Leela was drunk and she knew it. That was the worse part, knowing it was so and not being able to do anything about it. It was making her do things, stupid things, like being a complete ass toward Fry, thinking bad thoughts about Amy or not beating this Veklerov idiot senseless for the way he was touching her arm all the time. Not that she’d have been able to do it in her state, Leela realised. She was so far gone that she’d had to make at least three attempts to stand after the bill had arrived, drawing a sympathetic murmur from Amy that left Leela feeling highly embarrassed. Fry hadn’t looked at her. Well let him be all high and mighty and remote and, and whatever the hell he was, god-damned selfish no good bastard letting her make a complete fool out of herself just so he could, what, prove he was better than her? To hell with that!
It was only the knowledge that she’d not be able to finish the sentence that actually prevented Leela from spitting it all out. Besides, it’d only prove him right.
“Leela, I would like to have you in tomorrow for more tests,” Farnsworth said as she finally managed to haul herself upright. Leela swayed slightly as she peered at him. What else about tomorrow was so important? Oh yeah, the russian wanted to prove he was a better pilot than she was.
Leela giggled at the thought and then quickly stifled the laugh, knowing even as she did it how incredibly dumb she looked. She vainly tried to focus on the Professor’s face and his all-too-shiny forehead and that nose just like Fry’s... “What?”
“I said, would you prefer to wait?”
“I’m nearly ro- n... no, I’ll be there, I just need to Fry... fly... lie down. For a bit,” she added, trying not to sway again.
“Well, of course,” Farnsworth replied. “I shall see you and yourself bright and early.”
He left then, with Hermes following dutifully behind, already filling in the expenses claim for the meal as he walked. Somehow that seemed very impressive, though Leela could no longer work out why it should be so. She stumbled away from the table, ignoring the first tiny bout of nausea that was the inevitable result of her excess.
Somewhere between the table and the lobby she lost her footing. Leela fell forward, unable to properly will her arms out to break her fall, until a hand caught her arm. No, both her arms. She was hauled upright, suspended between Veklerov and Fry, who were staring at each other across her face.
“I have her,” Veklerov said, tightening his grip on her arm. Fry glared.
“She can look after herself.”
“I think we can both see that is not the case.” Veklerov tugged at Leela’s arm, not-so-gently easing her away from Fry’s grasp and Leela, not thinking, flexed her arm to break Fry’s hold on it. She saw Fry stiffen and draw back, but her mind was so dulled by the alcohol that she couldn’t even work out how to respond before he’d turned away.
His pace faltered. For a moment Leela thought he might turn back but, no such luck. He kept walking, away from her. For some reason that seemed very important yet, she suddenly had no idea why. And all she wanted to do was lie down, fall asleep.
There was an insistent pressure on her arm. Vek, leading her away. “Come, Sirochka...”
“What...” she lurched back from the pilot and stumbled against a table. And there was Fry again, looking at her, confused and... well nothing else, really. She lurched toward him, getting her foot tangled in the hem of her gown.“Fry, wait, please.”
He didn’t stop. Leela kicked out at the hem of her gown, accidentally knocking a chair on its back in the process. “Dammit!” And still he didn’t stop or even look at her. She took a step, adrenaline surging through her body thick enough to sober her up, then stopped. “Well... well fine, you go off and leave me here! Dammit, Fry!”
“Leela.” Veklerov again, pulling at her arm. She shrugged him off and stalked from the restaurant with the pilot trailing behind her like a rejected puppy. “Leela?”
“Go home, Vek.”
“In a moment,” he said, following Leela out onto the street. They both stopped then, Leela shivering slightly in the cool air. She wrapped her hands around her bare upper arms, bundling up against the light breeze and the chill night. The cold was enough to bring her mind somewhere back to normal, though Leela could still feel how sluggish her thoughts remained.
She’d actually done it. She’d actually managed to turn him away, after all this time, and all it had taken was acting like a complete jerk. Leela shivered again as the wind gusted down the street, carrying a swirl of leaves past her. Then, she felt an arm slipping around her shoulders and turned to look at Veklerov, smiling benevolently at her. Normally it would have been Fry’s homely face peering at her. Leela felt something twist just beneath her heart.
“So, the ploy, I assume, didn’t work?” Veklerov started walking Leela toward his car, parked a short distance away with a valet waiting alongside. “It is the way of things. Men such as your Philip Fry don’t react to well to tricks and lies or those other things you women are always so famous for, though choosing me as your fake date... it has a certain poetic justice, I suppose.”
A shrug. Leela felt another twinge of nausea, though whether it was brought on by the drink was hard to tell. “You seem remarkably confident in yourself.”
“Oh, I am. You see, your choice wasn’t accidental, Sirochka. You knew you would need someone to comfort you once the inevitable betrayal occurred and so, here I am.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Hm?” Veklerov turned to watch Leela shrugging his arm from her shoulders. He smiled, but he was confused. “I know I seem a little forward-”
“You think I’m going to sleep with you just because I screwed up with my friend?”
“Well, no, I-”
“Forget it, Veklerov. Whatever mistake Neena might have made, I’m not going to make it as well. Good night.”
She turned to walk, and was satisfied to hear Vek’s heavy footfall behind her a moment later. “Leela, wait.”
“Why?” Leela rounded on Vek, catching him off balance so that he stumbled against her as he tried to stop. She grabbed his lapels and hauled him upright. “I just had my best friend look at me like I was the scum of the earth and it’s not put me in a very good mood so explain, in very small words, just why I should wait for you.”
“I have a foolproof way of proving you are not... ‘scum’, as you put it,” Veklerov said, gently removing Leela’s hands from his jacket. He brushed himself down, smiling at her again. “We could go back to my-”
“Oh hell no!” Leela shoved the pilot away and began to retrace her path from the restaurant.
“It will happen to every friend you have,” Veklerov shouted when she was a few paces distant. “You can’t have friends, not when you give them orders! They betray you! Every single one!”
Leela stopped again and turned to face Vek. She folded her arms. “Lonely at the top, huh?”
“One captain to another,” Veklerov replied. “You know it is.”
“I’ve heard that one before,” she said, advancing toward him again. “You know what I did to the last guy who used that line on me?”
“Oh, your friend Philip Fry told me you slept with him. I figured...” he paused, smiling as Leela put her hands on his shoulders. “So it does work? Well-”
“No... I’m just getting your guard down so I can do this.” And then she drove her knee into his groin. Veklerov’s eyes bluged and his face turned a deep crimson. “God only knows why Neena didn’t do that to you years ago,” Leela muttered, watching Veklerov collapse in a gasping heap on the floor.
Leela turned away, then, leaving Vek whimpering on the floor, her satisfaction marred only by the thought of where he’d got his information from. Why would Fry betray her like that? What else had he told?
“Guess you were right about some things, though,” she whispered as she entered the tube stop. For a moment she thought she saw Fry in the distance, standing outside the restaurant, but it was just a trick of the light. “So much for friends.”
Yancy found Neena outside her apartment building, leaning against the wall with a peculiar smile on her face. She pushed off and walked over to Yancy as he stepped from the tube stop.
“You took your time.” She stopped a short distance away, hands on her hips. “I almost gave up and went to bed.”
“I won’t ask how you figured I’d be here.”
“Remember who wrote your file.”
Yancy nodded. “I remember.”
They stood awkwardly staring at each other for a moment until Neena took it on herself to take Yancy’s hand. “Want to come inside? I know it’s a bit late for coffee, but... or we could just talk,” she quickly added when Yancy frowned. He forced himself to lighten up a little and even managed a smile.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that. Somewhere quiet.”
“There’s a park nearby, I think it’ll still be open.”
They walked down the street, hand in hand and not saying anything, until they reached a small square park. It was barely worth the name, little more than a patch of trees and grass, though it did manage to fit a reflecting pool near the middle. Neena led Yancy along a winding path beneath the trees that seemed to go on for much further than was strictly possible in the tiny park, still in silence, with nervous glances at each other every now and then.
Eventually the reached a small Orientalist bridge that arched from the shore of the pool to a little island in the centre, complete with a weeping willow and a clump of gently bobbing bulrushes. Yancy paused on the bridge and looked up at the stars.
“I just realised, there’s probably someone living around nearly every single star up there,” Yancy replied. He slowly turned to take in the sky, eventually settling to look at the half-moon as he leaned on the bridge railing. “I’ve never really looked up at the stars. I mean, not as anything special, it’s always just been a bunch of lights in the sky. I’ve barely even seen this planet, never mind all of those,” he said, waving his hand across the sky. “Having adventures in space was more Phil’s thing.”
“I look at them all the time.” Neena, too, stared at the sky as she wandered across to the island. She paused beneath the tree, her eye fixed on a star shining between its two largest boughs. “My parents are out there, somewhere. One of these days I’ll go and look for them.”
Yancy joined her, sitting down under the tree. The grass was damp from an early dew and a faint mist was starting to shimmer on the water’s surface. After a moment’s thought he laid his jacket down on the floor for Neena to sit on and beckoned her over.
“So, you wanted to tell me something,” Neena said, once she’d made herself comfortable. Yancy sort of nodded his head, unsure of how to reply. When it had come to his brother’s dreams it had always been easy to dismiss them as meaningless fantasies but, with Neena, he couldn’t do that. And yet Phil had been right, and Neena was...
“What if I told you they weren’t as far away as you thought? Your parents, that is.”
“What do you mean?”
She looked at him with a curious half-smile. Yancy rubbed the back of his head and looked away as the magnitude of the decision he was taking settled on his mind. “Phil told me something yesterday, about his universe. About where you come from.”
“He knows? He knows where... oh, oh god, you mean I might actually...” Neena choked back the question and leaned toward Yancy. “There’s something wrong, isn’t there? What did he tell you?”
“I... I don’t know if it’s really my place-”
“Yancy, I’ve lived my entire life without my parents, if you have any idea of where they might be I need to know! Are they dead? Is that it?”
Yancy took a breath. He looked up at the stars again, not for any other reason than to give himself an extra moment before he spoke. “He said- Phil said, in his universe, you found out...”
“Go on,” Neena said, all eager excitement.
“He said you weren’t an alien.”
“You mean, I’m... I’m human? But that doesn’t make any sense, if I were human I’d...”
Her eye widened a fraction, the effect enhanced by her pupil contracting to a tiny dot. Yancy could almost see the adrenaline flooding into her body, the fight-or-flight instincts kicking in as her blood drained from her face. Neena abruptly stood up and paced to the face side of the little island, where she sat down again, right on the very edge, staring at her reflection in the smooth water’s surface. Yancy didn’t know what to do. He stood up, then he sat down again, pulling at his face with one hand as he tried to think, tried to work out what he should do... what his brother would do. Eventually he picked up his jacket, surprisingly dry despite the damp ground, and walked over to Neena. He put the jacket around her shoulders as he knelt down beside her.
Her eye moved slightly to look at his reflection in the pool. “You must think I’m a monster.”
“If it helps, I always did.” That earned Yancy a humourless chuckle. Neena seemed to relax a little then, leaning over on Yancy. He settled down next to her and even risked putting his arm around her shoulders then. It seemed the right thing to do. It was the kind of thing Phil would do. “I’m sorry.”
“No. Don’t be... at least it narrows down my search from an entire universe to a single city. That has to count for something, right?”
The mania behind her sudden cheerfulness was a little unnerving. Yancy nodded, not wanting to say anything lest he broke some part of Neena’s mind. “I guess.”
“It all makes sense when you think about it. I mean, look at me. I have the same body, skin, organs, the same hair even. If it wasn’t for this god-damned eye I’d be human,” she yelled, throwing a stone at her reflection in the pond. The surface scattered, splitting her reflected face for just a moment, so that her reflection stared back with two all too human eyes. Neena wailed and grabbed hold of Yancy’s arm. “Oh Yancy, oh god!”
She sought for him, her arms wrapping around Yancy’s body before he could react, burying her face in his chest, weeping quietly. Yancy awkwardly slipped a hand around Neena’s shoulders and patted her arm, completely at a loss. She stayed like that for some time until a lone owl fluttered into the tree and hooted mournfully.
Neena lifted her tear-streaked face from Yancy’s shirt. “It’s all true,” she whispered. “I should have known...”
“What do you want to do now?”
“I want you to take me home.”
“Oh. All right, I’ll be able to take the tube from your place-”
“No, Yancy, she’s there, I don’t think I’d be able to look at her tonight without...” her voice drifted off as she stared at her reflection on the lake again. “Let me stay with you tonight.” She pressed her hands to his chest, rocking back on her knees as she looked into his eyes. “Please?”
The apartment was dark as the deepest pit of Robot Hell when Leela finally arrived – or darker, in fact, from what she could recall of the place. Leela slunk across the room, not bothering to turn on the light, knowing precisely where the single chair was.
She glanced briefly in the direction of the bedroom, seeing nothing in the darkness and wondering if Neena was within. And Yancy. They’d left together, hadn’t they? It was fairly likely they’d be in there. She couldn’t hear much but that didn’t signify. She’d always been quiet, lest people hear things and gossip about her.
The kitchen was within reach, and a particular cupboard easily accessible. Leela reached inside and grasped the neck of the bottle she knew was there. Special occasions, she’d always said it was for though, quite what you could celebrate with a hundred percent proof grain spirit, she wasn’t sure now.
Half way back to the chair, with the bottle grasped firmly in both hands, Leela stopped. She looked down at the whiskey, just barely visible in the glow from the chronometer on the wall. Memories tickled at the edges of her mind, of another version of herself locked in a darkened apartment, cradling the same bottle. Was she really so weak?
With great care Leela placed the bottle on the floor before stumbling back to the chair, where she slumped down with a relieved sigh. Leela leaned back in the seat with images of Fry flitting around her head, taunting and distant. She wondered if she would ever be able to speak to him again. Her last conscious thought was of what she would do when they found their way home.
... and then there were the tunnels, always the same but always different, and again she wandered them, mourning all she had lost and crying vengeance on the man she had once loved...