Title: Never a Bride
Pairings/Characters: primarily Chloe/Oliver
Summary: When a newspaper prints a false engagement announcement for Oliver Queen and Chloe Sullivan, and all their friends are thrilled, Chloe and Oliver decide to stage a fake engagement and breakup to prove to their friends how wrong they are for one another. Because, they will break up, won't they?
Warnings: completely Alternate Universe; also, sexual content and occasional language
"Well, ladies, what do you think?" Dinah Lance said, spinning around gracefully so she could be properly admired.
Everyone instantly broke into a fuss of compliments and clamors of well-wishes. Dinah, with her strapless white dress, it's drop-waist skirt magically transforming into a sea of feathers that just dropped past her knees, looked like an angel. Chloe, although not jumping in loudly with the other bridesmaids, admired her quietly, a smile of appreciation gracing her lips. Dinah had let her once short hair grow long, the thick, voluminous sunshine curls now tumbling down her back, an elegant hair peace of tiny seed-pearls and delicate white feathers gracing her tresses and accenting the bird-cage veil she had chosen.
Chloe had always known this day would come. From the moment Arthur Curry first met Dinah, and for the first time in his life, a smooth pick-up-line had not immediately slid off his tongue, Chloe had known he was done for. AC had always been comfortable with women. When he'd met Chloe's cousin, Lois, he'd wasted no time in charming the bikini off her (figuratively speaking, of course). But upon being introduced to Chloe's sorority sister Dinah, AC had just stood there: still, silent, trying to determine if he was imagining a woman this perfect.
Of course, then Dinah had opened her mouth and her natural sarcasm had spewed forth, and the poor man had been practically knocked off his feet. No, he really never stood a chance. But then, neither had she. Dinah was so used to men who tried to outdo her in one way or another, that meeting a man who didn't see her as a nemesis to be competed with had her flustered almost instantly. He was polite and attentive and charming and he wasn't pursuing any of the same goals as her so he actually genuinely meant it when he wished her well.
So when Dinah had gotten out of Julliard, ready to pursue her career in opera, and Arthur had finished grad school with his PhD in Marine Biology, Chloe had had a silent countdown in her mind as to how long it would take AC to propose. It had taken about six months, and she had been correct almost to the minute.
And now here they were, one year later, on a beach in the Bahamas—a destination wedding—in their final minutes with Dinah Lance before she became Dinah Curry.
Chloe was honestly happy for her friends, though she was a little sad that they had reached this point in their lives, a point where friendships must inevitably change, perhaps for the worse, hopefully for the better, but either way: change. Now that her friends had reached a time in their lives when they were going to start getting married, moving away, and having families, Chloe didn't see how anything could ever truly be the same. They had to change. It was natural, as it should be, but she couldn't help feeling a little mournful of the times they were leaving behind.
Dinah caught Chloe's eyes from amidst all the other girls, looking even more like an angel due to the sea of yellow silk she was surrounded by. They shared a silent look of understanding, and Dinah made a show of realizing the time and shooing her bridesmaids away.
"Oh Chloe," she said, as if it were an afterthought. "Not you," she smiled earnestly at her Maid of Honor, clasping her hand impulsively. "Stay with me a little longer?" she asked, not that there had been any doubt but that Chloe would.
When the other girls had gone, Dinah fussed slightly over Chloe's dress. All the bridesmaids were wearing cocktail-length dresses in the same yellow silk, though each varied in style according to the girl's taste (but mostly Dinah's taste in what looked best on them). Chloe's, which had thin straps and a sweet-heart neckline, was accented by an ivory sash, to show that she was "Important," Dinah had explained, whispering in her ear at the fitting so the other girls wouldn't hear.
"You should never wear anything but yellow," Dinah said appreciatively, adjusting the bow of the sash that needed no adjusting. "You look like you're made of nothing but sunshine and buttercups and honey," she determined.
Chloe raised her eyebrow. "Careful telling me that," she warned in a teasing voice. "If that's the case I'll never wear it again. Can you imagine people at work thinking of me as 'sunshine and buttercups and honey?'" she asked. "I'd be a laughing-stock."
Dinah pressed her lips together. "You know what I mean. This color is perfect on you."
"How convenient that it's your favorite color," Chloe sassed, amused. Then she asked her friend seriously, "How are you feeling?"
"Like about twenty hummingbirds are flitting about in my stomach," Dinah sighed, starting to sit down and then remembering her dress and thinking better of it. "It's quite unsettling."
Chloe laughed. "It will all be fine. AC is so perfect for you I'm surprised birds don't break out into a chorus when you're together."
"Is my lipstick all right?" Dinah asked, suddenly diverting the conversation, as if any mention of AC might make her lose her nerve and send her into a panic. She turned to the full length mirror and checked it. Chloe grabbed her hand and pulled it away.
"Don't touch it, it's perfect," she said honestly. She liked the pretty corral pink that Dinah had chosen. It was soft and beach-y and looked perfect against the gentle tan glow of her skin. "You know, it's funny, when I used to picture you getting married, I always pictured dramatic red lipstick. And I never thought you would end up in a dress like this. I thought there would be a big ball gown with so much tulle puffing it out that you'd have to have a double-door entrance to get through to the enormous church." She lightly fingered Dinah's white feather earrings, "But this is all so much more perfect for you."
"Well, I'll admit, I think AC is the only man I would have considered a beach-wedding for. I used to imagine my wedding to be as dramatic as my performances," she said wistfully, "but this—"
"—is just so right," Chloe finished for her with a nod.
"Oh, Chloe, I'm so glad you're here," Dinah exclaimed abruptly, flinging her arms around her friend. "I could never do this without you. I'd perish."
Chloe laughed at the melodramatics, but hugged Dinah tightly as well. "You wouldn't. You'd scoff at the idea at nervousness and traipse down the aisle like your own personal stage and everyone would be shocked by your poise. The fact that I'm here just means you don't have to."
Dinah threw her head back and laughed an elegant laugh. "Too true," she said shrewdly. "Your being here means I'm allowed to be nervous because you'll take care of everything. Do you know something? I'm going to miss you when I'm on the honeymoon."
It was Chloe's turn to laugh. "You will not," she countered. "You'll be far too absorbed in treating one another's sunburns to spare a thought for me."
The room erupted momentarily with shrill, girlish giggles. "You're terrible," Dinah gasped, swatting at Chloe, who was clutching her sides at the image she had now built up in her mind. "One day," Dinah threatened, "you're going to meet someone who'll be a match for that mouth."
"Oh God, I hope not," Chloe gasped. "What a sad loss to the world when someone tames the shrew."
Dinah rolled her eyes. "You're hardly a shrew, but speaking of meeting men, have you met Oliver yet?" Dinah asked with practiced carelessness, pretending to adjust her veil.
Chloe had to momentarily bite her tongue, which had been sharpened the day before regarding a certain Mr. Queen, who hadn't found his best friend's wedding rehearsal important enough to attend, even though he was the best man. "No," she said coolly, "I haven't yet. I assume he's here then?"
"Of course he's here," Dinah brushed her friend's judgements aside. "It wasn't Ollie's fault that he had an emergency business problem to attend to. And AC knew he would make his way here today if it killed him. It was never in question."
Chloe begged to differ. Perhaps AC and Dinah had remained calm about their absentee best man, but everyone else in the bridal party had been in an absolute tither. Chloe had been up half the night raging in her mind about what to do as a back-up plan. Clark, she had supposed, would have to be best man, but the fact remained that the balance of the bridal party would be thrown off, and one of the bridesmaids would be left with no one to escort her down the aisle, so Chloe had determined that Bruce Wayne's young friend, Dick Grayson, could escort Courtney instead of Bart. But then Bart would be misplaced. So he would escort Lois instead of Clark. But then, Chloe had realized, Lois would kill Chloe. So Bart would have to escort Diana Prince instead, the one woman he was too afraid of to flirt with. Bruce could escort Lois, Chloe had decided, so Clark could escort Chloe, and Clark would simply have to grit his teeth and pretend not to be jealous and/or intimidated by Bruce Wayne.
All those lost hours of sleep torturing herself with backup plans because the golden-boy Queen didn't have his priorities straight. Who goes to work when he's meant to be at a wedding rehearsal?
"Well I just hope you'll be nice to him," Dinah was saying. "I made him promise that he'd be on his best behavior for you."
Chloe resisted an urge to roll her eyes. It had been evident for some time that Dinah was hoping to fix her best friend up with her husband's best friend. Even if his attendance record hadn't had her fixated against him, though, Chloe wouldn't have been interested. She was the head of a woman's magazine called Whistle, which had once had a gossip columnist working for it who loved to dish out the latest scandal, frequently featuring Oliver Queen. Chloe had interned for the magazine in college, worked for them and moved up the ladder during grad school, and just last year, she had replaced the retiring editor and one of the first changes she had made was to drop the gossip column. It lowered the integrity of a magazine that targeted sophisticated women. But she had still worked there long enough to witness the number of times Queen's antics had graced that column.
She didn't dare say any of these things to Dinah and AC, though. They would never hear a word against their allegedly 'loyal' friend, whom they insisted was not as bad as the media made him out to be. Chloe supposed it could be true on some level, but one simply didn't get that kind of attention for such a long period of time if there wasn't some merit to the allegations.
Still, she wouldn't argue with Dinah now, not when she was minutes away from walking down the aisle. "Of course I'll be polite," Chloe said, and Dinah didn't miss that Chloe had exchanged the word "nice" for "polite."
"Mm-hmm," Dinah said with raised eyebrows and her lips pressed into a thin line.
"Keep doing that with your mouth and you'll get premature wrinkles," Chloe warned with dancing eyes.
Dinah just swatted her and asked for her bouquet.
Chloe laid eyes on Oliver Queen for the first time shortly after that. He was instantly recognizable due to his photographs. She tried to tell herself that she was unimpressed, but a small, unforgivable little part of her had to admit that of all the groomsmen, he simply looked at home in what he was wearing. Given the beach setting, the groomsmen were wearing off-white linen shirts and khaki pants. Everyone, even Dinah, was barefoot. Oliver Queen looked as if he had been constructed and designed to live on the beach for the rest of his life, with his golden hair and tan skin and the easy way the linen shirt hung from his form. Bruce nearly matched his ease, but there was something about Bruce that would never really stop saying business. Bart looked like a kid and somehow the untucked shirt made him look sloppier than usual. Clark looked positively out of place. Cute, but out of place. Though he pulled off a suit quite well these days, in Chloe's mind he would forever belong to plaid.
And meanwhile, Oliver Queen just…looked like the beach. The beach embodied. She narrowed her eyes at the thought. It seemed the perfect metaphor for his wayward character.
Of course, he looked that way until Chloe saw Arthur, and she immediately determined that if Oliver Queen was all the waywardness of the beach, then Arthur Curry was all the good things about it. A bad sunburn versus a cool tidepool, she decided loyally.
"Chloe?" Oliver asked just before they left the tent to begin the procession. Chloe nodded civilly. He grinned. "I'm Oliver."
"You don't say?" she responded, but whispering kept the curtness in her voice from being too evident, so she told herself she hadn't yet broken her promise to Dinah to be polite.
He grinned even broader at her response before offering his arm. "Shall we?" She nodded, suddenly forgetting she already despised him as she automatically accepted his arm. Out of nowhere the vague nervousness she developed around crowds seized her, and she gripped his arm perhaps a little too tight. If he noticed, he said, nothing, but continued to keep her steady. Chloe's stomach tightened at the sight of AC, looking so dashing, a light ocean breeze fluttering in his blonde hair, the happiness radiating from him in waves as Oliver escorted Chloe down the aisle.
Before Chloe realized it was happening, tears were trickling silently down her cheeks. Damn this wedding. It had her so emotional she was falling apart. It didn't help that she was incredibly sleep-deprived, she thought, vaguely chalking up another vendetta she had against Oliver for causing her a sleepless night.
But then he surprised her, just before they reached the altar and parted, he tucked a handkerchief in her hand before releasing her. She blinked at him from the other side of the altar and he winked his understanding. But Chloe didn't see it as understanding. She interpreted it as flirtation at an inappropriate moment. But she couldn't ignore his practical timing and lifted the white handkerchief to discreetly blot the tears from her face. She made a mental note to tell everyone that the salty air had caused them to water if they asked or made any suggestions that she had gotten emotional so quickly.
She brought her attention back to Diana and Bruce as they made their way across the sand between the aisles of white chairs. They made a dashing couple, all dark features and elegance, oozing grace and style and good breeding. Suddenly it hit Chloe that in a few short years, she would be the last of her friends to be unmarried. Diana and Bruce would inevitably tie the knot, and Lois and Clark were already engaged, their date set. Even Courtney, the junior bridesmaid, had someone in Bart. In the congregation, Victor and Katherine were sitting together, Katherine holding his hand. And back home Tess and Emil were probably waking up in bed together, and Hal and Carol were at work, bantering and pretending that they weren't a couple even though everyone except Carol knew that Hal had been carrying around a ring for months. Now thoroughly emotional, Chloe didn't allow herself to think of her childhood friend, Lana Lang, who was currently in an extended engagement to Lex Luthor. Chloe had been in denial about that relationship for sometime, and she would hold out hope until the last possible moment that Lana would suddenly gain enlightenment and run far away.
Chloe clutched the handkerchief tightly in her hand, trying not to sob as Lois joined Chloe and Diana and the congregation smiled indulgently at Bart and Courtney, who looked sweet and young and fresh in so many ways, somehow representing young love without realizing it.
And then the violins struck up a different tune, and every head craned a little more, not wanting to miss a single moment of Dinah's feathered glory. She looked incandescent, and when she smiled at AC, Chloe was happy to see that she wasn't the only one who had tears in her eyes.
The ceremony was beautiful and simple, with short, original vows that had Chloe crying again. It seemed quite sudden to her when the couple was announced man and wife, and AC kissed Dinah. Then, in a whirlwind that Chloe didn't quite follow mentally, they were at the reception, watching the couple have their first dance.
The reception was stunning, Chloe noted with a hint of pride, having helped Dinah plan almost every detail of it. It was being held in the grand ballroom of a hotel, two full walls of windows looking out on the beautiful Caribbean. The same yellow of the bridesmaid's dresses could be seen scattered throughout the decorations, and in the napkins of the ivory and gold place-settings. White sand decorated the center of each table, as did a tall glass vase filled with sea shells white feathers. Dinah had defended her beloved feathers even here, pointing out the seagulls were everywhere at beaches, and since the effect had been quite lovely in the end, Chloe had never bothered to argue. Somehow the combination simply epitomized Dinah and AC as a couple.
Chloe laughed with everyone else when Dinah and AC's waltz suddenly turned into The Swim, and the DJ officially introduced the couple to the public.
"God, this was gorgeous, wasn't it?" someone asked next to Chloe, and she looked up to see that her cousin had broken away from Clark's side momentarily.
Chloe nodded her agreement, smiling softly. "I'm going to miss those two while they're honeymooning down here, won't you?" she said.
Lois sighed. "Yeah, our little group won't be quite the same without the loudmouth, will it?" she joked.
Chloe elbowed Lois and laughed. "It's her wedding day. Try to keep the insults to a minimum, will you?"
Lois rolled her eyes but grinned. "Hey, we share a mutual loathing that has somehow developed into a deep bond of friendship over the years. Who am I to fight my inner nature when it demands I make wisecracks about her? She'll do the same at my wedding, I'm sure." Lois scanned the room, sipping from a turquoise drink that was one of the bartender's specials for the event. "So," she said, "I just could not get over what a hottie Queen is, could you?"
Chloe huffed. "Here we go."
"Oh come on, you have to admit he's gorgeous."
"Lois, you know how I feel about it. I don't get why everyone's been so excited for us to meet. I can't stand the man."
Lois narrowed her eyes. "All I said is he's a looker. Even you can't deny that. And I sincerely hope you don't plan to give him the lecture you've been preparing for the last year while we're here. Dinah will never forgive you."
"Relax. I promised Dinah I'd be polite."
Lois raised her eyebrows.
"Your definition of polite is not the same as other people's definitions of polite."
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Chloe demanded.
"Just that you better be prepared. One day you're going to meet someone who can keep up with you, and God knows what you'll do then."
"I wonder why people keep saying that to me," Chloe muttered, resting her chin on her hand.
Lois didn't answer but raised a speculative eyebrow at the handkerchief in front of Chloe's plate with the faint mascara smudge on it. Before she could comment on it, Clark showed up and dragged Lois away to dance.
But Chloe wasn't left alone for long.
"Drink or dance?" Oliver Queen asked her, arriving at her table.
"Beg pardon?" Chloe looked confused, growing flustered at his unwanted presence. She was trying to mourn the loss of a close friend. Couldn't he see that? Oh why did weddings have to be the beginning of the end?
"Well, I came over here to ask you to dance, but then you looked like you might prefer a drink instead."
Chloe eyed him, trying to determine what his game was. "Which one sent you?" she asked finally.
He looked surprised. "Sorry?"
"Dinah or AC?"
He cottoned on. "Ah. Neither at this particular moment, but I see our friends have been less than subtle with you as well." He shrugged, sitting down next to her without being asked. "Well," he said, leaning back, "can you blame them?"
"Yes, actually," Chloe grumbled, subtly scooting her chair away from him so their legs wouldn't brush against each other.
He laughed at that. "Aw, come on, we're the last of their single friends. They can't help themselves."
"They should mind their own business," Chloe sighed wearily, reaching for the near empty glass of champagne she had and downing the last drops.
Oliver quirked an eyebrow at her. "That's a little harsh."
She realized he was right, though she didn't like to admit it. "I'm sorry. I've had a long night and I'm emotional because of the wedding and frankly, I've spent so many years dodging my friends set-ups that I really can't take it any more. Andrew from accounting was the last straw."
"What did he do?"
"I finally caved in and went out with him. When I ordered my drink and meal at the restaurant, he said, 'You don't want that,' and proceeded to order for me. I left after that."
Oliver whistled. "Wow, what a dick."
"Pre-cisely," Chloe said, emphasizing the first syllable of the word.
There was a pause, and then Oliver pushed the chair back. "Well," he said, standing up, "you'll just have to try harder next time."
"Excuse me?" Chloe looked around at him, shocked. He was now pulling her out of her chair.
"Look," he said cheerfully, "I'm not any happier about it than you are—" He'd spent a good year avoiding attempted setups with Chloe. He'd heard about her reputation at that magazine she ran. She was uptight and frosty and took her work way to seriously. What did he want with someone who didn't know how to have fun? "—but, I promised the bride that I would dance with you. And as it is her wedding, I'm not letting you make me look bad to her."
"Scared of Dinah?" Chloe asked in an amused tone, giving in and allowing herself to be dragged to the dance floor. After all, it was for the bride.
"Aren't you?" Oliver asked with a smirk, glancing over his shoulder at her just before he reached the dance floor and swung her gracefully into his arms.
"Isn't everyone?" Chloe chuckled. Although truthfully, as Dinah's best friend, Chloe was one of the few people who wasn't scared of the bride. AC was just scared enough of her to fall in love with her a little more every time she was in the room. Everyone else lived in constant terror. Or so she frequently teased Dinah.
After a while, Chloe raised her eyebrows, surprised by something.
"Yes?" Oliver questioned, curious.
"You're not bad at this," Chloe said. She had danced with many men for many reasons, and she had to admit, skill-wise, Oliver was up their with Bruce.
"Quite a compliment," Oliver laughed at her surprised tone. Over his shoulder, Chloe suddenly noticed Dinah, who was positively beaming at the pair of them, clearly convinced that this was going much better than it actually was. Well, at least she was happy. Maybe she would leave them both alone now.
"Sorry," Chloe commented absently. "I'm used to dancing with men who don't know how to lead."
"I can tell," Oliver said lightly. "You keep trying to take the lead." Chloe blushed, horrified. "Don't you ever relax?"
"As a matter of fact," Chloe said, "I do. I just don't find your presence particularly soothing." Why was this song so long? Hadn't they been out here for an hour at least?
It did end, eventually, Chloe and Oliver parting with still firmer convictions in their opinions of one another.
Dinah looked ready to pounce on Chloe as soon as she was away from Oliver, but fortunately, AC swept her away at the next moment. Speeches were given, glasses were raised, and the cake was cut. Chloe was chatting with Katherine and Victor when the DJ announced the bouquet toss. Katherine grabbed Chloe, and once again, Chloe found herself being dragged to the dance floor. This time, though, there was a pack of women gathered there. Chloe played along, never intending to actually try to catch the bouquet. But as sometimes happens in life, even the most stubborn intentions are no match for the weirdness of real life.
Dinah glanced over her shoulder and winked at Chloe, obviously hoping her maid of honor would catch the flowers. Then she turned around and sent them flying behind her. The girls squealed, and in front of Chloe, a brunette reached high and just barely touched the bouquet, knocking them to the ground at Chloe's feet. In a moment of what she could only later refer to as sheer stupidity, Chloe bent down and picked up the bouquet, fully intending to hand it to the girl in front of her, who, she felt, had been the first to touch it and therefore was the rightful winner. The next thing she knew, everyone was shouting about how Chloe had caught the bouquet. Lois was hugging her and Dinah was clapping in delight. Chloe stood bewildered, with Lois and Courtney both wrapping their arms around her, and stared at the offending roses in her hands, wondering:
What in the hell was I thinking?
Then things got worse. The DJ ordered Dinah and AC to the center of the floor, where AC, encouraged by the heckles and catcalls of his groomsmen, was instructed to remove Dinah's garter. The single men at the wedding were herded to the floor, where AC launched the garter—straight into Oliver's chest, as it were.
And then, owing to a sick wedding tradition that Chloe hadn't known existed, Chloe was escorted to the same chair that Dinah had occupied moments ago. Because, according to the DJ, they needed a "replacement bride." She didn't understand what that meant, until AC and Bruce were shoving Oliver toward her, all of them grinning and nudging each him.
Chloe was about ready to tell Oliver and the DJ where they could shove that garter, when Lois, already anticipating her next move, forced her back down into the chair. Chloe's whole face burned with embarrassment as she was compelled to allow Oliver to slip the garter up her leg, his hands slipping beneath her skirt as the men chanted, "Higher! Higher!"
Oliver glanced at her and winked, taking an unbearably long time about it. Chloe wanted the ground to swallow her up, but could do nothing but hide her blushing face from the camera man, who was loving every minute of it. Irrationally, she blamed Oliver. He would get her caught up in something like this. Because scenes like this followed him everywhere, it seemed. Of course Oliver Queen would be wherever there was innuendo to be found.
The majority of her emotions that day were devoted to Dinah and AC, a mingling of unselfish joy for their happiness with a small, personal sadness for days now gone, when Chloe at last reached her hotel room that evening. And yet, in a small corner of her being, there was just room enough for one other sentiment: absolute loathing for Oliver Queen.
Next (Chapter Two)