“You’re still beating yourself up, Leo.” The words are familiar. The voice is as well. There’s concern, and kindness, and forgiveness. Aria looks over from Otto’s passenger seat, to Leo at the driver’s seat. Jason Quill is in the trunk, having a nap.
“Yeah,” admits Leo, without hesitation or regret. “I mean, let’s review.”
Aria knows what he’s going to say, but this will be helpful for him to say.
“In this world, Rook bags Pneuma. You. Only… we don’t get you back as fast. So I leave the team, strike off on my own with you, but of course I’m useless without friends and support.”
Aria nods slowly.
The boy’s hands tighten imperceptibly on the steering wheel. “Want of a nail. I talked to Alycia about this too. I’m not there for Jason. Or her. Or Concord, Harry, Charlotte, anybody. Because this me was weak–”
There it is, and Aria knows it. She smiles gently, watching Leo ride through it and out the other side.
“Because I’m weak, because I need you, and Otto, and everybody. Because my theories are right, if you’ll pardon some pride.”
The girl nods with warmth in her eyes. “I will. Go on.”
“Individually, we’re all weak. We don’t hold together well under sustained stress. The world can put us in a vice and crack us. But together, we’re strong.”
“And what do you think you should do about that, going forward?”
Leo shrugs. “The answer’s obvious, innit. Keep inspiring people. Keep being inspired. Be the link in the great chain.”
“Very wise.” Aria folds her hands together. She feels something else from him, and just nods, allowing him to say it in his way, at his time.
She’s surprised when Leo breaks into a wide grin. “I figured something else out, Aria.”
“What’s that?” This isn’t part of the script of healing.
“Well, none of this could conceivably be called your fault, but things that happened with you were the catalyst, right?”
She’s not quite sure where this is going, but she’s willing to trust it. “Go on?”
Leo looks over - he’s not actually driving, he can do that - and with wide, loving eyes smiles to her and says, “that makes you the most important woman in the world.”
Aria feels her cheeks flush, with uncertainty and happiness. She likes this feeling, of being praised and appreciated by this boy she loves. She’s not being put on a pedestal, or lionized for false virtue. This is just what he feels, and she can’t help but admit he’s got reasons for saying it. He ran away from everything, for me. It didn’t end well, for Bot and for this Pneuma, but we’ve learned that lesson.
But he’s still talking. “So I promise to do everything in my power to protect you, and empower you, and support you, so you can go on being that important woman.”
She feels her mouth say what’s in her heart, despite discretion running in frantic haste to stop it. “That sounds like something you should say as a proposal, good sir.”
Leo flushes brightly and quite silently.
Otto, taking the wrong cue, fills the gap with what he thinks is the obvious response. The glove compartment pops open, revealing a velvet box and a solid band of diamond resting atop it. He showed the boss earlier that the thing was still intact and ready for use at any time, and now seemed like the right–
“What… what is this?” Aria gasps. She’s not disappointed in the slightest, oh no. Surprise is all her voice can manage.
“It’s… Shit. Otto, dude. When I call for it, man.” He straightens himself in the seat. “It’s a ring. Aria Newman, when we graduate, I wanna marry you.”
“I… I… What?” Aria struggles for words. Everything she was thinking of saying earlier has been derailed. “This… What? It’s beautiful. Leo, God, why do I deserve something like this?”
“Well…” Leo rallies, manfully enough. “Because you’re smart, and charming, and beautiful, and ambitious, and hopeful, and gentle. When an angel like you comes down from Heaven for a guy like me, that guy needs to recognize what he’s got and welcome it into his life. And graduation sounded good, 'cause we’ve only been together again a little while, and I thought you might want some time to consider carefully, just in case you had any more concerns about yourself and your independence. I didn’t wanna–”
He’s forced into silence by a pair of lips, locking onto his.
“Yes,” she whispers, when it’s clear he’s going to need help breathing soon. “We’ll wait until graduation. I respect your reason for wanting to wait. But you have my answer now, you goof.”
Leo’s quite red. Or purple, from lack of oxygen. The two shades blend together adorably. “Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I’m sorry it kinda, y’know, popped out there like that, I should have told Otto–”
Aria laughs, and keeps laughing. “Oh god, it was perfect.”
Leo looks confused. Is he being led on? “But–”
She kisses him again. “That was the most Leo Snow proposal I can imagine. Things just kinda spiraled, but you charged in and ran with it and owned it anyway, and that’s why I love you.”
Leo can accept that. “Oh. I should mention. The diamond band is all synthetic, I’m cheap. But to make up for it, there’s a couple of connectomes encoded digitally into the carbon. You, and me. If you wear that, we’re always together.”
“Say stuff like that, and you’re gonna make me kiss you again,” Aria warns him.
“Connectome?” tries Leo experimentally, and Aria shakes her head. “Carbon?” Nope. “Together?” That’s the ticket.
The two pull apart a second time, with some appreciative whistling from Otto.
"Listen… Leo… And Otto too, you’re part of the family, you deserve to hear this… I think… " Aria struggles to put a very difficult topic into words.
“There’s a reason I think you’ll stop being a superhero pretty soon.”
“What? Why?” he asks.
“It’s … related to this.”
She tells him.
author: Bill G.