A/N: Written for MadameCaptain - some wonderfully sweet fluff between Artie and Vanessa, some time after the events of 4.06 ("Fractures"). The title is the name of the song I wrote the fic to... and I think it suits it. Enjoy!
Strangers in the Night
He sits alone with his iced tea, staring out at the setting sun. It's an evening like many other evenings before it, and, barring catastrophe or apocalypse or urgent ping, like many evenings will be in the future.
He doesn't know anyone at this Applebee's, a favor he thanks God for almost every minute. Here he's just another customer, lingering perhaps far too long over a cold glass of iced tea. No one needs anything from him. No one's calling asking questions, although the lack of interruptions may be related to the Farnsworth's current geographic location in the trunk of his car.
Here he's just another lonely man, eating a lonely man's dinner, drinking a lonely man's iced tea, and wishing things had gone differently.
Everywhere around him, people are coupling off. It seems like it's the season for it. Couples holding hands, kissing in the dim light, sharing each other's appetizers. Celebrating anniversaries and birthdays and happiness together.
It makes him sick.
"Is this seat taken?" a soft voice asks, and he looks up.
"Vanessa," he breathes, surprised. "Umm… no, of course not."
As she sits down across from him, he wonders if it's possible for a heart to be broken over and over again, like a vase that was fixed poorly and placed on a racetrack before the Kentucky Derby. He was about to be stampeded into pieces, buried under the thundering hooves of prize racehorses.
"Artie," Vanessa says, jolting him away from china vases and tiny jockeys. "The way we left things…"
"I was wrong," he says. The words fly out of his mouth before he can stop them, moving of their own accord. But he realizes as he says them that they're completely true. "I was wrong."
"I know," Vanessa says, and smiles.
"Of course I know," Vanessa says. "I just had to wait for you to realize it."
"And how did you…?"
She points to the white box on the tabletop, its proud bow looking a little crumpled now. "Because you never, ever stopped looking at that."
"It's for you," he says, although now it's so inconsequential. "I wanted you to have it… before."
And he pushes it towards her, gently, watches her take the lid off, revels in her smile. And it's a long, long time before he can think clearly.
Ten minutes later and she's still smiling at him. "What changed your mind, Artie?"
He takes a long drink of iced tea, stares at the wet ring left on the wood tabletop by the glass's cold bottom. "Claudia, believe it or not," he says, and chuckles ruefully. "Sometimes I wonder why she was tossed back into my life, lo those many years ago, and then sometimes… sometimes she does something, or says something, that makes every confusing experience with her completely worth it."
She puts her hand on his. He likes it, likes holding hands. It feels right.
"What did Claudia say?" she asks.
He looks at Vanessa for the first time. He had forgotten how enchanting her eyes are. "She said… that if she's willing to risk her entire life to bring Steve back from the dead… risk her safety to keep him alive now… then I should be ashamed of myself, running out on you just because I was afraid of possibilities."
"I hate to admit it, but she's right," Vanessa says.
"Don't tell her that," he says. "I can't bear any more of that dance she does…"
"And she's right," he says. "She's going to… to feel Steve's pain until we can figure out how to get him off the metronome. At least between the two of us… we'll be able to share whatever pain comes our way."
"Artie," Vanessa says, "who said anything about pain?"