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Thrice Happy Be the Darkness

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He had been gone for three weeks. It shouldn’t have surprised him, but it did. After all, being in an alien dimension housing the universe’s worst prisoners should come with some unexpected consequences. Yet he was still surprised. Maybe he was surprised so he didn’t have to be worried. He did have a choice to make, after all.

Oliver sat with his phone in his hands, staring aimlessly at the walls of Watchtower. Clark had fled home to Lois at the first opportunity, leaving Oliver to the merciless jabs of Emil and the all-too-knowing looks of Tess. Maybe that was better because if Clark had stayed and looked at him and told Oliver about how much he trusted him, Oliver would have cracked and he’d probably be in his own Kryptonian prison somewhere.

He should be in some prison somewhere. He was a danger, a menace, a liability. Words like stained, compromised, and untrustworthy floated through his head. He hadn’t really wanted to believe it. He had stubbornly set his jaw and declared it couldn’t be so, even when he knew, deep down, he’d be the one to fall. He was the weak one. The one who’d turned from his calling several times, the one who’d made decisions that killed men, whether they deserved it or not, whether he pulled the metaphorical trigger or not. He was the one who ruined everything for everyone, the one who cracked at the thought of loneliness, who couldn’t take care of anyone.

Watchtower was empty and silent, the gentle whirring of computers the only sound. Emil had gone back home after giving Oliver medical instructions on how to take care of his not-miraculously-healing-the-minute-they-were-on-Earth wound. Tess had left later after pausing and really looking at him and asking if he was going to be all right. He chuckled somewhat bitterly at the thought. No, he was just going to be the harbinger of doom, he’d wanted to say, but he'd kept his mouth shut.

He sat there in the dark, brooding over his inevitable breaking point. It was an appropriate place for such thoughts. Oliver hated Watchtower. People had died here. He’d been tossed through the window. It was where Chloe had schemed to bring him back from himself. It was where he’d seen her for the last time before she’d left him. It was the first place they’d kissed, the first place they’d done everything. It was where she'd come back to him. It was where she’d hidden from him. It was what she'd wanted to run away from. Away meant away from him.

Oliver slammed his head back against the wall. These had to be thoughts of the darkness, thoughts of Darkseid, thoughts that weren’t truly his. He loved Watchtower and what it stood for. Besides being a physical tower that was a haven for the people he loved and the team he’d cobbled together, it was a place that was soaked through with Chloe, with her voice and touch and memories. It was the physical embodiment of what she meant, not just to him, but to the world, and that could never truly be a bad thing.

He just felt so hopeless, so lost, so unworthy. His cocky billionaire act wasn't just for the public, it was for him. He had to be bigger, be better, be stronger, or he would break at the slightest blow. Too many things had come pouring in over him, so much heartbreak and loneliness and…darkness. She had always brought him back.

Decided, he dialed the phone.

“There you are!” Chloe said from the other end. “I was about to send out the Impulse Express. Tess called and told me you were back. I probably just missed you. Bart’s been running me back and forth ever since they told me you missed your window.”

“I…I’m sorry about that.” He cleared his throat, desperately trying not to sound like a man drowning in despair. “I had to get fixed up.”

“You’re okay, right?” Her voice took on that tone that said she was worried and trying not to show it.

“Fine. A little patching up and I’m good as new. I…”

“Ollie, are you coming home?”

“Why would you even ask that?” he asked in surprise.

“Because you sound like someone who’s trying to figure out how to say goodbye.”

“You would know,” he said, under his breath and away from phone. Louder, he tried to force an air of joviality into his tone. “I just need to help Clark out with something before I come home.”

“Okay…” She wasn’t buying it. He silently cursed and wished for only one nanosecond that he had one of those beautiful, but dumb, trophy wives. “Now let’s try it again with the real reason.”

“Chloe, I’ve never questioned you when you said you had to do something.”

“Try every time,” she said, gently and mockingly at the same time.

“I let you go,” he whispered, his voice rife with pain, “and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. You need to let me do this.”

“Do what? Oliver, you’re scaring me.”

“I don’t want to let you down,” he said softly. “I don’t want to be the weak link anymore.”

She was silent, but he could hear noise in the background. Somebody was talking to her.

“Do you honestly think I would be with you if you were?” she finally asked.

“Maybe you’ve just gotten into the habit of bailing me out,” he suggested pitifully.

“Maybe you’ve just gotten into the habit of thinking I did something miraculous when all I did was point out the obvious ‘diy’ signs.”

Oliver sighed and raked his hand through his hair. He was about to answer when a harsh crackling sound came from the phone and then he could hear nothing but noise, like a high wind blowing.

He swore and dropped the phone, clenching his fists. That was not how he’d wanted that to go. He’d wanted to warn her, wanted to encourage her, wanted to…do something. He thought about calling Tess, to see if she could somehow communicate with Chloe, then he’d disappear and never come back unless he was sure he was safe. How could he even trust his own thoughts? How could he be around Chloe when he could hurt her at any moment?

“Oliver Queen, you’re one of the most ridiculous people I know,” Chloe said, walking up the stairs, “and I’ve circled the globe a few times.”

If he’d been in a cartoon, his mouth would’ve dropped to the floor.

“How-”

“I had Bart run me over and he’s expecting a pay raise, by the way. He has been working overtime on your behalf, after all.”

She stood in front of him, her hair curling slightly and he had the same internal struggle he had every time he saw her, whether he liked it better that way or not. She was beautiful no matter what so when he’d seen her so often, hair every style imaginable, he had a hard time picking favorites. She was wearing a crisp white blouse and the irony of her color choice was not lost on him. She folded her arms and waited.

Oliver Queen was not usually speechless. Of course, he wasn’t usually infected with the epitome of evil either. At least, he didn’t think so.

“I think…I have to be some sort of idiot to not know you would do that,” he said slowly, starting to grin.

“Well, I didn’t marry you for your brain,” she said, her smile belying the harshness of her words, though her forehead still had worry lines.

He stood up, still for a moment, reveling in the presence of the most wonderful person in the world, then moved forward quickly and crushed her to him.

“I always need you,” he said. “It’s sort of an addiction of mine.”

She pulled back and lifted one hand to his face.

“What’s going on, Ollie? I’m here.”

“Sit down.” He was going to tell her everything and he did. “I've been infected with the darkness. I'm tainted.”

She was silent again.

“Tell me,” she finally said.

He told her the whole story, starting with her kidnapping and ending with their return from the Phantom Zone and Clark's words.

She sighed and shook her head.

“I love Clark, but he can be awfully dimwitted.”

“Chloe, you're missing the point here. Someone down there flips a switch and I break your neck without even thinking about it.”

She made a scoffing sound.

“I think you'd think about it a little. Or a lot afterward.”

“I don't want to live like that,” he practically shouted.

“Calm down, Horatio. I get that. I would never want that for you. I'm just trying to understand our situation.” After an awkward pause, she continued, “so, our next step is to find the Bow of Orion.”

“I had Tess cross-reference my parents' journals with Hawkman's information. I've got a location. I was...going to go and find it.”

“Without me,” she stated. He found her hand and threaded his fingers through hers. She tightened her grip immediately.

“I don't want to,” he said. “But I wasn't being flippant when I mentioned the whole breaking your neck thing. It could happen and I would never forgive myself.”

“You could also fall down a cliff and die without anyone knowing where you were,” she pointed out, “and I would never forgive myself if I let my husband go off doing his best Indiana Jones impression without at least letting me pretend to be the femme fatale of the week.”

“That's not even funny,” he said, cracking a smile. “You're more like John Rhys Davies.”

“That's not even funny,” she returned, then stood up. “Accept it, I'm coming with you. We're a team.”

“Till the day we die,” he said and he only half meant that in a good way.

“I'll even buy you a whip at the costume store,” she said, placing a light kiss on his lips while he marveled at her ability to even stand to be near him.

“I don't deserve you,” he said quietly.

She turned a head over her shoulder and smiled slyly at him.

“I hope you realize the irony of saying that to a woman who buried you alive.”

“If you're looking for some sort of sappy response citing that you raised me back to life again after, you're not going to get it,” he told her and followed her down the stairs.

“Have you got the jet ready?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“Then let's go treasure-hunting.”

***

Oliver stood on the cliff, staring out over the water. It was one of the most beautiful things he'd ever seen. The waves pounded against the walls of the cliffs, a distant thundering sound. They were much too far down for him to feel the spray, but he imagined he could feel it slapping against his face, telling him to wake up. Ever since Clark and he had gotten back, he'd felt almost half asleep. He wasn't sure if that was his subconscious trying to keep the darkness at bay, or the darkness trying to keep him from finding the cure. The only times he'd felt even remotely alive were when Chloe was physically touching him. She placed a hand on his shoulder then.

“I found it.”

He nodded without saying anything, still staring at the sea.

“I never figured you for the selkie watching type,” Chloe teased. “Isn't that AC's bag?”

He turned to smile at her.

“Way to wound, Chloe. I'm just trying to get one last glimpse of the open air before I descend into a pit that might literally hold my salvation or destruction.”

She raised her eyebrows.

“I know I married a Queen, but I wasn't expecting his first name to be Drama.”

“You made your point, Sullivan,” he said pointedly, still smiling though, and turned his back on the sea.

“You know I'll never leave you, right?” she whispered.

He stood in place for one moment, wondering if he did indeed know that. He was still healing from the wounds of the last time she’d left him.

He turned suddenly, clasped her to him, and pressed his lips hungrily to hers. If part of his intent was to create a romantic tableau perfect for a pull away helicopter shot in a movie, he wasn't going to say anything. He just kept kissing her and she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back. When he finally broke away and they were both gasping for breath, he grinned at her and said off-handedly.

“Yup.”

She swatted his shoulder, took his hand, and led him to a hole in the cliff, barely visible until it was possible to fall in. Orion had chosen his hiding place well. They worked well and silently together, working up the necessary gear to repel down.

“I'll go down first,” he said, hooking the rope to the clips around his waist.

“Whatever happened to ladies first?” she queried.

“I prefer said ladies not get mauled at the bottom by unforeseen nasties.”

Chloe gave him a look that said he was being a chauvinistic pig, yet sensible considering the terrain and the two of them and their abilities, and she wouldn't dignify that with a response. He stifled a smart aleck comment and prepared to go down. Though she was no slouch when it came to fighting, he was a lot better equipped to defend himself and that was simply the way it was.

Besides, though he appreciated their banter, he was scared and he wanted to try to press down his rising fear and needed to jump in headfirst to do so.

“I'm right behind you,” she said and he let go.

It wasn't a long drop, about a hundred feet, and he went slowly, getting his eyes accustomed to the dimming light around him. When he reached the bottom, there was still daylight coming in from the ceiling and he didn't crack open the lights he had with him, but he pulled his crossbow and flashlight out, alert to anything moving. There was silence and shadows, the occasional dripping of water. He moved in a slow semi-circle, but he would have to move behind the pillars surrounding him to see anything else and he didn't want to start exploring until Chloe was beside him.

It was harder to breathe down there, harder to see, harder to feel like there was hope, even though his only hope was theoretically down there somewhere.

Chloe dropped to the ground next to him, immediately unhooking herself from the rope and scanning the darkness ahead of them. He looked at her and marveled at how far she'd come since he'd met her. They'd talked extensively about her travels since they'd been in Star City, but he doubted they could ever fully cover it. Suffice it to say, she was not just a brain and a voice anymore. All of her natural spunk and feistiness had been turned into power and skill.

They moved forward together, unspoken words directing them to cover each other's backs as they moved into the darkness. There was an open space ahead of them in a circle of pillars, Oliver clicked on his flashlight and inspected the pillars more closely. The marks on them caught his attention.

“I’m starting to regret not packing my intergalactic dictionary about now,” he said sarcastically.

“Good thing you have me with you then,” Chloe said, moving next to him and pulling out a hand held electronic device of some kind. He didn't think there were names for some of the technology she managed to acquire. It might have been his money, but he let her handle all of that.

“Is that going to work down here?” he asked.

She gave him a look.

“I suppose you remember a certain satellite that was gifted to me? I've wired Chloe2 to reach me no matter where on earth I am and I can link up to my Kryptonian software translator.”

“So these are Kryptonian? They look Celtic.”

“Wrong on both tries there, sport,” she said, after looking more closely, but didn’t elucidate any further.

“And the Chloe-hot scale notches up to the next racket,” he said.

She bumped his hip with hers, and then went silent, intent on her screen. He watched her work, leaning up against a pillar, arms folded. The rapidity of her eyes' movement was matched only by the speed of her fingers.

“Okay,” she said, “here it is. These symbols are Apocalyption. This is definitely the right spot. “It’s a prophecy about the return of Darkseid written by the hunter himself.”

“A prophecy?”

“One that heralds the end of the world,” she said cheerfully.

“Naturally.”

She moved to a pillar opposite from the one he was leaning on and brushed her fingers against it.

“This is Orion's symbol here.”

A column of light flared up around her, startling them both. Chloe's device slipped from her fingers and brushed up against the wall of light and disintegrated immediately. Oliver had been moving to try and grab her, but stopped when he saw its fate.

“Ollie, stop!” Chloe cried out unnecessarily.

“No worries,” he said, “I've no plans to combust anytime soon. I'm a little more worried about you there.”

“I'm kinda worried about me myself.”

“Well, there’s gotta be some way to turn off this death ray from hell. I'll get you out; we just need to read more of these symbols.” He smacked his hand on his forehead. “Of course, your dictionary got roasted.”

“Who do you think you're dealing with?” Chloe asked and pulled an identical device from her bag.

“I love you,” he said.

“Feeling's mutual there, stud,” she said, without looking up from her device.

He settled down again to let her work, careful not to touch anything around him until they knew more.

“Okay,” she said finally, “Orion was apparently very worried about the balance of things. He says there must be equal dark and light in order to find the bow. There aren't exactly instructions for how to get out of the trap once you fall into it. I guess he wasn't a second chances kind of a guy. I'm stumped so unless this part somehow powers your noggin…: ‘A balance must exist between light and darkness and to wield the bow’s power and save the world, hands must first right the scale’s two sides.’ “

Oliver circled the trap and tried to see if he could see anything else, any other signs or triggers.

“Balance,” he mused. One of the other pillars caught his eye. It was the omega symbol and that he could understand. “This is the sign of the darkness,” he said. “Maybe in order for there to be balance, you have to touch the darkness, too.”

“Ollie, think about it,” Chloe said. “That's a very bad symbol. It could just be Orion's way of eliminating anybody who'd been tainted by Darkseid and came looking for the bow.”

“Well, do you have any bright ideas, Miss Trapped in a Circle?” he queried sarcastically. “I could always just let you be stuck down here for centuries.”

Chloe's eyes narrowed and Oliver bit his tongue. This was why he'd wanted to come alone, why he hadn't wanted her anywhere near him. He could flip at any moment and become a murderer, but he was also losing more and more control over his mouth. He kept saying things he didn't want to say, didn't mean to say. He wondered how much self-control he had left. He'd said some horrible things on the plane ride over.

“I-I'm sorry,” he said finally into the long silence that followed.

“You need to take more control of yourself,” she said.

“I'm trying,” he snapped.

“Not very hard,” she told him, rather more gently than he deserved, he thought. “You're already Mr. Volatile, don't let it make you super villain material.”

“Okay,” he said, taking some deep breaths. As if that would do anything. “I’m just thinking that if I touch it, maybe a balance will be struck. What do you think I should do?”

“I trust your instincts,” she said. “If you think pressing the symbol will do it, then try it.”

He stared at her hard for one minute, utterly amazed at her, and then pressed the symbol. It retracted into the pillar and the light around her vanished. Chloe fell to the ground as if released from an invisible hold. Oliver rushed forward and caught her before she could land.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he said, going for casual. “It just took an extra hand to balance it, that’s all.”

“Let’s get what we came for,” she said.

“Chloe, wait…I meant it when I said I was sorry.”

“Oliver,” she said in a low voice, “I don’t think it needed an extra hand. I think it needed a dark hand.”

“Yeah, yeah, I got that.” He kept his face hidden from her in the shadows.

“I'm not trying to accuse you; I am just a little worried about what we're walking into here.”

“Join the club,” he said lightly.

“Right, I'm sure you're already worried.”

“I feel...guilty,” he said, sighing.

“Guilty?” she queried.

“That I couldn't stop it. I mean, you were tested seven ways from Sunday and you never faltered. I get one little lie tossed at me and I try to beat someone to death.”

“Well, if he'd started off on me by telling me you were dead, I might have cracked, too.”

“No,” he said, taking her hand and running his thumb along her pulse point, “no, you're too pure.”

“I've done my share of impure,” she said.

“But you've always fought past it. I barely put up a fight.”

“We all have strengths in different areas,” she said. “I meant it when I said I trusted you. So, let's go and get this over with. It says the bow is in the inner sanctum.”

“Lead the way, Indiana,” he said, kissing the top of her forehead.

“Now you get to be the sidekick,” she said, leading him forward.

“I go where Watchtower sends me,” he said.

“Hmmm, I can think of a few times when unauthorized detours seemed to be your preferred method of traveling.”

“Uh uh, I'm not falling for that. You are the queen of detours.”

“Except I always plan the detours out in advance,” she shot back.

“Then they're not detours, are they?” he pointed out.

“Well, then I'm not the queen of detours and we're back to my original point.”

“Whatever you say, dear,” he said, deadpan.

She shoved him and he plopped an arm around her shoulders as they walked.

“Focus, Queen,” she said, “we've got a mission here.”

“Tell me more about the bow,” he said, trying to keep light-hearted as they walked farther into the darkness.

She scanned her device over the pillars and read as they walked.

“It was made to defeat Darkseid.”

“So, let me get this straight, whoever wields the bow of Orion can vanquish darkness, is that what you’re saying?” he asked.

“According to the prophecy, yeah.”

“Well, that’s me. Think about it, a bow? The medium is the message.”

“Let's not get ahead of ourselves. I know we're banking on the bow, but don't put all your arrows in one quiver.”

“Come on, Chloe, I’m trying to change my fate. The bow of Orion is the key; I mean, it worked for him, right?”

She didn't say anything for a while, studying her screen.

“Well, apparently only after he found the strength to turn away from the darkness. Even though that meant turning away from his...father.”

“Orion is Darkseid’s son?”

“Yes, he was raised by someone who believes in spreading the light instead of the darkness his birthfather had created and eventually he swore to serve that light instead.”

“Sometimes I wish ancient prophecies and millennia old aliens would just leave our planet the hell alone,” he said and sighed.

“Preaching to the alien choir, Ollie.”

“That whole turning away from the darkness thing, was that an alien ability? Like if Clark got infected he could just wave an alien hand and it would go away?”

“I don't know.” She hesitated before speaking again. “You seem rather...contemptuous of aliens, despite the whole 'our best friend is one' thing.”

“Sorry, I think my punctured stomach is bothering me and it has to heal the normal way.”

“I re-bandaged it before we came down, so if it's bothering you, we should check it,” Chloe said, in a worried voice.

“I'm fine,” he said shortly and moved forward before she could say anything else. “Bingo.”

His flashlight shone on the sign of the bow once again, barely visible underneath lots of brush.

“It's like living with Jekyll and Hyde,” he heard Chloe murmur and he couldn't disagree. But he didn't want to talk about it. He didn't even want to think about it.

Chloe started walking away and he followed her. Her eyes were scanning all of the pillars and reading from her device. She came to a stop in a circular space just like the one where she'd gotten trapped before. Inside were symbols on the floor, one for the bow, one for omega.

“It looks like another one of Orion’s tests to see if we’re worthy,” she said matter-of-factly.

Oliver stepped into the circle and inspected the symbols and the pillars where two corresponding symbols were etched.

“This is about balancing light and darkness,” he mused. “It’s going to require two shots to open the door, one from each symbol.”

“Which also means you have to hit it at exactly the same time,” she pointed out.

“Like a bank shot.”

Chloe looked up at him in exasperation.

“Great for you, Arrow, but you can't be in two places at once.”

“Which is why I've got you,” he said, winking at her.

“No, you've got me for translating/talking down from ledges. You're Mr. Action Hero.”

“I can think of plenty of people in this world and virtual ones that would say otherwise.”

“Ollie, I've never hit anything close to this complicated.”

“That's what all the practice was for.” He could feel the irony in their situation reversal. He pulled a compact bow out from his bag and handed it to her. “It's easier than it looks. Just point and shoot, really.”

“Nice try,” she said, grumbling as she adjusted her stance like he'd shown her and tested the string, “but I know how hard this is.”

“I trust you,” he said, causing her to look at him. “I know you can do it.”

She looked at him for a moment and then nodded.

“Let's do it.”

He got out his own bow and pulled it back. They stood there while he calculated everything in his mind. A lot was riding on these shots and he was more nervous than he was letting on. He calmed as he felt the familiar grip of his bow. This was one arena where he always felt completely in control, where he knew every variable. Even Chloe’s relative inexperience wasn’t enough to stop the confidence he felt from simply holding his bow and lining up a shot.

“Now.”

Simultaneous arrows flashed from their bows, crossing over each other before hitting their opposite pillars and arcing into the inner sanctum door. White light flooded out from the area and both of them threw up an arm to shield their eyes as they walked around the pillars to the door.

“Nice shooting, partner,” he said, dropping a kiss on her lips.

“You were my teacher so, thank you, Master Archer,” she said and bowed her head.

He shook his own at her and they stepped forward. There was a slight distance before they stepped into the actual sanctum. Oliver's eyes slowly adjusted to the light and now that they were closer, he could tell it was coming from the bow. The bow of Orion hung suspended in the middle of the room and light radiated from it, bounced off the walls, and reflected back onto the bow. It was truly beautiful and pure. Oliver could feel that this was something good. It made him cringe as he felt his own lack of worth.

“It's amazing,” Chloe said from beside him.

Oliver didn't answer her; he didn't feel like he could even talk in there without something striking him down. He stepped back until he was beyond the door again and felt that pressure lift slightly.

“Maybe, maybe you should get it.”

Chloe turned back toward him with a frown.

“This is your quest, Oliver; you can't do a dead stop right before the finish line.”

“It doesn't want me here,” he whispered.

“It doesn't want the darkness here,” she corrected, “but that's only a tiny portion of who you are.”

“How can you be so sure?” he asked.

“Because I know everything,” she said.

Oliver snorted, but took steps to enter the room again. That awful pressure returned, but felt lighter than before. He stepped up to the bow, Chloe behind him.

It was pure white with gold filigree work. There were markings on it and as he stepped closer, they shimmered and appeared to him in English: The only true power comes from within.

Oliver sucked in a breath, wondering if that meant something significant or was just Orion's way of saying be true to yourself or some idiotic thing like that. He reached out a hesitant hand to grasp the bow and he felt it just brush his fingers before it started flying through the air away from him. He turned and saw Granny Goodness standing behind him, arm outstretched. Every hope he'd ever had flew across the air along with the bow, toward her.

“I don't think so,” Chloe said and jumped into the air, catching the bow and pulling it out of Granny's reach.

Oliver started breathing again. He had the most awesome wife in the world.

Granny smiled and lifted her other hand, black-gloved, and pointed it at him as he started towards her. A pain like he hadn't known he could feel pierced through his forehead and resounded in his brain. He fell to his knees, barely able to think, let alone act.

“How deliciously selfish of you to want the bow just so you can remove the stain we put on your soul.” Granny's voice was a grating sting on top of the overwhelming pain he was already feeling. “But your selfishness is precisely what we were counting on. You see, those traps were designed to keep the prophets out.” She clapped a hand to her chest. “Orion’s bow is a light like the world will not see again. It’s been the one power Darkseid could not defeat. Now, I want you to destroy it.”

“No!” Chloe cried. Oliver could barely make out her voice. It was infinitely more pleasurable to listen to. “Oliver, listen to me.”

“You can't hear her,” Granny's voice said, feeling like it was being broadcast directly into his brain almost like the burning, searing pain was powering her voice. “From the moment you were marked, you’ve been serving him. But you’re not like the rest of your brethren. You’ve got real potential and we’ve got bigger plans for you. Don’t worry, dear. You won’t remember any of this. All you have to do is destroy the bow and the little dear holding it.”

“No,” Oliver managed to strangle out, for all the good it did him. He could feel his body rising, making its way toward Chloe and he saw the world as if through dark glasses.

“Oliver, think,” Chloe pleaded, “this isn't who you are. You're a good man. You're a hero. You can fight this, you can turn against it, make it go away. You don't need a bow, you only need yourself.” She stopped, looking down at the bow in her hand, then at her device. She never stopped backing away from him as he lurched toward her, his head feeling like it was on fire.

“Kill her!” Granny demanded.

Oliver pulled out a crossbow and pointed it at his wife. He released the arrow and she dodged to the side.

“This is what Orion meant,” she said, coming back to her feet, keeping her back to the wall. “He meant that the bow doesn't do anything for you until you can face your own darkness. Remember in the prophecy? Orion had to turn away from the darkness before he could defeat it. The power to defeat the darkness comes from within you. Oliver, you have more strength than anybody I've ever met. You've overcome so much and you can overcome this, too. I trust you.”

For some reason he could hear her, could concentrate on what she was saying. Slowly, the overwhelming power crushing him changed. Bright lights were playing havoc with his eyes. The fire was lessening, but the pain of the white light was more than that of the fire. It was scorching him, burning into his very soul. Every inch of him was swallowed and made light. There was no darkness inside of him that could stand up to it, nothing that her trust in him and his love for her couldn't overcome. He fell to his knees again, wondering if he could survive such a purge of his inner self, such a cleansing of all his fears and weaknesses, all the anger and rage he'd built up. The hurt at his parents' death, the betrayal from Chloe's abandonment, the guilt from taking someone's life, the emptiness and jealousy and unworthiness, it all died a fiery death, with such a fury that he couldn't help but feel he'd be burnt up as well.

But he slowly realized all of the chaos was inside of him because when he finally opened his eyes all he felt was one single tear making its way down his face. The first thing he saw was Chloe's face and it was on fire, too, with love and admiration and joy. All for him. It made him feel worthy again for the first time in months.

“Isn't that interesting,” Granny said, her voice angry. “I think that might be the first time since Orion himself. No matter, all it takes is your mortal flesh to dissipate.” Oliver turned to face her. Her arms were raised and pointing at him, power flickering off her gloved fingers. “Goodbye, dear.”

Oliver didn't waste words; he simply raised his crossbow and fired as fast as he could. There was a dull thud and Granny looked down at her chest in surprise. There was no blood, no cry, just a sudden cloud of dark that swirled up, leaving no body behind. Oliver stayed where he was until it was gone and then turned to look behind him again.

“From the first day I met you till now,” Chloe said, reaching out for him, “wow.”

Oliver shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. He felt different, he felt the same. It was the oddest thing. The pressure from the bow was gone, replaced by something else, a pulling sensation, almost like it was calling to him. All he wanted to do was start crying or write the greatest book since Shakespeare or take on Darkseid himself or rip all of Chloe's clothes off. Either way, it was safe to say he was emotionally exhausted and not quite steady in the head. But he was Oliver Queen and that was not how he did things.

“Wow?” he queried, pulling her close. “I KO the omega out of the darkness and all you've got for me is wow?”

“How about I swoon?” she asked.

“Nah, I might though, so just...you know, catch me.”

“No more swooning for you,” she told him, eyes shining. “You're the hero of this story.”

“I couldn't have done that without you,” he told her seriously. “I'm serious when I say you're my hero, Chloe.”

“Right back atcha, Arrow,” she said, kissing him.

He kissed her back, like it was the first time and the last time. Her own passion matched his and he felt alive for the first time since she'd disappeared on him. Even when she'd come back, he'd felt a heaviness, the fear she might leave again, the fear he wouldn't be enough, the fear he couldn't be a hero, but now, it was gone. He was finally himself.