The sight that met his eyes made him stop in his tracks. AC was lying on the sofa, blood covering his chest. Bart was zipping around the room, adding to a pile of first aid supplies on the table.
“It’s no use,” Chloe said from where she knelt by AC’s side. “There’s no other choice.”
“Are you sure?” Victor asked in a low voice. “There’s no other way?”
She shook her head. “He’s losing blood too fast. We’d never get him to the hospital in time. I have too.”
Victor’s lips pressed into a grim line. Bart stopped short beside Oliver, a look of resigned horror on his face.
“What is she going to do?” he asked.
“She’s gonna heal him,” Bart whispered.
Oliver frowned. “How is that a bad thing? She healed me.”
The grimness in the young man’s voice, which Oliver already knew to be uncharacteristic, frightened him.
Across the room, Chloe laid her hand on AC’s chest. Her hand glowed for a moment then the light faded away. Without warning, she collapsed.
He was by her side in two strides, lifting her into his arms and pulling her close. She didn’t have a pulse. “What happened?”
“She’ll be fine,” Victor said solemnly. “Healing takes her life energy. That gut wound should have killed AC. In order to heal it, Chloe has to die. But she always come back. It scares the crap out of us when she does it, so we usually try to get to a hospital so that she can do the healing afterward, but sometimes there just isn’t time.” He bent down and gently pulled Chloe out of his arms. “We try to keep her warm, because apparently coming back to life is not pleasant. You should probably go home. It may be a while before she comes to and you have an image to keep. I’ll let you know when she wakes.”
Oliver frowned, but nodded. He walked over to Chloe and gently pushed her hair off her face. Her skin was already cold and clammy. Swallowing hard, he snatched his hand back and hurried out of the room. Suddenly, it didn’t seem like such a big deal that Chloe had been keeping something from him.
When he got a text from Victor telling him that Chloe was awake nearly twenty-four hours later, Oliver broke every speed barrier getting back to Watchtower. Going through his everyday life had been almost impossible when all he could think about was Chloe lying on the cold on the sofa.
Chloe didn’t look up when he walked into the room. Other than being a little paler than usual, she looked fine. Her eyes were focused on the monitor in front of her. He’d never seen her look so grim. Her lips were tight and her entire body radiated tension as her fingers flew over the keys. Willing himself to remain stoic, Oliver crossed the room to stand behind her. He didn’t know what to say so he looked at the monitors that were claiming her attention.
What saw almost made him sick to his stomach.
The monitor showed half a dozen men and women strapped to tables. IVs had been stuck into their arms. Many of them were screaming. The picture switched to a morgue. The bodies of the dead were laid out without any attempt at reverence. Many had been butchered beyond recognition.
Horrified, Oliver looked away. His eyes fell on another screen. It was some kind of an account of the experiments done on living people. Every one of them had had some kind of power. If he was reading the report correctly, then the experiments had been designed to determine the nature and extent of their powers.
“They’re metas,” Chloe said without preamble. “All of them. They’re being held by LuthorCorp. The project is called 33.1.”
Oliver spun around. “What?”
“Lex started it. He spent time in Smallville just as I did. He saw a lot of metas. He knew how powerful they were. For years, he’s been experimenting on them in an attempt to control them, to harness their power for his own ends. The things he’s done to them are absolutely sadistic.”
She paused and when she went on, her voice was quieter. “On one of our missions, before Lex died, Bart was caught. It wasn’t the first time the two of them had run into each other and Lex was ready. He’d built this field that wouldn’t let Bart stop running. If he did, he’d be killed. We barely got him out in time.
“The only reason Victor is alive is because he was taken from the hospital and experimented on. They tried to control him. When they realized they’d lost control of him, they almost killed him. Lex almost killed AC as well, just because he wanted to know how AC’s power worked. I can’t count the number of metahumans he tortured in Smallville. My best friend nearly died so many times because of Lex. His experiments have endangered the world at least once a year. He’s meddled with things he doesn’t understand.
She paused and let out a quiet sigh. “We thought it would end when he disappeared. Some of the scientists would obviously keep up their experiments, but we thought that with Lex gone, we might finally be able to stop them. Whether she knows it or not, Tess is funding them in her desperation to find Lex. After you came crashing through the window and when I saw you at the Daily Planet, I remembered that you and she had a history. I never meant to pry. I just...we’ve lost so much because of all of this, I couldn’t risk it. I did all that research before I ran into at the Planet, before I figured out that I was going to see you again. We’ve learned the hard way to be cautious where Lex is concerned. I’ve learned it more than most. I’m sorry I crossed a line and I know it. There’s just too much at stake.”
Silence fell over the Watchtower. Chloe turned her attention back to her monitors and continued working her way through the grim information. Suddenly everything she’d done was in a whole new light. It made sense. But Oliver still got the feeling she wasn’t telling him something.”
“What did he do to you?” he asked. “Lex had to have done something to make you so desperate to stop him.”
For the first time, she turned to face him. Oliver was horrified to see that tears were running down her cheeks. But her jaw was set in determination. “Lex found a meta who’d been given the power to see others with powers. He saw my ability before it even manifested. Lex had me abducted. I don’t even know what he did to me because he wiped my memory. He put a tracker in me that could have killed me. My friend had to burn it out me and we were barely in time. Months later, Lois was investigating one of his operations. He nearly destroyed the world, but more than that, Lois was badly hurt trying to get in. I went after her. She was lying in a pool of her own blood. The dam was coming down around us, but I just sat there. That was the first time my powers worked. Lois woke up to find me, dead. I came to in the morgue. It’s a good thing that one of my friends was in the hospital and that his hearing is a little bit better than most people’s. He came and got me out.”
Oliver felt as though someone had kicked him in the gut. His worst nightmares could never begin to equal the things that Chloe had been through. It was no wonder that Chloe had been hesitant to tell him everything. “Is that why you’re trying to so hard to stop him?”
Chloe shot him a venomous glare that almost had him backpedaling. “It’s not the only reason. What Lex did to me is just one example of the horrible things he’s done to other’s like me. And he doesn’t it alone. The scientists are just as guilty. I’m doing this, so that other metas have a chance against him. Lex and his obsession have dominated my life. This has become such a part of me, such a part of everything I do. But so many other are involved. I wanted to tell you. But I just couldn’t. Not so soon.”
Without hesitating, Oliver pulled Chloe into a tight embrace. “I am such an idiot,” he whispered. “I should have known that Tess was screwing with me. But I was so determined to believe that the girl I met on the island was still in there. I should have trusted you.”
“You barely know me,” she murmured.
“Doesn’t matter. I know you well enough. Damn it, we barely know each other, but I’m in love with you. It scared me so much when I thought you were dead.”
Chloe stilled and looked up at him. “What?”
He grinned crookedly. “It’s like, we were meant to be. Ever since I first met you, I just knew.”
“Like it was destiny,” she whispered.
“I know it sounds crazy--”
“Not as crazy as you’d think,” she interrupted. “Remind me to tell you about destiny some day. It’s more real than you know.”
She nodded and caught her lip between her teeth. “I really am sorry that I didn’t tell you and that I went snooping. Personal boundaries are a bit fuzzy with me. It comes from being a reporter and from being a hero. I’m always snooping into things that aren’tmy business for the greater good. Sometimes I go too far.”
“That’s true,” Oliver agreed. “But given the fact that I’d literally fallen into Watchtower and that you didn’t know what was going to happen next, you had every right to cover all the bases. I’d have probably done the same.”
Leaning up on her toes, she pressed her lips to his. “You know something? I think love you, too, as crazy as it sounds.”
Oliver grinned and hauled her up against him. He lifted her off her feet. Their kiss quickly became heated as the pressure of their fight, her death, and her confession came crashing down on them. Oliver had never felt so guilty and so relieved at the same time. Chloe shoved against his chest until he let her go. It nearly killed him to do so, he was so afraid that he’d completely screwed up. But once her feet were once more on the ground, she grabbed his hand and led him down to her apartment. She didn’t care that they were moving too fast. It just seemed right.
They stumbled back to her bedroom. Chloe slid her fingers beneath Oliver’s shirt. His hissed slightly at the skin on skin contact. Feeling bold, she slid her hands up, taking the shirt with her. He broke the kiss long enough to pull the offending fabric over his head and divest Chloe of her shirt as well. He lifted her into his arms again and gently placed her on the bed. Laying over her, he captured her lips again.
When Oliver woke the next morning, he looked down at the figure lying next to him. Chloe was fast asleep, exhausted after their passionate lovemaking the night before. He slid his fingers through her hair, pushing the tangled mass out of her face. In her sleep, all the lines of pain, anger, sorrow, and frustration that had been there the night before when he’d walked into Watchtower were gone. He didn’t know how it was possible, but he was in love with her. It truly was fate.
She stirred and woke when he kissed her hair.
“Good morning,” he said softly.
Grumbling incoherently under her breath, she rolled further into his side and buried her face against his chest. He chuckled. Clearly, she was not a morning person.
They lay there, entangled together, for several more minutes before Oliver broke the silence.
“I really am sorry about last night,” he said softly.
Chloe placed a kiss to his jaw. “It’s okay. You had every right to want to want the truth.”
“Maybe, but I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions.” I shouldn’t have listened to Tess, hung between them unspoken.
“What matters is that you gave me a chance to explain,” Chloe said softly. “I should have told you the moment I realized just how complicated your history with Tess is and that things between us were going to be interesting, but we’ve got so much invested in taking down LuthorCorp that I was worried about telling you. I know that I shouldn’t have been, but I was. But now that’s all straightened up and we have nothing to worry about.”
Oliver shook his head at how easily things had fallen into place for them. He was more convinced than ever that he had made the right choice being with her.
Pulling her tight, he buried his face in her hair and murmured, “I’m so glad I came back to Metropolis to apologize to Tess and met you.”
“Me, too,” Chloe whispered, winding her arms around his waist.
Together, they rose to face the day. Chloe fully briefed him on everything that Lex had done. Oliver kept his arm tight around her waist, sensing just how difficult it was for her to talk about it. But she plowed on, even telling him about the close calls that Lex hadn’t been involved in. She wasn’t keep anything back.
As they moved past her own horror stories and to what LuthorCorp had done to others, righteous anger slipped into her voice. Oliver found himself feeling the same passion as well. They had to be stopped.
“I just can’t believe that Mercy is involved in any of this,” he said once Chloe had finally finished going through all the data with him. “I know she’s not the same person I knew, but I can’t see her condoning this kind of treatment of others. She must really believe that crap the Lex was feeding her.”
“That’s what we think,” Chloe agreed. “Everything she’s done had mostly been by accident. She’s really just nosey, but when you consider that we’ve been breaking into her facilities that makes a lot of sense.”
“Well, I doubt she gave me that flash drive out of professional courtesy,” Oliver bit out.
To his slight surprise, Chloe just shrugged. “Can you blame her?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, cocking his head slightly.
“Tess is the woman scorned here,” she pointed out. “Think about this from her point of view. You show up to apologize and then hardly pay any attention to her. Whether she’d forgiven you or not, the fact that you took steps to make amends and then made no move to get her back had to sting. Then you start dating the one person that annoys her more than anyone else. In her shoes, I’d have been tempted to do the same thing. I’m not saying that I would have done it. But I would definitely have been tempted.”
“Accusing someone of what amounts to corporate espionage is a little extreme,” he retorted.
“True. But none of that can be proven. There’s enough to link me to the team, but not enough to actually accuse me. All she was trying to do was plant the seed of doubt. She had no way of knowing that you knew the extent of my connection to the team.” She grinned suddenly. “If anything, she’s given me a reason to hack into her computer and make sure that none of this gets out to anyone else.”
Oliver rolled his eyes. “Do you ever really need a reason to hack into anything connected to LuthorCorp?”
“Nope. But it helps.”
He laughed and followed her over to the computers.
“Did you and Victor build this?” he asked.
“Yeah. It’s a bit of a work in progress, but it serves its purpose.”
Oliver frowned. Though she’d never said anything directly -- in fact, Chloe had always carefully danced around the subject -- Oliver had gotten the distinct impression that they were having difficulties funding their operations. He knew that Chloe couldn’t be making much as a reporter. He doubted that Bart, who was little more than a teenager, was making much either. AC didn’t seem like the type to really have a job in the first place and Victor would have to keep his head down otherwise he risked attracting the attention of the very men who’d once experiment on him. The idea had already crossed his mind, but he’d been wary of saying anything before. Now that things were finally settled between them, he figured it was time to say something.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” he asked tentatively.
Chloe arched an eyebrow. “Are you any good with computers?”
“No. But I have access to some of the best technology in the world.”
There was a beat before Chloe answered. “You don’t have to do that, Oliver.”
“If I’m going to be part of this team, then I want to be able to help,” he protested. “if that means helping outfit Watchtower, then so be it. I have the resources to do that and you don’t. Think of it this way, if you let me do this, we can do a better job protecting people and stopping the 33.1 facilities.”
She hesitated a little, obviously a little wary of accepting such an enormous offer. But Oliver saw the moment that his logic won her over.
“All right,” she said. “But Victor and I get to approve anything.”
He laughed and shook his head. “No problem. I wouldn’t presume to mess with your set up.”
“Good. Because if you even go near my computers, I cannot be held accountable for my actions.”
A week later, Chloe accompanied Oliver to a Queen Industries Gala. She was a little uncomfortable with the idea of rubbing elbows with the rich and powerful considering she was all too often digging around in their private lives to ferret out their dirty little secrets, but the moment she walked into the ballroom, she charmed everyone. Dressed in a lovely emerald green dress that made her eyes sparkle, she looked like she belonged among the well-dressed, wealthy masses. But she gave off an air of realism that no one else at the gala could even begin to match. Oliver couldn’t be happier.
The icing on the cake was the sight of Mercy’s face when she saw the two of them together. It looked like she’d swallowed a hunk of meteor rock. She’d promptly turned round and walked to the other side of the ballroom.
For most of the evening, Oliver carefully avoided Tess, despite the fact that they were more or less expected to talk since they were business associates. He was still fuming over his ex’s attempt to sabotage the first relationship he’d had in five years. The fact that he almost lost Chloe permanently afterward had not made it any easier to stomach, especially since she had played on his old feelings for her. But when it came time for them to leave so that Chloe could play eye in the sky, Oliver approached Tess. It was time he said something about what she’d done.
“Tess,” he greeted coldly.
She merely nodded. He tossed her the flash drive -- which had conveniently been loaded with a virus that would destroy all the information on it the moment it was plugged into a computer. She caught it easily, her eyebrow raised. She paled slightly when she realized what she was holding.
“I understand that I hurt you,” he hissed. “I understand that I deserve every ounce of your anger. But accusing Chloe of corporate espionage on such insubstantial evidence is just low. She has got nothing to do with us and if you ever try something like this again, I will not hesitate to play just as dirty. Have a good evening.”
Spinning on his heel, Oliver walked over to Chloe and together, they walked into the night, side by side, their destinies written in the stars above them.