"What are you still doing here?" Veronica demanded.

Ned recoiled. He thought she would be happy.

"Why aren't you in the balloon with the others?" she asked.

"I can't leave," he said simply.

"But you've wanted to go since you got here. Why did you give up your only chance to go home?"

"The truth?" he stepped closer.

She opened her mouth and then closed it, nodding.

"I couldn't leave you behind," Ned said softly.

"You stayed for me?" Veronica whispered.

"A life without you is no life at all," Ned admitted, stroking her cheek.

"Ned, I… I don't know what to say," she said softly.

"Say you forgive me for waiting this long," Ned replied. "Say that you care for me the way I care for you."

"You care for me?" Veronica asked cautiously.

"Care for you? I've loved you for so long I don't remember when I started!" Ned said, throwing caution to the wind. If there was one thing he had learned from the Plateau, it was to live for the moment and have no regrets.

"Oh Ned," Veronica flung herself into his arms. "I'm so glad you stayed!"

Ned smiled to himself. He was too. Very.