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The Paradox of Choice

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Walking away from Laurel, even knowing she wasn't real, was the hardest thing he'd ever had to do. He knew it was all a hallucination. The house, his parents, Laurel. None of it was real. The pain though, that was too damn real.

It was like losing her all over again. At least this time he’d been able to tell her how much he loved her and how he’d never deserved her or the true and pure love she’d given him. While she was dying, Laurel had done what she’d always done in their relationship – she’d made his feelings more important than hers. She’d had done her best to ease his guilt and grief. Even telling him to find love again.

Sara took his hand, squeezing until he winced. She had to feel the same pain he did. Before Laurel died they’d rediscovered the closeness they’d had as children before Sara had become the rebellious wild child that destroyed their relationship, and here she was losing her sister all over again.

“Oliver!”

Laurel’s voice made him stumble. He could not look back. If he did he’d never leave.

“Oliver, you said we had everything and you didn’t want to give it up!”

Sara pulled on his hand as he slowed. Laurel sounded so hurt, he wanted to turn back and wrap his arms around her, and tell her he would never leave her again.

“Can you at least tell me why you’re leaving? Can you at least tell me what you’re choosing over me? Just, please tell me!  I’ll understand, Ollie, you know I will!”

Of course you will. Not just because she was the Laurel of his dreams, but because Laurel had always been understanding, even when she was being wronged.

He stopped and turned around.  She was at the bottom of the stairs, her eyes were wet with tears but she wasn’t crying. How often had he seen Laurel looking at him just like this?  Waiting for him to explain away the stupid thing he’d done this time and ready to forgive him.

Only this time it wasn’t his fault, damn it!

“I don’t deserve you – I never deserved you,” he told her.

Ray grabbed his arm.  “We don’t have time to do this.  We’ve got to go!”

“We’ve got one minute.” Rage at the unfairness of it all boiled over and he jerked his arm out of Ray’s grasp. “Surely we’ve got one goddamn minute!”

Laurel’s loving smile as he walked back to her tempered his anger, melting it away as it always had. Why had he ever wanted to leave her?

“Ollie, she’s not real!” Sara’s voice sounded raw and painful.

The smile on Laurel’s face turned questioning. “What does she mean? What does Sara mean, Ollie, I’m not real?”

“Laurel, it’s hard to explain. This is all – “ It was completely ludicrous. Aliens had him trapped in his perfect dream life so they could invade Earth. That’s right out of those stupid comic books we read as kids. “It’s not – I don’t even know – “

“You never could just rip the Band-Aid off, Ollie.” She was smiling again, shaking her head like she always did when he was stalling.

He couldn’t help smiling back at her. “You’re right.” Here goes nothing.  “This is a dream.  You’re a dream. All of this, the house, the wedding – it’s all a dream. My dream.” She tilted her head slightly and arched an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. “Aliens are invading earth, and we – “ He waved a hand at the others.  “We’re trying to stop them. They – I don’t know how – trapped us here to keep us out of the fight.”

Her other eyebrow had gone up and her expression clearly said she thought he’d lost his mind.

“I know – I know – “ He took her hands in his. They were warm, soft, just like he remembered. Strong as she gave him an encouraging squeeze. “My life has been one mistake after another and this was a chance to change it all. Somehow – I don’t know how – they’ve let me create a dream of what I want my life to be. A perfect life where I never cheated on you, never lost my parents, never spent years becoming this monster that I am now.”

“You could never be a monster.”

“I am. I try and I try but – “ He shook his head and sighed. “I keep screwing it up.  God, Laurel, this is all so perfect. This is everything I’ve ever wanted.”

“Including me?” She held up her left hand with the engagement ring. “Including this? If this is a dream, that would explain the size of this rock. You know this is way over the top, right?”

“Yes.” He couldn’t hold back a grin and a laugh. Laurel had always said women who wanted huge engagement rings didn’t care so much about the commitment as they did about making other women jealous. There’s no way she’d have let him give her a ring with a diamond that size. “Marrying you is the absolute crowning point of my dreams.”

“But it’s only a dream?” Her smile faded.

“It is. I wish it were real. You’re – you’re dead, Laurel. So is Tommy, so are my parents.”

“I’m dead? Everyone is dead?”

The look on her face was like a kick in the gut, but he couldn’t stop now. Just rip the Band-Aid off, Ollie! “No, only the most important people.” You.

“Oliver, I know you believe what you’re saying, but what if this is real and the aliens are the dream?” Her hand touched his face and he leaned into the caress.  “What if you’re having some crazy dream within a dream?  Do you really want to leave me?”

“No. God, no. Not after – “ Not after watching you die.

He wanted to believe she was real, that this was all real, and the alien invasion – the island – the Hood and the Arrow – her dying – all of that was nothing more than a nightmare. He wanted it more than life itself, but it wasn’t and would never be real.

But what if…?  “If it is, I’ll wake up and tell you all about it.”

“That’s why you wanted to get married earlier. The choice you were afraid of, this is it, isn’t it?”

“I didn’t want to make it – I don’t want to make it.  I threw away our chance, Laurel.  I want it now – more than anything I’ve ever wanted – I wanted you while I was still a good man.  He choked on sudden tears and looked away from her.

“You are a good man, Oliver.” Her hands cupped his face and forced him to look her in the eye once again.  “Deep down you know you’re a good man.”

“No I’m not.  I’ve done – I cheated –“

“Maybe all of the selfish, stupid things you did in the past were because someday you’d have to make the hard, selfless choices.”

“What? Like some cosmic life balance?”

“It’s easy to make choices if you’ve never suffered or lost. When you don’t know what the stakes really are.”

That was true. This dream life would be so easy to accept if he didn’t know the reality of how horrific life for everyone on Earth would be if the aliens won. “It’s not really a choice, though, is it? It’s like I’ve been given an offer I can’t refuse. If I stay with you, the aliens win. But – “ He stared into her eyes, willing her to tell him to stay. “Even if I leave, there’s no guarantee we can stop them. Why can’t I stay with you?”

“You can’t, Oliver. You’re right, there’s no choice.” Laurel took his hands in hers again. “The world is more important than me. You have to leave.”

“This isn’t the first time you’ve told me that.” The memory of the two of them having almost exactly the same conversation over her safety versus everyone in Starling City replayed in his memory. I don’t need you right now. Everyone else does. So go. Go save the city.  “Why can’t you ever put yourself first, Laurel?”

“Because that’s not me. It’s not who I am.”

“It’s not, is it? That’s why I love you so much.  You were always the good to my bad. Without you, I feel so lost – isolated – ”

“No, no, don’t – “ Laurel was squeezing his hands surprisingly hard for someone who was supposedly a figment of his imagination. “You have so much goodness inside of you. If you ever feel like you’re lost, just imagine I’m there with you. Because I am, I’m always with you, Ollie.”

She’d told him the same thing when they’d had those last, precious moments alone in the hospital.  A part of me will always be fighting alongside you.

“Oliver, we’re running out of time.” Sara’s voice was shaky, and he knew she was crying.

“I know.” Laurel was smiling at him. The sweet, loving smile he still saw in his dreams. He felt stronger knowing she still had faith in him. “I have to leave.”

“You do.” She nodded.

Raising her hands to his lips, he kissed them, lingering over the soft skin above their engagement ring, and letting the stone rasp along his beard. “I just wish I’d realized this is all a dream after the wedding.”

He started to step back, then stopped and turned to Diggle. “John, you married your brother and Carly, didn’t you?”

“I did, yeah.” Diggle looked confused by the question.

“You can marry me and Laurel.” He turned back to Laurel and her bright, beautiful smile let him know this was right. “We do have a marriage license.”

“My father has it in his pocket, just in case,” Sara said. Laurel laughed and held a hand out to her sister.

“They’re not taking this choice away from us.” This was his dream and he was going to get what he wanted before he gave it up. “This is our choice, Laurel. Will you still marry me?”

“I will still marry you.” She winked. “I wouldn’t want to waste a perfectly good marriage license.”

“Ollie, we don’t have time for this!” Diggle’s voice was angry. “I’m bleeding to death, aliens are invading, and damn it, she isn’t real! We have to go!”

“We have time.” Dropping Laurel’s hand, Sara stepped between him and Diggle. “We. Have. Time.”

Thea moved to stand beside him. “You don’t mind if your best man’s a woman, do you?”

“Not one bit, Speedy.” He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her in for a hug.

Diggle glared at him over Sara’s head for another moment before giving in. “Okay, fine, let’s do this.”

Holding Laurel’s hands, looking into her eyes about to pledge his heart to her was exactly where he wanted to be. Maybe the world was crumbling, but he didn’t care. Not right now. Not at this moment.

“We’re gathered here together to quickly unite Oliver and Laurel in marriage. Do you, Laurel –“

“Wait.” Laurel shook her head. “Not like this.”

He felt some of the joy drain out of him. This was his dream – if it was a dream – Laurel couldn’t possible ditch him now, could she? Could she? Whose god damned dream is this anyway?

“Oliver, I love you. This may be a dream.” She laughed and gave a shrug. “But it doesn’t matter. I love you no matter if I’m dreaming or awake – on every Earth – in every parallel dimension there is – and I will always be at your side if you’ll have me as your wife.”

If he’d have her? It was his turn to laugh. “You are my dream, Laurel, and I love you here and on every Earth – in every parallel dimension and alternate reality – in any and all bizzaro universes – and I will always be at your side if you’ll have me as your husband.”

She leaned in and he met her for a kiss as Diggle pronounced them married. Their first kiss as man and wife.

This is real! Laurel was here. She was warm and soft and real. Her arms were around his neck and her body pressed against him. No dream had ever felt this good. He nuzzled the soft skin of her throat and breathed in her scent. “I want to stay,” he whispered to her. “It’s not fair.”

“Life’s never been fair, Ollie.” She cradled his head on her shoulder and stroked his hair. “In some universe it’s fair and we have it all. But not here. You can’t stay, you know it. You know it in your heart.

“Dinah Laurel Lance – “ He kissed her soft skin. “Queen, still trying to save the world, aren’t you?”

“No. Oliver Jonas Queen, you’re going to save it.”

Reluctantly, he stepped back, breaking the embrace until they were just holding hands again.

“If this is a dream within a dream, it’ll all be okay.” She smiled and squeezed his hands. “Wake me up and tell me everything. Especially how beautiful my dress is.”

“I will,” he promised.

“And if it’s not – “ She looked at her sister and Thea and then back at him. “Then in heaven someday.”

Fat chance he had of getting into heaven. “I won’t – “

“You will.”

Her voice was firm; the look on her face was her ‘not putting up with your crap, Ollie’ look he’d seen too many times.  He knew better than to argue. If she said it was so then it was. “I can’t say goodbye, Laurel. I won’t – not again.” He brushed a soft kiss across her lips. “I love you. I’ll see you later.”

Giving her hands one last, loving squeeze he turned and walked away. He felt better, stronger this time. Real or not, Laurel had given him back his spirit and his will to face the future no matter how bleak and ugly it might appear, and fight.