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Peer Pressure
Summary: Louise Halevy wants Leo Stenbuck to go back on the pill. Yes, you read that right. No, the names aren't in the wrong order.
Who: Louise Halevy, Leo Stenbuck
When: May 8, NCA 120
Where: EFS Shirogane


SOME TIME AGO

Although he has spent a large portion of his time recently in, on, and around Jehuty, there are some things Leo Stenbuck will (at least almost) always make time for.

NOW

Leo Stenbuck is lying in bed in Louise Halevy's quarters, basking in the afterglow... so to speak. For him, this pretty much translates to dozing, one arm around Louise. In perfect PG-13 fashion, the sheets are drawn up to his waist; everything above that is exposed, because female viewers need fanservice, too.

He hasn't said anything for the past few minutes. Because, you know... dozing.


After something like that, it's a little more difficult than Louise had initially expected to get her focus back on what's truly important -- which is, of course, why Leo has been allowed to doze for as long as he has. Nevertheless, the young lady has a mission, and despite popular belief, there are things more important than basking in the afterglow.

"Leo..." she says, pulling the covers up around herself as she snuggles in closer. Taking a deep breath, she spends just a few seconds reminding herself why she's doing this. It's for him. It's for his love, and so Leo can share in it.


Leo's response to his name being uttered is a tired, wordless groan; he 'assists' Louise's moving closer by tightening his hold on her, and leans over to plant a kiss on top of her head.

Only then does he open his eyes... and when he does, they're aglow with yellow light. After a beat, his content expression melts into a small frown, and he pulls his head away from Louise's to look down at her. "What's up?"


Though the covers mostly obscure Louise, a hint of the racy outfit Revive bought her for precisely this purpose can be seen hugging the curves of her chest. Favoring Leo with a little smile as he kisses her forehead, she says, "... Leo... I think... you should go back on the pill again."

Yes, she's bringing this up /now/. Eyes likewise aglow with yellow light, she asks, "You'll do it... you'll do it for me, won't you?" After the request, she returns the kiss, hers being on Leo's cheek rather than his forehead.


Someday, perhaps Leo will be able to appreciate the role reversal inherent in Louise's request. For now, however, all it does is elicit from him a brief pained look. In the wake of the kiss on the cheek, Leo shifts slightly, rolling more onto his back to stare up at the ceiling for several seconds.

Eventually, he responds, "Ribbons told me why you take it." The arm not wrapped around Louise drifts underneath the covers, tracing lightly across her stomach on the way to... her artificial hand.

And shame on you for suspecting it might be anything else.

"I didn't realize how bad it was," Leo continues quietly, interlacing his fingers with Louise's. "I mean, I knew about..." He gives the hand a squeeze. "... but I didn't realize you were still..."

He grimaces again, and turns his eyes away from the ceiling, back to Louise; the concern in them is obvious. "Are you... I mean, does it hurt? Or...?"


"... Sometimes," Louise whispers back, almost reflexively pulling away until Leo gently holds her hand. "But -- it's not about me right now. It's... it's about you, Leo." Her grip on his hand tightens a little, as she says, "It's not just about that, though. I feel like we've been drifting apart, Leo. When we're close like this, I feel like the longer you haven't been taking it, the further apart we get."

And not just from each other, she thinks, but does not say. Further from him. "I know you aren't like me, and you don't /have/ to take it... but..."


While it's true that Leo was, partly, hoping to distract Louise from the whole 'pills' issue by bringing up her condition, he also really is concerned about it, and his frown deepens as much with concern as with defeat when Louise forges on further into talk of the pill.

After a few seconds of thoughtful silence, Leo says, "I'm... sorry if I've been... distant, I guess. I don't think it's the pills - or... not taking the pills, I mean - it's just... the whole thing with Ralla, and then Soma, and now the GaoGaiGar shit, and just-"

Leo huffs, and leans in to give Louise a short kiss on the lips. "I don't want you to feel neglected, or... alone, or anything," he assures her. "But..."


Louise nods to Leo before holding that kiss just a little longer than he might have expected. "Yeah, but... it feels like you take it out too much on the people around you, rather than doing something about it, and it's gotten worse..." She pulls in even closer now, saying, "I just -- worry a lot, sometimes, and I think if you went back on them..."

Breaking Leo's hold on her hand in order to wrap her arm tightly around Leo, she says, "... You know I just want what's best for you, right? You know I want you to be happy...?"


"I know," Leo assures Louise, returning her hug in kind, which officially moves the gesture into 'embrace' territory. "And... thank you. All this, it... it's hard. If I didn't have you..."

He sighs heavily, and shifts around to bury his face into Louise's neck. "I'm sorry I'm such an asshole sometimes," he murmurs, his voice muffled. "I don't want to upset you, or worry you, or anything. And I know you think going back on the pills would help, but... I just..."


Louise stays silent for a long time, just holding Leo gently, hugging him tight. A hand eventually moves up toward his hair, as she murmurs, "It's all right. It's okay." For a while, she just holds the embrace, trying her best to reassure him... but sure enough, eventually the spectre of the /real/ conversation rears its head.

"... would you be willing to try? Just for a while, at least -- for me?" she asks him. "Just... a month, perhaps."


For the record, Leo much preferred the conversation when it was just an embrace.

"I don't know," he sighs tiredly, leaving his face buried in Louise's neck long enough to plant a few kisses on it. Then he pulls it out to rest it on a pillow, and for several beats lies there, his arms around Louise, looking into her eyes and frowning thoughtfully.

And then, suddenly, he asks, "Do you know why I started taking them in the first place?"


This is something Louise hadn't even considered in her plan of attack; the way Revive put this whole situation to her, he'd basically be putty in her hands when the conversation got to this point. Evidently: not as planned.

"... No," she says, quite truthfully. "Tell me about it." Maybe this is where it'll finally get easy, she thinks.


Oh, Louise-chan, how wrong you are.

"It was just after..." A mere four words into his explanation, Leo trails off, gritting his teeth and scowling at the recollection of his... incident... with wing Zero. "... well, that's not important," he mutters quietly, averting his eyes.

After a beat, he clears his throat and tries again, "I was..." Hnnn... "... at the time, I thought I wasn't... good enough, I guess," Leo manages, eventually. "Just being... a normal person. I'm not a Coordinator, or anything, I'm not a Newtype..."

"I was thinking about volunteering to become a Cyber-Newtype," he explains soberly. "So I'd be stronger. So I could protect people. So..." He trails off again, rather than add that he thought being superhuman would make him more desirable, not just to Sarah Zabiarov, but 'at all.'

"Ribbons came to me, and told me if I took the pills I'd get what I wanted," Leo continues. That part, at least, is easy to tell. "But... I don't know, now that doesn't seem as important. I mean... I don't know," he sighs.

Another beat, and he shifts his eyes back up to Louise's. "You don't think I'm not good enough, do you?" He doesn't sound accusing at all, when he asks it. In fact, more than anything else, he sounds kind of scared.


Louise listens to Leo -- about his desire for the power to protect people, his encounter with him, his doubts and fears. It's hard to say much to that; there's only so much you can do when someone opens their heart to you.

"... of course you're good enough," she says, holding him even tighter now, perhaps uncomfortably so. "I think you're good enough," she affirms. "But -- it's not about being good enough or not..."

Eventually, she just sighs, and says, "... maybe we should talk about it more later. But -- please, give it some thought?"


Leo returns the hug almost as tightly, and pointedly neglects to mention the fact that Louise is kind of hurting his back with the force of her grip. "I'll think about it," he promises her, planting another kiss softly on her neck. "And we'll talk about it again... later, or something. Until then--"

His arms still wrapped around Louise, Leo rolls over onto his back, pulling her on top of him and drawing his head down enough to give her another kiss on the mouth. After he pulls away, he asks, huskily, "Round two?"


Giving Leo a small smile, Louise says, "... Of course."

TWENTY YEARS LATER

Longitudinal studies prove that soldiers who served on Space Noah-class ships have an on-average higher incidence of hearing loss. It is blamed on the engines and the line is scrapped.

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