what he intended to do..."

"He told me the day before," admitted Quentin. There was no use in lying. "Well, a night before."

"And you didn't even try to stop him?"

"Have you ever succeeded in talking him out of something he was determined to do?" he retorted.

Laurel opened her mouth as if she wanted to argue, but didn't say anything. Apparently she realized that what her father had said was true—no one was ever able to stop Oliver from doing something once he had adopted that self-destructive mindset of his. She had seen him in this state shortly after his mother's death, when he had lost all hope and was ready to sacrifice his life to stop Slade Wilson. She had reached out to his accomplices to find him and talk him out of this—by giving him a lead he could follow and as the result get an upper hand over his enemy. What had happened over the span of the last few days when she was away that Oliver decided to throw away the secret identity he had protected so long?

"Why? Why has he done this? I simply don't understand..." she said, shaking her head.

"He had little choice... He did it for us, Laurel," said Quentin. "It's that Darhk character..."

And he told her about Darhk's scheme. His cruel plan of targeting innocent people, choosing them from among those whom the Arrow had helped over the course of his career. And eventually making a threat that next victim might be someone working closely with the Arrow. A threat that was impossible for Oliver to ignore. Darhk was mistaken about only one thing. He had thought that the Arrow needed that extra push to throw away his identity and give up, when in fact he would have done the same for a complete stranger. He cared about ordinary people and wouldn't be able to stand the thought that someone had been killed because of him.

"So do you believe Oliver?" asked Laurel.

"Of course I believe him. But my believing won't save his skin. I'm afraid they will put him in that mental hospital..."

"Oliver is not crazy!" she protested.

"Tell that to the judge," said Quentin grimly. "It suits them to paint him as such... and honestly, Oliver did a lot to further condemn himself. It's not the best strategy to make it clear that you think the police force as a whole sucks and you're a hero who can right all the wrongs single-handed," he remarked cynically.

It was something that once bothered him about the Arrow—then the Hood—and made him bristle every time their paths crossed. He had eventually learned more about him and his motives. Accepted his aid when he had changed his ways and stopped killing—in desperate times they had needed every kind of help they could get in order to keep this city together. Over time, most of the cops from the precinct in Glades started to share the views of their Captain—at least partially. The individual opinions about the Arrow varied, usually depending on rank. Many young beat cops thought that he was a godsend, saving them a great deal of work. All they needed to do was to put behind bars the criminals the vigilante targeted and fill in the report. The detectives generally stayed civil. Some of them complained that he interfered with their job and destroyed evidence, but it was more out of habit, as the vigilante started to show more caution to not ruin cases they have been working on for months (Lance personally took care of informing him where he didn't want to see any green arrows flying). The guys from the Central Station though, who rarely had anything to do with the Arrow, hadn't thought about him as someone who could offer any "help". They didn't care about Glades's problems, the shortage of funds, resources and constant vacancies in the force (Quentin didn't remember when he last had a full team at the station). For them, he was a menace. An outlaw interfering with the system they represented, who contributed nothing. And now he had challenged them—that was another offense that neither Moorgate, nor the other higher-ups could swallow.

"Maybe it's better this way than if he were sent to Iron Heights," said Lance, more to himself than to Laurel.

"How that's better?" she muttered, looking at him with skepticism.

"For one thing, he'll be safer over there. The prison is full of guys who would gladly see him dead. Even if they put him in protective custody, there is nothing that can't be bought by money. You will always find a guard who would turn a blind eye for enough time for a tragedy to happen. His survival skills won't help him much behind bars..." He regretted those words almost immediately, seeing her anxiety.

"I want to talk with him," said Laurel suddenly. "There must be a way..."

"It's impossible, you know that," scoffed Lance. "They won't let anyone near Oliver who has any sort of personal connection to him."

He hadn't mentioned that it was only a matter of time before Internal Affairs would come down on him. Hard. Once they figure out what to do with Queen, his turn will come. Nobody will believe that Lance didn't know who was hiding under that hood, especially because he had known the 'real' Oliver for so long. One didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to recognize a guy who was once close to becoming his son-in-law, even if he was wearing a leather costume and wielding a bow. Quentin would be extremely lucky if he didn't end up in prison himself. Being removed from the force was almost certain. But he couldn't even worry about that—not now, when he feared for Laurel. She seemed to be unaware how tight the noose around her neck was already.

"Right now you must think about yourself, Laurel..." he started, but she didn't let him finish.

"I'm the DA's assistant. No one has the right to interrogate me," she said sternly.

"You'll be no one if someone accuses you of being a vigilante," he snapped back, the memory of his conversation with Pike still fresh in his mind. "You'll find yourself in exactly the same situation as Oliver," he added, wondering how he could talk her out of doing something stupid. "One sacrifice is enough. I won't let it drag you down into the gutter."

He knew that SCPD would keep an eye out on other vigilantes. So far they hadn't particularly cared about the Black Canary's activities. Contrary to the Arrow, she was no killer. Beating the crap out of abusive jerks, saving women who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, and stopping a few robberies was still vigilantism, but the kind a lot of cops were ready to turn blind eye to. Especially since it was "a sexy blonde in black leather". Something twisted inside him when he heard his daughter had been talked about in such a manner. At least she had tried to make a difference... she did more than some of the cops he had known... Starling citizens had started to recognize her as an independent hero, not only someone who accompanied the Arrow.

Which hadn't changed the fact that he wished she wouldn't put herself in harm's way.

"I simply can't stay aside and do... nothing," said Laurel. There was some uncertainty in her voice though; she didn't have any sort of a plan for a scenario like this.

"For God's sake, what you can do?" asked Quentin angrily, losing his composure. "Haven't you heard anything that I've said?" He approached her and grabbed her by the arms. "Laurel, you have to lie low. Please. I can't lose you."

If she still wanted to argue, the desperation she had heard in his voice must have made her change her mind.

"You won't lose me, Dad. Never," she assured him, embracing him tightly.

He stroked her head, just like when she was a little girl. Wishing he could protect her from the storm that was about to come. But deep inside he knew it was impossible.

Because it was already here.


There were a couple of things Amanda Waller was sure about in a world full of the unusual.

One of them was that Oliver Queen was a reckless idiot. She had gathered enough data during their short cooperation when she made him an A.R.G.U.S. agent to form foundations for that opinion. The actions he had taken as the Arrow only confirmed her in that belief.

However, although she could easily stop it, she didn't interrupt his way of spending the nights. He and his vigilante friends were useful in their own regard—that was why she was on their side when occasionally someone from the government mentioned that maybe something should be done about those people. Amanda always had a well-rounded answer ready and a few examples at hand for why the Arrow and the Flash are tolerated by A.R.G.U.S. It usually was enough to end discussion before it even started and such ideas took a firm shape—politicians were too busy with fighting between themselves for influence and power to focus on costumed heroes who operated in a fairly small area. They should be happy that their cites were on the opposite side of the States from the capital.

A.R.G.U.S. analysts found the connection between the victims of the mysterious killing pretty quickly. Their algorithms and software were top-notch, much more advanced than what the vigilante had currently at his disposal. She had seen no reason to inform him about the result of their investigation. For she had known how he would react. Reckless. At the same time she hadn't exactly foreseen this particular outcome.

She expected he would come to her with his newly discovered knowledge—as she was sure that he would eventually find out that the reason why those people were killed was him. She had thought that he will ask A.R.G.U.S. for help, in the end becoming her asset again. He couldn't refuse, not in this situation. But instead of stopping to think for a single moment, he decided to act heroically and made a noble sacrifice. What utter nonsense. It seemed that over time he had lost an ability to see the bigger picture. She thought that she had taught him better.

Oliver was never much of a thinker, more of a feeler. But still, he would never throw away everything like that if he hadn't been put against the wall. Amanda had known him too well. She also knew that he probably hadn't figured out everything as well as he had thought. If he had cooperated with A.R.G.U.S. they might have saved his skin. Now the whole case was causing too much commotion, drawing attention of everyone, from ordinary citizens to officials from the city hall, who probably dreamed of and dreaded the end of the vigilante at the same time. There had been many speculations about the Arrow's identity over the years, and the worst scenario for those in charge was if it would turn out that it was not some no-name but someone who originated from the upper class. Oliver Queen's name had been on the front pages of the newspapers before, for completely different reasons. Now the story about his five years absence and miraculous return resurfaced again. Together with information about the charitable work to which he had dedicated the remains of his family fortune. The latter might originally have escaped the notice of many, as this public image of Oliver Queen was not as attractive as a young heir of an influential family causing troubles and one scandal after another. Certainly not as "juicy" news as when he had been caught drunk driving or when he had punched a policeman, getting arrested on both occasions. All of this created too much noise for the taste of such a shadowy agency as A.R.G.U.S. Not to mention that currently she had other more pressing matters—like figuring out what Damien Darhk intended to do and why exactly Starling City was targeted by H.I.V.E.

Since Oliver was too proud (or too stupid) to turn to Amanda for help, right now he had to face the consequences of his actions. The Arrow was no longer her concern.

He had to fend for himself.

Chapter Text

Failed and Abandoned

" Starling City's defender? A reckless vigilante? A domestic terrorist? Robin Hood wannabe? There were always more opinions on the Arrow than there were arrows in his quiver. While some celebrated him as the city's hero, others viewed him as a threat. One thing is certain—Oliver Queen's double life has come to an end. However, his fate is yet to be determined. Although SCDP and the DA office refused to give any new official statement, we have gotten information from a trusted source, that it is highly unlikely for the bail hearing to happen sooner than Saturday afternoon..."

Dig scoffed and switched off the TV. The face of Susan Williams—a reporter from Channel 52—and the shots of a crowd of people gathered under the precinct in Glades disappeared from the screen. He wiped his face, troubled and irritated at the same time.

He had known that this moment would eventually come. That one day Oliver's luck would just run out. However, as horrible as it was to even consider, Dig had expected it to happen in another way—that on the fatal day that would mark the end of the Arrow, Oliver would have bitten off more than he could chew. And all his experience, skills and ability to get out of any kind of trouble in one piece wouldn't be enough; he would get shot by some goons from a street gang, or run into SWAT. And Dig had prepared himself for the inevitable outcome—that he will find Oliver's obituary in the newspapers.

After he parted ways with him, Dig often wondered if the choice he had made was the right one. Sometimes he almost felt like a traitor. But then he remembered how many times Oliver screwed him over, told him half-truths and manipulated him. And simply failed him, repeatedly and numerous times. He could tolerate it only up to a certain point. Especially since he had a family to think about. And a wife in a high post in a governmental organization. It didn't mesh with his active support of vigilantism. It simply couldn't last in the long run, and they were all well aware of that—him, Lyla and Oliver. A stunt he had pulled, interfering with A.R.G.U.S business which as a result put Dig's wife in a bad light, was the final straw.

Still, Dig had stuck by Oliver's side for almost four years. They were together through thick and thin, became brothers in arms. For a long time he believed in the Arrow's mission. Oliver managed to get him on board—whether it was through his strong convictions, the prospect of righting some wrongs, or simply a need to support someone who undoubtedly needed it—Dig was not exactly sure. He knew, though, that Oliver if left alone wouldn't survive too long. Physically he might, since that island made him more than capable of doing so, but mentally—that was quite another matter.

Dig was the first to notice some worrying things about Oliver. He'd had a previous experience with victims of trauma. He himself was affected by PTSD. He'd made a wrong call, all his comrades in the convoy he was in charge of were killed in an ambush. He felt rage at himself and survivor's guilt (if he hadn't ordered them to stop, they all would be alive). It was his last mission in Afghanistan. After what happened, he didn't want to return to the war zone. Never.

Somehow he managed to pick himself up, although getting back to normal was not easy. He took Moira Queen's offer because it was well-paid and seemed relatively easy, contrary to most of his earlier jobs in security. How hard could it be to keep out of harm's way her son who had just miraculously returned after five years' absence?

He couldn't have been more mistaken. And it seemed that despite all he had been doing for him, he was not able to protect Oliver from one thing—from himself.

The goal he was pursuing made him sacrifice everything. He kept pushing the line further and further. Dig tried to be his anchor point, wanted to make sure that Oliver would not step over that line. He was afraid he would lose himself, like some of his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan. In the beginning Dig was seriously wondering if Oliver had been doing all of it for kicks. But it seemed to not be the case. He undoubtedly needed an adrenaline rush that only living on the edge could give him. And wanted to seize control of his fate after the time he was at the mercy of people who tortured him. But anyone who said he was killing because he liked it couldn't be farther from the truth. Oliver was simply convinced that there was no other way—that he had to remove some people from the list permanently. He eventually changed his ways, refrained from killing unless it was absolutely necessary. It was not where his problems lay.

It turned out that there was another line. Between his "normal" life and the life he led as the hooded vigilante. He used to have some balance. But eventually it blended so much, that there seemed to be no line any more. The Arrow and his mission were all that mattered to him.

It was not normal. And definitely not healthy. Whenever Dig had brought this topic up, Oliver was quick to show anger and brushed him off.

" What's your problem, Dig? My parents are dead, I no longer have a family..."

" What about Thea?" he points out.

" What about her? We keep in touch, but she is on another continent..."

" Hadn't you considering finally telling her the truth?" he asks after a short pause.

" I don't want... I can't bring her into this," he gives his usual answer.

" But what if one day she finds out? What'll you tell her then? How'll you explain?"

He shots him a somewhat confused look.

" Thea'll never learn," he sums up curtly.

If something went wrong during a mission, Oliver refused to talk—with him, with Felicity, even with Laurel. He just took that damn bow and practiced shooting it for hours, as if it was the only thing that could take his mind off his troubles.

And eventually what was bound to happen happened. Others, just like Dig, started to move on with their lives. Roy seemed to be the only one who could do it naturally and without some sort of conflict casting a shadow on his relationship with the Arrow—he wanted to become his own hero, not the sidekick of another vigilante.

A few months after Dig walked out of the Arrowcave without looking back, Felicity also left—to Central City. He had first-hand information here, since he still had contact with her. However, Felicity kept unusually quiet about the circumstances of her departure, saying only vaguely that Barry and Cisco needed her more than Oliver. He suspected that something happened between two of them, what ended up in a painful disappointment. From the very first moment they had met, he knew that Felicity had a thing for him. Oliver either was not aware of that or ignored it, treating her like another younger sister.

Dig knew that there was a time when the Arrow was frequently seen with the Black Canary, fighting side by side. But that partnership ceased to exist quite abruptly. It seemed that he alienated Laurel as well. Dig started to wonder if he was still cooperating with Lance, given the revelations of the press. Then again, the sources of that information were tabloids. The Starling City Sentinel was not the most reliable source...

He really didn't know what to make of all of this. If he had learned that Oliver had died, he would feel awful—but he wouldn't be surprised.

However, this turn of events... Him walking into the station like that... Allowing himself to get arrested... It simply didn't fit Oliver. Not at all. Oliver had once told him dead-seriously that he would never let himself get caught.

What had pushed him over the edge and forced him to make that sacrifice that was worse than death for him?

He knew that recently Oliver had some business with Waller. He had even met him in A.R.G.U.S. headquarters once. But he didn't know the details. Not that he wanted to. He worked mainly in the security unit. Nothing shadowy that would not agree with his conscience. But that also meant that he had no knowledge about most of A.R.G.U.S.'s doings. Lyla, due to her high post, had access to classified information, but they had never talked about work at home (not that they were allowed to) and so far this deal had worked. Although sometimes John had wondered if his wife would become another Waller. Things that had bothered her about A.R.G.U.S. a year or so ago, didn't seem to matter any more. He preferred to not know how many times she had to bend the rules for the sake of completing a mission. He had no right to criticize her though, since he himself broke the law during his vigilante career alongside Oliver, even if he was not running around in a costume (and never intended to).

Lost in his thoughts, he hadn't heard Lyla stepping into the living room. He started at the touch of her hand on his shoulder and looked up at her.

"How is Andie?" he asked.

"I've just put her to sleep. She was unusually sulky today. Must sense her Daddy's anxiety..." she said, shooting him a worried glance. "It's not hard to guess who's on your mind, Johnny."

"Really?" he asked grimly.

"Oliver."

"It's on the news everywhere. It would be hard to ignore."

She walked past him to sit beside him on the couch.

"Who are trying to deceive? I can see how much it's worrying you. He has never stopped mattering to you."

"How you can be so sure?"

"Your bad mood and long face speak volumes. Even if you hardly spoke with me since yesterday," she pointed out gently.

"Sorry. Still trying to wrap my mind around all of that. And I'm wondering what arguments I should use to convince Felicity that it's not a good time for her to come to Starling."

She had phoned him on the night of Oliver's arrest. At the exact same moment he was going to call her. He had learned about what happened from Lyla around forty minutes before it got to the press. And long before the official statement from SCDP.

It was a strange conversation. Neither of them knew what to say. Back then they thought that he'd been caught red-handed, maybe while trying to break into Glades precinct. It only proved how distraught they both were to even seriously consider something so absurd. They even started to think about some rescue operation—asking Barry for help seemed like the best solution, he could get him out of the station before the cops realized what was happening. Then they got more information and it made them completely puzzled—it turned out that Oliver had actually outed himself. They were not prepared for such a revelation. They both knew him well enough to be adamant that he would never lay down his weapon—unless something or someone forced him to do so.

"What about Laurel and Roy?" asked Lyla.

"Felicity talked with both of them, she has some secure connection. Laurel planned to learn something from her father, she was out of the city for the last couple of days. She was as surprised as the rest of us. But I guess Lance is out of the loop due to his family connections to Oliver. I wonder why they haven't put him on limited duty yet..."

"And Thea?"

"Would you believe that no one has a phone number for her?" scoffed Dig. "And she isn't checking her social media, apparently. Went silent two days ago..."

"So she already knows. From the Internet. What an awful way to learn about all of this..."

"She should have heard it from him. But guess what, Oliver knew better," he said with a tinge of anger. He made a short pause and added: "Thea's coming to Starling. Felicity contacted Walter Steele—caught him in his office in London, found a way to phone him directly, omitting his secretary. He was very surprised to hear her. She told him that Thea already left for the airport, had a ticket for an afternoon flight."

"She shouldn't be left without help. She will have hard time once the journalists learn that she came back."

Dig nodded. He was thinking the same. Not to mention Oliver's enemies might now target his sister, just out of hate toward the Arrow. He hoped Thea will contact one of her old friends immediately after she arrived in the city. Alternatively A.R.G.U.S. could easily find out where she was staying. Dig planned to offer his help anyway. No one would find it suspicious that the former bodyguard of Queen was now watching over his sister. In times like this everyone had to stick together.

"And... have you talked with Waller?" asked Lyla.

"Only briefly. She had more urgent matters. And she made it clear she won't lift a finger."

"Maybe if I tried to talk to her..." she proposed.

John only shook his head.

"She won't do anything for Oliver, unless she has some business in it," he said bitterly.

"Maybe she could arrange moving him to A.R.G.U.S. after all of this blows over..." remarked Lyla.

Dig suddenly felt sick.

"Where to? To the Suicide Squad? To do his time alongside Deadshot and Deathstroke?"

"I didn't say that," Lyla shot him an angry look. "In this situation A.R.G.U.S is Oliver's only chance to get out of this. But not before the trial, I'm afraid."

She didn't need to tell him that. Dig was aware that currently the Arrow's case was drawing too much attention for the tastes of the organization that operated in the shadows.

To tell the truth, the government was always looking askance at vigilantism. However, Amanda Waller found the Arrow's, the Flash's, and their accomplices' doings useful, and since she had a strong position, she was given a free hand in that matter. A.R.G.U.S. only closely monitored their activities, usually without interfering. But now surely they had no intention to step into the limelight for one person, especially since he was labelled a troublemaker, and not unjustly.

Dig knew that Oliver's trial could last months, maybe years, and was bound to draw a lot of public attention. If Amanda Waller had no intention to do anything, they simply had no possibility to even see him during visiting hours, let alone provide any actual help. His situation looked hopeless.

He sighed deeply and shot his wife a troubled glance.

"I simply don't know what to do," he admitted, feeling more lost than ever.


Starling City Sentinel — Breaking News, Latest Information and Videos

Top stories

The Arrow unmasked—Oliver Queen confirmed to be the vigilante!

Oliver Queen has been arrested on Wednesday night. Police say Queen turned himself in at the Glades station. He was wearing the suit and wielding a bow and arrow. Read more »

Must see videos:

Footage of the Arrow from CCTV minutes before the arrest

The Arrow's identity no longer a secret—Oliver Queen arrested on Wednesday night

Arrowspotting—Starling Citizens on the hunt for the local vigilante

Oliver Queen is alive—missing for five years, found on a deserted island in South China Sea

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On the trail of the Arrow by Otto Schmidt and Juan Ferreyra

Pictures of the Arrow sent by our readers—slideshow

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Comments

Windjammer_67 52 minutes ago

Do you feel stupid now, the Arrow's lovers? Your "people's hero" turned out to be a billionaire playboy, probably bored with banging girls, drinking and doing drugs. So he started to kill for kicks. But you all had to add to this an ideology and put him on a pedestal. Modern Robin Hood, my ass. He deserves whatever is coming his way.

freethearrow 43 minutes ago

We are meeting at the Glades' station. 6 PM. Join us. Check #freethearrow on Twitter and Facebook.

Ezra 40 minutes ago

He must really have gone mad on that island... psycho..

andrea_doria 39 minutes ago

Olli, I luv you! You my hero! Marry me! <3

Gemini 39 minutes ago

Dressing up as Robin Hood isn't normal, just saying...

spirit_k120 38 minutes ago

It's high time they put this fucker away... #byebyearrow

Guest 34 minutes ago

Maybe he's a serial killer, but he was also effective. I give him that.

fuckboyriotsquad 32 minutes ago

He is awesome, someone this city needs.

Guest 31 minutes ago

hope he gets a needle

Fortaleza 30 minutes ago

Free the Arrow!

Hearsay 30 minutes ago

@Fortaleza Why only arrow? Bow too!

danielle 28 minutes ago

Say whatever you want. I was on the "Flash" train when some psycho wanted to blow it up. He saved me and my boy.

braga 27 minutes ago

This whole discussion. Oh geez...

robin_98 27 minutes ago

He is a hero!

marco 25 minutes ago

so much hate on arrow.. no one has problem with flash.. why.?

white_antilope 25 minutes ago

@marco Maybe because the Flash doesn't kill?

Avait78 25 minutes ago

What about the problem with other vigilantes? That guy in red hood and the blonde chick in black? Are they going to do something with them as well?

bloody_monday 24 minutes ago

Is it true that he turned himself in?

dustandshadow 18 minutes ago

Queen is a murderer and a criminal. Now he needs to pay.

charlottelund 17 minutes ago

Agree. He caused also millions of property damage.

elder 15 minutes ago

IT'S ALL DAMN FAKE NEWS!

Ben 12 minutes ago

I live in Glades. Me and wife barely make ends meet. We have little kids. Maybe it's stupid but I felt safer when he was around.

canyonboulevard 11 minutes ago

He saved me from mugging. Maybe from something worse. And for that I'm entirely grateful.

Guest 10 minutes ago

How long before he would kill someone by accident?

daze 10 minutes ago

I went to collage with Queen. He threw amazing parties. Hard to believe that he is the hooded guy! Back then all he was interested was drinking & girls... Damn. What happened to him on that island?

malaga 10 minutes ago

Higher ups solve problems by not talking about them! He was actually doing something!

Guest 9 minutes ago

@malaga Lol, dude. How shooting people with arrows solves anything?...

Guest 8 minutes ago

Queen is fcking crazy

shark_in_bathtub 7 minutes ago

Wait, wasn't he arrested under the suspicions of being the Hood like 5 years ago and got away with some lame excuse? How nobody made a connection? Cops in this city are morons...

Arizona 6 minutes ago

Before long you all will start to regret that they've put him away.

Sacagawea 5 minutes ago

It's not easy to judge him, but I think he did more good than harm.

Guest 5 minutes ago

To all who support that madman, you're as crazy as Queen. Find something useful to do with your time! lol #byebyearrow

Felicity blinked, staring into the screens of her computer. She regretted that she had spent the better part of the evening reading articles about Oliver's arrest on different news portals. Almost all of them looked as if they came out of some generator and were a mix of absurd suspicions, wild theories and awful generalizations. All of a sudden everyone was a specialist on vigilantism and forensic psychiatry, and had to share their theory about Oliver's motives. She had no idea why she eventually strayed onto the page of Starling City Sentinel. It was a huge mistake. Reading the comments under their top story—even worse. Oh God, why had she even taken a look? She knew what she would find there, the Sentinel was never particularly fond of the Arrow, especially lately since they were in line with City Hall (that was very not fond of the Arrow) and attracted readers with a similar mindset. There were some voices of support for Oliver, but also a lot of hate. It was absolutely disgusting. They were writing about him like he was some cold-blooded serial killer... Someone dangerous, driven only by his urge to murder every petty criminal who found himself in the range of his bow. That was such a different image from the Oliver she knew. Whom she had worked with for so long a time. And who she loved. Even if he didn't return those feelings.

She wondered if those people were blind, or simply stupid? The Arrow was not like that Punisher from New York. He did kill, occasionally, when he needed to... When he had no other choice. When it was literally a matter of life and death. But he had changed his ways. And she could tell the difference— there used to be moments when he had scared her. Over time he became more... civilized, for lack of a better word. Didn't they see a distinction between the Hood and the Arrow at all? Would the beginnings of his vigilante career always cast so long a shadow on who he was now?...

It was so... unfair. So very unfair. She couldn't imagine what Oliver had been put through. Her heart was bleeding for him. Although Lance was not the only cop who silently supported the Arrow's doings, it would be naive to assume that Oliver would be treated differently than any other criminal. He was going to be prosecuted and sentenced for life. Or maybe... maybe even worse. That thought was absolutely terrifying. There was nothing like exoneration when it came to vigilantism—broken law was broken law, and all his good deeds won't have any meaning for the district attorney's office. She'd heard from Laurel that this new guy, Adrian Chase, was very ambitious. Surely he won't miss an opportunity to shine in this trial.

She didn't understand why Oliver had outed himself like this. It simply made no sense. She knew him, he would never have done something like this. Unless he had no other choice... Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. And the only improbability she could think of was that someone had blackmailed him... forced him to reveal his identity.

It had been roughly ten months since she had left Starling. It didn't seem that long, but it was enough to lose touch with what had been happening in the city. When she had talked with Laurel, shortly after Oliver's arrest, she had heard for the very first time the name of a new mysterious enemy—Damien Darhk and H.I.V.E. Since then she had been checking every available database to learn something about them. But it was like trying to catch a ghost.

She had managed to find something on H.I.V.E., mainly thanks to the A.R.G.U.S. database. Breaking into them cost her a lot of effort and a lot of nerves—she wondered if she had managed to cover her tracks well enough to not get herself in a hell of a lot of trouble (an image of an angry Amanda Waller kept coming to her mind, quite terrifying as she had heard a thing or two of what happened if someone got in her way). However, hardly anything was available about their elusive leader—only one photo where his face could be clearly seen (and even that was unconfirmed).

It was peculiar to say the least. Everyone left some trail nowadays, from bank records to parking tickets. Darhk was obviously a false name, but the man who was using it and was behind the wheel of H.I.V.E. had to have some true one. He had to have some daily life, unless he was sitting locked up in some dark cellar all the time. An image of an individual stroking a white cat he held on his knees flashed through her mind. Since she had a very vivid imagination, the face of the man she had earlier seen on the photo from A.R.G.U.S. documents somehow merged with the thought about the animal. She fruitlessly tried to get out of her mind a vision of Darhk with that white cat.

Perhaps she had seen James Bond films too many times. Or perhaps she was just tired. She should have gone home an hour ago. Cisco had already called it a night and advised her to do the same, especially since the Flash had said that he wouldn't be needing them any more today. The city was unusually calm tonight. Contrary to the last few months or so.

Recently they had been working on solving the mysterious disappearances of meta-humans. Six of them had gone missing in the span of only a couple of weeks. Harmless ones, who tried their best to just fit into society and didn't advertise their powers. S.T.A.R. Labs kept track of their activities, but didn't bother them, since they did nothing wrong. There was a healer among them. Also a teenage boy who could make things disappear, and an eight-year-old girl who could talk to animals. Felicity was looking for some connection between them, but apart from the most obvious one regarding their special powers, there was none.

Killer Frost was seen shortly before the disappearance of one of the meta-humans. Or to be more precise, "a lady looking like Evil Ice Queen" as the seven-year-old son of his missing mother described the woman who took her. For Team Flash, though, it was enough to recognize their lost friend and ally. She didn't hurt the kid, although he had seen her and could identify her. Barry and Cisco latched onto the hope that Caitlin hadn't lost her ways completely.

"I simply don't understand why she ran away... We could help her," said Cisco at once. "We would find some way to get it under control..."

Felicity didn't tell him that some people didn't want to be helped. Like Caitlin.

Like Oliver...

If only he hadn't push her away... She wished she could say that nothing had changed between them. But it wouldn't be true. Everything had changed. Even though he had never even once brought up that one night they had shared. He tried to act normal, and she did her best as well (although it was so damn hard to not think about the closeness of his body and his kisses), but at the same time some invisible distance had appeared between them.

She began to suspect that he couldn't get over the fact that she had caught him in his moment of vulnerability. He'd let his guard down, he needed to be with someone and it... happened. Shortly after that, he was back to his mindset of I-can't-be-with-anyone-my-city-needs-me (but somehow it didn't stop him from getting back together with Laurel shortly after Felicity left Starling). What did he think? That she would throw herself at him like his psycho fan, Cutter? That the only thing she was thinking about was how to get into his pants again? How he could think so low of her? Or worse, did he think that she was an innocent and naive girl that he had used?

She wished that one day he could become her significant other. She couldn't make it clearer to him. But it was up to him whether or not to give both of them a chance. It would require work on both sides. And maybe also focusing on something other than the hood, and the bow and arrow. She still cared about him as a friend. But it had become harder and harder to continue work with him when he kept giving her the cold shoulder, and instead of speaking about what was bothering him, he preferred seeking comfort in gluing his arrows or practicing archery in silence. They used to talk, but after "that night" he had avoided conversations about anything that wasn't strictly concerning cases they had worked on. So when she finally decided to move to Central, on some level it felt like an escape from him, to somehow get out of the situation that had become so unbearable.

She moved on, for her own sake. She had to. She couldn't hang on, waiting for something that might never come. Over time that painful disappointment had started to hurt less. Especially after she and Barry became something... more. As awkward as it could be with two socially awkward people. But given recent events, she had started to wonder if whether she had stayed, events would have unfolded differently. Maybe he would eventually have opened up... Maybe if she had confronted him directly... Maybe they would finally have resolved matters between them and decided where they stood with each other. Maybe... It was too late to know for sure. She was certain about one thing though.

Oliver might seem to be fully capable of taking care of himself, but he was not on some deserted island any more. They should never have abandoned him. Her, Dig, Roy... Where was Laurel, for God's sake? So much for their "special connection". She knew that she was probably being unfair toward her. Nobody really knew what was happening in Oliver's head. But she didn't care. In the moment when he needed his team the most, they all failed him...

She didn't even realize when tears started to drip down her cheeks. She took off her glasses and wiped them away with the back of her hand. Tears wouldn't help. She should do something. Other than sitting here and trying to find some information about Darhk.

Dig had advised her to not come to Starling. That it was dangerous and risky, and it would be better if she laid low, so that he didn't need to worry about her as well. But she couldn't do that. She needed to be there. For Oliver.

With that thought she bought a ticket for a train to Starling tomorrow morning . Then she returned to the tab with the article on the Sentinel's page and the comment section. She had written her own hours ago, but didn't submit it. Now under the spur of the moment, with determination she clicked "send".

ghostfoxgoddess moments ago

You all can say what you want, but Oliver Queen is a true hero. He saved this city countless times, more than you can ever imagine. Starling needs the Arrow. #noarrownohope


" The Arrow is a criminal, whether you like it or not, Barry. He hasn't turned himself in without a reason. You don't know if he hasn't crossed the line, this time for good," says Joe.

" Oliver would never..."

" Would never...what?" asks detective West coldly. "He might have changed, but it doesn't erase what he has already done. Do I have to remind you of how many he's killed? His past has finally caught up with him, there's some sort of justice in this..."

" There are many more people he has saved," retorts Barry. "There would be no Starling City without him."

For that Joe doesn't find a proper answer. He only shakes his head, as if he can't believe his foster son's stubbornness. They usually get along well, but when it comes to the Arrow they can never see eye to eye.

" Do whatever you want, I don't have the means to stop you. But if you go against the police force... don't count on me any more."

Barry was running through the city as fast as he was able to. He wished he could just keep running, running and running, and escape from problems this way. But it had never proved to be an effective method. He could forget about them for a brief while, but when he stopped they were still there, waiting to catch up with him.

He skidded to a halt at the edge of the quay. At this hour the nearby park—the favorite recreation and walking place of Central City's citizens—was empty and very calm. But Barry found no comfort in the loneliness and silence that hung over the bay.

"Oliver... what have you done?" he asked himself for the hundredth time, and again he couldn't find an answer.

He didn't understand. Oliver was the last person he expected to obediently put his head on the chopping block. Maybe some mind-controlling meta-human had something to do with this? Barry had at least a dozen theories, one more unbelievable than another.

He should run to Starling. He should break him out, no matter what Joe was saying. Being a fugitive was better than going to prison. But something was stopping him. Oliver had warned him many times that he shouldn't rush blindly into action without checking his surroundings and making a plan. So he had to find out why he had turned himself in, what his reasons were. What forced him to do so. Besides... going against the cops... it just didn't seem right. Even if he could burst into the police station and get out before they realized that he was inside.

One thing was certain. He was a very lousy friend. He had sensed that something was bothering Oliver, but he focused on his own problems and didn't delve into the subject. No one was able to force Oliver to talk about something he didn't want to, but he should have just pinned him down, been more persistent... They could have found the solution, together, no matter what his troubles were...

He was sure Felicity planned to go to Starling, even if she hadn't told him it yet. Just like him she couldn't sit idle, even if in this situation there was not much she could do for Oliver. He intended to accompany her, for the time being as his normal self. Not only to protect her. But also Oliver. If there was any sign that his life was under threat... he wouldn't have second thoughts. He would just grab him and get to safety. Even if it meant that he would have to go against the whole SCPD force.


Although the phone number doesn't look familiar, Laurel answers it spontaneously, wondering who on Earth is calling her at this hour.

" Hi, Laurel," she hears Felicity's voice. "Have... have you perhaps seen the news?"

Instantly she knows that something really bad must have happened to Oliver. Felicity's tone, usually light, this time is very grim.

" What is it?" she asks with a tinge of uneasiness, feeling that her heart instantly starts to beat faster.

" Oliver... Oliver has been arrested. Or rather, allowed to get himself arrested."

" What? When?"

" Less than hour ago."

" I... I don't understand. Why... What has happened?" She's so taken aback by the news that she doesn't know what to say.

" Practically walked into the Glades precinct. And actually I wanted to ask you that question."

She reads it as a small accusation. It is as if Felicity intended to say: You were with him the whole time. You should know.

" I'm not even in Starling right now..." she says. "When I saw Oliver last time nothing indicated that he planned on doing something like this... He would never give up..." She does her best to regain her composure and suddenly she realizes that she indeed knows something that Felicity doesn't. "Damien Darhk. He has something to do with this," she states.

" Damien... Who?"

" Boss of a underground criminal organization called H.I.V.E. We have been trying to uncover them. Perhaps Oliver got too close..."

Laurel huddled on the side of the couch, legs tucked in, staring at the lit candles in the fireplace without actually seeing them. She couldn't stop thinking about Oliver, locked up in a small cell. It was a grim place, lifeless and dark, and he was there all alone, without any friendly soul. It was beyond her understanding that they thought that he was insane. Then again, he had probably gave them a hard time during the interrogation, so they had tried another method with him...

She wished she could help him, but this time all her legal knowledge was useless. Not only she was working with the DA's office, but she couldn't even see him. No one who had any sort of personal connection was allowed near Oliver, just like Dad had said.

Five years ago when Oliver was accused of being the vigilante, things had looked quite differently. He'd asked her to be his lawyer. She decided to help him, although things between them were far from being right. Back then she had found the suspicion absurd, and didn't believe even for a second that he was truly the hooded man. A shred of doubt appeared when the results of his polygraph test were off, but Oliver downplayed it of course. She quickly forgot about that. It was only much later, when she had found out the truth, that suddenly everything about the Arrow, who was always there for her and for her family, became clear.

She knew that showing up at the station was probably stupid. But wasn't it what a good friend would do? She should act normal. She noticed some glances cops were shooting at her, but she ignored them. They could suspect whatever they wanted, but they had no proof.

However, when she got home, she started to feel less secure. A realization started to sink in that the times when the vigilantes could operate relatively freely in the city were over. They had talked with Oliver many times about taking risks and the dangers of this life, and she would never have thought that it would end this way. She had a sudden thought it had all started to go in the wrong direction around the time they fell apart. Again.

It was not that long ago, in the middle of summer. She remembered that night—usually even during the warmer months of the year in Starling there was always colder wind blowing from the ocean. But on that day there was not even the faintest gust. The air was motionless and it was so hot that it was unbearable, especially when one was wearing a leather costume. She was worried about Oliver, and also a little terrified of him, after she had seen him almost killing some petty drug driller. She had engaged that guy in a fight earlier, he managed to pull out a knife out of nowhere and wounded her slightly. It was just a little cut on the arm. She could handle that. But Oliver interfered, and it would have ended really badly if she hadn't stopped him.

" You're acting... strange, Ollie. What is happening?"

His face is hidden by the shadow of the hood. He doesn't look at her, standing at the edge of the roof as if admiring the view. But she notices that he is very tense—he clenches his fingers around the bow's grip.

" I need some... alone time. I'm sorry, Laurel. I thought it could work between us, but..."

Before she has a chance to say something, he reaches into his quiver for an arrow with a zip-line and in a split second he is gone.

They talked about this more the next day, not in passing. They decided they should give each other some space. By that time she realized what that "but" had meant. His first love was Starling. He thought he couldn't properly focus on what he was doing as the Arrow and be with her at the same time.

"It's like... working with your spouse in the same place. You know what I mean?" he asked with a hope that his reasoning made sense.

To be honest it didn't. She'd been dumped for a city. That was a new one. She didn't understand his reasoning and why he alienated her. She didn't need special protection, if that was what he worried about the most. She could take care of herself.

She shook her head. Even if they were not together anymore, he was still important to her. He betrayed her in the worst possible way, but she had forgiven him, for she knew he was not the same person anymore. He'd told her that he managed to survive on the island because he was thinking about the people he wanted to live for. To whom he wanted to return. To his mother and sister, but also to her. It seemed that their paths were meant to entwine. They ran together, parted, met again...

She reached for a glass of water standing on the counter to take a sip. Since yesterday or so her throat felt so damn sore. But she didn't feel ill. She blamed the air conditioning on the plane. But it was the least of her worries.

She glanced at the duffel bag from Wild Cat gym she kept the Black Canary suit in. If they searched her flat, the most damning piece of evidence was right here. It was very unlikely at this point but...there was always but. Before long they will raid the foundry. Verdant was severely damaged during the quake and the building was never properly reconstructed. What if she had left her prints? They wouldn't have a match in the database, but they would keep looking. And start by obtaining prints from Oliver's acquaintances and friends. They had their methods to get them without asking. One day she might just not notice that a glass from her desk was missing. She had to be careful. Everyone who ever supported and helped Oliver had to.

She started to understand Darhk's scheme. He had found a way to neutralize the one person that connected all vigilantes.

What was worse, with the Arrow behind bars and the police busy with keeping the demonstrations under control, criminals could roam around the city undisturbed. She rubbed her forehead with her hand in frustration. She couldn't do anything about Oliver's case, she couldn't operate as the Black Canary either... It seemed that without the Arrow there was simply no hope...

The signal of her phone ringing broke her train of thoughts. She picked it up, thinking that maybe it was Felicity. She had texted her earlier that both her and Barry were coming to Starling tomorrow morning. With the new fast trains the journey took only slightly above two hours. They wanted to be present at Oliver's bail hearing, and Laurel promised that she would arrange it for them. She knew from Felicity that Dig was also planning to come.

She pressed the green receiver button, although she didn't have that number on her contact list. It could be work-related.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Laurel."

"Roy?" she asked. It was so good to hear a familiar voice.

"Yes. It's my new number. Don't worry, it's safe. Can we meet?"


Even though it had been two days since Oliver's arrest, Roy still couldn't wrap his head around all of it. He couldn't believe when he had seen on the news. He didn't want to believe. The Arrow would never surrender. It was not like him.

Oliver was someone he looked up to. He had saved him. Not only his life—he did much more for him. He had given him a purpose. Without him, he would be still a petty criminal stealing purses and living off small swindles, never even thinking about taking some honest job. And doing something more than that. Becoming someone else. Something else. Their teacher-student relationship eventually turned into a partnership. An initial distance between them quickly disappeared when he decided to reveal his identity to him. The Arrow was no longer some mysterious elusive individual without a face. Oliver became to him someone like older brother. The ties that bound them were close, especially that because his sister was Oliver's girlfriend. It was almost like having a true family.

But then Thea broke up with him, when she found out that he still messed around with the vigilante, keeping it secret from her, and had left the city. He stayed on the team, fought alongside the Arrow, but had started to think more and more often about doing it on his own. Eventually he decided to move to Bludhaven. He was quite content with his life over there. He worked in a car workshop during the day, came back in the afternoon to get a few hours' nap, and in the night emerged into the city as Arsenal.

Now he started to felt guilty about abandoning Oliver. He felt like a traitor. Had he let him down?... But he couldn't be the Arrow's sidekick forever! He wanted to forge his own path. And Oliver himself told him that he couldn't teach him much more. He'd seemed to be okay with his decision. He didn't try to stop him. He never asked him to stay. Then again, Oliver rarely shared when something was bothering him. Roy was the one who came to him with his problems, not the other way around. He confided in Dig when he needed man-to-man talk.

Oliver didn't deserve to spend the rest of his days in prison. Roy would take the fall for him if it could save him. But a second Arrow appearing all of a sudden in the city wouldn't help Oliver's case right now. The cops would never fall for that trick. So Roy could do only one thing—come back to Starling City. And carry on the Arrow's legacy the best way he could.

Chapter Text

Cage

The escorting officer took Oliver back to his cell. They had a few of them, located on the third floor of the precinct, to temporarily hold suspects. Oliver had already seen the long empty corridor that lead to the holding area way too many times—just like in the rest of the precinct, the lower part of the wall was covered in green wooden paneling, and the upper painted in dirty yellows, as the building hadn't been properly renovated in years. There were barred doors on both ends guarded by what seemed to be half of Starling City's SWAT forces. He wondered briefly about all these special precautions. After all, he was just a man. He knew a few tricks, but even he wouldn't be able to escape from the inside of a locked cell without having any tools to pick a lock. But then he reminded himself of what Doctor Pressnall had told him about the cops being worried that the Flash or other vigilantes might try to break him out. He wouldn't have turned himself in if he expected to be rescued, but somehow that seemed to have escaped the notice of SCDP.

He quickly started to feel as if he was trapped in some endless loop. Jingling of keys, a door opened, a light push to the back or pull by the arm to urge him to move, door closed... And all eyes glued to him from the moment he appeared until the moment he was taken away. He could sense a lot of hard feelings hanging in the air—the SWAT guys hated him with every fiber of their beings. He had made fools of them many times, narrowly escaping from their traps and roundups, self-confident about his own skills. He had taken risks, like a fox raiding a henhouse every night. The fact that he had finally been caught gave them a lot of satisfaction.

They never missed an opportunity to shoot the vigilante a dirty look and make some nasty comment about costumed freaks, psychos, or a fucking billionaire who played at Robin Hood. And there were many occasions for it. Oliver had actually lost count of how many times he had been taken to the interrogation room over the last forty eight hours, led back to his cell for no longer than an hour, and then taken away again, to be asked exactly the same question by the detectives that were unfortunate enough to be put on his case. They had tried to intimidate him this way, and reckoned he would break and finally start to talk. At the same time, it seemed that nobody knew what they should actually do with him. SCPD had been pursuing him for over five years, but apparently they had gotten used to the thought that it would be an endless cat and mouse game and that they would never actually capture him.

There was only a single guard put on duty in the jail. In contrast to the SWAT officers, who were armed to the teeth, the guard had only a baton at his belt. Inside a small closed space no police officer would like to have any sort of firearms a prisoner could get a hand on.

He noticed how tense both the escorting officer and the guard were around him. Undoubtedly they expected that he would pull some trick. He or one of his vigilante friends. To tell the truth, he probably could free himself from his handcuffs, although it would require some effort. Getting through a barred door and armed guards would be a challenge, though. He didn't know why he was even considering possible escape routes, toying with the idea. Maybe to delude himself into believing that he still had some control over the situation. But deep down, he knew that his fate was sealed. He simply had nowhere to go.

The guard opened the door to the cell, while the escorting officer kept an eye on him. There were no windows, only solid concrete walls and one barred wall, cutting the room off from the corridor. Bigger than the cell on Amazo at least, Oliver thought resignedly, stepping inside.

The sliding door closed behind him with a loud creak. Only when they were safely locked inside was he was finally freed from his cuffs. The guard acted completely indifferent toward him, but he noticed that the escorting officer didn't look him straight in the eye. He didn't know every single beat cop from Glades precinct, but he remembered Officer Weir quite well. And by the look of it, the officer hadn't forgotten that it was the vigilante who had saved both his life and his partner's, when they had found themselves in a hell of a lot of trouble, caught up in the crossfire between gangs. Just like half of the cops in the precinct, he owed Oliver something, but it had little meaning right now. Weir barely spoke to him. He had given him a blanket though, yesterday, when he had a shift in the jail.

Finally Oliver was left alone. He rubbed his wrists, barely paying attention to the violet marks left by the handcuffs. They hurt but there were just bruises—nothing he wasn't used to. His pride suffered more.

Psychopath. Hooded freak. Nutjob.

Suddenly he was hit by a sense of unreality. This couldn't be happening. It was not true. It was only one of his many nightmares he would wake up from, glad that it was only a dream... But when that moment passed, he was still here. This was his new world. Naked gray walls and iron bars. Being under constant surveillance, watched all the time.

He wasn't able to see his guard from his cell, but he could tell what he was doing even though he was on the opposite side of the jail. He heard his footsteps, then a chair scraping across the floor when he moved it to sit down, and the rustle of a newspaper. Oliver wondered if it was already full of articles about him, labeling him as crazy, making connections between the time he spent on the island and his activities as the Arrow. He felt sick at the mere though of it. They didn't understand... They weren't able to understand, just like that shrink, who had all the answers.

Suddenly he felt as if the walls of the cell were pressing in on him. He hated small enclosed spaces like this. Memories flashed before his eyes. The trap in the forest set by Fyers' men he carelessly stepped in when he tried to escape from Yao Fei. The dark prison deep in the hull of the Amazo. The holding cell in the ARGUS facility in Hong Kong he kept escaping from.

He couldn't breathe and for a moment wasn't able to move, petrified.

Stay calm, he ordered himself. Seize control. Focus on breathing. Imagine you're aiming at a far target.

And then, even if only for a few heartbeats, he was free. He was not standing in the small cell any more but in a vast open field. It is very early, the night coming to an end but the new day not quite started yet. The cloudless sky is still grayish, with a brighter yellowish streak of rising sun on the horizon behind the line of leafless trees. The air is chilly and fresh, soaked by morning dew. There is a small refreshing breeze.

He approaches the target—an archery board hanging on a lone tree in the field. He stops fifty or sixty yards away, takes an arrow out of the quiver, nocks it on the bowstring and slowly draws it to the corner of his mouth. For once he doesn't need to hurry. He aims instinctively, not even exactly sure himself how it works, and releases the arrow that flies steady and straight toward the center of the target.

Suddenly a golden streak flashes by. It is Barry, who easily outruns the arrow and catches it before it hits the target. He raises it proudly and shouts "Whoa! Yeah!" loudly, full of happiness and energy.

"Showoff," mutters Oliver under his breath. But then he cracks a smile.

Oliver blinked. Did this memory even happen? It seemed so real, but at the same time he was sure he had never been out in the open country in his suit. Why should he? He had hardly ever operated on the brink of a new day, and only on a few occasions had he been caught by the waking day far away from his hideout. Could one's mind create memories that weren't true, just to lure one into a false sense of security and calmness, and simple joy? He opened and closed the fingers of left hand slowly, and rubbed with his thumb the first joint of the index, middle and ring fingers of his right hand—where the string lay. To never hold a bow in his hands for the rest of his life...it was hard to imagine. He already missed that, and it had nothing to do with using it as a weapon. It was one of the changes that was hard to accept... That he didn't want to accept.

He knew that none of his friends would be able to help him now. He regretted that he would never able to tell them that he didn't take them for granted. One of many things he hadn't done. He had a whole list of missed moments and unspoken words, longer than the one in his father's notebook. It turned out that he was not exactly a team player after all.

He didn't want the Flash to interfere, that was why he hadn't told him what he was planning to do. Nobody could save him now. He hoped that all the people who mattered to him...those he had pulled into his crusade —Dig, Felicity, Roy, Laurel... That they would just stay away. Before the cops start to make connections. At the same time, he realized that the authorities might not be satisfied with getting only him. They would want to nip vigilantism in the bud.

At least it seemed like they would leave him alone for the rest of the night. But Oliver doubted he would manage to catch any sleep. Since he had been arrested, he was in a constantly vigilant mode. He had dozed off repeatedly for a couple of minutes during those few hours of early morning he was in his cell, but every time he heard steps approaching, his eyes were instantly open. But it was beginning to take its toll on him. His back and arms were stiff, and there was that little annoying pain in his temples and at the bridge of his nose. There was little he could do about that. He approached the hard narrow bunk and sat on it cross-legged, his elbows resting on his thighs, and closed his eyes. Shado had taught him how to clear his mind. Since archery (which had a surprisingly relaxing effect on him) was currently not an option, calming himself down was the next best thing.

He heard two policemen talking, his guard and a SWAT guy, who was standing on the opposite side of the barred doors to the holding area. His sense of hearing was so sharp that he could overhear most of their conversation. So he knew that they were complaining that they had to guard this "fucking Robin Hood". The rest made little sense to him. Something about demonstrations, protests, people gathering under the precinct... Maybe because he was so tired, it took him a good while before he understood that he was the reason.

Ordinary Starling citizens were out on the streets, standing up for him? So they did care enough after all—sometimes he lost hope that his doings made any sort of impact at all. But demonstrations meant a potential risk of someone getting injured or even killed. He tried to not think about that—he would only get more frustrated that he couldn't do anything anymore. As he drifted off, even the annoying buzz of the fluorescent lamps on the small narrow corridor started to fade away.

He didn't know how long he was out. He registered that the guard was back at his place, and for some time the jail was surprisingly calm. No one was checking on him.

Then all of a sudden, someone outside the cell cleared their throat to draw his attention. Oliver opened his eyes rapidly and saw a man about his age. It was puzzling for him that he hadn't heard him approach. Had he fallen asleep for a short while after all?

He recognized the district attorney, Adrian Chase. Although he had never met him in person, he had seen him one or two times in the news or in a newspaper, and heard some stories from Laurel. After all, Chase was her new boss, and they had been working quite closely. Laurel spoke about him rather positively, although she had mentioned that he appeared to be very principled and rather secretive.

Now he stood on the opposite side of the bars, glancing at Oliver curiously, hands in the pockets of a neat gray suit. White shirt, black tie. As if Oliver were seeing a mirror image of himself from when he tried to manage Queen Consolidated and failed miserably. Chase represented the system Oliver refused to be a part of. To Oliver it was obvious that Chase had come only to see him, like many others before, as if it were some fucking zoo. There was something disturbing about his countenance that gave Oliver an uneasy feeling. After a moment of silent observation, Chase finally decided to speak:

"Hope I'm not interrupting your... Whatever you have been doing. Meditation?"

Chase waited politely for his answer, and when it never came he said casually:

"Your bail hearing is set on tomorrow. 5 p.m. Thought you might like to know."

Oliver wondered if it was his custom to come announce this personally to everyone arrested. He didn't say anything, though; after his conversation with Doctor Pressnall, he really was not in the mood to have another with the DA.

"Just saw your equipment. Impressive. I admire you choice of weapon. Surely it was not easy to do what you've been doing only with a bow. Even one normally dedicated for hunting. It's an Oneida Kestrel, isn't it? Modified, from what I could see. And a barebow, that's especially interesting, no sight, no nothing. Not a minor feat."

His gaze was a strange one. His eyes were dark and deep-set. He hardly blinked. He must have been a very good lawyer. Oliver tried to imagine him standing before the jury to deliver his speech.

"Why don't you just tell me what you want with me, Mr. Chase?" asked Oliver coldly. "Because surely you didn't come here to discuss my achievements in archery."

"You're quite right." He came up a little closer to the bars. Oliver didn't get up from the bunk though.

"You've shared some interesting information over there. Oh, don't worry, we have enough to put you away for life with or without it. It was very nice of you to leave your characteristic signature everywhere. Just making it clear, in case you were worried that something was gotten out of you illegally. It was off the record. But that piece of information about...this Damien Darhk. Maybe you've something more to tell about him?"

Oliver narrowed his eyes.

"This is also off the record?" he asked.

"You have my word."

"Why do you care?"

"If someone as well-informed as you claims that there is another underground criminal organization operating in the city, it should interest me professionally."

Oliver couldn't really guess whether he were only mocking him, or had an entirely different agenda. Maybe he was working for Darhk as well, and wanted to learn how much Oliver really knew about H.I.V.E.'s boss?

"Not willing to talk? Just as I thought," commented Chase. "If I were in your place, I would reconsider cooperation. It could improve your situation, which doesn't look particularly good right now. You've got blood on your hands, Mr. Queen. There might be a difference in your MO, and a surprisingly high dose of self-restraint for a serial killer, but they say a tiger never changes its stripes. How long would it take before you would kill again?"

Oliver had to admit to himself that he didn't know the answer. After Tommy's death, he had sworn to not to kill again. Since then he'd had to step over the boundary two times, when he had absolutely no other choice. Over three years had passed since that moment, and he couldn't be sure that he wouldn't again be put in a position when he would need to kill to save someone's life. He had no intention of discussing his dilemma with Chase though.

"I bet you don't even know the names of every person you have killed. Just between us, some of them probably deserved what was coming their way," said Chase. It was a peculiar thing to say for a DA. But they were alone here. The guard had surely been advised to take a short walk outside the jail. "But it was not up to you to decide their fate," he stated firmly.

Oliver looked away. He was getting annoyed with Chase, but couldn't exactly make him go away.

"Now, can I tell you something, Mr. Queen? It's a family story. But it does overlap with your... activities."

He took his lack of reply as a silent agreement and went on:

"You know, I never knew my biological father. He got my mother pregnant and disappeared without a trace; a story like many others."

Oliver shifted slightly, briefly thinking about his own past doings. When he was a careless parting boy he also gotten a girl pregnant, and had worried only about the hell that would break lose when his father would find out. All he'd thought about was how to get out of that mess. Not about the baby that had been conceived, or its young mother whose life he had just screwed up. Zero responsibility. Zero remorse. He hadn't even thought much about hurting Laurel's feelings, although he had cheated on her...

"But I couldn't complain about how the things turned out," Chase carried on, unaware of Oliver's train of thought. "My mother got married when I was a toddler and my step-father was a great guy. Fast forward thirty-something years and an unexpected thing happens. My biological father had a sudden change of heart in his old age. Actually made some effort to look for the son he once abandoned. Wanted to right his wrongs, as he put it. Still would never have won an award for Dad of the Year, mind you, but we exchanged some emails, talked on the phone, set up a meeting eventually. I didn't want or need anything from him, but I was curious. I was living in Coast City back then, couldn't come to Starling just to talk over lunch."

Oliver started to wonder why he was telling him this story. What was he getting at?

"But I never had a chance to get to know him better," said Chase. "Because you killed him, less than a week before that meeting."

Oliver froze. There were not many men among his victims that were old enough to be Chase's father. Only one to be precise.

"His name was Justin Claybourne. Oh, I see that you remember," said Chase slowly. He almost didn't blink, studying the Arrow's expression. Oliver hoped that nothing betrayed how uneasy he felt.

There was a long moment of silence.

"Did you know what he had been doing?" he asked finally.

Chase nodded.

"I did my own private investigation. He was not exactly an angel."

"I had given him a chance. He didn't take it," said Oliver dryly.

"So you killed him. And his bodyguards. I've seen photos of your job over there. That was brutal, even for you. And was it really necessary?"

Necessary. Oliver lowered his eyes. He'd asked himself that question many times. Even before Tommy's death. Somewhere around the time he'd needed to reveal his identity to him. When he had seen a mix of surprise and horror on his face. Tommy was even afraid to look at him, he barely spoke to him, before he finally admitted that he had no idea what had been happening in his head.

There was a time when he had been much more... reckless. What had happened that night when he went to take down Claybourne was mostly a blur. There was no time to think, he wouldn't stand a chance against guys armed with machine guns if he hesitated even for a fraction of a second. And Claybourne had made sure to hire extra security, since he expected the Hood to show up.

Still, it had not been enough to stop him. He'd gotten through them, seeing red, falling into some survival mode, just like on the island.

His wake up call was a loud splash of water when Claybourne's body fell into a pool on the roof, with his arrow protruding from his chest.

It took him some effort to focus on what Chase had been saying.

"You've punished him. But who gave you the right to do so?" he asked sternly. "We have a justice system for that. But for some reason, people like you think that they can stand above the law."

"He would buy his way out, you know that," retorted Oliver.

"Maybe. Maybe not," said Chase enigmatically.

"You're naive if you believe that."

"No, Mr. Queen. You were naive, thinking that you can operate outside the law, become some modern version of Robin Hood... You're not a hero, Mr. Queen. You're a criminal and a murderer," he said forcibly. "And if I can offer a word of advice. It's not too late to get yourself a lawyer. We can assign you a public defender if you can't afford one after spending the remains of your trust fund on bows and arrows..."

"I don't want a public defender," said Oliver.

Chase made a small nod.

"So you refuse. Ah, I forgot, you don't believe in the legal system, do you? You'll lose. Badly. If you're lucky maybe you'll get away with an insanity plea."

"I'm not insane," he snapped back.

"Some of your actions suggest otherwise. But others look as though you were acting according to a plan, almost like crossing points off a list..."

For the second time Chase had no idea what a stunning effect his words had on Oliver. He couldn't know anything about the list, but his wild guess had landed surprisingly close to the truth.

"I won't lie, Mr. Queen. Putting away a criminal like you will be a pleasure. See you soon in the courtroom."

He walked away, not waiting for an answer, and Oliver was left in the company of his own thoughts. Chase's confession was shocking and unexpected. He had a personal reason to go against him, but something told him that he would want to put him away even without that. This case could quickly elevate his career. Oliver didn't like the idea of being only a pawn in this game of chess. After the time he spent as Amanda Waller's operative, he had promised himself he would never again let himself be used.

He looked around his cell and suddenly he knew. That shrink talked about reliving experiences in order to deal with the past. She was not aware that he was in a very similar situation to this once already.

An alien, unfriendly environment. Uncertainty about his own fate. Enemies surrounding him... It was the island all over again. And he had managed to emerge victorious. They were not going to break him. He would defend his beliefs, even going down swinging.

And he would survive.

Chapter Text

The Man Under the Hood

" Hi Speedy, I hope you're doing fine... I miss you very much, you know that, right? I just wanted to tell you... Damn, it's harder that I'd ever imagine. Soon… Very soon you might hear a lot of bad things about me. Well...more bad than usual. You have no reason to believe me...and every right to hate me... But... I hadn't told you the truth to protect you. And maybe...I thought it would be easier. I guess it was easier. For me."

Thea was sitting on the bench in the waiting area of Heathrow Airport, squeezing a passport and a boarding pass in her hand. She had already listened to that voice message at least twenty times. Just like her mother, she didn't like to show her emotions. But she couldn't help that every time she heard Ollie's voice, she got a lump in her throat and was on the brink of tears. She quickly blinked them away and looked through huge windows of the terminal, focusing her sight on a small airplane visible in the distance, taxiing on the runway.

She checked the time on her watch. It was still roughly forty minutes before they would open the gates. Then approximately ten hours' flight to Starling. And then... She really had no idea what she should do. Report to the police? They would surely want to question her. Would they even believe her, that she'd had no idea what her brother was doing? To tell the truth, she didn't particularly care what they would think, the only thing that mattered to her was to see him. They had no right to refuse her. Then again... Maybe she should contact Laurel to ask for legal advice? Or maybe turn to Roy? They still kept in touch, exchanged messages on Facebook and talked on Skype a few times. She knew that he had moved to Bludhaven and worked as a mechanic in some car garage. She hadn't called either of them, though. Once the truth about Ollie came out, she was sure they both had known about that part of his life much longer than she did. She needed some time to digest the unpleasant realization. Everyone close to him knew...except for her. She was also probably the very last one to learn about Ollie's arrest. Even if Laurel or Roy had wanted to contact her, it would be impossible. Her old phone was switched off, and she realized she had never given any of them her UK number.

Due to time zones differences, for a couple of hours she'd been blissfully unaware of what had been happening with her brother. That day when the unexpected news struck her was supposed to have been a perfectly ordinary one. Maybe it had only started in a more rushed way than usual, as she had overslept a bit (one 10 minute nap too much), and had to go through her morning routine with the speed of the Flash. She had noticed a voice message from Ollie, but she didn't have time to listen to it until she found herself on the underground platform with a coffee she had grabbed on the way to the station.

When she heard Ollie's message, suddenly she didn't feel sleepy anymore. All her morning dizziness was gone in a blink of an eye. She listened to the message for the second time, thinking... hoping that maybe she hadn't heard it right the first time. For a moment she just stood on the platform, completely stunned, passed by a crowd of people getting on and off the subway in a morning rush.

She missed her train, but couldn't care less. However, its noise shook her out her momentary stupor.

Terrified, she tried to phone Ollie, not remembering that it was 2 a.m. in Starling. His phone was switched off, which freaked her out even more. No, Ollie would never... But that message he had left. It sounded as if he planned to commit suicide.

Before she figured out what she should do, her phone rang. Walter. She felt a surge of relief. He would know what to do.

"Walter!" she cried before he had a chance to speak. "It's so good you're calling..."

"Have you by any chance heard about Oliver?" he asked warily. He sounded so very sour that she immediately felt a new shot of fear.

"Why...? How do you know...? He left me that weird voicemail... I don't know what it's about... Do you know anything?..."

There was a short pause.

"He turned himself in a few hours ago..." he said, apparently deciding that there was no good way to pass this on delicately. "Admitted that he is the Arrow..."

It took a while before the meaning of the words fully got to her.

What? Ollie? The vigilante? It didn't make any sense. She couldn't connect the image of the enigmatic vigilante hero with the Ollie she knew.

But did she really know him?

After the island, he was not the same person she had used to know. Sometimes she got angry with him... When she knew he was telling her something that had to be a lie. Now everything that was strange about Oliver after his return started to make sense—his disappearances, his "forgetting" to take his phone with him, some vague mentions he had made in passing, a distant look in his eyes she sometimes caught...

She reminded herself also about the circumstances of the vigilante's return after his five-month absence following the quake. She was the reason he'd put that hood on again.

She never made it to work that day. Somehow she managed to get her wits together, called her boss, explain the situation ("an urgent family issue came up"), returned home and started searching for available flights to Starling.

The next afternoon she was in the airport, waiting for her plane. Walter had promised that he would join her as soon as possible. The Chief Financial Officer of Starling National Bank's branch couldn't exactly drop everything unexpectedly and fly to the States. Especially not when they were about to finalize an important financial deal.

He'd asked her a few times if she was really sure about going on her own, with that solemn expression of his written all over his face. She knew that he was worried for her.

"Yes, I need to go," she stated. "I need to see my brother."

Even if I'm not sure who he really is anymore.

She looked down at her phone again. She should turn to Jean Loring. She was an old friend of Mom's, she'd represented her in court during her trail. Maybe she would agree to take Oliver's case as well, even though it looked completely hopeless. Laurel was not an option this time. She was with the DA's office now.

But instead of contacting the attorney, Thea made a mistake and checked the Starling City Sentinel's and Starling Guardian's pages (although earlier that day Walter had advised her not to). She quickly found out that she would have done better if she had listened to him. The articles full of nonsense and wild speculations questioning Ollie's sanity, were one thing, but the comment sections... She quickly closed the pages down, even though there were also voices of support for her brother.

She was tagged on Twitter numerous times. Her Facebook Messenger was bursting with messages. From old friends and acquaintances, but also from total strangers. She didn't read them. That was terrifying in its own way. What did all these people want with her? She certainly didn't want to talk with any of them. She thought briefly about contacting Roy. But then she reminded herself that he had also been lying to her. Discovering that he was working with the vigilante was the reason why she had broken up with him and decided to leave Starling. She couldn't stand the thought that following that path would get him killed one day.

So in the end, it turned out everyone around her had lied... Mom, Roy, Ollie... But then again, she herself wasn't exactly honest with her brother, either. She had never told him how she had spent the months after their Mother's death. Difficult ones, when she had felt completely lost. She had no idea how important Mom was for her sense of stability—she took it for granted, and when suddenly she was no longer around, her childhood rapidly came to an end. She only vaguely mentioned to Ollie that she had been traveling around Europe, when in fact she had stayed with Malcolm Merlyn, who apparently had a sudden surge of fatherly feelings after he had discovered that she was his biological daughter. She took up his offer to stay with him for some time. She had no better plan anyway. She had to leave Staling, even if that meant leaving Ollie as well... The city had felt... suffocating. She hated it. Malcolm (she refused to call him Dad) had taught her a thing or two about taking care of herself—basics of self-defense, which was an unique combination of various martial arts, and even some sword fighting and archery. But she eventually moved out of his place. He was creeping her out. She could no longer stand his presence. Besides, she couldn't forgive that he was responsible for Tommy's death, and so many other innocent people who died in that fatal quake.

She felt better knowing that now she was able to protect herself, but she had no intention to become another vigilante hero like the Arrow. Given the recent revelations, maybe she should. Apparently it ran in the family. It was so absurd that she almost laughed.

Ollie, what have you gotten yourself into? And why... Why didn't you trust me?

She looked up at the departure board. The status next to flight AA6128 to Starling City had finally changed. She got to her feet and walked to her gate. She was first in the line, impatient to board the plane, wondering why everything was taking so long. She wanted to see Ollie as soon as possible.

At the same time, she truly dreaded that moment.


They say that sometimes one can sense that something bad is about to happen. However, on that fateful day when Carrie Cutter received the horrible news about her lover, she didn't have any forebodings at all.

She joined her coworkers from Task Force X at breakfast like she did every day. To tell the truth, she was a bit puzzled why they all stared at her so intensely when she came in. She was a little late, but that couldn't be enough of a reason. She wondered briefly if she had perhaps smeared her makeup on her face or something.

Before she poured herself the first cup of coffee, Captain Boomerang, subtle and tactful as usual, dropped that bomb.

At first Carrie didn't believe him. She didn't want to believe, although the other guys from the team confirmed that the Arrow had been arrested the previous night.

She was sure they were making some cruel joke, mocking her because of her feelings toward the vigilante they all hated with a passion (although over time they learned that it was better not to talk badly about him in her presence—Cupid had a tendency react very vigorously when someone dared to criticize her "lover"). The Arrow captured and unmasked? Her fearless, cunning, always-thinking- three-steps-ahead hero? It couldn't be!

Captain Cold showed her the front page of the newspaper he was reading with that crooked smile of his. She stared at it for a moment, and then practically ripped it out of his hands to read it herself, not paying attention to his loud protests.

She read the words, she understood each and every one of them, but couldn't grasp their meaning. She had seen a photo of his true face—apparently they had plenty of them to illustrate the article—but it was like seeing a stranger, even though she had heard a thing or two about Oliver Queen. It was hard not to, if someone was living in Starling all their life. But the Arrow was always wearing a hood and a mask on those rare occasions when she had met him in person, and the aura of mystery that surrounded his identity only made him even more attractive. When she dreamed about him, holding her in his strong loving arms and fantasized about joining in one, like a bow with a string, he was always faceless. If she weren't so struck by that revelation, she would probably have noticed that Queen's chin indeed looked very similar to that of the Arrow...

"It won't change, love, no matter how long you stare at that paper," said Captain Boomerang. "Cheers to the end of the Arrow, it's something to drink to." He raised his coffee mug in a parody of making a toast. "It doesn't change our shitty situation, but it's pleasant news nonetheless..."

Carrie sent him such a glare that he might choke on that coffee.

Captain Cold demanded his newspaper back, as he wanted to read the sport section.

"Have your damn paper," she snarled, throwing it at him, and went to sit next to Deadshot.

"That kid had it coming," commented Slade Wilson, for a moment drawing the attention of everyone present in the room.

Wilson kept mostly to himself, as if mingling with others was beneath him. Like all the members of Task Force X, he had a criminal past, and it was one of the more impressive ones; he was a mercenary and an assassin who'd left a trail of bodies from Macau to Istanbul to Lisbon before he led an attack on Starling three years ago. He'd spent some time in a high security prison before Waller managed to convince him (or perhaps forced him) to join Task Force X. It was said that he was clean off some Mirakuru drug that once made him crazy and gave some superhuman strength and durability. He seemed to have some complicated relationship with the Arrow, but he never spoke about that, and Carrie didn't dare to ask. He was the only person in the Squad that truly intimidated her. His orange-and-black mask brought back bad memories. After all, it was one of his men who tried to crush her throat and kill her during the attack on the city three years ago.

They rarely spoke, but occasionally they were sent on some missions together. It quickly turned out he was a valuable ally and a formidable fighter. The only weird thing about him was that for some reason he looked askance at her bow. Agent Michaels told her that it was the vigilante who stabbed an arrow into Deathstroke's right eye, so his dislike for this type of weapon was perhaps understandable.

The rest of breakfast was torture. She was aware that everyone was watching her closely—wondering how she would react. Everyone knew about her and the Arrow, not only her team members but also the guards. She managed to hold herself together, although it cost her a lot of effort. She didn't touch her food and didn't speak to anyone, even to Floyd, although usually she was very chatty with him, testing his patience, to the joy of all those present.

Deadshot made some attempt to pull her into conversation, but when she didn't react, he gave up. He was not stupid. He knew very well who was on her mind right now. Probably in that moment he also realized that the Arrow was never far from her thoughts, and that Carrie had never quite gotten over her feelings toward the hooded archer.

Things had been good between them lately. Their relationship was supposed to be only temporary, but had lasted much longer than any of them had expected. And maybe it was not only about sex. Maybe he truly had started to fall for her. She certainly would have fallen for him if her heart didn't belong to another man already. Even when they were together, on those rare occasions when they could get intimate, on some level she imagined that she was with the Arrow. She felt awful about that. It was like cheating. Like something that her lover had once done, pretending that he returned her feelings—only to put a tranquilizer dart in her neck to take her down. That thought made her feel even more awful.

She was the last one to leave the room; the guard had to tell her twice that it was time to go to the training session before she realized that he was speaking to her. A heart that had broken because of the Arrow was no excuse to not take part in the daily routine.

She couldn't focus. During archery practice her aim was awful, and more arrows she shot landed in the green protective net than in the target. In the hand-to-hand combat session she was much more aggressive than usual, and Captain Boomerang, who was her partner today, quickly regretted his earlier words about the Arrow. Rick Flag, who supervised the team's training, sensed that something was wrong here. He talked with one of the guards for a moment and then ordered them to take Carrie back to her cell earlier.

When she was finally left alone she immediately broke into tears. Her poor, poor Arrow! What would they do with him? How dare they treat him like some ordinary criminal? He was a hero! It was so very unfair. So very horrible.

Not even once had she thought about him as "Oliver". She didn't care who he was in his "normal" day life. The Arrow was the only one that mattered. It was his true self, the best version of him.

"I'll find you, lover. And I'll save you, no matter what," she said silently to herself, making a promise she would fulfill at all costs.

She had never been more adamant about anything in her life. He had saved her, so now it was her turn to return the favor. Even if it meant that she would need to break him out of prison. And escape from A.R.G.U.S. She didn't think about the explosive chip in her spine that would probably be immediately activated after she tried to do something as stupid as this. She didn't think about how he was probably well guarded and would be sent to some high security prison that would be inaccessible to her. They said that love could bring down any obstacle, but she had to admit that concrete walls and iron bars were quite a solid one.

She didn't know how. Not yet. But she had to do something.

With that thought in mind she got to her feet and made enough noise banging on the door to get the attention of a guard who was unfortunate enough to be put on duty in Block B today. He approached her cell warily, looking at her through the narrow window in the door; he was new in this department, not quite accustomed to dealing with Task Force X.

"Be silent, Cutter," he stated firmly, trying to mask his nervousness.

He was a very young guy, in his mid-twenties maybe; he seemed almost too young to work here—A.R.G.U.S. usually assigned to Task Force X guards who had at least a few years of experience. Normally Carrie would have found the fact that he seemed to scared of her—such a harmless creature—adorable, but not today.

"What do you want?" he asked.

"Tell Waller that I need to speak to her. Urgently."

The guard scoffed.

"And what makes you think that the boss would like to speak with you?"

Carrie narrowed her eyes.

"Because it's about the Arrow," she said with emphasis.


It was half past six and Mayor Celia Castle was still in her office. There was a pile of paperwork cluttering her desk, and although her secretary had done a good job of putting some order to documentation covering different topics, she wasn't even halfway through. She realized that she was so tired that she had no idea what had been reading. She needed a break.

She took a sip of coffee that had gone cold a long time ago and got up to her feet to stretch her legs. Without any concrete thought, she approached the window. She opened the blinds slightly to look outside. Fortunately today the street in front of the city hall looked almost normal, save for one unmarked police car that was parked near "just in case". Yesterday it was filled with a very agitated crowd. Some voiced their support for the local vigilante. Others quite the contrary, and only by a miracle had ended up only with minor injuries. The police had intervened in time.

She would never have suspected that the reveal of the archer's identity and his arrest would create a far greater state of chaos than when he was running freely around the city with a bow and arrow. She almost regretted that they couldn't go back to the status quo. Over the last few years, the city hall had effectively ignored his activities. When the press was nagging for official statements regarding their stand on the vigilante's status, they refused to name his actions as heroic—even if everything pointed out that they were. Since his main area of operation was Glades, it was easy to push the responsibility down on the district's precinct. They could deal with the problem as they saw it fit while city hall washed their hands.

Her advisors assured her that it was only a matter of time before the Arrow would meet his end in a sudden way. He risked his life every night, death in action seemed to be inevitable. Alternatively, one day he could put the bow down and go back to the life of an ordinary citizen. Mayor Castle had never believed in that second scenario—people like him just never gave up.

But of course he didn't do them either of those favors. He did something that nobody expected him to do.

If only it were someone other than Oliver Queen. Someone less... inconvenient.

A couple of years ago she would have said that the Queens were one of the most respectable families of Starling. Strongly connected to the city, they had contributed to its development over generations. Funny how everything had changed, given the revelations of the last few years. Both Robert and Moira Queen had their hand in Undertaking. Their daughter was a drug addict; she crashed a new car on the night of her birthday party. It was the talk of the town, especially because the former DA came hard after her, determined to prove that her family wealth couldn't save her this time. Still, it was nothing compared to the achievements of her brother. It was quite a leap from a playboy causing scandals to a modern Robin Hood.

She recalled that after losing his family's company, he mostly disappeared from public life. After the recent sensation the press, of course, had started to dig up everything they could find on Queen. The old story about his miraculous return after being missing for five years came back to the front pages. But there was more that was brought to the wider public's awareness. It turned out that he was involved in supporting some non-governmental organizations, using the remains of the family fortune. He also poured a lot of money into a program which was supposed to help former steel and shipyard workers to retrain and get a new job, as if he wanted to make up for his late father's decision to close the businesses. Now it was impossible to feel indifferent about him. Some journalists started to paint him as a social justice warrior. That meant one: trouble. Huge trouble.

Earlier today they had a meeting of city council regarding the recent events. No one was able to come up with a good scenario for how to deal with the "Arrow crisis", although they spent the better part of the morning discussing only that one matter. Not letting things escalate and waiting till citizens' interest naturally died down seemed like the best option, although it also felt like putting their heads in the sand.

Harold Leeds, her assistant, pointed out that the whole commotion over the Arrow's arrest at least covered up some recent problems. That was one way to look at it. But the fact that it had driven people out to the street was worrying. They were so ready to support the criminal... To do him justice, there were times when he was useful, like when he had stopped Daniel Brick or Tobias Church from rebuilding the criminal underground. But it was like trying to fight fire with fire. Eventually only ashes would remain. And the Arrow had started to forget his place.

She reminded herself briefly of the day when he'd had the audacity to sneak up to her office to talk about Oncology Hospital in Harrow that the city had decided to close. He insisted on giving them more time to pay off their debts, practically threatening her. He didn't seem to realize that Starling was struggling with many financial problems and wasn't able to support another institution that was not able to sustain itself, no matter how important it was.

The hospital was saved, though—thanks to some generous donations that magically appeared in its account in the following weeks. She didn't want to know where that money came from.

If the Arrow was Robin Hood, did that put her into the role of the evil Sheriff? Nonsense. They all worked hard in city hall to keep people in Starling, to bait new investors by offering very advantageous offers for setting up business. The revitalization program of the unused port area was finally taking shape. There was a new investor who had started to buy real estate in East Glades, which meant that finally something would be done with that dark spot on Starling's map. He wanted to set up a meeting with the officials to present his plan of development; that looked very promising.

And the city was calm, calmer than ever. After two major catastrophes—the quake in May 2013 and the terrorist attack exactly a year later—they were finally getting back to normal, regaining some balance.

They didn't need a self-made vigilante hero to save them.

With that thought she closed the blinds and got back behind the desk to finish her work.


The same news was watched by different people in different places in the city. One such place was the pub The Dockers' Inn. It was a Friday night, and Allan Marcus and some of his colleagues had decided to go out for a drink after a hard week of work.

As usual when the news bordered on the sensational, Channel 52 provided a live transmission from Glades, showing the growing crowd gathering under the police precinct. There was an occasional break in the broadcast to show some video material about the Arrow's activities over the years, or Oliver Queen's miraculous return over five years ago. The circumstances of his arrest were repeated ad nauseam. And there were interviews. Dozens of interviews with anyone who wanted to talk to the journalists and give their opinion about the local vigilante.

Someone from the back of the bar shouted to switch it to ESPN—there was a broadcast of a basketball game—but others silenced him. They preferred to watch the news, sipping their beers. For some reason the atmosphere was getting more and more gloomy.

Allan didn't particularly care about the Arrow. He was some weirdo running around the city; he'd stopped a crime or two, right, but what exactly could his bows and arrows do to improve the life of ordinary citizens like him? He had enough problems of his own—a wife and two kids age 11 and 13 to take care of. For a former steelworker, life has been a struggle ever since the major shipyards were closed down. At least, that was what he used to think about the local vigilante. But the fact that under that hood was Oliver Queen put things into a new perspective. As thanks to Queen, he'd been able to regain some footing.

Allan, like most of his former coworkers, was very skeptical when he had heard about Queen's ambitious plan of helping folks who were unemployed for months to retrain and get a new job. The newspapers were making a lot of fuss about it, and he could only think that Queen was just like his old man. He said one thing, only to screw them over again. However, his wife convinced him to participate in the program. Practically filled out the paperwork for him. Eventually he had gotten a new job, in a company that produced corrugated packing. The earnings were not great, but it allowed him to provide for his family. To survive.

Most of the regulars of The Dockers' Inn participated in the same program. Not many words were spoken, but they all felt that they owed Queen something. He had given them a second chance, when nobody else cared about them anymore. And Starling citizens didn't forget that easily.

So when they spontaneously went out on the streets, to join the gathering under the police precinct in Glades, it was not about the Arrow. It was about the man under the hood.


Doctor Elisa Schwartz was watching the news like everyone else. Nobody knew, not even her closest colleagues from the hospital, let alone her family, that the vigilante was her rather close acquaintance. It was little over a year since she had become his first contact doctor, for lack of a better word.

Their first encounter was by accident. He would probably have bled to death if she hadn't helped him that night. She remembered it as clearly as though it were yesterday.

He got into her office through a window while she was in the adjoining room, brewing herself some strong coffee, just back from her rounds, thinking that this evening was surprisingly calm and nothing really crazy would happen. In that very same moment she heard a noise of a window frame loudly hitting a wall.

She left a steaming mug on the cupboard and went into the office, thinking that maybe the window was not properly shut ,even though tonight there was no strong wind that might have pushed it wide open.

Only a small lamp on the desk was switched on and in its light she saw a hooded man. He was holding a bow in his left hand and pressing the other one to his right side. She noticed a darker spot on his jacket and more clearly a red streak running down his thigh. He was barely able to stand on his feet. He raised his head to look at her, and in the shadow cast by the brim of his hood she saw his eyes. She'd heard stories from people who had met with his sharp arrows that their expression was inhuman. They swore that he was a devil that came straight from hell (at the same time all of them insisted that they were innocent and just going about their business when he attacked them without warning). But in this moment his eyes were very, very human—and dulled by exhaustion and pain.

"I mean you no harm," he assured her quietly. Only then did she realize that instinctively she had taken a step back. A thought about raising an alarm passed through her mind, but she made no other move. "Please, help me," he said, his voice hoarse.

Her professional approach and training took over her initial reaction. She flipped on a light switch, as she needed more light to examine his wound. He narrowed his eyes when she did it, but didn't say a word.

"What happened?" she asked, coming to his side quickly.

"I've been stabbed. I wouldn't be able… to stitch myself. Too much... bleeding."

"Come, sit down here. And leave that bow..."

He put it on her desk, and fortunately had enough strength to get to the examination table on his own. She wouldn't have been able to move him if he had fallen to the floor unconscious. He even managed to take the quiver off his back before she told him not to make any unnecessary moves. However, before she grabbed everything she needed to take care of his wound, he was practically out, muttering something almost inaudibly. He really must have lost a lot of blood and strained himself to his limits just to get here.

She put on medical gloves and worked fast. She had to unzip his jacket, and cut through something that appeared to be a black sport t-shirt he was wearing under his suit. It was a lucky coincidence indeed, since it was fitted tightly to his body, it had minimized the blood loss.

Local anesthesia, cleaning the wound, stitching, injection of tetanus immunoglobulin... And finally a blood transfusion to help his body restore what it had lost. Fortunately Oliver Queen happened to be in Starling General's database, so finding out his blood type was not a problem.

It didn't feel right to learn the identity of the Starling City's vigilante this way, but she had to take off his hood and the mask to check on him—and since he was out, there was no way to get his consent on that. She was afraid for his head; not about his psychological makeup (she was not a psychiatrist after all) but whether he had some physical injury that could endanger his life. Fortunately she spotted nothing that would indicate that he'd been hit in the head. His irises were reacting normally to light, although he was still unconscious.

It seemed that he'd taken a real beating. Although some of his bruises were from at least a few days ago, she noticed some more recent violet marks already starting to appear on his body.

But all of that paled in comparison to the scars left by some older wounds. Marks of cuts and burns, not to mention uneven scars she recognized as having been left by arrows. She wondered about the state of his lungs, especially the right one, and even reached for a stethoscope to check this, but fortunately she heard no murmurs. She counted at least three different gunshot wounds. How that man lived, let alone ran around the city and jumped off the rooftops, was beyond her understanding. He should be dead, or at least a wreck, despite his young age.

She wondered what she would do if he didn't wake up soon, because she doubted she could hide his presence in her office for long. It was still deep night—only quarter past three—and surprisingly calm (save for one injured vigilante appearing at her doorstep) but that could change at any moment. It was already a miracle that she hadn't been needed during the past hour or so.

Maybe she should inform somebody... But that would inevitably lead to bringing in the police, and it just didn't seem right after he had come to her asking for help. It would feel like a betrayal. So she stayed behind her desk, leaving the office only for a brief moment—to bring from the adjoining room her forgotten mug of coffee. She was sipping it now, although it had gone completely cold.

"Still wondering what to do?"

She jumped in her seat when she heard his voice.

"Hadn't realized you were awake..." She put her mug down.

"For some time." He didn't move, just stared at her intently. She wondered how long he had been observing her.

There was a moment of silence, before he took a deeper breath and asked slowly as if he wasn't sure if he really wanted to know the answer.

"So what's the decision?"

"What you are taking about..." she said evasively.

"It's quite easy to guess what you've been thinking about."

"Is that so?"

"Whether to call the cops on me or not."

"How you could know that?" She averted her gaze.

"You've been looking at the phone on your desk the whole time."

Well, indeed she had.

"It did cross my mind," she admitted sincerely. "You know... There's hardly a week without people being brought here by SCPD that are in a need of medical attention after their paths had crossed with you. I'm not able to count how many arrows I had to pull out from street thugs, drug dealers, mobsters...You've made yourself quite a reputation, yes." She paused for a short while. "But there're other stories I keep hearing. About you and the woman in black you're often seen with. From the assault victims. Women who no longer have to fear a fist. People you both have saved. So I guess I don't need to say that I made up my mind practically the moment you stepped into my office."

She could see his relief, and some of his tension disappearing. He must have felt like a trapped animal, unsure what fate had in store for him.

"Thank you, doctor."

She nodded and got to her feet. She approached the examination table to check on him.

He raised up slightly on his elbow when she came near.

"No, no, no, don't try to sit up." She pushed him back gently. He lay down on the table again, although a bit hesitatingly, and eyed her somewhat suspiciously. Probably a sign that he was starting to feel better. Then again, she couldn't help wondering why he was so jumpy.

"What happened?" she asked.

"Stupid thing, really," he said hesitantly, as if he didn't want to admit that he has been defeated. "Let some street thugs come too close. One pulled out a knife. Should have blocked it but was kind of distracted with the other one...I lost my edge for a brief moment and could have bled to death, stabbed in some dark alley. Pretty stupid way to go, eh?"

"Pretty likely to happen with this line of work, if you ask me," she commented.

"I just forgot about one very important rule..." he muttered.

"Which is?"

"If someone is too close to shoot with an arrow, they're too close. Period," he said, showing a dry sense of humor.

"Why? Why you are doing this?" she asked after a while.

He didn't answer at first.

"I have to," he said finally.

"You say that as if it was simple."

"It is."

"You said you've lost your edge... And I think I can tell you why."

He raised his eyebrows questioningly.

"Chronic fatigue. You're out on the streets every night. It was bound to take a toll on you sooner or later. You might think that you are made of iron after what you have been through on that island, but you're not some superhuman, you know."

She noticed how tense he became when she only mentioned the island, so she left the topic aside. Instead she asked about something else that was intriguing her. She wondered why the vigilante she had no previous contact with had appeared in her office.

"Why did you come here? To me?"

"This used to be Doctor Warden's office," he explained. "I thought that maybe... I didn't really have a choice."

Now everything became clear.

"He doesn't work here any more," she said. "Had to leave Starling due to family reasons. Went back to Central City. Heard that he landed quite a good job in a hospital over there." She looked at the clock hanging on the wall over the door. "I need to check on my patients. Rest. Don't worry, nobody will come here."

He seemed to relax a bit. He closed his eyes.

When she came back, it was a few minutes past six. Dawn was stealing across the sky and dim gray light was falling inside the office. The Arrow was back on his feet, putting on his jacket.

"I need to go. Getting too bright for me," he said.

"How are you going to get out?"

"The same way I got in."

"And later? You can't walk through the city in this state!"

"I've called... a friend. He will pick me up."

She touched his arm.

"Please be careful. In case you need..."

"I'll remember, if I don't bleed to death first," he tried to joke, but she noticed a wince of pain on his face. He reached for his quiver and put it back slowly.

She opened a cabinet to take out a vial with painkillers.

"Wait, take this. You'll need them."

"I've had much more painful injures in the past..."

"Oh, I can only imagine after what I've seen. All those scars... Some of them are at least few years old. But you don't need to suffer unnecessarily. Please."

He took the vial without another protest and slipped it into a pocket in his jacket.

"Take it slow for a week, will you? And come back for a checkup. Otherwise all my work will be wasted. And... don't worry. Your secret is safe with me."


Mrs. Kazimiera Kosin, 75-year-old Polish immigrant, the owner of a small tea room on Grell Street, only shook her head in worry. She switched off the TV quickly. She couldn't listen to it, all of those people talking, overanalyzing... All of a sudden everyone had to put in their two cents and voice their opinion about the vigilante. Even though the real face of the Arrow was now everywhere, on front pages of every newspaper, it was hard for her to connect that billionaire boy with the hooded man she had once met. And she had quite a different picture of him than the officials and the police who talked about a notorious dangerous criminal and a serial killer.

Her tea room was never a very profitable place, but popular enough among the locals to keep her going. Young couples came here for the first dates, people working nearby dropped in during the lunch breaks to buy a sandwich or a sweet bun with raisins, elderly regulars sat at their favorite table in corner, chatting for hours, and every month on the second Friday an art group met for drink and draw sessions. Some of their drawings adorned the walls of her place. Everyone loved the fine selection of tea blends and her famous apple pie.

But then there was the fateful night when the violent men in orange and black masks appeared on the city's street, spreading chaos and destruction. Many small shops and local businesses were heavily affected. Windows smashed, some set on fire or looted. Her place was no exception. She still considered herself one of the lucky ones, as the tea room was not completely destroyed. But the interior required a complete renovation. The insurance could cover only a fraction of the expenses, as her business was "not insured against an attack of masked vigilantes"—that was what they had told her at the insurance company, offering an apologetic smile.

Through her whole life, she strongly believed that when something bad happened, there was no point wishing it had not happened. The only option was to minimize the damage. If she was thirty years younger, like when she had first started her own business, she would have found a way to get back on her feet. But now she was old and tired, and realized that it was too late for her to start over.

One evening, roughly a week after the incident, she was still at the tea room. Cleaning up the place seemed to be a pointless chore, but she had to do something. She couldn't just abandon the place that was so important to her. Earlier that day, the young people from the art group came to help and removed the rest of the broken furniture. Those tables and chairs and sofas had been here since the very beginning, and their story had ended brutally in one moment. And she couldn't afford to replace them, even if she were to buy the cheapest ones from Ikea.

The evening was warm and the doors to the backyard were open. There was still a lot of debris to throw It was too heavy to carry too much at one go, so she had to go back and forth many times. She had almost finished with the work today, mopping the floor in the kitchen at the back of the tea room, when suddenly she caught a glimpse of a dark figure that appeared in the open doors.

Her heart sank. She nearly dropped the mop, as her first thought was that the brutal men in masks were back.

"Sorry, I didn't want to scare you," the man said quickly. "May I come in?"

His voice was quiet and soothing. It inspired trust, so she nodded, convinced now that it was not a burglar who was trying to push in. They didn't ask politely.

The mysterious guest stepped into the dim light of the kitchen, and she sighed with relief when she saw a green jacket and the hood. He had a quiver full of arrows on his back and a bow in his hand, but she felt no fear. Of course she knew who he was. The heroic vigilante was in every newspaper recently. He'd fought against the masked men who attacked the city, and there were so many eyewitness accounts that the officials couldn't deny his role in stopping the crisis. She was also aware that he was frequently seen in Glades. But he was as sneaky as a fox that came in nights to scavenge for leftovers in the trash bins in the back street, so she'd caught a glimpse of him only once.

"What brings you here?" she asked.

"I know about your situation and I want to help."

He put the bow down on the table and unzipped his jacket slightly to take out something from the inside pocket. A while later a thick envelope landed on the counter.

"What is this?"

"A small donation."

She took the envelope and looked inside. It contained more money than she had seen in her whole life. At first she didn't want to accept it. What if the money was stolen? She never voiced her suspicions, but he guessed them easily.

"I can be many things, but I'm not a thief," he said dryly, almost offended. "This money comes from a legal source. My savings, actually."

"You're a good man," she said, truly moved, clutching the envelope to her chest. In that moment he reminded her of Errol Flynn from that classic Robin Hood movie. Noble and kind, and generous.

He seemed to be confused.

"I'm trying to be better..." he muttered, barely audibly.

"How can I repay your kindness?"

'Just get this place open again. This part of Glades wouldn't be the same without it. It's been here since I remember. And I... I'll come here one day. As a...normal person."

The money he gave her covered all her expenses; there was enough to fully redecorate the place, replace broken windows and entrance doors, and buy all furniture and other necessary things. A few weeks later, her tea room was open again. One of the signs that the city was slowly returning to normal.

Since then she carefully examined every tall young man that came to her little tea room. She decided that he wouldn't come alone, to not raise suspicions. So every man in his late 20s or early 30s who brought his date here automatically aroused her interest. She thought that she might see him in a fair-haired man that came once with a blonde. Another time, a man accompanied by an attractive redhead seemed to match the vigilante's height and physical build. But she could never be sure.

When the Arrow's secret was laid open, she realized she didn't recall Oliver Queen ever coming to her tea room. And since his life as a free man was over, it seemed that now he never would.


Rene Ramirez couldn't find himself a place. He paced nervously to and fro in his apartment, too agitated to sit down. Things didn't look good for him. Didn't at all. When social services learned that he again had problems with the police, they would never allow him near his daughter.

Three days ago the cops nailed him for disturbing the peace. He got himself into a fight in a public place. Of course, they didn't want to hear his explanations, that he wanted to stop some guys that he knew were up to no good. They just arrested everyone who was involved in that incident. They didn't care what his reasons were.

He would have been in a hell of a lot of trouble, but the cops had set him free, as they had more important issue at hand—the vigilante. They had to get rid of everyone who was temporarily arrested and kept in Glades precinct. The easiest way was to give a warning and let the matter drop. After all, nobody had been caught red-handed, and Rene's testimony that he knew that guys he had beaten had committed a number of robberies in the district was not taken seriously.

So quite unexpectedly there were no consequences for him this time. But he felt no relief. He was one of the first to notice signs that the city was again on its way to falling apart. The Arrow was gone only two days, and already that scum from Los Halcones had crawled into the open. He had seen them selling drugs to the kids on the street, not even trying to hide. Without the archer there was no one to be afraid of.

He couldn't stand aside. He simply couldn't do nothing.

The Arrow might be gone now, but what he had started couldn't be stopped. It seemed he owed the archer one, even though he'd contributed to his release only by chance. Rene knew there were other vigilantes on the streets, that chick in a black mask and a red hooded archer. Starling could use one more, couldn't it?

With that thought in mind, he hastily put together his costume. Combat boots, camouflage pants, protective body armour, gloves. And firearms. He had no intention to kill on spot every thug that would cross his path, but he was not going to restrain himself from using the extreme methods if there would be absolutely no other choice.

He pondered for a while how he should conceal his identity. No way he would go with a hood—what an absurd idea, damn thing would narrow his field of vision... And probably fall back at the least convenient moment. He briefly wondered how it was possible that the Arrow's hood always stayed on his head when he ran or fought. Then an idea flashed in his mind.

He was into various sports during his collage years. He played as a goalkeeper in handball and in soccer, and as a goaltender in hockey. He still had his mask. He found it quickly in one of the boxes he kept in his wardrobe. He looked at it for a moment, content with the idea. The mask was white and even looked a bit intimidating, ominous even. But the best thing about it was the fact that it would cover his whole face. Perfect.

On the spur of the moment, he pulled out from other box a local football jersey emblazoned with a snarling red dog. With that last addition his costume was ready. He put it on and emerged into the night. He had never felt more ready for the fight.


The view of the cityscape from the forty-third floor was formidable. Behind the long line of glass skyscrapers Starling Bay could be seen, numerous lights reflecting on its cold dark waters. On the other side, tall gantry cranes were towering over the container terminal as if they were watchful guards. A long line of ships moored along the pier, still and silent, was waiting to take their load onboard the next morning.

However, the man who still occupied the office despite the late hour didn't particularly care about the view.

He was in his late forties and was wearing a neat dark gray suit that gave him the appearance of an ordinary businessman. He had blond hair, so fair that they seemed to be almost white, and icily-blue eyes that brought to mind a piercing gaze of a bird of prey. Everyone knew that it was better not to cross him, and at the same time no one had any idea who he really was. A few trusted accomplices knew the name he had taken years ago—along with US citizenship—and had a vague idea about his life before that. There had been talk that he was born somewhere in Eastern Europe—although there was no trace of a Slavic accent in his speech—and that he spoke fluently at least four languages, which suggested that he had traveled a lot. For the majority of the organization's members, he was known as Damien Darhk, and not many had an occasion to meet him face to face. To the outside world, however, he was simply John Neal, the CEO of a medium size company that served as a coverup for his less than legal activities.

He'd had his earlier suspicions about the Arrow's identity, so the revelation hadn't surprised him much. His list had already been narrowed down to no more than twenty names. One came up surprisingly frequently next to the archer's moniker. Oliver Queen. Shortly after he returned after his five year absence, the vigilante had appeared as well. It was less than a month until he was arrested under suspicion of being the Hood. He'd refused an insanity plea, insisted on having a trial and been exonerated—there was not enough solids proof, not to mention that the archer was sighted in the city when Queen was under house arrest. A very convenient coincidence that meant that he must have some ally. Darhk had to admit without a doubt that it was a well-planned move and very clever indeed. When Queen disappeared after the earthquake in Glades for over five months, no one heard about the vigilante as well. Some even speculated that he had perished during the catastrophe. However, once Queen returned to the city, the archer had started to operate again almost instantly. It was beyond Darhk's reasoning why no one in the police force made the connection. The cops in this city were really incompetent. Easy to manipulate, easy to corrupt. Well, all the better for him. He wouldn't have moved his base of operations if he didn't see a lot of potential here.

Starling City was an ideal target for H.I.V.E., and they could thank the Arrow and other vigilantes for that. They'd effectively weakened the criminal organizations in the city. The Bertinellis were almost wiped out, and the Triad dissolved after their leader had been taken down by the Hood. The Russians and Los Halcones were fighting over the scraps, their numbers systematically thinned out by the vigilante. However, since he'd developed a surprisingly consistent restraint to killing, his fight reminded of tilting at windmills more than anything else. In another situation, it might have been enjoyable to watch, but Darhk had decided that it was time for the next stage of his operation. And setting it in motion required the downfall of the Arrow.

He was finishing some paperwork when someone knocked at the door.

"Come in."

"Good evening, sir," said his assistant, stepping into the office. "I've just gotten a call from our informant in the Glades precinct. It will all be over tomorrow. Bail hearing is set for 5 p.m."

"Very well. Go personally for the hearing, take note of the people present in the courtroom. Surely some people from Queen's circle of friends and acquaintances will be there. I want to have a full account."

Lewisham nodded. He was very observant and Darhk could be sure that nothing would escape his notice. It would be good to know exactly about whom Queen cared the most apart from his sister and the Lances, to have additional leverage on him in case it was needed.

"If I may... As long as he is alive, he will cause trouble," said his assistant with concern in his voice. "I think it would be better if..."

"Lewisham, did I ask you about your opinion?" asked Darhk very calmly with a kind, almost familiar tone.

When he spoke like that to his men, they felt a cold shiver run down their spine.

"I'm sorry, I forgot my place. I…I had no intention to show disrespect, sir," said Lewisham quickly.

" I know, you hadn't," said Darhk generously. He was in a rather good mood, so there was no need to threaten the man.

"I'd just like to...understand...why? Why let him live?" asked Lewisham cautiously. "It would be easy to get to him now, when he is under arrest, and the problem would end once and for all." He looked at him expectantly, hoping that he would hear an explanation that would help to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

"Have you ever played Jenga?" asked Darkh.

"Uh...it's the one with building a taller and taller tower from wooden blocks?" Lewisham knitted his eyebrows, obviously wondering what his boss was getting at.

"Yes, exactly. Very entertaining, my daughter loves it. Your boys don't play it?"

"They're more into video games I guess."

"I see. But you know the rules. Now imagine that the Arrow was that one block stuck in the middle of the tower, that no one was able to move."

"And you pulled out that block."

"Better. I've made Queen pull it out himself. And he knew that when he would do this, the whole tower will fall and bury him. Along with his vigilante sidekicks, his police contact in SCDP, his lovely friend in the DA's office..."

"I get it now. It's brilliant, sir. Dead, he would be considered a hero. Alive, well... Alive, he is nothing."

Darhk nodded. It was amusing to see the Arrow's downfall. But more importantly, it gave the public a story to focus on. The Starling City vigilante's trial was something to look forward to. Something that would keep the citizens and officials busy through the upcoming months. And as a result, they would turn their attention from him. He would use this time well, setting another part of his plan into motion. When he was finished, he would have a completely legal coverup for his more shady operations, and he would be so well integrated into the business net of Starling City that it would be impossible to move him. He would be the base of the new tower he planned to build. And he would make sure that there would be no traces of anything that could expose him to the public.

"And now, my friend, we have a very clean situation. We can make this city exactly what we want it to be. What we need it to be."

To get to this point, some sacrifices had to be made. Darhk was a man who abhorred primitive violence and brutality, but was well aware that sometimes bait was needed to lure out a predator from the forest. It had been told that hunters in the taiga used to tie a horse to a post on a scrap of open space to get a wolf or a tiger. In this scenario, eight citizens of Starling who had been murdered by his killer over past weeks were that bait. It was nothing personal, only a cold calculation. He'd ordered to send a huge wreath to every funeral, and had no business bothering ordinary citizens now when his goal had been achieved. They had to die to teach the local vigilante an important lesson. A lesson he would never forget.

A lone man with a bow might be the most dangerous predator on some remote island, but the odds in the urban jungle were different. He'd never had a chance against Damien Darhk and H.I.V.E.


Chien Na Wei allowed herself a small smile of satisfaction when she heard about the Arrow's arrest. The more attention it was drawing, the better for the criminal underground.

She didn't particularly care about his real name. It was not who he was underneath, but what he did that defined him. And he'd made her life much more difficult since he appeared in the city. She had hated him, but at the same time valued him, as one values a dangerous and challenging opponent. He had put her behind bars, now she'd indirectly contributed to settling the score.

Earlier this year, Darhk got her out of the prison. In exchange for freedom, she agreed to do a certain job for him when the right time came. She was promised that she would have a chance to get her revenge on the Emerald Archer, and that was another reason to side with H.I.V.E and Darhk. Especially since they were also powerful enough to shield her from A.R.G.U.S., who were greatly interested in learning about her whereabouts.

Darhk's orders were simple. She was given a list of people whom the Arrow had helped in the past. Ordinary citizens, the so called little guys he cared about so much. The files came straight from SCDPs archives. It was up to her to choose the targets, plan everything, and eventually to pull the trigger. It was almost too easy. Nobody saw her as a danger until it was too late.

She felt no remorse over what she had done. It was nothing personal. They were a job, and she was a professional killer. It was nothing that she hadn't done before.

There was no more contracts for the time being. Darhk was satisfied with the results; he wanted the vigilante to turn himself in and he obeyed. His conscience couldn't bear innocent people getting killed this way. Pathetic. And predictable. But who cared?

There was only one thing that occupied her attention now—with the Emerald Archer out of the way she could focus on reinstalling the Triad in Starling City. It was high time to remind Bratva, Los Halcones and the other gangs that they were a player everyone should reckon with.

H.I.V.E. would surely want their cut from their business, but at least for the time being it was an alliance that was worth keeping up.

Things were definitely finally looking up for China White. They were looking up indeed.

Chapter Text

Epilogue

A lone man in a green hood is sitting near the cliff's edge, busy with making arrowheads. Just like primitive hunters thousands of years ago, he shapes the chunks, hitting its edges with a hard rock found at the bank of the stream. It works surprisingly well as a makeshift tool. Over the last few months he had to use all his intelligence, cunning and inventiveness to find replacements for many things he had no longer access to on this forgotten scrap of land.

The time he has spent here on Lian Yu, living as a recluse, has wrought a change in his appearance. He is wearing a shabby vest and pants; once they might have been green, but now they are so faded from the sun that they seem to be grayish. He is barefoot, his long blond hair and beard are unkempt. No one would recognize in him the Oliver Queen who got lost on the South China Sea on the night the Queen's Gambit sank. He is a different person now, not a boy, but a man, who's had to fight hard to survive.

After the downpour earlier this afternoon the sky is still covered by a thick layer of clouds. Those rains never make it any cooler. Shortly after they fall the air again becomes humid, almost suffocating. It is hard to breathe. The nights are very cold though, and darker than he could ever imagine. It was very hard for him to adjust to those conditions, as well as to the fact that the sun appears and disappears on the horizon in the blink of an eye, and climbs so high in the sky during the day.

It has been roughly a year since he found himself on the island again. That was Amanda Waller's way of thanking him for fulfilling his last mission for A.R.G.U.S. She had found him in Russia and gave him an offer he couldn't refuse. But instead of buying him a ticket home, she had sent him back to the island against his will.

" It is too early for you to come back to your hometown, Mr. Queen," she had told him, a small smile dangling on her lips. "You've been stranded on an island, there would be too many questions if you suddenly popped up in Russia and flew back to Starling. Questions we want to avoid. We've fished you out from Lian Yu's waters, now we're sending you back to your island home , so we can say that we just reset the situation."

He curses her name every day. He often dreams about appearing on the doorstep of her office with a bow in his hand to wipe that arrogant smile off of her face. This moment will come one day. But for the time being he is stuck on Lian Yu, and his main objective is to live another day. Waller at least has left him his chest containing the bow and the hood, as well as few other necessities that increased his chances to survive. How very generous.

He adds another cut on the riser of his bow for every day he has spent here. At the beginning those marks were simple straight lines. Then out of the boredom he went for a wider variety, although he had never been much of an artist. He has carved small circles (it took longer to make them, but he had a lot of free time to kill), triangles and dots, scratched one line over three others to create some fantastic shapes, and has created many, many more combinations. Eventually he started to fill in every cut with a "paint" made out of a mix of ashes and juice squeezed out of some fruit he couldn't even name. His recurve becomes one of a kind, unique. He is sure that there is no other bow like this, just like there is no other man who went through what he had to.

Over time he manages to make his life as comfortable is it could be in such conditions. He chooses Yao Fei's cave as his shelter. It is dry and safe (although this time he is alone on the island, his bad experiences have made him extra cautious). At the same time it is located quite close the seashore so he can keep watch over the bay. The fuselage where he used to live with Shado and Slade brought back too many painful memories. He has taken from there only a couple of things that could be of some use to him, like blankets, or a hunting knife that once belonged to Slade.

Eventually he finds some routine in this life. His main aim is to survive, and to do so he has become a hunter. He has taught himself how to make arrows out of the materials that are accessible to him. He has used bamboo nodes for shafts, resin as a glue, turkey feathers and coconut fiber to make wrappers and to attach the arrowheads more firmly.

At evenings before he goes to sleep, in the poor light thrown by the flickering flames of fires he builds, he studies the List. It is the only "book" he has, and eventually he has the impression that he has learned the names written in it by heart. Some of those names sound familiar although he has always shown little interest in the family business, he recognizes influential and wealthy people from Starling. Sometimes he wonders who has made this List; he is sure that it is not his father's handwriting. But one thing is certain —he is meant to have it and to use it. Even though his father hadn't mentioned it when they talked for the last time.

Oliver wipes his brow and reaches for a coconut shell lying in the shade that serves him as a mug to have a drink of water. It is still a bit cool, pleasantly refreshing in the heat.

He likes this spot. A clump of trees offers some cover and the wind blowing from the ocean provides some cooling down during the hottest hours of the day. He has been calling it Mountain Hill, after a famous viewing spot in his city. Since currently (and fortunately) he is the only human inhabitant of the island, he has the privilege of naming the places. If the weather is good he can see the whole bay from this vantage point. He calls it Starling Bay, even if it makes little sense. The waters near his hometown were always busy, packed with large container ships and bulk carriers coming to the port, and private yachts. Not this still. Not this empty.

It is hard to believe how many things one can miss when stranded on a desolated island far away from civilization. It is not only having a solid roof overhead and sleeping in a normal bed. He would like to have a pair of scissors to cut this filthy hair so it was no longer than an inch. It gets into his eyes all the time and somehow always manages to get loose even when he tries to tie it in a ponytail; he actually can't believe that there was a time when liked wearing longer hair. He would like to have a straight razor to shave this Robinson Cruzoe beard. He also wouldn't mind to have a proper warm bath with soap. Having something better to clean his teeth than a twig to chew would come in handy too. He would like to never worry again when the next meal will be. He would like to have normal breakfast served, exactly at half past nine (or half past noon, after one of his party nights). Just the thought of having a meal of two or three fried eggs, crispy slices of bacon, crunchy toast with strawberry jam and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice makes his mouth water.

In dreamlike moments like that, he can almost see Raisa bustling about the sunny spacious kitchen in the mansion and smell the strong scent of freshly brewed coffee.

He would like to eat at least one more time at Big Belly Burger—they had the best ones in the city.

Hell, he would give anything for a piece of ordinary bread.

On top of that, he has no idea why he so often he thinks about eating ice cream, especially when the nights here are so cold. But there was that small ice cream shop they used to go to often with Tommy when they were kids, then in a group of friends with Laurel and Sara... and he was taking Speedy there too. There were so many flavors to chose from, but his little sister insisted on the combination of vanilla and chocolate most of the time.

In such moments his thoughts drift toward his family and friends. He wonders how his mother has coped with the death of her husband and son. It is unimaginable what she had to go through. People often thought that she was made of stone and nothing got to her, but in fact she loved her family dearly and would do everything for her closest ones. It has been a kind of shock for him when he had learned that Dad wasn't acting fairly towards her—he was twelve, and that realization was like a bucket of ice-cold water poured over his head. His cool Dad was not that "cool" after all.

He ponders how Thea is doing. He is not exactly sure how old is she now. Sixteen? Seventeen? It is hard to believe that she is almost an adult. How does she look now? In his mind she is still an adolescent girl, a child running after him and looking up to her older brother. What about Tommy? And Laurel? He still has that photo she had given him on the pier when she had come to bid farewell to him. At that time he had been cheating on her. He has no idea what he was thinking back then. Stupid, irresponsible brat.

He might as well die on this island, and no one will ever know that he survived the catastrophe of the yacht. He is terrified by the prospect of wasting the best years of his life in this prison. No one will ever find his body or what will be left of it, as animals surely would take care of his remains. That would be the only "funeral" he will get.

He pushes those grim thoughts to the dark corner of his mind. There is no use in feeling sorry for himself.

Shēngcún. Survive. SURVIVE.

He wants to live. Actually, if he wanted to be honest with himself, he would have to admit that he had never felt more alive anywhere else than here. As much as this island scares him sometimes and reminds about his worst nightmares, he knows that he could never go back to being the same person as before. He has changed.

But a life like this takes its toll. His diet too often lacks proper nourishing food. Usually he is able to get almost enough, either by hunting or by foraging, to sustain himself, but there are often days when he goes to sleep hungry. Luckily it is not the case today. Yesterday he has been fortunate to catch enough fish to not worry about the next meal. Combined with some edible roots and a few mangos he has picked they should make quite a good dinner. He prefers to not remember the time when he had to eat those giant ants because nothing, absolutely nothing better could be found...

He casually wonders what he will be doing tomorrow. He might start by going onto the rocks at the east side of the bay where birds have their nests. He regularly raids them for eggs.

Without any conscious thought he raises his eyes. And freezes. His keen sight picks up a tiny black spot on the horizon. His heart starts to beat faster. Could it be?...Finally, after so many days of waiting? No one approaches this damned island, apparently the waters that surround it are too dangerous for small vessels. He can't be sure. The gray clouds are hanging so low over the horizon that they practically blend together with the leaden waters of the ocean. He gets up, forgetting about his work, and approaches the cliff's edge. He squints his eyes, waiting for so long that it seems to be an eternity. When the spot finally grows bigger he is sure. A boat! A small vessel, probably a fishing one, that appeared in the shallow waters close to the island, searching for new fishery.

He turns around and starts to run through the forest like a madman, forcing his way through the dense foliage. Small twigs hit him in the face and forearms. He doesn't pay attention to that. The only thing he can think about right now is that small boat and whether it will stay in the vicinity of the bay long enough for him to get to the hill where he had left his bow and arrows. There was no use dragging them onto the cliff, he would collect them on his way back to the cave.

He has been prepared for an occasion like this since long ago. He has built up a large pile of wood on the beach, collecting sticks and branches, and dragging to the shore everything he could salvage from the destroyed and abandoned base of Fyers—loose planks, fragments of broken crates and also some fuel.

He climbs up the hill quickly, dreading that the vessel has sailed away and disappeared behind the line of sharp rocks, but when he looks toward the bay he notices that it is still in the vicinity.

His bow and a few arrows lie here, wrapped in a piece of cloth. He grabs his recurve, places the tip at his instep and strings it in a fraction of a second. He has done it hundreds of times, and it feels as natural as shooting the bow itself.

Then he drives his hunting knife into the ground. The arrow he plans to set aflame has a section wrapped in cloth soaked in some fuel. Scratching the arrowhead against the blade is enough to start a spark. He raises the bow to get the correct angle and sends the flaming arrow flying, straight at the prepared pile of wood.

The effect is even better than he expected. It has been raining more than ever during the last few days, and the once dry wood is completely drenched. He had feared that the fuel won't be enough to start a proper fire. But the pile explodes, sending up a black billowing cloud of smoke.

He waits for the crew to react, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. Will they notice? They have to notice! It seems to take ages (even though it in fact it takes less than a minute) before the small fishing boat averts its course to approach the shore of the island. His signal has been spotted!

He has been waiting for this moment so long... Dreamed every cold sleepless night. He won't believe that it is truly happening... not until he sets his foot on that fishing boat.

He goes down to the beach from the hill using a path made by animals. Once those rocks would cut his feet to blood. Now his soles are so hardened from walking barefoot on various harsh surfaces that he doesn't even notice them.

The two fishermen are on the bank before he manages to get down. He approaches them slowly, to not scare them. They look at him with a mix of surprise, anxiety and maybe even some fear. As if he was a ghost or some mysterious creature that emerged from the forest. He doesn't have many occasions to see his own reflection, but suddenly he realizes how scruffy he must look, and becomes ashamed of his own filthy appearance.

His legs bend under him and he falls to his knees. He pulls down his hood and looks up at the fishermen. He hasn't seen a human face for so long that it is still hard to believe that he is not alone here anymore. That he has been rescued.

They speak something to him, guessing by the intonation of their voices asking some questions.

He tries Mandarin, hoping that he hasn't completely forgotten everything he had learned from Shado and during his stay in Hong Kong. His own voice sounds odd to him, as if it belonged to a stranger. He hadn't heard it much over last months. There has been no one to talk to on the island. Occasionally he spoke to himself loudly. He always felt weird once hehad realized what he had been doing. He wondered if it meant that he is going crazy.

It quickly turns out that his saviors don't understand what he is saying. He is also not able to make out anything of the dialect they speak. So what is left to communicate is a language universal for the whole world—signs. To his surprise it turns out that one of the men knows some words in English. Originally he has not realized that it was his mother tongue—his accent is so thick that it is hard to understand.

The fisherman touches his elbow gently, encouraging him to get up.

" Hurt?" he asks, pointing to fresh cuts and abrasions on his arm. Oliver realizes he must have gotten them while he was running crazily through the forest and hasn't even noticed it until now.

He stops himself from laughing. He appreciates the concern, but those small scratches are nothing compared to some of his earlier injuries. But there is no way to explain it to them.

" Go?" The fisherman indicates the small boat resting in the sand. So that is how they got there. It was probably to dangerous for the fishing boat to approach the rocky coast.

Oliver nods his head and gets to his feet clumsily.

He stops at the edge of the beach, not only because the cold water washing his feet reminds him about the night of Queen Gambit's catastrophe and his fear of boats.

He has almost forgot about something very important..

Somehow he is able to explain his rescuers that he needs to take something with him from the island.

He collects his bow that he has left nearby, lying on the ground. He didn't want to scare them, appearing with a weapon in hand.

He leads them to Yao Fei's cave, walking up the narrow path he has traveled countless times.

An old chest, covered in peeling green paint, sits in its usual place. He puts the unstringed bow inside, as well as the quiver with several remaining arrows. He checks if everything else is there. The List, a pouch with the herbs from the island, the Hōzen... Every single thing that chest contains bears some significance for him.

He barely pays attention to the fishermen that are apparently exchanging some remarks. It is not hard to understand what they have been talking about, guessing from their tone. They are probably wondering how long he has been stranded here and how he has been able to survive in such conditions.

They go back to the beach and the boat. For a moment Oliver feels an overwhelming sense of guilt that he is leaving this island, while his father, Yao Fei, Shado and Sara will stay here forever. He had made it, they did not, and what happened to them will be preserved only in his memory. He doesn't even know where exactly Sara's body is... Guys from A.R.G.U.S. said that they hadn't found her, and in that aspect they were most likely telling the truth.

At this point he has no idea that he will take a part of Lian Yu with him. That it had left a permanent mark on him, carved as deeply as the cuts he had made on the riser of his bow.

Wrapped in a blanket, he sips hot green tea one of the fishermen has brought him. The mug warms his hand. He observes Lian Yu gradually vanishing in the distance. It gets smaller and smaller. With every passed mile he is closer to civilization. Closer to home. Closer to family and friends.

To his surprise it turns out that the fishermen have a satellite phone and he can make a call. He chooses to phone Mom. At first she doesn't believe it is truly him. She thinks it is some cruel stupid joke. After all, her son has been dead for five years. He has to convince her otherwise.

"Mom, please... just listen to my voice. It's me. It's Oliver. I didn't die on the Gambit."

Something in that desperate tone makes her believe that it is truly him. Her long lost son is alive. Just hearing her makes him overwhelmed by emotions. He feels tears in his eyes, and he can tell that she is crying too.

" Oliver? Oliver, is that you?" she sobs.

" Yeah, Mom. It's me. Just... don't hang up, okay?" he pleads.

" Oh no. No, no, no, I won't. Oh, my beautiful boy... Is... Is your father a-alive?"

He doesn't answer for a long while. He can't force himself to speak, as if something has been crushing his throat.

" No," he says finally in a small voice. He feels tears running down his dirty cheeks and disappearing in his scrawny beard. "No... he... he and Sara didn't make it."

Saying this aloud is like seeing them die again. And it is not easy for his Mom to hear it from him moments after a spark of hope has been raised that maybe there have been more survivors. He can hear her shaky breath and silent sobs as she desperately tries to regain control over her voice.

" Oh, Oliver, sweetheart..." she says finally. "I can't imagine what you have been through. Where are you?"

" I'm not entirely sure, but... But I'm... I'm on a boat. And I'm coming home."

A recurve bow and a green hood hidden in the chest are waiting for their time to come. Soon. Very soon. He feels he is prepared for his mission, ready to give whatever it takes, feeling an inner fire burning inside his chest. Nothing and no one will stop him.

He will save his city.

END