The Avatar

By Catheryne/tennysonslady

Characters: Chloe, Oliver, JL, SS, Lois

Summary: No matter the obstacles, Oliver will create the life he wants—wherever it is.

Rating: PG13

Part 4

In training, especially in archery, one rule was preeminent. This rule rose above it all. Keep your eyes on the prize. Never turn your back. It was this rule that Oliver had taught Mia over and over before she set off on her own. This was a rule that Oliver made clear to every last member of his team whenever they completed missions together.

This was in Oliver's head for so long that Oliver almost cursed himself when he made the very mistake that he had warned everyone about.

It should have been simple. But he had been erratic, thoughtless in his spur of the moment reactions. All he knew was that the team was primed in their respective spots. He waited for Dinah's voice. For some reason—maybe because it was she who had found the location in the first place—they had decided that they would follow Dinah's cue. It was only when the black military van rolled into the building gates, and Oliver spotted a slim opening, that it went to hell.

"Cue, Canary," he prompted, throwing off the rhythmic breathing.

"No," Dinah threw back. "We have to wait."

His heart beat fast. Wait. In between the beats, he thought, before letting the arrow fly. He taught Chloe that. He taught her hand to hand combat so that she could defend herself. Taught her everything he knew so he would never have to lose her.

She was inside, plugged and hooked to machines since he was foolish enough to let her walk away.

His heart beat fast that the flow of his blood was deafening, drowning even Dinah's voice.

He might claim to have missed Canary's instructions. Or if he survived he might say it did not matter. All Oliver knew was that his heart beat loud and it was easy to wait for the silence in between. His first arrow flew across the distance. When Canary cursed in his ear at his ill-timed offense, Oliver went radio silent and sprinted through the gates before they shut.

His eyes were on the prize. The prize was through those doors, inside that freezing room that Canary had described. Oliver threw gloved palms on the door to keep it from shutting.

And then he felt large arms throw him against the wall. He looked down at his attacker and saw Flagg glaring at him in disbelief.

"What on earth are you doing?"

Oliver was taken aback by the question. He would have though it obvious to the commander given the situation. So he demanded, "What happened, Flagg? Did she finally turn her back and your true nature get out?"

The muted explosions rocked their surroundings. Flagg hissed when sparks flew from the lock, breaking security in perpetuity. "Tell your team to stand down," the commander told Oliver.

"Why?"

"Because you are destroying the systems that are keeping Sullivan alive!"

Oliver's eyes narrowed at Flagg. Posed with the choice to trust the man or not, Oliver wavered. The fog within the room slowly dissipated. He turned his head. The grip that he had on Flagg's arms loosened as the misted glass cleared somewhat and revealed the still figure within.

Flagg pushed him to the side and rushed to the container, pressing a code into the machine.

At the sight of Oliver struck still by the doorway, Flagg explained, "During the final moments of the VRA we were caught in a match with skeletal forces. A piece of shrapnel lodged in her spine," he explained. Before Oliver could protest, Flagg continued, "She's seen that fight. She was prepared for the consequences."

If she did, then that was why she had prepared that goodbye, like a coward, through a VR. Oliver's rested a hand on the cold glass. It was a goodbye she had thought would remain, which she would be strong enough for.

"We couldn't wake her up, but we saw that her brain activity was full. And we know about the scenarios she'd built for you, so we connected her there, hoping we would keep her brain active enough to extract the secrets in her head."

Like the passcode to the missile systems. And heaven knew what else Chloe kept in that mind of hers.

"Over the last few months we managed to extract the shrapnel safely, but she's caught in there. Like she's not willing to wake up." He paused. "Or maybe she has no idea she's not in the real world. That's the most likely case because anytime we reach out, her avatar buries itself so deep inside the program where we can't reach her."

During the narrative the rest of his team and Flagg's companions had made their way into the room.

"Well she needs to realize it as soon as possible. Oxygen levels are dropping and we can't recover the pressure with the electricity busted by Queen's arrow here," related Deadshot, dropping the arrow on the floor.

In one computer, Victor worked and read through the code on the screen. "She's still in there. The VR hasn't been interrupted." He glanced at the power bar on the computer. "At least for the next few hours. Let me create an avatar. I'll wake her up."

"No." Oliver looked up to the team, then said, "Let me enter the virtual reality first."

Dinah placed a hand on his arm. "You need to be strong. She knows by now, and she's still right there. She's obviously willing to fight us on this. You've never fought anyone as intelligent—or as emotionally linked to you as Chloe is."

"She's not going to fight me."

Dinah shook her head. "There's a whole world of fighting strategies that anyone can take. Just keep your head, Arrow."

~o~o~

When Oliver opened his eyes, he became of his surroundings. He was in the back of a limousine. The plush leather seat beside him was empty. His head throbbed. The darkness inside the vehicle was in perfect tune with the late afternoon sun outside. He blinked his eyes at the sight of the crashing waves. Chloe stood outside the vehicle looking out at the tall abandoned lighthouse.

He stepped out of the vehicle and walked towards her. Despite his stealth she still turned around and looked at him when he moved. Her lips curved. She reached out a hand and he took it. Oliver stopped right behind her and pressed himself on her back, wrapped his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her head.

"We're just outside Star City," she said softly.

"I see that."

The rickety old lighthouse was one of the places his father took him to. Back when he was a little boy, his father took pride in telling his son how his great grandfather used to walk from his home in the city, past the jagged rocks and climbed up those endless steps to burn a fire in that lighthouse. His bride was being sent from England all the way to California, and the man waited in that lighthouse, decades after the ship sank to the bottom of the Atlantic, and waited.

"I thought maybe you would be happier in your home town," she told him. "And I am willing to pack up our lives in Metropolis if you would be happier here."

His heart grew full. He turned her around in his arms until she faced him. Oliver lowered his head and kissed her. "I'm happy wherever you are."

In the back of his head he remembered Dinah's words of caution, but his senses were full of the loud, crashing waves, the fragrance of the fresh breeze, and the sensation of her kiss. Chloe's lips landed on the pulse in his neck. "Let's go to the lighthouse," she whispered against his skin.

It was an old lighthouse, hardly maintained at all by the city.

"It would be dangerous there. The steps could cave in." The wood, if Oliver remembered correctly, had not been the best, and in years of exposure to the elements the grain gave and fractured.

She cupped his face. "Maybe the steps were cemented these last few years," she suggested.

Oliver had no doubt when they arrived the staircase would be firm and stone. Because this was her world.

This was a virtual world to where she was trapped, for two years, and he was the only other soul she saw. And he had not realized.

"Come with me," she invited again. With a small smile that furthered the guilt in his heart, she pleaded, "I don't want to be alone."

The team waited, just there, right outside their heads. But she was beautiful to him, golden and glowing under the setting sun. Oliver broke into a grin, then nodded. When she giggled at the prospect, his heart soared. He held tightly to her hand as they burst into a run. When they hit the rocky beach, Chloe called for him to stop and she shucked off the heeled shoes that were merely inconvenient on the sand.

"Barefoot?" he yelled through the crashing waves.

"Better than tripping and bloody by the time we get there!" she cried out back to him.

Hand in hand, they ran across the rocky beach. Oliver was especially carefully when they crossed the jagged rocks. And then, when they reached the lighthouse, he looked up at the tall white building that gleamed red and orange. He peered inside, at the interior that was completely different from his own recollection, knew Chloe had seen photographs of the lighthouse but built the inside from imagination.

And she must have known that he would notice the difference. When he glanced back at her, for the first time, Oliver noticed the uncertainty in her gaze.

He loved her so much more for those moments of insecurity. Because beneath it all he was now the only person in the world with whom she would dare to be so open and vulnerable.

"It looks like I never left," he lied.

And she beamed, tugged at his hand as they raced up the wet, cement steps. The burst of enthusiasm enough to support his flagrant lie.

"Be careful!" he called out. "We're near enough and high enough that the wind can knock you down."

Her brows rose. She shook her head with a smile. "I'm not gonna fall. I've got you watching out for me, hero."

"That's damn right," he murmured.

The spray of water and the strong wind was steady through the wide open windows. She laughed when she saw him, and she reached to brush his wet hair off his forehead. When they reached the top, Oliver placed his hands on her waist. Her hair whipped back because of the wind.

"I love this," she told him as she looked out to the sea. "I want to live here."

He chuckled. "As used as I am to penthouses, living in this lighthouse will take a lot of very rational redesign choices." Her eyes were closed as she relished the cool air on her face. And he was pretty certain he would fund the interior design of hell if that was where she wanted to live.

She turned her head. And the smile had faded. "No, Ollie," she whispered. "Here. I want to live here."

His smile faded. "We need to go home."

"Why?" she challenged him. "Connor is here, Oliver. And we're so happy."

There was no way he could rebuff the statement. The year they were married, had Connor, in the months when he believed this was just a link to an empty program—was the happiest year in his life.

"You know why," was his only answer.

"I don't care," she whispered back. "I've lived in a virtual world years before this one, Ollie. But my world never became as near perfect as it is now."

She was shivering now, and Oliver rubbed his hands down her arms. He sucked in his breath when she wrapped her arms around his body tightly.

"I don't want to go," she whispered again. "If you love me, you'll stay."

In their short time together, she had never been selfish. Even when she ran far and lost herself, she did it for him and their friends. And sometimes he wished she could be selfish once, so that he would know what it was she truly wanted.

He heard it now.

Oliver slanted his lips over hers. A word caught in her throat. She rested her palms on his chest. He felt her tremble as the wind blew goosebumps on her wet skin. Her fingers fumbled with the buttons of his shirt. Oliver raised his head, licked his lips, tasted her. He peeled her blouse back and bared her breasts to him, blowing a cold circled that perked her nipples. She hissed, closing her eyes and throwing back her head, when he licked the hardened nubs. When he bit gently, almost reverently, Chloe gasped and buried her fingers in his hair.

"Ollie," she breathed.

He knelt before her, over the clothes were thrown hastily on the floor. She looked down at him. When he rested his hands on her hips, she placed her palms over them. He guided her and she lowered herself over him. She gripped his shoulders. Oliver tightened his hold on her as he slowly filled her.

"I want to be with you," he said, in a whispered, fervent promise.

Their limbs were tangled as naked, they fell asleep. He woke up to find his skin warmed by the afternoon sun pouring in through the window. She looked back at him from where her chin rested on his chest. There was that silence that warred with the white noise of the waves and the wind and the sea. He looked around and realized they were not in his great grandfather's lighthouse.

"We're home," she said softly.

Oliver slowly looked around and recognized the mantel, the high ceilings, the furnishings around them. She had surrounded them with the master's bedroom of the Queen Manor.

"Star City. My parent's house," he said.

She sat up, her upper body bare, glinting golden in the light of the afternoon. And he adored that she could be so at ease around him. She bit her lower lip, then gave him a small smile. She drew her fingers down, trailing from the hollow of his throat, down to his chest, down to his navel. Oliver grabbed her hand, then brought it up to his lips.

"Chloe," he said again, "we need to talk. I want you to listen to me."

She must have known because the next that he knew there was a peeling cry and a knock. She stood from the bed and shrugged on a bedrobe. When she opened the door, Oliver glimpsed a strange woman holding out their son.

"Mrs Queen," said the woman.

"Give him to me."

She walked back towards him, Connor's squirming causing the bedrobe to fall slightly open. She looked back at him from the center of the room. She kissed Connor's neck, then Chloe asked, "Do you really want to leave this behind, Oliver?"

And then he blinked. And suddenly there were different shades of the soft sunlight. He looked up, recognized the stained glass windows high up that depicted the stations of the cross, realized they were now in the church where his mother and father had brought him to take his first communion. The heavy, solemn prayer rang within the echoing walls. As he adjusted to the new scenario, he looked down to the woman beside him.

She was lovely, in the white lace blouse with pearls he had seen only once in his mother's jewelry box.

"Help me," she whispered.

He took Connor from her and lifted him over the basin so that the priest could pour holy water over his head. Afterwards Chloe dried his head with a washcloth. She took Connor from Oliver and placed the cap on his head. Maybe he could stay. Maybe this was the best way to go. It would certainly be painless, and he would have everything he could possibly want.

She nodded towards the pews. Oliver glanced towards the audience. His heart stopped. His mother and father stood up front, and he saw the look of pure pride on his father's face. His jaw locked. He shook his head at Chloe, then walked down the aisle.

He heard her chasing after him, but he did not stop until he saw outside the church. In his frustration tears prickled his eyes. She caught his arm. He looked down at her pleading eyes.

"You stepped over a line, Chloe."

And she nodded. "I just—I didn't want you to leave."

The things we do when we fight for love. He knew, because he was stuck in this contortion of heaven and hell, and he would be, he knew, until the day he knew she would come with him.

In the end, she gave him the day to say goodbye. Sunday dinner with his parents answered all the questions he had as child. When they died he wanted one more day, and he took it with the calmness wrought in his veins by years of fighting and loving a woman who could slip away any time.

His mother offered to tuck Connor in, and his father—like every night when he was alive—went with his wife. Chloe wrapped her arms around Oliver's waist. His arm rested over her shoulders as they climbed the steps.

This was real. This was his reality now.

She reached for the knob on their bedroom door. Her hand phased through the knob. She raised her hand and Oliver saw how the colors faded, how those ones and zeroes blinked and faded. She looked up at him in panic.

Oliver closed his eyes, listening, in his state easily able to hear the commotion outside, in the world.

Crashing. Her heart's failing. Oxygen levels. She's starting to seize.

He threw a glance towards the wing where his mother, his father, his son had vanished. And then he he reached for her.

"Take my hand, Chloe," he said firmly, gone was the gentleness. Right now she needed him to be the hero, just like she had been so many times before.

"I don't want to," she whispered. "The last year, Ollie…"

"If you wake up for me, we'll have fifty—eighty." When he saw her look towards the other wing, Oliver grabbed her arm. "Don't. I won't ask you to forget. But you know as well as I do that we need to get out now, Chloe. I'm not losing you. Not again."

Her eyes brimmed with tears. Oliver refused to give in. And she punished her. She was a master at it. He heard the cries of their son, their mock, their virtual, their genuinely loved baby.

"Take my hand," he pleaded. "You need to take my hand."

She closed her eyes, squeezed tightly shut, and placed her hand in his. He almost choked in his loud relief. Chloe buried her face in his chest. Oliver gave a final glance towards the wing, saw his father standing behind his mother while she held Connor. This was all just design. The floor between them fracture until the crevice yawned. Oliver looked down at the dark gap between.

He took a deep breath.

"Now, Chloe."

And soon they were falling.

Oliver opened his eyes. He stood quickly and stumbled towards the bed. The League, the squad, surrounded Chloe. He pushed his way to her and the machines slowed.

"She's stable," Victor said in relief.

The earth shook under his feet. No one else seemed to notice. They were aftershocks of the end. An end. He glanced at the mainframe computer and saw Tess standing before a program that disintegrated and shattered onscreen.

"It's gone," Tess read from the screen.

Oliver made his way back, sat on the edge of where she lay. Around him, one by one, the occupants of the room left. She was stable, and the only thing left to happen no one wanted to watch. And so Oliver sat alone and waited, watched and stayed beside her as her eyes fluttered open.

For the first time in two years, she opened her eyes. Her gaze rested on his face. On his lips he forced a smile.

"I'm sorry," she said, her voice raspy, her throat dry. "It's all gone, isn't it?"

And he held her, imagined the crumbling lighthouse, the house that would fall down, the son and the parents that faded away.

"You built it all, single handedly, all by yourself," he reminded her. "And we had everything in a year." He kissed her temple, wet with her tears. Her body was limp, boneless almost, from such long inactivity. "You gave me a family and a home," he told her. "Imagine how much faster we can have it all when I'm building our life with you. Marry me."

She looked at him, blinked, pieced together what she knew, waded in the sad intertwined truths and lies.

And the virtual reality, he recognized, was as real to her as it had been to him.

So he helped her. "Again."

fin

Cheers to what was the actual end of Smallville for me – Chloe's last episode.