LEGENDS: This is How Shadows Conceal
AN: This is the 6th in the Legends series. Your feedback and comments on this series were so inspiring.
Summary: If he succeeded, a quarter of an hour and they would be a family.
This is How Marriages End
This is How Families Grow
This is How Friendships Last
This is How Oliver Survives
This is How Lois Becomes
This is How Shadows Conceal
The day never ended, every second critical. In the job that they did, the mission that they accepted, life and work combined into a seamless latticework where patterns faded together. Even as she walked out of Oliver Queen's office Chloe felt the rapid vibration of the phone in her pocket. She looked at the call for assistance and replied, "Five minutes and I'm logged in."
She looked back, and grinned when the blonde head jerked. The playful smile on his face drew a grin from hers as well. She arched her eyebrows, waiting for him to say more. He did not. They both knew the team was more important than anything he could think of saying to keep her there.
"I'll see you later," she said in goodbye.
Chloe walked through the corridors and heard the cheerful call of Oliver Queen's secretary, "Three o'clock, Mrs Queen! I'll remind him."
Chloe gave a grateful smile. He never forgot anyway. Still, it made Emily feel useful to prompt her boss so she did not take away the simple task. For a billionaire's executive assistant, Emily sure had it good. They probably did more work in a day than Emily did in a month. Still, the young woman did not have the second job that they did.
She finally made it to the parking lot. Within moments the black car stopped in front of her. Chloe climbed into the backseat and nodded at the driver. "I need to pick up a few things at the store." The partition between the driver and the passenger seat rose. Once she had privacy, Chloe pulled open her computer and logged onto the network.
"Watchtower online," she announced quietly. Chloe watched the dots appear on her monitor screen, heard the scuffle and the heavy breathing.
"Welcome to the party," gasped a male voice. "Late again."
Chloe rolled her eyes. "It's not as if you're incapacitated without me, Deadshot." The man barely heeded orders from Waller, let alone her. "Did you get your target?"
The gunshots silenced. This time it was Flag who said, "Why did you ask?"
"I'm trying to determine if the mission is complete," she told her team.
"I am insulted you would even ask," drawled the Southerner.
"Watchtower out," she told the team. When the mission was as high level as one that required Rick Flag on the scene, one could never be too sure. Still, they had asked for help and she had offered it. It was not like she and Nemesis were not on a long deep cover mission themselves.
She closed the laptop and set it aside, then looked out at the bustling city as they drove by. She and Tom still were better off with this assignment. It provided them with the luxuries that Oliver Queen's identity could provide. At first, when Tom produced the mask that he would wear for years she had jerked away at the sight. Now she barely remembered that the face was put on. Tom Tresser was not a master of disguise for nothing. What started out as a con to ensure there were no ramifications to the death of the highly public figure had turned out to be the bottomless font of funds for the Suicide Squad.
The car stopped in front of the store, and like the good housewife she made her purchases and swiped her card. The grocery would be delivered within the day. She could pretend to bake while the hired chef was the one who flavoured and checked the cake. And then like rote, Chloe stopped by the destinations on her list. For hours she whiled away in the public library, harnessing the information that the government left for their next mission.
It was two when her phone vibrated next, her silent alarm. Chloe carefully put back every tome and ensured nothing was left from the secret coded messages. She stood up and sent a message to the driver. A smile curved on her lips. It was time. It was the time of day she looked forward to more than any other. Chloe's pace quickened as she exited the library.
To her surprise, she saw him standing at the steps.
Bypassers stared at him. Strangers read his look, his stance. He must have something important to tell her when she left.
"Oliver," she said, using the name to jar him into attention to the number of people around them. She hated using the name. "What are you doing here when you're supposed to be at work?" she demanded. Chloe had only just seen him and agreed on a time.
His eyes had widened, as if he had not expected her. And then he smiled that fond smile that elicited the same from her. "I missed you," he said, his voice a little raspy, different in tone.
"I know," she told him matter-of-factly. Chloe looked down at her watch, "You're too early." She watched him breathe, and made a note to ask him to have a checkup later on. His breathing seemed labored, and after the loss they had already experienced recently to the hyperactive force that called themselves the Justice League, she would ensure every member of her team was thoroughly checked and treated for any possible illness. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing," he insisted. And as she made her way closer he placed his hands on her hips. Chloe froze, her eyes flickering down to the public display that Tom was loathe to do. He was no spectacle, despite becoming Oliver Queen. And then he stepped closer to her and she swore he brushed his nose in her hair. "I just wanted to see you."
"You want to see her," she stated. Because everyone knew who had him wrapped around her little finger. And then she raised her brows with a grin, daring him to deny it. "It was just going to be an hour more and you couldn't wait."
She saw his throat work. He nodded, then admitted, "I want to see her so much."
"Alright. I can talk to her teacher." Chloe offered her hand. "Come on."
He seemed puzzled, at a loss, as he regarded her. But still the offer of time with the girl was enough carrot for him to place a hand in hers. She tugged at his hand and pushed him into the car. Once they were inside, she narrowed her eyes at him. "What is going on with you?" she asked.
He frowned, then answered, "What do you mean?"
Chloe's eyes moved over him. There was something odd in his voice, the way he looked at her. When they made their way to the car he almost walked right past through. The car started. She could not quite place a finger on it. "What are you wearing?" He glanced down at himself. She continued, "You had enough time to change since I left you at the office. You planned to cut early from the start." Chloe rummaged through her bag in her frustration. She thought they understood each other and had agreed. Before he could see them, he should have changed back. "I don't have it," she said. Since he was not wearing his turtleneck neither did he.
"What's wrong?" he asked as the car stopped across a schoolyard.
Chloe opened the door then back back at him. "You didn't take off the mask, Tom. You know, even though Regina knows, she doesn't like seeing you like that."
"Like what?" he whispered.
"Like the man she knows well enough tried to kill us," Chloe snapped. When they were home, she would talk to him. But Regina had already spotted the car, was already running to the gates. "Raised as she is, can you blame her?" Her voice gentled.
Chloe kept the smile on her face as she got off the car and turned to the gates. She waved at Regina and grinned. She glanced back towards the car and said, "Come on." He fell into step beside her and Chloe said, "Remind me later that we need to talk about Moscow. It's not a well-laid plan at all, Tom. I wish Waller got me to plan it instead of Rick. I don't like it when he gambles with your life."
They drew closer to the gates and at the sight of the two of them the school guard opened the gate for the four year old to run towards her parents. Chloe dropped the conversation and instead ran towards her daughter, laughing at the way she bounced as her sandals hit the pavement. The area was safe. Oliver Queen's money bought them the security the girl needed. Since longer than she could remember those so-called heroes had been stalking every one of them.
"Reggie!" she called.
And Chloe caught her baby girl in her arms and whirled her around in a tight embrace. And then when they stilled, the girl snuck a peek at her companion. Tom stepped forward and reached for her, but the girl moved away. Chloe sighed. "I told you you should have removed it," she said. Yet still Chloe turned to her daughter and said gently, "It's okay, sweetheart. Remember our little secret. You trust me, don't you." Chloe glanced at the man who appeared every inch like the Green Arrow. The threat was gone, terminated by her own gun. She said to her daughter, "It's daddy, Reggie. Go on. Go to daddy."
When they arrived home, Chloe set up her computer at her home office and looked through the door that was right across Regina's room. Tom, oddly still in Oliver Queen's face long before he needed to be, sat beside Regina on the carpeted floor.
Even without saying a word, Tom so easily showed her that he was afraid of Moscow. No one else in the Squad dared call him by name. To everyone else he was Nemesis, but to her and Regina he would be Tom. In front of the public they called him Oliver. Or daddy. But even with the long assignment, even though he was the only man that Regina knew to be her father, he did not waste so much of his time watching videos of Barney singing in a farm, or jumping around talking about standing outside with his mouth open wide. Chloe watched the way he stared at her daughter like she would just vanish.
Waller was a bitch.
Every ounce in him exuded tension, loss, desperation. She was going to send him to Moscow to die. Tom felt it. He was relishing every moment with Reggie like this would be the last time he would see her. Chloe glanced at the computer screen and saw the SOS from the White Queen. She slammed the computer shut. He looked up at her with Oliver Queen's grin, hiding the nerves she knew lay there.
Five years with the Squad, and some of them were heartless enough to joke about the past she barely remembered. Once upon a time she had fallen for that face, for the promise of Oliver Queen. Once upon a time before he turned on her and the Squad needed to save her. The bastard had the smile for it, she thought, looking back at Tom in his disguise.
He looked down at Regina, then kissed the top of her head. He whispered to her, and Chloe heard the response because her daughter hid nothing from the world. "I love you too, daddy," she said in the rehearsed way that children responded when they were absorbed by the show on tv.
Chloe closed her eyes. He was saying goodbye.
He walked into her office. Chloe looked up at him and stated out loud, this time to him, "Waller is a bitch."
"And still you continue to work for her," he said in return.
She stood and walked to him, took his hand in hers. His hand was cold, so she tightened her hold on it. "When we met, when I couldn't remember anything after the torture I went through with the Justice League," she reminded him. It was a fond memory, because all the time he had been quiet as the Squad walked in and out of the room. He was the last one to speak to her before she had agreed to stay. "You told me then that you work with her because the Squad saved your life. They did the same for me."
The day he became Oliver Queen, the hour he put on the mask, he repaid everything he owed. The funds of the billionaire were locked in the Squad's hands. They became a self-sustaining force.
They day he became Oliver Queen, she stood by the unmarked grave and knelt. The memories were few, far between. But the day Tom Tresser wore Oliver Queen's face Chloe remembered the night that the archer lay before her, pumping into her and driving her mad. Her fingers clawed at the stained glass windows of the Watchtower and her heart raced.
"I work with her because you won't walk away," he had told her then.
Who would walk away from the Suicide Squad when memories told you you were better off dead?
"Don't go to Moscow. Please."
Little by little, in the four years they had pretended, the memories trickled back. Tiny visions of kisses, the whisper of a breath on her bare arm. A desperate cry of love. Little by little, she knew, raising the gun and emptying it into Oliver Queen was a program she hated to lose.
Chloe reached for his cheek. Her eyes flew to his. Her gaze lowered to his lips. When he lowered his face, she turned away.
The eyes hovering over her were puzzled.
"You loved him."
Chloe licked her lips. She glared at Tom for the small betrayal in those words. "I did."
"Think of me as Oliver Queen," he whispered, his voice urgent now.
"That's sick," she said softly, without disgust. He was going to use her to ease his own terror at an assignment they both knew would fail. Her fingers lingered on his cheek. This was a mask. This was a mask of horror, a ghost of what she had done, the memory of what she could never forgive.
"Humor me," he said softly. "If I were Oliver Queen, what would you tell me?"
"You know what I would say," she said curtly. "Out of everyone, you know me best of all, Tom."
"Oliver," he corrected her. "And tell me."
"I would tell you that you were a bastard for turning on us. And then I would tell you I hate you for abandoning us," she said, her voice trembling. Every word screamed to her that it was a lie. The last five years had slowly, deliberately proved her wrong.
"Like I was Oliver Queen, Chloe."
She whispered, "I'm sorry for taking away the chance that you would fix it." And then, "I'm sorry I killed you."
And then, without preamble, she grasped his skull and kissed him hard, her teeth gnashing against his in the sheer force and desperation. It was he who pulled away.
He breathed deeply. "I'm going to take a shower," he said breathlessly.
Oliver Queen woke.
A cold dread settled in the pit of his stomach.
He glanced at his side at the empty bed. During the night he had awoken with Chloe in his arms. She dug deeper into his side. Carefully he disentangled his limbs from hers. But she had felt so good, so wonderful, and he had missed her completely.
Arriving in this universe had almost been a fluke. But they had tried many times and he almost died in every one of them. He had a newfound respect for the Legion for making the damn thing look easier than booking an online ticket.
Dropping into the pocket he needed had been a feat enough. And then, Oliver needed to observe, to strategize, to plan. It was the one thing Chloe had been good at. He took notes from her. Finding the Justice League active in this universe had been surprising enough, knowing the reason was shocking.
Oliver Queen had turned his back on Green Arrow and supported the Suicide Squad, and they were together to figure out why. After an explanation that landed him on his back with AC ready to pummel him, Victor had realized it was too absurd of a lie to concoct. And so Oliver had his eyes and ears. Within a week, the most that the Trapper gave him, he was ready to go in.
Regina. Chloe abhorred him then, when the Suicide Squad's programming still strong in her mind, but still she named her Regina. Queen.
This was Chloe in a world where she chose her daughter over him, albeit unknowingly. Still, this was his Chloe. No matter the time, no matter which pocket universe he was, she was his.
He took a deep breath. Back home she was waiting. By now she would be frantic. He and Lois had not been forthcoming in their plans, but they had tried every way to get him there until Chloe had become tired of protests. Every one of those times almost killed him.
Every time he recovered, and she showered him with kisses, she begged him, "Tell me this is the last time, Ollie."
Chronos nearly ripped him into bits of flesh and bone scattered across time.
Booster Gold set a Rip Hunter and the Linear Men after him as if he were a time paradox to be resolved.
When it all failed, Oliver had turned away from the concept of time and to the dimensions. Eve Eden took him across the desolate, dead Land of Nightshades until he woke at the edge of sanity.
And Chloe looked at him from the doorway of their bedroom, cold and quiet. She turned around and walked away.
He did not go to hell and back for nothing. He held on to the image in his heart when he walked down the corridor and stood outside the child's room. When he came home with their daughter, she would see. It would all be worth it in the end. A quarter of an hour, he thought when she saw the clock. Fifteen minutes and they would be a family. The Trapper gave him enough for a passenger.
Oliver opened the door and saw Chloe standing with Regina in her arms. She smiled at him and waved him in. "She had a bad dream," she said softly.
"Let me have her," he said. Thirteen minutes, he thought. In thirteen minutes, as long as he held her, it would be fine.
Chloe hesitated. She laid her cheek on the girl's head, and Oliver marvelled how gorgeous they were, mother and daughter and their hair spun gold. He had stepped into a fairy tale. She smiled, and he forced himself to remember that Chloe waited for him at home.
"We'll finish her milk."
Oliver watched as Chloe settled onto the large rocking chair in the corner of the room. Regina, at four, settled easily in her mother's arms almost like a baby. She was a baby still, he realized. He imagined Chloe right in that rocking chair feeding an infant, ached to see it, knew she would be a goddess.
Chloe placed the empty bottle on the seat.
"Let me have her," he rasped.
Chloe looked up at him uncertainly, then nodded. Oliver reached for the sleeping girl Regina and held her in his arms, embraced her tightly. He would not let go. When he arrived home, she would see. She would know that whatever she had done was worth it, whatever hell she saw when she was lost in time. He had nearly killed himself for this piece of happiness.
He loved Chloe.
"She's my entire world," Chloe said softly, with a smile. "Thank you."
And he had no idea if she was speaking to Thomas Tresser for the years he took care of them wearing Oliver Queen's face, or if she was thanking him. Her fingers had lingered a little too long on his face, feeling him, touching him.
Right when she pulled him down for a kiss.
"Chloe," he whispered.
"For what I've become, Oliver, she is the only reason I'm staying alive," she whispered.
Seconds ticked by in his head while he held his daughter.
Her green eyes shone as she held his gaze. She did not move, and he recognized the acceptance in her eyes. If he took her, it was because she deserved it.
"Get out from under them," he said, gritting his teeth. She nodded frantically.
"You can trust Tresser," Oliver stated, his brain working fast, remembering how Nemesis had been the one to get Chloe—his Chloe—out from the Suicide Squad's headquarters and into Smallville. "The Justice League. Tell them everything. They will help you, Chloe."
And she was crying, panicked.
Oliver turned to his daughter, and kissed her cheek.
He looked back at Chloe. He was tempted to reach for her, but two of the same being existing together in one plane would destroy them, render them into nothing but consciousness, their physical bodies disintegrated.
"Please," she whispered, reaching her arms out.
Oliver placed his daughter in her arms. She tightened her hold on the girl.
Oliver leaned over her and whispered, "It wasn't your fault." And then he was surrounded by the bright light.
He opened his eyes and found himself at the center of the safehouse. The first person he saw was Lois, who appeared defeated when he returned empty-handed. Clark looked down at his feet, then walked to his wife to take her home.
Finally, Oliver forced his eyes to the lone figure sitting on the couch, watching him. He sat beside him, resting his elbows on his knees, his shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry."
"Every time I jumped, I knew I could die," she said softly.
Even in the best calculated jumps, one never knew where and when to land. But they were missing a child, and she was saving his life.
"Tell me it's the last time," she said softly.
Every time she asked it, he could not commit to it. Somewhere out there, he had known, his daughter was lost. This time he said, "She's out there. I couldn't take her. Not from her," he whispered. Not from you.
And then he felt her, burrowing into his embrace. Oliver opened his arms and wrapped them around her. He breathed in deeply and closed his eyes. She had withheld her affection, clammed up into herself. And now here she was, in his arms. She kissed his neck, laying her body over his as he settled on the couch. "We'll be okay," she said to him. "Just the two of us, Ollie. Connor. We have Connor. We'll be okay," she said in a whisper.
The words, meant to be hopeful, sounded suspiciously like her own defeat.
"We'll be okay," he agreed, his voice stronger, his resolve firmer. "I'll make sure we're okay."