It was morning in New New York. Leela walked through the cold from the transport tube drop-off toward the Applied Cryogenics building. The sidewalk was fairly busy despite the weather, bustling with other people on their way to work. She caught someone staring at her and glared at him. Then, after he passed, she slumped a bit and turned her eye to the ground. She reached the building and went inside, passing the historical marker that she had never read. But she knew the building was very old, and had miraculously survived through the centuries. She probably wouldn't have a job if it hadn't. Hooray.
She walked through the gray, linoleum-floored lobby, stepped inside the elevator, and pushed the button for the top floor. The elevator lurched to life, beginning the slow journey upwards.
Aside from the top and bottom floors, the entire building was filled with cryogenic tubes, hundreds of them, each containing a person from the past. When one was almost ready to release its occupant, the tube was prepared by bringing it up to the top floor, which itself had a collection of non-movable tubes, many of them now empty after the building's centuries of operation.
When people learned about her job, they were usually surprised that there were enough revivals to justify it. How could there be so many frozen people that they could be defrosted regularly and often enough to necessitate the full-time post of a cryogenic counselor? Leela had wondered that herself when the job was assigned to her. Well, for one thing, she didn't just work with the recently defrosted, she kept up with many of the revivals who'd been living in the society of the 'future' for some time. Officially she did that to make sure they had acclimated themselves, but really it was to make sure they weren't going to go nuts. (Sometimes she wondered why people didn't go insane the moment they realized how long it had been.) Her job also existed for another reason: It turned out that the late 2990s had been a popular target date for those who froze themselves, 2999 especially. It just had that mystical significance, even though it really wasn't different from any other year. Leela could expect to have her job through at least 3001, the last 'magic' year.
After 3001, who knew? She might be transferred somewhere else, maybe to a job she actually liked. Or maybe she could go off on her own and find a job she wanted. The 'permanent' career chips really weren't anything of the sort, at least not to those who took risks and were lucky. The chances of finding a job on one's own were slim, but some people had found one and were living (and working) their dreams. Being so lucky had been one of Leela's dreams as a child, but as an adult she had realized how unlikely that dream was, and how pursuing it would most likely lead to failure. So she had forgotten her dream, as she had forgotten others, and taken the job that had been assigned to her.
The elevator finally reached the top floor. Leela stepped out and walked into the main room, an open area filled with the older, immobile tubes. While standing in the doorway, she looked over to the far end of the room, at the tube nearest to the window. The one that hadn't been touched in a thousand years.
She'd heard stories of people being kept frozen for longer periods of time, but the guy in that tube had to rank in the top ten. As far as she and her co-workers could tell, he had been frozen in around the year 2000. Cryogenics hadn't caught on by that time, and most of the relatively few people who had been frozen before him had been revived after only two or three centuries, since they had simply been seeking cures for diseases. But the guy in that tube, no one knew why he had frozen himself. The reason might have been recorded at some time, but they'd had to rent equipment to scan his pockets for ID just to learn his name (she couldn't remember it, but it was on their computer), so most likely all other information about him had been lost over the centuries, assuming there had ever been any.
When Leela had begun working at the lab, she had started every day by spending several minutes in front of the tube, just looking at him. The fact that he had been there, in that spot, for nearly one thousand years - it had never ceased to amaze her. She had memorized every detail about him: his clothes, the drink can in his hand, and his face - that strange expression of surprise mixed with a little fear. None of the others she'd seen had that look. Had he truly been surprised? No, probably not. And even if he hadn't intended to freeze himself, it didn't matter now. So she'd wondered why he'd frozen himself, why anyone would want to live in her world. There was a chance that he'd known what he was getting into, but probably not. What was his dream future like? Had he expected a utopia? A world of hope, without fear or pain? If so, he'd be in for a surprise. Or maybe his old life had been so bad that anything else would be preferable.
Eventually, though, she had found herself unable to perform that morning ritual. It got to the point that when she saw him, she could only think of the disappointment he was sure to feel when he was revived, and that just reminded her of her disappointment with her own life. Secretly she hoped he could be happy in her world, but looking at him only reminded her of the way things would most likely turn out, so now she only allowed herself a momentary pause in the doorway.
Leela realized she had been looking at him for too long, so she turned and headed for her office. She mumbled greetings to her co-workers, who asked her if she was going with them to the party that night. She told them she had plans, then quickly walked the rest of the way to the office and shut the door.
Safe and alone inside her office, Leela realized she was breathing quickly, and she had to sit down. She closed her eye and held her head in her hands. Come on, there was no reason to feel panicky, was there? Was it so hard to come into work and talk to a couple people? She breathed deeply for a few moments and felt better.
Leela prided herself on the ordinariness of her life. On the surface, she wasn't much different from the average young woman: she worked out at the gym, she went on dates, sometimes she went to bars with her co-workers. But every so often, she found herself stepping back and looking at her life, and deciding it was all a sham, that she was just pretending as hard as possible that she was satisfied when really she didn't enjoy any of it. Most of the time she was fine, and that feeling never lasted too long, but it was always unsettling because it made her remember she was unhappy and lonely. But weren't lots of people unhappy and lonely? That didn't make her feel any better. And of course, she was a special case.
As a little girl, Leela had dreamed of growing up and locating her parents. She had thought she just needed to become old enough to go out on her own and then she'd be able to find them, and they'd all be happy. But when she actually did grow up, Leela had realized the problem with her plan. Because even if she had a spaceship, what could she do? Check every planet in the universe for people of her race? There was nowhere to begin. And as far as she knew, her parents were dead. Even if she spent the rest of her life looking, the chances were probably trillions to one that she'd ever find them. And so went another childhood dream. But it wasn't so bad, really, since she'd never known having parents.
And her life wasn't so bad. She had a job and a place to live. That was all she really needed, right? And even unhappy, lonely people can function perfectly well, so Leela straightened up and got to work on some files on her desk. They were just routine stuff about revivals she'd dealt with months earlier, but they occupied the whole morning. Then, after lunch, she attended a boring staff meeting before heading back to her office. See? She could interact with people just fine.
Still, she had lied about having plans when her friends had asked her to the party. Well, really they were just her co-workers. Sure, they were okay to hang out with, but she could take them or leave them. She figured she'd know friends when she met them, though she hadn't yet (but hopefully she would someday). Of course, she'd been thinking the same thing all her life, and these mythical friends still hadn't turned up.
Anyway, she didn't want to go out. Really she just wanted to go straight home and stay there until she had to go out again. Leela slumped in her chair. Didn't that sound nice? Maybe she should curl up in a ball with the lights turned out too. That actually didn't sound like a bad idea.
Leela stood up and walked over to the window. She usually wasn't this depressed, and she knew it was just the time of year getting her down: for weeks she'd been bombarded with messages about how it was the time to be with family and loved ones and all that. The images of parents with children got to her most, of course.
Despite her lifelong obsession with parents and children, Leela knew having kids wasn't for her. Sure, she liked kids fine, but if she had to raise them herself, she'd be afraid of screwing them up, and she was just too independent to actually want any of her own.
But there was probably room in her life for a few people: her parents (if she found them), a couple friends, and then one more person--the person from the one other dream she hadn't quite given up on.
It was probably the silliest dream of all: that she could find someone who would feel towards her an emotion that she might not have ever personally felt. She wasn't even sure if love existed outside of movies. As with her parents, she had spent her life searching for someone to love but never succeeding in finding him.
But she still tried, even though her dates and attempts at relationships never went very well. Sure, sometimes she got some enjoyment out of it, and a couple of times she had deluded herself into thinking she might be feeling love toward someone or that someone felt it toward her, but it was never real.
So Leela let herself have teenage-style daydreams of having someone to love, and someone who loved her. When she tried to imagine giving or receiving love, she thought she could almost feel what it was like, a sense of something so wonderful that she questioned if it could be real. But she didn't know how to feel it, or at least hadn't yet been in the right situation to feel it. The guy in her daydreams, however, knew how to feel it, and because of that, he held her in his arms and told her she was beautiful and would always be there for her and--
Suddenly Leela heard footsteps outside, and remembered her boss had told her that some guy would be revived that afternoon. Time to get to work. She heard the door open.
"Good afternoon, sir," she said, still facing the window. Then she turned around.
Leela gradually realized she was awake. No, wait, she wasn't fully awake, she had that good feeling of being aware that she was still mostly asleep. It was so nice to be able to enjoy sleeping, but she knew she had to be careful and keep still so she didn't fully wake up. She didn't want to move, though; for some reason she felt especially comfortable.
She had slept well, in any case. Unlike most nights of her life, she hadn't suffered the nightmares of being alone and abandoned. She actually couldn't remember any dreams she'd had, though she thought she recalled hearing a voice talking to her softly; she didn't remember what it had said, but it had given her a warm feeling of being safe and loved.
As she tried to remember, Leela realized she was losing the delicate balance in her mind that kept her from complete wakefulness. She tried to keep hold of the pleasant half-asleep feeling, but the concentration worked against her. With a weird feeling of radio static abruptly fading, Leela's mind cleared, and she knew she wasn't getting back to sleep. Oh well.
Now she was fully aware of her surroundings: the bed, the sheets, the - uh oh. Someone was with her in bed. She was pressed close against him. His arms were around her and hers were around him.
Damn. Who had she slept with this time? What total jerk had managed to charm or impress her into ignoring her sense of reason?
She wasn't sure any more why she bothered trying to find someone who could love her. Her life would be easier if she accepted that she'd never find anyone, or that there just wasn't anyone like that. Couldn't she somehow convince herself that her life was good enough? After all, finding her parents had filled a big hole in her heart, and had made her happier than she'd ever been. But unfortunately, that wasn't saying much. There was still something missing, and its absence kept her from being truly happy. She had to find it, but she knew she never would.
So she kept trying, and kept getting hurt. She didn't like to think about it, but her old boyfriends, everyone she'd ever had sex with--they'd all been mistakes. Not one of them had really loved her, mostly they had just used her. They had all hurt her in some way, and none of them had cared about the way she felt. Some of them had enjoyed hurting her.
And now it seemed there was another one in bed with her. Her groggy mind couldn't yet remember how it had happened, but she knew it couldn't be good. Finally she decided she should at least see the guy before figuring out how to get rid of him, so she lifted her head from his shoulder and looked at his face.
Beside her in bed, holding her in his arms, was Fry. Why had she slept with Fry?
His sleeping face was expressionless, and his head was turned toward her. For a long moment she stared at him without really thinking anything. Then all at once the memory of the previous night flooded back to her, and it was so great that her mind nearly couldn't hold it all. Her eye teared up from the weight of the emotion. Her lip trembled. Simply looking at his face created almost too many feelings, but she didn't want to look away. When she could finally move again, she pressed her cheek back against his shoulder and squeezed him with her arms. She wrapped her legs around his, and stayed like that, holding him tightly, making sure he was real and she was really with him. She couldn't stop crying, and she couldn't stop smiling.
Leela didn't know how long she remained there, motionless. It didn't matter. She didn't ever want to move again. His shoulder was more comfortable than any pillow she'd ever slept on. Only the two of them and the bed existed. Nothing could hurt her here, and she wouldn't let anything hurt him.
As she held him, Leela thought about what he'd done for her: moving the stars and galaxies, bringing back the quasar that gave off love radiation, the one they'd seen before. While watching it she had realized that the radiation hadn't really increased her feelings for Fry at all, it had just made them clearer, helping her put things together, helping her fall in love with him as she watched the stars.
But the whole idea of being in love with Fry just sounded so silly. After all, he was just... Fry. Just the 'poor kid from the Stupid Ages,' the guy who screwed up all the time, the guy she always had to protect. The guy who annoyed her by being so infatuated with her.
She had actually considered her feelings for Fry a number of times, and each time she had concluded that she just didn't love him, not in a romantic way. She had felt sorry for him, but there was nothing she could have done about it, even though she had known it probably hurt him just to be around her. She couldn't even have just pretended to love him (if she'd actually wanted to do that), because she knew he wouldn't have wanted that.
She'd been shocked when she learned about the relationship between their doubles from the other universe. They'd said she was missing out, but she had felt as if they'd just been telling her to love him, and she couldn't simply turn it on.
The closest thing to a date they'd ever had happened soon after their encounter with their doubles, when she'd resolved to stop lying to him. She'd had a great time with him that night, but it hadn't been the magical evening their doubles had described. Leela knew Fry had been disappointed, but he'd tried hard not to show it. Over the course of the evening, the idea of a date had sort of unraveled into general hanging out together, and Fry had seemed relieved that even though they hadn't had a proper, romantic date, their friendship was secure. She'd given him a quick hug at the end of the night, and he hadn't even tried to kiss her. It had all gone very well, but after it was over she'd started worrying that Fry would still hope for that magical first date when he inevitably asked her again, and she'd started trying to remember her nicest refusals.
He'd always been sweet and polite when asking her out, no weird stalker stuff, but aside from that one, most recent time, she'd always turned him down. Sometimes she'd been polite, sometimes she'd gotten angry. Sometimes (before she resolved not to) she'd made up pathetic excuses to try to avoid the embarrassment that a refusal would cause both of them, and to attempt not to hurt him with an outright refusal. But she'd made all of her refusals in an effort not to hurt him, because she hadn't thought she could feel about him the way he wanted her to. She'd gotten angry with him because he just wouldn't listen, but also because she'd been afraid that her usually polite but constant refusals would eventually take their toll on him and hurt him badly. She'd been frustrated that even though she'd been trying to help him, he never listened. But now she understood why he'd kept trying, and was so thankful that he had.
When Fry had had the worms, she had been amazed that someone so great could love her so much. And now she felt the same way. No, it was a little different: when he'd had the worms, she had been dazzled by his new personality, in the same way that she had been dazzled by people like Chaz. As usual, impressiveness and importance had blinded her, even though Fry had truly meant everything he'd said and done. But now things were different. She had been swept off her feet, but at the same time she felt grounded and able to see the situation clearly.
Fry had matured over time, but he had always been the sweet guy she met back in 2999. If only things had gone differently. They could have been happy so much earlier. It wasn't her fault, but thinking about it gave her a sad feeling.
"I'm sorry, Fry," she whispered. "I didn't know. I just didn't know." It was the truth, and it was all that could be said. But she would make it up to him. Leela smiled at the thought.
She raised her head again to look at him. He was still sleeping peacefully. Reluctantly she decided she had to get up, to prepare for the big day she wanted to spend with him. They were tangled together pretty well, but she managed to extricate herself from his arms and slipped out of bed. Then she walked off to the shower, almost hovering about the floor.
After showering and dressing, Leela sat down on the side of the bed and watched Fry. He had rolled onto his side, facing the wall. She wanted to touch him, but she decided to let him sleep a bit longer. She guessed he had been awake for quite a while the previous night. But she could never get tired of watching him sleep.
By looking at him, she wouldn't have guessed everything he'd gone through in his life. When Fry was growing up, he'd had many of the things she hadn't--a real home, a family, a 'normal' appearance--but he still hadn't been happy. There hadn't really been a reason, but nothing had ever worked out for him, and he'd always failed. He had simply been pushed down by Life and been unable to get back up. He had been a loser--but not any more. She would make sure of that.
Leela considered how slim the chances were of them ever meeting. If one of a thousand different variables had changed slightly, he never would have come to her time, or she wouldn't have been there when he awoke, or they wouldn't have gotten jobs together.
And it was true that she'd always loved him, even if at first she had mainly felt it in a protective way. But before him, she had never had that feeling. Then Leela realized something she hadn't thought of before: Fry was the first person she'd ever loved. That was part of the reason why they'd stayed together. He was her best friend, and her first friend, really.
Wait… an almost imperceptible change told Leela that Fry had awoken. After a moment he opened his eyes and looked at the wall. Then he rolled on his back and looked straight up at her.
"Leela!" he yelled, sitting up and scooting over to the side of the bed. He reached out and touched her. "So it was real?"
"I had a hard time believing it too," she said, putting her head on his shoulder. "I let you sleep while I went and took a shower, but it's probably time for you to get up, even though it's Saturday. I want us to have as much time together as we can."
"So what do you want to do today?"
"Anything, as long as it's with you." Okay, so that sounded corny. But they deserved to be happy together, and she needed to remind herself that the happiness was real this time.
"Do you feel happy?" he asked.
"Fry, I've only dreamed of feeling this happy. I still can't believe what you did for me."
"You know, we'll have to get the box back at some point."
"You'll have to beat up a lot of people at RomantiCorp."
"Like Gwen and Sheldon, probably."
"Wanna do that right now?"
"Sure," she said. Then she jumped up and turned to him. "You get a shower; I'll be outside with the ship by the time you're done."
"Okay!" Fry jumped up and stood beside her.
Leela took his hand and kissed him on the cheek. "See you soon," she said. She turned and headed for the door. She found herself having to hold back: she wanted to thank him over and over, or tell him how deeply she felt. But she'd have to wait for a better time. Of course, she also needed to let him know that it wasn't all serious, that they would have fun too….
She stopped, turned around, and walked back to him. "Oh, might as well," she said. She threw her arms around him and kissed him passionately. The force of her attack pushed him over onto the bed, and she stayed on top of him, kissing him all over his face. Finally she sat up to let him breathe. "And there's more where that came from!" she said, smiling.
"I love you," said Fry, still gasping.
"I love you too. I love you and no one else." She stood up and then pulled him to his feet. "Let's go!" she said, and ran out the door.
Leela made her way out of the building into the new morning, ready to start her life with the man she loved.