Chapter Three: The New Kid On The Block
‘The Fuel in The Fire’
Carter sat at Chloe’s desk going through the last of the information packet for professors at Tower Prep. It was late, he was tired and he was baffled by the lengths that employees had to go to at this place. Whatever they were hiding, he was certain it wasn’t good.
He glanced up when he heard footsteps, catching sight of Oliver making his way over to him. He studied the younger man taking note of the tension in his shoulders and the darkened circles under his eyes. After everything he’d gone through over the past few months he could understand his reluctance to let Mia go undercover.
Oliver seemed startled to see him and he arched an eyebrow as he dropped down into one of the chairs by the edge of the desk. “Still here big bird? I would have thought you’d be at home tucked away in bed by now.” Carter just shook his head a flipped the page.
“Something I can help you with robin hood?” Oliver glared at him as he leaned back in his chair. “How many times do I have to tell you people they aren’t tights?” The older man smirked, but didn’t look up from his book.
“Whatever you say…” Oliver grunted and glanced over his shoulder at Mia and Chloe who were going over some more information on the top level of Watchtower. He turned towards the clock and let out a long breath. Tonight was the last night they had to get everything together before Mia and Carter left for Tower Prep tomorrow.
He was worried and not entirely happy with the plan that they had set up. Carter could see the anxiety coming off of Oliver in waves and he cleared his throat snapping the younger man out of his thoughts. “It’s normal to be worried.”
For a second Carter thought Oliver would deny his observation, but as quickly as the mask had come, it fell. He ran a hand over his face and let out a weary sigh before catching the older man’s eyes. “Is it that obvious?”
Carter shook his head, “No...but I know the look.” Oliver swallowed heavily as he studied the man in front of him. He’d never admit it out loud, but one of the reason’s he and Carter bumped heads so much was because they were so much alike.
It was one of the reason’s he had agreed with Chloe’s suggestion of Carter for the mission. He pursed his lips and spoke quietly. “I know you and I don’t always get along, but I need you to promise me you’ll look after her in there. A large part of me letting her go along with this plan was knowing she’d have you for back-up.”
He swallowed hard and glanced up catching Carter’s eyes. “I know Mia and I aren’t related…but she’s the closest thing I have to a family.” The older man’s eyes softened slightly and he nodded voice serious as he spoke. “You have my word that I’ll make sure she’s safe while we’re there.”
Oliver gave him a tight smile. “Thank you…believe it or not that actually makes me feel better.” Carter chuckled and opened his mouth a smart comment on the tip of his tongue when Chloe’s voice had both men glancing up. “All done researching boys?”
Carter grunted, closing the folder and pushing away from the desk before standing. “I don’t know about jolly green over here, but I’m more than ready to head out for the night. Thanks again Chloe for all the information. I’ll make sure I’m at the address you gave me by two tomorrow.”
She nodded and gave him a warm smile. “Thanks Carter. Have a good night.” He returned her smile and nodded, saying his goodbyes to Oliver and Mia before turning and disappearing into the hallway. Chloe felt a pair of strong arms wrap around her from behind as she watched Carter go.
She glanced over her shoulder at Oliver and she could feel the tension coming off him in waves, though he was doing a good job at hiding it. She rubbed his hands, voice soft as she watched Mia pack up her things across the room. “How you holdin’ up Romeo?”
He sighed and placed a kiss against the top of her head. “I’m okay…just worried and before you say anything I know I’m worrying for nothing, but I can’t help it. I’m sure once the mission gets going I’ll feel better.”
He grinned down on her as she turned in his arms and nodded, leaning up to press a soft kiss against his lips. “Exactly.” He heard Mia grumble something about PDA’s before making her way towards the elevator and he chuckled throwing an arm and Chloe and leading her out of Watchtower.
He nodded. “You’re right…it’s just a small recon mission at a prep school. Plus big bird will be there…what could possibly go wrong…” Oliver had no idea in five months he’d be eating those very words…
Carter stood outside leaning against the steel door as he gazed a few feet ahead of him at Oliver and Ian. He sighed heavily watching the teenager’s face crumble as Oliver spoke in quiet words. He shook his head and pushed away from the taller blonde.
Carter could clearly make out the swirl of emotions settling onto Ian’s face. Disbelief, pain, uncertainty, anger, denial…he remembered the palette of feelings well. Losing someone you cared about was never easy and Ian was a good kid.
He had taken the time to study the boy when he noticed Mia getting closer to him and it wasn’t hard to see why she was drawn to the outspoken defender. Ian Archer held many of the same qualities as the man Mia admired most in the world. It made sense that she’d be drawn to someone with the same ideals as Oliver.
Carter was drawn from his thoughts by the voices in front of him and he once again focused his attention on the men in front of him. Ian shook his head mumbled words fumbling from his lips as he shifted until his back was pressed against the wall.
He sucked in a few deep breaths a sinking feeling surrounding him as he tried to calm down. This couldn’t be happening. His heart clenched, an ache filling him as he swallowed hard, tears pooling in his eyes.
“No…they can’t be dead…why would anyone kill my parents?” Confusion settled on his face, vulnerable eyes pleading with Oliver for answers. His chest felt heavy as he watched the teenager in front of him, memories of the day he found out about his parents death all too clear in his mind.
“I don’t know…but I swear to you we’ll find out. Whatever’s going on at Tower Prep…whoever’s behind the VRA…we’ll find them…we’ll get Justice for your parents Ian.” His words seemed to reach the teenagers ears and he straightened up slowly eyes lighting with something Oliver hadn’t seen since the first day he’d donned his Green Arrow suit.
Ian’s voice was shaky when he finally pulled himself together enough to speak. “Do you promise?” Oliver’s eyes were solemn when he nodded, voice low, but determined. “Yes, you have my word.” He studied the older man in front of him for a minute before nodding and pushing himself away from the wall.
He moved over towards the railing and leaned forward shoulders slumping as he looked out over the city and spoke quietly. “What am I supposed to do now? My parents were all I had…they’re the only ones who could have told us about Cornelius Tower and what he had to do with what’s going on…”
He glanced over his shoulder at Oliver. “Now how are we going to figure out what’s been going on?” He shifted and moved to lean against the railing near Ian. “I don’t know…but we’ve got a team of people downstairs who are trying to figure it out. This is what we do Ian…we’ll figure it out.”
He swallowed hard and glanced in the direction Ian was looking. “As far as everything else goes…you’re more than welcome to stay with me and Mia…right now it’s probably your safest option, but it’s your choice. I know we don’t know each other well…but I understand what you’re going through…and I’m here if you need to talk.”
The teenager studied the man beside him, trying to figure out what his story was. After all what kind of a billionaire decided to fight crime and take in orphaned kids? Oliver Queen was a mystery, but Mia seemed to trust him and for right now her friends were all he had.
“Thanks…I appreciate it. I think…right now I just need to be alone…” Oliver pursed his lips but nodded. “Of course…Carter and I are gonna go back downstairs…just come down when you’re ready.” Ian nodded and watched them go, the door closing quietly behind them. He closed his eyes as the cool breeze swirled around him, a single tear sliding down his cheek.
He’d been angry when he found out his parents had willingly handed him over to Tower Prep and he’d spent the last few months trying to escape so he could ask them all the questions that had been swirling around in his head, but now not only wouldn’t he get answers...he’d never see his parents again.
Chloe glared at the screen in front of her as she once again attempted to penetrate the firewalls shielding the new Whisper’s database. She’d been fumbling around with the system since Oliver and Carter took Ian upstairs close to forty-five minutes ago and still nothing.
She let out a frustrated sigh and glanced to her right at Victor, a hopeful tone to her voice. “Anything?” He shook his head as he bent over the small laptop on the console stand. He had been attempting to reroute incoming emails so he could try and hack through the account, but that wasn’t working either.
“No…this is getting ridiculous. Between the two of us we should have been inside this system hours ago.” Chloe nodded. He was right, which meant there was someone or something on the other side keeping them out.
She glanced around the room and caught sight of Mia in the corner talking in a hushed voice on the phone. It was late and everyone else had gone home except for Hal, who sat at her desk feet up flipping through a magazine.
He must have felt her eyes on him because he glanced up and arched an eyebrow in her direction. “What?” She motioned to his feet and he shook his head before pulling them off the desk and sitting up straight. “Thank you. Can you do me a favor?”
Hal tossed the magazine on the desk and nodded, grin firmly planted on his lips. “For you? Anything.” She rolled her eyes but couldn’t help the smile that pulled at her lips. “Can you just go upstairs and check on--” before she could finish her sentence Oliver and Carter were making their down the stairs.
She tilted her head and chuckled. “Never mind.” Oliver raised an eyebrow as he stepped off the last stair and made his way over to Chloe. “Never mind what?” He slipped a hand around her waist and pulled her against his body gently.
She ran a hand over his arm and scrunched her nose. “I was just going to have Hal come check on you guys…how’s Ian doing? Did you tell him?”Oliver nodded his hands tightening slightly against her hip. “Yeah…he’s doing as good as can be expected. I have a feeling that there’s only one person he’ll actually let in and open up enough to talk to though.”
His eyes drifted to Mia who was frowning deeply as she paced back and forth near the stain glass window, phone still attached to her ear. Oliver motioned in her direction. “Who is she talking to?” Chloe sighed, moving out of his arms and back towards the computer. “Bart.”
“Ah…how’s that going?” Chloe pursed her lips, letting out another short breath. “From what I can tell not great.” He came up behind her right as Carter moved towards them. “And how are things going with our dynamic duo? Did you and Vic get in yet?”
Chloe grunted as Victor snorted and Oliver exchanged a look with Carter before glancing between the two computer experts in front of him. “I take it those are negative noises?” She nodded before pressing a few more keys and then turning to him.
“Yes. This upgraded system is killing us.” She sent a fiery glare towards the monitors before glancing back at Oliver and Carter. “We were just recently able to find out that the reason they upgraded from Whisper 119 to Whisper 120 was because they realized someone had created a glitch in the computer’s system giving it human emotions and dreams.”
He gave Chloe a lopsided grin. “And that was you?” She scoffed. “Of course it was me. Anyway we went through the backdoor in that system to gain access and control of the computer, but this new version…its way more AI then we thought was possible.”
Carter’s eyes darted to Oliver to see if he knew what she was saying, but when he saw an identical look of confusion on his face he realized he wasn’t the only clueless one. Victor obviously picked up on this spinning his chair in their direction as he spoke.
“Basically this new version of their computer is quite literally its own artificial intelligence. Think…the computer running the lab in I-Robot.” A look of recognition crossed Oliver’s face before he frowned. “Well that’s not good…”
Victor shook his head as he leaned forward elbows against his knees. “No, it’s not.” Oliver rested his arms over his chest looking slightly perturbed. “With that in mind how long do you think it’ll take to crack it?” Chloe shrugged. “Too soon to tell.”
Oliver sighed and rubbed the back of his neck as a loud beeping noise sounded through the room. He turned towards Carter who swore before reaching into his pocket and taking out the black beeper like item. He frowned and looked up.
“I’ve got to head back, are you guys good here?” Oliver nodded and waved him off. “Yup, fly back to your nest big bird, don’t forget to check in.” Carter glared at the younger man before saying his goodbyes and heading out the door and back to Tower Prep.
Hal pushed away from the desk, stretched, and stood. He looked over towards Chloe and Oliver while clearing his throat. They glanced in his direction and he motioned to the door. “You guys ready to head out?”
Chloe opened her mouth and gazed over her shoulder at the computers right as Victor waved a hand in the air cutting off whatever she was going to say. “Go ahead. I can hold down the fort here. It’s getting late and everyone else is already gone.”
She gave him a reprimanding look as she spoke, voice stern. “You need to get some rest to Vic…I can’t have my best computer guy overworked and exhausted.” He chuckled lightly and smiled at her. “I promise one more hour and then I’m out of here.
Before she could say anything else on the matter Mia walked over to them while sliding her phone back in her pocket, eyes darting around the room in search of Ian. She still couldn’t believe what had happened to his parents. She felt horrible. Her eyes settled on Oliver and she raised an eyebrow, a hint of confusion in her voice. “Where’s Ian?”
Oliver motioned to the stairs. “On the roof…we’re gonna head out. Why don’t you go get him and meet us downstairs?” She nodded and moved passed them taking the steps two at a time. Oliver turned his eyes on Hal and grinned. “Dinner?”
He nodded. “I could eat.” Chloe caressed Oliver’s arm lightly drawing his attention to her and she gave him a tired smile. “Why don’t you go with Hal and pick up some dinner and I’ll bring the kids back to the penthouse.”
His face softened at her thoughtfulness as he brushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “You sure?” She tilted her head to the side before inclining it. “Yes.” He leaned down capturing her lips in a soft kiss before pulling back staring down on her, eyes affectionate. “I’ll see you back at the penthouse?”
She nodded and he kissed the side of her head before moving in Hal’s direction and grabbing his coat. As the two men walked out of the double doors Chloe grinned listening to their voices travel through the empty hall as he spoke to Hal. “So…pizza or Chinese?”
Mia made her way quietly up the stairs and pushed open the door to the roof. She caught sight of Ian leaning against the railing and walked cautiously over to him. He must have heard her footsteps because he glanced over his shoulder, caught sight of her and then looked back out over the skyline.
She let out a heavy breath and came up beside him, focusing her eyes on the city before them. She waited a couple of minutes before speaking voice soft. “How are you holding up?" Ian shook his head, body tense. “I don’t know…I just…I don’t think it’s hit me yet.”
She nodded, but kept quiet waiting for him to speak again, knowing that he would once his thoughts were together. A minute later he shifted so he was facing her and she tilted her head to the side catching his red rimmed eyes. He took a deep breath and spoke quietly.
“The day before I got whisked off to Tower Prep…I got suspended from school. There was this kid…and he was picking on someone. Beating him up…bullying him just because he could.” He swallowed heavily and shook his head.
“So I stepped in, intervened on the other kid’s behalf. I got in a few hits before the principal came out and of course I got in trouble. That night when we were sitting around the dinner table…I got into this huge fight with my parents.”
He paused and Mia reached out squeezing his hand gently. The pressure of her small palm against his larger one made his heartbeat speed up. Even after the lies she’d told him there still wasn’t anyone else he’d want by his side at that moment.
For right now knowing she was there and willing to listen was enough for him. He met her eyes and continued speaking. “They were getting on my case for getting into yet another fight…I tried to explain, but my Dad just didn’t want to hear it. So I wound up saying a few harsh words before leaving the dinner table and going upstairs to play a computer game.”
She inclined her head studying him as she spoke, voice soft. “That’s when it happened?” Ian nodded entwining their hands together before looking back over the railing, voice barely a whisper. “Yeah…that fight…it was the last time I ever saw them…I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye…”
Mia could hear the emotion in his voice and she slid closer to him unconsciously lifting a hand to his back and rubbing it lightly as she leaned against his side. Her heart broke for the pain he must be going through. She didn’t know what it was like to have parents that actually cared about you, but over the years she had come to have a very close relationship with Oliver and with Chloe.
And though neither of them were her parents, age wise they were more like older siblings…they took care of her like parents did and they were her family…the whole team was. The thought of loosing either one of them scared the life out of her and they weren’t even really related. She couldn’t imagine the pain Ian must be feeling right now.
He felt her lean into him, one arm rubbing his back the other wrapped around his forearm and he sucked in a deep breath. He tilted his head towards her pressing a hesitant kiss against the side of her head before closing his eyes, nose lightly brushing her hair.
Ian breathed her in and released a long breath. He didn’t know how she managed it, but Mia always smelt so good. He felt her shiver lightly against him and he leaned back turning away from the railing and facing her, his hands reaching out and rubbing the sides of her arms.
“Cold?” She shrugged. “A little, but it’s not a big deal.” He nodded and motioned towards the door. “Why don’t we go back down? It’s getting cold up here and it’s been a really long day.” Mia swallowed heavily and tried to give him a small smile, voice quiet. “Okay.”
He stepped forward and then glanced back at her over his shoulder and reached out a hand, wrapping it around hers and pulling her to his side as they made their way back into Watchtower. Chloe was chuckling softly at something Victor said when she heard footsteps behind them.
She turned spotting Mia and Ian making their way down the steps. They glanced up and her face softened as she gave him a sympathetic smile. “Hey…are you guys ready to head out? Oliver and Hal went to grab dinner. They’re going to meet us back at the penthouse.”
Mia glanced up at Ian and he nodded as he spoke softly. “Sure.” Chloe grabbed her things and patted Victor’s shoulder as she grabbed the keys and headed towards the door Mia and Ian following behind her at a slow pace. Victor watched the three of them go before turning back to the computer, eyes gleaming determination in his voice.
“Alright Whisper 120…get ready to be owned…you messed with the wrong half man half machine. I’m gonna crack your shit wide open like an Easter egg…”
Chloe lifted a forkful of rice into her mouth as she chuckled softly and shook her head. Oliver grinned and rolled his eyes at Hal before looking towards Mia and Ian. “Do you guys want any more food?” She glanced at Ian who was staring down at his plate pushing the food around with his fork and she frowned.
Her hand came up to his back rubbing it lightly which caught his attention. He turned to her confusion on his face and raised an eyebrow while scrunching his nose slightly in question. Her voice was low when she spoke. “Oliver was asking if we wanted more food.”
He glanced up at the adults at the table and cleared his throat. “Thanks, but I’m good. I’m not very hungry…I actually think I’m just gonna head to bed if that’s okay.” Chloe put down her napkin face sobering. “Of course…you don’t need to ask permission Ian.”
He nodded and Mia’s brows furrowed. “You barely ate…you should eat.” He inclined his head in her direction, clearing some of the pain off his face for her benefit as he spoke softly. “I’m not hungry…and before you say anything I’m fine okay?”
She didn’t look convinced and when he got up he leaned down and placed a kiss against her forehead. “Finish dinner with your family…I’m gonna head to bed, I’ll see you in the morning.” He nodded towards Oliver and Hal before heading down the hallway.
Mia bit her bottom lip, tears pooling in her eyes as she watched him disappear behind his door. Her heart ached for him. All she wanted to do was comfort him, be there and let him know that he wasn’t alone. A hand against her arm snapped her out of her thoughts.
She shifted and turned towards Chloe who was watching her with worried eyes. “You okay?” She shrugged and shook her head as Oliver and Hal watched the two women talk quietly. “Not really…I hate seeing him hurting…and I don’t know what to do…I don’t know how to help.”
Chloe pursed her lips and gave Mia a thoughtful look before speaking. “Maybe all you can do is be there in case he needs you. I’m sure knowing that he has someone to talk to if he wants to helps.” She glanced at Oliver briefly before turning back to Mia. “It’s the strong silent types you need to watch out for…they’ll tell you they're okay until they are blue in the face…but even they need comfort.”
Mia gave Chloe a small smile. “Thanks Chlo…I think I’m gonna go check on Ian…” She nodded as Mia got up said goodnight to Oliver and Hal and went down the hall knocking lightly on Ian’s door before pushing it open and disappearing inside.
Chloe sighed and glanced at the men in front of her. She arched an eyebrow as she spoke. “Why are the two of you staring at me?” Oliver scowled slightly and pointed towards the hallway. “Did you just subtly compare me to a teenager?”
Hal chuckled and stretched in his seat before patting Oliver on the back and standing up. “Well this seems like a domestic dispute to me so I’m gonna head out kids. You two have a good night.” He squeezed Chloe’s arm lightly on his way out of the kitchen and towards the elevator as Chloe called out. “Night Hal!”
She glanced back at her pouting boyfriend and rolled her eyes. “Oh cut it out and help me clean up.” She grabber hers and Mia’s plates before walking to the sink, Oliver following behind her with two more plates. He placed them down and moved the hair away from her neck before placing a light kiss there.
“Does this mean you’re staying here tonight?” She tilted her head to the side giving him better access to her throat. “It doesn’t make much sense to go all the way back to Smallville.” He sighed against her neck and shook his head. “I wish you’d just move in here already. It’s not like you don’t spend enough time here…”
She let out a long breath, a hint of moisture skirting around the edges of her eyes. “Ollie we’ve talked about this…I just…it still hurts…it’s too soon. It’s not that I don’t want to it just…” Her voice trailed off and he pressed his forehead against her soft skin and let out a short breath.
“Hurts too much…I know…I’m sorry. I won’t pressure you to do anything you aren’t comfortable doing yet. I know that I made the offer at the time because I had to…but things are different now Sidekick…I swear…but I’ll give you the time you need…just know it’s an open invitation.”
Her body relaxed against his and she nodded turning slightly to press a kiss at the corner of his lips. “Thank you…” He grinned nuzzling his nose against her before pressing a soft kiss against her lips and pulling the sponge from her hand. “Why don’t you go get ready for bed and I’ll clean up in here.”
She raised an eyebrow. “I can help.” He shook his head and nudged her in the direction of the hallway. “No, I’ve got it…it’s been a long day. I’ll meet you in bed in a few minutes.” Chloe walked backwards and waggled her eyebrows trying to lighten the mood, tone mischievous. “I bet you say that to all the girls.”
He smirked and gave her a once over before turning on the water. “Only the hot blonde ones with green eyes.” Her hand flew to her chest as she gave him a playful gasp. “Be still my heart…” He chuckled and she grinned while making her way towards his bedroom.
Oliver heard the door close behind her and he sighed. It was nice to see her laughing again and playing around. Things were finally getting back to normal for them and Oliver was positive that after everything they’d been through over the past year he and Chloe would make it through the long haul as long as they stuck together.
Chapter Five: The Elephant in The Room