Summer smiles as Leo and Aria approach. "What can I make for you two?" she asks brightly, all shiny retail machine. "How about some time?" Aria asks, just as brightly. Summer glances around, not sure how to answer for a moment. "You guys have run up a big enough tab, they won't mind if I give good customers some extra service, I guess." Aria rolls her eyes - still playing this game? - but Leo is too wrapped up in Menagerie problems, and perhaps in post-unmasking shock, to notice. She guides her two friends off to one side, so they can talk without being overheard. "So. Barista, huh?" Leo's a lost cause for the moment, so Aria must gamely try to draw out Summer. "Y-yeah. I might have a new roommate, but I won't be on the lease," Summer answers. She realizes what she's saying, and hastily amends herself. "By my own request. I don't want to be tied down to any one place." Honestly, she doesn't think this is an improvement. Aria's smile grows softer, more reassuring. Should I try pulling her back now? Or is it too soon? Too soon, she decides. "They must be paying well, if you're able to make rent here." "It's near one of the Nukemaster sites. Remember that guy, from ten years ago? The whole neighborhood has been certified clean of radiation, but people are still afraid of living there. So rent stays low." Summer shrugs. Aria tries a different tack. "So this'll be where we can find you, then." Summer realizes she's stuck. "Um, yes." She starts to make an excuse of some kind - maybe having a variable schedule, maybe something about not bugging the employees during work hours - but Aria cuts it off with a stern shake of her head, followed by a smile. The two girls awkwardly exchange understanding glances, Summer appreciative, Aria compassionate. It would have been worse if we had to actually say it. I'm glad we can come visit her here. "Oh!" Summer pats down her pockets, comes up with a USB thumb drive, and hands it over. Aria takes it, and looks up curiously. "Levitation schematics," Summer explains. "Jason and I built our initial shell out of a floating combat drone, right? Zero propellant second-generation EMdrive. I reverse engineered it, in case I wanted to plug it into the carbon shell. That uh, that might take some work. So, maybe you want to try it yourself? You and Otto, of course." Aria pockets the drive and nods. "I know he'll love it. And I will, too." "It was only fair," Summer demurs. "You two, you put so much effort into this body, I had to pay you back--" "You didn't have to do anything." It's the first thing Leo's said. At first, Aria isn't sure how to read his tone of voice. Is he rejecting the gift? His next action clears it up completely. Leo reaches out, taking Aria and Summer both in arms, hugging them tightly to him and each other. He buries his head against both girls. "I'm grateful for this," he whispers. "But if I'd built that shell and I never saw you again, I'd still consider it a good use of time. It'd break my heart to not see you, but if that's what you needed... then I'd support you. I need you both, but what I need more is for you both to be happy." Aria watches Summer's face crinkle up in an attempt to stem the flow of tears, and feels her own follow suit in empathy. All the work she thought she'd have to do, to carefully maneuver Summer into understanding how welcome she is, becomes unnecessary. Leo's simple, naked show of vulnerability is piercing her to the core, and Aria suddenly feels fresh gratitude for her best friend and partner. It won't be sufficient, but it's enough for today. The three separate only when they're sure they won't all start bawling in the coffee shop, though none of them are eager to show their face to outsiders just yet. "We'll be by here a lot more," Aria promises. "Girls night out. Just you and me, if you want." Summer wipes her eyes with her apron. "It's... it's okay if Leo wants to come along, you know." Aria looks carefully at her - are you sure? - and reads Summer's silent acceptance from her face. The girl clearly isn't over whatever just happened to her, with Jason, with the Sepiaverse, and Aria can see emotion still writhing behind her eyes. Fixing this problem is still a long way off. But the foundation is firm.
^^ +1 Further response will have to come in one of Jason's Tales.
Aria gets a ride home from Summer, and her apparent new roommate. Or rather, she gets a ride far enough that she can say "it's right near here", and still have time for a few minutes of conversation. The two girls don't talk shop, at least openly - they use their shared history to speak in a sort of two-person code, as they have done before, talking lightly of boys and school and clubs when she means "the boys" of the team, current events, and the Menagerie. Jason is planning to leave the team. Summer isn't planning to join. But she'll be at the coffee shop, and wants to attend Gardner. That's something. The coffee shop job is Summer's anchor right now. That much is obvious. It's the first decision she's made purely for herself, something that didn't involve Leo or Jason or Aria. Even her choice of bodies, her decision to travel, were reactions or partnerships. This is her asserting herself. This is her being her. Aria waves goodbye to the retreating lights of the car. She doesn't walk home. It's faster, and safe enough in the dark, to make a series of prodigious jumps. Her speed, grace, and strength are enough to keep up with a car at arterial speeds, and she doesn't need to follow the roads or obey street signs. She leaps, lands lightly, launches. Grasshopper. That was the nickname given to the young kung-fu student in an old martial arts TV show Leo likes. It's spoken by a wise old teacher. Right now, Aria feels like a grasshopper, sailing through the air. But she also feels like Grasshopper. Humble, young, and very unwise. When Leo's turbulent emotions surface, Aria has always been his voice of reason. When he's come to her with questions, she has been ready with answers. Even when her own inner world is a disaster, helping Leo seems to make everything better. Aria knows why he's always under pressure. It's not the Menagerie - or not just that. It's that Leo wants to bear the moral weight of the world. Helping him lighten his load feels richly rewarding. But what a secret relief it was to not bear it all herself. Guess what, dumbass. Those days are over . It's so wonderful to have Summer here again. I never knew I needed her in my life so badly, a sister to talk to, someone to share my experiences with, but I made her, just as though I'd plugged myself into a Heart Factory. Her life is the product of my needs, my wishes, my stubbornness, my god damn selfishness. She's perfect for me, and I wouldn't trade her for anything, and she's in pain because of it. Leo. Oh god, Leo, I forgive you for making me love you, I forgive you for making all of us, I forgive you for everything. Is this what you feel like, all the time? She lands. There's a tightness in her chest, and she drinks in the cool night air to try and calm herself. What am I doing with my own life? What is my Blintzkrieg? She feels her own abdomen with a hand, confident her secrets are still safe and intact. I'm not ready. Only now, I really know it. The Gale estate is a welcome sight. She returns to the empty carriage house, to wait for Leo and Otto, to sit, and think, in moody silence.
Nice. It's always interesting seeing beyond Aria's calm facade.
Kind of curious about Summer's roommate. Is Summer "passing" or not? Either way could be interesting.
*** Dave H. said: Kind of curious about Summer's roommate. Is Summer "passing" or not? Either way could be interesting. I left it vague, but if one of the Ponies is looking for a roommate, it'll be that person. If not, I'll figure something out. Any opinion, Doyce?
Passing: she looks as human as Aria does now, and will have that same sort of weirdly attractive "negative space" quality. Both girls should be able to sustain social contact for long periods (school, a job, etc.) without exciting suspicion about their humanity, though people will probably think they use some kind of amazing makeup, have a skin condition that makes them look nice but odd, or something else. Similarly, their hair will look oddly perfect, and if they have slumber parties or other goofiness, people trying to arrange their hair or use styling product will notice that it feels strange and doesn't interact chemically with shampoo or gel (although it moves as hair would). They can't go to the doctor and get a physical without being exposed, so the only risk at school would be some kind of physical exam from a nurse. Cheek swabs, blood pressure, or pulse measurements won't work, although the girls have heartbeats (for their own comfort). Similarly, if someone takes a close look into their ears, nasal passages, or mouths, it'll look strange. That's typically not something they have to worry about, of course.
Bill G. said: *** Dave H. said: Kind of curious about Summer's roommate. Is Summer "passing" or not? Either way could be interesting. I left it vague, but if one of the Ponies is looking for a roommate, it'll be that person. If not, I'll figure something out. Any opinion, Doyce? Not a lot of the ponies are in situations where they'd be living alone (aside from Maury). Need to think about that. Sorry I've been so quiet. It was a crazy week.
Doyce T. said: Sorry I've been so quiet. It was a crazy week. Not to worry. We've made plenty of noise to cover your absence. :-)