Road to the Stars

Part 5

"I lost someone. She meant everything to me." – Oliver to Reporter, Homecoming

It had been with the cold calculation of a takeover that Oliver Queen set up his living room for precisely the purpose. He had taken Chloe back to bed and brushed the hair away from her face, careful to ensure that wisps would not be caught on the scar. With one kiss on her uninjured brow, Oliver swallowed the emotions that had raged inside of him since the morning.

"Use your access to the penthouse," Oliver told Emil over the phone. "Take her." It need not be mentioned how Emil would fire up the machines in the hospital to ensure Chloe did not wake up to her hell.

Oliver retrieved the lead-covered case that housed the large chunk of meteor rock, then placed it on the coffee table. It was enough to bring down Clark. And yet even then still Oliver set up the compound bows to surround his living room.

In this, more than in any other mission he took on in his life, failure could not exist. Another attempt was not an option.

One by one, Oliver set up the meteor-rock tipped bows. He would not even entertain thoughts of Clark Kent. Instead he focused on each step like it was the most critical in his life.

This would forever change the landscape of Metropolis, the fates of the heroes, the spirit of the team. His view of himself.

But heroism he could lose in exchange of love.

Ten minutes, precisely to the dot, Clark arrived in his living room. The man had a contrite look on his face, and Oliver envied him the innocence he still possessed. He did not wait for Clark to speak, because there was no explanation that would change his mind. Oliver reached for the small chest and lifted the lead cover.

Clark's face crumpled in pain and he fell to his knees, gritting his teeth against the pain. When Clark looked up at him in betrayal, Oliver looked away.

"This is about her," Clark gasped.

Oliver was grateful he did not need to use his arrows. He gripped Clark's arm and pulled him up. There was no need to wear his Green Arrow suit. He swore the leather would burn off his skin if he pretended to be hero then. Oliver took the meteor rock from its case and slipped it into his pocket.

"What else would it be?" Oliver answered.

A shadow fell across the living room. Oliver gripped Clark and lifted him up over his shoulder. He saw Hawkman hovering outside his window and clenched his jaw. His eyes narrowed as he met Carter's gaze through the man's mask. One of the bows was an arm's reach away. Oliver immediately assessed the exact angle of his arms needed to hit Carter should he become a threat.

They were the same. Carter knew his next step before Oliver did. This loss—Hawkman had lived through it time and again.

Hawkman nodded his head once and flew away.

Oliver released his held breath at half-relief and half-disappointment. In this, he was all by himself. The choice was his, unaffected by anyone else. To be a hero, or to do everything he would for love.

And every time, he realized, he would choose love.

He stood before Lex Luthor not a moment later than his commitment. Lex stood before him in his coat and tie, and in any other occasion they would appear like two businessmen finding themselves in another conference room over again. But this was a warehouse, private, off to the sides, housing the research facility that Lex had hidden for way too long. Lex's suit contrasted with the shirt and jeans that Oliver had hastily thrown together.

"A little too casual, aren't we, Queen?"

"To be fair," Oliver answered coldly, "I had been planning on staying in with my girlfriend."

"Sorry to throw a wrench in your plans," Lex said, his voice smooth, belying his words. "I want to make sure yours and Chloe's plans don't get delayed even more," he told him. "Why don't we get this over with and you can go on your way?" Lex suggested. "Where is he?"

"I want the cure."

"I promised you the cure and you'll get it. First I want to see Kent."

Oliver opened the door of the van he had driven into the warehouse. His gaze fell to Clark as he was coiled to his side. When Lex raised a hand to his men, Oliver shut the door.

"Give me the cure," Oliver repeated. "I don't trust you. And I mean offense when I say that."

Lex shrugged. Oliver watched as Lex walked to over to the side and opened a small cooling container. Lex took a half liter bottle from inside. "One part to two parts saline. Put it in a drip and flush out her infection. This will heal her completely."

Oliver stepped forward. Lex placed it inside the cooler and shut the lid. "Clark Kent."

Oliver's smile had been grim. Tomorrow was inside the container that Lex so closely guarded.

"Queen, you never back away from a deal. And this," Lex said, tapping the cover of the cooler, "is far more important than any contract you have ever signed."

As if he needed convincing, as if Oliver did not recognize the weight of the decision. Then again, Lex made certain Oliver knew exactly what he would lose by giving him twelve precious hours with Chloe. "You're not just asking for Clark in exchange," Oliver told him.

Because the moment that Oliver handed Clark over, he was going to forget that he was better than the man he was before Chloe.

"I need more proof than your word."

Oliver pressed the comm. link in his ear and within seconds the container vanished. Lex shook his head. "You always need these superpowered freaks to do your dirty work." Oliver tightened his jaw. Bart had taken little convincing to help out when Oliver himself had been close to being barred from working with a team he himself formed. It was for Chloe. That was all he needed to know. "Then again, you seem to want to curse yourself saddled with a meteor rock freak."

His hand fisted to his side. Then again he would say nothing to prolong the transaction. "Shut up, Luthor."

They would not talk about wives. No. Lex never saw his future the same way that Oliver saw his future with Chloe.

Oliver heard the confirmation from his comm. The content was genuine. Emil had lain out the exact formulation that Chloe needed from the traces left in the vial. Lex's container held exactly that, molecule per molecule, balanced at the ratio that Emil expected.

"Give it to her."

Oliver looked on at Lex, then nodded. He had what he needed. If only for this one thing—and not anything Lex Luthor had done to the world—Oliver sincerely hoped they were a little gentler to him in hell.

"When have I ever backed away from a deal?" Oliver returned. He turned his back on Lex. His eyes scanned the posted armed men surrounding them on the second floor space. There was a man close to a small chest similar to the one that Oliver had found in Lex's office after the takeover. Oliver's heart thundered in his chest. Whatever happened, he thought, Emil had Chloe. The cure was in their hands, and she could run away like they had planned to do together, just last night.

It seemed like forever ago.

Lex signalled to his men to pull Clark out of the van. Clark fell to his knees before Lex. Oliver shook his head. And then quickly, Oliver lunged for the lead chest that revealed the meteor rock and quickly shut it.

From the back of the van Oliver picked up his bow and shot out a dagger at the guard posted high above him. Clark shook his head to clear his vision. Oliver quietly stood before him to allow him time, then arrows flew quickly around them. Clark slowly recovered and picked himself up from the floor. Lex cursed and strode towards the abandoned meteor rock chest.

Oliver trained his arrow on Lex's back.

He heard the loud cry before he saw the window crash in. Oliver released the arrow before he was prepared and knocked the chest to the ground. The meteor rock clattered to the ground, leaving Clark vulnerable as he steadied himself on the floor. Hawkman flew like a berserker, his mace taking down the posted guards above them.

Oliver raced towards the meteor rock, then stopped stock still when Lex turned towards him and he found himself staring into the barrel of a gun.

There had been a time when he had no fear of facing death. But Chloe would seen wake, and for the first time in a long while there was a life to look forward to.

"Put it down."

Oliver slowly lowered the compound bow. Lex nudged the meteor rock with his feet, bringing it closer to Clark.

"They say meteor rock makes you vulnerable. I remember your impenetrable skin. Let's see how tough it is now."

The world seemed to slow before his eyes. Oliver saw clearly the bullet shoot out of the gun. He quickly reacted, and with Lex trained on Clark Oliver found it easy to pick up the bow and shoot a single titanium arrow towards Lex.

The arrow caught Lex in the shoulder. Shot to debilitate, not to kill. He carried enough in his conscience now. Besides, he owed the man his life for the cure. It did not mean he would stand on Clark's way when he decided to deal with lex as he saw fit. Oliver picked up the meteor rock and enclosed it in the contained. He was surprised to find Clark zip through the space and grasp Lex by his lapels and speed away.

Oliver threw a quick look where Clark had been, expecting to see the bullet flattened on the floor. Instead he found Hawkman crumpled on the floor. Oliver strode towards him and knelt before the older man. Carter gasped for his breath. Oliver pulled the mask away from his face.

"We need to get to a hospital."

The older man grimaced, and even in pain it seemed he found Oliver humorous. "You really are green if you think something like this—" His hand moved slightly to reveal the clean wound that pumped blood like a well. "—is something that can still be fixed."

"You haven't met the League's doctor."

"You have your own doctor." Carter chuckled. "You certainly don't do things the way we used to. I remember my wife closing up our wounds using the same needle she used to mend my torn pants."

Oliver saw the pallor on his face, recognized the blurred eyes as a sign of something else. "Why did you come here?" he asked. "This was my mission. I didn't ask for help," he reminded gently.

And to that, Carter repeated to him, the same question Oliver had asked those around him and himself a thousand times since the Kandorians nearly took her away, "What are you willing to do for love?" Carter swallowed deeply. His voice still held the same arrogant rasp that it always did. This time, Oliver did not mind so much. "I told you, kid, I understand what you're willing to do, but I know once you do it you would never be the same." The pretense was over, and Oliver could see the pain naked on his face. "So I decided I would do it for the girl, for the next generation of heroes that depend on her." And even at that time, even after sparring with him, even after the day he saved him, Carter still would not admit to a bit of affection for him. "So I took matters into my own hands, made sure if you abandoned your friend I could save you the guilt that would haunt you the rest of your life." That was the closest admission. "And if you decided you'd be the hero that you won't both die from the foolish way that you haven't been thinking."

He was judging him again, judging based on everything that he had experienced since his loss.

"What about you?" Oliver finally asked, because they both knew, and it seemed like Carter fully accepted it, that he would not be stepping out of Lex's warehouse alive.

And again, there was Carter's knowing smirk, as if he had no care in the world, as if this was what he had waited for the last decade. "A moment of rest upon the wind," he said quietly, grasping Oliver's hand, "and then another woman shall bear me." His brows furrowed together as he closed his eyes. "Just a little pain," he whispered, "and then I'm home with my wife." His lips relaxed. "I see her now." Carter rested his head back on the floor, and Oliver stayed by his side as his chest stilled.

"Oliver," he heard from the comm.

"What?" he whispered.

"She's waking up."

~o~o~o~

He stood defeated at the bottom of the steps, in the clothes he had worn to meet with Lex. The pants were dirtied and scuffed as he rolled and lunged. His shirt was stained with Carter's blood. Oliver released the bow from his hand and it clattered to the floor.

He had betrayed Clark, he realized. Oliver made his way up the stairs. He had made the decision in that very house that he was going to sacrifice the most powerful hero the world had ever known. He had walked down those steps fully intending to give up Clark. It had been a last minute change that he had reached for the bow and tried to save Clark. If Emil had not confirmed the cure he would have done everything that Lex asked for another chance.

Today Oliver lost the integrity of a hero.

Today Oliver Queen had coldly chosen that one life was above the good of the rest of the world.

His heart turned cold like ice, heavy like stone.

He stopped outside the bedroom door. He reached for the knob and saw the dark red stains on his skin from Carter's grip. And Oliver pushed the door open. The sunlight was blinding when it hit his eyes. He blinked, and his sight adjusted slowly and he saw the silhouette of her figure as she stood there.

He wondered if this was what Carter had seen when he closed his eyes.

Heaven. It was warm as honey as it closed over his icy heart.

Chloe turned around as she saw his reflection on the glass. When she saw him her eyes roamed over his body, and Oliver fought the urge to turn away at his shame. She walked closer to him, and Oliver tentatively raised a hand to touch the unmarred face.

"Clark?" she said softly.

"Carter," he answered. He had seen Clark's eyes before the man sped away with Lex, and he wondered when the time would come that he needed to tell Chloe not to expect her best friend in the near future.

She nodded, and Oliver released a silent prayer when her lips closed over his. "He's can be with Shayira now," she whispered to him, soothing the large wounds that now crisscrossed his insides. "I'm sorry you needed to do this, Oliver."

This was what he was willing to do. In the process, he lost himself. But she would find him again. She would. He had no doubt of that.

"You're alive," he murmured, like a prayer, like a chant, like it was the very utterance that would save him. She was back in his arms, and she was alive, breathing, cured.

Everything else could not matter. And despite that Oliver wondered how he would face the team to explain to them how they had lost Hawkman, how he would talk to Clark at the tailend of a betrayal, how he would take the mantle of a leader knowing that finally, the Green Arrow valued one life more than any one of theirs, one life more than all the world. Selfishness and humanity like that did not make for a credible leader of the Justice League.

"Let's run away."

He looked down at her intense, pleading green eyes, and knew she had seen him.

"Run away with me, Oliver. You promised we can run away," she repeated, giving him one way out, taking the burden from his shoulders.

"And everyone else?" he voiced, because that was him, and he needed to at least doubt his greatest desire. He was still the Green Arrow, and once the League began and ended with him.

"We'll be back when we're ready," she answered. When he was ready, in her words. She enfolded him in her embrace, and Oliver felt his the frozen shell around his heart splinter. "Please. We need it." He needed it.

"Tonight. One way trip straight down the road to Star City," Oliver agreed.

For weeks, or months, or years, there would be no betrayal to face, no guilt to bear, no team to mind, no grand missions to complete.

Just him, her, and the stars.

"Their love was so strong they were bonded for all eternity. Lifetime and lifetime they were reborn to find their one true love only to lose each other in death again." – Carter to Lois, Hostage

fin