After five long years away and all the time he had had for regrets and thinking about how he wanted to make amends, Oliver knew exactly where he needed to be when he returned to Starling City. He didn’t get the chance to act on that plan until Tommy asked him what he had missed most on their driving tour of the city he could once again call home.
His best friend barked a laugh and scratched at his ear. “Yeah, uh, problem with that plan. Laurel’s not here anymore.”
Oliver turned sharply to look at him. “What?”
Tommy shrugged. “She skipped town three years ago. No forwarding address, never answered any calls or emails. Never been back.”
“Look, she left just before Sara came home. If that wasn’t enough to bring her back to Starling—”
“Sara,” Oliver echoed dumbly. “Sara’s alive?”
“Yeah. I guess you wouldn’t have known. She told the Queens she thought you had died, too.” Tommy shook his head. “Your mom and Thea took it pretty hard, not that they weren’t happy Sara had lived. Made things easier with the Lances, even if it didn’t fix their marriage.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Lance separated?” With every sentence, Tommy was sending him reeling and struggling to play catch-up. He’d known on some level that the things he had done before and the shipwreck itself would have affected the people around him, but it was still so strange seeing and hearing how much everything had changed.
“Yeah. That was less than a year after the shipwreck. Mrs. Lance moved to Central City, and Sara’s with her now.”
“What about Detective Lance?”
“Well, not so much a detective anymore,” Tommy told him. “He got busted down to officer and then I think he was asked to resign after his drinking got out of hand. That was probably about a year after Laurel left.”
And that brought them back around to the main issue. Laurel was gone. In all his years of yearning, recriminations, and vows to make things right no matter how impossible, he had never accounted for a scenario in which Laurel simply wasn’t there. It was unthinkable. She wasn’t just supposed to be at home...she was home.
“Laurel’s father got kicked off the force, and she didn’t even come in to check on him?”
“I guess she figured he’d be fine. He probably gets alimony, right?” Tommy pushed at his shoulder. “Let’s not worry about all of that, okay? You’re alive, Sara’s alive, and wherever Laurel is she’s probably happy to know she can hate you both in peace. So come on, where else did you want to go?”
“Nowhere,” Oliver answered blankly. He had absolutely no plan forward now that the one thing he had been determined to do — the one person he had wanted perhaps most to see — was out of reach.
“Sushi it is,” Tommy replied with false cheer and turned the engine on.
Their drive to the restaurant was interrupted when they were attacked and kidnapped, however, and Oliver’s hand was forced in debuting the man in the green hood much earlier than he had wanted to.
Jumpstarting his mission early caused him to make the decision to recruit his newly appointed bodyguard, John Diggle. Diggle was capable, level-headed, and a good man. He needed allies, as was proven when he had been unable to bring Jason Brodeuer down in enough time to stay the innocent Peter Declan’s execution. That one was still weighing heavily on his conscience.
And truthfully, Oliver needed him as a teammate just as much as a confidant.
“Reminiscing?” Digg asked one night as he walked up to Oliver at the computer.
He minimized out of the article he’d pulled up about the Queen’s Gambit wreck and his and Sara’s supposed deaths. Laurel had been mentioned in it by name. It was the last record of her he was able to find.
She’d been planning to go to law school before he left. But that took three years, and she wasn’t on the pass list of any state’s bar exam, which eliminated the possibility that she had transferred for her last year. And why would she have done that?
Diggle was still waiting for an answer. “Not exactly. There’s someone I knew before the island, someone I thought would still be here when I got back. But she’s not.”
“The girlfriend you cheated on.” Diggle shrugged at his surprised look. “I did my research, too, you know. Thought I should know who I was signing up with.”
“Well, the tabloids aren’t the best place to start anymore.”
“So why are you looking at them?”
Oliver turned his chair around to face Digg. “Tommy told me that Laurel left around two years after the shipwreck and that no one has heard from her since, even when Sara came home.”
“And that rubs you the wrong way?”
“It’s not like her.” Laurel would have come back to see her sister, to yell at her at least. And the idea that she’d just let him return to a comfortable life without making it clear how much he’d hurt her didn’t feel right, either. Laurel did not do the silent treatment. She was confrontational always.
“Well, maybe she just wants to get on with her life. Everybody else seems to. Has Sara even contacted you since you came home?”
“No.” And that was strange, too. He would have thought she would want to know how he survived, or to talk about their experiences. He still remembered when she had blindsided him on the island with a love confession, and perhaps his discomfort over that had kept him from reaching out.
Oliver turned back to the computer and searched for Sara this time, finding a few articles about her reappearance. A photo of herself and her mother leaving the courthouse sat over an article titled Mother finds daughter pronounced dead in shipwreck.
Mrs. Lance had been involved? Reading further, the article stated that Sara had washed ashore on an island with little connection to the outside world, but that her mother had been looking in the area and heard word of an American girl matching her daughter’s description.
There was nothing about the Amazo, Lian Yu, himself or the others, and he could understand that Sara might not have wanted to go into those details, traumatic as they were. He had covered up his own experiences to keep people from tying him to the Hood, after all.
But if parts of the testimony were partial or full lies, that made the entirety of it suspect.
Oliver studied Sara’s miserable expression in the photo. Something was off about all this. He needed more information.
“I’m going out,” he decided, getting up and crossing to the stairs.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” When he looked back, Digg mimed putting up a hood.
Oliver shook his head. “Not that kind of mission.”
Quentin sat at his customary stool, working on his second glass. It was that or stay home and watch news reports about this Hood guy the police were totally inept at catching. It was obvious this nut had to be independently wealthy himself. They should have started looking into who among the elites had some kind of grudge or something to gain from all this upheaval. But his theories wouldn’t be welcomed around the station anymore, so he kept them to himself.
His peace and quiet was interrupted as someone took the seat next to him.
“Hello, Mr. Lance.”
At the familiar voice, he blinked and set the glass down, then looked to his right at Oliver Queen. “What the hell do you think you’re playing at?”
Queen raised his hands in a placating gesture. “Nothing. I had a question for you, that’s all. Then I will happily let you get back to your scotch. In fact, consider the next one on me.”
Figured he would consider everything good between them, no harm no foul. “If you think I’m glad to see you just cause it turned out Sara wasn’t killed out there, you’ve got another thing coming.”
“I won’t take up too much of your time, then,” Queen replied. “I just was wondering if you had Laurel’s new forwarding address.”
“Gotta be kidding me.” He scoffed. “You think if I knew, I’d tell you?”
“So she really hasn’t been in touch.”
“No. Guess she got sick of me.” Quentin prodded at his drink a couple times. “We got into it, just before she left. Said some things. I didn’t mean ‘em.”
“But you think she thought you did.”
“Well why the hell else would she have left? An- and who cares? Couldn’t be bothered to call or write, not even a peep when her sister came home. She doesn’t care anymore.” Quentin gave a single shake of his head and drained his glass. “None of ‘em do. Sara comes up every other Christmas. Talks on the phone sometimes. But she’s with her mother.”
He’d believed when he first heard the news that maybe there was a possibility for the four of them again. The chance to be a family like they’d had before. But Dinah had kept her place in Central; Sara hadn’t quite been the same bright, mischievous girl he’d lost; Laurel had never come home. His girls had all left him one by one.
“And Laurel’s alone? You know, I did some digging—”
“You think maybe you of all people should leave it alone?”
“—she was going to law school, right? But she hasn’t passed a bar exam anywhere in the US. Wherever she went, it wasn’t to continue law school.”
“Okay, so she dropped it. She never wanted to be a lawyer in the first place. It was the police academy,” Quentin mumbled. He’d kept Laurel from being an officer because of how dangerous he knew the job to be, yet look at him now. He hadn’t been anywhere near the precinct for a year and a half.
“Did she drop it between semesters or in the middle of one?”
“Look, Queen, what are you trying to say?”
“I’m not sure yet. I just have an odd feeling about it, I guess,” the man admitted, his brow furrowed. “It doesn’t sit right with me.”
“Look, I would’ve hoped that hearing your sorry ass turned up might have prompted her to come back here and give it a good kick. But she’s obviously washed her hands of the whole thing. Probably for the best. One way we’re different, she knew when to let things go.”
“That’s not the Laurel I knew.”
“Yeah, well turns out she didn’t know you too well, so maybe you didn’t know her, huh? Why do you care?” People around them were staring, but all he could feel was anger at the fake-concerned act Queen was pulling. It didn’t matter how stricken the billionaire looked at his accusation; it couldn’t be genuine. “You never cared about her! You broke her heart, and she was a damn fool to give it to you in the first place!”
“Quentin, I think it’s time to pack it in, alright?” Frank came down to their end of the bar and took his empty glass. “Don’t worry about your tab, you can get it the next time.”
“Great, just great.” He slid off his stool and staggered. Queen caught his arm to steady him, but he threw him off. “Tell you what, you find out wherever she went, tell her don’t bother coming back. I don’t need her. Never did.”
He stormed from the bar and back home, breathing heavily by the time he cleared his steps. He just didn’t have the energy he used to.
In the morning, he woke up on the couch in his clothes from the night before and his shoes untied but still on his feet. He shuffled to the toilet and relieved himself, staring at his bloodshot eyes and unshaven face.
God, what he’d let himself become over the years. And there was Queen, young and handsome and rich as ever. It boiled his blood.
But perhaps what felt worse was, as he contemplated the bits of their talk he could remember from the night before, he had to admit — the bastard was right.
It didn’t sit right that Laurel hadn’t returned. She loved an argument, always wanted the last word. And she cared. She cared more than most people ever bothered to. Hadn’t he always said she was trying to save the world?
Back when he’d first realized she had gone, he was just so angry. Angry that she hadn’t bothered to say anything. Angry she didn’t want to see Sara after her ordeal, the little he’d ever managed to get from her about it, that was. Angry that she’d left him. Because he did need her. Look where he’d ended up in her absence.
So what did it mean? Something wasn’t right. How the hell did he go about figuring out what the something was?
Quentin struggled into a suit and tie for the first time in years, then made his way to Laurel’s old apartment building. That was the first place he could think of that might still have some kind of record about her.
He got the number for the landlord on a sign right by the mailboxes. “Yeah, I needed to talk to you about a previous tenant in apartment 305. Dinah Laurel Lance. She was my daughter. It’s a bit urgent.”
Lucky for him, the landlord agreed to see him just after his lunch. Good service in a good neighborhood.
Quentin found the man’s office easy enough and was shown to a seat.
“You had some questions about your daughter’s use of the apartment?”
“Yeah, specifically the end of it. Was her lease up? I’m trying to get some family accounts in order,” he claimed.
The landlord opened and perused a file on his desk. “No, she still had several months. But she understood she was breaking the lease and told me to account for that with the check.”
“She told you?”
“Well, it was in writing. I never actually spoke to her about it. I suppose her mind was made up.” He took a piece of lined paper from the file and passed it to him along with a photocopy of the check. “Normally, I’d have asked the tenant to fill out the amount to be withdrawn, but she had already left the apartment and wasn’t answering any calls.”
Quentin supposed there wasn’t much the man could have done, especially with a note stating Laurel’s wishes. But right away, he spotted something off.
“This isn’t her handwriting.”
He looked up with a frown. “Nope.” The signature on the check held up okay, but then it wasn’t hard to scribble some cursive.
“Well, I’m not sure what to tell you, Mr. Lance. That note and the check were left in my mailbox one morning, and the bank accepted the check.”
“What about her stuff? Was it all cleared out?”
“As far as I remember.”
Someone else had written this note and the information on the check. Had someone else cleared out Laurel’s things as well? And for what purpose, to make it look like she’d moved?
The bank had accepted the check. The bank could also tell him more about the current state of Laurel’s accounts and affairs. Quentin stood up.
“Thank you, you’ve been a big help.”
He didn’t think this was a case of fraud on the landlord’s part. Either way, he’d learned everything he could here. Yet Quentin was acutely aware how little the bank would be willing to tell him without Laurel actually present. Back when he’d still been on the force, that hadn’t been a problem.
He needed the information, but he didn’t have enough information to get police involved. Unless...
He swallowed his pride and dialed the number for his old partner.
“Detective Lucas Hilton.”
“Hilt, it’s me. I need you to meet me at Starling National Bank if you’re available. I’m at the branch on Fifth and Gail Street.”
“Quentin? What’s going on?” He thought he could pick up the rustling of some papers on the other end of the line. “You sound like you’re on a case.”
“Something like that. But I don’t got the badge anymore, so you know. I wouldn’t ask, but it’s kind of a personal matter. Family.”
Hilton gave a heavy sigh. “Alright, think I can make some time. Give me twenty.”
“Terrific. I’ll be here.”
He was pacing by the time Hilt’s squad car pulled up, but he made an effort to stop as his friend walked up.
“So, what’s this about?”
“Laurel.” He watched Hilton’s eyebrows raise. “I went over to see her old landlord and asked about her lease. When she left, she had to break it. Only she did so via note, and the note the landlord had wasn’t in her handwriting.”
“Wasn’t that three years ago? What’s brought this up now?”
He wasn’t about to admit it was Oliver Queen of all people, so he gave an evasive, “Been doing some thinking. I think I missed some signs back then. Between Sara being back and everything…” He trailed off for a moment. “I just need some information about her account to be sure I didn’t get it all wrong.”
“Alright, let’s see what we can get.”
They headed inside and up to an unoccupied window in the line of tellers.
“Hi, how can I help you today?”
“I need you to tell me about the account belonging to a Dinah Laurel Lance. It’s part of a case,” Hilton lied as he flashed his badge.
The teller blinked. “Oh. Well, let’s just step into one of our personal offices and have a look.”
They both followed the woman and sat across the desk from her as she booted up and typed away at a computer. A frown started to form, which made the bad feeling in the pit of Quentin’s stomach grow even worse.
“Her account has been in some trouble for the last few years. There’s been no deposits. Most of her funds were garnished. Outstanding loans, credit card bills. There should have been a court order sent to her place of residence in the case of the credit card, but federal student loans don’t require one.”
“So she hasn’t been using it for, what, three years?” Quentin asked.
“And if someone was going to move cities or even out of state, they would have closed the account first, right?” Hilt checked.
“Well, we would have recommended transferring to one of our sister branches, but yes.”
“So what does that mean about where she is now?”
The teller blinked at him. “I’m not sure how to answer that. This isn’t really something common. It’s almost as though the account has been left open while it’s in probate.”
He gripped the arms of the chair and leaned forward. “I’m sorry?”
“Oh. Probate is—”
“I know what it is.”
Hilton touched his shoulder. “Thank you, Miss. That’s all the questions we have.”
His partner led them back out onto the street and over to the car. Then he blew out a breath. “Okay, Quentin. What are we looking at?”
“Laurel didn’t move. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but she didn’t just leave. Not on her own. Someone forged her note, I’d bet Dinah’s next alimony check that that same someone sent an email to withdraw her from law school, and the teller in there thinks she might as well be dead from her account activity.” He dragged his hands through his hair, yanking at tangles he rarely bothered to comb. “She’s missing, Lucas.”
Hilton watched him solemnly.
“She’s been missing for- for three years, and I didn’t notice.” His hand rested over his chest while his heart pounded loud in his ears. “How did I not notice?”
“There’s a lot that’s been going on in your life the last five years, Quentin. And whoever did this wasn’t an amateur. The important thing is that we know now. I’ll open a case at the station, but I think you should get home. You look exhausted.”
He didn’t want to go home, but he knew better than to show his face around the precinct. So he let Hilton drive him home. Quentin undid his tie as he entered the little apartment, and he dropped back down onto the couch.
Laurel was missing. It didn’t feel real. After all those years he’d spent resenting her for staying away — and he’d been wrong.
Worst of all, the person who’d pointed it out to him was the person he loathed most in the world. How had Queen known?
More importantly, how was he going to find his daughter?
Three years ago
Laurel’s eyes were stinging with the tears she wasn’t quite able to hold back as she held the close door button on the elevator. She was thankful when the door slid shut before anyone could get on. She didn’t feel like being around people at the moment.
Why did he have to be so cruel? They were all each other had, and he—
Well, he probably felt justified blaming her. If she hadn’t dated Oliver, maybe he wouldn’t have picked Sara to cheat on her with. Maybe Sara wouldn’t have agreed and gotten on that boat. And maybe mom wouldn’t have left. If she were her dad, Laurel would probably blame herself, too.
It was the alcohol talking more than anything. She knew that. He just kept getting worse, especially now that he’d wrapped up the Mathis case and didn’t have work to distract him as much. Laurel wasn’t hoping for another serial killer, but there had to be something other than the drinking he could lose himself in.
She’d never been the favorite. Laurel had known that for a long time. She wasn’t the one who got souvenirs at the aquarium or pets for her birthday or special edition Rockets baseball caps. But she’d been the one they were proud of, and she’d told herself for years that that was enough.
Ever since the Queen’s Gambit had been lost at sea and Sara with it, that hadn’t been the case. Her mother had left without a phone number or an address to reach her at. Her father now found fault with every single action she took. If she went out with friends she was irresponsible; if she came to collect him at the bar she was a nag; if she wore a skirt instead of pants she was a slut, and no wonder Queen had gotten to her, used her to get to Sara.
That was the latest recrimination he’d given her tonight.
Laurel looked down at the pencil skirt she was wearing to match her blazer, the outfit she’d chosen for a mock trial showcase at her university he’d promised to come attend. She’d found him in the bar across the street after instead.
Laurel pressed the heels of her hands to her forehead, just barely choking back a sob. She was not going to have runny makeup over this, she was not.
The elevator dinged as it opened, and Laurel breathed in and out once to collect herself before striding down the hall, the picture of calm and unaffected on the outside.
It was dark in the apartment — too big for one graduate student; she’d rented it with the thought she’d be sharing it with the man she loved, and moving out or getting a roommate would be admitting that sad truth to her and everyone else — and Laurel set her briefcase down before flicking the light switch.
Nothing happened. Laurel tried again, flipping it back and forth a couple times with the same result.
Her lights weren’t working. Laurel frowned, torn between heading for the circuit breaker or her gun. It could just be a blown fuse, right?
Her hesitation cost her. Laurel took one step towards her desk and was suddenly seized from behind. Her legs kicked uselessly in the air as she was lifted off her feet, and some kind of dark cloth bag was shoved over her head.
She tried to yell out, but it was muffled. Something sharp pricked her neck before she knew no more.