It wasn't a new thing for John Diggle to be worried about Oliver Queen; from the moment they had met, Oliver had given Dig reasons to be worried, from slipping away from his protection to the revelation that he was the Hood to his distressing taste in women. But even Dig could admit that the current uneasiness he had about Oliver went far beyond any of that, strong enough that it never entirely left Dig's thoughts, not since the day they had both shakily made their way out of the ruins of what had once been the Glades.
Oliver was strong, Dig knew, but not even the strongest person alive could climb out of that wreckage and not be affected. Dig also knew how much Oliver depended on seeing himself as a savior, as someone who righted the wrongs his father had asked him to right. As hard as they had tried, they hadn't been able to stop Malcolm Merlyn from leveling part of the city that Oliver had vowed to protect, even if it had cost Merlyn his life.
It had also cost Oliver his best friend.
Dig attended Tommy's funeral along with Oliver even while parts of the Glades still smoldered, a comforting shadow behind the tattered remains of the Queen clan that had come to show the Merlyn scion their respects. Mrs. Queen had still been wrangling for a custodial release given her own crimes but Thea had needed Oliver's support, and Dig watched as Oliver reined himself in the way he did when he was a mission, tense and dead-eyed as his sister wept on his shoulder as Oliver's closest friend was laid to rest. Across the casket, like something from a badly written play, had been a duo of Lances, Laurel and her father, acting just as oblivious to Oliver's presence as he had to theirs. Only Thea, once the ceremony was complete, broke through the invisible wall that Tommy's death had placed between Laurel and Oliver, rushing over to cry on her mentor's shoulder.
Dig was the only one watching Oliver and suffering along with him, knowing as he did the litany of self-recriminations probably sounding in his friend's head. Like everything else, Oliver blamed himself for Tommy's death and no amount of logic would dissuade him.
"I'm worried about Oliver," Felicity said one afternoon as she and Dig worked on clearing out what they could from their underground crime-fighting den. Above them, the contractors Oliver had hired worked on doing the same with Verdant, not that Dig figured it would ever open its doors again, cover or no. Oliver hadn't even set foot in the Glades since the destruction; for all Dig had seen, he wandered around the Queen mansion like a high-strung ghost, hovering when Thea needed it and taking control where his mother's freedom depended on it.
"That makes two of us," Dig said.
"We have to do something," she said, eyes sad behind the glint of her glasses. "It's been weeks and...he's...he's not in a good place."
"No," Dig agreed, leaning against the station of computers that had somehow survived the destruction. "But I'm not sure what to do for him, Felicity."
"Have you tried talking to him?" she asked.
Dig snorted. "When has that ever worked?"
Felicity conceded the point with a sigh. She looked down at one of her screens, some kind of information marching across it too fast for Dig to take it in. "He's slipping away," she said quietly.
"He's more like he was when he first got back," Dig said. "You probably won't believe it, but the Oliver you know is an improvement."
She smiled a little at his attempt at humor, but neither of them was feeling it. "I wish I knew what to do," she said as she went back to her diagnostics.
Dig wished he did, too, but he didn't, no more than he had ever known what to do about Oliver. Whenever he asked, Oliver said he had given up on the Hood, on doing good, because he obviously wasn't cut out for it. "What would be the point?" Oliver asked one day as he sat behind his mother's desk at the mansion while Dig hovered, because he was still on the payroll. "I tried and I failed, Dig. I may have even done more harm than good. I just hope my father can forgive me."
"You've done a lot of good out there, Oliver, don't forget that," Dig told him. "No one had any idea of what Merlyn was up to and we mitigated the damage. You can't blame yourself --"
"Tommy is dead, Dig, because I wasn't fast enough," Oliver snapped. "Lots of innocent people are dead because I wasn't good enough. I can't..." He trailed off, shaking his head. "Thea needs me here. My mom needs me," he finally continued. "I can at least try not to fail them too."
Seven months ago, Dig would've paid anything for his job to be the one he'd signed up for, which had been to shadow around a rich business-tycoon-in-training as he went about his boring days. Seven months on, that was exactly what his job had become and Dig hated it, hated to see the way the real Oliver was letting himself be buried beneath the facade. The Oliver Dig knew had never been the one from the tabloids or even from Tommy's old stories, but there had been flashes of him that had peeked through from time to time, humor and kindness and an endearing goofiness that had left Dig wondering how he'd ever managed to get his playboy rep. But all of that seemed as distant as the look Oliver often had in his eyes, quiet and longing, desperate for something that Dig couldn't give him. He wasn't sure if it was forgiveness or condemnation, but Dig didn't have either for him. There was nothing to condemn or forgive and the sooner Oliver realized it, the better he'd be.
Dig just wasn't sure that day would ever come.
It was yet another clear Monday morning since the Glades had been shaken apart, and Dig was escorting Oliver to the Queen building where Oliver had been slowly trying to keep the company from falling apart in the wake of his mother's press conference. Walter was there, sometimes, but Oliver didn't trust him when it came to Moira's personal interests, so he had commandeered her office at work just as he had at home, working with lawyers and PR specialists and whoever else one needed to consult when one was trying to save his mother from a lot of years in prison. Dig had nothing to do but tag along to Queen Consolidated, which meant he and Felicity traded anxious texts for a few hours before she made an excuse to come up to the executive floor or he made an excuse to head down to her office where they could fret together in person.
As much as he had worried about Oliver's decision to bring Felicity in on the Hood secret, Dig was grateful for her now, a partner in trying to keep the great Oliver Queen from slipping over into an abyss he wouldn't even admit existed. Dig hadn't realized until then how much his vendetta had acted as an anchor, something to keep the demons at bay and keep him on the right side of sanity. With it gone and abandoned, Dig could see the cracks he'd been waiting for since they had met, and he didn't know how to keep Oliver from crumbling to pieces.
"Laurel, maybe?" Felicity suggested that morning as they threw around ideas.
Dig shook his head. "She tried to come by -- after," Dig said. "Oliver wouldn't see her. I don't know if he blames her for Tommy or blames himself because of her or what, but he can't look at her. She's not going to help this time."
"Well, Mrs. Queen should be getting approved for house arrest this week," Felicity said as she read from her screen, probably reading confidential documents she shouldn't have been able to access. "Maybe that will cheer him up."
Dig thought about the haunted look that never seemed to leave Oliver's eyes, the mask of grief he wore almost every waking moment. "I hope so," he said, doubt heavy in his voice.
He wasn't sure what was going to wake Oliver up, but he prayed that it happened soon.
After another long day of dealing with the kind of people that the Hood usually dealt with by shooting arrows at them, Oliver finally called it a day at Queen Consolidated and Dig was glad to call down for a car to take them back to Oliver's house, where he'd continued to hover until Oliver sent him home. He knew it was above and beyond his job description, but Oliver was also his friend; Dig wasn't going to let him drown, even if Oliver was doing a bang-up job of keeping his head beneath the water.
They stood near the curb, waiting for the car, and Dig did his duty, eyes scanning for potential threats, ever aware of his surroundings. Not that Oliver couldn't take care of himself but it was a habit that had never left him, not after the war and then years in private security. There was the usual late afternoon crowd on the streets, people loitering at the tables of a nearby open air bistro. Dig heard the chirp in his ear piece and the voice of their driver, alerting him that a fender bender just outside the company parking deck was what had slowed his arrival.
It was just as Dig was speaking quietly to acknowledge the driver's message that he felt Oliver stiffen at his side, every muscle in his body tensing as it only did when he readied himself for a fight. Dig turned toward him, hand already on his hip and reaching for his gun when he noticed that there was nothing suspicious he could discern in the surroundings -- no person or thing that seemed out of his place.
But then Dig saw the look on Oliver's face, the sheer, painful disbelief and he felt his adrenaline spike anyway. "Oliver?" he asked softly, debating with himself on whether he wanted to risk a friendly hand on Oliver's shoulder. Given his reflexes, it was a dicey proposition at the best of times, but Dig almost couldn't fight the need he had to reach out. Oliver looked as shocked as Dig had ever seen him, even if it would've hardly registered as an expression to anyone else. But he'd gone pale under his tan, and his lips were pressed tight as if he gritted his teeth behind them and his eyes were darting around like he was searching for something. "Oliver?" Dig asked again, a bit more sharply.
"What, Dig?" he asked, his voice completely even as if he weren't fighting some inner battle that only Dig could see.
"What's wrong? You look..." Dig tried to find the right word. "Something spooked you."
"I..." Oliver's eyes scanned the crowds one more time before he glanced at Dig. The signs of surprise had faded but his eyes were bright with -- something. "I just thought I saw someone I once knew, that's all."
"An old friend?" Dig asked. "Enemy?"
"Neither," Oliver said. "Or maybe both. I don't know."
Dig frowned, not liking that answer or the idea that anyone from Oliver's past could bring out that kind of reaction. "Which is it? I need to know if it's something I need to have on my radar. Maybe I need to keep a look out for him."
"It wasn't him," Oliver said. "I know that. It just -- I wasn't expecting it."
"Maybe it was," Dig said.
"No," Oliver told him. "It can't be."
"Why not?" Dig wanted to know.
"He's dead," Oliver said. When he glanced back at Dig again, the only sign that he felt anything was still trapped in his eyes. "So, no it couldn't be him."
Dig wasn't sure what to say because the last thing Oliver's mind needed to be doing to him was conjuring up different dead people for him to obsess over. "Are you sure you're all right?" Dig asked as the car finally pulled up. He took the chance to wrap an arm around Oliver's back and usher him into the back seat.
"I'm fine," he said. "What's another ghost or two these days?"
As Dig slid into the car after him, he couldn't stop himself from taking one more look around, just in case Oliver's ghosts were ones that he could see himself. If he could've, Dig would've been glad to slay them for his friend, but he had a feeling that Oliver was the only one who could. He just wasn't sure if his friend was up to it at the moment.
Oliver didn't say anything else about it once they had pulled away from the curb and Dig tried not to let it bother him but he couldn't quite shake the look he'd seen in Oliver's eyes. It had been different than the echoes of Tommy or his father that haunted Oliver, a new and different shadow to linger there, and Dig just hoped that this wouldn't turn out to be the push that he and Felicity had been dreading, the one that finally tipped Oliver Queen over the edge.
As Felicity's intel promised, Mrs. Queen was released later that week, ensconced in the lap of luxury her house afforded and confined there via an ankle monitor. With his mother able to see to much of her own interests, Oliver ended up with a little more time on his hands. Dig had hoped that Mrs. Queen's release would've helped Oliver, even a little, but there was too much distrust between Moira Queen and her children for anything to rest easily in the house. Dig almost missed the excuse that Queen Consolidated had been to escape from the oppressive tension that somehow managed to hang in every room of the enormous house.
A few days after Mrs. Queen's release, the atmosphere was actually thick enough that Dig's entreaty that Oliver come with him to check in on the club and its underground secret was met with reluctant but ultimate acquiescence. Dig drove because he wasn't sure if he trusted Oliver behind the wheel in whatever mental state he currently lived in and he also didn't want a driver hanging around. It took twice as long as it once would've, going through detour after detour in order to keep to roads that were still manageable and intact, but they finally pulled up in front of the warehouse-turned-club, its sturdy exterior mostly unharmed by the quake. It had been built for stronger stuff and its foundation had remained solid enough to keep its walls and its underbelly mostly unscathed.
Once they had picked their way down into the underground command center, Oliver's steps slowed, as if he were suddenly scared of what it would mean to step back into the Hood's lair.
"What's taking you so long?" Felicity called out from her usual seat at the computer master stations, screens already lit up and filled with lines of words that cast her lovely face in a cool, blue glow. "I'm not getting any younger!"
Dig gave Oliver a friendly push to keep him moving until he was in the middle of the space, looking around at it like he'd never seen it before. Dig and Felicity had gotten it mostly to rights, all of Ollie's things carefully rescued and tucked back in its original place. The only thing missing was his bow that Merlyn had taken, but his array of arrows were still there as was his training equipment and the chest he kept so carefully hidden from the world.
"Well?" Dig asked. "What do you think?"
"It's almost as good as new," Felicity added. "All it needs a certain, I don't know, je ne sais vigilante."
"You guys worked hard," Oliver noted. "But you didn't have to," he continued. "I told you that I'm retiring the Hood."
"We heard you," Felicity said. "We just took it for the crazy talk it was."
"Just because we didn't stop the Undertaking doesn't mean there aren't people we can help," Dig added quietly.
"I can't," Oliver said. "There's no point."
"Don't let Merlyn take this from you, too," Dig said, feeling bad even as he said by the way Oliver flinched at the sound of the name. Tommy's name.
Oliver lets his cool gaze sweep from Felicity to Dig and back. "I appreciate what you guys are trying to do, but this vigilante thing didn't work out. I should've known better than to play hero. I couldn't save anyone."
"Hey!" Felicity protested, banging the flat of her palm against the edge of the computer station. "You helped a lot of people. You saved me several times."
"You were only in danger because of me in the first place," Oliver reminded her.
"I was always a little skeptical of your mission, you know that," Dig said. "But, man, you did good out there. Don't ever think you didn't."
Oliver didn't answer. Instead he looked away, his tense shift of his shoulders screaming his discomfort with the conversation.
"Well if you don't want to be the Hood and you don't want to reopen the club, what do you want?" Felicity asked. "I know you can't really want to work for QC like your mom or Walter."
"I want to stop letting my family down," Oliver said. "Which I'm going to do by focusing on them instead of trying to stretch myself so thin that I fail everyone."
"You can't even talk to your mother," Dig pointed out.
"It'll get easier," he said. "It's not me. She blames herself."
Dig hadn't seen much evidence of that, but he had never really read Mrs. Queen well. He hadn't known Oliver's father but he couldn't help but think Oliver got his inner strength from his mother, as well as his streak of ruthlessness. And maybe, he conceded as he thought back to her press conference, his bravery as well.
"We just want to help," Felicity was saying when Dig stopped his thoughts from wandering further.
"I know," Oliver said with a small smile, weak but sincere. Dig was starting to wonder if they'd ever seen its like again. "I appreciate it. You guys are -- great. But this is something I have to figure out on my own."
"You don't even want to see my list?" Felicity asked, waving a hand at the computer. "I created you a list of possible Hood targets, ranked based on whether I thought they needed an arrow or a boot in their ass. I know both sound painful but there is a difference. It's nuanced."
Oliver's smiled broadened just a shade. "Thanks but no thanks," he said. "I'd better get back to the house."
Dig and Felicity shared a look that spoke of their failures and also their surrender. It was time they both stopped pushing and -- hopefully -- Oliver would come around on his own.
For someone who didn't have a lot of it, Dig had found himself depending more and more on hope when it came to Oliver.
Dig had almost started to believe that things were slowly improving, if only because the Queen house had started to feel a little less like a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode when he got an unexpected call from Felicity.
"What's up?" he asked.
"Dig!" Her voice was frantic and Dig immediately knew something was wrong. "I've lost Oliver!"
"What do you mean you lost him?" Dig demanded. Oliver had left the mansion to meet Felicity for a late lunch at some sushi place she loved while Dig had had to stay behind and consult with Mrs. Queen and the rest of her security staff. Understandably, she was worried about the possibility of some kind of retaliatory attack on her family after the devastation she had helped bring to the Glades.
"We were eating, okay, and he was almost normal -- well for Oliver," she said in a rush. "And one minute we were just talking and then he, like, choked on his nagiri and he looked -- I don't even know how to describe it. I asked him what was wrong and he said he needed some water and I went to track down our waiter and then he was gone."
Dig took a deep breath. "It doesn't sound like he thought he was in danger?"
"Only from taking too big of a bite of his food," she said. "But he was acting weird and now he's gone. I checked the bathroom and everything. He wouldn't just -- well he would but..."
"I know, Felicity," Dig said because he understood what she meant. It was atypical for Oliver to rush off when there was no Hood business and, if there had been danger, he wouldn't have left Felicity to fend for herself. "Why don't you head back to the office? I'll see if I can track him down."
"Maybe I should just head over to the -- you know," she said. "I can probably track him from there."
"If he hasn't ditched his phone," Dig said. "No, I'll handle this. It's actually what I get paid to do."
Felicity texted him a little later to let me know that Oliver had disabled his phone because it wasn't showing up on any of her fancy programs, which Dig had figured would be the case. Something had made Oliver decide that he needed to be alone and there was usually no dealing with him when he was in that kind of mood. Dig hit a few of the usual suspects but it took him a few hours before he actually got around to the most logical because of Oliver's newfound aversion to the Glades. But that was where he finally found his missing employer, sitting among the ruins of his club with a bottle of some dark-colored liquor that was more empty than full.
"Oliver?" Dig said to announce his presence. The electricity was on at the club to power what housed in its basement, but Oliver had thrown on some of the club's lights as well, and the neon blues and greens threw interesting slashes of color and light around the empty space, dancing across the destruction still littered about. Oliver sat at the end of the bar that had spared destruction, the dim glow of the naked bulbs above it bounced gold off his bent head.
"Dig," Oliver said, a faint slur to his words. Dig wasn't sure he had ever seen Oliver actually intoxicated since they had joined up and he felt his eyebrows rise as Ollie downed the finger of booze in his tumbler and poured himself two more.
"You scared Felicity," he pointed out as he took a seat next to Oliver, only sinking down once he trusted it would hold his weight. "She thought you were in trouble."
"I'll call and apologize," Oliver said immediately. "I just -- something happened. I needed some air."
"And a fifth of liquor?" Dig asked mildly.
Oliver gave him one of those painful winces that passed for a smile. "It helped."
"What's bothering you, man?" Dig asked. "Not in general -- right now. What's got you doing this?"
Oliver looked up, met Dig's eyes. What Dig saw was hard to look back at but he refused to flinch. "I think I may actually be going crazy," Oliver finally said.
"Why do you think that?"
"I saw that ghost again," Oliver said. Dig nodded, remembering the day when Oliver had said something similar. "And twice feels like a pattern."
"I think it takes three times for that, I think," Dig reminded him. When Oliver didn't bite, he continued. "It's just a coincidence."
"Maybe," he said. "But it's -- unsettling."
Dig thought about what to say next. "You said your friend is dead."
Oliver nodded. "A long time ago now."
"So there's just someone who looks like him moving around in your circles," Dig said. "Next time, go up and say something to him. Prove to yourself it's not your imagination."
"I thought about that," Oliver said. "He's always gone, though. Before I can."
Dig looked down at his hands, anything to have a reason to look away from Oliver's sharp profile. "I've lost a lot of friends over the years. Sometimes, it happens. You get a little crazy with grief because it hurts so much. Tommy meant a lot to you."
"But it's not Tommy I'm seeing," he said. "It's -- this someone else. Why him? Why after all these years?"
"I don't know," Dig admitted. "Maybe it's easier to think about this other friend than it is Tommy."
Oliver's bark of laughter was loud and humorless, reaching Dig's ear like jagged glass. "Easier? Yeah, okay."
Dig had never heard Oliver talk about anyone that wasn't his father that wasn't someone Dig had met during his time with Oliver -- his mother, Tommy, Thea, Walter, Laurel. He knew about Sara, as well, for all that Oliver never spoke of her. But this wasn't Sara because it was a he and yet Oliver had never mentioned that there was someone else in his past that he might've missed this much.
"Would it help if you talked about him?" Dig said. "Maybe exorcise him a little?"
Oliver picked up his glass but he didn't drink -- he just stared into its depths. "He was -- I don't even know what to say about him."
"You could start with a name?" Dig offered.
Oliver caught Dig's gaze, as if he was looking for something. "Slade," he said. "Wilson."
Dig had never heard of a Slade Wilson in any of the intelligence he had on the Queens or Oliver but he nodded anyway. "And he was your friend? Enemy? Both?"
"Let's just say our start was rocky," Oliver said with a hint of amused self-deprecation. "But we -- worked it out. He, I...we helped each other. When we could. How we could." Oliver took a drink from his glass but he didn't down it. "And then he died."
"I'm sorry," Dig said.
"I'm sure he was, too," Oliver said. "So was I."
"Do you really think you're going crazy?" Dig asked.
"Not really," Oliver said. "I'd feel better if I actually thought so. I just..."
"It's been a bad few weeks," Dig finished.
"Understatement," he said. "But agreed."
"Don't forget to call Felicity and apologize," Dig told him. "I already texted her so she knows you're okay."
"Thanks, Dig," Oliver said. "I owe you one."
Dig stood up, laying a comforting hand on Oliver's hunched shoulder. "How about we get out of here and get you home?"
"That's probably a good idea," Oliver said, slowly coming to see his feet. He didn't wobble but he might've leaned, just a little bit. Dig decided to stand close, almost shoulder to shoulder, instead of calling attention to Oliver's imbalance. But Oliver stumbled a little when he took his first step, so Dig just wrapped an arm around his shoulders and guided him out safely. "Thanks again," Oliver said once they were in the car, on the road back to the Queen mansion.
"Not a problem," Dig said. They lapsed into silence and Dig was half-sure that Oliver was asleep, head tilted against the cool glass of the car window. But then Oliver surprised him by speaking.
"I miss him," he said.
Dig wasn't sure if he meant Tommy or the recently named Slade and Dig didn't have to the heart to ask.
Oliver tried to pretend that he didn't notice the way his friends had started to look at him, the way they watched him like he was one outburst away from a straitjacket. It might've been amusing if he didn't sometimes wonder if they were right because he hadn't felt anything like in control since he'd lost Tommy. Just thinking about it was a hole in his chest, a gaping, infected wound, one that he didn't think would heal. He'd felt that way about his father, too, but five years on the island and the mission had hollowed that wound out until he was nothing but a phantom pain that acted up now and again. But there wasn't anything he could do now or in the future that could honor Tommy's memory, not with the things that Oliver had done to him. He had killed Tommy's father and lied about it to his face, even as Tommy took his last breath. There was a circle of hell reserved for people like him, Oliver figured, people who lied to dying people and let down everyone he knew.
But just because he understood Dig and Felicity's concern didn't mean Oliver didn't get tired of the constant surveillance or the hovering, or the fact that Dig always looked ready to wrestle sharp objects away from him in case Oliver turned them on himself. He wasn't suicidal or self-harming, any more than he had been when he had chosen to deal with his grief through the Hood's vigilantism. Now he just knew it was a wasted use of his time because he hadn't managed to do the one thing his father had asked him to do. It was another festering wound that Oliver would have to take to his grave.
He might've been able to deal with it all if it had just been his failures as the Hood or if it had just been about Tommy's death, something he felt like the loss of a limb. But then he was around everywhere and Oliver wasn't really sure that he wasn't a figment of his imagination that meant he was losing what was left of his mind.
Because there was no good reason that he'd start seeing Slade Wilson everywhere.
Oliver knew that Dig was right -- it was probably just some man who happened to remind him of Slade, someone he hadn't ever noticed before. Given his current emotional distraction, he was processing the resemblance in the worst way possible because it wasn't as if he really thought Slade's ghost had come back to haunt him.
Although if anyone's could, Oliver was betting on Slade's.
Slade wasn't the hollowed-out scar tissue of memory that his father had become and it wasn't the messy hole that Tommy was; he was something else all his own, an ache and a nightmare and a dream, regrets and memories and acceptance all rolled into one. Oliver had buried his father and he had watched Tommy be lowered into the ground; he had done neither with Slade but he still knew in his bones that he was dead, forever beyond Oliver's ability to reach or thank.
Oliver dreamed a lot about the island, even after he'd been back almost a year. He dreamed about Yao Fei and Shado; he dreamed about Fyers and Billy Wintergreen and all the other faceless people who had tortured him on the island. But, most of all, he dreamed about Slade, about all the time they spent together that had come to feel like forever and not enough time at all.
Most of the time they were like fever dreams, pieces and shards of their days -- the training, the fights, the eventual camaraderie and friendship. He noticed things in his dreams that he hadn't noticed then when he'd been young and scared and ill-equipped: he noticed how dream-Slade sometimes watched him from the corner of his eye with a dread on his face that said he had worried about failing Oliver as much as Oliver had worried about failing him; he saw when Slade's snappish anger was cover for his fear for Oliver or when his coldness was a way to separate himself from caring about what happened to his hapless sidekick. Slade had tried to pretend like he didn't have a heart but Oliver had known that that wasn't true when Slade missed his chance to escape on the supply plane to come save Oliver from Fyers, earning a bullet for his trouble. After that, Oliver had known that everything else was bluster, a shell Slade had built to protect him from his job because, beneath it, Slade had actually cared.
When Oliver was having a bad day -- and he had a lot of them -- he sometimes dreamed about the last time he had seen Slade. Somehow they had all three survived Fyers, only to be faced with his employer's extraction crew, who had come upon the island a few weeks after Oliver, Shado and Slade had destroyed Fyers and his base. They had watched them from afar, noting that they were more clean-up crew than cleaner crew, triaging the few mercenaries that had survived and preparing them for medical evacuation. It had been the perfect chance to hitch a ride, except they hadn't been sure how to hide Shado among the all-male crew Fyers had once led.
But then there had been a skirmish between Oliver's little group and the extraction crew and all their escape plans had practically evaporated -- except that Slade had gotten shot again, which might not have mattered had he not also hit his head so hard he had sworn there were stars. It hadn't taken but a few hours before it had become clear that he'd been close to dying. Oliver hadn't been willing to accept that, not after everything Slade had done for him.
"You'll never last a day without me, kid," Slade had rasped, half-delirious as Oliver snuck him among the wounded waiting for evacuation. He had exchanged Slade's clothing with one of the wounded mercenaries that he and Shado had dragged away from camp -- Anderson, according to his dog tags that Oliver had looped over Slade's neck.
"You keep saying that but I keep lasting," Oliver had whispered from beneath the usual black ski mask that the even the extraction team wore. "And I've got Shado."
"Don't make her do all the work," Slade had warned.
"The pilot said they're all lined up with a hospital in New Zealand," he had said. "You'll practically be home."
"Don't get comfortable," Slade had said, eyes fluttering as he lost his battle with consciousness. "Because I'll be back to get you two."
"I know you will," he'd said, mouth near Slade's ear as he shoved Slade's cot into place. He'd given himself one minute -- sixty seconds exactly -- to burn Slade's face into his memory before Oliver had disappeared back into the woods, back to where Shado had been waiting for him. And he'd never forgotten, either, how Slade had looked, the words he had said before he had finally passed out. More than that, Oliver had believed him and he'd known -- always known -- that Slade would come back for them.
When the months passed and he hadn't, Oliver had also known what that had meant -- that Slade had died. It was the only explanation.
It wasn't as if Slade was ever that far from his thoughts, but Oliver still couldn't figure out why he was now in his waking dreams instead of just in his sleeping ones. Grief made sense, he supposed, or Dig's theory about the lookalike but it felt like it was more than that. Oliver wasn't sure why, though.
After his stunt at sushi, Oliver arranged for a make-up dinner with Felicity a few days later, taking her to a Greek place he liked and promising not to disappear on her again. When she had shown up with fur-lined handcuffs that she had threatened to use on him if need be, he had known that he'd been forgiven.
"Okay, so it's like this," she said after their salads had been cleared away but before their entrees had appeared. "Me and Dig, we talk. So he told me that you were upset about a friend of yours that had died. So I'm sorry for that, for your loss." She paused, taking a long sip of water through her straw, as if the rush of words had parched her. "If you need to talk, I'm here. Just so you know."
"I appreciate the offer, but..."
"In fact," she continued, giving him a piercing look over the top of her glasses. "It might convince me of the sincerity of your apology."
"Agreeing to pay for dinner wasn't enough?" he asked.
"You paid for the sushi, too," she said. "So no."
"You're blackmailing me into sharing my feelings?" Oliver asked, amused in spite of himself.
"Think of it as mandatory therapy, which I'm sure you totally need anyway." Her face softened, though. "I just think it could help?"
Oliver had never understood how talking about certain things would make it easier to deal with but he could see that she was sincere in her desire to help and -- he didn't have a lot of friends anymore. He needed to hold on to the ones he had. "His name was Slade," he said.
"Dig said that," Felicity said. "How did you two guys meet?"
"Right place, wrong time," he said, as uncomfortable as always whenever he had to think about the island. It made him who he was but he didn't know if he could ever talk about it, not really.
"Wow, that's almost as a good as the hangover cure lie," Felicity said.
"Some things are difficult to talk about," Oliver said, covering the snap of his words with a sip from his beer.
Felicity's expression got soft again. "Sorry," she said. "Um, okay, how about...do you have a good memory you can share?"
His first thought was that there weren't many of those at all from the island but he knew it would've been a lie. There were hundreds of good minutes, seconds of his life that had given him hope and determination even when the rest of the hours were hell on earth. Slade had been part of many of those. "He...always called me kid," Oliver finally said. "It started off as an insult but it sort of became an endearment."
"Aww, that's sweet," she said. "Don't you feel better?"
"Not really," he said but he smiled a little. It hurt less to think about Slade than it did Tommy and it was a good memory, the way Slade sometimes smiled on the word to soften its sting. "I can hear it sometimes," he admitted. "The way he said it in that accent of his."
"Accent? Like a cowboy?" she asked.
"Maybe," he said. "If there are cowboys in Australia."
"There actually are," Felicity said. "Australia has a frontier historical period much like the United States. So, yes, there are totally cowboys in Australia." She blinked. "But I assume you mostly meant that as a joke and not as some invitation for me for start babbling. Sorry."
"It's fine," Oliver said. He couldn't help but wonder what Slade might've thought of Felicity if he'd met her when he'd found Oliver to be such a disconcerting mix of awkward and useful. He'd told him that once, in a quiet moment between them, and Oliver had laughed a little, which had made Slade smile in spite of himself.
It hadn't been much but it had been another collection of good minutes in a span of weeks that hadn't had many; Oliver wouldn't have admitted it but he felt a little of the ache ease inside him where Slade's memory lived, even if Tommy's was still too daunting to think about. Slade had always been a strange kind of comfort to him, back on the island, so maybe he'd be one here, too, a bittersweet regret he could use to buffer himself against the newer ones he wasn't ready to face.
That night, Oliver wasn't surprised that he dreamed of Slade, but it wasn't the fights they'd faced together or the day that Shado had made him face the fact that Slade wasn't coming back. Instead, he dreamed of those quiet moments in between, when Slade had laughed or rolled his eyes, or when he'd looked up at Oliver with frightening emotion in his eyes to whisper his thanks. And if he dreamed of other moments, too, he didn't remember them.
Felicity had always been a naturally curious individual, so asking questions -- even when they'd be considered rude and inconsiderate -- had never been a problem for her, mostly because her brain-to-mouth filter never seemed to work correctly. Working with Oliver, she'd been able to put her curiosity to a good, if unusual, use; now, working with Dig on Oliver, Felicity had learned that it was a good thing that she hadn't ever went into interviewing as a line of work.
"I suck," she declared as she swept into their underground hide-out. Dig looked up from where he'd been frowning at one of the computer screens, brow furrowed in thought. "The lamb burger was delicious, by the way, but I was able to get exactly zero out of Oliver about his mysterious dead friend and now I can't even remember why I let you talk me into it?"
"Because I don't think Oliver is going crazy," Dig said.
"Well, crazier," Felicity said before she poked a finger into the firm muscle of Dig's shoulder, prodding him to give up the seat at the center of the computers. He did so without a fuss, which was one of the many reasons she liked him. She slid into her seat and suddenly felt less like a complete failure. "Anyway, he wasn't exactly forthcoming because there are clams more chatty than our friend Ollie."
"Crazier," Dig conceded. "And I think it's weird that suddenly this guy he's never even mentioned is giving him panic attacks in public. I just feel like there's something he's not telling us."
"Because that would be different," she said. "Oh, wait."
"And I think the key is Slade Wilson." Dig sighed. "Whoever he is."
"There are more of them than you'd think," Felicity said. "But none from Starling City."
"And you didn't find out anything?" Dig asked.
"Not really," she said. "And if you think it's easy to weasel things out of Oliver, you can try next time." Her hands flews confidently over the keyboard, adding the little bit of data she'd gotten from Oliver that evening and making a few logical assumptions from them. "However, I did find out two things that can narrow our parameters. One, the guy is Australian or at least has an Australian accent. I'll include New Zealand because who knows if Oliver is good with accents? Two, Oliver said this Wilson guy called him 'kid,' so I'm going to assume he was at least older than Oliver. Definitely not younger."
When she looked up, Dig was watching her, looking -- impressed. "That's not as bad as you made out," he told her. "That was pretty damn good, actually."
She grinned at the praise. "Well, thank you, I did try."
Dig smiled back.
"It'll take a minute for this to run through again but hopefully we'll have a tighter list of suspects, so to speak." She leaned back in her chair and studied Dig. "So did you have any other reasons to think that maybe this guy is somehow important all of a sudden?"
"Just the way it's affecting Oliver," Dig said, arms crossed over his chest. "It's strange that he has this friend he's never mentioned and now he's seeing him around?"
Felicity nodded but she was less listening and more thinking, mulling over the short conversation she'd had with Oliver, with the exact ways he had talked about Slade. Most guys, she remembered thinking in the moment, didn't call nicknames from other guys "endearments." "Have you ever thought maybe..." she began, but then snapped her mouth shut. "Never mind."
"What?" Dig asked.
"No, never mind, forget I even said anything," she said. "It was a brain hiccup or something."
Dig was giving her that look, the one that reminded her that he used to kill people for a living, even if it was in service of his country. "Felicity," he said, a warning.
She sighed and prayed she wasn't making a big mistake by pointing out the obvious. "He said that the guy used 'kid' as an endearment," she began. "Have you ever thought that maybe this guy isn't just Oliver's...old friend?"
Dig's eyes widened a little. "You think Slade might be an old boyfriend?"
"It's just a feeling," she shrugged. She pinned Dig with a look. "That wouldn't be problem, would it?"
He rolled his eyes. "Of course not, Felicity. Jesus."
"Just checking," she said. "It might explain why he's so secretive about it."
"It might," Dig said. "I just never thought about it. He's always seemed so hung up on Laurel."
"And Helena. And McKenna," Felicity reminded him. "Clearly, I don't have the right a sound at the end of my name. If I were interested. Which I'm not."
The computer beeped, saving Felicity from having to look at Dig after that little brain hiccup. Seriously, she needed to work on the brain-to-mouth filter. She checked over her results and frowned. "And now we have....no one who meets our collection of parameters. Great. That's not helpful at all." She looked up, planning to continue to commiserate with Dig on their newest informational roadblock when she noticed a strange look on his face. It was the kind that said he'd been struck by enlightenment and she desperately needed him to share. "What?" she demanded.
"Have you been searching for only dead Slade Wilsons?" he asked.
"Yeah," she said. "Because he's dead."
"Can you remove that and search again?" Dig asked.
"Yes, but why?" she asked, even as her fingers obeyed.
"Just humor me," he said. "Let me know what you find."
Felicity shook her head, wondering what was going on in Dig's mind that made him want to remove the one parameter that they were fairly certain of, but she did it anyway. They sat in silence for another minute or two until the computer beeped again, signaling the completion of its set task. They both jumped a little before Felicity leaned in to read the screen. "Well, I'll be damned," she said.
Dig was suddenly there, hunched down to read over his shoulder. "One result," he said with satisfaction. "Slade Wilson, Australian national."
"But he's alive," Felicity said.
"Exactly," Dig said.
"But you think this is Oliver's Slade?" Felicity asked.
Dig nodded. "See what you can find out about him," he said.
Felicity did, fingers flying over the keyboard as she pulled up what she could. Quickly she found a photo of him and she pulled it up on one of her screens, studying it while she waited for other results to trickle in. "He's...hot," Felicity declared out loud, although it probably wasn't the kind of thing Dig actually cared about; still, it was a fact. He wasn't the same kind of attractive that Oliver was -- Felicity would have to be blind not to admire how good Oliver looked -- but Slade Wilson wasn't hurting in the looks department. Where Oliver was lean and had the fair boyish good looks that made him model handsome, Slade Wilson was dark and he looked like he should've been gladiator somewhere or carved out of marble in some old Roman temple. Rugged, she decided. Chiseled. And, if the shoulders in the shot were any indication, built sturdy enough that he might've even give Oliver a run for his money.
"Another roadblock," she told Dig when she saw the warning flash up on her screen. "Apparently Wilson isn't just Australian, he's with the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and they don't take kindly to me looking for information on him."
"Is that really going to stop you?" Dig asked.
She grinned. "Well it'll slow me down," she admitted. "I've never hacked into a foreign country's secret database before."
"That's my girl," Dig said with a grin of his own, giving her a quick pat on the shoulder.
"But this guy seems to be alive, Dig," she pointed out. "If this is Oliver's Slade, why is he so certain that he's dead? And how does a former rich playboy hook up with someone from Australian intelligence?"
"I have a few ideas," Dig admitted. "But I don't have any proof. I'm starting to think that maybe this is someone Oliver knew from the island."
"He's told you about it?" Felicity asked.
Dig shook his head. "Not much. But I know there were other people there, at one time or another. Maybe this guy."
"It still doesn't explain why Oliver would think he was dead if he's not," Felicity told him.
"But him not being dead might explain why Oliver thinks he keeps seeing him," Dig said. "Maybe he is."
"So you think he's in Starling City. After Oliver?" Felicity felt a little chill of fear run down her spine at the thought. Oliver's voice had been full of -- fondness when he'd spoken about Slade. She hated to think he was in for another betrayal.
"I don't know, but it's a theory."
"Are you going to tell Oliver?" Felicity asked.
"Not until I have more to go on," Dig admitted. "He's been through enough lately."
"Yeah," Felicity agreed.
She felt Dig's hand on her shoulder, giving her another friendly squeeze. He looked as if he were about to say something else but his phone chirped from his pocket. "I have to go," he said. "I have to check on Oliver. Are you good?"
"I'm good," she said. "I'll call you if I get anything."
After Dig was gone, Felicity stared at the photo of Slade she still had up on the screen. "You better not be trying to hurt him," she told it, trying to see if there was some hint of the man who deserved Oliver's loyalty in that handsome face. "Hot or not, we'll take you down."
Then, she got down to work.
Dig hadn't had any doubts that Felicity could do anything she put her mind to, so he wasn't surprised that she had a few answers for him the next day.
"So, here's the thing," she said. "This Slade Wilson is definitely not dead."
"I figured that already, Felicity," Dig told her as he sat down in the empty chair in her office.
"And your theory was that he was on the island, maybe? And I think you may be right." Felicity tapped the screen of her tablet a few times, then presented it to Dig. "That's his medical records," she explained. "He was off the radar completely for three years, doing very classified things I assume, and then he popped up here, abandoned as a John Doe in some hospital in New Zealand. Eventually he regained consciousness and they shipped him back to his homeland."
Dig looked at the file and quickly did the math. "That was about a year after Oliver was lost on the island," he pointed out.
"Yup," Felicity nodded. "So if he was on the island with Oliver, he left him there and never went back."
Dig thought about what it meant if that was indeed what had happened, if this Slade Wilson had somehow made it off the island and had failed to do anything to help save Oliver over the next five years. Just the thought made his blood boil, especially when he remembered the shadows in Oliver's eyes when he'd talked about him. He carefully laid Felicity's tablet on the desk between them so he didn't crush it in his hands. "Still doesn't explain why Oliver thinks he's dead when he's not."
"Maybe Oliver figured he had to be dead not to send back help," Felicity suggested. "Because that's just polite."
Dig nodded. "Did you get anything else on him?" he wanted to know.
Felicity leaned over so she could tap on her tablet a few more times. "Not much," she admitted. "But enough."
Dig scanned the rest of the information she had pulled up, but he didn't find anything spectacular in the details. Slade Wilson, Australian, divorced; a veteran of over ten years in his country's intelligence agency. There was nothing that pointed to another place he might've met Oliver Queen that wasn't on that island that had burned away so much of Oliver's soul.
This Slade, Dig wondered, how big of a part had he played in that as well?
He finally handed the tablet back to Felicity with a sigh. She took it and cleared away the files with another swipe of her finger. "So what's our next step, boss?"
"Boss?" he asked.
"Well, Oliver's not up to it, so it falls to his second in command." She waved a hand at him. "Start commanding."
"If we're right and he's not really dead," Dig began slowly, after a moment. "The most logical reason that Oliver is suddenly seeing him everywhere is that he's actually here in Starling City."
"I thought of that," Felicity said. "But no one using this guy's name has flown into Starling City in the past month."
Dig might've looked frustrated but there was a certain gleam in Felicity's eyes. "But?"
"But," she grinned. "Someone using a mostly declassified alias of his did. I'm trying to tap into the airport security cameras now to get some confirmation that it's this Wilson guy."
"When will you have it?" he asked.
"Three o'clock?" she said. "That's if I finish my other stuff, too."
"I'm glad you're on our team," Dig told her. "In case I don't say that enough."
"Compliments are always welcome," she told him before her smile faded a little. "If this guy did this to Oliver, you're going to hurt him, right?"
"Yeah," Dig admitted after a moment. "I am."
"Good," Felicity said. "Punch him once for me."
"You get that confirmation and I will," Dig vowed.
Later that day -- before three o'clock -- he received a series of texts from Felicity. The first one was just, "IT'S HIM," while the second one was an address for a moderately priced hotel within a brisk walking distance to Queen Consolidated, followed by another text that said, "This is where his credit card says he's staying."
Dig texted back confirmation that he had received them. Then, he began to plan.
He was actually lucky that Oliver was so far out of it at the moment, or else he would've noticed how distracted Dig was. But he was too insulated in his renewed grief to care if Dig spent most of the afternoon fiddling with his phone and gazing out of windows, and Oliver was probably just glad that Dig was leaving him alone when Dig cut out early in the evening.
"Go, have fun," Oliver had said. "I'll be fine."
Dig couldn't help but wonder exactly how Oliver had come to define the word "fine."
It wasn't hard for Dig to blend in to the crowds in the hotel's lobby, keep himself looking busy until he spotted the man from Felicity's photographs. It was him, Slade Wilson, although he looked a little older, a little wearier. Dig watched as Wilson came in from the street and seemed to quickly check the lobby, as if searching for invisible enemies. Even dressed in casual clothing -- jeans, dark shirt, leather jacket -- Dig could see that he moved like a warrior, like a soldier, like someone who could take someone down without a thought. It was more than just the training because Dig had that in spades -- it was a certain look in his eyes that promised violence, like it lived in his soul. Dig didn't want to think about how much it reminded him of what he often saw in the Hood's eyes.
When Wilson made for the elevator, Dig followed behind him, far enough away as to not attract attention. As soon as Wilson had stepped inside, though, and the elevator had started its ascent, Dig made sure to watch as the numbers ticked upward. He was surprised when the elevator didn't stop on Slade's floor -- the 12th -- but kept going, up and up, past the penthouses without a stop. Only when it reached the Roof Access level did it finally pause long enough for someone to disembark.
Dig knew a challenge when he saw it.
He took a deep breath, made sure his gun was where it was supposed to be, ready for action in his shoulder holster, before he took the next available ride up to the roof. He didn't pretend that it wasn't the smartest thing he'd ever done, but it was something he knew had to do, if not for himself, then at least for Oliver.
"I noticed you were watching me when I came in," a rough, accented voice said as soon as Dig stepped on the roof and Dig turned in its direction, hand already on his gun. The speaker was half-hidden in the shadows of the air conditioning equipment on the roof but he stepped out into the light as he continued. "And then I recognized you." It was Wilson, his face a hard mask. "You're the one that's always around with Oliver Queen."
"Funny, I was going to say that you're the one that's always around stalking him," Dig shot back.
"It's hardly stalking."
"What else should I call it, Mr. Wilson?" Dig asked. Wilson didn't answer, just looked away. Dig didn't risk a similar action. "Leave Oliver Queen alone."
"We have some unfinished business, him and me," Wilson said. "When that's settled, maybe."
Dig had the advantage of height but Wilson had the build of a fighter; he wasn't sure he wanted to see what would happen if it came to blows or worse. "I don't think he wants anything to do with you."
"You've asked him, then?" Wilson said, his voice heavy with doubt.
"Let's just say I'm pretty sure," Dig said. "He doesn't need any reminders of the island. You included."
Wilson's face turned dark, ugly, eyes cold. "What do you know about the island?"
"Enough," Dig said. "But whatever business you think you have with Oliver? Reconsider it."
"So that's what you are? His guard dog?" Wilson laughed but it wasn't a nice sound. "Makes you wonder why Queen thinks he needs one."
"Because psychos like you come out of the woodwork," Dig said. "I'm not asking -- I'm telling. Leave Starling City."
Wilson took several steps toward and Dig stood his ground, ready for whatever Wilson tried. But the other man didn't do anything but circle around him, heading toward the door that led to the elevators. "Tell your boss I'll be in touch," he said. "I'd like to...catch up on old times."
They eyed each other warily once Slade had reached the door, a dark glare at Dig before he finally risked turning his back long enough to disappear into the corridor. Long after the door closed on him, Dig remembered the steel in his eyes.
Once he was finally alone, Dig let the tension bleed from his shoulders, although it was replaced by a heavy weight in the pit of his stomach. He and Felicity had been right and, for once, it was Oliver had been mistaken. The so-called friend he missed wasn't any more dead than Dig was, even if Oliver thought otherwise. And he'd come to town because he wanted something -- something he thought Oliver could give him. Dig couldn't imagine what it could be.
He did know, though, that he couldn't keep Oliver in the dark any longer. If something was about to break in Wilson's pattern, he might be planning on taking his demands to Oliver now that Dig had tipped his hand.
With a sigh, Dig pushed the button and waited for the elevator to arrive, so he could head back to the Queen mansion. As much as Oliver wasn't ready for it, it was time for the two of them to have a very uncomfortable conversation.
Oliver was enjoying his quiet evening without Dig's well-meaning but unnecessary concern when he heard Thea coming down the stairs toward the sitting room where Oliver was trying to concentrate on the book he was reading.
"Oooh, this is the way to spend a Friday night," she said as she poked her head into the room. "Not."
"I assume that means you have plans?" he asked wryly.
She nodded. "Going out to meet Roy," she said. "Don't wait up."
"You know, just because he pitched in during the earthquake doesn't mean I actually like him," Oliver called after her, although his bite was mostly bark. He wasn't sure if Roy Harper was good enough for his sister but he'd been the one thing that had made her smile since Tommy's death, so he was willing to cut the kid some slack.
A moment later, he heard the clack of Thea's heels returning. "I thought you had plans," he said, looking up again.
"Yeah, I just didn't know you did," Thea shot back with a smirk. "Nerdy blonde is asking for you at the door. That's a type for you?"
Oliver frowned, knowing there was only one "nerdy blonde" who'd come looking for him. "Felicity?"
A moment later, Felicity appeared from behind Thea, hugging her tablet to her chest like it might've been a teddy bear. "Yeah, hi, I figured Dig could use the..." she trailed off, looking around. Her eyes were wide, slightly owlish behind her glasses as her mouth made an "o" of surprise. "Oh, no Dig."
Thea shot Felicity a look and shook her head. "Later," she said before she disappeared, the front door slamming behind her.
"No, Dig's not here," Oliver said. "He left several hours ago."
"I know," Felicity said, still clutching her tablet. "But he's on his way back. There's something we need to talk about."
Oliver felt his eyebrows climb. "There is?" he asked.
"There is," another voice answered -- Dig's -- coming up behind Felicity as he entered from the hall. He glanced at her. "What are you doing here?"
She shrugged. "I didn't think you should have to do this alone," she said.
Oliver took in the strange tension between them. "If you've come to tell me you two are dating, I'm happy for you," he said. "This drama wasn't necessary."
Dig just shook his head but Felicity flushed red to the roots of her hair. It was cute. "No, no, god, no, nothing like that," she said in a rush. "Not that's Dig's not, you know, attractive and everything, but..." She closed her eyes. "I should've thought better of this, shouldn't I?"
Dig gave her a pat on the shoulder. "Don't worry about it," he said, before he turned to Oliver, expression flinty. "I had Felicity do some research into your friend," he said. "Your friend, Slade Wilson, I mean."
Oliver felt a chill settle into his bones and temper, from somewhere, flare into life. But it was a cold fury, ice at the pit of his stomach, a kind of betrayal that didn't even make sense. It wasn't like Dig or Felicity could find anything that would actually give them insight into the real Slade or what he'd meant to Oliver. "Why would you do that?" he finally asked.
"Because it was bothering you," Dig said and Oliver knew it was the truth. "Because you thought you were imagining him everywhere. I wanted to see if I could find some explanation."
"There's no explanation to be had," he said. "It's just -- stress, maybe. It'll pass."
"You knew him from the island, didn't you?" Dig pressed. "Where else would you have found a chance to meet someone in Australian Special Forces?"
"Why all this interest?" Oliver asked with a sigh. "But, yes, I knew him from the island."
"Friend? Enemy? Both?" Dig asked softly.
"Friend," Oliver said. "And then he died."
Dig's eyes were startlingly remorseful for something that didn't have anything to do with him. But then he spoke, "That's just it. He didn't."
"What are you talking about?"
"Your friend's not dead, Oliver," Felicity said, even as if she exchanged an uneasy glance with Dig. "He's alive."
"Slade died -- years ago," he said. "I don't know what you think..."
Felicity slid her fingers furiously across the front of her tablet before she spun it around to face Oliver, stopping his words in their tracks as he forced himself to look at what she was showing him. It was a photograph of Slade, at what look like the local airport, time stamped for a little over a week ago. "He's not dead," she said again.
Oliver found himself taking the tablet from her hands, staring down at the photograph. It was definitely Slade and he was definitely older than he'd been on the island, but it was strange to see him dressed in something other than his fatigues. The hair was a little longer, the lines in his face a little deeper but it was Slade.
Slade, there, in Starling City.
"Why did you think he was dead?" Dig asked. "Did you see something or...?"
Oliver looked away from the blurry screen grab, handing the tablet back to Felicity. "No, he was injured," Oliver said, clearing his throat at the sudden onset of emotion. He wasn't sure what emotion it was but it swamped him. "Head injury. We snuck him onboard a ship, but we couldn't risk it for ourselves. When he didn't come back or send help, I just assumed..."
"That he'd died," Dig finished. "I'm sorry, Oliver."
"What really happened to him?" he asked.
"He ended up in a hospital in New Zealand," Felicity answered. "He was there a few weeks before they shipped him home. He was off the duty roster for a couple months and then he wasn't."
"Life just went on," Oliver mused. That emotion was slowly forming itself into something coherent, something raw and angry and betrayed. "For him, anyway." He couldn't stand the sympathy in his friends' eyes, so he turned away, staring blindly out at the darkened grounds of the Queen estate. For years, he had mourned Slade's death, first on the island and then back in the real world, wondering what had happened to him, his body. Had the extraction team discovered him before they'd reached the hospital and tossed him off the ship? Had he died from his injuries before they'd even made it there, buried somewhere under the name Anderson? Or had he lasted long enough to reach home, to see his son and whatever family he had that he rarely mentioned? He'd most certainly done the third, Oliver knew now, but he hadn't kept his promise to send someone back for them. For him.
"And he's here in Starling City?" Oliver asked.
"Yeah," Dig said.
"What does he want?" he wondered aloud. "And why come now?"
"He said he had unfinished business with you," Dig told him.
Oliver turned sharply. "Said?" he repeated. "You talked to him?"
Dig lifted his chin. "I had to be sure it was him before I hit you with this, man. I tracked him to his hotel tonight." He scrubbed a hand over his hand. "He's good, Oliver. He made me almost instantly."
"Yeah, he was always good," Oliver admitted.
"Hey but at least you aren't crazy," Felicity said. "You have been seeing him around." She paused. "Although I guess that doesn't help the fact that he's a bastard of epic proportions. Sorry."
Oliver tried to smile a little, tried to ease the anxiety on Felicity's face. "You don't have to apologize. It's not your fault." He glanced at Dig who stood almost at attention, spine ramrod straight, tense as he watched Oliver. "You either, Dig. Thanks."
Both of his friends seem to relax a little when it was clear that Oliver wasn't blaming them for their intrusion into his past. "I mean, maybe he's not?" Felicity ventured. "A bastard, I mean. Maybe there's a reason he could never send help or something."
"For four years?" Dig asked her sharply. "Four years of Oliver being stuck on that island?"
"I know," she said sadly. "But..."
Oliver knew what Felicity meant. As much as the evidence seemed to imply otherwise, Oliver would love for some reason, any reason, not to be consumed by his anger, some way that he could focus on the relief that Slade was alive instead of the pain of knowing that he hadn't thought twice about Oliver once he'd been safe. Don't get comfortable, he had said. I'll be back to get you two. Oliver had believed that lie with all his heart.
"Did he say anything else?" Oliver asked Dig.
Dig shook his head. "Just the thing about unfinished business," he told him. "I wanted to tell you as soon as I could but I didn't want you to be surprised if he showed up out of the blue."
"He won't get the chance," Oliver said grimly. He looked between his two friends. "You guys are good to head home, right?"
"Why?" Felicity asked. "What are you doing to do?"
"I'm going to pay Slade a visit," he said. "See if we can't clear a few things up."
"Should you go alone?" Dig asked.
"I won't be alone," he told him. "I'm taking the Hood with me."
He slipped past them, headed toward the garage where his motorcycle waited. "It looks like you two will get your wish, after all."
It felt strange to slip into the Hood gear after weeks away from it, but Oliver could admit it also felt right where nothing had since Tommy's death. As much as he'd failed the people of the Glades, failed his city, he missed doing the good he'd done while wearing the Hood. Maybe he'd been hasty to give it up.
His hands were steady as he applied the dark make-up around his eyes, as he picked up his new bow and tested its strength. Felicity had found the spec on his computer and ordered it to replace the one Merlyn had destroyed and it was perfect, just like its predecessor had been. Once he'd made sure his quiver was full, Oliver had headed off to the hotel where Dig had had his confrontation with Slade, slipping through the shadows as he'd learned to do, first on the island and then back in the city, becoming one with the darkness that hid him from prying eyes. He tried not to think about how much of his soul was just as dark and this was another betrayal that killed the little of something else he still had beating inside him.
Oliver didn't want to take the chance of confronting Slade in his hotel room -- the rooms were too quiet, too close, even in the nicer hotels. Instead, he paid a maid to deliver a note to Slade's room and went to wait up on the roof for Slade to show himself. He didn't have to wait long before he heard the sound of the roof access door opening.
It was a punch to the gut to actually see him, see that Slade was alive and well. He almost looked alien outside of the parameters set upon him in Oliver's memories -- the island's greenery or the wreckage of the plane, outside of his fatigues. The man dressed in slacks and a sweater, face almost clean-shaven except for a hint of shadow -- he looked far too civilized, too normal to be the Slade Wilson that Oliver had known so well.
But then he spoke and his voice convinced Oliver where maybe nothing else could. No one could sound so much like Slade and not be him. "It's a game of cat and mouse, then?" Slade called out, looking around the darkened roof. "Or are you coming out, whoever you are?"
Oliver tugged the hood of his jacket down, made sure it cast his face in shadow before stepping out, arrow nocked and ready. "Slade Wilson."
Slade turned sharply toward Oliver's voice, his entire body tense, ready to spring to action. There had been a time when Oliver wouldn't have had a chance in any kind of confrontation with Slade, but he'd learned a few things on the island. "Well, well," Slade drawled. "If it isn't Starling City's vigilante. This is a surprise."
"What are you doing in my city?" Oliver asked, glad that his voice was disguised. He hoped the distorter hid the slight tremble in his words.
"I've come to see a man about an island," Slade said. "I'm looking for answers. Not that it's your particular business."
"Everything in my city is my business," Oliver replied. He stepped a little closer, but not much, bow and arrow still at the ready. "Even Oliver Queen."
Slade took a step closer and Oliver compensated, one careful step after another, until they were almost circling at they talked. "Queen's the only one who can answer my questions."
"Maybe you don't deserve answers," Oliver pointed out.
"Maybe not," Slade agreed, surprising him. "But I need them and I'm not leaving here until I get them. No matter how much muscle Queen sends my way to stop me."
"He's not eager to talk to you since from what I hear you left him to rot on that island," Oliver gritted out. "Why should he do anything for you after that?"
Slade paused in their slow dance, cocking his head to the side as he considered Oliver, dark eyes boring into him even with the hood to act as a shield. He knew that look on Slade, the look of calculation, of conclusion being made. He watched the Slade's mouth tightened at the corner, right along a thin line of scar tissue also hidden in the shadow of a beard on his cheek. "I don't know that he should," Slade said, startling Oliver again with the sudden lack of heat in his tone. "But I need him to and I'm hoping that'll be reason enough."
It shouldn't have been, not considering how Slade had left him and Shado to die on the island, but there was part of Oliver that couldn't forget that Slade had missed that first chance on the supply ship for Oliver, had once swore that the two of them were going to live to get off the island. He slowly let his bow fall to his side, even if he didn't let his guard down any further. "You'll have to answer his questions, first," he warned.
"I'm not sure I can," Slade said.
"That's not the attitude to have," Oliver told him. "You could at least be a little cooperative if you want something in return."
"I don't know anything worth telling Oliver Queen," Slade said. "Not if it's about that time of my life."
"Try again," Oliver said, tempted to take aim once more. "Because he wants to know why you left him on the island, why you didn't send help."
"Because I didn't remember," Slade said, words rough like a confession.
"You mean you just forgot about him?"
"No," Slade growled out. "I mean, I didn't remember him at all."
Oliver almost argued it was the same thing he'd just said but he listened to the steel in Slade's voice, noticed the nuance in it. There was an ache beneath the gruff rumble and that was the key to what he'd said. Oliver let it roll around in his head for a few seconds. "Are you saying...?"
"The reason I can't tell Oliver Queen anything about those years I spent on the island is that I don't remember them," Slade said. "So if that's his price for answering my questions? I guess we'll both just have to live in the dark."
"You can't be serious," Oliver said, his mind racing with the implications. It had to be trick -- didn't it? But it also made sense, he decided. It made more sense than Slade just forgetting about them -- or at least Oliver told himself it was sense and not his emotions that were talking. "You, what? Have amnesia?"
A sharp, quick nod was his answer. "Apparently I took quite a knock to my head," he said with a kind of morbid amusement in his voice. "Wiped out everything for those last few years. I was hoping that he could fill in the gaps."
"So how did you even know to come to Queen?" Oliver demanded. "If you've forgotten everything?"
"There are pieces that come back now and then, that don't make any sense," he said. "They started when I first saw Oliver Queen on TV after his rescue. It took me a few months to decide that needing to know was worth the trip up here."
Oliver wanted to believe it. He wanted to believe that it had been a horrible medical condition, the same blow that had almost killed Slade, that had taken his chance of rescue away and not his friend's betrayal. But he couldn't trust himself in the moment because he knew he wasn't thinking clearly. "I'll pass it on to Queen," he said. "But if you try to make contact without his explicit permission. I'll come after you."
Slade smirked. "I'd like to see you try, kid."
Oliver wasn't sure what to make of the nickname but he knew one thing: he needed to get away from Slade as quickly as possible. He disappeared into the shadows, leaving Slade standing all alone on the roof, a dim figure against the bright night sky.
Slade had heard people describe a lot of things as hell but he'd decided that not knowing was actually the closest he'd come. Even after horrific missions, dozens of life-threatening injuries and more blood spilt than he wanted to think about, waking up with years of his life just gone was the worst thing he had ever lived through.
It had been on a mission, they'd told him that much once he'd gotten home, back to his handlers. A mission to some god-forsaken island to extract some asset and the whole thing had gone south, apparently, because the asset was gone, Slade had been missing for years and his partner hadn't ever been heard from again. When he'd learned that he'd lost Billy and didn't remember what had happened to him, he had tried to convince his handlers to launch a rescue mission, but they had said that surveillance had shown a massive explosion not long before Slade had surfaced; they had assumed that Billy had been lost in the blast and hadn't been willing to revisit a failed mission. That had left Slade with nothing but the blank spot of retrograde amnesia in his memory, a hole that would never be filled.
Or so he'd thought, until the dreams had started.
They'd never been very clear dreams and he'd only guessed that they might've been related to his lost memories. Sometimes, he was fighting with Billy who still wore their mission mask; in others he was fighting a stream of masked opponents, all in black, faceless and relentless. They weren't even different from some of the nebulous things that had woken him up in the past, but they'd had a certain flavor to them, a certain deja vu that had made think they were more than just random images his subconscious used to bring form to his fears. There had also been the fact that several of the dreams had featured a man he'd never seen before, one that had made Slade feel things that hadn't made sense. At least not until he put a name to the face when he'd seen the first report on the television announcing that Oliver Queen had been rescued after five years on an uninhabited island in the North China Sea.
After that, the dreams had come a little more solidly, a little more focused on this apparent young playboy who might've been on the island with him, snatches of conversation and fights and moments, none of which had ever made more sense than they had before. It had taken months for Slade to decide that whatever going on in his head was worth tracking down Queen, was worth trying to sort out all the strange things that happened in his dreams when Queen appeared in them. But he had and he'd come to Starling City to find him, only to hesitate so close to his goal, wondering if perhaps he'd been wrong that not knowing was hell -- perhaps finding out what he didn't remember would be worse.
But then Queen's guard dog had come snapping at him, followed by the city's vigilante and Slade was too deep to wait anymore. He was going to get the answers he'd come for, whether Queen wanted to give them up or not and some maniac toting a bow wasn't going to stop him. Slade didn't doubt he could take "the Hood" coming and going. Luckily, he didn't have to find out because he received word from Queen that he'd meet with him.
Unlike the rather ominous note that the Hood had had slipped beneath his door, this message came over the phone from the front desk of his hotel, letting him know he had an appointment with Mr. Queen that evening. The tactical part of Slade's mind rebelled about meeting out at the Queen mansion, where he'd be at a disadvantage, but he'd figured he wasn't in a position to argue, not if he wanted the answers he'd come for.
The mansion was dark and foreboding as he stepped up to the front door, suspiciously devoid of security. He wondered if Queen had cleared the way for him somehow. When he raised his hand to knock, the door was pulled open and he was face to face with the man from his dreams, the one he'd been watching from afar since he'd set foot in America.
"Slade," Queen said with a nod.
"Queen," Slade said.
It was clearly the man from his half-memories, even if he no longer looked like whoever Slade had known those years before. The hair was the biggest difference, cut short where it had been long enough to curl around his face once upon a time. But he was leaner, too, than Slade's dreams recalled, and older, of course, the way anyone would be after a span of years had passed.
Queen motioned to come inside and Slade did, taking a quick look around at the manor as he followed his host toward a spacious sitting room. Again, he noticed a lack of any one other than themselves. "No guard dogs tonight?" Slade asked. "You seem to have quite a few."
"I figured this might be a conversation we'd prefer to have in private," Queen said.
"So we're all alone in this great big place?" Slade asked, tone dubious.
"My sister is out for the evening and my mother prefers to stay in her rooms," Queen said. "So, functionally, yes."
"I read about that," he said. "Your mother's problems."
He gave a tight nod. Queen's hands were clenched into fists at his sides and everything about him spoke of tension. It made Slade relax a little. "That's not really what we've come to talk about, though, is it?"
"No," Slade agreed, crossing his arms. "It's not."
They stared at each other for a long moment and Slade couldn't begin to figure out what he saw looking back at him out of Queen's face. The man tried to wear a blank mask but his eyes didn't hide things nearly as well. Even so, he couldn't tell what it was Queen was trying to hide, only that he was.
It was Queen who looked away and finally spoke. "I -- the Hood told me that you don't remember anything," he said. "That you wanted to ask me about the island."
"You were there, then?" Slade asked. "With me."
Queen nodded. "For about a year before you escaped."
"And you know how I did?" he asked.
"We -- I snuck you on a ship," Queen said. "You'd hit your head." There was a ghost of a smile as he added, "I just hadn't realized how hard."
Slade frowned. "Why did you stay behind?" he wanted to know. "That didn't seem very smart."
"It was too dangerous for us to all try to sneak on." A muscle ticked in Queen's jaw. "I had to make a choice."
Slade recalled the endless supply of masked attackers from his dreams. "You were stuck there for another four years."
"I hadn't expected you not to remember," Queen said. "You promised -- you said you'd send someone back. But then you didn't."
"I wanted to go back to look for my partner," Slade said. "But I didn't know where I'd been and my superiors said no."
"Wintergreen was already dead," Slade said. "You wouldn't have been able to save him."
Something about the way Queen looked away when he said Billy's name told Slade that his dreams of fighting and cursing his old friend weren't just dreams. "I killed him, didn't I? Were you there?"
Queen nodded again. "He'd been trying to kill us."
Slade hadn't been offered a seat but he took one now, sinking into the plush lines of a chair. "I was scared you'd say that."
"That's something you remember?" Queen asked.
"I remember bits and pieces of a lot of things," Slade admitted. "I've dreamed about it. Killing Billy." Saying it was difficult because they had been friends for years; Billy had been his son's godfather. Whatever had happened to make him do it, it was still a pain inside him that he had.
Slade almost jumped when he felt the slight pressure of Queen's hand on his shoulder. "He betrayed you, Slade," Queen told him. "There were -- very bad men on that island and he turned on you for them, let them torture you for a year before we met. Don't feel bad."
"Don't worry, kid, I can deal with it," he said, shaking off the touch. "Or anything else you have to tell me from back then."
Queen actually looked hurt when he stepped away. "There's not much to tell except that we were stuck there and there were mercenaries trying to kill us."
Slade let out a dry laugh. "That sounds like quite a bit."
Queen shrugged. "What do you remember exactly?"
Slade looked at his companion, watching as the two different Queens in his head came together to one. "I remember fighting and running and pain," Slade eventually said. "More fighting. Anger that I was there." He closed his eyes for a moment, dredging up all those dreams he'd tried to ignore. He opened them, catching Queen's pale blue gaze. "I remember you."
"Yeah?" Queen said. "You said it happened after you saw me on TV."
"Before, too, but it helped. I had hoped seeing you in person would help some more."
"Has it?" Queen asked.
Slade shook his head, coming back to his feet. It felt too much like vulnerability to be sitting while Queen stood. "I remember a few things more clearly, but nothing makes more sense. That's been disappointing."
Queen had turned away, looking out the windows at what Slade assumed was nothing. "What do you remember about me?"
"I remember arguing with you," Slade said immediately, even as he tried to decide how to explain everything else. There was so much of what he dreamed about Queen that he didn't even understand himself. It was hard to think of putting it into words. He watched the still figure in front of him, taking in the broad line of the shoulders, still tense beneath the fine fabric of his shirt. "Fighting with you. Training?" he asked and he saw a quick movement of Queen's head that might've indicated a yes. "Nights, sometimes a fire. Mostly, I just remember you."
Queen turned back to look at him, his eyes still trying to say something he wouldn't let his face say. "That's not very specific."
"They're mostly dreams," Slade said. "I didn't even know you were real until a few months ago and I'd been dreaming you ever since I woke up."
"So I was literally the man of your dreams, huh?" Queen asked with something like a genuine upward tick of his mouth. Slade hadn't noticed that he'd moved a little closer until that moment, his gaze drawn to the small smile Queen delivered his words with. "That had to be confusing."
"You have no idea, kid," Slade said, responding with a smile of his own. He didn't know why but there was something, a warm weight, that settled in his chest at seeing Queen smile, at seeing something other than flint flash in the boy's eyes.
"I don't know if you remember," Queen began slowly, "But you always called me that."
"Kid?" Slade thought about the younger, rounder face from his dream-memories. "I can see it."
Queen took another step closer. "Are you sure that's all you remember?" he asked. "Fighting, training?" His eyes flicked over Slade, assessing. It was a look that Slade didn't quite remember from his dreams but it made his pulse beat faster, like the best shot of adrenaline to his system. "Nothing else?"
There had been something else, that had only made sense when he'd thought Queen had been some specter his mind had cooked up, instead of half-memories from a time he'd never remember clearly. "Like what?"
"I don't know, I was just asking," Queen said, standing just that much closer. "I...I thought you were dead, you know. That that was why you didn't send help. But you weren't."
"No," he agreed. "Although just as useful as if I had been."
"I'm glad you aren't," Queen said and it was another glimmer of emotion from behind his cool facade. "I always wondered and wished...it hurt to think that you were dead."
"I wish I could say the same but I can't," Slade said.
"But you dreamed about me."
"I dreamed of you, too," Queen admitted, voice hushed, like something louder would break the spell of the moment. Slade wasn't sure a sledge hammer could, not with the way he felt drawn closer to the heat of Queen's body, fascinated by the sweep of eyelashes that reminded him of the soft-eyed boy of his dreams. "But maybe for different reasons."
"Maybe not," Slade said.
Then Queen's hand was pressing against his collarbone, a light touch like he needed it to tell himself that Slade was really there, but it was hot like a brand, burning through to Slade's skin like there weren’t layers of fabric between.
"Queen," Slade breathed, not even sure what he was going to say.
Queen's other hand came up, fingers curled around his neck. "Given what I'm about to do," he said. "You should probably call me Oliver."
Slade might've had something to say to that, except that Queen -- Oliver -- had closed the space between them and kissed him.
Slade was surprised when he first felt Oliver's mouth against his, but he would've been lying if he'd said he was shocked because it had been there between them, shimmering ever since he'd walked through the door. It had been there before, in Slade's head, in the haziest of his dream-memories, quick snatches of feelings and flashes that he still wasn't sure were true memory and not barely remembered fantasy. He was even less surprised with his own instinctual reaction which was for his hands to find Oliver's hips and drag him closer as he licked into the soft mouth pressed against his, tongue and teeth demanding entrance.
Oliver didn't seem to mind, moaning into Slade's mouth as he opened up, letting Slade steal control of the heated kiss even though Oliver had been the one to start it. His one hand slid up to join the other where it wrapped around Slade's neck, holding on, refusing to let Slade pull away even if it had been on his mind when he had a dream come true on his hands, Oliver's hard, lithe body against his, mouths sliding together over and over. Slade was the one who groaned when air finally became a concern, reluctant to pull away, even for oxygen.
"You didn't dream about this?" Oliver asked, each word a breathy pant. "Because I did."
"Only dream?" Slade asked as he gave in to the need to run his hands up under the hem of Oliver's shirt, over the smooth strength of his stomach. He could feel the definition of the muscles there under the skin, like silk under his roughened hands. "We didn't...?"
"Not really," Oliver said, which wasn't really an answer one way or the other, as far as Slade was concerned. Oliver distracted him from another question with a line of sucking kisses across his stubbled jaw, down his neck. Slade repaid him in kind with the scrap of his blunt nails above his waistband of his jeans before he let his hand drift further down, not surprised to feel that Oliver was half-hard beneath the denim. He pulled back to catch Slade's eyes. "Are you saying you didn't?"
"Dream about fucking you?" Slade asked, liking the way Oliver's eyes darkened with the question. "Can't I say didn't, kid, if we're being honest."
Oliver kissed him again, ruthless and hard, taking advantage of the height he had on Slade. "It doesn't have to stay a dream, you know."
Slade wasn't sure even he replied to that ridiculous invitation, too busy following Oliver up from darkened staircase toward what he assumed was Oliver's bedroom, practically yanked there by Oliver's hold on his shirt. The room he was led to was palatial compared to anything Slade was used to but he didn't have time for the details because Oliver only paused to lock the door before he was kissing Slade again, fingers plucking at the buttons of Slade's shirt. Once he'd tossed it away, Slade worked on Oliver's, mesmerized by the way Oliver moved as he shed his two shirts, revealing his toned chest, the satiny skin that Slade had felt marred by the dark tattoo on one pec and the line of scars along the abdomen.
"Are you sure we didn't do this before?" Slade asked as he dropped to his knees, licking along the long, uneven scar that cut a deep line across Oliver's body. His hands were busy, too, working loose Oliver's belt, then the button and fly of his jeans.
Oliver was dark-eyed and gasping above him, hands fluttering over Slade's bare shoulders as he looked at him. "Does it matter?"
Slade's mouth dipped lower, tongue lapping at Oliver's hard dick through the thin cotton of his briefs. "Not if you want to do it now."
"I do," Oliver promised, pulling Slade up from his knees to kiss him again and that was good enough for Slade.
They lost the rest of their clothes by the time they reached the bed, cool sheets welcoming against Slade's heated skin, but not as welcome as the slide of Oliver's body against his as they touched everywhere they could, tussling in a mock-fight for dominance that Slade knew he was going to win from the way Oliver melted beneath him, legs falling open, begging for Slade's touch. "Turn over," Slade ordered, the words a grating sound in his rough throat, but Oliver obeyed, shifting beneath Slade until he lay on his stomach and Slade took a moment to imprint the sight in his memory, to make sure this was something he always remembered.
As he'd told Oliver, he'd have been lying to say he hadn't dreamed of this since the injury -- and maybe before, if Oliver's "not really" was to be believed.
Because, regardless of how, this was in his head somewhere -- the sculpted muscles of that back, flowing into the curve of his ass, dreams of doing what Slade was doing now, running his hands along the golden scar-mottled flesh. Slade had dreamed about pressing his mouth to every inch he saw, so he did, hot open-mouthed kisses, a slave to the contrast of his stubble-roughened face against Oliver's smooth skin. Slade had had dreams about burying himself in that body, the one that writhed beneath him now as he slid his fingers deep, feeling the stretch of intimate muscles around his fingers to accommodate his dick, hard and ready just from the thought of the slick heat that slowly gave around the twist of his fingers.
And if it only been a dream before, that imagination of his had been damned good because the rough rumble of Oliver's voice as he panted out Slade's name sounded familiar, striking at some resonance deep in his chest. He needed to hear it again -- soon, now -- and something told him the way to do that would be to slide his dick home, deep into Oliver's body, and he did, his own moan nearly drowning out Oliver's as he was finally inside of him.
It didn't rattle anything new loose in Slade's head but it was the best he'd felt since he'd woken up with a chunk of memories missing, the most alive he could remember being in years and years. He certainly wasn't complaining, not with the way Oliver felt right beneath him even as he held himself still for a moment, waiting for Oliver to be ready. Then Oliver had to nerve to tease, "What are you waiting for?" and Slade started to move, and it was so good, better than any dream he'd had, the reality of fucking Oliver who was begging more and harder, who met each thrust, like he couldn't get enough of Slade. By the time they both came, sticky and sweaty, Slade thought maybe it had fractured something inside him because he wasn't sure how he was supposed to ever recover from not remembering every minute he'd ever known Oliver, not when it led them to that night.
"Well?" Oliver asked a little later, once they were cleaned up and settled in the expensive sheets of his bed. His chin was sharp where it dug into Slade's chest, his fingers ticklish where they trailed over his side.
"Well what?" Slade asked, somehow not surprised that Oliver was chatty in the afterglow. He had a dim memory of watching the other Oliver talk, wondering what it would take to shut the kid up.
"Did that help?"
Slade snorted. "If you were trying to fuck my memories back, you failed, kid, sorry."
Oliver rolled his eyes, even as Slade tried to soften his words by brushing a hand over his short hair, missing the phantom feel of the longer hair between his fingers. Still, there was something to be said for the shorn look, soft but prickly against Slade's palm. "That wasn't what I meant," Oliver said. "Just...how do you feel?"
Slade wanted to pretend he didn't understand but he did. "It was good for me," he finally settled on, still wry but no less truthful. He didn't even know why or how, but he did feel better, more like himself than he'd felt in years. He would've never guessed that this was the missing piece, that perhaps part of him had remembered that he'd left Oliver behind. He wrapped an arm around Oliver, curled it around him to pull him closer. "Memory's still Swiss cheese, though."
"Maybe it's better that way," Oliver said quietly. "There's not a lot about the island that was pleasant."
"I'd like to remember you," Slade said.
"You might change your mind if you did," Oliver said, with a hint of smile. "Might've thought better of this."
There was a dream-memory he hadn't trusted before that rose up in Slade's mind, fevery glimpses of Oliver hovering above him, then gentle hands and words, that had somehow become looking over at the boy asleep at his side, soft and young in his stillness. "Not hardly," Slade promised, leaning over to brush his lips against Oliver's, drifting up to land another one on his cheek, then his forehead. It was more tender than anything they'd shared that night but it matched the feeling that suddenly welled up in Slade, part of the ache he'd always felt at those dreams that he hadn't been able to place.
Oliver's hand came up to brush through Slade's hair, fingers searching until they found the thin line of scar tissue that marked part of the injury that had cost him his memories. "I am glad you're not dead," Oliver said as he finally relaxed, eyes closing.
"Me, too," Slade said.
It wasn't quite a revelation, but it was close.
Felicity didn't see Oliver for three days, not after the morning he'd asked her to hack into Slade Wilson's medical records to confirm that the ASIS agent had actually suffered from retrograde amnesia. When Felicity had seen that he had, she'd felt a little bad about everything nasty she'd said or thought about him since she and Dig had figured out that he was alive.
So three days passed and Felicity was slowly being eaten alive with curiosity with what had happened when Oliver had finally talked to Slade, but she'd had no chance to ask for details because Oliver had been incommunicado. He hadn't been into the office or by the base; Felicity thought about calling to ask but it felt weird, like some level of friendship they hadn't reached yet. She did stay in touch with Dig, though, and he was able to assure her that Oliver was fine, if untalkative.
On the morning of the third day, she noticed that Slade's Holloway alias flew out of the Starling City airport, bound back to Australia. It was that evening, when she'd come to the base to tweak around with a few things that she finally saw him, striding down the stairs with Dig right behind him.
"Hi, Felicity," he said, and she whipped around, surprised. "Do you still have that list?"
"What list, which list?" she asked. "Also, hi. Where have you been?"
"The ones of Hood targets you mentioned," Oliver said. "Remember?"
"Yes, I do," she said. "I didn't think you did. Why do you want it?"
"I think it's time I get back in the game, don't you?" he asked. "There's still corruption in Starling City, people who need to be taught a lesson."
"You know we do," Dig said. "I think Felicity -- like myself -- is just wondering at the sudden change."
Oliver shrugged. "The last few days has put some things in perspective. I'm not honoring Tommy's memory by ignoring the problems that are still around."
"I'm glad to give you all manners of targets," Felicity said, pulling up her list which had had several additions over the last few days. "But I'd really rather know what happened with Slade Wilson."
"We...talked," Oliver said. "Cleared up a few things."
"And then he left," Felicity said. "I saw his name on a manifest this morning."
"Yeah," Oliver nodded. "He had his life to get back to."
"And you remembered yours," Felicity said with a smirk. "Must've been some talk."
Oliver almost smiled. "You could say that." He leaned in to read the list. "Thanks, by the way, for the new bow. It was thoughtful."
"That's me, all thought, all the time," she said, before gesturing at the list. "So? Who will it be?"
Felicity had hoped for more detail but Oliver was typically closed-mouth and her questions got sidetracked by Oliver's renewed determination to clean up the streets of Starling City. It was all research on scumbags and watching surveillance cameras and all the other things that came with being the technological arm of the Hood's vigilante team. It was another several weeks before Slade Wilson even came back on Felicity's mental radar.
"Another bad businessman cowed into changing his ways, I presume?" Felicity asked as Oliver came down into the base in full Hood regalia. He pushed the hood away from his face as he packed away his bow and arrows. His eyes were still blacked out by the greasepaint he used to obscure his face.
"He was persuaded to be more altruistic with his future dealings with residents of the Glades, yes," Oliver said.
"Yes!" Felicity said, pleased. She couldn't resist a little fist bump to go with it and she didn't see the point when it was only the two of them. Oliver gave a little laugh, which was unusual for him. Felicity shot him a look. "What?" she asked.
"Nothing," Oliver said with a shake of his head, but he was still smiling.
"No, seriously, what?"
Oliver turned to look at her, leaning a hip against a nearby table. "I was just thinking about...what a friend of mine would've thought if he'd met you."
There was a kind of softness to his voice that Felicity honed in on. "Slade?" she asked.
"Yeah," Oliver said. "It's...an amusing prospect. Sorry."
"No, it's fine," she said. "I wished I had got to meet him. I'm the only one of us who didn't."
"I didn't exactly introduce him and Dig," Oliver pointed out. "It really wasn't a social visit."
"Whatever," Felicity said. "Psycho girlfriends I get to meet. Hot secret agents? Nope. I see how it is."
"It wasn't really on purpose, Felicity," Oliver said before he turned back to the business of packing away his vigilante equipment.
She watched him move around the room, efficient and relaxed. It was so different than he'd been for weeks after the Undertaking, but all that paralyzing grief had seemed to melt away after he'd met with Wilson. Felicity wondered if getting one old friend back had helped ease the loss of another. "It was good, though, wasn't it?" Felicity asked.
"What was?" Oliver asked, not looking up. He didn't seem to notice or care the way Felicity's eyes tracked him around the room.
"Seeing your friend Slade again," she said. "Finding out that he was alive."
Oliver paused. "It was good for me," he said, with a glance at her over his shoulder. She saw that he was smiling. "I wished I had been able to help him more, though."
"If he hasn't remembered by now, he probably won't ever," Felicity said. "That's what his files said."
"I know," Oliver said. "But maybe he can move on now, knowing a little more."
"It's just too bad that he lives in Australia," Felicity mused, browsing through her files on him. She looked at the photograph she'd found that first day, rugged and handsome. "He'd be a nice addition to our team, don't you think?" That was when she realized there was a notification on her tracking for Wilson. "Huh?"
"Huh?" Oliver repeated.
"Yeah, huh, there's a thing on Slade's file," she said, clicking on it. When she saw the update, she gaped a little. "Oliver," she began.
"Yes, Felicity?" he returned with a studied patience in his voice.
"According to this tracker program I had running on your friend, it looks like he's scheduled to fly back in to Starling City tomorrow morning," she revealed.
"What?" he asked and there was genuine surprise in the word.
"Yeah, look," she said, pulling up the manifest. "He's even flying under his real name this time."
"Huh," Oliver said, looking over her shoulder. "Do you know where he's staying?"
"I can check," she said. She snuck a glance at his face, illuminated by the light from her screens. "And you don't know anything about a return trip?"
"No," he said. "I thought we'd said our goodbyes last time."
Hotel listings were a bust, but she found something in a leasing database that had her smirking. "Apparently not," she said. "It looks Slade has a three-month lease on an apartment downtown."
"Huh," Oliver said again. She watched his eyes settle on the photo of Slade she had open on one of her screens, expression softening just enough for her to notice.
"Are you sure you don't know why Slade might be looking to stay in Starling City for a while?" she asked.
"What are you asking?"
"I think you know," she said. "But if you want to play it that way, it's fine with me."
"I'm not playing it any way," he said. "I didn't know."
"And now that you do?" she prompted.
She watched as his face relaxed a little and a small smile started to play across his mouth. "Excuse me," he said. "I have some calls to make."
"Oh, I bet you do," she intoned under her breath as Oliver crossed the room and grabbed his phone from one of his work tables. "I expect to meet him!" she called over her shoulder. "Possibly involving sushi that his appearance doesn't ruin!"
When Oliver glanced up from his phone, the smile had gotten a little wider. "I think I might be able to arrange that."
"I'm holding you to it," Felicity said, without a doubt in her mind. She was still dying to know the details but she also thought it was only a matter of time before she had all the important ones, anyway, if Slade Wilson looked at Oliver anything like the way Oliver looked when he thought about Slade.
Oliver was still smiling when he finally packed it up that evening and Felicity had a feeling that it was going to be a new thing with him.
She didn't mind one bit.