Author's Note: Hello, Lovelies! Here we are, at the penultimate chapter! The main event! But first, some old business: as some of you wonderful reviewers have pointed out, I did something wonky with chapter 34...and as some of you guessed correctly, it's an old draft. I DID correct that, so if you want to pop back and give that a reread, I highly recommend that. The final draft was MUCH better and will make much more sense. I am so sorry about that confusion.

Also, if you could please forgive any mistakes, that would be wonderful. They're all mine. I'm about halfway through editing the chapter, but I didn't want to delay posting since it's just nit-picky things.

So, without further ado: HAPPY READING!

...

Chapter 40

It was a weird morning for Tommy, to say the least.

Last night had been great for Verdant. The staff was – for the most part – a well-oiled machine. Even the Roy, the kid Oliver had brought in. The little delinquent was surprisingly capable and charming when he wanted to be.

If Thea didn't spend a good portion of the evening tailing him, Tommy would probably be singing his praises. Sure, he's glad they're past her awkward crush, but apparently it's one of those things where you should be careful what you wish for because now he feels this overprotective streak rising.

That – as abnormal has it had been – was par for the course.

No, the weird thing was his father stopping by this morning, and then bumping into Oliver and his secret vigilante friends.

And now an earthquake.

Tommy can't remember ever experiencing one in his almost thirty years in Starling. If he had, it had never been more than a faint tremor, a faint disturbance barely worthy of mentioning. Starling wasn't on any fault lines. Why would he be familiar with earthquakes?

But that's what this is.

It feels like he's standing on water, not solid ground as the terrain shifts restlessly in waves. The ground grumbles like dragon waking from a century of sleep, a low, loud grumble that wakes him up in a surge of adrenaline.

"Tommy, get out of here!" Oliver shouts. "Get as far from the Glades as possible!"

Tommy blinks at his best friend's back as he disappears into the club with his gang right on his tail. He shakes his head and starts toward his car. No matter how heroic his best friend can be, he can't stop an earthquake.

But it's harder to walk when the ground's shaking beneath you and only getting worse by the second.

He reaches his car around the same time screams of alarm start to pierce the air. The city's already starting to panic. This isn't good.

Oliver's right. He needs to get out of here. They should all be getting out of here, but where do you go when there's an earthquake? It's not like you can escape.

He freezes with his keys in the ignition. Oliver said to leave the Glades, but he can't. Not yet. First, he has to check on Laurel. She's probably pulling extra hours at CNRI and heaven knows she's more worried about everyone else than herself. He has to find her, make sure she's safe.

Please, let Laurel be safe.

It's too soon and way too close to the Foundry.

Maybe it's a blessing that Malcolm moved the time table up even further: there's only going to be one machine. Oliver grimaces as he shoves through the swinging door. That's not much of a comfort considering how much damage one machine caused last time. And now, they don't have Felicity here to help shut the device down.

"We can check the camera feeds in the basement-"

"OLIVER!"

Sara's shove sends him staggering. He doesn't fall, but it displaces him enough that the arrow that would have gone through his chest misses him completely. The black arrow mocks him where it embeds itself in the bar.

"MALCOLM!" He rounds to face the assassin, now fully decked out in League regalia except for his mask.

Malcolm grins at him. "I was worried you wouldn't make it in time."

"Digg, Roy, take care of the machine! Sara and I can handle this." It makes the most sense. Of the four of them, Roy and Digg have as good a chance of stopping the machine as him and Sara. He's not going to dwell on the fact that their pinch hitter in electronics is currently down for the count.

"Oliver, when are you going to learn that you can't stop this? You've chosen a great building, very structurally sound, however, I don't think it will withstand this disaster, do you?"

The whole building could crumble around them for all Oliver cares, so long as no one he loves dies. Felicity's life is out of his hands. Waller – as awful as she is – wouldn't send medics and then let Felicity die if it's in her power to save her. He can worry about the cost of her assistance later. The Undertaking is the more immediate threat.

"And you think you and Miss Lance can take me?"

Oliver hadn't realized he recognized the blonde. Which was stupid retrospectively. Of course he knew the Lances, and Sara isn't wearing a mask. "I'm not going to let you hurt another innocent person," he responds with more confidence then he feels, pulling the bow from his house out.

Malcolm sighs. "I've been trying to tell you: They're not innocent. These are criminals we're talking about, criminals and those too quiet to stand against them. This is for the good of our city."

Roy and Digg start inching for the door to the basement as concrete dust starts to rain down from the ceiling. Oliver's lip curls in disgust. "And I'm not buying your bull shit."

Malcolm climbs on top of the balcony railing, looking like an angel of death. "Then let's end this. I have a city to destroy and then rebuild. I'm sorry you won't be around to see Starling restored to its former glory."

Faster than he thought possible, Oliver nocks and arrow and sends it flying straight into Malcolm's chest. It would have been the end of the fight, if the man hadn't anticipated the move and dropped from the second story to land in the middle of the dance floor.

Grace and purpose oozes from Malcolm as he shoots off arrow after arrow, moving around the room, making sure to keep them at a comfortable distance. It keeps Sara from engaging him in hand to hand.

It quickly becomes clear to Oliver they're not going to get past a draw shooting at each other from across the room. He knocks the next arrow aside with his bow and moves decisively, cutting across the center of the dance floor.

Malcolm fires off three more arrows in rapid succession that Oliver deflects with his bow in between firing his own. Sara slips into the shadows, darting around the edge room. The last arrow Malcolm fires, before turning to grab Sara's staff as she comes at him from behind, clips his cheek.

He ignores the sting and the trickle of blood down his face to continue his attack. Oliver wields an arrow like a knife. He moves with the intent to kill, aiming for the space between Malcolm's ribs while Sara has him distracted.

But the unevenness of the floor, throws him off, misdirecting his aim.

He follows the jolting action to duck under the responding hit. He doesn't see the kick coming though, and ends up sprawled on the rippling floor.

This is going to be rougher than he thought.

"What are you playing at?" Lyla demands as she steps off the helicopter, walking straight up to Waller.

Waller stares back impassively.

"You don't do anything unless it benefits you. So why would you go out of your way to rescue, Felicity?"

"Agent Michaels."

"I won't let you use a dying woman as your chess piece, ma'am!" She's never yelled at her boss before. She's an army brat through and through. She knows the chain of command and understands the need to focus on the bigger picture. But she also knows that if Felicity dies, she will never forgive herself.

"At the moment, Agent Michaels, she means more to me alive than dead."

Lyla narrows her eyes. "Why? Why Felicity?"

Amanda purses her lips as she stares down Lyla down. But Lyla's got a backbone. She wouldn't have gotten to where she is now if she didn't. She lives in a male-driven world, working directly under the most hard-ass woman in the world.

"We have reason to believe Miss Smoak could be a valuable asset we tried to recruit several years ago."

Lyla frowns. "So, what? You're going to save her life in the hope that she'll work for you?" Waller's certainly done worse. A few "rehabilitated criminals" come to mind. But this? This is completely out of left field.

"No. But it wasn't a talent the world should lose just yet. And if this eliminates some of my debt to Mr. Queen...The benefits outweigh the costs. As soon as she's been stabilized, you're free to take her…assuming you're here in your capacity as her bodyguard and not as one of my agents, Miss Michaels."

Lyla straightens her spine. "Of course." For some unknown reason, Waller is helping. She's giving her an out to act without fear of disobeying orders. It's the unknown reason that concerns Lyla at the moment. With Felicity under Waller's interest, she'll survive this.

What Waller wants from this: that's the problem.

"You should go check on your client."

Waller has a plan. Somehow it involves saving Felicity, and more than likely it's because she needs something from Oliver Queen. Lyla doesn't buy her story. Waller always thinks ten steps ahead.

So there's some reluctance when she follows Waller's advice and checks in on Felicity and Moira. She recognizes the doctors working on Felicity through the window into the operating room. She stands alongside the Queen matriarch as the arrow is pulled from Felicity's chest with great care.

"Your friends are efficient," Mrs. Queen comments, turning her only slightly. "It seems you know people in high places, Miss…"

"Michaels." Lyla sighs as she looks around the facility. "And this isn't for me. This is for her, or more likely for your son, or some combination. Whatever the reason, she's going to make it through this."

"Oliver? My son doesn't know any military organization."

Lyla shrugs. She's not about to get into specifics about A.R.G.U.S. with a civilian. She'll let Oliver field this one, assuming they make it through the disaster zone that will be Starling City.

"How does my son figure into this?" Moira repeats.

"I'm in your son's debt," Waller supplies as she steps up to the window. The comparison to the two women on either side of her isn't lost on Lyla. Both are scary and intimidating. And neither seems above killing to protect what they value above all else.

"And how do you know my son?"

"He worked for me for several years."

Moira frowns. "How-"

"His involvement is heavily classified, as is this facility. I would have preferred not to bring any unauthorized guests into the base, but time was of the essence." She presses the speaker. "How is she?"

"Stabilized. There was a small nick in her aorta that the arrow was keeping plugged, but she should have a full recovery."

"Thank you, Doctor Singh. Let me know as soon as she wakes."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Waller," Lyla warns in a low growl.

The woman narrows her eyes as she turns. "Agent Michaels, don't forget where you are."

"How could I, ma'am? But if you think I'm going to let you take advantage of an injured woman, you've got another thing coming."

Waller smiles joylessly, an uptick of her lips that's a stiff mockery of anything resembling a genuine smile. "Just remember: I control your career. One wrong move and you'll be spending the rest of it behind bars."

"As if you could find anyone to replace me." She knows not to get on Waller's bad side, but she also knows her value. Waller trusts her, and Waller doesn't trust easily.

Waller's brows rise in amusement, but she doesn't disagree. "Call me when she's awake. I need her help on Rubicon."

A life on the streets might have made Roy sure-footed, but navigating a shifting floor is a new challenge, especially since it seems to get worse the closer he gets to the door to the basement. He punches in the code impatiently and yanks the door open.

"We need to get the camera feeds and go," Digg yells behind him as Roy clings to the stair railing, stopping once he finally gets a look at the middle of the floor.

"I don't think it's going to be that hard to find."

"What are you- Oh."

And the understatement of the year award goes to: John Diggle.

Roy throws caution to the wind and continues to stumble down the shaking metal stairs. Concrete dust clogs the air, debris raining from the ceiling. Small fissures and cracks radiate out from the device where it sits right in the middle of the room, a spider web in the floor.

Fear, sharp and bitter, floods Roy's system. He's supposed to stop that? He dropped out of High School for Heaven's sake! He can't work intricate electronics any better than he could do complicated math. The best he can do is smash, and he gets the feeling that that's not going to be that helpful right now.

The thing is taller than he is.

It fills the room, from Felicity's destroyed computer station to the punching bags in the corner. He can see wires in between bits of casing just beyond the moving cylinders, but this whole rig looks like something from a Sci-Fi movie.

"How do we stop it?" Digg asks.

Roy turns to stare at him, eyes wide in shock. "How the hell should I know?"

"You don't think we can just clip a few wires?"

A panicked laugh leaves Roy's throat. "Your guess is as good as mine. No chance of getting Felicity on the phone?"

Roy staggers across the uneven floor to grab a knife from Oliver's workstation. Worst case scenario: he starts cutting wires without prejudice.

"No chance. Even if she's out of surgery, she's probably not in any state to help us."

Great. This is just how he wanted to face the end of the world. "Well, looks like we're on our own." He starts forward, reaching for the first bunch of wires he spots.

"What are you doing?" Digg pulls him back, yanking the knife from his grasp.

"Cutting the wires."

"What if it makes it worse?"

"Can it really get any worse?" Roy demands, gesturing at the crumbling pebbles now falling from the ceiling. Really, it seems like it's worth the risk at this point.

Digg groans. "Why did you have to say that!"

"Look! I don't know how this thing works, but I do know that unplugging a computer is just as effective at stopping a virus as going through the programming." And he's been spending too much time with Felicity if that's his analogy. She'd probably skin him alive for thinking like that, but it's not like they have all the time in the world right now.

"I don't like this."

"Well, if you have a better idea…"

Halfway to CNRI, Tommy realizes what he's feeling: the shaking he felt at Verdant lessened the further he got from the club, like he was headed away from the epicenter. He didn't remember much about his Earth Science class except that he sat next to Karen Oolzicki, but he's pretty sure it's extremely unlikely for Starling to have such a huge tremor.

People are starting to panic with the prolonged tremors that only continue to get worse. No one seems to know what to do, dashing into the streets, screaming, fighting.

A block from CNRI, Tommy's forced to pull to the side of the road when a traffic light crashes into the middle of the road in a rain of sparks. He narrowly misses colliding with another car and a fire hydrant as he ends up parked half on the sidewalk.

In his haste to reach Laurel, Tommy leaves the car door open and the engine running. Dust fills the air and the buildings are starting to shake dangerously. He needs to get to Laurel out of here.

The street outside CNRI was full of milling people and he spots Johanna at the back of the crowd, staring back at the building in terror.

"Joanna!" He staggers up to her, grabbing her arm.

"Tommy?"

"Where's Laurel? Have you seen her?" He demands, breathless. His eyes are already skimming the crowd looking for familiar brown locks.

"She ran back in for some files. I tried to stop her. The building is not built to stand up to a quake." She frowns worriedly up at the building.

In retrospect, he'll think it's a terrible idea, but Tommy doesn't think about it for a moment. He runs through the door and immediately coughs at the dust and debris in the air.

"LAUREL!"

He coughs on the sudden inhale. Without direction, he heads for her desk in hopes of catching her there. "LAUREL!"

"HERE! I'm here!" Laurel bursts out of the dust with a paper box under her arm. "What are you doing here?"

Tommy grabs her arm, yanking her towards the exit. "I wanted to make sure you were safe and not doing something stupid like walking into an unsafe building."

The building groans ominously under the stress of quake and Tommy shoves Laurel in front of him towards the door. He can't highlight how much he doesn't know about structural integrity, but that sound can't mean anything good. He came here to save Laurel from herself, even if it hurts him.

"TOMMY!"

With another burst of energy, Tommy surges forward and shoves the door open into the bright sunshine. A moment later, the building groans one last time before it collapses in on itself in an explosion of dust and debris.

Brushing rubble from his hair, Tommy pushes himself into a sitting position. He doesn't have to look far to find Laurel. She scrambles back over to him, throwing her arms around him.

"Oh, Thank God! You're okay."

His whole body aches from his collision with the pavement, but that doesn't stop him from pulling her close as the world continues to shake around them. They're both okay. That's what counts.

The shaking ground requires a new equilibrium, adding a dimension to the fight that Oliver had never prepared for. He's never fought through an earthquake before. But on boats and airplanes, the similarities are there though. Malcolm doesn't appear to have the same issue and Oliver would be dead by now if not for Sara blocking the blade with a sweeping blow of her staff.

Oliver pushes off the wall and throws himself back into the thick of the fight. He gets off one arrow before resorting to his bow as melee weapon with an arrow as a blade. It's not the most graceful formation, but its workable.

For once, Malcolm is silent as they battle. There's no teasing, no derogatory tone, no condensation. It means they're actually challenging him.

Malcolm tosses aside his bow and pulls out his sword. Oliver might be imagining it, but it looks like they even make him break a sweat.

"I'll admit: you're doing better than I thought. I had hoped to be gone by now."

Sara breaks her staff into two sticks. "Well, you've certainly got moves for an old man."

He lets out a soft chuckle. "And you're spry for a dead person."

Oliver grits his teeth. There's been enough of the customary banter.

"Thanks! I make sure to exercise daily. It holds off the rigor mortis."

Malcolm's lips quirk. "You've trained with the League."

Sara twirls, her baton with a smirk but does not answer.

"Let's just get on with it," Oliver growls.

"Patience is a virtue, Oliver."

"So is compassion," he counters. The tremors are getting worse and Roy and Digg haven't come back out of the basement.

"But even compassion runs out. The Glades had their chance and you've had yours." He surveys Oliver. "You won't win this fight if you continue. This is your last chance."

Oliver nocks another arrow. "Not going to happen!"

The arrow flies through the air, reigniting the battle from its temporary pause. Oliver is trying not to think about the structures around them as he dodges more chunks of concrete. The machine must be closer to the Foundry than last time. And he'd made sure the building was up to earthquake codes.

He's sure Malcolm doesn't want to be here, doesn't want to face the chance of being caught in the results of his plan. They're making this harder than he had anticipated. Good. Maybe they could get him to make a mistake.

Malcolm kicks Sara in the gut, sending her back a couple yards and opening himself to another arrow. He's finally starting to sweat, the moisture allowing the dust in the air to stick to his skin in a fine layer of grime. Oliver can only imagine what he looks like in this mess.

But as problematic as it might be to breathe through dust-clogged air or to move when every tremor sends a fresh wave through the ground, there is more at stake here. He can't back down because he knows what they're fighting for.

The sooner this is over, the sooner he can get to Waller and check on Felicity. If Felicity dies, he's not sure anything can stop him from trying to put an arrow through Amanda's heart. First, he has to take down Malcolm Merlyn.

Oliver catches another glancing blow with his shoulder. Blood starts to well from the wound as he spins out of the way of another incoming arrow. He's getting slower. They need to finish this quickly.

John frowns at the control panel on the machine. For reasons unknown, he thought some of his military training might help him assess the situation, give him some insight into a simple way to shut the machine down.

But no. It was for more complicated than the bombs he had trained to shut down. He's sure it the right hands, the answer would be simple, and probably elegant knowing Felicity, but they don't' have her guidance and even if they had the plans, they don't have the time.

He steps back and glances at Roy.

"Time for plan B."

The boy lifts his knife gleefully and stumbles over to the device, sucking under the revolving pistons with surprising ease considering the ground is cracked and moving like waves on an ocean. Progressively larger rocks are falling from posts and the ceiling. This place will need to be tested for structural integrity when this is all said and done.

Although, to be perfectly honest, John's not sure he'll ever be comfortable coming back down here again. Too many bad associations now.

Roy wraps his hand around a large bundle of wires and, without a dramatic pause or a bracing breath, severs them. Which would have been dramatic enough in and of itself if it didn't take a good deal of sawing just to get through the clump.

John holds his breath as the pistons first start to speed up, the machine making a loud, angry beeping noise. Bu then he finally severs the last of the wires, the machine peters out with a high pitched wine before stilling.

All his breath escapes his chest and John falls to his knees in relief. It's over.

The ground still moves and shifts in residual tremors, the effects still being felt, but now it can peter back out.

Digg starts to laugh as Roy collapses next to him, knife still clutched in his hand and whispering to himself. "We did it. We actually did it….Blondie's gonna kill me."

"I think Felicity will give you a pass on this one," John offers with a smile.

Roy snorts. "Uh-huh sure. You say that now, but she is never going to let me near her beloved electronics ever again."

John claps him on the back. "We survived a deadly Earthquake machine. I think that gets us some bonus points."

Roy shakes his head disbelievingly but climbs to his feet, eyes on the metal steps. "Think those are secure enough?"

"Only one way to find out."

They are. Surprisingly.

Debris has fallen on every surface in the Foundry, including the stairs, but the stairs themselves are solid as can be. With the exception of a few new dents. John had expected worse. He wouldn't have been surprised if they managed to get trapped in the basement.

There are almost no tremors left now as they stumble up and out the door.

The hallway is far worse for wear. A metal beam hangs from the ceiling and not a single glass looks to have survived the disaster. Stater glass covers the floor with the occasional block of concrete. It crunches under foot as they make their way onto the open dance floor that makes up the main room of Verdant.

With the distraction of the machine gone, John had hoped that Sara and Oliver would have managed to overpower Malcolm. By all rights, they should have managed before, but then he would have seen them in the basement.

What he does see…is not good news.

"Miss Smoak? Miss Smoak, can you hear me? If you can hear me, I need you to squeeze my hand, can you do that?"

Fighting against pain that roars through half her body, Felicity squeezes the hand. Shouldn't they be giving her the good drugs?

"Good," praises the calm voice. "Very good. Now, Miss Smoak, can you open your eyes?"

Her eye lids are heavy, but Felicity forces them open, forces them to zero in on the (slightly-blurry because where are her glasses?) doctor standing over her. She's a small, Indian woman whose face is almost kind, but Felicity can detect and edge to her that says she's not to be trifled with.

"Excellent. Can you tell me what day of the week it is?"

"Saturday?" Oh. Her voice. Her throat cracks and screams for water, which is quickly offered in the form or a straw from the other side of her bed. She swallows it down before asking. "Where's Oliver?"

"Yes. Good. You gave us quite a scare, Miss Smoak." She completely ignores the question, instead going over the chart in front of her. "The arrow nicked your aorta. We were able to patch that seamlessly though. Nothing else was damaged internally although we did have to give you a couple bags of blood. You've also been given a dose of Spartazone. It's been proven to decrease healing time and get soldiers back into the field faster."

"I'm not a soldier. And where am I?" Normal hospital doctors didn't give out drugs like that. And this room is too sterile, too quiet.

Felicity turns to the side and can make out Moira and Lyla, Lyla who looks surprisingly comfortable from her position at the door.

"I'm at A.R.G.U.S., aren't I?"

Her doctor blinks in surprise, but Lyla is the one who nods. "Waller wants to talk to you. She's probably already been informed you're awake."

Felicity grimaces as she pulls back. "Well then I guess the miracle drugs are a good thing. Can I get my glasses back?"

Moira, surprisingly, steps forward to place the black frames in her hand. "Here you go."

The world comes back in stunning clarity as Felicity tries to sort out her thoughts. She was shot by Malcolm Merlyn in the kitchen at Queen Mansion. She remembers Oliver going to fight him, to protect her and Moira while they waited for back up.

She remembers the medics, how they had sedated her once she was in the helicopter, a clearly military helicopter. Then nothing, nothing until now.

"Where's Oliver?" She asks again, focused on Lyla. No one else in the room will have that answer.

Lyla grimaces. "They're in Starling. We've had reports of a major earthquake. Damage appears to be fairly contained to the Glades."

"Digg? Roy? Oliver? Have they reported in? Sara?" Panic rises over her in a wave. Where is her team? They're hers to protect, hers to watch over, hers to care for, and they're out in the field, blind without her.

Her worst fears are confirmed as Lyla shakes her head and checks her phone again. "Nothing."

"We need to find them. I can stop the Markov device. Just get me to a damn computer." Her feet hit the cool tile as she starts pulling wires from her skin. Maybe a super serum med isn't such a bad thing.

"While I appreciate your dedication, Miss Smoak, I cannot allow you leave yet."

Felicity spins to face the door and the woman she's barely met but still knows to be a force to reckon with. "Sorry, Amanda. Can I call you Amanda? Or do you prefer Waller? Ma'am? Doesn't matter. Thanks for saving my life. I owe you one. Oh! And the drugs. Thanks for the drugs. They're great. But my team needs me and I don't leave any man behind."

"That's nice, Miss Smoak, but I need your assistance first. Consider it payment for saving your life."

Felicity freezes in the act of pulling on the yoga pants she found on the night table. "Come again?"

"Before I allow you to leave, I need your help with a complex bit of programming." How can a woman so skinny be so scary? Is it the hair? Felicity thinks it might be the hair.

A scowl creeps over Felicity's face. "And you can have it! As soon as my team is safe. That is non-negotiable."

"I'm afraid I don't work on promises. If you want to help your team, you'll have to act fast." Waller tosses a tablet on the hospital gurney like a gauntlet thrown down in challenge. "This needs to be un-hackable or the world will die with the next nuclear war. You and your team included."

Rubicon

That's the only thing it could be and like Hell is Felicity going to have anything whatsoever to do with it. "You want to keep it from falling into enemy hands? Destroy it! Your welcome. I'm leaving now."

"Unacceptable. I would prefer not to do this the hard way, but if I have to…" Oh, she's good at the threats.

Felicity snaps, unable to take it anymore. "You want it protected? Fine! But first we rescue my men. Then I'll come back her and create the best protection to ever exist for the God-forsaken device and hell, even your whole base. The only reason I haven't broken in already is because I can't afford your processors. But I'm close. So. We get our men, you get your firewall. Good? Good."

Now that all the words have all escaped, Felicity's realizing that no one speaks to Waller like that and she's probably as good as dead now, which sucks because her boys in dire need of help, if experience is anything to go by.

Waller looks her up and down, and then turns to Lyla. "I expect her back at 0700. If she's late, it's you job down the drain."

Felicity relaxes, yanking the zipper up on a plain black sweatshirt. She's almost disappointed it doesn't say A.R.G.U.S. but at the same time it goes with the whole spy organization thing. Still, it would be funny.

"Let's go." Felicity announces. There's no shoes in immediately in proximity so she opts for padding barefoot through the military base. She doesn't need any more delays.

"I'm coming with you," Moira announces, following Lyla and Felicity.

Felicity turns back over her injured shoulder. She doesn't like the idea of dragging more people into a possible war zone, especially when they can be a liability, but she also doesn't have time to argue. All she can offer is a "just stay out of the way" as they climb into a waiting SUV and take off toward a crumbling city.

She just hopes they're not too late.

The difference in shaking as the machine shuts down is immediate. The swells of Earth are slower, more gradual, less of a build-up and more a slow return to normal. It feels like breathing normally again after a prolonged lack of oxygen.

"NO!" Merlyn shouts, hauling off and brutally pushing Sara back. With an arrow through her shoulder, he pins her to the pillar behind her. She yanks it out and collapses forward. She doesn't move from the haps she falls in.

But Oliver doesn't have time to worry. Malcolm whirls on him, his eyes burning.

There's no mercy now. After three violent strikes, his bow breaks, splinters of wood embedding in his hands. Oliver drops it immediately and picks up the pieces of Sara's discarded staff. He's fought with Slade and Sara enough to remain competent enough to keep holding Merlyn off.

At least with the sticks, Oliver manages to deflect the blade more.

It is more like death by a thousand cuts. He can't block every strike, but he blocks and dodges as best as he can, still stumbling on the uneven ground.

Malcolm is lashing out, more violently than Oliver has ever seen. He's never been more aware of how much better than him Malcolm really is. The fact that he's actually broken a sweat is impressive in and of itself.

Oliver's legs and abs burn from the prolonged balancing act. He knew he was in good shape, but this was a test he definitely hadn't prepared for. He's barely recovered from his last fight with Malcolm. He really shouldn't have pushed this.

Maybe he should have tried to attack this from a different angle. Maybe the answer was to get into Malcolm's good graces. Maybe then Felicity wouldn't be in an A.R.G.U.S. med bay.

He sees Sara shift behind Malcolm and struggles to hold his ground. If he could hold on until she can join in, until he can get some back up, then maybe they'll make it through this.

Then his foot slips in the rubble, his stick falling as he attempts to catch himself. A swing of Malcolm's sword takes chunk out of his arm with an agonized scream. The next blow goes to his already weaker knee, and his leg gives out.

Gravel digs into his hands and his leg.

Pain.

Terrible, awful pain, pain that invades his whole body. He can't move, paralyzed by pain that silences every other instinct he has.

Malcolm stands over him, sword raised over his head, and whispers the few words he remembers from the top of a snowy cliff in the middle of nowhere, a prayer whispered in Arabic.

Malcolm Merlyn is going to kill him.

Desperately, he tries to lift his arm to block the blow, but his arm refuses to answer, hanging limply at his side.

"OLIVER!"

Felicity.

She can't be here. It can't be her voice he's hearing as he kneels on the edge of death.

He closes his eyes unwilling to see the end. Instead he clings to the pictures he saw the first time, clings to the memories of his parents, his sister, Tommy, Felicity.

New pain flares, strong and overwhelming. This is the end. It's here. He's just thankful that he got the chance to save Tommy. And with him gone, Slade won't come after them. They'll be safe. It's not ideal, but it could be worse.

He's dying.

BANG BANG BANG.