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Stand (you're gonna run again)

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He’s not sure what he’s expecting when the train arrives. It’s certainly not a pale, tiny little boy who looks so lost and alone all Quentin wants to do is pluck him up and carry him home.

He refrains, however, knowing he’s still a stranger. And worse, he’s a stranger in a far away place, far from Barry’s home in Central City. They’ve got more than a little bit of trust to earn, but Quentin is hopeful given the shy, very sad smile Barry gives the Lances as he walks up hand in hand with the social worker. It’s hard to look away from him to pay attention to the paperwork thrust his way.

He’s halfway through the first page when he realizes Sara is no longer at his side, mostly because Laurel immediately tattles and because her shock of blond hair is noticeably no longer there. He looks where Laurel is pointing, unsure whether or not her sister should be in trouble or not, and Quentin, in an instant, is so very glad he brought his girls along.

Sara, in all her confidence, is talking to Barry excitedly, like he’s a long lost friend come home at last. She’s been, admittedly, the most excited about their family extension - second only to Dinah, who’s been working nonstop on getting a room ready for the little boy to move in - but it’s still a new kind of pride and joy to see her so easily welcoming in a stranger and making him a friend.

Laurel, he knows, is more reserved in her judgment of everything and will be until they all find their rhythm with each other. Still, he’s pleased to note that her smile is warm and welcoming when Sara introduces her to Barry.

And Barry… the poor kid is clearly overwhelmed, but seems far more at ease with kids his own age. Sara, Quentin realizes as he passes Barry’s DOB on the documents, was born the same year, and Laurel is only two years difference between them both. And Laurel’s friends - begrudgingly, he’ll admit it - are Sara’s friends, and though Oliver and Tommy have their major faults, they’re relatively good kids and will adopt Barry as one of their own the moment Laurel deems it so. It’s just the getting there that he’s worried about.

Barry looks shy and miserable as Quentin finishes the paperwork and he wants to be sick. A whole life reduced to a stack of papers. No one had wanted him, which cuts even deeper, and Quentin makes doubly certain his smile is gentle and kind as he kneels in front of the boy, bracketed on both sides by his daughters.

“Welcome to Starling, Barry,” he says, offering his hand. “I’m Quentin. I’ll be looking out for you from now on.”

He doesn’t say dad, doesn’t dare go there. He doesn’t feel like this kid’s dad, anyway, and he knows by the stubborn little clench of Barry’s jaw that even guardian is pushing it. And why wouldn’t it? He’s determined that his father is innocent. Who needs a dad when he’s already got one?

Still, Barry takes his hand with a small hello that gets his girls grinning. Quentin chuckles and ushers them all to the car, keeping a careful eye on Barry all the while. He’s a known runner and Iron Heights is an hour train ride away and who knows if he’s carrying any money on him that would get him a ticket.

But it seems his worries are assuaged as his girls take Barry hand in hand, Laurel on one side, Sara on the other, and lead him through the parking lot. Sara is still chattering excitedly and Laurel is finally getting excited too. Barry looks stressed but grateful for their support all at once and puts up little fuss as he’s buckled into the car.

It’s driving home that it really hits him, that he’s now a dad of three. A boy even, something he’s always wanted, and that gives him flutters he hasn’t felt since the day his girls were born. Peeking at them all through the rear-view mirror, he’s pleased to note Sara is still holding Barry’s hand and happily so, and Laurel has that older sister look she gets sometimes when it’s clear she’s adopted something.

Somehow, despite the odds, Barry does fit with them. It’s far too early to think it, he knows, but he’s still optimistic. Safe and happy, that had been his charge, to keep Barry safe from harm. And he knows he will, as he knows the sun will always rise, or how he knows Dinah will always burn supper. Only time will tell if Barry will fall in love with them as his girls are falling for him now, and Quentin allows himself to hope it, that this will all work out.

Stealing glances at them all the way home, he smiles and laughs and comments on Sara’s serious questions, and prays that this will become their new normal.

Chapter Text

At first he pretends he doesn’t see the suitcase, pretends he doesn’t know what it means. He’s content to bury himself in his Forensics book and listen to Sara chatter - nervously, though she hides it well, just not from him. The house is empty save for them, though he knows Dinah saw the suitcase too, that she also knows what it all means. Only Quentin and Laurel don’t know, which is how Sara wants it, because they’re the two that’ll stop this all from happening.

Barry sorta wishes he could stop her, if only because he knows what this will do to Laurel, but then Sara brings up Oliver and her eyes sparkle and her wild spirit starts to shine and Barry knows he’ll never be able to tell her not to follow her heart. After all, that’s all she’s ever encouraged him to do, ever since he was eleven and brand new to the Lance family and she’d caught him under his bed trying to map out a way into Iron Heights prison. Laurel had discouraged him, Quentin had all but forbade it, and Dinah had gently steered him onto new paths. Only Sara had sat with him in the dark with her flashlight and helped him plot. And though they never acted on their plans, the feeling solidarity between them was definitely there. She was there for him through that, he’ll stand with her now. Always, even if it led to grief.

“Laurel’s going to kill you, you know,” he says and turns the page of his book, peeking at her to see her blush, caught, and give him a guilty look.

“I know but….” she bites her lip. “Ollie’s… he’s worth it. I can’t ignore how he makes me feel.”

Barry knows that all too well, being a little mad on the man himself, as much as he hates Oliver most the time. “Yeah, I get that,” he says softly, giving her a smile so she knows he’s on her side in this. She responds by plopping on the bed next to him and hugging him tightly, all but vibrating with nervous energy.

“Have I ever told you how amazing it is that you’re into him too?” she murmurs, only half teasing. Being in love with someone like Oliver Queen is hardly something worth being happy about sometimes.

“I’m into the part of him that he hides with douche,” he reminds her and accepts her laughter and mussing of his hair. “You and Laurel like the whole…” he flails his hands. “Bad boy thing.”

“It’s a weakness,” Sara sighs. “Runs in the family. Just look at mom and dad.”

Barry makes a face then laughs with her. “True. And Dinah isn’t going to stop you either.”

Sara perks at that, giving Barry a sweet smile. “You’re not stopping me?”

“You have to ask?” Barry scoffs a bit, though it’s all good humored. “Of course I’m not going to stop you. You’re an adult, you know what you’re getting into. If you think Oliver is worth the blow up that will inevitably follow this… well, you’re my sister,” he settles on. “You stood by me when no one would, I can stand by you when you go get the man of your dreams.”

That gets him a kiss to the cheek. “Thank you Barry,” she says, teary eyed, and hugs him again. “I don’t think I’d have the courage to do this without your support.”

“Bull,” Barry snorts. “You’re stubborn and strong willed. You’d do this even if everyone said no.”

Sara’s face twists up in a half grimace, half smile. “True.”

Barry laughs at that and shuts his book, giving her his full attention as she bustles about. “Just make sure to tell Oliver if he breaks your heart, I’ll break him,” he says, lifting his feet so she can retrieve her hidden luggage from under the bed.

“Barry!” Sara laughs, delighted, and slugs his arm. “Always looking out for me.”

“THat’s what brothers are for,” he says, serious, and watches her throw in a lacy set of lingerie. “He prefers satin, you know.”

“But he said he likes me in lace,” she gives him a look but tosses in a satin one too, which get’s Barry laughing. “Oh hush.”

“Sorry, sorry.”

Her phone buzzes then and he can tell it’s Oliver just by the way she utterly lights up from the inside out. A part of him aches in longing for that feeling but shoves it away with a smile. He gets up to grab a ball cap off her nightstand and plop it on her head.

“Okay, go get the guy,” Barry says softly. “Gonna miss you.”

He gets a strong hug for that. “I’ll give you the play by play when I come home,” she says and squeezes him until he loses his breath. Then, laughing, she kisses his cheek and rushes for the door, calling out a hasty farewell.

Then she’s gone and Barry sighs, watching her pull away in her car, and waves goodbye, smiling to himself at the thought of her and Oliver dancing on a yacht somewhere breaking all the rules the way they seemed destined to do.

Take care of her, he texts to Oliver once she’s all the way gone from his sight. And take care of yourself out there.

He doesn’t get a response, but then he never does. But as long as Oliver knows he’s here waiting for them both to come home safe, that’ll have to be enough. It always has been.

Turns out, however, it isn’t.

---

It’s three days into the trip when the news blows up with news of a category two storm in the North China Sea. Laurel is pale with fear and Barry is so full of guilt and terror and overall horror he has to excuse himself to vomit. When he comes back in, the family is in pure shock as the news report changes to something they’re all dreading: Queen’s Gambit Lost at Sea.

Barry’s knees buckle and he slides down the wall with a choked noise. Laurel is in much the same predicament, screaming into her father’s shoulder about her boyfriend lost at sea. But she doesn’t know - not yet, his mind screams - and as he meets Dinah’s knowing gaze he’s sick all over again.

Whatever she sees in his eyes, it’s affirmation, and Dinah collapses, which gets Quentin’s attention. And why wouldn’t it? It’s not like Dinah was particularly close to Oliver Queen…

Barry manages to say it before she does, and it bubbles out of him like a turrent of puke, and he almost thinks he has puked again given how it hurts and burns, but his mouth is too dry and Laurel looks far too angry, then panicked, then full of rage, and then Quentin is rounding on him, screaming, crying, shouting, and Barry takes it all, miserable and small, unable to stand as they go from pure anger to a heart wrenching grief that Barry hasn’t felt since the lightning came.

“How could you?” is all Laurel gets out, voice biting and eyes screaming in betrayal. She shakes him, beats her fists on his chest, and he lets her, breaking open.

“You knew? And you didn’t stop her?” Quentin demands in a broken voice, holding his wife so closely Barry isn’t sure if he’s holding her together or the other way around.

“I’m sorry,” is all he says, all he can say, over and over again, to her, to Quentin, to Dinah. To Oliver and to Sara. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…

They don’t speak to him until the funeral, and even then it’s just to tell him where to stand. He feels like an outsider again, a stranger, a lost kid without a family and no one to take him in. But he doesn’t run, as much as he wants to, and he’s the last to leave Sara’s grave, despite all the glaring Laurel gives him in her silent attempts to get him to disappear.

It’s to Oliver’s grave that he breaks upon, kneeling in the darkness and reading the man’s name. He falls to his knees and sobs, body shaking and wracking with grief, and he misses Sara so much, misses Oliver, misses everything, and begs them both to somehow, someway, find their way back to him.

It’s a hopeless dream, of course it is, impossible. But he’s always believed in the impossible, even though no one ever believed it too.

And that night, so far away and without his knowledge, it’s the impossible that happens.

Chapter Text

There’s an annoying amount of fanfare that welcomes him home. Five years presumed dead seems to pull all the crazies from their media corners upon first word of his arrival back to his city, and it’s a bit more than he wants to deal with.

A necessary evil, maybe, because no matter how much money his family has it’ll never be enough to get them all to leave him alone. Five years alone and he’s forgotten how to navigate the paparazzi and cameras, though he’s pleased to note - as he catches fleeting footage of himself being escorted from the hospital - his poker face is greatly improved.

On the waves of the media storm, it’s no surprise that Tommy is the first to show, grinning and looking at Oliver as though nothing’s changed, hugging him tight and planning him a party to welcome him back. It’s how he would’ve celebrated, before, and Oliver finds himself grateful for his friend for giving him such a perfect excuse to be the old playboy again.

Laurel is next, though he has to seek her out. It goes about as well as he’d thought it would, which is to say not at all. Her harsh words ring in his ears long after she’s gone from his sight.

Being abducted is almost a welcome relief. After the bubbles of emotions that have arisen in his homecoming, it feels good to punch something, to fight, even - in his lowest way - to kill, if only because it’s all he seems to know now. It’s simple, straightforward, and holds no judgement.

By the time he pulls Tommy out of the warehouse with a story of a nut in a green hood that saved them, his mask is back on firmly from where Laurel had shaken it, and when he comes face to face with Quentin Lance, he holds his own.

But seeing the grizzled detective stirs a new thought, one he’s buried a little more than the others, and when Quentin leaves with his biting goodbye, Oliver stares down at his phone, remembering before, remembering Barry. Barry who no one has mentioned, not Quentin, not Laurel, not even Tommy.

That night, in the foundry, as he digs dirt on Adam Hunt and plans his move against him, to scratch his name permanently off his father’s list, he takes some extra time to track down Barry and is a little awed to find him a firm fixture in the SCPD as a CSI, something he’d always talked about doing since they were both kids and Barry had tried to help Oliver find a dream to follow.

He lingers on Barry’s photograph, on the odd sadness in his eyes he doesn’t remember ever seeing there before, and he’s there in Oliver’s mind just before the first arrow looses, cutting a light over Adam Hunt. Then he’s once again a hunter, robotic, merciless, and doesn’t think of Barry again until after the threat is laid out and the bow is put away.

Barry has no place in such darkness after all.

---

It’s pretty much dumb luck that he manages to find Barry at the precinct during lunch hour, when he’d scoped out the time Quentin left so he wouldn't have to deal with any daggers in the back while trying to apologize to Barry for everything that’s happened. He’s more than certain that Barry has a few daggers of his own to throw.

Once he’s certain Quentin is gone, Oliver goes to the front desk and asks to see Barry Allen and is more than a little dumbfounded by the blank stare he gets in answer.

“Barney who?” the clerk asks and Oliver maybe wants to choke the man.

He refrains, however, and reiterates, “ Barry Allen. He’s a CSI?”

“Right,” the clerk looks at Oliver like he’s got three heads, but points down the hallway anyway. “Elevator is at the end of the hall, go up three flights and that’s where the labs are. If this Barney of yours is a CSI, he’ll be up there.”

Oliver grits his teeth and walks where he’s been directed, fighting the urge to fidget as he waits for the elevator.

It opens with a soft ding and then he’s suddenly got an armful of flustered human that flails a little too much, especially holding that many folders. Oliver’s reflexes save most of them from falling, but a few get away, and it’s not until he’s kneeling down to help the stammering man that he catches sight of those eyes and recognizes the shade of green.

Barry realizes it’s him about the same time he does and all the folders he’s cradling fall across his lap in a helpless heap as he sits and gapes. Then he waves a hand and hits Oliver’s cheek, before gasping a little and pulling his hand back with a squeak.

“You’re real,” he says, like he can’t believe it. “You’re really here. I’m not dreaming you up.”

“Barry,” Oliver prepares to launch into his apologies but is stopped short as Barry pulls him into a tight hug, tight and secure like he’s afraid Oliver will disappear if he stops. Maybe he is afraid.

In all their years as friends, Oliver can count on one hand how many times he’s actually hugged Barry. Barry who was stubborn and bright and absolutely hated him. They were weird friends, that way, with moments of awing tenderness, outweighed by the times they got into literal fist fights.

Being held now is strange, but a good strange, and Oliver gives it back just as firmly as he gets it, not wanting to wonder why Barry isn’t chewing him out the way his family has, not yet at least.

“Barry,” he says again, softer this time, and savors the affection long after they slowly pull away from each other. Barry’s eyes are teary and he’s smiling and Oliver isn’t sure how to handle that save for awkwardly repiling the folders into a neat stack.

“You’re alive,” Barry breathes it, wiping his eyes. “I’m so… so glad, Oliver.”

Oliver forces his heart to harden instead of fill at the words, if only so he doesn’t crumble. “You shouldn’t be,” he murmurs, honestly, and looks away. “Your family certainly wishes I were still rotting in hell, as it were.”

But Barry’s already shaking his head and looking upset, earnestly reaching out to Oliver and cupping his face, upending the stack of folders again.

“My family wishes a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean they’re right,” he says, and that sadness is back, darkening his eyes, and he looks so miserable that Oliver has to squash the urge to hug him again. “You were stupid, fine, but so was Sara. You both knew what you were getting into. It’s not fair to blame you for something she chose willingly.”

He sniffles but remains his stubborn self, enough that Oliver smiles a little at the familiar set of jaw and furrowed brows that means Barry isn’t going to accept anything else but that. “I’ll never blame you for being alive,” he says, soft despite the stubborn look, and his eyes tear up again. “Not when I wished for it for so long.”

It’s harder this time to harden his heart, an odd sensation that has Oliver worried, but he lets himself slip a bit, if only because Barry looks so heartbroken and miserable and lonely yet so happy to see him, it’s almost a balm to his soul knowing that someone in the Lance family is giving him a second chance.

Still, “I’m so sorry,” he says, guilty and low. “I can never say it enough. You’re right, I was stupid. I should have never -”

“Coulda, woulda, shoulda,” Barry waves that away, back to stubborn. “You were young and foolish. So was she. You never have to apologize for a storm you had no control over, and you never have to apologize for Sara’s decision. Not to me, anyway,” Barry tacks on with that sadness in his eyes. “I forgave you a long time ago.”

Oliver ducks his head at that affirmation, the benediction of such simple words. “You shouldn’t.”

“I’m a grown adult, I do what I want,” Barry huffs, giving his shoulder a little shove and gathers up his folders again. “I mean it Oliver,” he says once they’re all in his lap and give him something to look at instead of him, “I’m so happy you’re back.”

“Funny, pretty sure you hated me when we were kids,” Oliver remarks, trying for gentle teasing, and is rewarded with a smile as they both stand up.

“I never hated you,” Barry admits, serious, and Oliver is more than a little awed by the way Barry looks at him as he says, “I hated what you pretended to be.”

Oliver’s smile turns deprecating. “You always saw the best in me.”

“No,” Barry shakes his head. “I just saw who you really were under all that pomp and douche. You’re a beautiful soul, Oliver,” he finishes, a bit rosey cheeked. “And maybe that island changed you, I don’t know, but I do know one thing.”

Oliver tilts his head, curious, and Barry reaches out to touch his face again, fingertips feather light and sweeping over his eyes. “You still have a light in there, brighter than ever,” is what he says, so simple, yet so devastating. “I know you’ll come back from this better than ever. You already are.”

For the first time off the island, he’s stunned speechless. Barry gets flustered at his staring and silence and looks ready to apologize for his honesty when another CSI tech walks by with orders to hurry up with the files. Barry snaps to attention at that and gives Oliver a smile as he passes by.

“Take care of yourself, Oliver,” he says and the echo of those words has Oliver turning before he can stop himself, grabbing Barry’s arm to stop him.

“Can we… get lunch sometime?” he asks. “I could use a friendly ear that doesn’t think a party is the answer to everything.”

Barry gives a hesitant smile at that, surprised and touched, and Oliver is awed yet again by the affect he seems to have on this man, this stubborn, stubborn being who he couldn’t get close to before. What could have changed to make this so?

He’s worried for the answer, even as Barry gives a sweet, “Anytime, anywhere.” Then he’s hurrying down the hall and gone before Oliver can even say goodbye. Dash and ditched, he thinks, almost amused, and remembers Diggle left behind somewhere three blocks away.

“So that’s what that feels like,” he muses and, with a grateful warmth in his heart, walks back out into the sunlight.

Chapter Text

Quentin likes to think of himself as a practical man, straightforward, simple, with a certain pride in his work and his city. Starling, in that way, has always reflected him. He’s always been able to understand its in and outs. Corrupt though it’s become, it’s still home, and there’s a growing sense of pride with each bad person locked away.

But then there’s the nutjob who had to blow all that balance to hell. The Vigilante, he’s being called. The Hood. Makes his debut saving the skin of two stupid rich boys, then turns around and goes Robin Hood on all the other corrupt rich. Maybe Quentin could even believe it were a good thing if not for the trail of bodies he leaves in his wake.

He’s dangerous is what he is, this Hood. No one should take the law into their own hands as this man does and it scares him, makes him angry, that such a man exists in his city.

The only thing more worrying is the odd fixation that the Vigilante seems to have on his daughter. More than once his target lines up with a current case of Laurel’s and when he breaks his M.O., Laurel is the first of many to accept the Hood and his dangerous views as something almost like a hero. It’s enough to get Quentin twitchy.

Somehow, Starling City has become a playground for people that seem made to order for a comic book, much like the ones Barry always read growing up. The thought is a familiar punch to his heart as it crosses his mind and he thanks any God up there that at least Barry is smart enough to see the Hood as the murderer he is, given his lab sits above the morgue and he’s been called upon, more than once, to view the bodies.

At least… Quentin hopes Barry is smarter than that. Not that they’ve been on really good speaking terms the last five years, though not for lack of trying. He knows he hurt Barry, blamed him for Sara’s death simply because Oliver Queen wasn’t around to blame in his stead. It sits so bitterly in him, how easily he’d severed the trust he spent so long trying to build. Barry, forgiving, amazing Barry, has accepted his apologies more than once, but Quentin knows something in his son is still broken. And he doesn’t know how to fix it, for once.

Gone are the days where they could sit and throw popcorn at the tv during a baseball game, or discuss girls and boys when Barry had so bravely told him he was bi. The trust that allowed that is gone, he knows, and it cuts like a knife that he allowed his grief to martyr Barry the way he did.

But, again, how to fix it? He apologizes. He takes Barry out for lunch sometimes. They have Christmas and Thanksgiving and birthdays. They even work together. But his son is distant, a wall firmly up, and Quentin has no idea how to get over it again, or if he’d even be allowed.

It saddens him, angers him, and he promises to make himself better. For Barry. Drink is his go to, has been for far too long, so he finds new ways to funnel his rage, grief, and guilt. The Vigilante is the perfect target.

Not for the first time, as he reads the forensics report on the Adam Hunt case Barry had turned in, he considers pulling his son onto the taskforce forming to catch the Hood. But another part of him, the part that knows Barry far too well, worries. Worries that, like Laurel, Barry will get attached to the man in the hood. And that close proximity with Quentin every day working the Hood’s case will only make things worse.

He feels waterlogged and sighs, leaning back in his chair. A picture stands on his desk of  Quentin and his three kids, all children and grinning and missing teeth. He lingers on Barry’s face and wonders how it all went so wrong when the answer to that question walks into the precinct, easy as you please, and Quentin has to remind himself that shooting Oliver Queen would only please himself, not the law, and it’s not worth losing his life over the pathetic trash that is the young Prince of Starling.

Still, it’s a near thing when Oliver zeroes in on him of everyone with a clear death wish. Quentin makes certain his hands are firmly folded over his chest to remove the temptation of going for his gun.

“Have another run in with the Hood?” he spits before Oliver can say anything, because it’s the only reason he can think of that the man would be here. “Or do you need another department store bought off for your sister?”

He’s gratified to see Oliver’s jaw clench, but the kid is good as ever and manages a smile of all things. Quentin frowns in response, not trusting it.

“I’m here to see Barry actually,” is the surprise that falls out of his mouth. “I’m a bit early, so I was hoping I could go through you and see if he can get off early as well. If not, I can wait.”

The very idea is appalling enough that Quentin nearly laughs. Instead he gives Oliver a full up down stare.

“Right, because you haven't messed up my kids’ lives enough,” he says and Oliver flinches a little, which makes him feel better. “What do you want with Barry? Kid always hated you. Seems like the odd choice.”

Except of course that Barry is maybe sort of in love with Oliver Queen, which Quentin really hoped was no longer the case. He’d always actively despised Oliver despite the confession he’d made to Quentin about liking him. It helps Quentin hope that perhaps his son has gotten smart and moved on… though clearly not far enough to get rid of the man completely.

“I’m meeting him for lunch,” Oliver confirms his worst fears and Quentin narrows his eyes.

“If this is some sort of game,” he begins before his phone chimes from the labs and he has to answer it. Oliver stands there like a grim statue as Quentin tells CSI tech Kelton to scrub through the surveillance again before hanging up and glaring.

“It’s not a game,” Oliver says before he can finish his previous sentence. “I’ve got a lot of apologies to make and Barry agreed to this of his own free will.”

“Of course he did,” Quentin sighs, because Barry is nothing if not genuinely kind and forgiving. Seeing he’s lost, he starts a new tack, standing to his full height and poking the stupid man in the chest. “Listen, he’s been hurt enough. If I hear you’ve done anything to hurt him more, I will shove my gun down your throat so far you’ll be pissing bullets for the rest of your life.”

Oliver almost looks amused at that and Quentin wants to strangle him, but all he gets is a solemn nod. “It’s the last thing I want, hurting Barry. I promise if I hurt him, you won’t have to shove your gun at me. I’ll already be eating bullets… or scalpels.”

The reminder that his son knows how to use very sharp knives is comforting in it’s own way, though a punch of guilt follows it that he’s forgotten Barry is more than capable of defending himself, especially against a spoiled one-percenter like Oliver Queen. Still, it doesn’t feel good allowing this, though he knows he’s got no say, and when Barry walks down with his bag in hand, it feels like defeat.

Be careful, he wants to say, but is hopelessly silenced by Barry’s calm, “your files, detective,” as he places three folders on Quentin’s desk. Even Oliver looks shocked at the brush off and that somehow makes everything worse.

Barry is still hurting, it’s clear to see, and the hypocrisy of his own statement to Queen is about as subtle as an ice pick to the heart.

After all, why should Barry fear being hurt by a loser when his family has already turned on him?

---

“Sorry I’m so late,” Barry says as they walk out of the precinct together. “Ongoing case.”

Oliver just gives him an understanding smile, a little lost, and Barry wonders if he’s not the only one a bit nervous about this lunch meet. “You must be busy with the new vigilante running around.”

“Yes and no,” Barry shrugs a bit as they head to Oliver’s fancy car. “They’re forming a task force to catch him and I haven't been asked on. Even then, I’m usually only called on when they have a body to look at.”

Oliver gives another one of those big eyed stares like he did when he’d heard Barry call Quentin detective and it almost gets Barry to smile because of how oddly charming it is.

“Yeah, I live a glamorous life,” he teases dryly and is gratified to hear a little surprised huff of a laugh as Oliver opens the car door for him. “So your humor survived the last five years, I can work with that.”

“Not much,” Oliver warns him and joins him in the backseat, leaning forward just to give directions to the nearest Big Belly Burger before buckling in. He notices Barry’s tiny smile and raises an eyebrow. “What?”

“Big Belly, huh? That hasn’t changed much either,” Barry says, relaxing into the warmth that follows that revelation. “I still remember the first time I dragged you into the one across the school for study group. You were so determined to never eat plebeian food but you shut up the moment you took a bite.”

“Yeah yeah, you were right, as always,” Oliver says and Barry feels his cheeks heat up a bit, even as he deflates at the words.

“Not always,” he says softly and looks out the window, counting the nearby stores in his mind until he knows they’re there. He’s already unbuckled by the time the car stops. “So, tell me. Five years on an island. What about Big Belly Burger did you miss the most?”

Oliver gives a surprised laugh again and Barry counts it as a win, even if he’s quietly blown away by the ease of which he’s able to earn them. He can’t remember ever making Oliver laugh so easily like this before.

“I’d have to say… hm,” Oliver trails off with a hum as he holds the restaurant door open for Barry. “The burgers and tots.”

Endless tots,” Barry reminds him with a quick grin and smiles politely at the waitress who nearly goes to pieces seeing Oliver Queen, the way it always used to be when he tagged along with Laurel and Sara with Oliver and Tommy. It’s a swift kick of familiarity that pulls a longing in his heart so hard he nearly trips with the sadness of it.

“You okay?” Oliver, somehow, seems to have seen it. And here he’s been thinking he’s mastered the mask by now.

“No, but that can’t be helped,” he says honestly and takes his seat. “By the way,” he adds before Oliver can press, “did you know they still call the endless tater tots here the Queen’s basket?”

“Really?” Oliver looks far too concerned, but smiles for him all the same. Barry gives him a smile back to thank him for it.

“I guess you left an impression on them when you nearly ate them out of business,” he chides lightly and grabs up his menu to avoid really looking at the man’s worried eyes. Always been his weakness, those eyes. “So, how’s life been treating you? Well besides being shot at by the Chinese Triad,” he says with a hint of a teasing lilt to cover his worry. No one needs his worry, after all.

“You heard about that,” Oliver sighs and Barry kicks his foot under the table.

“You were with Laurel, of course I heard about it,” he reminds the man. “Glad you were there for her, no matter what Quentin says. I’d be going to another funeral if you and your bodyguard hadn’t been there.”

Oliver’s shoulders go up and he looks so hesitantly happy that Barry has to smile at him for it. “Some things never change,” he says, soft, and meets Oliver’s eye. “You still love her, don’t you?”

Oliver looks away and Barry knows he’s right. It hurts, a familiar pang, but he keeps his smile even when the waitress comes to get their orders and leaves them again.

“Barry…” he starts and Barry knows it’s going to be some sort of apology. He kicks Oliver to keep him from doing so.

“Don’t be sorry for loving someone,” Barry says firmly, sipping his water. “I’ve never been sorry for loving you, even if it it’s caused me nothing but grief.”

He wants to die a little the moment he realizes what he’s just said, and claps a hand over his mouth in horror. “Wow, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”

“It’s fine,” Oliver tells him, in that way that tells Barry it’s everything but fine. “You… love me?”

“Have since I was a kid,” Barry turtles up, but there’s no point holding it in anymore. It’s not like this will change anything and he’s so tired of carrying secrets. “I know what you’re thinking. If I liked you, then why did I act like I hated you half the time? Well, it’s because the you I love is the you you tried so hard to hide all the time.”

He tilts his head with a small smile and taps his shoe on Oliver’s, scuffing it. “Like this you. You’re still hiding a bit, but you’re far more earnest than you used to be.”

“Should I be worried?” Oliver asks, clearly trying to find the joking way out of this and Barry lets him.

“No, I know I don’t stand a chance,” Barry waves that away. “Besides, you love someone else. Who am I to get in the middle of that? You’ve already gotten in the middle of it with Sara… but you know what? I think if you stay honest like this… you may just have a chance with Laurel again.”

It doesn't hurt to say it, which Barry is thankful for and it’s clear that was about the last thing Oliver had expected to hear. Barry reaches out to squeeze his hand briefly, keeping it friendly and encouraging.

“I’m glad you’re back, Ollie,” Barry murmurs then. “And I hope nothing but the best for you. If that’s Laurel, then you have my blessing and best wishes.”

Oliver grips his hand back before he can withdraw and he looks so genuinely blown away as he squeezes Barry’s fingers. “Thank you, Barry,” he says in a thick voice, and it’s clear he’s having trouble saying even that.

Barry chuckles and squeezes back, giving him a smile he hopes reaches his eyes. He’s out of practice, but Oliver needs a real smile now, so he does his best.

“Anything for you.”

Chapter Text

The last few days are a roller coaster she hadn’t been expecting. Reconnecting with Oliver, tentatively dating Tommy, being pulled into a mission to save an innocent man by the Hood. Saving said innocent man from the electric chair and watching the man she’d thought to be almost heroic prove himself as merciless as her father had warned.

And now… this .

Having just been around the Hood, it’s little more than ludicrous that Quentin has arrested Oliver on suspicions on being the man. She wants to scream a little, laugh a lot, but keeps both urges in as she rides the elevator up. In times like this, when the world is too much, she always goes to one place, because at least he will agree with her on the state of things. Most of the time, anyway.

“Barry, can you believe what dad is doing?” she says the moment she pushes his door open, flailing her hands and letting out her frustration by kicking one of her brother’s swivel chairs. Barry looks up at her with his patented oh really face and she huffs at him, refusing to feel like a child, especially since the way the chair spins in place is more than a little rewarding.

“You mean arresting Oliver, I’m guessing,” Barry says and straightens from his work station. Goggles on his head and white lab coat stained with something red, he looks like the mad scientist Laurel always teased he’d become. “Because yes, I can believe that. In fact I’m amazed it’s taken him this long.”

That gets Laurel’s attention. She shuts the door behind her and zeroes in on him. “You think Ollie is the Vigilante?”

“Of course not,” Barry looks amused by the very idea. Well, as amused as he ever gets anymore anyway. “But Quentin’s been gunning for him the moment he returned from the island. He hates Oliver more than anyone, and he hates the Hood just as much. First hint of them being the same person? Come on, Laurel, you know him better than that.”

She sighs because it’s true. “Still, he’s going a bit far for a grudge.”

Barry gives her another look. “Right, because you’re not the poster child for holding grudges against Oliver Queen.”

“Hey, we’re… working it out,” Laurel defends and is gratified to see the small smile she gets from Barry for it. Each smile is sad but precious, given how rare they are nowadays, and she resolutely refuses to fall into that old guilt to focus on gaining more. “It’s complicated.”

“Which Quentin doesn’t like,” Barry says knowingly, leaning back on his bench. “You’ve always been good at getting yourself in a web.”

“And you’ve always been good at pulling me out,” Laurel smiles, soft in memory, and takes his hand. “I think I’m in trouble.”

“Old boyfriend back from the dead, more honest and twice as hot,” Barry says in perfect deadpan. “And Tommy Merlyn in the other corner, doing his best to win you over. Laurel, you’re beyond trouble. You’re screwed.”

“Ugh, I know,” she starts to pace, feeling even worse because yes, she feels pulled between Oliver and Tommy, but she’s scared to admit that this tricycle might just be a quadruped.

Though by the look she’s getting, she has a feeling Barry already knows, a feeling proven correct when he crosses his arms and gives a crooked, not quite smile. “Should I add the Hood to the list? Because then you’re not just screwed, you’re dead.”

“Thank you, Barry,” Laurel says dryly, feeling helpless as he just gives a careless shrug. “What should I do?”

“I think it’s cruel to string Tommy along if you still love Oliver,” he tells her plainly and as much as the words cut, they only prove why she comes to him in a crisis. He always gives her the harsh truth of things and that is invaluable. “It’s obvious you and Oliver are still dancing around each other, but you’ve agreed to date Tommy. I think you need to figure out who you want to be with before you do anything else.”

He gets a funny expression then. “And do I really need to tell you not to try for the Hood?”

That gets her laughing and she takes his hand again. “You’re right about that. I thought he was a hero, but the other night…” she bites her lip. “Dad was right about him.”

“Then take that as a sign to get your focus back to where it needs to be,” Barry says softly, always so kind it breaks her heart a little, given how she’s treated him in the past. She’s far past deserving such affection in his face, but still it’s there, all the same, even if he is still clearly hurting. “Tommy. I say keep your distance from Oliver for a little while, see how you feel when he’s not constantly there. If Tommy doesn’t fill the void, then you’ll have your answer.”

It amazes her, always, how gently wise he can be. She kisses his cheek with a tender smile and hates the way he tries to smile for her when he clearly doesn’t want to. “That’s great advice,” she says. “But I have a bit of a problem with keeping my distance. Being his lawyer and all. I have to go over the legal stuff with him tonight.”

“During his party?” Barry asked dubiously. “When he’ll likely have been drinking and his inhibitions hindered? Definitely not,” he decides. “That has disaster written all over it.”

Laurel can’t help but agree. “Got no choice. I have to do my job.”

“Let me do it,” Barry offers, because of course he will offer such a thing. “I’m far on his list of possible love interests and I understand legal stuff. Just give me the main points you want to get through to him and I’ll make sure he understands.”

“You sure he’ll listen?” she has to ask, though she already can feel herself agreeing to this plan. Selfish, but she can see his logic. Tommy is the one she’s dating, not Ollie, and not the Hood. Tommy, who’s been trying so hard to win her over, prove he’s changed. How can she expect such change in him when she herself is falling on old patterns? Her emotions are far too messed up to deal with Oliver right now and they both know it.

“He’s been making an effort to make amends with me,” Barry says and Laurel’s chest clenches because that’s the closest he’s come to speaking of the fallout and Sara in five years. He never says her name, not to Quentin, not to her. She wonders if he even can. “He’ll listen. But I’d write down a checklist for him just in case. Can’t guarantee he’ll remember.”

Laurel manages a small laugh and nods. “Alright, I will.” Then she pulls Barry into a hug, careful to pull away the moment he starts to withdraw. It’s never as long a hug as she’d like, but it’s what she deserves given how she treated him, she knows that. “Thank you Barry. If he gives you any trouble, be sure to kick his ass for me.”

Barry gives his signature not really there grin, and her heart aches so much for him it’s a physical pain.

“You know I will.”

---

Barry isn’t quite sure what he was thinking agreeing to this, but as the Manor door opens and he checks out the jail themed party room, he can’t help but snort a bit. Seeing Rayza in a taped off room, he dodges the noisy crowd to ask the kind housekeeper where Oliver is.

She looks so surprised to see him there that she hugs him for a long while, long enough Barry’s composure starts to crack a bit given how motherly it all feels. When she pulls back, she’s babbling with tears in her eyes and patting his cheek and he doesn’t have the heart to interrupt her even if he doesn’t understand Russian.

“Oliver?” he asks the moment she pauses to catch her breath and she immediately walks him out to the kitchen area, where Oliver is pouring himself a drink. Barry thanks the woman with a smile and jogs over, something in him swooping at the pleased surprise that crosses Oliver's face at seeing him there.

“You came,” Oliver says and gives a smile, slightly bewildered and far too charming for Barry’s heart to take. And just when he’d thought he was over this man, honestly.

Barry shows him the folders Laurel had given him. “Can we talk somewhere quieter?” he has to raise his voice as a beat drops outside, followed by what sounds like at least a hundred girls cheering.

“Of course,” Oliver sets his drink down and walks Barry upstairs to the old study room, hand warm on Barry’s lower back. Barry wonders if he realizes he’s even doing that, or if it’s unconscious. It has his insides fluttering regardless and he hates himself for feeling it.

Once they’re alone and the door shut, Barry lets out a relieved breath. Parties have never been his thing, especially not parties of the Queen-Merlyn variety. “Laurel asked me to give you these. They’re for your court case.”

“Oh, thank you,” he looks bewildered again, probably wondering why she hadn’t come herself.

Barry, considerate as always for his sister, just gives a small shrug. “She had another case to go through tonight, otherwise she would’ve come. I figured I’d help her out. She left a checklist for you on the top page.”

His lie has the desired effect and Oliver relaxes, nodding and giving a smile in return. “Thanks, Barry,” he says, flipping through the paperwork quickly.

“Hey, no worries. I want to see you out of that ankle monitor as much as she does,” Barry says, earnest, and stares around the room with a soft look. “This room hasn’t changed a bit, even if it’s hard to recognize without a pillow fort in the corner.”

Oliver gives one of those startled laughs and Barry finds his next smile much easier. “I remember the one we made in high school,” Oliver says much to Barry’s delight. “It lasted nearly the whole year.”

“It was the best study place we had,” Barry nods in remembrance, smiling at the corner where it once stood. Oliver too looks lost in the same memory, though his gaze is all on Barry, searching his eyes as though finally seeing through him the way Barry always wished he would.

“Barry,” Oliver says and Barry wants to jump at how suddenly closer the man is, close enough Barry can smell his aftershave. It’s a clear brand, more enhancing of Oliver’s natural smell than with its own, though it has a warm bite to it. “Thanks for coming. It’s… really good to see you.”

“Glad I could surprise you then,” Barry says, mouth a little dry, but finds an even better smile for Oliver and for once the effort doesn't make him nearly as tired. “I didn’t mean to pull you from your party for this long though. I should let you get back.”

“You should stay,” Oliver says quickly and Barry raises an eyebrow at him. The man actually seems to flounder at whatever he sees in Barry’s face, even though his expression is perfectly passive. “I’d… like you to stay.”

“This is hardly my scene,” Barry chuckles and slugs his arm. “But if you insist. I can’t really say no to that puppy face.”

“I do not look like a puppy,” Oliver frowns and Barry feels an urge to laugh he hasn’t felt since before.

“True, you’re more a wet cat half the time,” he says and finds the beginning of a giggle when Oliver shoves his shoulder playfully, and it feels so painful, so free , and for a second he thinks he can actually manage to laugh again.

But then there’s a man suddenly in the other doorway with a gun and that puts a bit of a damper on things.

“Get down!” Barry shouts and pulls Oliver to the floor with him just as two rounds shatter the vase just behind where they’d been standing. They roll together, then Oliver braces himself over Barry as another round goes off over their heads.

“Get to the coffee table,” Barry instructs Oliver quickly. “Use it as a shield. I’ll vault over the couch to get for the door. If we move at once we’ll have a chance.”

“No, I’m not letting you get into the line of fire like that,” Oliver says, stubbornly, and Barry pushes him off of him just as more shots ring out.

“Just do it,” he snaps, glaring him down from where they’re eye to eye on the floor. “I’ve had training and you haven’t! I know what I’m doing, so trust me.”

With that, he shoves Oliver toward the coffee table and, hearing the change in clips, jumps up and runs full tilt for the door. As he expected, the man doesn’t know where to shoot given there’s only one gun and two targets, and shoots a spray at the table that Oliver ducks under, then over to where Barry is running. He makes it to the bookcase propped near the door just as the bullets thud into it.

Police instincts kicking in, he watches the man put Oliver back in his sights and acts, shoving at the bookcase until it topples, making the perfect distraction. Then Barry is charging the gunman, slamming into him hard enough the gun goes flying.

“Oliver, run!” he shouts, ducking under a wild swing, and barely manages to dodge a knife the man pulls from his belt, slashing at his face.

He’s backed into the couch when two shots slam into the intruder from behind and he drops like a rag doll, revealing a pale faced, very angry looking Quentin Lance.

Barry sags in relief. “Dad.”

He hasn’t said it in five years, and even then it was rare. Quentin makes a wounded sound and pulls him into a hard embrace, before pulling back with Barry’s face between his hands, looking him over with scared eyes. “You okay? He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

“Didn't even touch me, I’m fine,” Barry assures him, ducking out from between Quentin’s hands to search for Oliver. It’s not hard, given the stubborn idiot is still there, but Barry just sighs and gives him a nod. “You okay, Ollie?”

“I’m fine, thanks to you both,” Oliver says and there’s an anger in his voice and eyes that makes him look like another person entirely. Barry’s not sure what brought that on, but it makes him shiver, and he turns back to Quentin’s fluttering hands, uncertain how to feel about that.

“What are you doing here?” he asks instead, stopping Quentin from patting him down. “I thought you had patrol.”

“I did, and we got a call,” Quentin says with a grimace, looking now at Oliver. “Hood stopped an arms deal tonight. Saw it with my own two eyes. Came back to take that monitor off.”

“Thank you, Detective,” is all Oliver says to that, sounding far too calm. He’s hardly looking at Quentin despite the news, eyes on Barry, and Barry doesn’t understand what he’s done to earn such a furiously panicked look.

The answer comes after the ankle monitor is taken off and away and he and Oliver find themselves somehow alone in a sea of cops.

“You are okay, right?” Oliver asks, hand tight on Barry’s arm. It would hurt, almost, if his expression didn’t freak Barry out.

“I’m fine. Like I said, I’ve been trained to handle situations like that,” Barry says, brushing off the hold a bit indignantly. “I’m not a scared little boy, Oliver. You don’t need to protect me anymore.”

The realization of that seems to hit Oliver slowly, but then all at once, and he goes from grim to beaten dog fast enough Barry takes pity on him.

“Thank you for trusting me,” he says, reestablishing contact between them by taking Oliver’s arm this time, squeezing gently.

Oliver gives him the most sincere look he’s ever seen, even if his eyes are suddenly a puzzle they’ve never been before.

“Always.”

Chapter Text

It’s an odd irony to be here given all that’s happened the last few days. Odder still that it is here that she is safest she can possibly be anymore, even if feels more like a prison than a police station.

Her mission is falling to pieces, she know it is, and she’s come to fill in the gaps with perhaps the one person that can help her that he won’t see coming. The danger of this move still sits in her like molten iron, burning under her skin, but she doesn’t stop moving to the elevator, nor does she falter even one step all the way to the lab.

Barry looks bewildered as she walks in and straightens instantly like the born gentleman he’s always been. “Mrs. Queen? What are you doing here? Is everything alright?”

Everything is far from alright, but Moira says nothing of it, just smiles as she shuts the door. “Everything is fine,” she lies - always lying, a voice taunts in her mind - and walks over to touch his arm, squeeze it, all motherly affection for the boy he once was, the boy that could get even her Oliver speechless. “I’m here for a favor.”

It’s said lightly, but it’s the most loaded sentence she’s ever uttered and she hates herself so much for bringing this gentle boy into this, but though she is many things, she can still admit it when she needs help. And that’s exactly what she needs right now.

“Of course, anything,” Barry says, so genuine and earnest, and she touches his cheek in gratitude of him.

“I’ve… found something. I need it analysed,” she tells him and uses her hand to draw him in a little closer. “Off the record.”

“Of course,” he says again, puzzled and worried, but eager to help. Moira’s heart clenches in pain of the knowledge she may have just sentenced him to death so easily.

“I will pay you,” she says, because it’s all she can give him, “and you will not argue it. Do you have a kit you’re allowed to take out of the station?”

“I do,” Barry tells her and goes to grab it. “What do you need analysed.”

She shakes her head and shushes him with a single look. “Not here. I’ve talked to your superiors, you have the rest of the day off to help me. Grab your kit,” she says and feels the urgency like a physical thing, pulling at her spine. “We need to hurry.”

Barry doesn’t question her, just grabs what he needs and follows her out, offering her no more than a questioning glance as she pulls him into her car and drives.

There’s little time, she knows. Malcolm will get smart about this sooner or later. But if Barry is to have a chance of living through this, then she needs to act before he notices. She’s watched all the time, she knows this, and pulled the bugs out of her car just that morning. A scrambling device in her pocket takes care of any trackers and the warehouse is newly scrubbed. It’s perhaps her only chance.

“Is someone hurt?” Barry asks and he’s obviously trying to decipher her urgency. “Because I’m not technically a doctor, even if I can stitch.”

She finds a smile for him. “No, but I need to warn you, what I’m about to show you has gotten people killed. I need your discretion first and foremost and your promise to be careful.”

Barry, bless his soul, only nods, more determined at the seriousness of the situation, even if the worry has only ratcheted up in his expression. “Is someone in trouble?” he amends his first question, watching the city pass by as they speed down the streets.

“Yes,” she tells him honestly. “But that is not why I need you.” then she takes his hand to silence him. “Just trust me.”

A dangerous thing, this day and age, trusting her. She prays it won’t lead to Barry’s death. He is too young and gentle for the kind of death Malcolm will no doubt plan for him.

Her hate for herself is nearly complete at the very thought, but she balances it with thoughts of her own children, just as innocent as Barry, but far more precious. She held genuine affection for this boy, had since the moment he first came into her home, but there is nothing she wouldn’t sacrifice for the protection of her family, not even Barry Allen.

With that resolve, she pulls into the warehouse and gets out of the car, trusting Barry to follow. He does hurriedly, jogging to catch up as she punches in the code to open the door. It hisses open and she turns to look at Barry before he can peek inside.

“What you’re about to see stays between us,” Moira commands. “You must tell no one about this, especially not my son.”

The warning has Barry looking wary, but he still nods, resolute, and gives his promise. Moira takes it with a stiff nod of thanks and opens the door to lead Barry into her world of secrets.

---

He does his best to lose himself in his training, falling into the familiar patterns of the revolving dummy he strikes, repetition, control. Breathing, everything breathing.

But while it soothes his body, his mind will not rest. It whirls, pressing into his skull and the back of his eyes, until the pain is enough to slow him down and make him loosen the way his neck has tensed, only adding to the headache. He breathes, closes his eyes, and tries to push his thoughts away, but they are resilient tonight, fighting back, desperate to be heard, and he gives up, standing away from the dummy to remove his gloves and grab a bottle of water.

He resolutely does not stare at Diggle’s knowing look as he walks by him, making a beeline for his chest and the small pouch of herbs within. He takes only a few leaves and chews on them thoughtfully, letting the bitterness sit on his tongue and fill his mouth before swallowing it down.

“Something on your mind, Oliver?” Diggle states the obvious, arms crossed and watching him with the calmness he seems carved out of. Oliver almost wants to hate him for it, for having such sense of self, but he values it far too much.

Still, though he respects the man, he considers not answering. Not even sure if he knows the answer to the thoughts in his head, troubling as they are.

Silence prevails as he thinks and Diggle moves to a different track to begin poking. “I’m getting the feeling it’s not about the Reston’s,” he says softly, because changing the Hood’s M.O. from the powerful rich had been his idea and Oliver is still a little haunted by the life leaving Derek Reston’s eyes.

But he’s right in that regard. It’s not the Reston family or what the actions of Oliver’s father had led them to. It’s more, it’s less. It’s… confusing.

“Laurel?” Diggle takes another guess and smirks at something on Oliver’s face. “Trust me when I say this, man, you really need to be careful with that.”

Oliver gives him a harsh glare, but refuses to fall into the argument that’s starting to become more of a fixture between them than he’d like. Instead he shakes his head, because for once it’s not Laurel, not really.

“It’s… i have this… friend,” he decides on before making a face at how that sounds. “No, this is not a euphemism for me, Dig,” he cuts across Diggle’s amused look. “Before the island, he couldn’t hardly stand to be around me. I don’t think i've ever gotten into so many fights with one single person in my life,” Oliver is amazed to find the words make him smile, just a bit, and fiddles with the bottle of water in his hands. “I guess he always saw the me I hid behind the playboy facade.”

“Sounds like a guy I’d like to get to know,” Diggle said, voice a little kinder and watching him close, reading Oliver’s body language as best he can. “So what’s the problem? He come by and make you question yourself?”

Oliver shakes his head again, even if Diggle’s words ring a little true. “No, the opposite. We reconnected when I came back but he’s been a bit… absent on me.”

“So, personal problem.” Diggle doesn’t bother hiding his surprise. “Must be a close friend for you to be losing focus like this over him.”

Oliver wants to deny that, but then he remembers watching Barry put himself in the line of fire and the clenching terror that had filled him at the thought of having to watch Barry die in front of him. The anger comes back too and he feels frustrated and helpless and confused as to why this should matter at all. Because of course Barry knew what he was doing, having been trained by the police for just that situation. And what the police didn’t teach him, Quentin Lance most certainly has, he’s certain.

But still, it stings in a way that worries him. He just wishes he could pinpoint why it bothers him so much.

“Yes,” he murmurs, uncertain of his own words. “He’s special in a way most people never are. He’s… he’s good.”

Perhaps that is it, what’s so important, what makes Oliver want to protect Barry Allen with his life, even if it’s clear Barry doesn’t need him to. He’s such a good person, the kind of which is far too rare. He has a drive in him to do the right thing, gentle on top of that, and overly kind. He’d given Oliver a second chance without thought, had forgiven him, had protected him despite everything between them from before. No one has given Oliver a fresh start so detached from who he used to be, but Barry has , and it leaves Oliver more than a little awed. And frustrated.

There’s something odd in Diggle’s expression when he comes back from that line of thinking and Oliver is immediately on the defense. “What?”

“Does he know he gets you so worked up?” Diggle says, as straight to the point as ever. “I haven’t seen you this flustered about anyone that wasn’t a certain young lawyer.”

Oliver frowns at that, defiant. “I am not flustered. I’m frustrated. Something’s happened to him and I don’t know what, only that it most likely happened because of me.”

“And you want to help him,” Diggle finds his meaning. “Only you don’t know how.”

Oliver growls and sets his water down a little harder than strictly necessary and forces himself to calm down, even if all he wants is to throw something hard across the room until he feels better.

“No,” he grits out instead. “I don’t.”

Diggle chuckles softly and Oliver glares again. “Have you maybe tried talking to him about it?” Diggle asks, calm despite the honest threat in Oliver’s eyes.

“It’s not that simple,” Oliver argues. “I can’t just go up to him and say, ‘oh, hey, i noticed you looked like hell and i’m pretty sure I’m to blame for it, want to talk about it?’”

“And why not?” Diggle laughs at him. “Oliver, things don’t always have to be complicated. Your friend may just need someone who’s willing to listen. If you’re willing to be that person, then tell him. Is he going to be here tonight?” he adds on and for a second Oliver has to remember what he means. “The party?”

“Maybe,” Oliver says, slowly, and Diggle nods.

“Then tell him tonight and put you both at ease,” Diggle concludes in that wise way he does sometimes and leaves him with that thought to ruminate on. Oliver sighs once he’s alone and picks up a knife, giving in to the urge to throw something.

It embeds in the wall with a satisfying thud and Oliver automatically moves for it, yanking it free and stepping back twenty paces to throw again. Whistle of steel, thud in the wall. Remove, repeat. Whistle, thud.

Something in him flips at the idea of talking to Barry and he wonders why the man has been on his mind so much. When not focusing on his mission, he’ll admit his thoughts rest mostly on Laurel, daydreaming and reliving nightmares. For Barry to find a place in his quiet moments reserved for what was and what may be, it’s more worrying than comforting the way it is when he thinks of Laurel.

He supposes it’s the Restons, in a way. The way Derek Reston made him think of role models, of following in his father’s footsteps. Somewhere in musing on Robert Queen, Barry had poked his conscious thought, the only one of his circle of friends who technically had no father. Quentin Lance’s influence came through in certain regards, but mostly Barry was just… Barry. And with his real father in prison for murder, Oliver can’t help but wonder what Barry would’ve been like if he’d chosen that path, or if he’d never found his way to the Lance family.

It hurts thinking that, more than it ought to, and Oliver forces the thought from his mind as he throws the knife even harder. It takes more work to retrieve and Oliver wiggles it halfheartedly, strangely empty at the thought of Barry not being a part of his life.

Perhaps Diggle is right, in that regard. Even if talking isn’t Oliver’s strong suit, he can make an effort for Barry.

Barry is, after all, worth it. And he deserves to know how much.

Chapter Text

Tommy’s upon him the moment he walks in, and despite all his mixed feelings about being here tonight, Barry finds a tiny smile for his old friend.

“Thanks so much for coming,” Tommy says, taking his hand and pulling him into a hug. Barry claps his back with a soft laugh and forces his smile into something a little bigger as they pull away.

“You deserve your chance to win over Laurel,” Barry says, and his words echo in his mind a bit harshly given he’d said basically the same to Oliver. If Tommy knew that, this conversation would be on a one-eighty flip, he’s certain of it.

But as it stands, Tommy just laughs and beams so bright and Barry is so envious of how plainly he shows his love for Laurel in his expression, in his eyes, so much so it emanates through his whole being.

“Knowing I have your blessing means the world to me, Bear,” Tommy says, earnest, and Barry nods, feeling guilty and overwhelmed but determined to at least make it to the well stocked bar before cracking.

“I want my sister happy,” Barry says. “And like I said, you deserve your chance to try. Besides, this is a great cause,” he adds and spies a welcome tray of champagne heading his direction. He takes one and downs half of it to steady his nerves and salutes Tommy with the rest. “Speaking of Laurel, she’ll be in soon, so be ready with your best smile, yeah?”

Tommy immediately straightens and smoothes down his suit. “How do I look?”

Barry’s smile softens, sadly, not that Tommy notices. “Like a prince,” he says and pats his shoulder as he walks by to meander through the crowd.

His thoughts are a tumbling sea and he finds a corner to hide in and rest, sorting through the emotions as he feels his mask cracking open. It’s been harder and harder to keep it on since Moira had taken him to the warehouse, to the Queen’s Gambit, since he’d assessed the remains and come to the unfortunate conclusion that it was sabotaged.

Robert Queen was murdered. That thought is a dagger in his heart as he thinks of Sara and Oliver, casualties to a plot so far from his understanding. And knowing he can’t speak of it makes it worse, burying it hard. He’s buried so much already he’s starting to choke.

He’s so gone in his thoughts and the shape of his drink he fails to notice Oliver standing there until about the third time the man says his name, and even then he flinches back to the present with enough force he loses his drink.

Oliver catches the glass, just barely, and a part of Barry’s mind zeroes in on the reflex even as the rest of it is far too muddled to analyze it properly.

“Hey, you okay?” Oliver is completely worried, looking him up and down like he’s trying to spot the red target of a sniper scope. Barry manages a weak nod and takes back his glass with shaking fingers, handing it off to the first waiter he sees so he doesn’t break it.

“I’m… not fine,” he admits before he can help it and hates himself for needing someone else so much. Oliver is far from the best person to talk to about this - in fact he promised he wouldn’t, and isn’t that just a punch to the heart - but he’s also the first to ask in far too long and Barry can feel the tears coming even before Oliver starts to look panicked.

“Sorry, sorry,” Barry wipes his eyes quickly, pulling in deep breaths as he’d taught himself, desperate to hold onto his composure. “Don’t worry about me, Ollie. I’ll be okay.” He always is. He has to be.

Oliver doesn’t look in the least convinced and steps in to bracket Barry from prying eyes, which is ridiculous because they’re practically the same height, but Barry feels so small and Oliver’s eyes are so soft and concerned that he feels himself break all over again.

“Oliver,” he says, tears dampening his eyelashes. “I’m… I’m not okay.” He chokes on the truth of that. “But I can’t… I can’t do this here, Ollie. Tommy’s worked so hard, I can’t…”

“Shh, Barry, it’s okay,” Oliver touches his face and Barry leans into the contact, forcing himself to keep breathing slow even as his body trembles for release. “Just breathe with me. I understand, so breathe.”

It’s agonizing, but Barry does it, finds that composure he pulls on like a second skin, and he feels so vile doing it here, where Oliver can see, but he has to keep a smile on and forces one to his face as someone comes over to shake Oliver’s hand.

Barry takes another glass of champagne and uses the moment he has to down it in one go. It burns and makes him gasp, but the alcohol hits his system fast and he needs the relaxant it offers. Oliver looks beyond concerned as he turns back to him but Barry just shakes his head and, somehow, Oliver understands, and that’s a relief all it’s own.

“Later,” Oliver murmurs into his ear, a plea and demand, all in one.

“Later,” Barry promises and doesn’t hesitate as Oliver offers him his arm and lets the man guide him through the sea of people back into the light.

---

It seems like forever before Tommy makes his speech, giving the figures for the benefit and raising CNRI to new heights. All the while, he looks at Laurel, and she smiles at him, almost shy, and Oliver thinks he would be sick about it if he wasn’t so damn worried.

Barry’s nursing his third drink of the night, eyes glassy with more than just the alcohol. He’s somber, withdrawn, and yet he keeps smiling, nodding along as people come up to congratulate him on having such an accomplished sister and to earn themselves some fame points by shaking hands with Oliver Queen.

It’s more than a little annoying, but he refuses to leave Barry’s side. For his part, the younger man has yet to let go of Oliver’s arm, holding him like a tether, a lifeline, and Oliver gives it gladly despite all the turmoil he feels inside. He’s getting overwhelmed, not an easy thing to do, but somehow he knows that no matter how bad he’s feeling, it’s got to be one hundred times worse for Barry.

The way he’d crumpled, struggling to keep up his front of okay, I’m okay; the way he’d said Oliver’s name like a plea, like every atom of his being was screaming for Oliver to save him, yet forced to withdraw. It was painful to watch and Oliver hated seeing him in so much agony.

But there’s nothing he can do at present even if all he wants is to take Barry by the hand and run as far away from this place as possible, to a safe place where Barry can break apart the way he so desperately needs. But they’ve both promised Tommy they’d be here and he knows Barry won’t leave until the party ends, no matter how shattered he is.

It makes Oliver tend to him a little more gently, a little more contact, steering him around problematic people and staying on the fringes where there’s less people and more room to breathe.

Barry thanks him with soft squeezes of his hand on his arm, or a tiny, wobbling smile, and deep breaths matched to Oliver’s, and Oliver’s just begun to think they can get through this together when Tommy finishes his speech and uses the applause as his moment to make a beeline straight for them, eyes on Barry.

Barry straightens and there’s a smile on his face so quickly Oliver feels the whiplash like a physical pain. Tommy, too gone on his moment, doesn’t see it, somehow misses the way Barry is trembling in Oliver’s hold, and Oliver wants to shake him, scream, but bites his tongue.

“Bear, I need a favor,” Tommy says, breathing a little hard and eyes lit with the light only love could bring. Oliver does feel sick the longer he stares at him and focuses on Barry, who’s giving Tommy nothing but kind attention, even though he’s clearly not in any condition to be paying any favors.

“Anything,” Barry says and Tommy takes his hand, squeezes it, and Oliver feels even more sick.

“I want to surprise Laurel with a dance,” Tommy says, eyes flickering to Oliver as though to check he won’t turn into a monster and eat him suddenly. Oliver certainly feels like he wants to, but the feeling is nothing compared to what rises in him at Tommy’s next words, “and you singing. She talks about how you don’t sing much and I personally haven’t heard you belt out since we snuck you into Senior Prom.”

Oliver actually growls under his breath and is about to stop all this when Barry’s hand is on his chest, stopping him.

“I have to warn you, I’m on my way to drunk right now, so I’m hardly reliable,” Barry warns in a tone that sounds so deceptively teasing even Oliver nearly buys it. “But of course I’ll help. Do you have a song you want to hear?”

“Yes, and the band is already set up,” Tommy says and Oliver is amazed all over again at how he cannot see it, all the pieces breaking off of Barry as the man untangles their arms and follows Tommy to the stage, visibly dimming with each step, eyes hollow and red, and the smile on his face so fake Oliver cringes.

Then he’s on the stage and visibly composes himself before grabbing the microphone and starting up the song about fresh eyes and seeing someone brand new, like the first time. It’s fitting, far too fitting, and Oliver’s eyes never waver from Barry’s face even as Tommy pulls a surprised, blushing Laurel out onto the floor and begins to waltz with her to the beat.

She’s dazzled, it’s clear to see, and the whole room is utterly charmed by the dancers and the voice guiding them. It’s just a beautiful as he remembers it, Barry’s singing voice, but gone is the way his heart would fly on each note, gone the smile that would catch his lips just watching Barry cut loose and have fun. He’s singing and it’s beautiful, but it’s also empty and terribly sad. Oliver wants to rage against the world that could do something so cruel to someone this good. Why must all good be so brutalized?

He steps to the front of the crowd so Barry can see him and keeps his eye on him as he continues to sing, offering him strength and comfort in his gaze as best he can. Barry’s eyes locked on his and he seems to soak it in, relaxing a little and swaying softly to the beat, though there’s nothing Oliver can do for how exhausted he looks, how wrung out, when the song comes to a close and everyone cheers.

He’s so pale, a husk of who he was. Oliver’s heart aches as Barry hops off the stage and accepts hugs from both Tommy and Laurel, who are beaming and glowing with happiness. Barry reflects it like a perfect mirror, but it’s only skin deep, and by the time he’s leaving their side he’s wobbling and Oliver pulls him in close to keep him from falling.

“I need to leave,” Barry says and it’s all he needs to hear. “Please, Ollie.”

Oliver leads him to a corner far from prying eyes and in sight of the exit. “I’ll be right back,” he promises, mouth brushing over Barry’s temple before he’s rushing to grab their coats and flag down Tommy. He excuses them off as saying Barry was feeling more than tipsy and Oliver was offering him a trip back home. Tommy buys it, a bit wary at the timing, but says nothing, instead returning to his crowd and to Laurel, who kisses his cheek in front of everyone and leaves him practically floating.

And Oliver is done, so done, so angry and frustrated and terrified. How can they all be so blind? How can they not see? He shakes his head and jogs back to Barry with his jacket and wraps Barry into his coat then leads him out of the club into fresh air.

Dig is already waiting, having seen him hurry about, and opens the door for him so he doesn’t have to let go of Barry. Oliver thanks him with the most grateful look he can muster and hopes his expression isn’t screaming as much as his insides are.

“Barry, I need to know your address,” he says gently as he settles them into the back seat, buckling them in. Barry sighs and looks at Diggle as the man takes his place behind the wheel and gives his address. Then he’s back to trembling and shaking, eyes wet and a sad, sad smile on his lips.

“Sorry for being so much trouble,” he murmurs and if Oliver’s heart wasn’t cracking before, it is now.

“Hey, listen to me,” he commands in as gentle a voice as he can, tilting Barry’s chin up so they’re eye to eye. “YOu never have to apologize to me. Not ever. You got that?”

Tears fall free from bArry’s eyes as he nods and hastily wipes them away, looking miserable and embarrassed. The look only intensifies when Oliver all but invites himself into Barry’s apartment, holding his weight with an arm around his waist the whole way up. Diggle sends them off with an understanding smile and drives away, knowing Oliver’s mind perhaps more than he does.

He’s, in fact, uncertain how to deal with this until he sees Barry’s bed. It’s odd that that is the trigger, but he sees it all so clearly, a time when they hated each other but Barry had still reached out when Oliver was feeling so low and ripped open. He’d taken Oliver to his home and laid him on the bed, threatening to tuck him into pajamas all the way. Then he’d lain next to him, forehead to forehead, talking softly until Oliver remembered he wasn’t alone.

He doesn’t remember why he’d been so low, but he remembers Barry’s selfless kindness and maneuvers to return it, helping Barry out of his shoes and suit coat and pulling the covers back on the bed so Barry can lay down. Then he’s toeing off his own shoes and jacket and sliding in next to him, over the covers, and Barry’s eyes go wide as Oliver fearlessly presses their foreheads together with a long, slow breath of contentment, proving without words his intent to remain.

Barry, it seems, understands this echo of the past, this return of kindness, and starts to cry, silent tears that fall like stars and patter on the pillowcase. Oliver presses close and breathes, giving him something to match, and watches him, waiting.

It’s like a gate opening and the noise Barry makes is like a wounded animal and Oliver’s arms around around him instantly, rubbing his back and murmuring encouragement and assurances. They only seem to make the crying worse, and for a long, agonizing eternity, that’s all he does, just cries and shakes and falls apart, his hands balling into the front of Oliver’s shirt, his face pressed into his neck, slicking his skin with tears.

What follows the tears is an aching silence, so complete that Oliver’s ears begin to hurt. He continues to rub Barry’s back, counts each breath he makes, and finally, once he feels Barry’s hands loosen, peeks down at him to see if he’s fallen asleep.

Barry’s eyes are as deep as an ocean as their gazes meet and Oliver loses his breath at how close their faces are. Somehow Barry had moved his head up without Oliver noticing, and he feels off balance at the movement and proximity, even as he stares transfixed by the green of those irises.

“Thank you,” Barry says and Oliver smiles, rubs his arm.

“Anything to help,” Oliver says earnestly, voice quiet. “I don’t like seeing people I care about in pain, especially when I’m afraid I’m the cause.”

“Not that everything is about you,” Barry teases on a broken laugh and Oliver finds a better smile for him, even as everything in him aches for the shattered glass in the man’s voice. “But I suppose it started with you… you and Sara."

Oliver’s eyes close and he breathes out an apology. He’s surprised as Barry’s fingers press to his mouth to stem the words before they fall.

“If I don’t get to apologize to you, you don’t get to apologize to me,” Barry says, eyes far away but still serious, and Oliver is too stunned to do more than nod. “Besides, as I said before, it wasn’t your fault a… storm hit.”

There’s something odd in his eyes as he says that, something flickering just out of reach. Oliver frowns a bit but says nothing, giving his full attention to Barry.

And Barry… traces his mouth, lost in thought, and Oliver’s lips part of their own accord at the sensation. He’d pull away, he thinks, if this was any other moment, but Barry needs this contact and so he accepts it and waits for him to come back from wherever he’s gone.

“I knew she was on the yacht,” Barry says and everything suddenly, horribly, falls into place at that simple statement. “I knew she’d gone to be with you. When the boat went down… I had to tell Quentin and Laurel what the two of you had done…”

He closes his eyes against the pain and Oliver can see it, far too clearly, how they must have turned on him in their anger and grief and feels an anger so deep it almost scares him the intensity of it.

“They haven’t forgiven you?” he dares to ask, voice tight with repressed emotion. Barry looks up at him with those mirror eyes, and there’s so much pain in them Oliver closes his eyes, unable to look.

“They have, but only after nearly a year of not speaking, of blame, of making me carry all the guilt and grief myself,” Barry says, and even now there’s no accusation in his voice, only exhaustion, bone deep and heartsick, and Oliver pulls him close again, tucking him into the shape of his body, Barry’s head tucked under his chin. It’s awkward, given of the two of them, barry is just that tiny bit taller, all gangly limbs and lean angles, where Oliver is broad and muscle, but once they find their spot, Barry just… melts against him, touch starved, and Oliver is certain he’s never hated the world more for doing this to Barry.

“I’m so… so tired, Ollie,” Barry whispers and Oliver dares to kiss the top of his head, rubbing his arms, his back, pulling him in.

“I know,” he says, hating that it’s all he can say really, but grateful he can actually mean it. “I know.”

Barry trembles again, tears in his voice, and his hands fist in Oliver’s shirt once more. “Stay?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Oliver promises and he’s never meant anything more.

The relief on Barry’s face is all the affirmation he needs that he’s exactly where he needs to be and holds him the rest of the night, sharing his pain and taking his darkness, piece by piece, until neither of them can stay awake any longer.

When he dreams, it’s of blackness and drowning and someone offering their hand. Even before he takes the grip, he knows it’s Barry.

---

It’s his phone going off that wakes him and Barry grumbles he turns over to grab it, upsetting the arms carefully wrapped about him. With a groan of displeasure, Oliver tries to bring him back in and looks so pathetic and adorably sleepy about it that Barry laughs. Laughs.

The sound has Oliver beaming, one big dopy, puppy smile and Barry stares down at him in wonder, shaking his head. He aches all over and he’s far from okay, but for the first time in too long he feels hope again, and that is a breath of fresh air he hadn’t known he needed. It’s like his lungs are opening up in a way they haven’t in far too long, unused and painful, but so satisfying.

He answers his phone the second time it goes off and for once the sight of Quentin’s name on the ID doesn’t make him instantly feel dread.

“You coming in today? Laurel said you were pretty out of it last night, drank a bit.”

“No, I’m taking a day,” he says before he can stop himself.

There’s a surprised pause, then, “you okay?”

“I haven’t been okay in a long time,” Barry says softly, turning his head to see Oliver watching him, golden and aching beautiful and here, and he smiles with a full heart. “But I think I can be. I just need time.”

“Take all the time you need,” Quentin says, earnest and worried, and Barry feels guilty a little for all the pain he must've caused, all the worry.

“Love you, Dad,” he says, knowing the man needs to hear it, and feels better for the choked sound it earns him.

“Love you too kiddo. You take care of yourself, you hear?”

“I will, I promise.” Barry hangs up with a lighter heart, still hurting so deeply, but for once the darkness he feels doesn’t feel as complete, the sadness and loneliness cut through like ribbons.

He turns to face the one responsible for the light and presses in, forehead to forehead, and breathes in the moment. “Thank you.”

Oliver smiles and doesn’t resist as Barry pulls him in, until he’s the one tucked in and wrapped around. He relaxes and allows it and Barry holds on for dear life, lest he lose this all over again.

“I’m here,” Oliver assures as though hearing his mind and BArry finds a laugh again, a laugh. It hurts, but it also feels so good, and the smile on Oliver’s face is brighter than the sun and Barry is so gone but he doesn’t care.

He can be better, he knows, and grabs hold of that hope and runs for the light as fast as he can.

Chapter Text

The change in his son is a true marvel and the whole station buzzes with gossip about who Barry must be seeing to have put the bounce back into his step. Quentin hates to think it was someone outside of their little family to make Barry’s smiles a little less forced, his eyes a little less hollow, but it’s clear there’s someone’s influence there, helping him find his hope again, and that’s just something Quentin can’t argue with.

And that phone call… Quentin wouldn’t be a father if he didn’t know the tone of someone in bed with another, the little pauses when they turn to look at them, the way they pitch their voice so it’s not loud. He feels proud of his boy for that, oddly so, even if he wonders if Barry will ever trust him enough to tell him who the lucky girl - or guy - is.

He doesn’t want to pry, but he definitely takes his chance to do so when work presents it. The media has dubbed the newest vigilante in town the Huntress, a crazy with a little too much appreciation for her crossbow and with just as much killer instinct as the Hood, even if the two vigilantes seem to be rather on and off with each other.

Working the case led to a phone being delivered with a direct line to the Hood himself, and it’s this phone he takes to Barry in hopes of scrubbing through data or something useful. The fact that he’s a father with interest in his son’s health is just a parallel coincidence, one he plans to use accordingly.

Barry’s smile still doesn’t reach his eyes, but he smiles all the same for Quentin, which is better than they used to be already. “Can I help you, Detective?” he asks, teasing on the word that’s been used for too long to denote his unhappiness. It’s not the Dad he’s been getting - and wow , does he feel so unworthy of that still - but it’s still a step in the right direction.

“Just wanted to see what you could get off of this,” Quentin says and hands him the phone. Barry takes it curiously, turning it this way and that, and pulls out the SIM card to plug it into his computer.

“What case is this for?” Barry asks, all business, and opens the programs needed to read whatever information the card can give.

“Vigilante,” Quentin says and Barry blinks up at him in surprise. “Dropped this off during the Huntress debacle. Direct line to him. Was hoping for a trace or some kind of reverse tracking on it.”

“Kelton would be the better choice for that,” Barry reasons, but still scrubs through to check.

“And miss the chance to visit my son?” Quentin demands with a huff and they both sorta smile at one another in a way that almost feels like before. “Don’t tell Kelton, but you make him look like a Looney Toon in comparison.”

Barry snorts and turns back to the task at hand. “And yet he’s on the Taskforce,” Barry points out before frowning. “This thing is scrubbed clean. Nothing to back trace. Guy’s a real pro,” he adds as he pulls the SIM card out and back into the phone before handing it over again. Quentin takes it with a sigh, but in all honesty he was expecting that.

“Well, it was worth a shot,” he says and Barry nods in understanding, though he seems to be waiting for Quentin to leave. Quentin almost does just for that, but can’t help pressing, “So, you ever gonna let me meet the special someone that brought back your smile?”

Barry blushes and looks bewildered at being caught, but sighs and doesn’t try to play it off. “I don’t know,” he admits. “We’re not dating, just friends. And I know you’ll hate his guts.”

“Hard to hate anyone that makes you smile like that again,” Quentin says, trying for reassuring, but Barry just frowns and shakes his head.

“Even if it’s Oliver Queen?” he asks and Quentin freezes, a bit of a scream in his throat. Barry rolls his eyes, though looks almost amused. “Thought not.”

“I didn’t think that man was capable of making anyone happy, let alone you,” Quentin huffs, sounding a bit more defensive than he means to, and trys to tone it down. “I don’t know why you give him the time of day.”

“Because he makes me happy,” Barry says simply, and for all Quentin hates the man, he can’t deny how good it is to hear that.

“Then I guess I’ll try not to shoot him on sight,” Quentin grumps and Barry pats his arm with gratitude. “But please, be careful? He doesn’t exactly have the best track record with my kids.”

“I’ll be careful,” Barry promises and Quentin wishes it made him feel better, the way he seems so certain. But it doesn’t. “Anything else you need?”

“No, this was it,” Quentin knows when the conversation is over and turns to leave, but can’t resist asking one more time at the door, “Really? Oliver Queen? I thought you hated him.”

“No, Detective, I don’t hate him,” Barry almost laughs and that’s worth everything right there, enough that even Quentin’s willing to let this go. “He’s got his problems, but he cares about me. And that’s what I need right now. If it goes south, I’ll be the first one to tell you to grab your gun.”

That’s a satisfying answer and Quentin leaves it at that. “You’d better.”

---

Dealing with Helena has left him hollowed out and aching. Training doesn’t help and speaking with Diggle feels cheapened in the knowledge he’d been right and Oliver hadn’t listened. It’s a familiar pattern of pride falling, then guilt, then trying to pick himself back up again. And just when he’d thought he could have someone in his life - the freedom of being himself had made him fly - it was taken away until all he’s left with is a growing dread that there will never be anyone safe from him, never be anyone he can be himself with.

To distract himself, he plans the Christmas gala at his home, hoping to bring some holiday spirit back to his family and to bring them together. Odd tension has been rising between his mother and Walter and he’s worried things are broken. And broken is something he just can’t handle right now, so he pushes the issue of the party in hopes it brings them all together.

Writing the invites distracts him for hours, but there’s one invite he does in person. The police station is fast becoming a fixture in his life, and perhaps that is worrying to a degree, but it’s worth it for the smile that greets him every time he opens the lab door.

“Ollie, it’s good to see you,” Barry says and he still looks so hopelessly tired, but his smile is brighter than it has been and that makes it all worth it. Oliver hands him the invitation and watches eagerly as Barry reads it over, surprise on his face. “Wow, I can’t remember the last time I went to the Queen Christmas Gala.”

“I can,” Oliver says and leans his hip on the desk. “You were Sara’s escort and lost a bet with Tommy to dance with me in front of everyone.”

“Oh, right,” Barry laughs - and isn’t that just amazing to hear again - and his smile is nearly in his eyes as he looks up from his chair. “More like you lost a bet. I stepped on your toes the whole time.”

They both wince in memory, but their smiles are quick to return. “So, can you come?”

“I’ll be there,” Barry promises and tucks the card into his bag. “Just don’t dance with me and we’ll make it through with as little embarrassment as possible.”

Oliver nods, though he’s surprised to find himself nearly disappointed at the prospect of not dancing with the floundering younger man. A part of his brain usually reserved for wooing Laurel wakes up enough to point out that Barry could dance with his feet on Oliver’s and the visual hits him with a longing so complete he has to clear his throat and brush it all away as fast as he can.

He’s interrupted by Barry’s phone going off with a number that says blocked and flashes with a text. Barry looks down at it and then up at Oliver with a guilty expression. “Sorry, I need to answer this."

Oliver takes the out as it comes. “No problem. I’ll see you there,” he says and beats a hasty retreat.

Barry’s laugh follows him out. “See you.”

---

When Oliver is gone Barry picks up his phone, heart racing and stomach heavy with lead.

Warehouse, ten tonight. I need to talk to you.

He briefly wonders just when his life had become like some mafia movie and sends back a reply before getting back to work, trying to focus on nothing else until there’s nothing left to work on. He finishes early and clocks out, then catches a taxi into the east side of town.

It's amazing how much he can hate a place, but he hates this warehouse so much. Hates the secrets here and the implications, hates that he can’t speak of it all.

Hates he can’t tell Oliver.

With a heavy heart he punches in the code and steps in through the open door. He’s hours early, but he needs the time with the Queen’s Gambit to think and uses a ladder to climb into the wreckage. Then he carefully maneuvers through the well known paths he’s made, touching walls and trying to imagine his sister on this broken vessel. He can imagine the opulence of it, how nice it must've been, and remembers a tour he got once when it was brand new and Oliver had been eager to show it off to his friends.

What a terrible place to die, he thinks and has to retreat back down the ladder to think. He’s sitting on the ground just staring at the letters painted across the back of the boat when Moira walks in, looking stressed and haggard and like someone is after her. Barry is on his feet immediately.

“You needed to see me?” he says and keeps his expression as open and kind as he can, despite all the secrets here, despite all she’s asked of him.

“It’s Malcolm,” she says and his heart stops for a few beats in horror. “He’s moving against the Vigilante soon. I’m going to need you to be even more careful than you have been. Too many have been getting close to this,” she adds and Barry knows she means Walter, who’s still trying to forgive her for all her lies.

“I’ll be careful,” he promises and accepts the wad of cash she hands him. He’s learned long ago not to deny Moira Queen her handouts if only because he knows it puts her more at ease. “But I think we need to talk some more. I need to ask you something.”

Her face flickers with surprise but she gives a small nod, waiting for him to continue. Barry pockets his money and sighs, looking up at the wreckage.

“The Undertaking,” he murmurs, feeling the power of that word, what it means, what is coming. “We need to stop it.”

“You know I can’t,” Moira says and he does know, knows Malcolm’s leverage against her family, against Walter and Thea and Oliver and everything she holds dear.

“I know, but we still need a fail safe,” he says and pulls out a recorder. “Do you trust me, Mrs. Queen?”

She’s silent for so long, he thinks he’s misjudged this, but then she gives another small nod, wary, and Barry can breathe again.

“I’ll record you detailing the Undertaking, so if Malcolm goes back on his words and hurts Thea or Oliver or Walter, you’ll have leverage against him,” Barry reasons and waits for her to accept his logic.

“And what will you do with the recording if nothing happens?” she asks, fearful as she has every right to be. “You cannot take it to the police.”

“No, not the police,” he says and thinks of a phone in Quentin’s desk with a direct line to the Hood, the Vigilante who - by Moira’s own admission - is targeting the Undertaking. It’s crazy, maybe, to trust a known killer, but he’s always believed in impossible things and the Hood may be just the hero he knows him to be. “But someone who can help.”

Understanding lights her face. “The Hood. You really think he stands a chance?”

“He has to,” Barry says, trembling from the inside out. “He’s the only one with the power to end this without putting your family in danger, Mrs. Queen.”

She still looks hesitant so he takes her hand and squeezes. “I promise I’ll give it to him only if I fear for my life, a genuine threat. Or if your family is threatened at all.”

Finally, she nods, and takes a deep breath. “Alright,” she says. “I hope you’re right about this.”

“Trust me,” Barry murmurs, turning the recording on, “I hope so too.”

Chapter Text

The party is a terrible idea. He sees it the moment his family seems to split off in different directions. It’s hardly better when Tommy shows up with Laurel at his side who admits she’s still stuck on him but wanting so much to move on with Tommy. It’s a new kind of pain giving her his blessing to be with someone else, but he’s pleased to note he truly is happy for them, so at least as he tells her so, for once it’s not a lie.

It’s Barry that brings the light back, even though he looks so out of his comfort zone in a nice suit and more than a little lost in thought. He still smiles for Oliver and it’s like a balm to the soul as Oliver welcomes him with a warm hug.

“Brings back memories,” Barry says, looking around at all the decorations. “As crazy with the tinsel as you always have been.”

Oliver rolls his eyes but finds a smile that wants to stay at the little joke. “You’re hilarious.”

“Aren’t I?” Barry says and his eyes don’t have the same sparkle they used to, but it’s clear he’s trying so hard to be happy for Oliver and the thought warms Oliver’s heart. Barry flags down a drink and offers him one before clinking the glasses together. “To the return of the Queen Gala,” he chuckles and Oliver nods in acceptance of that toast.

“To the return of old friendships,” he adds and loves the small blush he gets for it. They drink as one and stand together in companionable quiet, watching the room.

Laurel spots her brother and makes a beeline for them, looking pleased and surprised that he’s there. “I thought you said you were too busy with something to spend the holidays with dad and I this week?”

“This is what I was busy with,” Barry points out, accepting a hug from her, then Tommy. “Don’t worry, I’ll be all yours the week of, since we have to do the tree decorating and sneak cookies from Quentin when he’s not looking.”

Laurel looks like she’s floating at that and Oliver has to smile at the visual.

“Will you be joining us at all, Tommy?” Barry asks, stepping in a little closer to Oliver as though to keep him from running away, as though to say I’m not ignoring you, just being polite, please stay. Oliver nods a little and sips his drink, content to remain.

Tommy makes a choked noise. “Probably not the best idea, Bear,” he starts but Barry waves that off.

“Nonsense, you’re dating Laurel, aren’t you? We could use some new blood in the house for the holidays.”

Tommy looks a little pale as he considers it and Laurel takes his arm. “Don’t worry,” she teases, “I’ll protect you.”

That seems to assuage his fears somewhat and Oliver sorta wants to choke. Barry nudges his elbow and smiles up at him as though hearing his silent screaming.

“You should come by too, Oliver, liven up the place,” Barry says and Oliver laughs outright.

“Quentin would shoot me on sight,” he says and they all nod to that, finding a comfortable even ground they all belong on. So easily, the awkwardness of before seems to have vanished, and all because Barry has found a way to tie them all together again.

Oliver presses his mouth against Barry’s temple once Tommy convinces Laurel out onto the dance floor. “Thank you for that,” he says earnestly and Barry nods into his glass, ears red and cheeks flushed a pretty dusting of red.

“Anything for you,” he says back and watches Tommy dance with Laurel with a sad smile. Oliver’s gaze follows his then back again and his treacherous mind replays the visual of Barry dancing on his feet.

He pushes it away with a cheery remark, “Remembering our dance?”

“Oh gosh, that was terrible,” Barry makes a face, but his smile is far lighter and Oliver feels accomplished. “Once again, my apologies to your feet.”

“They forgive you,” Oliver says, mock seriously, and is gratified to win a near laugh.

“How considerate of them,” Barry says with a straight face before they’re grinning at each other like idiots and Oliver can’t help but wonder how Barry makes it all so easy.

But then Diggle is there and with a whispered word, the night is back to being a disaster.

“Barry, sorry, I need to look into something,” Oliver says and Barry looks worried but nods, understanding.

“Of course,” he says and walks away with his drink and Oliver has to squash the urge to follow him with a vehement push. It shouldn’t be this hard to leave someone’s side, he thinks, and forces himself to focus on the more pressing matter at hand which is the Dark Archer and the hostages waiting for the Hood to rescue them.

He does, but at great cost. The Dark Archer is an adversary the likes of which rival only one other he’s faced, one so dead and buried he keeps him there, even as he barely escapes with his life.

Dig comes to his rescue, cleans up the mess, the evidence, and packs him to the hospital. He wakes to pain and the screaming knowledge that perhaps he’d been wrong all along about the list, that he’s fighting something far more than he’d previously understood. It’s a wound that stays open even as his family comes together for him, giving him the love he so desperately needs. It can’t erase the fact that he’s been forced to face tonight.

Someone more dangerous is out there, pulling the strings, and for the first time in this crusade, Oliver has failed his father, failed to see the signs of more going on that have always been there .

For the first time, he’s failed his city.

---

Her insides are churning over themselves and no matter how much she tries to ease herself into calmness when Walter leaves her side, she cannot. Watching him walk away is like a death sentence, especially now that she knows he hasn’t stopped prying into the Undertaking, and she turns to the bar for a stiffer drink if only for something strong to un-rattle her nerves.

Of course Fate offers her up Barry Allen, instead, and though she’s glad to see him, he’s been tainted to her now, tainted by her lies and what he knows and represents. She kisses his cheek despite the turmoil she feels and he smiles for her, worried as she downs the scotch she’s given.

“Something’s happened, hasn’t it?” he asks her, under his breath and with a smile, so no one would suspect, and Moira nods before she can help it, latching onto his arm and letting him walk her around the room a whole revolution before she has composed herself enough to answer him.

“Malcolm has threatened Walter,” she manages to get it out calmly and his eyes widen in understanding. “Is the recording safe?”

“Yes,” Barry assures her and she actually feels assured by him, though she knows it’s dangerous to allow herself into any sense of security, especially with the threats Malcolm has made so abundantly clear. Still, she pats his arm in gratitude and pulls him into second circle about the dance hall.

“Can you get in touch with… him?” she asks and smiles at people as they pass by. It’s alarming how easily she wears the mask, even speaking of such matters.

“Yes,” Barry says readily with his own mask firmly on, calm and kind and without the weight she knows is killing him. “Just give me the word and he’ll have the recording as soon as possible.”

“Not yet,” she decides on, her grip perhaps a little too tight on his arm. Barry makes no comment on it. “But soon. Malcolm’s made his threats, but for now hasn’t acted. Only when he does will I ask you to.”

“I understand,” Barry says, low and stressed, and Moira hates herself for pulling him into this, though she is also so, so grateful that he’s the one she’d turned to. His gentleness yet firm conviction for what is right and his loyalty to her family is unquestionable and though it’ll hurt the day she’ll have to sacrifice him, she knows he’ll die readily for the safety of her family, a trait they both share that makes them powerful.

He is a steady rock that she can stand upon without shaking and she’ll admit she needs him now, more than ever.

“Just give me the word,” Barry says, clinking their glasses as though they are toasting the party and she has to keep herself from polishing off yet another glass of hard liquor.

“I will,” she tells him and draws him back into circling the room.

They talk of other things, pretending, for a while longer before Walter comes up to them with a pale face and her world turns on it’s head.

“Oliver’s been in an accident,” he says and allows her to take his hand. “He’s at Starling General, stable condition.”

“Go find Thea,” she says and turns to Barry once he’s gone. “And perhaps it’s prudent to contact the Hood sooner rather than later.”

“Of course, Mrs. Queen,” thinking what she’s thinking, that this is no accident, and as she makes the announcement to the party, she sees him slip out the front door to do as she’s asked and prays he’s not too late.

---

He doesn’t answer. It’s the third try on the phone before he notices the story on the precinct tv - Hood Rescues Christmas Hostages from Dark Archer - and waits to see if there is an answering machine of some kind.

It’s a simple beep and he prays that’s it before starting in. “Hello Vigilante, I have information you need. Information about the list. Find me through my work, CSI Barry Allen."

He hangs up and hurries out of the station, terror kicking in now that his single minded mission to call the Hood is over for now. Oliver hurt… the very idea brings back memories of the yacht going down and the pain of seeing his tombstone. He barely remembers to buy some flowers, he’s so lost in the old grief.

Oliver is awake when he comes in, though clearly sleepy, and smells faintly of peppermint as Barry leans down to hug him gently.

“You look like hell,” he teases, though he feels nothing but worry. “What happened?”

“Bike accident,” Oliver says and it’s like Barry can breathe again, knowing this wasn’t the work of Malcolm, just a stupid coincidence.

“Dumbass,” he chides and sits on the edge of the bed with the flowers he’d picked up. “Why’d you leave your own party, anyway?” he asks, setting them on the nightstand.

Oliver looks at them rather than him as he answers, “Because I was pushing for something my family didn’t really want. I thought things would feel normal, but really I was digging up hurts.”

“No,” Barry murmurs and tilts Oliver’s face back. “You just wanted your family to come together in the spirit of the season. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Funny, that’s what they all said,” Oliver chuckles and winces right after, clearly in pain.

“Didn’t they give you morphine?” Barry asks, back to worried, and Oliver huffs and takes his hand, squeezing it.

“I didn’t want too much, wanted to stay coherent for my family’s sake,” he says and Barry can’t argue with that. He turns his hand over in Oliver’s and laces their fingers together, squeezing back.

“You scared me tonight,” he says. “Thought I was going to lose you all over again.”

“You’ll never lose me,” Oliver promises him, and it’s so foolish a promise, but such an Oliver thing to say that Barry laughs for him, if only to see the way his eyes smile.

“I’d better not,” Barry says and watches in amusement as Oliver’s eyes start to droop. “Here, before you fall asleep.”

He pulls out the little box he’d carried in his pocket all night and hands it over. Oliver blinks at it, as though not knowing what it is, even with the little red bow on it that denotes it a present.

“You left before we opened presents,” Barry reminds him and Oliver's face lights in understanding.

“I… didn’t get you anything,” he says and looks like a kicked puppy so much that Barry chuckles.

“Oliver, I don’t need a present,” he says honestly. “You've already given me back something I never thought I’d get again.”

“And what would that be?” Oliver looks up at him and, with a smile, Barry drops a kiss to his forehead.

“Hope.”

Oliver’s eyes flutter and Barry is certain there’s a redness on his ears that wasn’t there before. He makes no comment on it, just nudges the box in Oliver’s hand. “Open it.”

Oliver does, a bit bewildered still, and blinks down at the pendant lying inside.

“Should’ve given it to you earlier,” Barry jokes as Oliver pulls it free from the box, the four leaf clover vibrant in the light. “It’s the clover you found in high school and gave to me. I pressed it and put it in resin to keep it lucky forever.”

He chuckles at Oliver’s sorry state. “Looks like you could use some luck.”

“Thank you,” Oliver says, visibly touched, and with drug-relaxed hands tries to work the clasp on the chain to put it on.

Barry takes pity on him after his third try and slips it around Oliver’s neck for him. Oliver touches the pendant with something like awe before looking back up at Barry with his bright, bright eyes that Barry can’t help but fall into a little.

“Thank you Barry,” he says again and reaches for him. Barry nods and holds their joined hands to his chest, smiling as Oliver's eyes slip closed despite his efforts to keep them open, and kisses the man’s hand only when he’s sure Oliver has slipped into his dreams, heart so full it aches.

“Merry Christmas, Oliver.”

Chapter Text

He watches Oliver stretch, keeping a passive stance of calm for the other man to draw strength from as he forces his body to work with its injuries and move. Oliver is pushing it, of course he is, but Diggle figures the kind of medical care he can afford more than allows him to be a bit reckless. And it would hurt more not to stretch like this, Diggle knows. Too long in bed hurts the body almost as much as the actual injuries. Three weeks is hardly recovered, but it’s long enough to lose muscle and they both know Oliver can’t afford that.

Still, there is some weights that Diggle is careful when he puts on, knowing Oliver is already under an incredible amount of pressure, especially now knowing there is someone out there even more dangerous than they’d realized. And he has a feeling what he heard on the phone a week ago has something to do with it.

The question now is, how to approach Oliver with what he’s found?

He waits for Oliver to pull himself into a handstand on the salmon ladder, using the bar to hold up his body, and Diggle takes his chance.

“Oliver, got something you need to hear,” Diggle starts and holds up the phone they’ve been using to contact Detective Lance. “Been a couple weeks since I was down here last, but when I came in I saw this flashing with a message.”

Oliver eases down and drops to his feet, visibly sorting through that information. “Did you listen to it?”

“I did, and I’ve been waiting for you to come back into the foundry to tell you about it,” Diggle explains, knowing that’ll be a stickler between them otherwise. “Need your head completely in the game before you listen to it.”

Oliver nods at that and goes to grab the phone when Diggle stops him. “You should sit,” Diggle warns and Oliver, warily, does, stiff and sore but with that same intense focus that tells Diggle exactly where his head's at. Good.

Diggle hits a button and the message system comes on. “You have one message,” the electronic voice says, robotic. “First saved message sent Thursday, December 13th, 2012 at 9:52 PM.”

And then, a new voice fills the room, and Diggle watches Oliver’s reaction carefully.

“Hello Vigilante, I have information you need. Information about the List. Find me through my work, CSI Barry Allen.”

It’s short and right to the point, but Diggle’s certain there’s never been anything more devastating dropped on Oliver’s head given the truly bewildered and horrified look that crosses his face.

“Barry? How could he…?” Oliver looks so lost and broken by that, he actually has to compose himself before hardening again, something Diggle hasn’t seen since Helena. “How can he know about the List?”

“I was hoping you could tell me,” Diggle says, shutting off the phone and setting it aside, out of reach of Oliver, who will no doubt torture himself by listening to it again. “But by the look on your face, you’re just as bewildered by this as I am.”

“He…” Oliver swallows, looking torn between betrayed and utterly confused. “He is the last person I would ever expect to have knowledge about the List.”

“Sounds like the Hood needs to have a talk with him,” Diggle says, gentle as he can, but Oliver’s face still screws up in distaste of the idea. “Oliver, we need to know what he knows. He must already be wondering why you haven’t answered. He will turn to someone else if you don’t go.”

That gets Oliver moving, though clearly begrudgingly, and Diggle feels the need to settle his hand on Oliver’s arm as the man grabs his infamous hood. “Oliver, it may not be as bad as you’re thinking it is. He’s that friend you told me about, right?” At Oliver’s jerky nod, Diggle smiles. “Then do yourself a favor and try to have a little faith in him. No matter his secrets, he still needs you.”

Something he’s said gets through and Oliver softens a bit, though still looks grim as he pulls on the hood and grabs his arrows and bow. Diggle wants to point out those may not be necessary tonight, but he doesn’t, just lets have Oliver have his safety blanket.

After all, if this does lead where Oliver thinks it will, then he’s going to need it.

---

He’s in his lab, blinking tiredly as he finishes a report, when the lights go out. With a galloping heart he slowly pulls his hands away from his paperwork, dropping the pen, and lifts his hands, sensing the arrow to his back even without seeing it. And this is far from how he’d wanted to meet his hero, so much that his stomach clenches at the thought of the Hood thinking him worth pointing an arrow at. It would hurt worse to actually take one to the back, he thinks, than to know that.

“Barry Allen,” the Hood growls and Barry’s torn between wanting to scream in terror and flail about in absolute awe, “I will only ask you this once. How do you know of the List?”

“Because I’m helping someone who helped write it,” Barry says clearly and is so proud his voice doesn’t shake. Carefully, he turns in his chair and is startled to find the arrow is much closer than he’d thought. Staring it down, he fearlessly looks up at the shadowed face of the Vigilante. “Please, I need your help. A lot of people will die if you kill me now. Kill me after, fine, I can’t stop you, but there’s more to this then I think you know and trust me when i say I’m the only one who will be willing to explain what you need to learn to stop all of this.”

Slowly, oh so slowly, the arrow drops, then is put away completely. Then the bow is lowered and the Hood tilts his body to him, giving him his profile, as though unable to look at him anymore. That makes Barry feel vile and a traitor, even though he’s trying so hard not to be. “I’m listening.”

So, Barry launches into it, though his heart is jumping, choking him. “The List is part of a plan called the Undertaking, a plan by the city’s elite to level the Glades and build on top of the ashes. You’ve no doubt heard of Unidac Industries by now, given how many of the list are connected to it. They’re building machines that will cause an earthquake.”

The Hood takes this in silently, the air thick with tension and Barry goes for broke, wheeling in an inch closer to the man. “Malcolm Merlyn is the mastermind. He’s gone crazy since his wife was killed in the Glades. Stop him and you stop the Undertaking. Without him and his machines, the Glades will be saved.”

“So you want me to kill him?” the Vigilante scoffs, spitting and disgusted, and Barry feels even worse because no, please don’t think that of me . “A viper’s head can still bite even removed from the body. Kill him and someone else will rise in his place.”

“That’s why you’re not going to kill him, you’re going to destroy him, bring him to justice.” Desperate to prove himself, Barry turns back to his desk and scrambles through the bottom drawer for the report he’d made on the Queen’s Gambit,  as well as the recording Moira had made detailing everything.   “You’re more than a killer,” he throws over his shoulder, firm in his conviction and prays that the words make it through no matter how much the Hood clearly hates him. “And I have to believe you care enough about this city to do what’s right.”

With that, he stands and holds out the evidence, but doesn’t let go of the folder when the Vigilante takes it in a moment of bravery. Or perhaps stupidity. “Moira Queen made a recording with more detailed information, and she also set up a warehouse on the Eastside Wharf, last one by the water. Number 3-07. The first of a long line of evidence against him. The rest will be up to you.”

He lets go and the Vigilante tucks the folder under his arm and the recording into his jacket, but doesn’t move otherwise. “Who is your source?” he asks to Barry’s surprise. “You are not connected to Malcolm Merlyn.”

“No, but I’m connected to the Queen family,” Barry murmurs, heart breaking a little but hopeful that the Hood is at least giving this a chance. “Moira Queen is an unwilling participant. Malcolm’s leverage on her is her son and daughter and - as I’m sure you’ve noticed - her husband. Walter Steele’s disappearance is all Merlyn’s doing, I just… don’t know how to prove it.”

He lets his frustration show, because it’s been eating at him for so long. “I have her permission to share this with you. She believes you can stop Malcolm and I know you can,” Barry says earnestly, showing it on his face how much of a hero he believes the Vigilante to really be. Perhaps it’ll mean nothing to the man - how can it, when his disgust is so clear? - but it means everything to Barry. “And I believe you’ll do it right. No killing. There’s too much at stake otherwise.”

It’s agonizing how long it takes for the Hood to nod, but he does to Barry’s pleased surprise, with a low promise. “No killing.”

And Barry’s knees give out a little at the rush of relief that brings and he sits down in his chair again, shaking. “Thank you,” he says, turning his back on what will most likely come next. He can’t watch his hero turn into his killer. He won’t. “If you have to kill me now, please do it quick.”

In answer, there’s dead silence, not even the man’s breathing picked up by Barry’s ears. He doesn’t hear him come forward, but then there’s a brush of gloved fingers at the back of his neck and Barry’s world stops, everything in him screaming in protest, that he should fight this, that he has too much to live for. His family, his father, Moira who needs him, Oliver who he loves. He squeezes his eyes shut at the memory of Oliver’s smile and holds it to his heart as hard as he can, determined to carry the man with him wherever he’ll go once the death stroke comes, but then the touch is suddenly gone and the light returns. He doesn’t have to turn around to know the Hood is gone, but he does anyway and finds his breath again.

“Oh my god,” he chokes out to the empty room and, trembling, leans over his desk and cries silently in relief and the knowledge he was so quick to put himself to death, and that he doesn’t regret it.

---

He’s beyond compromised. He doesn’t even remember riding his bike to the Eastside Wharf as directed by Barry - Barry, why him, why did it have to be him? - and only comes to himself enough when he’s at the locked door.

“Diggle,” he hits his transmitter and hardly recognizes the shattered glass of his own voice, “meet me at the Eastside Wharf, warehouse 3-07. Now.”

Diggle doesn’t answer which Oliver is thankful for, and focuses on the keypad. It’s a bad move, because it asks for a password, and that means he has to think of his mother - his mother who is complicit in a deadly plot, who bought this warehouse, hid something inside. Who dragged Barry - Barry, why Barry - into this.

He types in his own name, then Thea’s, then Walter’s. All passwords blip off with an erroneous noise. He considers stabbing the thing with an arrow before it comes to him and, with a trembling hand, he types Robert.

He doesn’t know how to feel as the door creaks open. Feet like lead, he walks into darkness and fumbles his hand on the wall for a light. What illuminates stops his breath, his heart, his world. Everything.

The Queen’s Gambit. Here. In Starling. And his mother had had it dredged up from the sea without speaking of it, at least not to him.

But Barry had known this. How long? How many times had they’d seen one another and Barry had known this was here? Oliver feels bile rising in his throat and swallows it back, stepping back outside to breathe.

The moonlight helps, and yet it doesn’t. He feels isolated, alone, and with the sound of the water, he can almost believe himself back on the island when he closes his eyes. That helps, at least, and so he stays there, half a world away in a place of pain and survival. Somehow it’s easier than facing what remains of reality in his own home.

He only leaves his island when Barry crosses his mind, forcing his eyes back open to the light. Barry, who’s involvement is somehow the most painful to comprehend. He can see it, far too clearly, how his mother had roped Barry into this, no matter the threat to his life. And Barry - stubborn, too good Barry, why, why - had accepted his fate because his loyalty to her and his family - to you, his treacherous mind whispers - and had done what was needed of him, no matter if it ended with his death.

And that… that is a whole new kind of pain. Like a slideshow, he sees the way Barry had surrendered to the idea of dying by an arrow to the back, and no matter how hard he tries to escape the memory, he cant. It pulls him in no matter how fast he runs and breaks his heart all over again. The fact he’d even drawn an arrow on Barry somehow makes it all worse and his mind shows him Barry with an arrow in his back and it’s too much. It’s all too much.

He’s vomiting into a barrel when Diggle comes and can’t muster the strength to move himself from it, no matter the sight or smell of it. He’s too far gone, too messed up by this, and simply jerks his head at the warehouse when Diggle runs up in concern. He leaves quickly to look, which Oliver is thankful for and gives him time to find the familiar anger he’s always depended on.

He finds it thinking of Malcolm. Malcolm, who used his family to win his mother’s loyalty. Malcolm, who’s treasonous thinking will destroy a third of the city and all the people within. It’s so barbaric, so cruel, and Oliver finally finds the strength he needs to straighten and breathe.

“Oliver,” Diggle is back, wide eyed and confused, but concerned most of all and Oliver allows the hand on his arm, draws strength from it.

“I know who wrote the list,” he says in answer, boiling with righteous rage and fury, and Diggle nods in understanding of the fire in his eyes.

“Then we know the target,” Diggle says and it’s affirmation he needs to turn back to face the warehouse, the lies, the past it represents. And the future it warns against.

Oliver hardens, thinking of his mother being threatened, of Barry's willingness to die. Never again, he vows and stands tall in the shadows he casts, shaking and trembling with emotion.

“We know who to target,” he echos, slow and deadly, “and I swear to you, I will take him down.”

Chapter Text

She’s so sick of hospitals. The sterile smell, the bed that seems to swallow her whole, the overly polite nurses and doctors kissing so much Queen ass they probably smell like it.

Thea sighs and pokes at the IV in her arm, hating the way it pulls uncomfortably every time she shifts. It’s driving her crazy, and maybe she deserves to go a little nuts in this place given it’s her own fault she’s there, but at the same time all she wants is to go home and forget the world exists a few days.

On that tack, she prays that her brother will show up soon and set her free. He’s due soon, she knows, and hopes he’s on time. He has been her knight in shining armor since she was old enough to remember his saves, and though sometimes she can’t stand the jerk he can be, he’s always there for her when it counts, and she has to hope that this hospital stay falls into that category.

She nearly cries when there’s a soft knock and the door opens. It’s not Oliver though, but she smiles anyway, honestly delighted by the young man standing there.

“You came after all, huh?” Thea teases and accepts the flowers she’s given.

Barry gives her one of his far too sad smiles, but at least he's smiling and that’s better than it has been. “Sorry, Speedy. Work’s been a little crazy. Finally managed to get a long lunch to come see you properly.”

She takes his hand as he sits down and smiles back. “Thanks,” she says and means it. Barry is never around long enough for her tastes. He’s calming and gentle and always listens to her, even when she’s being nothing but stupid. “It’s good to see you.”

“You’re looking good for having just been in a crash,” Barry says, squeezing her hand. “I’m so glad you’re not badly hurt.”

“Guess I’m as tough as you always said I am,” Thea laughs and is amazed to see him nearly laugh too, chuckling softly in remembrance.

“Tougher,” he promises her and she’s floating, just like that, on his praise. She remembers a time when she had a crush on him and that leads her to what snapped her out of it, even if she’s never quite stopped seeing him as a proper Prince Charming.

“You’ve been seeing my brother, haven’t you?” she says and smirks at the way his head tilts in question, like a puppy. “He’s been less asshole-ish lately.”

Barry huffs something like a laugh at that. “We have been getting along. I know, shocking.”

Thea snorts and squeezes his hand back, mischievous. “You two should get married. I could use you as a brother.”

Barry smiles a little wider at the thought. “Thea, I think I’m there already. You’ve always been like a little sister to me.”

“Then marry him to get him off his asshole pedestal,” she says and cackles when he shakes his head with red ears. “It’d make you happy again, wouldn’t it?”

Barry’s smile is sad again, but there’s a light in his eyes that tells Thea everything she needs to know, even before he says, “Yes, it would.”

“I’d plan the wedding and everything,” Thea assures him, patting their joined hands, and beams when he huffs another tiny laugh.

“And you’d be my best man,” Barry assures right back, as close to teasing as he ever gets anymore.

“But of course,” Thea scoffs, imperious. “Someone’s got to throw you a killer bachelor party to rival the one Tommy most likely will.”

Barry kisses her hand and she’s back to feeling floaty. “You’re the best,” he tells her and she happily soaks in the affection like a sponge. Not that she never gets enough, because she does, but Barry’s brand of devotion is rare and lovely and never enough. Not for the first time, Thea wishes her brother could see how much Barry loved him. Oliver would never go back to Laurel again, she’s sure, not with someone so special loving him the way Barry so completely loves.

As if summoned by her thoughts, Oliver is suddenly leaning in the doorway, watching them in amusement, though there’s a sort of… oddness to his face that she can’t place. “And what are you two plotting?”

“Barry’s wedding,” Thea says, watching his reaction. It’s as golden as she thought it would be.

He goes a little wide eyed, like a deer in the headlights, and actually checks Barry’s hand for a ring visibly enough that Thea starts to laugh.

“I, um… I’m hoping I’m invited?” Oliver says, uncertain, and Thea’s whole life has been made, just like that.

“I’d hope so,” she snickers, “considering it’s your wedding too.”

He seems to get it then that she’s just joking, but the few seconds before his realization are priceless.

Barry comes to his rescue as only Prince Charming can. “Thea’s already agreed to be my best man,” he adds to the joke and Oliver visibly relaxes into it. “Which I will take you up on,” he adds to her, “the magical day that will probably never happen that I do get married.”

“Never say never,” she chides and is gratified to see Oliver’s expression pinch in concern at Barry’s words. “We just got to get Oliver to fall in love with you the way you are him,” she pokes, loving that she’s free to matchmake them to her heart’s content, since she knows Barry finally told Oliver the truth.

Barry is the one to break the moment in half with a smile that is as heartbreaking as it is precious. “Doubtful,” he says to Oliver, as though assuring him this isn't something he’s hoping for. “I’m sure Oliver has better things to do.”

“What could be better than dating you?” Thea demands, hating how he can dismiss himself so easily. “You’re Prince Charming!”

He blushes and gives that tiny laugh again. “And you are an empress,” he says in a bid to drop the subject and leans in to kiss her forehead. “Looks like your Shining Knight is here to rescue you from your prison.”

She tugs his hand until he comes in for a hug. “Thanks for dropping by,” she drops the tease and he nods, smiling for her.

“Anytime, Speedy,” he says and gets up, passing Oliver with a gentle smile and little squeeze to his hand. Then he’s gone and Thea is free to sigh loudly at her brother.

“You’re stupid to let that one go,” she says, huffy, and refuses to back down even as Oliver give her a warning look. “I mean it. We both know you’re bi, so don’t even go there. And Laurel is with Tommy now. You could do so much worse than at least trying with Barry!”

She’s expecting absolute denial, or a brush off. What she gets instead surprises her as Oliver sits at the foot of her bed with a considering look. As in thinking about it. What?

“You’re right about that,” he tells her and Thea gapes at him a little. “Though he deserves much better than me.”

“Of course he does,” Thea scoffs, because she loves her brother but he is a total ass at least half the time. “But that hasn’t stopped him from loving you for years.”

Oliver goes quiet, musing on that. “How long have you known?”

“Please, it’s obvious,” Thea says, but takes pity on her rock brained brother. “Since middle school. I saw you two get into a fight and when you walked away, there was this look on his face… i don’t know how to describe it, but. I just knew.”

“That long, huh?” Oliver asks and she sighs at him, somehow getting what he was really asking.

“Longer. Pretty sure he was gone on you from the moment you met. He never looked at anyone else the way he looked at you. Still doesn’t,” she adds, taking the chance her brother has surprisingly given her. If he’s thinking about it, then she’ll jump on the opportunity. “Ollie, he loves you so much and expects nothing. I know you’re a total asshole and a jerk -”

“Thanks for that,” Oliver says dryly.

“-but he still cares enough that that doesn’t matter to him,” she finishes, ignoring him. “He’s perfect for you. If you’d just get your head out of your ass and look you’d see it.”

Oliver turns his face away, obviously conflicted, and maybe she should be more sympathetic, but Barry does deserve better and it’s been honestly painful watching this go on for as long as it has. So her voice is biting, “What the hell is your hang up about dating him anyway? He’s smart, funny, charming, and adorably handsome. And he’s crazy about you in a way that’s not creepy or stalkerish,” she adds, making a face.

“You’re right,” Oliver says softly, chuckling a bit, but looks just as sad as Barry usually does and she wants to shake him.

“Then what is it?” she demands.

He looks at her and she knows the answer before it falls out of his mouth. “Laurel.”

“I think you’re full of crap,” she says and pushes the call nurse button. “You’re still in love with her, fine, but you’re in love with him too. And the sooner you stop being such a douche, the faster you both can be happy again.”

“Thea,” Oliver murmurs and she shakes her head.

“No, I’m tired of him being sad. I’m tired of you being lonely. It’s clear you are, just waiting for Laurel to come running back to you no matter how bad that makes you look and feel. Barry has been through hell but he laughs for you, Ollie,” she insists. “He never did that after the yacht went down. Not for me, not for Laurel, not Tommy or anyone. But he does for you. And I know he makes you happy. I saw you two together at the Gala. You lit up the moment he walked in. So don’t even deny it,” she finishes, sticking her arm out for the nurse to remove the needle when she bustles in. “You’re in love with him but too much of a coward to do anything about it.”

Oliver doesn’t answer, just sits and thinks, and Thea knows it for the win it really is. She smirks at him as the IV is taken out, flushed with victory and the knowledge that maybe, just maybe, this dancing around Barry and Oliver have been doing will finally, finally end the way it ought to.

---

It’s a shock to see McKenna Hall again, wearing a badge and running the narcotics section of the SCPD. His old attraction to her comes back and battles with the words Thea had spoken just a week ago about Barry being perfect for him. He unconsciously compares McKenna and Barry in his head as he tries to get the scoop on the Count, hoping for a trail to follow to the Vertigo dealer, and feels pathetic and lost as he does so, his desires twisting around one another with every valid point his mind makes.

McKenna is the kind of woman Oliver would go for now. Smart, funny, gorgeous, strong. And clearly interested in him if the way she smiles up at him through her dark lashes says anything. Keeping with his heterosexual aesthetic that the press knows - being bi is one of the very few secrets he has left - she would also be perfect for him, and he knows with her he could perhaps find some happiness.

But his mind pokes and won’t let it go, even as he returns to the foundry with a file on the Count, all McKenna had been able to give him. It’s less than what he hoped, but more than he thought he’d get, and sits down to think it all through.

Barry won’t leave him in peace, however, invading his mind with Thea’s words circling his brain. He’d never considered until she’d said it that his feelings for Laurel were split with Barry too. In love with the other man? Could he possibly be?

He is undeniably happy that they have some sort of friendship, and there’s no doubting the sense of protectiveness he feels for Barry, especially now that he knows of the Undertaking and that Barry is in the line of inevitable fire. He’s also doing his best not to feel betrayed by all the secrets, for he’s no better keeping being the Hood from Barry, and that’s another feeling to add to the pile: guilt for keeping such a secret from one so undeserving of it.

In love. Oliver sits back in his chair and allows himself to imagine it. Being with McKenna, seeing her smile and taking her out on dates and holding her hand. Waking up to her sleeping face, kissing her until she wakes as well. Making love after a long day and falling into her smell, sound, and smile. Dancing slow in a club, body’s close enough the sexual attraction is a physical force between them.

But then the thoughts soften from the heat that McKenna stirs to what Barry lights in his heart, and he imagines, also, what being with Barry would be like. Looking for smiles, earning laughter, holding hands and silent looks of reassurance. Slow dancing with Barry standing on his feet, falling asleep together forehead to forehead, safe and warm. Waking to Barry’s smile, sleepy kisses and gentle breaths. Making love in a sunlit morning, wrapped in one another and simply content to be.

His heart aches with a longing so great he gets up to work it away, climbing the salmon ladder and working the spinning dummy, repetition, familiarity. But it doesn’t go away, burns under his skin, and he gives up when he’s panting, flush with sweat and exertion, and clears his mind to listen to the beat of his heart, desperate for an answer.

It doesn’t come.

Diggle finds him standing in the light, musing on the dummy, and Oliver is so far gone he doesn’t even hear the man come in. Not until he speaks.

“I take it you’ve got a plan on how to find this Count?” Diggle asks and it’s back to business, back to darkness and a vendetta that formed the moment he learned Thea had taken drugs before driving. Oh yes, he has a plan, and it leads him to the Bratva, to a deal, and finally to the Count.

It also leads to a double syringe of Vertigo to the chest, but then considering the week he’s had, it’s not even a surprise. And it gives him a lead, a real one, even if it leads him to yet another choice to make.

He could take the sample to Felicity, who’s been his helper a long time and accepts his bad lies on faith. She’s no scientist, but she could still trace the water solvent to where in Starling the Vertigo was made, and that would lead him to the Count or at least his manufacturing center.

But then there’s Barry, Barry would could give him that and more. As a CSI, he could trace the chemical makeup and perhaps formulate a kind of antidote that the hospitals in the Glades are already needing. Overdoses of Vertigo are deadly and more than a few people have been hospitalized because of the drug. Barry is the better option, he slowly realizes, if only for the chance that there may be a possible detox for the city.

Still, it’s hard to go, hard to don the hood and wait in the shadows of Barry’s lab. All the while he waits, he hears Thea’s words, thinks of Mckenna to counter, and is dismayed as more and more of his daydreams of her turn to thoughts of Barry instead.

By the time Barry walks in, disheveled and distant, Oliver’s heart is in a turmoil it’s never felt and for once the hood is no longer a mask he can wear to hide. He has to pack away the feelings, focus, like pulling up a zipper on his very soul to keep it all from tumbling out.

It hurts, but he does it, and hits the button of the scrambler in his hand, until the lights fizzle out and they’re both in darkness.

“Barry Allen,” he says through the modifier, and steps into the meager light from the window, and the irony of this isn’t lost on him, the echo of their first encounter beating strongly within him. So he gives it voice. “I need your help.”

Chapter Text

He’s not sure how to feel. On the one hand, it’s the Hood. Again. And this time he’s here for help. Somehow his life has become a comic book without him realizing it.

On the other hand, he remembers an arrow pointed at him in the dark, the disgust in the man’s modified voice. Barry honestly thought it’d be the first and last time he’d see the Vigilante.

And yet… here he is.

“Does helping you involve you putting an arrow in my back?” is the stupid that falls out of his mouth, but it’s still a valid question so he doesn’t apologize.

“No,” the Hood scoffs and holds up a double syringe full of a strange orange liquid and Barry blinks in surprise that, wow, okay, he really is asking for help. “This is a concentrated dose of Vertigo. I need to know where it was manufactured so I can bring the Count to justice.”

“Bit out of your M.O.,” Barry says, but takes the syringe and gets to work before the man can answer. In truth, he’s glad the Vigilante is branching out to all kinds of bad men, not just the ones with money, and if McKenna Hall is to be believed, the Count is definitely trouble. If it takes the Hood to bring him in, then Barry will do whatever it takes.

A part of him starts screaming in glee as the Hood comes to stand behind him, close enough Barry can hear his breathing, and Barry shivers a little as he works the program.

“Looks like this was made in an abandoned juvenile detention center,” Barry says, turning his computer a little so the Hood can see the address clearly. “It’s in a closed off lot, no police activity that way, so all in all a pretty good bet that’s where the Count is making his drugs.”

The Vigilante nods and reclaims the syringe, but doesn’t pocket it the way Barry was expecting. “If you analyzed the chemical compound of this, could you create a cure?”

“It’s not a disease,” Barry says, dry, but thinks about it. “Not a cure, but maybe a detox? Something to neutralize the effects. Might help in an overdose situation at least.”

That seems to satisfy the Vigilante. “Do it.”

Excuse you, I don’t work for you,” Barry turns in his chair and snaps at the man, and is gratified to see him actually flinch a bit. So, he thought Barry would take this lying down? Nope . “You don’t get to threaten me and then use me when it’s convenient. Sure, this is good work, and I support you, but that doesn’t mean you get to treat me like your personal CSI goody-goody.”

He’s too angry to care if he’s pushed too far. This man could kill him, after all, but his words are all he has, and if this is going to become a thing, then the Hood needs to know just who he’s dealing with.

There’s a soft growl from the man, then the syringe is put down. “Do it, please.”

“Better,” Barry snorts and wonders how this is his life. Teaching manners to the Starling Vigilante. It seems he can be taught. “And I’ll see what I can do, though I have no way to get a hold of you once I’m finished. The phone is with Laurel, which you’re probably happy about.”

The Hood growls again, like a beast, and pulls a phone out of his pocket. “Which is why you have this one. I need you in contact for anything regarding the Undertaking. Please,” he throws on like an afterthought, and Barry wants to grin like an idiot because of course the Hood is a stubborn asshole.

Well, he’s just as stubborn. “Fine,” he says and takes the phone. “But call ahead next time so I can at least lock up the door so we’re not interrupted. Don’t need to go down for aiding and abetting, even if that’s exactly what I’m doing. Not illegal until you’re caught, anyway.”

“Strange perspective for someone who works for the police.”

“And raised by a cop,” Barry reminds the man, slipping the phone into his desk. “According to my family and friends, i’m too nice, too complacent, too gentle and kind. Still doesn’t make me a saint.”

He gets a laugh, a laugh from his hero, and Barry feels a smile light his face in a way it hasn’t in over five years.

“So, you’re human under that hood after all,” Barry says, soft and warm, and writes down the address to the Count’s probable manufacturing plant. “Here,” he hands it over and holds on again when the Hood takes it. “And please be careful out there. I had a friend touched by Vertigo recently, so I know the effects. Watch yourself. We need you too badly for you to go down over this.”

“You have my word,” the Vigilante says and, nodding, Barry lets him go.

“Good luck,” he calls just as the lights come back on and laughs to himself at the lack of any answer. Not that he expected one.

He heads downstairs as the joint drug task force leaves, Quentin and McKenna at the head, and Barry leans on Quentin’s desk to watch the news bulletin. When the story breaks, it’s all about the Vigilante’s victory and the Count in the hospital, and maybe that could’ve gone better, he thinks, but it’s done.

And thinking of Thea, even Barry will admit it, a little, that revenge is a bit sweet.

---

He’s beyond exhausted once the Vertigo case is wrapped up, wrung out and tired. But still he agrees to meet with Felicity when she calls, hearing the urgency in her voice and wondering what’s got the kind IT girl spooked enough she’s reaching out to a man that’s done nothing but lie to her.

Oliver considers, not for the first time, letting her in. She’d be a valuable part of the team with her hacking skills and personable attitude. She’s the kind of good that makes Barry shine in a slightly awkward, but incredibly charming package. His thoughts, however, are muddled tonight, far too much to make the decision right then, so he shelves the idea at least until he hears what she has to say.

She’s on time, waves through the window at him, and already he can tell something’s wrong by the paleness in her face, the way her charming smile is strained as she asks if she can trust him despite all the crazy lies, despite the secrets and fact they hardly know one another.

Oliver assures her with a soft smile and confident look, “You can trust me.”

“Then I have something to show you,” she says and goes for her bag. What she pulls out is not what he was expecting, but after all he’s learned of the Undertaking, from Diggle shadowing his mother, it’s not a surprise.

He takes the book with the List in it and thumbs through it. Unlike his worn copy, this one is like new, the paper crisp, the cover straight. He turns to the symbol and touches it, then looks up at her once he realizes she’s gone silent.

She’s staring at him in a mixture of concern and exasperation. “You knew about this, didn’t you?”

He nods, slowly, and closes it. “Where did you get this?”

Felicity bites her lip. “From Mr. Steele,” is her answer and she hesitates on the next bit. “He said he got it from your house. That it’s… it’s your mother’s.”

He nods again, heart aching, and tucks the little book away in his pocket.

“Oliver, what is going on?” she demands, hushed but serious. “Mr. Steele asked me to look into this and then he was kidnapped. What have I stumbled into?”

“Are you sure you want to know?” he asks her, watching her reaction carefully. What he will see in her eyes, he knows, will give him his answer to whether or not he wants her on his side.

“I hate puzzles,” she says, firm. “And Mr. Steele was nice to me. If there’s a chance you know why he was taken, I want to know.”

“And what will you do with that knowledge?” Oliver asks her then, making her go quiet in surprise. “If you had the chance to help people, help Walter directly, would you do it?”

“I would,” Felicity says slowly, not liking something in his face, he can tell. Still, Oliver offers his hand to her.

“Then I need to show you something,” he takes the risk, knowing she’s worth it. Diggle was a risk too and he’s yet to regret it.

So he takes her into his world of darkness, of his lies and secrets, of his mission. She’s not sold on the idea, but perhaps with time, she may just be. He gets her to agree to stay on the grounds she wants to find Walter and welcomes her into the fold.

It feels good to let go of his secret to her, though once she’s home and he’s alone in the foundry with nothing but the book in his hands, he finds himself wishing he could be so open with someone else.

And for the first time, it isn’t Laurel on his mind, in his heart, stirring the guilt.

For the first time, it’s just Barry he dreams of.

---

Of course the phone was bugged. Of course.

Thinking about it now, how Quentin had so easily let her keep a direct line to the Vigilante he hated so much… God, how stupid she'd been, thinking he was okay with it.

Laurel is downright burning with anger as she rings Barry’s doorbell, needing someone to vent to given Tommy has made his disapproval of her lies clear. And, fine, that’s fair, but she can be angry about it tonight, needs to be angry about it tonight.

Barry opens the door and she pushes her way in, furious and red faced, and Barry doesn’t even speak, just shuts the door and goes for his liquor cabinet, pours her a shot of something clear and reeking of alcohol.

She downs it and leans on the kitchen island, seething, and forces herself to breathe. “He bugged it,” is what she starts with, shoving the shot glass at Barry for another round. He fills it without a word. “Dad bugged the phone I use to call the Vigilante. He… used me, Barry!”

She tosses back the shot with a grimace and Barry pours another one, though takes the glass from her to drink it himself.

“You’re okay, right?” he asks and she nods, biting down a smart remark. She’s hurt him enough and he doesn’t deserve her anger. He, after all, didn’t bug her phone and use her to set a trap for the Hood. Just thinking of it has her recoiling in revulsion.

“How could he?” she demands, downing another shot. “How could he? You know, for one second, I thought he actually trusted me?”

Barry nods in sympathy and takes another drink himself. “That’s… so cold,” he murmurs, looking withdrawn into himself, and if Laurel didn’t know him any better she’d say he didn’t care, but she sees the heat in his eyes that tells her he’s just as upset as she is, just better at hiding it.

“And now Tommy is angry with me because I talked to the Hood,” Laurel says, stealing the bottle once Barry pours a shot. “He thinks the Hood is a killer and nothing more, doesn’t matter the good he’s done for the city, he's a killer and Bad Laurel for running to the bad man!”

Barry tosses back the shot. “So, you know what it feels like now to be untrustworthy,” is what he says, and the words cut for all he meant them kindly, stating a fact and not something she still feels so guilty over. “What about the Hood? Did he get away?”

“Oh he got away, which makes this all even worse,” Laurel snaps, not at him but at the bottle, shaking as her disgust and anger starts to sway into guilt and fear and sadness. Barry sees the change and moves forward to catch her just as she sets the bottle down. “He ended things, took back the phone, says he’s done helping me.”

“I’m sorry Laurel,” Barry says, earnest, and she hugs him tightly like he’s a tether holding her to earth, her only center of gravity. In some ways, he is.

“What am I supposed to do?” and now the tears are coming, filling her eyes, and the more she fights them, the damper her lashes get, until the dam breaks into silent streams down her cheeks. “I can’t face Dad, he doesn’t… I can’t believe…”

“He deserves some cold treatment,” Barry tells her, rubbing her back and not complaining as she makes a wet spot against his neck. “It’s Tommy you need to worry about.”

She chokes on a soft sob and wipes her eyes stubbornly, hating how she feels when she cries, like she’s just a little child crying over a broken toy. She needs to be a grown up now, she knows, and does her best to compose herself.

“What should I do?” she whispers, fragile enough it’ll break if it’s any louder.

“Tell him the truth,” Barry murmurs back, wiping the tears from her cheeks. “You love him, don’t you?”

“More than I thought possible,” she says and something in her sings knowing she means it.

“Then he deserves truth. He deserves enough trust for you to explain yourself. If he doesn’t listen, then he’s not the man I know.”

“Barry…” She hugs him again, tight enough that she’s no longer sure who is holding who anymore. “My little brother shouldn’t be this wise.”

“I’ve watched you most my life, learned from everyone’s mistakes. I like being someone you can depend on,” Barry says and kisses her cheek.

“I just wish that wisdom I do depend on wasn’t rooted on so much pain for you,” she says, choking on that old guilt, and Barry’s catching her again before she can go down that dark road.

“Without this pain, I would hardly be helpful to you now,” he points out. “Everyone would walk all over me. Without this pain, I wouldn’t have the strength I gained to say no more. To stand up for myself.”

Laurel smiles at that, sadly, and touches his face. “Without this pain,” she says, “your love for Oliver wouldn’t shine so brightly.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” Barry says. “And we wouldn’t get along. I wouldn’t know how to forgive him. Because of this pain, I can. I have. And I’m content, which is more than I’ve been since…"

“Since Sara,” Laurel finishes for him and kisses his forehead. “You are so strong Barry. I don’t know how you do it.”

“I don’t know either,” he admits and it breaks her heart the way he smiles, shattered and hastily glued back together, but he’s trying for her and she wouldn’t be a good sister if she didn’t try just as hard.

“Alright, I’ll talk to Tommy,” she says, resolved, and Barry nods, proud of her.

“But not tonight, he needs to cool off,” Barry says and Laurel sighs, knowing he’s right. “I say we make ice cream and cry over mushy movies. Then come up with a plan to win your Merlyn back."

“And maybe how to win you a Queen?” she says, and is pleasantly surprised it doesn't bother her to say it. To think it.

Barry sees it too and blushes, though he doesn’t look very hopeful. “More luck helping you with Tommy, I think,” he says.

And Laurel’s heart aches, full of determination, and clasps his arm. “I think you have a chance with him,” she says, earnest and honest. “And I think you should try.”

He looks about to protest so she cuts him off with a firm look. “No, no more running. Try. You’ll regret it forever if you don’t.”

Barry sighs in defeat, but finally, finally, looks hopeful. “Only if you promise to stop keeping secrets from Tommy. That’s a bad you and Oliver habit you need to break.”

She clenches her jaw at the low blow, but she’s just as stubborn as he is and sticks out her hand, shaking his with firmness of conviction.

“Deal.”

Chapter Text

Three weeks and he’d thought he’d have more time. Time to tell Oliver how he feels, to see things between Laurel and Quentin repair. But like the lightning that killed his mother, life changes in a flash, and when Moira comes to him in silence, pale faced and shaken, he knows time’s run out. He knows he’s about to die.

“Okay,” he tells her, taking her hand. “Tell me what you need.”

“Barry,” she starts and he shakes his head, reassuring her with a smile.

“I knew the consequences, Mrs. Queen. It’s okay,” he says again and stands tall and secure until she’s nodding and pulled into herself. So, he asks once more. “What do you need?”

“Warn the Hood. I’m moving on Malcolm,” Moira says. “He knows where the warehouse is and has ordered me to empty it. It’s only a matter of time he traces it to you.”

Barry nods. “Who did you hire, then?”

“The Triad,” she says.

“Then go, be with your family. You’ll need the alibi,” Barry says and lets her hug him as she goes.

“I’m so sorry Barry,” she murmurs and Barry swallows back the fear, makes himself smile for her.

“Better me than your family,” he says and they both nod in understanding of what’s about to happen. “Go.”

She goes and it’s scary how easy it is to tie up the ends of his life, reading through like a little list, and by the time the door shuts Barry is ready. He locks the door and picks up the Vigilante’s phone, listens to it ring. There’s so much he wants to say, congratulations on stopping the Dodger, for making the city better, for agreeing to help. So much and more.

“Malcolm knows about the warehouse,” is all he says the moment the line clicks open. “I need you to listen. Mrs. Queen is moving on Malcolm Merlyn. She’s hired the Triad. I won’t be alive much longer, so I need you to do me a favor.”

“Are you wounded?” the Hood sounds strange, urgent, and Barry wonders if the man actually cares.

“No, but I’m sure the Dark Archer will come for me soon. That’s not important,” he adds so the Hood doesn’t do something as stupid as show up here. “I don’t know when the Triad will strike, but I don’t want you getting in the middle. I know I said no killing, but… this needs to be done.”

There’s a long pause, then a terribly sad sounding, “What do you need?”

“I need you to amass all the evidence you have against Malcolm in the event this goes sideways,” Barry tells him. “Usually I’d say stop the Triad but… he’s threatened someone I love and thousands of others. I don’t agree with killing, but right now it’s the best option. Can you… do this for me?”

“Of course,” says the Vigilante and Barry nods, smiles, even though the man can’t see it.

“Thank you,” he says as he hears the rustle outside. “Try to take it a little easier on Quentin if you can. He’s lost in his grief and guilt. He’s blinded by it.”

“Barry…”

There’s a crash in the room next door and Barry slides down the wall. “Vigilante,” he says, voice small and shaking. “I… I don’t want to die,” he admits it, tears in his eyes, and swallows as another crash is heard. “I have to go.”

“Barry, no -”

“Thank you for everything,” Barry says and hangs up, makes himself as small as he can in the corner. He shivers and cries, but stubbornly wipes his eyes. He refuses to die crying and afraid.

When the wall gives out, Barry’s hidden behind the desk, and he doesn’t need to look to know the Dark Archer is there. Near silent footsteps begin to pace the room, searching, and Barry holds his breath, forces himself to calm and braces for a fight. Because like hell he’s going to make this easy.

There’s a gun under his desk and he reaches for it just as the Dark Archer pauses in front of the tiny, tiny slat window in the room, peering up into the light.

“Mr. Allen,” the figure says and Barry pulls back the hammer on the pistol, “it’s honorable that you’re willing to fight. For that alone, I shall give you a quick death.”

Barry aims for the man’s back. “Don’t expect a thank you,” he says and fires. The man moves, faster than Barry expected, and an arrow whizzes by his head as he ducks behind the desk before firing again. He can be fast too.

An eerie laugh fills the room as the archer dodges and approaches him with the ease of someone who kills for a living. “I don’t need arrows to kill you, boy,” the man says and lifts his bow like a battering ram, slamming his foot into the desk and tipping it away and leaving Barry exposed. He shoots and rolls out of the way as the bow comes down, smashing the floor to pieces.

“She should have never dragged you into this,” the archer says and throws Barry across the room like a rag doll. He hits the wall with a thud and his gun flies out of his grip, skidding over the floor. “It’s her alone you should blame for this.”

Barry coughs at the blood in his mouth from where he’d bit his lip and stares up at the arrow pointing at him. Adrenaline pumping, his mind goes blank and the man laughs again.

“That’s right, face your death like a man,” the Dark Archer says and aims. Barry closes his eyes and swallows, fighting down a scream. He doesn’t want to die, oh god, he thought he had more time…. Oliver .

Of course Oliver finds his way to him at the last and he holds onto how Oliver makes him feel with all he has. It gives him the strength to watch death come with his own two eyes.

Another arrow sings past and the Dark Archer roars as his bow goes flying. Barry gasps for breath and then the Vigilante is there on a clear and violent warpath, and the fight that ensues is beyond terrifying. Barry does his best to move from his place as they battle, but his legs are shaking too badly.

He allows relief to come until the Hood is sent crashing against the opposite wall and the Dark Archer bears down on him like something out of a nightmare.

Foolish ,” he sneers, and draws back, “leaving yourself so open to weakness. An admirable effort, but foolish.”

And then he turns and there’s an arrow flying and the Hood is screaming and Barry suddenly can’t move, can’t breathe as it cuts deep into his rib cage. He can’t even cry out, the shock is too great, and just sits there, stunned, holding the shaft as blood gushes from the wound and the Dark Archer, laughing in victory, draws another.

“Malcolm Merlyn sends his regards,” Barry hears and this time he does close his eyes, gagging as blood fills his mouth.

Death, however, does not come. At least not quickly. It’s in the darkness on the edges of his vision, the speed at which the blood seeps from him. There’s a crash and the wall gives way out into the street, and suddenly the Dark Archer is gone.

Then hands are framing his face, begging him to focus. Barry does his best, trembling in pain and shock, and manages to meet the Hood’s eyes.

Blue, so blue, and it’s a comfort in a way because Oliver’s eyes are blue too, and he’s dying, he knows he is, and he wants more than anything for Oliver to be here with him.

“Did’ya get him?” he slurs, head lolling a little and the grip on him tightens just enough to keep him steady.

“No, he got away,” the Hood says, and there’s something different about his voice, not as rough or electric. Panicked, guilty. Human.

He almost sounds like Oliver too, and tears slip free from Barry’s eyes because he’s glad to have this, more than he’d thought he’d have at this ending.

“I need… another favor,” he tells the man, leaning heavily against his hands. “Oliver Queen… tell him…. Tell him I love him. Tell him I… love….”

“Tell him yourself,” the Hood pleads and Barry shakes his head, feeling something in him slip away faster than he can catch it.

“Vigilante…” he begins but the Hood is stubborn, so stubborn, and tilts Barry’s head back straight so they’re eye to eye.

Then the hood comes off and he’s staring into the very scared face of Oliver Queen.

“Barry, tell me yourself,” he begs, hand slipping under Barry’s to stabilize the arrow. “Tell me how you feel. Keep talking to me. I need you to stay awake. Stay with me. Please.”

Barry stares, then laughs in a bubble of blood. “You said please,” he says, and feels cold. “Ollie… make so much sense right now…. Cool…”

“Barry!” Oliver shakes him and Barry hisses in pain, but it’s a shock of clarity and his head falls back against the wall.

“The door… it won’t hold forever,” he says, finally registering the frantic pounding on the other side of the lockbolt. “You need…. You need to go, Oliver…”

“I’m not leaving you,” Oliver vows it, and Barry laughs again, choking on iron.

“Stubborn ass,” he says and lifts a shaking hand to Oliver’s cheek, leaving a bloody smear. “Love that about you,” he murmurs, back to slurring, and his eyes flutter closed. “Love everything about you…”

“Barry!” Oliver shakes him again, but it’s too late this time. Barry feels the darkness coming and his hands go limp.

The last thing he sees is two terrified eyes - blue, so very blue - and the red smear on Oliver’s face. It’s so wrong seeing Oliver like that he closes his eyes and lets go.

He doesn’t dream.

---

It’s a special kind of terror finding Barry slumped against the wall with an arrow in his side and a sizable pool of blood still growing no matter how hard he tries to stem the flow. Barry's unresponsive as Quentin yells his name, pats his face, begs him to wake up. The whole ride to the hospital is much the same, and Quentin holds his boy’s hand until he’s forced to let go.

Then he’s calling Laurel, cutting over her anger with the news. She’s there not five minutes later, rushing to his side and holding him tight and it’s sad, so sad, how it takes this to bring them together, how even dying - and God, he pleads, don’t take him away, not him too, please not him - Barry manages to bring them together again.

“What happened?” Laurel demands, holding his hands - still covered in Barry’s blood oh God, oh God - and Quentin just helplessly shakes his head.

“Dark Archer,” he manages and he’s so lost and confused as to why. Why Barry was the target, why the Vigilante was there to save him.

“Daddy,” Laurel says and holds him close and they stay wrapped in one another until the doctor comes to tell them Barry is stable.

But stable isn’t the same as safe and with more questions than answers, Quentin and Laurel are let into a room where Barry is hooked up to an IV bag and oxygen tank, heart monitor steady and his son’s face slack with sleep.

Quentin sinks into a chair, tears in his eyes, and bites down a cry. He wants to rail at the world, scream down the heavens, but stays silent, watching over Barry and pleading silently for him to wake up.

Laurel steps out, probably to call her boyfriend, and for once Quentin is glad of her association with rich boys, especially when the doctor comes back in to tell him the expenses are being covered by Oliver Queen. He hates Oliver so much for the gratitude he feels, but doesn’t wave the offer aside. Barry, they tell him, lost a lot of blood. They don’t know when he’ll wake up, if he’ll even wake up, and he knows his son needs the best care, care only Oliver’s money can provide, as much as he hates admitting that to himself.

But pride be damned if it means his boy get’s out of this one alive.

“You listen to me,” he tells Barry, taking his hand and listening to the puffs of air coming from the tubes, “you better make it out of this, you hear? You’re strong, far stronger than me, and you will not let an arrow be the end of you.”

“Dad,” Laurel is suddenly by his side again and places her hand on his shoulder and it’s just too much, too much pain and sorrow and guilt, and he covers his face, weeping as it all falls apart.

Only this time, Barry isn’t there to put it all back together again.

---

He finds Oliver in the foundry, slumped against one of the concrete pillars, and he fears the worst as he kneels down beside him, offering him the only kind of silent comfort he can give. “Any news?”

Oliver slowly takes a shaky breath, like he’d been holding it, and swallows. “He’s… at the hospital. Stable, but comatose. They don’t…. They don’t think he’ll wake up. He lost too much blood.”

“He’ll wake up,” Diggle assures him, and Oliver chokes, tears in his eyes, and Diggle forces away the shock to tuck Oliver under his arm and tug him into a firm embrace. “He’ll wake up,” he says again, firmer this time, and full of reassurance.

But Oliver only laughs, broken sounding and full of glass. “What if he doesn’t?” he says, looking up at Diggle with screaming eyes. “What if I never….”

He shakes his head instead of finishing that and Diggle pulls him as close as he can, tucking him into his chest and even rocking a little like Oliver is a lost little boy.

“It won’t be your fault,” Diggle says. “It’ll be the Dark Archer’s and no one else’s.”

“My mother,” Oliver reminds him and Diggle shuts his eyes. “My mother pulled him into this… how can I even look at her now?”

“Because Barry wouldn’t want to be the reason you do that,” Diggle reasons and Oliver makes a wounded sound again. “If all you’ve told me is true, then Barry sees the good in you, Oliver. Wants the best for you. Don’t let him down now.”

Oliver’s face screws up at that, anguished, and Diggle pats his back soothingly. “I can’t lose him, Dig,” is what he murmurs, tiny like a child, full of sorrow and wonder that tells Diggle he’s just now realizing the depth of such a statement. “I can’t… he can’t…”

“He won’t,” Diggle reassures, holding his charge as Oliver begins to shake apart, and lifts his eyes to the ceiling, willing any higher power out there to take notice and let Barry Allen live, if only for Oliver’s sake alone.

He just wishes it hadn’t been this to make Oliver realize what was in his heart all along.

Chapter Text

So far, the night has gone according to plan. Malcolm accepting his award, the Triad moving on him mid-speech. A chase up the building to a safe room which leads to a sniper on the rooftop across putting Malcolm in his sights. And Oliver there to watch it all, a silent witness to the end of an evil his city has yet to know of or understand. But it will, in time, that much he vows.

It’s far from how he wants to do things, but like Barry said, sometimes death is really what is needed. And as he watches from a rooftop as Malcolm Merlyn crumbles from a bullet, Oliver merely chases the gunman instead of rushing to the man’s aid, to Tommy’s aid, and it’s scary how easy that decision is to make now, with the terror he still carries in his heart, with the blood on his hands that just won't wash off. For the nightmares of too late and not enough

It’s still a bit bitter, knowing his friend will have to watch his father die, but Oliver knows he cannot save Tommy from the pain of what is coming, of what will follow even Malcolm’s end, so forces it from his mind to attack the sniper. A sniper he knows, and he’s face to face with an old adversary, one he thought long dead, and Floyd Lawton is as slick as he is seemingly indestructible and slips between Oliver’s fingers just as the police storm the building, forcing his retreat.

“Dig, it was Deadshot,” he tells his associate once he’s safely out of the way on another rooftop, watching Tommy desperately try to keep Malcolm awake. A losing battle, Oliver knows, considering the bullet is laced with kurari. There’s no saving him, and the knowledge that a chapter has ended is rewarding. “I’m sorry, he got away, but I promise we’ll get him.”

Diggle doesn’t answer, which tells Oliver his promise is under consideration. “And Merlyn?”

“Shot with a kurari bullet. He’ll be gone by the time paramedics get into his safe room,” Oliver reports, detached, and wonders if he’s supposed to feel something for his best friend’s father. But then he remembers a black arrow and Barry and blood, so much blood, and his heart hardens all over again.

“Any sign of the Dark Archer?”

“No,” Oliver frowns, the only part of this night that hasn’t really gone according to plan. It’s why Oliver is even here, to make sure Malcolm falls, but also to call out the Archer who’d dared to hurt Barry. He’d thought for sure the Dark Archer would come running to his master’s aid, but clearly Oliver had miscalculated that. It unsettles him trying to wonder who else could be controlling such a deadly assassin, but he forces that away too, shelves it for another time, and watches Tommy weep over his father’s body.

“You really okay with letting him die?” Dig asks, no judgement in his voice, and Oliver knows he’ll feel guilty for this later, the ice he feels in his veins, the cold apathy he feels for the death of a man he’s known since he was small, but despite that knowledge, all he feels is a sense of accomplishment, of victory, of relief .

“I promised Barry I wouldn’t kill him,” is Oliver’s answer, the only answer to this, really. “That doesn’t mean I have to save him.”

And he doesn’t.

---

He switches the small TV onto the news the moment Laurel rushes from the room after a frantic call from Tommy and he isn’t sure how he feels reading the headline: Malcolm Merlyn Killed at Award Ceremony.

The reports all allude to the Triad being responsible and Quentin can already feel the headache that will be trying to bring them to justice. They’ve been trying for years, but now with such a beloved figure of the city gone and by their hands… the public push for justice will be swift and a a serious pain in the ass. Quentin almost wishes Barry wouldn’t wake so he’d have the excuse not to be dragged into it, though that thought dies as fast as it comes.

He takes Barry’s hand and squeezes, willing, as he has the past few days, for Barry to wake up. He’s more than stable now, he’s been assured, very much safely out of harm’s way, but still his son sleeps on, unaware of how the city seems to be falling apart without him.

He mutes the TV to listen to Barry breathe, to the heart monitor gently beep in steady beats. He looks untroubled, more than he has since Sara died, and Quentin swallows down the thought that maybe this is his son’s only way of getting some peace. That maybe his will to live is gone after so much pain and hurt.

“You’d better wake up,” he says, like a mantra, over the next hour, terrified he may be right. Laurel doesn’t come back, but then he’s not expecting her to after hearing the news, and Quentin in honestly thankful for some time alone with Barry, even if Barry cannot respond. “I’m so sorry, Bear. So sorry…”

“Detective?”

Quentin looks up and it’s maybe the one time in his life he hasn’t downright hated seeing Oliver Queen standing there, and that hinges on the man’s generosity regarding the hospital expenses and maybe how Barry smiles more for him than anyone else. Doesn’t mean he has to give him the Queen treatment either. He doesn’t get up, but he nods his permission to enter, and stays protectively by Barry’s side as Oliver comes in, silent and heartbroken, which puts them on the same page, for once.

“Any change?” Oliver asks and Quentin shakes his head.

“None. Doctors say he’ll make it, they just don’t know if he’ll wake up soon or not,” Quentin says and is surprised and gratified to watch the way Oliver grows even more somber at the news. At least the way he cares for Barry isn’t fake and that means something no matter how much Quentin dislikes him. Barry has given Oliver a chance and Quentin will not be the one to ruin the one good thing his son has had in far too long.

Not that he has to like it.

“How’s Merlyn holding up?” Quentin asks, more for his daughter’s sake, and Oliver just shakes his head, helpless. “That bad, huh? Can’t say I blame him.”

“He has Laurel,” Oliver says and it’s like being in another dimension hearing such a thing from Oliver Queen’s mouth. Quentin actually huffs a laugh.

“And you’re fine with that,” he states, dubious, because from the beginning of time it’s always been Laurel and Oliver, L and O. To think otherwise is almost impossible to comprehend. Oliver however just nods and takes Barry’s other hand, hesitant and unsure, like he’s maybe not allowed to.

Quentin certainly wants that, but Barry wouldn’t. Barry who is better because of this undeserving man, somehow. He just has to keep reminding himself of that.

It’s hard, but he does it, for Barry, and watches Oliver sit and lean his cheek on their joined hands. Observes, his detective brain working, and suddenly it’s so clear he wants to shoot the man, or laugh, or cry. Perhaps all, even, and not exactly in that order.

“You’re in love with my son, aren’t you?” It’s ludicrous, but correct, he knows it in his bones even before Oliver starts to look guilty. “What, my daughters weren’t enough, you had to have the matching set?”

“No,” Oliver says, firm, and Quentin will admit he’s a little impressed by the protective way he seems to lean over Barry, as though protecting his own feelings from Quentin, as though they are precious and worth guarding, not screwing up like he did with Laurel and Sara. “No, it’s not like that.”

“Then what is it like?” Quentin demands, just as protective of his boy. “Even you have to admit you have the shittiest track record with my kids.”

Oliver looks away at that, hurting and defeated. “Nothing I say or do will ever make that right,” he goes with. “But I was a different person then. I’m… not like that anymore.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Quentin scoffs. “You may have Barry convinced you’ve changed, maybe even Laurel, but you’re gonna have to try a hell of a lot harder than that to convince me you’re worth even saying my son’s name.”

“I’m not, Detective,” Oliver sighs, truly believing that, but there’s a resolution on his face, a firmness, conviction maybe, that leads into his next words, “But Barry thinks different, and that alone is reason enough to try to be what he deserves.”

Quentin scowls and sits back in his chair, glaring the man down. “Don’t make me like you, Queen,” he growls. “We’ve had a great thing going, me treating you like the scum you are and you staying the hell away from my kids. Don’t go upsetting that balance. Been upended enough this past week to last me a lifetime.”

There’s a not quite smile on Oliver’s face at that but it’s something real and Quentin can almost see what about this stupid, stupid asshole that his kids all seem to have fallen for. But, most importantly, he can see what it is about Oliver Queen that makes Barry light up again, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t hate it.

“Fine,” he gruffs, “but you hurt him in any way that you could’ve prevented and I swear to you, cop or not, I will put a bullet in you, you hear?”

Oliver blinks in surprise and respects him enough to just nod. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me,” Quentin makes a face. “I’m only allowing this because for some reason my son loves you and you make him happy. If that changes, you’re back in the gutter you’ve always been in to me and I’ll make damn sure Barry puts you there with me.”

Oliver sighs and nods, staring down at Barry with so much love and pain and guilt and fear in his eyes… Quentin’s a bit more impressed. “Understood.”

There’s a soft knock then, breaking the moment, and the look on Oliver’s surprised face matches his own, he’s sure, at seeing Dinah standing there, pale faced and teary eyed, and Quentin is back to not knowing how to feel as the woman that abandoned them all comes in like the mother she sometimes pretends to still be.

“Oh my Barry,” she says, tears slipping free, and Oliver excuses himself quickly when Quentin’s face pinches. Not so stupid after all, it seems.

“What are you doing here?” Quentin desperately hardens his heart to her, knowing that if he doesn’t he’ll be sucked right back in, right back into her orbit.

“I’m here because my child is in the hospital,” she looks hurt by that and Quentin laughs, because oh how dare she pull that card.

“Laurel’s been in danger more times these past few months than I’d care to admit but it takes Barry being hurt for you to come?” He shakes his head, not buying it. “Stop pretending to be the caring mother. What are you really doing here, Dinah?”

She doesn’t insult his intelligence further, though what she drops on his next almost makes him wish she had.

“It’s about Sara,” she says in a hushed voice and looks at Barry, as though the news alone will rouse him from his sleep. “I think she’s still alive.”

---

There’s a lot of mixed feelings in the Cave. Even calling it that secretly in her head doesn’t have the funny effect it usually has imagining Oliver’s face every time she calls his precious foundry such.

He’s not even here at the moment, which she’s almost thankful for, not sure how to deal with seeing him knowing he’d just willingly allowed someone to die. Not a good man, to be sure, having been filled in on the terrifying plan Malcolm Merlyn had concocted, but still a man, the father of Oliver’s best friend even.

Though, as much as she tries to wonder at it, the answer to why he could do such a thing is simple enough: Barry Allen. And she’s never even met the man, but he’s somehow here too, in this place, filling every crevice. Felicity figures it’s sweet in a way, the way Oliver has changed for Barry, for the ways he loves, but she doesn't know how to feel about it either knowing what it can lead to.

Diggle too has been quiet since Oliver mentioned something about Deadshot. She’s already looked him up but is too afraid to ask what Dig has against the hit man. And frankly, given how strong the lines of revenge are in this place, she’s almost afraid to find out.

She’d joined for Walter, but something else is tying her here, and that’s yet another mixed feeling to add to the list. She likes being able to help, maybe that’s it, or maybe it’s how Oliver seems to greatly depend on her support. It feels good to be wanted the way she feels here.

Or maybe she just likes the way he looks shirtless and sweaty as he does the salmon ladder. Also a valid point.

Diggle makes a soft sigh and Felicity watches him close, trying to discern if he’s finally out of his head or not. It seems safe, so she ventures a question, though it’s far from the one she’d really intended.

“What do you think of Oliver’s… crush?” she asks, not fully knowing the depth of what it is between Oliver and Barry Allen. “Something to worry about? Or something good?”

Diggle chuckles and comes to stand next to her, leaning his hip on the desk and considering it. “I think it’s good,” he decides on. “Oliver was like a robot when I first started here. A killing machine. I’ve done my best to lead him onto new paths, but he fights me all the way. It takes things going wrong on him for him to get the picture. And that’s okay, because he learns, but… one word from Barry and he changes on his own. It’s… kinda amazing.”

Felicity soaks that in with a little smile, tilting her head. “Why am I sensing a but coming?”

Diggle smiles back at her. “ But, it can be worrying. Oliver loves like it’s all or nothing, and that’s not a healthy way to be in relationships. What if something else happens to Barry? What will that do to him? He thinks of himself as poisonous to others, especially those he dates, because they’ve all ended bad. If Barry gets hurt, he’ll blame himself to the end of time, and that may just end them, which will leave Oliver right back where he’s been. Alone.”

Felicity sighs at that, not liking the truth she’s hearing. “He has us,” she says weakly and Diggle pats her shoulder.

“He does have us, but what happens when we find Walter and you go?” he asks kindly. “What happens if I settle down and can’t do this anymore? Or, even more likely, what happens when he hangs up the hood? He won’t have this, and he won't have Barry if he guilts himself too far.”

“You think he’d do that? Hang up the hood?” Now that she knows Oliver and the Hood are one in the same, it’s hard to imagine him without the mean and green.

“His mission has been the List,” Diggle reminds her. “And now with Malcolm dead, there’s no more reason to go after the List. No List, no mission. No hood.”

“But he’s gone outside the list,” she reminds right back. “There’s hope he’ll keep going.”

“True,” Diggle smiles at that. “And he’ll need us to convince him that’s a path worth taking. Need Barry to convince him of that too.”

“You put a lot of faith in a man you’ve never actually met,” Felicity can’t help but say, though she can feel Barry there with them, helping fix up her own feelings on matters. Sch a good man seeing good in Oliver gives her hope of better tomorrows in this place. "I'm pretty sure giving him a ride doesn't count as meeting."

Diggle concedes that with a soft chuckle. “I put my faith in what Barry has done in Oliver. Seeing how Oliver’s changed, believing in Oliver’s goodness, his light. Barry believed in Oliver before even I did. It’s not hard to believe in him too.”

Felicity grins at that, at least until she hears the shuffle of steps near the stairway.

“Do you two make a habit of discussing my private life when I’m not around?” Oliver asks and he doesn’t look or sound angry, just defeated and resigned, probably knowing he won’t be able to stop them from doing so.

“How’s Barry?” Diggle asks instead of answering and Felicity can see it now too, the way his eyes brighten even as the rest of him falls into somber guilt he wears far too much.

“Safe and stable. Just needs to wake up,” he murmurs and Diggle’s immediately got a hand on his shoulder, squeezing.

“He’ll wake up, Oliver. You got to believe in him too.”

“I do,” Oliver says with almost a smile and looks between them with an expression that makes him look like Grumpy Cat. “And apparently you two think I could continue this crusade?”

“Well we still need to blow the whistle on the other people involved in the Undertaking,” Felicity points out. “And we need to find Walter.”

“We will,” Oliver assures her before walking to his chest that holds his bow and hood, touching it.

“Oliver, we all know there’s a lot of good you can do in this city,” Diggle says, all at once firm and reassuring. “To hang it all up now would counter everything you’ve done.”

Felicity jumps in when Oliver looks thoughtful. “And doesn’t your Barry believe you to be a hero? I think you can be. I mean, I’m probably not the best person to say this because I’m so new but… I can see it, Oliver. The hero.”

Whatever he sees on her face decides him, and she blushes in triumph as he sighs and opens the chest, pulls out the hood and regards it.

“A hero, huh?” he says and she knows they’ve won this round, given the new fire that lights his eyes. “If we do this, then I’m going to need a better name than the Hood.”

Diggle chuckles. “We’ll think of something.”

“No need,” Oliver says after a moment and turns to them, surprising them both with an almost smile. “I’ve got a few ideas.”

Chapter Text

He knows this will lead nowhere good the more she talks, if only because the more she gives logical reasons, the more he wants to believe it. And that’s a road of darkness and pain he doesn’t want to go down again.

It’s worse when Laurel comes back to see Dinah there, and the timing is terrible, they all know it, and there’s betrayal on Laurel’s face even before her sister’s name falls out of Dinah’s mouth, and Quentin really just wants to curl up under Barry’s medical bed and disappear.

But for better or worse, they listen. Dinah makes a startling case that even Laurel falls silent, though she still looks wrung out and wary about all of this. Quentin can’t blame her that, either, feeling it himself.

“Dinah, now is not the time for this,” he says for the umpteenth time, hoping that she’ll listen and stop holding that damned picture - her proof she says - of a girl that does look a lot like Sara, in the hat that looks like the hat Sara always wore, and he turns his face away from her pleading expression to stare at Barry, willing him to stay the hell asleep so he doesn’t have to see this.

“How could you possibly know what she was wearing anyway?” Laurel demands and that gets Quentin’s attention. Dinah seems to realize her slip and scrambles to explain, and it’s logical too - noticing what was gone after going through Sara’s things - but Quentin wouldn’t be a detective if he didn’t know when someone was lying, and he’d learned his ex-wife’s tells a long time ago.

“You’re lying,” Laurel calls her out, hurting and overwhelmed and Dinah shakes the picture, desperate for them to refocus on her proof.

“Does it matter? This is her, this is my little girl!” she says, pleading with them both, but Laurel doesn’t let it go, even if she’s a little more gentle the second time she asks, “How did you know what she was wearing?”

“Because she knew Sara was going on the yacht,” Barry rasps from the bed, and Quentin glances at him so fast he gets a crick in his neck. The joy comes swift that he’s awake - thank God, there’s goes ten years off his life, he’s sure - but then his words hit, and so does the anger in Barry’s eyes looking at them all, the pain and hurt renewed in his face, and it’s such bad timing, all of this, that Quentin makes to wave it all off for later, despite everything. For Barry’s sake.

But Laurel is rounding on Dinah before he can stop her. “You knew?” she says, enraged and hurting so plainly. “You knew and you never said? You let us blame Barry all this time when you could’ve shared that guilt? How could you?”

And Quentin can only agree with that, because it’s so unfair and he starts to get riled up too, despite himself, angry on Barry’s behalf. “Why didn’t you say? You let us… hate our own son when you were just as guilty? I could’ve forgiven it if it’d been you too -”

He hates himself the moment that stupid falls out of his mouth and he bites his tongue in horror at the shock that falls in the room.

“I get it, I’m not family,” Barry says, voice tight, and he looks so broken all over again, but so angry and hurt and oh, what has he done?

“That’s not what I -” he tries, but Barry shakes his head, firmly, and it’s as final as a punch to the throat.

“No, I’m not doing this again,” he says, shaking in his bed. “I know how this will go, how it always goes, and I’m done. I’m not family, you’ve made that perfectly clear, so get out and fix your own problems for once.”

He huffs at them and his whole body cringes in pain. He doesn’t even lose his expression. “I can’t even die and come back without you all falling to pieces. Well, I’m done. Get out.”

“Barry…” Laurel steps close and Barry shakes his head again, tears in his eyes now, falling free. “You are family,” she still says it, firm, and he just huffs a laugh at her.

“You guys have a funny way of showing it,” he says, darkly, and glares them all down until all of them are guilty the way they ought to be. “Please, I don’t want to deal with this. Get out and don’t come back. Not until you start acting like a functional family again. I’m not fixing something that you’ll only keep breaking. So leave.”

Dinah goes first, tears streaming down her face, then Laurel, who still touches Barry’s hand before going. Quentin swallows hard and places a hand on Barry’s shoulder no matter how much it's clear he doesn’t want him there.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and this is not how this was supposed to go, they both know it. “I”m… so glad you’re awake.”

“Thanks, detective,” Barry bites and Quentin flinches. One step forward, ten back it seems. With a sigh, Quentin goes and peeks in through the lot window on the door as Barry buries his face in his hands and cries, shouldering it all alone. Again.

“No more,” Quentin vows and walks away, back to Laurel’s place where they’ve somehow silently agreed to come. He shuts Dinah down, refusing to hope for Sara, and Laurel is the same way, defending Barry with every word she says, until they’re all crying and Dinah is grieving all over again, fully accepting the guilt as she should have so long ago.

It’s painful, but maybe they’ve fix something. He doesn’t know. He just hopes it’s good enough.

---

He hates hospitals, even more so now given recent… events. It’s almost a surprise he’s managed to make himself come at all, still grieving his own loss, but then again this is for Laurel and it’s for Barry, and so he figures it’s worth the painful tug in his chest as he walks into the sterile smelling, too white building.

He steps to the service counter to ask for Barry’s room when Barry himself limps by, miserable and determined and so lost in his own thoughts he doesn’t see him there. And that can’t be good.

“Dude, should you even be walking right now?” he says, rushing over to Barry’s side and taking his arm in support. Barry blinks up at him in surprise, and even smiles a bit, though it’s full of so much shattered glass it’s sharp and cutting.

“Tommy,” Barry at least tries to look happier than he is no doubt feeling. “Hey, how are you?”

“More worried about you right now than me,” Tommy tells him, giving him a look over in lieu of a pat down, but it’s a near thing. “Seriously, should you even be up? How the hell did they discharge you?”

“I’m an adult, I call the shots. If I don’t want to be in bed anymore, then I’m out,” Barry sniffs and Tommy laughs a little because that’s such a stubborn barry thing to say. “That, and I’m happily doped up on drugs right now.”

“Yeah, you did seem pretty floaty,” Tommy tries to joke though it falls a little flat. “Barry, I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner, and I’m sorry there’s no build up for this, but I need a favor.”

“Mmm, sokay,” Barry’s head bobs like a bobblehead and Tommy smirks a bit. “I like your favors. Just don’t ask me to sing again. I doubt I could carry any sort of tune right now.”

“It’s… about Laurel,” Tommy starts, biting his lip, and Barry makes a face.

“I take back what I just said about liking your favors, Merlyn.”

“I know, I’m sorry, but she is really panicking about… whatever happened between you,” Tommy says his piece quickly. “Just… don’t shut them out? They’re trying.”

“I know,” Barry sighs, then gets a stubborn look. “I just need to be angry at them right now. I never get to be angry with them and I’m tired of that.”

“I totally get it,” Tommy assures him, feeling proud because he really does get it. He remembers the first fallout and how Barry suffered. It’s so good to see him standing alone and for himself.

Barry nods, satisfied, and gets an almost funny look. “There will be a day when I give in and accept their apologies, but it is not this day.”

“Nerd,” Tommy laughs, though he’s hardly one to talk considering he gets that reference. Barry knows it too by the little laugh he gives in return, and Tommy would feel proud of that if it didn’t sound so broken.

“I need a favor,” Barry leans in a bit, wobbling. “I’m assuming you brought your amazing car. Can I get a ride to the pharmacy then to home? I just… really need to go home right now.”

“Absolutely,” Tommy says, offering his arm for Barry to take and sweeping him out to the parking lot where his car is waiting. “You’re not allowed to drive it though, you speed demon. Don’t even with those puppy eyes.”

Barry sighs, dramatic, and plops into the passenger side with the gingerness of an old man. “Not my fault you can’t handle the way I drive.”

“I wouldn’t call it driving,” Tommy laughs, getting behind the wheel and driving to the pharmacy Barry points him to. “What you do is more like street racing. I’m amazed you got a license.”

“Right back at you, Merlyn,” Barry chuckles and Tommy feels himself relaxing, even with the pain still so fresh over his father’s death, over Laurel's drama and Barry’s near death experience. Somehow their lives have become a soap opera, but Barry is amazingly still Barry - stubborn, gentle, funny Barry - and Tommy feels so at… peace with him.

“I really miss hanging out with you,” he tells him once they’ve got Barry’s prescription and Tommy’s driving him home. “You… I don’t know what it is about you, but you make me feel like everything will be okay.”

“That’s because it will be okay,” Barry says and touches Tommy’s hand. “You’ll be okay, great even, and you’re never alone. That’s a promise. You may have lost your father, but you haven’t lost your family, not even a little bit.”

Tommy’s eyes mist over at that and he takes Barry’s hand to squeeze it. “Thanks, man. I needed to hear that.”

Barry’s smile is lopsided and so unhappy, but it’s still a smile, a smile for Tommy, and he’ll take all he can get from one so clearly not okay. “Anytime.”

---

The sun’s gone down and he sets his iPod to slow music, dancing alone in his kitchen to the unhappy beats. It helps drown out the pain he feels, singing softly along, forcing his body to move as though with a partner, numb as it is, and he’s halfway to feeling sorry for himself when his lights flicker and the window opens.

“I thought you’d be here faster than this,” Barry tells him, knowing who it is without having to turn around. He just continues to sway in place, floaty on painkillers, and does his best to lift away from everything that’s happened. Everything but what he wants to focus on.

Like the fact Oliver is there removing his bow and arrows to come in and be with him, lowering the hood and watching him with concern with his blue, blue eyes that Barry is more than a little lost on.

“Laurel told me what happened,” Oliver starts and Barry shakes his head, not wanting to go there anymore.

“Oliver, I know you mean well, but if that’s all you’re here for please leave. I don’t… i can’t deal with that right now.”

He stops swaying, voice croaking a little as emotions threaten to boil up, and he wipes his eyes, feeling small and pathetic, but mostly tired, so, so tired of hiding this. Of holding it back and in.

Oliver reaches out for him, touching his face, and Barry looks up at him, unsteady on his feet, a bit wide eyed at the look Oliver is giving him. A look he’s never seen directed at him before.

“That’s not why I’m here,” he murmurs and Barry’s mouth goes dry watching Oliver’s lips form the words. “I’m here because you shouldn't be alone. And because I just… I just can’t not be here.”

Barry tilts his head but somehow understands, nodding in acceptance of that and starting to sway again as a new song comes on. It’s hopelessly romantic to the beat of a slow waltz, and it hits home a little too much. Barry feels the tears coming and turns away.

“I’m not going to be good company tonight,” he warns and Oliver surprises him by turning him back and pulling him into his arms, swaying in place with him.

“I’m exactly where I need to be,” Oliver says, firm with conviction, and Barry buries his face in Oliver’s neck in gratitude and relief, smelling the leather, feeling it creak against his mouth.

Oliver’s hands are strong as they move to his waist, lifting him off his bare feet. Before Barry can ask, he’s standing on Oliver’s boots and Oliver is looking at him and smiling and there’s something in his eyes that makes Barry flutter and then they’re dancing for real, Barry on Oliver’s feet, letting him lead, and Oliver looks so peaceful about it Barry doesn’t have the heart to tell him to stop, even if it’s mortifying how much he’s falling in love with Oliver all over again.

“Barry,” Oliver says softly and Barry can’t stop the tears from falling, the smile from breaking his face.

“I’ve always dreamed about dancing with you in a kitchen, the way my parents…” he shakes his head and presses his forehead to Oliver’s, letting the man catch him and continue to dance, and it breaks his heart as it fixes it all at once, and it’s painful to breathe, but he can’t stop, won’t stop this perfect moment even if it means nothing. It means something to him and that’s what matters now. Oliver’s giving him this gift and Barry takes it greedily, holds it close, and they’re cheek to cheek before he can help it, humming to the song, and peeks a few times to see Oliver’s eyes are closed, content to just be.

The song trails to a close and Oliver stops, though he doesn’t move Barry off of his feet. Barry’s not in a hurry to move after that, trembling and all a-flutter that he knows if Oliver wasn’t holding him he’d be a mess on the floor, and for some reason Oliver seems just as content to allow him to stay as is.

“Always said you looked good in leather,” Barry remarks as another song comes on but they don’t dance, just breathe against each other’s skin, and Oliver laughs at that, a light and airy chuckle that tickles his neck.

“And green,” Oliver says and then it’s Barry’s turn to laugh, a laugh that wrenches through him, pulling out his insides as he does his best to give Oliver this simple show of affection.

“Went a bit overboard, I’d have to say, Vigilante,” Barry teases, but his mouth is too dry, voice too awed to form the joke properly. Oliver looks up at him with that look again, something warm and bright and all for Barry. Somehow he knows it’s all for him, and he steals that into himself too, uncertain why Oliver is giving it or what it means, but knowing he needs it like air and pulls it close. Pulls Oliver close.

He hugs him tight, hands sliding in Oliver's hair, feeling him breathe against his chest as though telling Barry’s lungs how to function. And as he pulls back to thank him, that look is there again, reflected in his own eyes, and he knows suddenly what it is, what this means, and almost can’t believe it. Almost doesn’t want to.

“Oliver…” he murmurs, not sure why he’s suddenly asking for something, only knowing that he is, and flounders for more words, but they’ve failed him and his world comes to a stop on Oliver’s lips.

“Barry,” Oliver leans in and it would be so perfect, to kiss, to have their movie moment, but it’s not quite them, not quite yet, and their lips brush, their cheekbones bumping, and Oliver trembles like it’s a proper kiss and oh , how he wants to get addicted to that. “I… when I thought I’d lost you, I just… I couldn’t...”

He’s not the only one who’s lost words, it seems, but then, they’ve never needed words to reach each other like the reflections they are. Barry leans his head in more, breath mingling with Oliver’s, and closes his eyes. “I know Oliver. It’s okay. I’m here.”

Oliver holds him tighter at that, as though he needed the affirmation despite having Barry in his arms, obviously alive and breathing, and he closes his eyes too, his breath stuttered and shaking, and then their mouths are brushing once more and Barry can’t help it anymore, stealing the moment, stealing away the kiss he’s dreamed of.

Oliver gives it freely, moaning softly against his mouth, and that’s better than any dream right there, feeling the effect he has on this man, this hero, and he lets himself be swept away into it, knowing it would be more if he weren’t wounded, but it’s a perfection all its own now that they both know they want this, want each other, and this kiss will just have to convey what their bodies will someday later, perhaps, that desire is real here and love has found it’s roots.

“I love you,” he whispers to Oliver, tears in his eyes and a freedom giving his heart wings at being able to say it so easily. “Have since I was in high school. Maybe before, I don’t know. I just know that you’re all I see when I close my eyes, all I smile for. Thank you for allowing me to.”

Oliver looks like he’s been touched by pure grace, hearing that, and Barry sees it then, so clear, how lonely he’s been because of the choices he’s made, because of the hood he wears, and Barry understands that he’s a risk here, but hopefully a good one. And even if not, he’ll keep this forever, even if Oliver decides to walk away.

Because right now, like this, Oliver is his . And no matter what happens next, no matter the pain and sorrow to follow, Oliver will still be his in this moment, branded on his heart, in the imprints on his lips.

And that is a peace he’s never had, never dreamed to have, and he kisses Oliver again and again with a growing sense of joy, laughing, until it finally, finally, no longer hurts.

Chapter Text

They’re training in the foundry when the door opens above and Diggle pauses the lesson to listen for the telltale quick beat of Oliver’s footsteps. But they don’t come, not really, a softer, heavier beat sounding in their place.

Felicity shoots him a look, half wondering, half alarmed, because she’s been down here long enough to know his and Oliver’s footsteps by now and she doesn't know this laborious step. Neither does he.

Diggle moves off the mats to peek up, in range of his handgun on the table, but soon is smiling despite the surprise of the sight that greets him.

Oliver with his arm around a certain young man’s waist, helping him take one step at a time and murmuring encouragements that have the other flushed but grinning despite the slow progress. And Oliver is… smiling, soft and real, and it’s so opposite how Diggle is used to seeing him that he can only stare.

Felicity is no better than he is, gaping openly at the sight, but smiling as the waddling pair finally make it to solid ground. The young man’s smile is instant and bright, lighting up the foundry, as he takes in the sight of arrows and computers and the training equipment. Then he’s positively beaming with a sincere “Hello,” as he spots them.

And Diggle knows, if only for the way Oliver fondly kisses the side of the man's head, that this is Barry Allen, never mind that they've met briefly before. But this Barry is hardly the pale, shaking man he'd seen curled into Oliver's side in the backseat of the car so long ago, so much so that, when he shakes Barry's hand, it's akin to meeting him anew.

“Heard lots of good things,” Diggle says and smiles as Barry grins.

“Good to meet you, Mr. Diggle, officially this time,” is his response. “Oliver speaks very highly of you.”

“Does he now?” Diggle turns an amused smile on Oliver who doesn’t quite meet his eye.

Felicity looks rather dazzled as she shakes Barry’s hand and soon they’re chatting about sciences and nerd references and it’s the perfect distraction for Diggle to pull Oliver aside.

“You sure you want to immerse him in this life?” Diggle asks, not unkindly, nodding towards Barry and the wound he knows still hasn’t healed.

Oliver makes a face, stressed but determined, and nods. “We can keep him safe here. Especially with the Dark Archer still out there.”

The Dark Archer who still hasn’t tried for revenge. Diggle isn’t sure if that’s a good thing or not. So he nods, understanding the logic, and pats Oliver’s shoulder as they refocus on Barry’s wide eyed stare about the room.

“I knew the Hood had partners,” Barry grins at them like they are movie stars or something. “I can’t tell you how glad I am to be right about that.”

That smile is proving infectious. Diggle isn't sure he’s smiled in such quick succession since joining this crusade. The young man is truly a wonder.

“Oh?” it’s Oliver who asks it, right back to Barry’s side with his arm around him, protective and supportive all at once. Barry beams at him for it, love plain and naked on his face, so much so that Felicity blushes and Diggle’s eyebrows rise.

“Well, before I knew it was you, I figured the Hood had to work with others. It’s more logical to have help with this big of an enterprise. And the fact such a life is really lonely. It’s good to have people to trust and support you.”

Oliver softens at that and it’s still so strange seeing him as open as this. “And now you know it’s me.”

“And I’m doubly happy I was right,” Barry tells him, looking at Diggle and Felicity with another big smile. “I’m glad you don’t do this alone.”

“Me too,” Diggle says, earning an ear to ear grin he’s sure will fall right off Barry’s face.

“Same,” Felicity chuckles. “It’s fun helping Oliver find the right path. And by fun I mean bossing him around.”

Oliver rolls his eyes and Barry looks delighted by the very prospect. And just like that, Diggle knows he’s a fit here. Like a piece of the puzzle always nearby that finally found it’s place. Already he can feel his own awareness of those under his care shift to include Barry and it’s a nice, easy inclusion like it was always meant to be.

“Think you can make it back up the stairs, or do you need a few more minutes rest?” Oliver asks once an hour of talk has passed. “We need to get upstairs and ready for the grand opening .”

“I should be good,” Barry says, gingerly sliding off one of the stools and swaying only a little. “It was wonderful to meet you both. If you guys ever need a CSI tech, I’m your guy.”

Diggle smiles in amusement at Oliver’s resigned sigh. “Noted.”

---

The opening of the Verdant is as loud and crazy as anything the young Merlyn and Queen could concoct. It brings to mind plenty of other social bashes, too much alcohol and glitter explosions and the fact they’re all legitimized here brings a smile to his face as he pops his pain pills and downs a club soda.

He’s moved to a back corner while Oliver greets the guests with a proud Tommy by his side, managing to stay well out of the way of the dance floor and excited rush of people. He’s far from healed and the stitches still pull. He’s just thankful for the silk shirt Oliver had bought him, delightfully cool and non-irritating to the stitches.

And the way Oliver had just stared at him, greedy and wanting, as he’d pulled it on made it all worth it, despite it not being his style.

Barry blushes at the memory and swirls what little of his drink is left in his glass. He doesn’t see her until she clears her throat, making him flinch in surprise.

“Oh, forgive me, I didn’t see you…” Barry trails off at her razor-blade smile and pales, for all the pills in the world would not be enough to forget the face of Helena Bertinelli. He’d seen the Most Wanted posters a full week when she’d sprung up as Huntress months ago.

“Nothing to forgive,” she says in a sickeningly sweet tone he knows hides a viper, and her grip on his arm is anything but soft as she pulls him towards the foundry’s door and orders him to open it. He does, bewildered, and can’t hold back a cry as she forces him down the stairs too fast then slams him chest first onto one of the tables.

He struggles and she wrenches his arm back at a bad angle, making him bite down a whimper as the muscles immediately scream, the bones threatening to break in his wrist and his shoulder starting to pull out of the socket.

Tears sting his eyes at the pain, but still he struggles against her hold. He’d rather have a dislocated shoulder than be some kind of statement, and hears the sickening pop even before Oliver comes racing down the steps.

Barry’s gasping in agony and he’s never seen Oliver look so murderous and scared. It scares him too. If he could form words, he’d tell him to not listen as she starts her piece on finding her father before he can make a deal with the FBI and how she’ll hurt Barry more if Oliver does not agree to help.

“Oliver, don’t,” he manages before his wrist pops too and he muffles a scream into the table.

“Alright, I’ll do it, let him go!” Oliver demands and looks seconds from strangling her as she releases him.

Barry slumps and holds his shoulder, shaking, and he doesn’t need to see the anger in Oliver’s face to know his wound has reopened. Before either of them can do anything, however, Helena has Barry’s arm again, and in one fluid move she snaps his shoulder back into the joint.

Barry yanks away from her despite everything, defiant, and holds his swelling wrist to his chest as Oliver growls and stands between them. Helena looks nothing but victorious even in the face of his rage.

“A man, Oliver? My, your tastes have degraded,” she titters and disappears back upstairs to mingle, the damage already done.

Oliver’s turned around in a second, eyes wide and fearful and guilty. “Barry -”

“Don’t apologize,” Barry cuts across with a low groan, slumping against the table. “It’s not your fault she’s a homicidal psycho. Better to focus on what we’re going to do about this.”

We aren’t doing anything,” Oliver says and Barry just knows he’d going to hate what comes out of his mouth next. “ I am. You’re bleeding and need to rest.”

“I’ve had plenty of rest,” Barry snorts. “Don’t shove everyone away, Oliver. That’s what she wants.”

Oliver stubbornly shakes his head. “It’s too dangerous to involve anyone else. I didn’t put her down when I should have and now that’s come back to haunt me.”

“Not your fault,” Barry says it again, softer, and touches Oliver’s face. “You tried to help her and she turned on you. That is not on you, you hear me? She is responsible for her own actions. You gave her a second chance, she spat it back in your face. You are not the guilty one here.”

Oliver doesn’t look convinced, but at least doesn’t argue the point in favor of finding something soft to press to Barry’s torn stitches. “”We should get you back to the hospital,” he says, low an dejected, and Barry sighs at him.

“I’m okay,” he assures him, cupping Oliver’s cheeks and forcing the man’s gaze to his. “Oliver, I’m not mad at you, or upset. Not blaming you for anything. I’m okay.”

Oliver leans into his touch and sighs, defeated. “She hurt you because of me.”

“She hurt me because she wanted to hurt me to get to you,” Barry counters. “Not everything is on you, Oliver. So stop beating yourself up.”

Oliver looks so lost and helpless Barry can’t help but kiss him, hoping it’ll ground him if nothing else. “You’re not alone,” he murmurs. “Promise me you won't shut Diggle and Felicity out. Let them help you.”

“Only if you promise to go to the hospital,” Oliver says, jumping on his chance, and Barry sighs but nods, resigned, and lets Oliver whisk him away.

He, however, doesn’t stay in the hospital long. Overnight with Oliver beside him, but once he leaves the following morning and he’s sure Oliver is busy dealing with Helena, Barry discharges himself and takes a cab to the SCPD.

Oliver will be furious about this, he knows, but his not getting involved is not for Oliver to decide. So, with his new wrist brace firmly hidden under his sleeve, he marches in amidst surprised faces and makes his way to Quentin’s desk.

He hasn’t seen his foster father since the fight in the hospital, and his stomach gives a fluttery lurch the moment their eyes meet. Quentin flusters to his feet, wide eyed in shock, and Barry almost feels better about everything for the look of relief on his face.

“Barry, what on earth?” Quentin looks close to patting him down and Barry sighs, keeping the detective at arm’s length. “You shouldn't be walking around with that wound.”

“Helena Bertinelli,” Barry says over his concerns and Quentin’s expression pinches in confusion and instant wariness. “She was at the Verdant last night, poking Oliver since they dated, apparently.”

“Did she do anything?” Quentin is back to looking worried and Barry immediately shakes his head.

“No,” he lies. “But something tells me she didn’t drop back in a city where she’s got a warrant for her arrest just to pick on an ex.”

“Unfortunately, no,” Quentin makes a face and hands Barry a folder. “Frank Bertinelli just made a deal with the FBI, information for witness protection.”

“So his punishment is a new life with a new name and brand new start,” Barry fills in the blanks, shaking his head. “No wonder she came back.”

“No doubt to recruit the Hood as well,” the detective adds with a sour note in his voice. “Luckily for us, we’ve got a plan to draw her out.”

“Oh?” Barry says, giving Quentin a smile to further sucker the man into spilling, especially if he thinks by telling they’re fixing some burnt bridges. A bit low, perhaps, but if there’s a trap set, it won’t just be Helena in trouble. Oliver will be as well, and Barry would rather Quentin be as disappointed and hurt as Barry’s been the past five years then Oliver’s secret being forced out into the open.

Quentin, fortunately, takes the bait, and describes the armored car trap in perfect detail. When Barry asks where Frank really is, the detective is quick to tell him that too. Barry thanks him with a warm smile, mostly to ease his own guilt for using the man, and allows himself to be hugged.

“I’m still not okay,” he tells Quentin, “I still want to be mad at you all, but… it’s nothing we can’t fix, that’s a promise.”

Quentin sags in relief and pats his shoulder, misty eyed. “Good. That’s… that’s good.”

Barry smiles and excuses himself once the trap is set into motion. He quickly moves to the hall and dials Oliver’s phone.

“Barry, I can’t talk right now,” is Oliver’s start and Barry pushes past it in an urgent rush.

“It’s a trap,” he says, looking around at the cops gearing up. “The cops are expecting Helena to take the bait and stop the armored car. It’s full of cops. They’re not moving him. He’s at a house in the high district.”

There’s a pause, then a gruff, “Barry, i told you not to get involved.”

“Like it or not, Oliver, you’re not the boss of me,” Barry cuts across with his best stubborn voice. “Find the house and end this. The file says it’s house 327. Stop her there so no more people get hurt. Oh, and be careful. I’m expecting you to come back to me in one piece.”

Oliver gives him a soft promise and Barry hangs up, giving a small wave to McKenna Hall as she passes, rushed but still with a concerned smile for him.

“You’re doing okay?” she asks, strapping on her gun, and Barry laughs and nods, giving her a serious look.

“Stop her,” he tells the detective, who gives him a fearless grin and jogs off, shouting orders to her squad.

Barry almost feels bad about it all, but with the cops preoccupied with the transfer, it’ll give a window of opportunity for Oliver and Helena to get to Frank and, hopefully, reduce the risk of anyone else being hurt.

And for once, that’s exactly how things work out.