Summary: Post Conspiracy. Things go from bad to worse when Oliver and Chloe still can't quite make up.
And here you have it, all wrapped up. Hope you enjoyed it, and thank you for every single review and kind word.
Chloe stayed very close to Oliver as they walked into the restaurant. She was surprised he hadn't protested at her coming along, but despite the attack, he hadn't even hinted that she should stay behind or somehow monitor the meeting from elsewhere. Whatever his reasoning, she stayed close, both to grab him if he stumbled and to support him in whatever his scheme was.
The small upscale restaurant was empty except for one linen-covered table right in the middle of the room. One man sat at the table while two more stood behind him who might as well have had "Goon" tattooed on their foreheads. The seated man, Moretti, was in his fifties, had a full head of salt and pepper hair and an expensive suit, although he was no match for Oliver's tailor or for the way Oliver filled out a suit. He was as ugly as Oliver was handsome, and she didn't just mean his looks. Physically, he wasn't horrible, but there was just something about him. He was as repellent as Oliver was alluring.
Oliver led the way to the table. Moretti did not stand as they approached, clearly signaling that he was in charge and they were coming to him as supplicants.
The table was set for two, so Oliver grabbed a chair from another table and pulled it up to theirs, holding it gallantly for her to be seated first. Chloe took her place, and then Oliver sat in the other chair, folding his hands in his lap. For several moments, they all sat there in silence, and Chloe had the feeling it was like children seeing who would blink first.
Finally, it was Moretti who gave in. "Mr. Queen… May I call you Oliver?"
"Of course," he said easily. "We're all friends here." Oliver smiled genially and Chloe looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He appeared completely relaxed and even affable. The only giveaway, and she doubted anyone noticed but her, was a few fine lines around his eyes that warned of just how angry he really was.
"I have to say," Moretti looked Oliver up and down, "you're looking a little rougher than the last time I saw you." Oliver was white as a sheet, the cut on his brow was closed with butterfly bandages, his hands bore the evidence that he'd been brawling, and the dark circles under his eyes were so black as to make him appear bruised.
"I just got this suit," Oliver said, purposely misunderstanding. "Maybe it's not my tailor's best work. He is getting older." He made a show of patting the lapels. "What can you do? He's been with the family for years."
Moretti shrugged, as if to say he, too, knew the trials of modern rich guy living. "Would you like something to drink?" He gestured toward one of the goons, since the restaurant appeared to be empty otherwise.
"No, thank you." Oliver's pleasant façade slipped just a bit and Chloe knew he had to be hurting beyond belief. Forcing him to sit and appear unaffected was torture in and of itself. "Let's get down to business, shall we?"
"Very well." Moretti reached down beside him and shuffled in an attaché case. He pulled out a small sheaf of papers and set it on the table. He cast a glance at Chloe, momentarily curious, but it passed just as quickly. Moretti pushed the papers across the table so that they were right in front of Oliver. She saw that there were even little colored flags stuck to the pages where he was supposed to sign.
"I am sorry it has come to this," Moretti said.
Chloe didn't think he looked sorry. He looked triumphant. Oliver must have been a definite thorn in the man's side. She almost smiled. If there was one thing Oliver was good at, it was causing problems and aggravating the bad guys.
"Allow me." Moretti pulled a pen out of his breast pocket and set it on top of the papers. "Sign the contract and this unpleasant situation will all be over. Business will go on as usual." When Oliver did not pick up the pen, the man frowned. "Look, Queen… this has gone on long enough. You are out of options. Sign."
Oliver cocked his head to one side, studying his opponent. "No, I don't think so."
"I beg your pardon?"
"As long as we're so friendly," Oliver replied, "then allow me to make myself clear."
Moretti's eyes narrowed and he pursed his lips, not pleased with Oliver's less than subservient tone, while his goons bristled at their boss being openly disrespected. "Go right ahead."
"I will not now, nor will I ever be your laundry service." Oliver put a hand on the papers and shoved them right back over to Moretti.
The mob boss looked murderous. "You forget-"
"I forget nothing," Oliver snapped, all pretense of friendliness gone. "Your hitman is currently in police custody and if you contact your men, you'll find they are no longer enjoying the company of my employee. That is, if they're out of the hospital or bailed out of jail."
Moretti snapped his fingers and Goon #1 walked toward the back, pulling out his phone. They all waited while he spoke quietly to someone on the other end. After that there was complete silence while Oliver and Moretti returned to their staring contest. Chloe might as well not have been there for all the attention they paid her. Finally, Goon #1's phone rang. He listened briefly, then put his phone away. "One's in the hospital, the rest are in jail," he grunted.
Moretti didn't say anything, but his neck turned red as a lobster as his temper and blood pressure rose.
"So let me tell you how things really stand," Oliver said icily. "You will never step foot near me, my company, or my employees again."
"I wasn't finished," he bit out. "While you've been threatening me or making demands or whatever you think you've been doing, I've been busy too." All of Oliver's attention was focused on Moretti, a barely leashed fury in his expression. "Your house is mortgaged." He pointed to the goons behind Moretti. "So are theirs. So is virtually every home owned by your employees, from your top lieutenants on down. I've bought up every one of those loans. Your businesses, your legitimate ones anyway, have taken out various loans through various banks. Some of your businesses are on rented property. I have bought every bit of that property and I have bought every one of those loans." Oliver leaned forward in his chair. "If you so much as touch one hair on the head of one of my people, I will raise the rent through the roof on every one of those businesses and I will call in every one of those loans."
Moretti was gaping like a landed fish. "You… you can't do that!"
"You have four legitimate children, all adults, and two mistresses with one illegitimate child a piece," Oliver stated flatly.
Moretti's eyes widened to the point it was almost comical. "What… how did you…"
"I also own the loans on their homes. I own their college loans, personal loans, their medical bills, their credit cards. I own their car loans. I will foreclose on their houses. I will demand payment for the rest. If pressed I will make sure anyone associated with you who works for a legitimate business where I have any influence is fired. You, your family, your employees, their parents, spouses, children." Oliver's glare was cold, deadly. "I will financially ruin you all."
"But you…" Moretti and his two goons looked stunned. Chloe herself was feeling stunned. She'd had no idea how busy Oliver had been during the past few weeks. He certainly hadn't been joking when he said he had a plan.
"You threatened my employees and my company, two things I will not stand for." Oliver sat back in his chair, once again seemingly relaxed. "Do not cross a billionaire, Mr. Moretti. We have our own ways of breaking people."
"This isn't possible." Moretti stood up so quickly his chair fell over backwards. He was shaking with anger. "Do you know who I am? No one-"
Oliver quickly cut him off. "I know exactly who and what you are." He, too, stood and spent a moment calmly smoothing his tie into place. It looked habitual, but Chloe knew he was covering for the time he needed to get his pain levels back in control. "If you cross my path again, I'll take everything you, your family, and your employees have and you'll be exactly one thing to me." He met Moretti's furious gaze. "A tax write-off."
Oliver held out his hand for Chloe to take. She was feeling a bit battered from the encounter and didn't think twice about taking it. Together, they walked toward the door, but Oliver stopped just before the exit. He turned. "One last thing. If you're thinking about eliminating me, my team knows exactly what to do with your properties and your businesses. They will start proceedings immediately. Just do us both a favor. Go away, Mr. Moretti. Don't bother me, and I'll do the same."
Chloe squeezed his hand, encouraging him to stop goading the enraged mobster. Oliver looked down at her hand and smiled. "Oh, I almost forgot."
"What?" Moretti ground out.
"This woman. I brought her for a reason. Your man tried to kill her earlier today." Oliver's smile faded to something lethal, almost feral, something Chloe had never seen in his expression before. "If you or your employees so much as look at her again, I won't just ruin you." His voice dropped low to a dangerous growl. "I will end you. Personally. Do we understand each other?"
Moretti's eyes nervously glanced at her and then away. He might be a killer, but he seemed to recognize a superior predator. "Yes," he finally said.
"Good," Oliver's expression lightened into his usual confident affability. "I'm glad we could have this talk. It ironed out a lot of issues. Businessmen… we love meetings that iron out issues." He turned back toward the door with Chloe still in tow and left.
Chloe was silent the entire ride back to the Clocktower. Oliver was as well, but she wasn't sure he was actually conscious. His head was leaned back on the seat and his eyes were closed.
Even if he wasn't asleep, Chloe was grateful for a few minutes to be alone with her own thoughts. Oliver was usually so easy-going, so light-hearted, for a hawk-eyed vigilante who fought injustice on a nightly basis, at least. Yet, the look on his face as he'd thundered away at Moretti, the planning, the work that had gone into outmaneuvering him, the steel she had seen beneath Oliver's friendly veneer, it wasn't just surprising, it was game-changing. Because Chloe had thought that she and Oliver really could maintain their friends with benefits arrangement as long as they were careful, or as long as she was careful. Now, however, now she knew just how far Oliver was willing to go to get what he wanted. She knew he would use every resource at his disposal. And he had a lot of resources: money, charm, looks, and a host of traits that apparently included a boatload of tenacity.
Oliver hadn't brought them to bear on her yet, not fully, but something told her that he would if she didn't tread carefully. The problem was that half of her didn't want to watch her step. It was the half she ruthlessly forced back into its cage, but no matter how much she tried, it kept peeking through the bars and seeing Oliver and all that he offered.
Right now, that part of her wanted to look after him, to fuss over him and nurse him back to health. She wanted to boss him around and make sure he didn't overdo it while he was recuperating. She wanted to yell at him for letting things get so far in the first place when she could have helped him.
Chloe looked at him, felt herself weakening, and promptly gave herself a good stern lecture on keeping appropriate emotional distance from handsome, injured, overly charming, overly tempting, billionaire heroes.
When the taxi came to a stop in front of the building, she nudged him very gently. Oliver startled awake, followed by a pain-filled groan. Chloe paid the cabbie, then got out and walked around to help Oliver out of the car.
Silently, they made their way through the lobby, past the curious concierge, then into the elevator. Once again, Oliver leaned against the back, but this time Chloe remained beside him, afraid he would fall if she let him go. She looked up at him, however, and he was grinning.
"You look awfully pleased with yourself."
"I just outflanked a mob boss who had us dead to rights." He laughed and wrapped his arm around his chest, groaning. "That," he panted, "was the most fun I've had in weeks." He kept laughing, groaning all the while, laughing until he was doubled over and crying. "Did you see his face?" he cackled. "I thought he was going to have a heart attack right there!"
Chloe couldn't help it. She wanted to laugh along with him. The look on Moretti's smug face changing to bug-eyed horror had been a joy to behold. Unfortunately, Oliver's laughter sounded too close to hysterics, and it had to be beyond painful. He really was reaching his rope's end.
"Yes, yes. You're very smart. Now knock it off," she chided. "You're going to hurt yourself."
Oliver leaned back against the wall. His laughter died away and he groaned in misery. "Had to be done. I had to impress you with my brains," he said. "I don't want you to think I'm just an idiot gigolo with a bow and arrow."
The words were said flippantly, but Chloe could tell there was a hint of truth behind what he said. Did he really think she didn't know how smart he was? Granted, she kept insisting she only wanted his body and nothing else. And she'd taken his money, figuring she could do it with him never being the wiser.
The elevator finally stopped and she pulled the grate back. Oliver stumbled into the apartment. He started for the sofa, but Chloe quickly altered his path and pointed him toward the bedroom. She knew that once he was down, he wasn't going to be able to move again.
As they walked toward his room, he let his coat slip off and tossed it over a chair as he passed. Oliver was always efficient, neat and precise in movement, in planning, and in speech. His words were often as pointed and well-aimed as his arrows. It was thus all the more noticeable when his tie followed his jacket, draped messily over a different piece of furniture. Oliver was past caring, too tired to concern himself with anything but putting one foot in front of the other.
Finally, they made it to his room and she steered him toward the bed. For what seemed like the umpteenth time that day, he sat on the edge and Chloe stepped between his legs. She quickly unbuttoned his shirt and helped him ease it off over his broad shoulders. She removed his shoes and socks, then unbuckled his belt and with a few awkward moments for both of them managed to get his pants off. That left him in just his boxers and the form fitting brace that she was afraid was the only thing keeping him even close to upright at the moment.
She reached for it, but stopped when Oliver's fingers brushed across her cheek. She looked up into his face and saw that his gaze was locked not on her eyes, but on her cheek where she'd been struck and slammed into the dumpster. His fingers danced across her bruised skin gently, delicately and she could feel her entire body thrumming to life.
"I'm so sorry," he said, his voice low and troubled.
"Are you sure you're all right?" His fingers brushed over the cut which was already scabbing over. "I saw how hard he hit you."
"I'm just fine, Oliver." She reached up and took his hand. She brought it to her lips and kissed it. "It's not your fault this happened."
He shook his head, then groaned and closed his eyes. Apparently his head had had quite enough for one day.
"We can talk about this later," Chloe urged. "You need to rest."
Rather than following her suggestion, Oliver dropped his hands and wrapped them around her waist. He pulled her close until she tucked her head beneath his chin, very careful when she hugged him back.
She'd missed him. His arms, his warmth, the safety his presence represented. By failing to tell him about the money, she'd temporarily cost herself that, and now, it was Oliver who was feeling guilty. It was Oliver who was keeping her close because he felt like he'd failed her somehow.
Chloe, being the practical person she was, wasn't above using it either. "You should have told me about the problems you were having with Moretti," she said into his shoulder.
"You already had too much to deal with between the Kandorians and Clark and… all of the other problems we create for you. I hated to saddle you with a mobster, too."
Chloe pulled back so she could look him in the eye. "I don't care about the workload, Ollie. I just like to know where to send the troops when it all goes wrong."
Oliver nodded very slightly in acknowledgement. "And I like to know where the money's going so I know what to tell the IRS."
Chloe gave him a chagrinned smile. "Not very good at the communication thing, are we?"
He brushed a lock of hair back behind her ear. "We'll get better."
Chloe shrugged. "I don't think we can get worse."
Oliver chuckled and then winced. "Stop being funny. You're killing me here."
"Sorry." She took a good look at the brace and frowned. "How do we get this thing off you without making it all worse?"
"Cut it off," Oliver said. "I have others."
Chloe didn't like that he'd been hurt often enough to have multiples, but nevertheless, she accepted the suggestion. Oliver pointed to a bureau near the bed and she opened a drawer to find bandage scissors along with other supplies worthy of a small clinic.
"Like I said, this kind of thing has happened before," he said nonchalantly.
Chloe grabbed the scissors and slipped them between the tight, stretchy brace, the t-shirt underneath, and Oliver's skin. She slit them open front and back and then peeled them away from his skin. He'd bled though the bandages and popped stitches. The blood had dried to his skin, the brace and the bandages and pulling it off had Chloe wincing the entire time. Oliver, however, didn't utter a sound. His jaw was tightly clenched and his lips were pressed in a thin line. A fine sheen of sweat broke out on his skin, but still he remained stoic waiting for her to finish.
"Done," she finally said, trying not to let him see that her hands were shaking.
Oliver released a very slow, controlled breath. "I really, really don't want to do that again."
"Lay down," Chloe ordered, heading for the door. "I'll call Emil."
He stopped her with a quick, "Wait."
"Just… just help me lay down."
He sounded so pathetically exhausted and miserable that Chloe relented. She returned to the bed and helped him ease back, then raise his feet and stretch out. He groaned loudly, this time in what sounded like pleasure.
"Remind me to invest in this mattress company. They're my new best friends." He patted the bed beside him in obvious invitation.
Chloe hesitated. This whole situation was blurring the borders of their arrangement beyond all control. She knew she had to put the brakes on it. She was on a slippery slope and fast headed downhill.
And yet… with Oliver lying on the bed, covered in cuts, bandages and bruises… She couldn't bring herself to deny him what little comfort her presence could afford. They were friends after all. They did care about each other and she hated seeing him so battered. And no matter how badly hurt he was, she knew that as soon as he could stand he would be back out there, working for Queen Industries, working for the League, and working for the city as Green Arrow.
Chloe climbed up onto the bed and settled close to his side. Oliver shifted, a slight grimace betraying that it cost him to do it. He lifted his arm so that she could rest her head on his shoulder and he could wrap his arm around her.
"There," he sighed contentedly. "All better."
"I should still call Emil," she said.
"Shhh…" Oliver frowned in disapproval. "You're supposed to wait until the patient's asleep and can't object. Then you sneak out to call the doctor. I thought you knew how this worked."
"Sorry," she laughed lightly, "I forgot that part of the Stubborn Heroes Handbook."
"Our delicate egos have to be handled very carefully," he observed.
Chloe rolled her eyes. That statement might as well be the guiding principle of her life. She ought to put it on her business cards. Chloe Sullivan, Protector of Obstinate Heroes & Planet Size Egos.
"We should take a vacation," Oliver said suddenly. "Maybe a weekend somewhere."
"When you're better," he raised his hand and brushed it over her cheek, "and I'm not looking like a piece of rotten fruit, we should go somewhere. Take a break."
Her first thought was to say no. Absolutely, positively no. Not going to happen. She and Oliver had no business going away together. That was the road to personal and emotional disaster if ever she heard it.
The more she thought about it, however, the more the idea appealed to her. How long had it been since she'd actually taken time to smell the roses? How long since Oliver had? They were both workaholics. Even when Oliver was in one of his downward spirals, he dedicated himself to it wholeheartedly. It wasn't fun and it wasn't a party no matter what it looked like on the outside. Whatever the case, after this little incident, they could both certainly use a little downtime.
Could she keep it together if they had a little Friends With Benefits Weekend Extravaganza? She curled closer to Oliver and decided she would make it happen. She was strong enough. She had the willpower. She could do it. They would have a good time, a relaxing time. They would be friends sharing some time off. If Oliver thought it would be more, or tried to make it more, then she could certainly put him in his place. Then they would come back home and get back to work, easy peasy.
"I'll look into it," Chloe finally said out loud. "See if I can't find us a nice, out of the way place where we can relax."
Oliver didn't answer and Chloe looked up to find that he was fast asleep. She started to rise to call Emil, but then decided to wait a few minutes to ensure Oliver was well and truly down for the count. After that, maybe she'd look around online and see if she couldn't find a place well off the beaten path where they weren't likely to know Oliver and his famous face on sight.
Chloe told herself once again that it would be all right. One little weekend trip. It didn't mean anything. Just friends, going away for a little break from their crazy lives.
Chloe looked up at Oliver's bruised, but peaceful face. She placed a gentle kiss on his cheek and Oliver's arm tightened around her in response.
Somehow… Chloe got the feeling she just might be kidding herself.
Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed it.