A / N : This is an Alternate Universe fanfiction. It follows canon up until the events of Bender's Big Score, with a few major differences : Hermes makes it through Leela's wedding without losing his body, and Lars never learns that a time-travel duplicate is always doomed, so he marries Leela. Fry never brings Leela and Lars to the cryogenics building, because he never has to comfort her at the party. Instead Leela is snatched and threatened by Nudar. Lars acts as he does in the film, but survives the blast, and Leela never finds out the truth about him.
The day that turned Leela's life upside down began like any other. She got up, brushed her teeth, jabbed herself in the eye with her contact, and then stumbled, blinded, back into the bedroom, where she promptly tripped over her own boots. It was a scenario she'd suffered many times before, and the reason apartment 1I had always been so sparsely furnished - but this time, there was a difference. Before the floor could smack in the forehead for the hundredth time, strong arms closed around her waist and hauled her upright ; her favorite low, throaty laugh tickled the back of her neck.
"Thanks," Leela laughed, embarrassed.
Lars settled himself on the end of the bed and grinned at her. "No problemo. Where's your hurry, anyhow?"
"Late for work," Leela grunted, as she stuffed her feet into her boots and reached for her jacket. It was only as she stood up, pushing her hair out of her eyes, that she noticed her husband was still watching her, wearing the soft, goofy smile that had first set her heart aflutter two years ago. She smiled despite herself.
"What? What is it? Is it my eye?"
Lars laughed. "Your eye's fine. I was just thinking . . . maybe it's the talcum powder you put in your boots, or maybe it's just time . . . but what the hell. Let's do it, Leela. Let's take the next step - let's have a baby!"
Later on, when she'd untangled herself from the situation with laughter and maybes, Leela settled into her favorite chair in the Planet Express conference room and began to berate herself. Why hadn't she seen this coming? Why had she been so blindsided by the mere suggestion of children that Lars had actually had to point out that her mouth was hanging open? She was a married woman now, after all. She'd found the man of her dreams – kind, funny, selfless, responsible – and they had been married long enough that it shouldn't have come as a bolt from the blue. She'd always wanted a family, with a man who loved her, who accepted her for what she was, a man who was . . . stable.
So why did she feel so panicked?
And panic really was the only word for it. Something about this just didn't feel . . . right.
"Hey, Leela!" Amy's bright voice broke into her reverie, and Leela looked up. The Martian girl flopped into the chair opposite with the sort of careless, skinny-girl grace that set Leela's teeth on edge - though she atoned for it somewhat by knocking over a can of Slurm with her elbow and swearing in Cantonese as the sticky liquid splashed her sweatpants. "Spleesh! Sorry. Were you drinking that?"
Leela shook her head, and Amy sighed. "I guess it was Fry's. Oh well! The professor wants you, anyway. He's got a delivery for you."
The delivery, as it turned out, might have been cherry-picked to make Leela's day worse – delivering 10,000 packets of Big Pink gum to DOOP soldiers stationed on the planet Nelvar V. A quick survey of his webpage confirmed her worst suspiscions – Zapp Brannigan was currently in orbit around Nelvar V. Leela bit back a groan as she settled into the pilot's seat.
Be – professional.
She forced a smile. "Alright boys, buckle up! This is a very important delivery! The men on Nelvar V haven't had real meat in their rations for weeks, and if this government-sponsored consignment of ham-flavored gum doesn't placate them, things could get ugly."
"No problem." Bender relaxed into his own seat and there were twin clanks as he propped his feet up on the dashboard. "You can count on good ole Bender to diffuse any tension! Remember, I'm a war hero."
He tapped himself on the chest, where the Dirty Double Cross and an assortment of DOOP medals (not all of which had been awarded to Private Bender) now took pride of place.
Leela sighed. "Thank you, Bender. Fry, it's probably best not to mention you were a yellow-bellied war coward."
Fry ripped off a sloppy salute. "Can do!"
The corner of her mouth twitched and Leela quickly shifted her attention to the windscreen.
She shouldn't smile. It wouldn't be good for either of them to smile.
There were times when Leela wondered why Fry stayed at Planet Express. And then there times, usually hard on their heels, when she remembered that Fry's only living relative ownedPlanet Express, and Leela wondered why she stayed. She told herself - and Lars – that it was the job, that she loved being in command, having what was essentially her own ship, and with it the freedom to go anywhere. But there was no questioning how awkward things had become between her and Fry. Oh, they got along fine day-to-day, and to the casual observer, it might even seem as though nothing had changed – but something had. It wasn't easy to pinpoint. It was a feeling, more than anything, a distance that had sprung up between them and grown day by day, until at times she would catch Fry's eye across the conference table and feel as though a chasm had opened up between them, as though she could no longer read his idle thoughts – or no longer had the right to. There were little things too – he laughed less, and he watched himself all the time, as though scanning every sentence before he set it free. They were playing Fry-and-Leela like parts, and somewhere along the line they had both lost a little of what made them . . . Fry and Leela. That was probably the worst part – the self-awareness of it all, the sense of fraud. She had expected jealousy, but this was worse. Fry had, for once, done exactly as she'd asked. He'd recognized that Lars was a good guy (not a jerk like Adlai or Alcazar) and had backed away. He hadn't provided her with the bull-headed argument that would have been her excuse to storm away from her friend, and so they were stuck, stuck in this horrible limbo in which Bender diffused more tension than he knew . . .
Leela sighed, and reminded herself once more to be professional.
This would have been a little easier if she hadn't caught Fry's reflection in the windshield, watching her in steady, saddened silence. Once again, Leela berated herself. If she shouldn't smile, she definitely shouldn't sigh. It reminded her of too much past despair, too many stupid-but-strangely-sweet reassurances, and in the silence, the distance between them seemed suddenly limitless.
Leela swallowed the feeling, fixed her eye on the horizon, and slammed her boot to the floor.