Nothing Remained But Your Eyes
Characters: Chloe, Oliver, Zatanna, John Zatara, Lex Luthor, Lionel Luthor, Clark, Lois
Summary: At the end of his life Oliver Queen asked the most powerful sorceress in the universe to grant him one wish. Now he's living a new chance to retrieve what he once lost.
AN: One of my favorite poets is Neruda, and many of the stories I have written are anchored on lines from Neruda's poems. Every part of this story that I want to tell is anchored on Sonnet XC of the Hundred Love Sonnets.
I dreamed that I died: that I felt the cold close to me;
And all that was left of my life was contained in your presence.
The very name brought a thrill to his skin, a certain chill. Almost like there were cold creeping fingers trailing down the back of his neck. There was a catch in his throat, consistent and throbbing but the dead stillness was too attractive to make a whisper of a noise.
Shadowcrest had stood looming, with its bleary random light twinkling in the night sky. In the lush comfort of the leather seat of his towncar Oliver Queen spread his hand, fingers splayed, his nails biting into the plush cover. He licked his lips at the sudden dryness of his mouth. It was a far cry from the skyscrapers he had purchased after a careful and thorough inspection that cost months and a company worth of engineers. Sight unseen, Oliver had wired the money to the owner just because of the name.
And now Shadowcrest sat at the very end of his portfolio, a magnificent old home that drained money from his accounts—useless, like some memory of a life long gone. It was not even his own memories. It was an ancestral home of a family that could not manage its own growing power and eventually lost it all.
"Shadowcrest is an anchor," was a selling point to him. But it had been so long ago since he had handed the papers to a lawyer who in turn handed it to another.
An anchor. It was a good marketing tagline for men like him, and Oliver did not even know why.
Perhaps he needed an anchor at the time he threw money into the property. But there was too much at stake now, other projects he needed to fund himself. There was no need to lose money on property taxes and maintenance of a place that was nothing but a whim.
Outside he heard the thunder disturb the quiet night. He peered outside the tinted windows and saw the crack of lightning rend the pitch black sky before another rumble vibrated through the ground. Within second it was pouring so thickly he doubted that the driver could see past half a foot.
"Mr Queen," started the driver.
"Pull over," Oliver instructed. There was no need to endanger his own life or that of anyone who worked for him. Shadowcrest was dead and bleeding after all. It did not matter if there was an hour or twelve or delay.
Three hours later and Oliver was glad they were on an incline, because the rain was as hard and thick as when it began. He cursed Gotham for what he was sure was its own curse. He abhorred the climate there, wished he was back home where the sun was felt even in the cool of the night. It was easy to have other activities in a warm night. Gotham was hell on earth, and he had no doubt the large drops of water were in fact tinged with a little bit of ice.
"It's past dinner time, Mr Queen," came the gentle reminder from the driver seat. "I have a sandwich packed from the kitchen. You can have it if you're getting hungry."
But he never did get hungry. Oliver did not know why. It was something he never verbalized, because out in the world that did not know who he was the statement would be twisted into some form of egomaniacal proclamation of a billionaire instead of a gastric anomaly.
"I have my brandy. I think I'm good," Oliver pronounced. He reached for the bottle in the convenient resting place and poured some in a crystal shallow glass. Oliver reached forward and thrust it at the man in front, smirking at the responsibility he had in his veins to hand potent alcohol to the man with the wheel under his hands. "Warm up," he told the driver. "One shot wouldn't spike your blood alcohol. By the time this rain stops you'll have that out of your system."
The man received the brandy with a grateful nod.
"Giovanni," the driver told him. "But everyone calls me John."
Oliver nodded back and poured himself triple the amount. He tipped the glass to his mouth. The glass was cool against his lips and his eyelids fluttered closed. Oliver sighed. The brandy burned a path down his throat.
It was like fire—hot as hell and burning down to his lungs. He gasped. His eyes shot open and instead of the gray ceiling of the towncar Oliver found himself staring up at licking flames and a thick, thick cloud of smoke. He heard his name called from afar, and when he turned towards the strange, familiar voices he saw nothing but smoke and a silhouette behind it.
He searched, knowing he needed to look left, to the floor. A blur tinged red and blue zipped in front of him, waking the flames further. The floor to his side was empty save a puddle of dark red blood smeared in the corners where, he realized, looking down at the green leather covering his legs he had knelt.
A compound bow lay discarded to the side. His throat was raw, completely and utterly ravaged, and it was more than the smoke that tore the pipes. He could not speak, barely breathe. But he was alone then and there was no need to say a word ever again.
Oliver looked down at his fisted hand and recognized that he gripped the steel column of an arrow. His hand was bare, no gloves, no protection. But it was warm, sticky, coated slick and gruesome. He dropped the arrow with a start, then held out his hand towards the licking flames. The steel arrow clattered on the floor, making more noise to his ears than the collapsing beams around him.
The dim light of the flame illuminated his skin. Oliver's raw throat ached at the sight. Blood. All over his hand, painting his wrists like he had washed himself with fresh blood.
Oliver jerked up in his seat. His gaze flew around him and he found himself still seated in the back of the towncar. The torrential rain had eased somewhat. He met the curious eyes of the driver in the rearview mirror.
"Glad you managed to doze off, Mr Queen. We'll be on the road again in a little bit."
Oliver nodded. His racing heart slowed. He brought the brandy to his mouth again and swallowed deeply, killing the smoke he imagined still lined his insides, burning off the scent of fire and blood that coated his nostrils.
As promised, the car started once again. The incline up was slick and tricky as they meandered the paths to Shadowcrest.
The sale had been simple, and rash. He had no business looking at real estate when he had been searching for a project that would establish his place at the helm. But the girl had made her way over to him at the end of his workday with a swing to her hips that men his age could not deny.
"At the end of your life, who do you want to be?" he remembered the girl ask him. "My father wanted to be remembered for everything he had the ability to do. That was what Shadowcrest stood for." Zatanna. The girl's name was Zatanna. And for a heritage as important to her family as Shadowcrest the girl had been only too eager to sell—and only to Oliver Queen.
Oliver certainly related to what she valued. He needed to strengthen his place at the company because it was his parents' life's work.
Oliver had sat across the girl as they spoke business in the hotel retaurant. "I'm too young to answer that question, don't you think?" he returned fluidly.
"You've answered the question before, Mr Queen," she returned, her voice cryptic, her smile far from it. "Believe me."
Oliver chuckled, knowing the girl would probably be able to sell whatever she wanted with those red lips and the endless legs. "Are you telling me we met before?"
A shrug of creamy shoulders had been more fulfilling than to see her nod. "Maybe in another life. Maybe I asked you that question. Maybe you answered, and that's why you're here."
"Maybe you're flirting amazingly well and it's working, because I'm about to reach for my checkbook."
She reached for his hand and squeezed it gently. "Shadowcrest means far too much to me, so I need to know that you deserve it. My father wasted away the last years of his life and all he left is in Shadowcrest." Her brilliant eyes held him still, and the amusement faded from his chest. "I asked you once and you gave me an answer that I respected. I'm asking you again, Mr Queen. If this was the last day of your life, what would you want?"
For the life of him, he could not answer her question.
"Marriage," she whispered. "Marriage and children."
And he could not help but feel that she knew too much, had seen too much, watched too much.
"Or would you ask for a few more years, when you get to the end?"
The server passed and refilled the cup of coffee in front of Oliver. Oliver undid the napkin and then dumped a sugar cube into the cup.
"That your name is never forgotten," she added.
Her eyes fluttered to his idle hand. And then Zatanna nodded. "I'll have my lawyer contact yours, Mr Queen." The girl rose and ambled away, like she was the one who had done him the favor, and he was not the one who would be giving her millions.
He had looked down and realized he was gripping the spoon in his hand so fiercely that his knuckles had gone white.
As they entered the lot of Shadowcrest, the lamps lit. Oliver beheld the large mansion that, despite its grandeur, barely compared to the Queen or the Wayne estates. He did not wait for the driver to open his door. Oliver pushed open his own door and he felt the cold drizzle on his skin. He strode over to the steps and ran up, then pushed the heavy doors opened.
The place was musky, abandoned for so long that spiders had weaved webs from the ceiling down to his eye level.
"I can help you. I wouldn't offer this to just anyone, Oliver, but I owe you. Tell me," came the whispered temptation into his ear. Oliver whirled around and found himself standing alone in the foyer. She had asked him before, she told him. Once, in another lifetime, she had asked and he had answered. "You've lived a full life," came Zatanna's words, soft and gentle, her fingers cool on his hot brow.
Oliver slowly backed away from the foyer, out the heavy doors, until once more he stood out on the steps. He shut the door behind him. He turned around and looked back at the driver who had only just stepped out of the towncar. Curtly, Oliver said, "We're going back to the city."
All around her the world was burning.
Chloe Sullivan had survived a half dozen ends of the world, only to end this way. The pain wrenched inside of her, twisted and burned in one center space. Her intestines tore at the awful sensation, and soon a chill warred with the burning pain. Her hands trembled. She could barely breathe. She gasped, noisily, and she heard the gurgle in her own throat as blood bubbled inside and spilled from the corner of her mouth. She watched as the blood pulsed from her stomach and coated his fist.
Chloe blinked the haze in her vision and when it cleared, through the thick smoke of pain and fear she saw that he was gripping the thick shaft of an arrow, burying it steadily into her gut.
The metallic scent of blood filled her senses to overflowing. She weaved at her feet. Chloe gripped his arms and slowly she looked up at him and met his covered eyes. Slowly she reached up and pushed the dark shades that covered them.
Her killer's eyes were brown, liquid. They were the last thing she remembered before she felt him twist the weapon in her gut, and she fell into his arms.
When she woke from the nightmare she shook. She pulled the thick coverlet around herself and still she trembled. The world burned in the nightmare but she had been cold and she wondered if it was heaven or hell that would be so freezing cold amidst all that fire. At least she knew death was cold. Chloe glanced at the clock and noted the time, then barely managing to hold herself together Chloe crawled out of the bed with weak and trembling knees.
She stepped under the shower and turned it on full blast. Chloe lowered her head and scrubbed her body. She trailed fingers down her stomach and swallowed, feeling still the painful recollection of the nightmare.
Those eyes of her murderer. She was never going to forget.
The ringing phone barely penetrated the sound of the running water, but Chloe was hyperaware of her surroundings in the moments after she woke from her nightmares. Chloe turned off the shower and walked out to the window. She saw the convertible waiting right outside and waved. The ringing stopped. Chloe pulled on a black high waisted skirt and a yellow silk blouse from her closet.
She had one hand on the doorknob when her phone rang again. Chloe raced back to the bed and rejected the call, then grinned when the message appeared reminding him that she was about to forget the phone.
Chloe ran out of the Talon and across the street with a grin, flashing the phone. She got into the passenger seat of the car and shook her head. "You really think you know me so well."
His smile was charming, and she laughed gently when he shrugged. "I think the truth speaks for itself. I saw you come back for it."
"Fine," she decided. "But I won't admit it out loud."
"Good enough," he returned.
Chloe dropped the phone into her bag, then looked back at him with a smile. His eyebrow arched. "Something on my face, Chloe?"
She shook her head, then leaned back in her seat. Lex started the car and drove to the castle. They stopped right at the doorstep, and Lex tossed the keys to one of the waiting men. Chloe stepped out of the car without waiting for him to open the door for her. When he glanced at her with raised brows, Chloe stuck out her chin in a challenge.
He fell into step by her side. Before he could speak, she said, "For all we know he has cameras trained on us."
So they entered the castle together. Breakfast had become tradition since Lionel handed the column to her when she was in high school, and five years with the Luthors had given her a deep understanding of the interaction she expected from father and son. Chloe carried the conversation with Lionel with barely a pause. By now, she did not exert the effort to involve Lex because the very act carried with it an expected tension.
In fact, Lionel would hardly expect the son he obliged to pick up the girl he had thought of as a mentee to interact casually with Chloe.
When Lionel offered to have a car take her to Metropolis for her classes, Chloe glanced at Lex. "Are you driving to the city today, Lex?" When Lex nodded, Chloe turned to Lionel and rejected the offer. "I think I want to start going green." At the end of the statement, Chloe wondered why the words made her breathless. "Strictly for environmental purposes."
Lionel regarded her with amusement, and Chloe recognized pleasure on his face when he thought he was inconveniencing his son.
Chloe and Lex shared the drive to Metropolis. The three hour drive in the peak hours gave them a chance to exchange updates that Lex was sure would be safe. His cars, at least, he was certain were not bugged.
"Do you have the evidence in a safe place?" he asked.
Evidence as sensitive as ones that could put Lionel Luthor in jail forever was enough that she had taken sufficient precaution. "Until we can release them to the authorities, they're completely secure."
Lex nodded. Chloe marveled at the strength of will he exhibited as they took it one step at a time. In his place, she would have yelled bloody murder and ensured that Lionel never slept under the same roof again. Then again, her only exposure to fatherhood was her own dad and Jonathan Kent. She was not going to presume she knew how Lex felt about Lionel.
The car stopped at a traffic light in front of the Metropolis Museum. Chloe sighed and checked her watch. "I'm going to be late for class," she said idly.
"That's why I'm telling you to move to Metropolis."
Chloe rolled her eyes. The man always had to be right. She caught sight of the billboard from the sideview mirror. The billboard showed a photograph of a large sarcophagus and other artifacts and murmured, "A Tale of Eternal Love." It was a showing in the museum that was about to open. "How romantic."
Lex checked his own side mirror then nodded. "I read about that. Queen is sponsoring the project. Must be expanding his hobbies."
"You know him?" Chloe asked, straightening in her seat. "Because I'd love tickets."
Lex grunted. "Went to boarding school with him. But even if I don't know him, we can get you tickets. I'm Lex Luthor," he pointed out. Chloe chuckled. "And it's false advertisement. It's not romantic as much as it's gruesome. Osiris was chopped up into fourteen pieces and Isis moved heaven and earth to gather all the chopped parts of his body so he can live again. And that's only the less gruesome part of that story."
"Isis was a goddess. She probably had her choice of men. She could have moved on. She didn't. She moved heaven and earth for him. I think that's romantic," she told him. "I want to go."
The light turned green and Lex drove until they stopped near the building where her classes were. "Go ahead and shop, although I have no idea how you're going to find something to wear in short notice. It's a costume ball."
Chloe beamed. "You don't have a cousin named Lois Lane." She leaned forward and dropped a kiss on his cheek. With everything that was going on, she needed a break—even if it came in the form of a museum gala.
Lex unsnapped his seatbelt and turned his head so he could capture her lips. Chloe placed her hands on his shoulders. The smooth, lithe power under her palms thrilled her. More than anyone else in the world, she knew what he was capable of. And she was glad she was on the right side.
She was going to be late for class anyway. The sooner she could tell him, the sooner part of the weight would be lifted from her chest.
"Lex," she breathed. Slowly she pulled away so she could meet his eyes. "I need your help."
At the somber expression on her face, he leaned back and nodded. Chloe expected nothing less. When she was younger she had asked for his help and he never once denied her. Now she had been writing for the Daily Planet for years courtesy of Lionel Luthor's endorsement. She stumbled across damning evidence about her benefactor and until she could use it, Lex was her protector.
"Anything," was his response. "Is it my father?"
It may not have been her choice. It was a choice made by her best friend when he walked away, thinking that Chloe had chosen Lex Luthor over him. But Lex looked on like he was prepared to take on any threat in the world for her, and she did not regret the way the cards fell down.
Chloe shook her head. Reluctantly, she admitted, "I don't know how to begin."
"Do you trust me?"
He had already saved her life. And this time, they were embarking on a dangerous mission together. The mission would take down an evil as great as his father. "I have a strong suspicion that your father killed mine," she whispered. In her effort to prove it, she had been willing to delve into the depths of the Luthor life. "And I'm in your car. What do you think?"
Lex's lips thinned. They had spoken about the fertilizer plant disaster, and the various employees who had been killed following the commotion that happened during the employee takeover.
"I think my life is in danger."
Instead of disbelief, Chloe felt Lex tense. "I can arrange for a safehouse for you, Chloe. What makes you think you're in danger?"
She took a deep breath. She did not remember too much from the nightmare, but she did remember those dark shades, those warm brown eyes, the way his firm hand gripped the arrow and pushed it into her gut.
"I don't know," she whispered. The flames were scorching and the chill in her bones had been so real. And even then, Chloe wondered why in death she had wanted to hold him so tightly, imagined how it would feel when her slack lips rested against his. She thought she breathed her last breath into the crook of his neck. He was so willing to hold her when she died.
But he killed her. She had seen her own blood staining his hand as certainly as she saw those eyes that haunted her even now.
"But I know he's coming soon," she whispered, and despite the strength and purpose she had shown so far in the quest to take down Lionel Luthor, Chloe was sure she could be just a little bit vulnerable in front of Lex. "I don't know who he is but I need you to protect me from him."