Author's note: Cora's POV. I know more about the original series now, thanks to the rescue work of Magnacarter, but I only hold myself responsible to the wonderful movie.
Rain is falling on Mount Sophia. I'm sitting on a rock on Mount Sophia, so rain is falling on my head, turning my hair into a mop. Shorter, my hair was much more manageable, but I've outgrown that look. Besides, Astro seems to like it past my shoulders.
Eight years. Metro City has knit into the surface, making separation impossible and unwanted. From my roost, I can see the city seamlessly blend around me—grass creeping in the city, silvery metal shining in the meadow, and the rain washing it together like paint smudges on a canvas. And that's as it should be.
Zog usually keeps vigil with me, but Zane talked him out of it today because of the rain. Humans dread age; robots dread rust. Astro, something more than robot but at least human, dreads nothing, so I do it for him. Zane teases me about that, but not during vigil, when I shut down into "Do Not Make Light of This" mode.
After eight years, Zane is still a pug-nosed, short, big-haired daredevil. If he had anything worth rebelling against, he would. He amuses ladies by claiming to be Astro Boy's right-hand guy, which Astro quietly finds hilarious.
Lightning cracks across the southern sky. One, two, three, four seconds pass till the thunder. I huddle up, shivering. I really shouldn't be up here.
But I can't go home. What if Astro is four miles south? What if lightning I watch is lightning than charges his metal veins?
I'm glad I talked him out of solar-powered flares. "Maybe more eco-friendly, but what if you have to fly in the dark?" I said.
The one thing I never articulate on vigil is whether Astro will come home to me, because he'll never be able to stay.
Suddenly hot with frustration, I sink my hand into the ground. Mud squishes under my fingernails. I hurl a clod over the ledge. Through the slap of rain, I hear a wet sploosh and a squawk of "Whoa!"
"Astro?" I cry, bolting to my feet in time to glimpse a flying figure jerk off course. My trackless sneakers on the slippery rock make me lose my balance.
Then a wet but warm body flanks me, easing onto the rock side-saddle. "Cora, you're soaked."
My heart lifts despite the remains of my tantrum. "What did you expect?"
"Not what I got," he laughs.
I squint at him through the rain. I've unintentionally dunked half his head in mud. "I am so sorry!"
Astro wipes mud out of his face as more crawls slimily down his neck. "Yours?" Then he swabs his dirty hand along my cheek. "Now we're even."
I laugh, more at his touch than the mud on my numb cheek. For a few minutes, the silence of sitting next to each other is good enough for us.
I expect Astro to get up so we can go straight to Dr. Tenma as usual, but he just
exhales. "You're always here. That means so much, Cora."
"Don't mention it." Please don't, please.
"I was watching you awhile, trying to decide if I should circle around to startle you—"
"Stop there; don't say another word." My voice swells. "You were watching? For how long, Astro?"
"Would you have gone on letting me wait if I hadn't shot you down?"
I start to feel sick. "What if I had gone home, never knowing if you were safe?"
"I could have thought you were dead! Are you so drunk on being a superhero that you forget it could kill you? You're supposed to come straight to me!"
Astro takes my shoulders in both hands and pulls me in.
Even in a moment of fury, I'll say two things for Astro. 1. He knows how to shut a girl up. 2. He is a… decent… kisser.
I fall back against the rock, speechless. Astro lowers his gentle brown eyes, shaking his head. For once, he isn't smiling. "Cora, you are always the first to know I'm home, even before Dad. I can never prolong telling you more than sixty seconds because that's too long to see you without being near you. You know that you wouldn't have gone home: you would have stayed till you were sure, because you're the girl who waits."
Oh, he knows me so well.
"To be honest, Cora, your confidence terrifies me!—I love you for it."
Slowly, I reach up to touch the smear on my cheek, then on his. "I…" I whisper. "I feel as if I've been waiting to hear that for seven years."
Astro's eyes go back up, searching mine. "Really." That's weird; to him it's no question. "Because seven years is how long I've been waiting to say it."
This is the longest I've been at a loss for words my whole life long.
Grinning like a halfwit, Astro pulls an object from his pocket and closes it in an impenetrable fist. "I—tinkered with this a little bit each time I came home and found you waiting. I thought I had finished last week after defeating the Northern giant, and it's all I've been able to think of tonight." He opens his hand.
In his palm, the rain dances around a ring that looks like silver, but more translucent. The strands are interlaced in a Celtic design, whipping into a frenzied dazzle around the blue-glowing moon of a pearl.
"You made it?"
"It's not a diamond ring, I know." Astro smiles apologetically, something he can do like no one else. "I added the last bit when I saw you tonight. That pearl—it's special." He hesitates.
"Blue core," I whisper, putting my hand half under my chin, half over my mouth. A few minutes ago I didn't know Astro at all compared to the rush of how well I understand him now. He is literally offering me his heart.
I'm too young to get married.
But I've been part of more danger than most adults.
He's a robot.
But his lips felt real, not like a machine's, and his eyes gazing at me make me feel fake by comparison. The ways he's flawed are ways that make him more human, not less.
He'll never be able to stay.
Tentatively, Astro takes my hand. I jerk away. "Don't put it on me!"
His smile freezes. "You don't…"
But, "I love you." I swallow back my doubt. "I don't want the most beautiful ring I've ever seen to get dirty. My hand is all muddy."
Astro relaxes again. "Oh. Oh, good. I… Good."
I wait. After all, a few more seconds can't compare to how many times I've kept vigil.
Or maybe they're worse. "Astro! Have I ever told you how much I hate you?"
Startled, he leans away. "What now? You just said you love me!"
I gesture helplessly at the ring. He starts to laugh. "Oh. Of course. Sorry, sorry." He coughs. "Cora, I want to marry you. Will you have me?"
"Yes!" I launch myself at him. "Or die trying!"
We kiss as we fall off the rock, through the wind and sheets of rain. I shudder with delight as he runs his free hand through my stringy hair. His flares fetch us before we reach the puddles of Metro City below.
The vigil, the waiting, has ended, and the journey has begun.
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