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The Way Back Home

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“It’s SO good to see you out again, Moira.”

Moira Queen speared the perfect amount of lettuce off her salad plate with delicate ease and then paused to give her lunch date a regal smile. Bunny Zobrowski’s most distinguishing feature—besides the new breasts—was her penchant for overemphasizing her modifiers. But a gala committee was a gala committee, and this year her co-chair was Bunny. And her breasts.

“I’m sure these last few months have been JUST awful, losing poor Robert to a heart attack like that.”

Bunny’s eyes dropped to her own salad, waiting to see if she’d opened the door wide enough to get Moira to comment on the rumors running rampant in every club and boardroom in the city. The matriarch of the Queen family acknowledged her own pain and suffering with a noble tip of her head but spoke not a word. It would take more skill than Bunny Zobrowski possessed to get her to editorialize on Robert being with his 24-year old mistress when it happened (he was), and whether or not his heart had given out in the middle of sex (it hadn’t; she’d asked the woman in question herself and the coroner had confirmed it).

They finished lunch an hour later and parted ways—with preliminary gala details nailed down and a list apiece of assigned duties—and even then Moira kept the cool exterior in place, though the tremor in her hands had threatened to expose her and her silent phone burned like a hot coal in the pocket of her trench. She held herself still, even in the relative privacy of the back seat of the limousine, because no one could know.

No one could know.

The phrase swirled in her head the rest of the day and chased her to bed early, settling in beside her on the pillow where once upon a better time Robert Queen’s head had lain, to torment her for the night. She finally allowed herself a moment of hand wringing.

She’d agreed to give them the money and they had responded that she should wait for instructions. But that had been a week ago today, with no further response. And no Oliver. No cops, they’d said. No inquiries. In all the world she alone carried around the knowledge that Oliver Queen had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom. His life depended on his mother’s silence and cooperation, Moira believed that with every fiber of her being, but her famous resolve was rubbed raw with worry and fraying at the edges.

Above all, Thea couldn’t know. Not after the suffering she’d just gone through, losing her father. Already she was questioning her brother’s whereabouts, ten days after his impromptu trip to party at the Super Bowl, and the lies were getting harder to tell.

Dawn arrived before sleep did; Moira dragged herself from bed with unshed tears burning her throat and fatigue clawing at her guts. Another day. She would give it another day and then she’d have to seek help.

But who could she possibly ask?

——————————————————————-

Felicity Smoak hated Mysteries. Particularly, at the moment, CHI to CLO. She sighed heavily and tried very hard not to swear.

“Something’s screwed up in the tagging system. Nothing comes up right.” She passed the wand in front of the line of books again and watched the tablet closely. “It looks like every barcode is off by one number. We’ll have to start over, re-tag them.”

“Completely?! That’s 25,000 books!” Speaking of swearing, she’d never heard Barry Allen say a bad word, but at the moment he really looked tempted. Felicity pushed up off the floor and handed him the wand.

“Hopefully just this section, but we’ll have to see. Keep checking from here on.” She nodded toward the Circulation Desk. “Cisco looks swamped.”

Felicity loved her library job. Like LOVED it loved it. First of all, BOOKS, her first friends and constant companions throughout her lonely life. But her love wasn’t just for nerdy reasons. No two days here were ever exactly alike. There were problems to solve, questions to research, and patrons to help. The patrons might be her favorite part of all.

Donna Smoak did not let a phone conversation go by without worrying about her baby girl, who had accepted a full ride to MIT and graduated with a double major in computer-something-or-other only to end up in downtown Central City—and not the swanky part of downtown, either—to work in a library. Felicity paused to gaze up at the soaring, light-filled space spread out in front of her and wished for the thousandth time that she could afford to fly her mother from Vegas to the Midwest to let her see for herself.

Sure, this wasn’t one of the wealthier neighborhood branches full of stay-at-home moms and retirees learning conversational Italian before their big trip in the fall. This was a poor community of small, tired houses and sketchy apartment buildings. The public computers were occupied by folks filling out job applications online and signing up for food stamps. A lot of them were there to pass the time of day streaming movies, or meeting with their parole officer, or being supervised by a social worker while they visited their kids.

And a few used the library to keep warm in the middle of winter because they had no other place to go.

As if he’d been reading her mind one of their regulars shuffled in with his signature trash bag of worldly goods, his hair sticking out in fifty different directions and trying to hide a nasty sounding cough.

“Morning, Mr Wilson.”

He waved a hand wearing a fingerless glove in greeting. “Miss Felicity. How’re you this morning?” Sometimes she thought she detected a hint of an accent in his gravelly voice and made a mental note to ask about it one of these days. When the phone wasn’t ringing.

She took the call while he settled into a chair near an outlet and set about charging his phone. Without preamble the caller asked if there was a spy satellite currently watching his house and her eyes flicked to the phone’s ID screen.

“Hi, Mr Johnston.” A little further down the desk Cisco offered her a sympathetic eye roll and she grinned. The competition to NOT answer his calls was fierce; she was clearly off her game.

Ten minutes, countless reassurances, and four different Google searches later he hung up without a goodbye and she couldn’t help smiling. Bye, Mr Johnston.

Felicity took a moment to scan the space around her. Barry was still busy running the scanner wand over the bookshelves and Cisco had stepped away from the desk to check the outside book drop. About half the computers were in use, some by patrons she recognized, some not. A couple of them were kids, here when they should obviously be in school.

Mr Wilson was still in his chair, head dropped forward in a way that told her he’d fallen asleep. When Cisco got back she’d have to go wake him up; there weren’t many rules in the library—you didn’t even have to be that quiet anymore—but it definitely wasn’t a place where you could take a nap.

She noticed a figure in the chair next to him. He must’ve come in while she was busy Googling spy satellites. Felicity could only see the back of him from her angle, but there was an old red Jansport backpack on the floor next to him with a fleece blanket spilling out the top. The blanket caught her eye because it was baby blue and covered with clouds and rainbows, though the shoulders of the man who had carried it in were pretty broad and manly looking. It was a curious choice, but then again the homeless didn’t often get much of that.

“What’d ya say?” Cisco was back, his arms full of books and DVDs.

“What?”

“You were just mumbling something about not getting a choice,” he clarified helpfully.

Felicity shook her head. “Oh, um, nothing. No filter. I’m gonna go wake up Mr Wilson.”

She approached him from the side, partly so she wouldn’t scare him and partly so she could get a better look at his companion, whose eyes darted up to hers as he half-rose like he was expecting her to make them leave. Felicity smiled gently and held up a hand.

“Don’t get up. You’re fine. I just—“ she indicated Mr Wilson’s faintly snoring form for explanation.

The man’s eyes flicked to him and back to her. “It’s hard to sleep.” He stopped short of saying “in the shelter” but she knew what he meant. She nodded a couple of times before laying a gentle hand on the older man’s shoulder.

“Hey, Mr Wilson.” He started awake with a grunt, his eyes wild for just a second. He coughed.

“Sorry, darlin’.”

“I know.” She patted his shoulder as he shifted around in the chair. She smiled again at the other man and finally noticed how remarkably blue his eyes were. It made her blink in surprise.

“I’ll keep him awake,” he promised. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay. You’re welcome here. Really.”

He seemed to accept the reassurance; something in his posture eased just a bit and he nodded once.

——————————————————————

An hour later she was about to take her lunch break when he approached the desk, his eyes on the floor.

“Hi,” she offered brightly. “How can I help?”

He was tall, and wearing dirty jeans and a navy blue pea coat that it was obvious he’d slept in. He looked extremely uncomfortable and completely lost.

“Where’s your...card catalog?”

Felicity stared at him for a second before she realized her mouth had fallen open. Her teeth clicked together in surprise and she blinked rapidly.

“We, uh, keep it all on computer now.”

He looked horrified at his mistake.

“I can show you, if you like,” she went on quickly. “What are you looking for?”

He’d been staring at the desk but he looked up at her suddenly. Those eyes, though. Felicity swallowed hard.

“Nothing. Never mind. Thanks.” As he started to turn away she scrambled after a small plastic container on the counter.

“Here. If you want to use the computer, just take one of these and put the code on it into any one that’s open. It’s free,” she added hopefully. The man studied her hand holding out the slip of paper like he was afraid of her, but finally took it from her fingers, careful not to touch.

Felicity watched him walk away as he studied the paper and then scanned the line of computers and the patrons sitting there, weighing his options.

“Is he new?” Barry asked softly at her shoulder.

“I’ve never seen him before today,” she replied. The man evidently made a decision not to get on a computer because he settled back in to the seat next to Mr Wilson.

“Me either,” Cisco added from his spot further down the desk. “Did you see his coat?”

“What about it?” Barry wrinkled his nose as Felicity nodded.

“It’s designer,” she murmured. “Burberry, I think.”

Cisco shook his head. “Not a homeless guy’s coat, that’s for sure. You going to lunch, Felicity?”

She nodded, but didn’t move right away.

——————————————————————

“The library will be closing in five minutes. Please bring any materials to be checked out to the Circulation Desk at this time.”

“Quittin’ time,” Cisco muttered to no one from his perch at the end of the counter as the recorded message finished. Barry and Felicity had pulled a cart full of Mysteries behind the desk and were sitting on either side of it, meticulously peeling barcodes off the books and replacing them with the corrected sticker. She liked the repetitiveness of the work. It gave her time to ruminate on the newest mystery at the library: The Homeless Man in the Very Expensive Coat.

Next to her Barry snorted. “That should totally be a book title.”

“I said it out loud, didn’t I?” Felicity looked up from her work with a sigh and cracked her neck. He was still there, in the same spot he’d started out the day. His face looked cleaner after a trip to the restroom, but otherwise she hadn’t seen him do anything all day. No sleeping, no eating, no drinking. Her own rumbling stomach told her a guy his size couldn’t go all day without some kind of food.

He and Mr Wilson were beginning to stir with the rest of the patrons readying to leave the library for the evening, so she jumped down from her high-backed stool with a quiet “Be right back” and hustled to her locker in the employee break room. She kept a box of granola bars in there for the days she forgot her lunch, which lately had been about once a week; there was only one left.

“Frack.” She hated to give only the new guy one when Mr Wilson would be there too, but she knew the older man had been on the streets almost a decade; he was pretty wiley about keeping himself fed. Leery of alerting her co-workers that she was about to feed a patron, Felicity walked to the end of the counter as casually as possible with the granola bar clenched in her fist on the far side of her body.

“Hey,” she said softly as he passed. The man only moved his eyes to look at her, wary like a feral cat. “Here.” She held the bar out to him, hoping he’d grab it quick and go before anyone noticed. But he only stared at the offering in her hand.

“Take it, kid. You’re gonna need it,” Mr Wilson growled, and Felicity flashed him a grateful smile. The man’s blue eyes flicked up to hers and she knew immediately this was probably the first food he’d seen all day. He hesitated one more second and then reached out to pluck it from her palm without touching her skin.

“Thanks.” Quiet. Nervous. Grateful.

“What’s your name?” she asked suddenly. He pulled back then, abruptly, causing his companion to fall back a step. “It’s okay,” she amended, worried he might spook and cause a scene. “You don’t have to tell me.”

“Go on,” Mr Wilson said then, but he didn’t mean “and tell her”, which the man must’ve instinctively understood, because he immediately walked on. As she watched him absorb into the crowd working its way to the front door she heard Mr Wilson clear his throat.

“He doesn’t have a name,” he explained awkwardly. Felicity turned her head back to look at the older man curiously. “Not that he can remember, anyway.”

Her forehead crinkled in confusion. “Where’s he from?”

“He doesn’t know that either. Just woke up in an alley, ‘bout a week ago.” Mr Wilson scratched his head in a way that would normally make her keep a safe distance, but at the moment Felicity was too distracted to notice.

“Huh.”

“I’m lookin’ out for him,” he assured her with a gap-toothed smile. She smiled back.

“See you tomorrow?”

He barked a phlegmy laugh. “Wouldn’t miss it.”

Mr Wilson trudged out of the library at the tail end of the line of patrons and Cisco followed behind to lock the front doors.

——————————————————————-

“Detective Lance?”

“Yeah?”

“This is Moira Queen.”

There was a heavy pause on his end of the phone.

What can I do for you, Mrs Queen?” Not completely unfriendly; obligated, more like.

“Detective, I have a very sensitive matter I need some assistance with—“

“Is this about your son?” he asked gruffly, cutting her off just as she was working up the courage to say it out loud. For a wild second she thought he already knew about the kidnapping, but how could that be?

“Ye-yes. Yes it is. How did you know?”

There was a laugh—or maybe a snort—over the line. “Because guys like Oliver Queen are always getting themselves into ‘sensitive matters’.”

Moira could almost see his pinkie finger crooked, mocking her, but she held her temper. She had no one else to turn to.

“Detective, could I meet you somewhere? In private?”

Another pause, this one much more curious. Lance cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah.” Her heart started beating again. “You like burgers?”

——————————————————————

“Can’t remember, huh?”

“That’s what Mr Wilson said.” Felicity sat on the barstool and dunked her fry in the cup of ketchup she was sharing with John Diggle.

“Don’t eat them all before the fish is done,” his wife admonished them both mildly. Lyla was still in her skirt and blouse from work, but was barefoot and wearing an apron emblazoned with “Grill Daddy” in giant letters on the front.

“You think he has amnesia?”

They both went for the same fry and Diggle flicked it toward her with his index finger before choosing again.

Felicity shrugged as she dunked. “I don’t know. He acted like it was his first day on planet earth.” Lyla glanced back at them over her shoulder. “He can’t be much older than me, but he asked where the card catalog was.”

John’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Time traveler?”

Felicity shot him a look.

“Sounds like mental illness to me, Felicity,” Lyla warned. “I’d steer clear.”

“Trust me, I know mental illness when I see it. This guy was...lost.”

“Drugs?” John tried again, but Felicity shook her head.

“No. His eyes were...” She remembered the blue of them and momentarily lost her train of thought. “I really don’t think so.”

There was a metallic clang as Lyla took the baking pan of fish out of the oven and set it on the stovetop. “Felicity, grab the peas out of the freezer.” She was met with a collective groan. “Everybody gets a spoonful of peas. My house, my rules.”

“Hey, what about me?” her husband grumbled. Lyla smirked saucily.

“I thought you lived at the firehouse.”

Before he could protest she sidled over and pecked him on the lips. He smacked her lightly on the backside since Felicity wasn’t looking.

Dinner brought other conversation with it, but Felicity found her thoughts circling.

“If he doesn’t have a name, an identity, he can’t get services, right?”

John looked confused at the sudden change in topic but Lyla followed right along.

“Well, besides ER care, no. Not really. I mean, soup kitchen? Sure. And he can make up any old name to get into most shelters, but to collect benefits or get therapy? No.”

Felicity sighed.

“You really think that coat was expensive?”

“I didn’t see a tag, but I’m almost sure. I looked it up on the internet.” She eyed them both before continuing. “Sixteen hundred dollars.”

Lyla’s brows shot up and John let out a low whistle. “You wouldn’t find a coat like that in a shelter drop box,” Lyla conceded. “Even by accident.”

“What should I do?” she asked them as she chased her peas around her plate with her fork.

Lyla sighed. “You’re a librarian, Felicity. Your job isn’t to save him.”

The eyes of her friends were both kind and sympathetic, but that didn’t make her feel any better.

————————————————————-

It was trickier than she’d ever imagined to take a car from the Queen compound without anyone noticing, which is why she was late getting to the...restaurant; the term only loosely applied to this lunch counter with a juke box and a gambling machine. She clutched her purse against her front like a Kate Spade custom shield and let the door close behind her.

Quentin Lance was hunched over at the end of the counter with a cup of coffee and a scowl. He lifted a hand in greeting just as she spotted him and she sighed with relief.

“You think I’d lure you to the bad part of town and then not show?” he asked with a smirk, reading her mind.

“Of course not, Detective.” Moira recognized immediately that her signature aloofness and propriety were not only wildly out of place here but unwelcome. She let her shoulders drop a notch and took a deep breath before hiking herself on to the stool which—she discovered a second too late—swiveled.

Lance snorted into his coffee but managed to hold any other commentary to himself.

“Thank you for meeting with me—“

“What’s Queen done now?” It was a mildly exasperated growl.

Moira gathered herself to say the words out loud for the first time. “He’s been kidnapped and is being held for ransom.”

She wasn’t sure what reaction she’d been expecting, but laughter probably wasn’t on the list.

“What, like, by pirates or somethin’?”

Her mouth set into a hard line. “I’m sorry to have wasted your time, Detective.”

Lance waved a hand at her. “Sorry, sorry.” He was visibly trying to rearrange his features into a serious expression. “How long has he been missing?”

“It’s been ten days since I received the phone call.”

“Ten—ten days?! Why the hell did you wait so long?”

“They stated explicitly that I couldn’t say anything to anyone. Not the police, not other family members, no one.”

He studied her for a moment. “So why are you telling me now?”

“Because when I told them I have the money they said to wait for instructions. That was a week ago.”

“You’ve heard nothing further for a week.”

“No.”

Lance ran a hand up over his head in thought. “Do you have a record of the phone number they called from?”

“They used Oliver’s phone.”

“Have you tried calling it?”

“I’ve filled up the voicemail.”

He was nodding slowly. “Where was he the last time you know of?”

“He left the first of February with friends to go to the Super Bowl. Central City hosted this year.”

Lance shot her a brief look that made it clear he knew what city had hosted the Super Bowl. “Your boy had tickets to the Super Bowl? Figures.”

“I don’t know that he did, Detective. Many people go just to attend the parties. But if he did go to the game the tickets belonged to a friend.”

“Have you spoken to these ‘friends’?” The word had an emphasis she immediately disliked.

“I—I don’t know their names.”

He rolled his eyes at that, and Moira bristled.

“What are you implying, Detective?”

“Well are you sure this isn’t some prank? That he isn’t sitting in Aruba somewhere, drunk off his ass and yukking it up with the other frat boys?”

Moira swiveled the stool away from him and stood. “Clearly I should’ve known better than to ask for your help. I know my son has a checkered past where your daughters are concerned, but I expected more from a member of the Starling City Police Department. I—“

“Hold on, hold on. Si’down, Mrs Queen.” He flapped a hand at her, annoyance covering his obvious chagrin. She stopped moving but didn’t sit back down.

“Have a cup of coffee,” he sighed. “And let’s start from the beginning.”