"Scott, you have to wake up, come on, please wake up." Hope's voice sounded like she was talking through a metal tube in really thick fog.

He felt himself being carried through the air in a thoroughly-disconcerting not-on-the-back-of-an-ant way before the pain in his stomach took over.

He managed a grimace that he hoped looked like a smile before he passed out again.

"I swear to God, Scott, if you don't wake up soon—" Hope's voice, only slightly wavering, was replaced by Cassie's.

"Come on, Daddy, wake up," she whispered. "You have to come back to us."

He felt Hope's kiss on his forehead and heard other concerned voices in the background. This time, he definitely managed to smile before the waves of unconsciousness took him back under.

Scott woke up again. Which was cool, he wasn't sure he was going to do that after hearing the genuine fear in Hope's voice last time. He assessed his condition before he opened his eyes—slightly less than searing pain in his side, nicely hammering headache, and general soreness—to find a hand in his.

A certain hand that was wearing a certain ring. "Hope?" he rasped.

Hope sprang straight up, pressing closer to the hospital bed. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and it looked like she hadn't slept in a week. Before he could move, she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his in a kiss that he would prefer never ended. As most kisses do because mankind does still depend on air for survival, it ended, and Hope pulled back just enough to glare at him. "If you ever do that again—"

"I will never get shot in the side and lose a lot of blood and almost die again," he assured. It was a stupid promise, but it was one he decided to keep. Then he moved on to important matters. "Now, why are you wearing the ring I keep in my jacket pocket?"

Hope glanced down at her hand and rolled her eyes, but in the kind of way he adored. "I decided to start wearing it, whether you woke up or not. Which, by the way, you flat-lined twice, so that was actually a concern. You actually dying."

"That did not answer my question. But… did Paxton cry when I died?"

Hope glared. "We all cried except Hank, but that's just because he's only cried once in the past twenty years, and he and Mom weren't here yet. As for why I'm wearing it…" She took a deep breath, one that Scott suddenly wished he could imitate. The binding on his side was not allowing it, and the nervous look in her eyes was making him sweat. "Marry me?"

Scott just stared for a second. Maybe squeezed her hand a little tighter. "You said no more deathbed proposals."

Hope pulled her hand from his just gently enough that she didn't scratch him with the rocks. It was even more sparkly than he remembered, a ruby on either side of a bigger diamond. He thought it looked nice, and seeing it on her hand was confirmation. "I meant you couldn't propose to me when I was in the hospital. But I can't do that again, Scott, I can't watch you die again. Not without you knowing exactly what you mean to me."

"This is better than my proposals."

"Damn straight it is," Hope muttered, a smile finally cracking through her glare. "So, will you marry me?" Scott stared up at her for a moment. How was it possible, that he had managed to get such a beautiful thing as her to fall in love with him? "I really don't look good right now, don't lie," she said.

Ah, he'd said that out loud. Funny how the longer he was awake the more the pain medicine seemed to work. "You look amazing. You always do. You're always the best thing I've ever seen. And yes, I will marry you." Hope smiled, at least one tear forming in the corner of her eye, and he felt his own face splitting with the force of his grin. "I love—"

Her kiss cut him off. Which was more than fine, since he was probably just going to keep saying sappy things and never stop. Which he was also fine with. She deserved all of it.

Eventually Hope pulled herself away, pointing out that Cassie probably should be allowed to see her dad alive and awake before the morphine pulled him back under. By the time Cassie and the rest of the family appeared, he was just awake to grin and say "Hey guys!" and grunt painfully when Cassie threw herself on top of him.

"Cassie—" Hope, Maggie, and Paxton started in unison. Cassie had the good grace to immediately pull away from him and look guilty, although he really didn't care. Just as long as she didn't break his stitches.

"Hey, it's okay, Peanut," he said, trying not to slur. "Sorry I almost died, guys, although that wasn't really my fault… did you ever figure out what that big metal thing was?" They shook their heads. Oh well. One of life's new mysteries. "Also Hope proposed! So we're getting married now." Something horrifying occurred to him as Maggie squealed in an ungodly pitch, Paxton hugged Hope, and Cassie screeched her joy to the ceiling. He batted around for his fiancée's hand. "Hope, Hope, Hope."

Hope stepped closer and brushed her hand over his cheek. "What is it?"

"Your dad's going to kill me."


There were so many reasons, but a new one came to his fuzzy mind as he opened his mouth again. "Well, come to think of it, I never really asked permission."

"You didn't need to and I'm glad you didn't."

Scott rolled his eyes until he was pretty sure they were going to roll out of his head and Hope was going to have to catch them. Gross. "I know that, but he didn't. But also they had to cut me out of the suit, right?" Hope gave a cautious nod. "That's his life's work!"

"He's not gonna care, babe."

The morphine started taking over at an alarming rate. "But what if he does?"

"I promise he won't care." The rest of the family disappeared over the next few minutes, hugging him goodbye for now and have a good nap and I love you so much and thanks for not dying, until Hope was the only one left in the room.

"Hey, Hope. Hope. Hope. Hope."

"What is it?"

The morphine grabbed his brain. "I love you."

Hope's response was lost in the blackness of drug-induced sleep.

His dreams were pleasant blurs of the quantum realm (which was weirdly peaceful when he knew he could get out of it) and Hope and flying on Antoni III's back. When he woke up, his only question was how he knew that it was Antoni III in the dream.

"Hope?" he asked, his eyes still shut. His side didn't hurt too much. Cool.

"Yeah, Scott?"

"Can we make name tags for the ants? I want to know which Antoni I'm on at any given point without having to remember that Antoni II is 567 and Antoni III is 687 and Antoni IV is 845 and Antoni V is—"

"Sounds like you don't need the name tags after all," Hope said. He finally opened his eyes and she was sitting in the chair next to his bed with a book on her lap. The ring sparkled just a little in the light.

He sighed. She was awfully pretty. The headache from the light and fight was more than worth it. "Personalization, Hope. Personalization."

"Okay, we'll figure out name tags." He reached his hand toward hers and she laced her fingers through his. He breathed in the weird hospital smell and a tiny bit of Hope's favorite lotion.


Hope leaned forward and they just stared at each other for a minute. Scott had a feeling that Cassie would have been aww-ing a few seconds in and eww-ing a moment later. It was the best, knowing that he could still predict his daughter's thoughts. He focused on the feeling of the ring on Hope's finger again, pressed between his own.

"Always," she murmured before kissing him.

Best. Life. Ever.