Fry lay in the twilight with just the glow of shimmering, distorted light cast on the ceiling from somewhere behind his head. The air was filled with the sound of splashing water, running between the three-level decorative pool that wound around the bed, and the heady scent of whatever incense had been burning when he’d arrived, filling the air and his mind with its seductive scent. The sheets were silk, the room was airy, yet made strangely intimate by its plush red decoration, and the company was...
He turned his head slightly to look at Amy nestling in the crook of his arm. It was the sort of situation where he’d normally have felt a deep contentment, even if it was just for a few hours. Why didn’t he feel it now?
His slight movement must have been enough to wake Amy again. She stirred and sighed, wrapping her arm around his chest a little further as she snuggled up to him. He did smile then, though it was a sort of instinctive reaction. A moment later she opened her eyes and looked up at him.
There wasn’t much to be said past that, so Fry pulled the sheets up a little higher and wrapped his arm around around Amy’s shoulder, which was met with a sigh and a languid stretch before she resumed nuzzling against his neck. She stopped a moment later to prop herself up on her elbows.
“There’s something wrong, isn’t there.”
Fry shrugged. The tinkling of Amy’s Ch’i fountain was lulling him into a semi-conscious state, not quite asleep, but sluggish enough to leave him unable to think straight. Or at all. Amy rolled onto her side, with her hair trailing across the pillow like a black silk shroud. She smiled. He couldn’t quite bring himself to smile back.
“Hey, what’s the matter?”
Fry moved as carefully as he could manage in his sleep-enfeebled state. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to tempt a little more life into his brain. “If I tell you... it’ll screw everything up,” he mumbled, vaguely recalling that it really wasn’t a good idea to mention other women in bed. Amy persisted, though, teasing at him, convinced he was hiding some sort of kink or other until he wondered why he even bothered.
“Oh, Philip,” Amy said as he pushed her advances away yet again. “I’m not that bad in bed surely?”
“Wha? No, it’s Lee-”
Fry slapped his hand over his mouth. He screwed up his eyes again, wishing a bottomless pit would open up and swallow him whole; why did he always do things like this? Just once, couldn’t he keep his big stupid mouth shut?
His self-berating crashed to a halt when he heard Amy laughing, and not in the evil way a lot of women laughed at him. Fry teased an eye open to look at her, now sat up in the bed and smiling beatifically down at him.
“You’re not mad at me?”
“Why would I be? Ooof... I have to do something about the heating in here.” Amy tugged the sheets around her body a little more, against the gentle chill of the room. “There’s no reason to be mad at you.”
“But I just-”
Fry tried to ignore the feeling of her finger on his lips. Amy smiled at him again, leaning back just enough for the sheets to pull tight across her body just long enough to send Fry’s mind reeling. He shook his head, trying to concentrate on the calming fountain until Amy withdrew her hand.
“You needed a break,” Amy said out of nowhere. “And like I said, you’re cute, and I haven’t had a boyfriend for nearly a month.”
She climbed out of the bed and padded across the carpeted floor to the nearby kitchen, leaving Fry to ponder the ceiling again for a while, arms folded behind his head. He could already imagine what Leela would have to say about this, and in a way, in the sober pre-dawn light of the morning, he wondered if she might be right. Why had he done it, anyway? Boredom? Stupidity?
“It was tension,” Amy said, from somewhere out his sight, as if reading his mind. She hove into view bearing a bed-tray with two cups, a large, steaming teapot and a few small, pink, pill-shaped things that Fry didn’t even want to ask about. The smell of fresh green tea filled the room as Amy set the tray down next to Fry, before hitching up the silk pyjamas she’d acquired on her brief errand, the better to curl her legs together on the bed. Not for the first time Fry remembered why he’d fallen for her the first time. Plus she was easier to talk to than Leela, as long as you didn’t mind plenty of inane chatter about clothing and make-up.
She poured the tea, wordlessly dropped two of the pink pill-things into her cup and handed the other cup over to Fry.
Amy raised her cup in toast and Fry, not wanting to offend, followed suit. They sat in silence, sipping tea and looking at each other with a strange sort of shyness, which hadn’t been there before and that seemed to come and go in waves. Now and then Amy would look at his face and then look away with a nervous smile. Fry felt himself doing the same. Crazy.
“What did that mean before?”
“It’s kinda like ‘cheers’,” Amy replied. She grinned wickedly as Fry started to protest it wasn’t want he’d meant. “Silly... I meant tension. Like, sexual tension? Even an idiot can see you’re completely kwong juh duh over her.”
“Nuts. Crazy. Kinda...”
“And that leads to...” Fry circled his cup to take in the bedroom and Amy.
“Oh it doesn’t. I just figured you could use a good time, get your mind off things for a few hours.” Amy finished off her tea and set the cup down on the tray with a rattle of porcelain. “And I wanted a good time too. Everyone wins!”
“Not me. Leela thinks I’ve been trying to get this ever since we got here. I mean, I don’t even know you! Or... well, I do, but it’s a different you, so it’s not you, but it is... if... if you see what I mean?”
Amy paused in pouring herself another cup of tea to look at Fry with a delicate frown. Lord, even her frowns were cute. “Not really.”
“When she finds out-”
“So let’s not tell her!” She leaned toward him, drifting in a scent of perfume and sweet green tea that insinuated its way into Fry’s hind-brain with barely a grunted greeting to his higher faculties. “It can be our little secret...”
Fry almost bit through the edge of his cup. The scent, the fountain and his own libido were conspiring against him again. In fact the only thing preventing him throwing the tray aside and grabbing Amy for another round was the distinctly Leela-shaped barrier put up by his conscience. It hadn’t been there before. With great care he put the cup down. Amy’s face fell just a little, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking. Why did this keep happening to him?
“You’re not going to tell her, are you?”
“She won’t find out from me,” he promised. Amy smiled as he took her hand in his own, without reproach. It felt like he was dumping her all over again, only this time he could see plenty of reasons why he shouldn’t. And one very big reason why he should. “She’s smart, though. If she hasn’t figured it out by now then she’s not Leela.”
“Does that matter?”
“It kinda does to me.” He leaned back against piled-up pillows, his tea carefully balanced in one hand as he supported himself with the other. “I don’t want to upset her.”
She touched her finger to his lips again and smiled. “You are like your brother in some ways. You’re sweet. You care a lot more about Leela than you seem able to admit.”
“I care about you too.”
She sighed and then laughed quietly. “I wish I could believe that. You don’t care about me, you care about some other version of me, out there. And you care about Leela more than either of me.”
“You’re the same person, though, and I want to try and make up for... for what I did. How can I prove it?”
“I don’t think there’s any way,” Amy said, looking away. Fry put his cup down, feeling a sudden determination and incidentally rattling the tray again.
“I can stay.”
She looked up at him, her normal sweet expression giving way to complete surprise. “What? You can’t do that.”
“I can do whatever I want!”
“But, you... but, Leela-”
“Forget that, did you see the way she was crawling all over that Scottish guy earlier?”
“You mean Veklerov,” Amy said, frowning at the memory. “I don’t know, she didn’t seem interested in him. She spent the entire night looking at you,” she added with a heartfelt sigh. “It’s kinda romantic.”
“Amy, she’s been on my back ever since we got stuck out of our universe. I don’t...” his voice trailed off, then. He couldn’t say it, not that. Not even now, when it seemed so true. “The Professor will have his doohicky finished soon. Leela’s given me plenty of hints she doesn’t want me along when that happens and I’ve got plenty of reasons to stay here. Yancy. You...”
“You’d stay? For me?”
“Yeah,” Fry said, realising he actually meant it. “Yeah. I would.”
“Oh, Phil, that’s so sweet!”
She hugged him, gently at first, but then with more vigour as their closeness overrode other, higher thoughts. The tea was swept from the bed as they rolled into a tighter embrace. He paused for a moment to look down into Amy’s eyes and smile, with the thought that perhaps things wouldn’t be so bad in this universe. Then Amy giggled, tossing her pyjamas over his shoulder. After that he didn’t see much point in thinking.
The journey across town had been fairly peaceful. Of course it was hard to carry on conversation in the tube, what with one side always having to talk to the other’s feet but, even so, Yancy had to admit the tubes at night were surprisingly pleasant. There was none of the crowded claustrophobia brought on by knowing there were thousands of other people behind and ahead of him, no nagging fear of the possibility of getting stuck in a blockage. All that left was the possibility of the tube breaking. It didn’t seem likely on a night like this.
Yancy looked over his shoulder yet again to reassure himself Neena was still behind him. For propriety’s sake he’d gone first in the tube. It had been one of those ‘trust’ moments; the constant worry of whether she was still behind him had kept dragging Yancy’s head around to look, so that by the end of the journey he had an annoying crick in his neck. She’d been there, though. Every time.
They emerged about half a block from the Robot Arms apartments and carried the rest of the way on foot. Arm in arm. He couldn’t quite believe it, or shake the feeling that he was betraying his past somehow in the process.
“It’s the strangest thing,” Neena said as the entered the building. “I read it, I understood it, but I never really thought about the fact that you live in a robot’s closet.”
“One of those things, I guess,” Yancy replied.
“I hear they’re pretty roomy.”
Yancy nodded, somehow realising Neena was talking to keep from thinking about herself. “You wouldn’t believe how big.”
They were silent in the elevator. Neena stared at the little gap at the base of the doors, narrowing her eye slightly in time to the passing light of each level until they reached Yancy’s floor. Outside the door, Yancy paused and shuffled his feet.
“It’s a bit of a mess.”
“I doubt I’ll notice.”
“Right...” He waved his hand across the lock pad. The door responded with a quiet chirrup and slid open. Bender stood slightly to one side, limbs locked in place and faceplate sealed shut. “Oh yeah. Bender. You’ll have to sort of squeeze past him a little.”
“Hrr... kill all... humans...” the robot muttered, twisting his head to one side as Neena edged past him.
“That’s one way to stop people interrupting,” Neena mused as she passed through to the interior. She stopped and stared at the panoramic window. The moon was sinking behind the skyline, silhouetting a few of the taller buildings and casting bright pin-pricks of light through their darkened windows. “Oh. It’s beautiful...”
She turned away from the view as Yancy approached her. There was a tear peeking from the corner of her eye. She quickly rubbed the moisture away and smiled a melancholy smile. “I don’t have a window at home. I’d kill for a view like that.”
Yancy shrugged, at a loss for words. “It’s just a window.”
“It’s still beautiful.”
She gently touched Yancy’s elbow and smiled again. Yancy shivered, losing focus for a moment. He abruptly turned away and shuffled a few steps toward the kitchen. “You want a drink of something? Coffee? I managed to find a place that sells twenty-second century-style beans. Not quite my own time...”
“... but I, it makes me feel more at... home...” he turned back to look at Neena, that odd cramp tugging at his gut again. It seemed a little weaker this time. “What?”
“I’ve tried to be subtle.”
“Oh.” A strange tingle worked through his chest and settled in his stomach, displacing the nervous cramp, as he realised what Neena meant. For something to do, Yancy took off his coat and tossed it onto the couch. He approached the shelf holding his most precious memories, what few he’d actually been able to find or salvage, and laid a hand on the little box holding the most precious of them all.
“I’m sorry, Neena. I told you. I can’t.”
“If it’s about your past, Yancy, you have to let go some time.”
“No. Well yes, there’s that,” he said, picking up the box and flipping it open. The ring glittered at him like a tiny star in a black-velvet sky. Yancy snapped the box shut again and held it in his closed fist. He turned to look Neena squarely in the face. “But that’s not the only thing. It’s not right.”
“You’re not thinking straight. I’d be taking advantage of you.”
“No you wouldn’t, I want this! Don’t you understand? I need... I need you, Yancy.” She grabbed his shoulders and turned him to face her. Yancy winced at the sight of her passion and anguish, so very clear in her face. “I need to know I’m still... that I’m not a freak, that I’m normal!”
“Does it matter?”
“It matters to me!”
“But nothing is normal here!” Yancy shrugged out of Neena’s grip as it loosened. He straightened his shirt a little. “You’re living in a world full of carnivorous blobs and alien monsters and heads in jars for god’s sake. What difference does it make if you’re-”
“Don’t say it!”
“A mutant,” Yancy finished. Neena turned away to put her head in her hands. She sniffled and then let out a quiet sob. Yancy gently guided her to the couch and sat down next to her, resting her head on his shoulder and quickly finding out just how much water she could squeeze out of her eye. He slipped an arm around Neena’s shoulder, remembering how it had always comforted Laura when he did that.
After a few minutes Neena’s weeping faded to a muted whimper. She sat up, blinking back tears. She snuffled and wiped at her face with bare hands in a vain attempt to make herself a little more presentable.
“I’m sorry, you shouldn’t have to see me like this.”
“Probably would have eventually,” Yancy replied, but Neena wasn’t listening. She turned a little to look at the sky.
“All my life I’ve believed I was something special, inside. That I belonged out there somewhere,” she said, pointing at the stars, slowly fading as the sky brightened toward dawn. “To find out I’m almost literally mud...”
Neena seemed to fold in on herself, staring at the carpet. Yancy tried to comfort her again but she wasn’t paying attention, or wasn’t reachable, almost as if she’d crawled inside herself somehow.
“There was always the dream I’d find another member of my species, that they’d take me away from all this and I’d be something worth looking at instead of this freaky, bug-eyed alien everyone sees me as,” she said, glancing up at Yancy. “I’ve been alone all my life. It didn’t matter how close I got to people, I was always alone inside because I always knew I was different, I just didn’t realise... You people don’t realise what it means to be so completely isolated that way.”
“You aren’t the only one who’s alone here,” Yancy said, twisting the box around in his hand. Neena turned to look at him “Remember how you talked me away from that suicide booth?”
“I remember you said afterwards you weren’t really going to use it,” Neena replied. “So it wasn’t really much of an achievement.”
“That was the story I wanted to believe afterwards, but... if you hadn’t been there I’d have walked straight in. I had no one left.” He turned to look at Neena and sort of smiled, just a little. “Everyone I know and love, they’re all gone. I didn’t even have the hope of finding them, I didn’t have anything to live for until you came along and talked me out of it. You saved my life.”
“And now I guess you’ve just saved mine,” Neena said. A tear squeezed out of her eye as she closed it. “In a manner of speaking. At least now I know where I belong.”
“That’s what friends are for,” Yancy said with just a hint of sarcasm colouring his voice. He shook his head.
“Now you know you didn’t call me a friend before today, Yancy.” She grinned at him now, though he eye was still watery. “I know you hated the sight of me. Face it, when you thought I was an alien you would barely even let me touch you.”
Yancy smiled just a little and rubbed Neena’s shoulder. She sniffled and chewed her lip. “I won’t say I didn’t find you attractive. I... aliens just scare me, really, and I had other things on my mind as well most of the time. But if you’re a mutant, then you’re just an odd looking human. You’re not going to try and dissolve me with your blood, or use my skin as a cocoon or something.”
“You don’t know, I might have haemophilia and sharp teeth.” She laughed, briefly, stopping before her laughter could turn into another sob. Neena put her head in her hands. “I’ve been such a fool.”
“No...” Yancy couldn’t think of anything else to say. Instead he sat back, loosening his grip on the little box he was still holding. The box flopped onto the couch between them, where it caught Neena’s attention. She picked the box up and snapped it open.
“Oh my,” she said, her eye widening in shock. “Is this the ring? I have an idea of what what diamonds cost back then. She must have been worth a lot to you.”
“Yeah. She was.” Yancy gently took the ring back and held it up to the light. “Phil said we had a kid in his universe. First man on Mars, he said, but apart from that I didn’t amount to too much. I was just there. Then I was gone.”
“That must have been disappointing.”
“In a way it’s kind of a relief, knowing my life here isn’t any worse than it would have been back then.” He snapped the box shut and put it in his pocket. “If I’d stayed, I wouldn’t have had it any better. And I wouldn’t have met you.”
“The mutant freak.”
“You’re still you.”
“Yancy, what if people find out? I’ve seen memos about how mutants are supposed to be treated if they’re caught on the surface. I’ll be outcast, I’ll lose my job, my friends...”
“They won’t find out, and if they did... I... I’d try and do something.”
Neena turned away, nodding slowly. She leaned back and yawned, reminding Yancy how tired he was after the long night.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “I am never going to get up in the morning...”
“Tell me about it, I might just call in sick tomorrow,” Neena said, her exhaustion overriding any other concern for the moment.
“You definitely have a reason.”
“Hah...” She looked around the closet-cum-apartment with a leery eye. “Is there somewhere I can sleep?”
“Take my room, it’s clean enough. I’ve no idea if Phil will be back tonight so I’ll probably be all right on the couch,” he said, noticing how bright the sky was. “Or this morning, I guess. Maybe I’ll call in sick as well.”
“Everyone will think we were at it all night.” Neena had a wry smile on her face. “Ironic.”
Yancy shrugged. He stood to help Neena to her feet before walking her to his bedroom. “I have a bunch of old t-shirts if you need something to wear.”
Neena nodded on the threshold. She seemed torn between needing sleep and repeating her offer. Eventually she just closed her eye and leaned her head against the door frame. “Thanks. For everything.”
The door closed with a quiet click. Yancy turned away to face the empty living room and its oh-so-comfortable couch, and quickly realised he hadn’t changed out of his evening-wear. He sighed and the injustice of it all and sat down to stare out of the window.
Yancy pulled out the little black box with his ring in it and stared at it. He opened up the box again, turning it this way and that to make the jewel sparkle in the dim light. There were moments when he barely even thought about the ring these days, when he could almost forget. Maybe.
He turned to peer at the door to his room, wondering if perhaps he’d made the wrong decision. No. he’d been right. But... she was right, too. He’d have to give it up soon or he’d lose himself in it.
He must have dozed off at some point because suddenly the sun was rising, filling the room with the sort of golden early morning light that Yancy rarely got to see, and the answer machine was beeping merrily to itself in the corner. Yancy sat up and tried to stretch the knots out of his back, with little success – if this was going to be a regular thing he’d have to get a spare bed, he thought, as he slouched over to the machine.
There was only one real message amongst all the spam and wrong numbers. One more than normal. He pressed the ‘play’ button and looked up to the screen. It was blank. No, more like in shadow, with a very familiar silhouette.
“Hello Fry, it’s Leela. Don’t bother picking up if you’re there because it won’t make any difference. It’s over. I’m leaving as soon as I can and I won’t be taking you with me. I’d say it’s been fun but that’d be a lie. So long.”
The screen blanked out and faded to a slowly shifting panorama of green fields and hills. Yancy stared at the empty screen. Something prodded at the back of his mind, a little discomfort, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Perhaps it was just the thought of having to share an apartment with his brother now. He turned away to find himself breakfast.