Delicious Surprise, Part 22
"Leel? Do you need to talk?"
Leela stared blankly at the TV, while those around them talked and mingled. Although the exit was clear, no one seemed ready to leave, and Leela tolerated the company.
"How did I mess everything up, Fry?" she wondered quietly.
He sat down beside her. "But you didn't. Your mom wanted too much from you. You couldn't change for her."
"I should have promised to be buried down there. She would have never known the difference. We survived the war, only to let that stupid argument rip us into pieces."
"It's for the best," he said, patting her shoulders.
She shrank from his touch. "How can you say that? You remember what happened next..."
"And what puts the 'I' in 'victory'?"
"Planet Express," several voices droned tiredly.
Fry looked up, pleased, from his chalkboard. "That's right!" He frowned. "Wait a minute..."
"Fry, we already know the basics of flying. Why don't you just help Bender finish loading up the ship? Look, Hermes is sleep-accounting!"
"Carry the two..." murmured Hermes, his head nestled against the table.
Fry wiped the board clean, earning a relieved sigh from the rest of his crew. Leela and Fry's apartment still wasn't completed, but the Planet Express building rose above New New York, one of the first business establishments to pass inspection and reopen after the war. The new building resembled its predecessor, but was painted in shades of purple, and had a wider cargo hold. Leela had insisted on a final difference: a passageway in the cellar leading to the sewers. Sadly, despite this, Munda had refused all contact with her daughter.
They didn't have time to think about this now, however. They were besieged with delivery requests. Thanks to the New New York State government, they had flight clearance again, for the first time since the War.
"I just want everyone to take us seriously, Leel. Now that we're running the company, we don't have the Professor to blame if we screw up!"
"Don't worry. We're twice as competent as the Professor, and almost as smart!" Her words rallied the troops a little bit; eyes brightened with interest.
Kif strolled up to the table. "Mrs. Fry, I've taken the liberty of oiling and polishing the ship. I also checked the flight instruments and re-counted the package tally."
"Wow, Kif, that's incredibly efficient of you!" Leela said.
Kif gasped. "Ohh... What?!"
"What do you mean?"
"Those kind words coming from your mouth! I've never heard them from a superior before!"
"It's called 'praise', Kif. Get used to it."
Kif placed a hand to his fluttering heart. "Oh goodness!"
"I'm glad you agreed to work with us," Leela said.
"Well, now that the DOOP's disbanded, I didn't really have anywhere to go -" he shuffled his feet "- and I do get to spend more time with my enchanting Amy..."
He planted a kiss on her hand as she headed toward the coffee machine.
"You guys aren't paying attention," Fry said. "We have to make sure everything goes well. I'm afraid I'm going to be considered a dumb monkey for the rest of my life.
"Fry, you know that ain't possible! Unless it's a genetically-altered monkey." Bender puffed on his cigar. "And I could line us up with a few of them, by the way..."
"No thanks, I've got enough problems!"
"You know, I do have a degree in business," Leela said. "I could take over that end of things, and you could do the deliveries."
"Don't you want to fly, Leela? But I guess Amy could do it..."
Her old pride suddenly took over. "No, she promised to stay here and watch Lilah. I'm fine. Just let me behind the controls, and I'll be like a duck hydroplaning over water."
"If you're sure."
"Of course I'm sure."
"Then let's GO GET THEM!"
With a whooping cry worthy of any war, Fry headed up the gangplank and into the ship, followed by a somewhat more sedate crew. They marveled at the sturdy construction of the vessel.
"It looks just like the old one; Amy's gotten better and better at this," said Kif, his delight evident.
Leela shrugged. "Sure, it looks good, but how does it handle?" She strolled into the cockpit and sat down before the controls.
It felt right, for a moment. She smiled cockily; everything was perfect.
Then she touched a button, and the engines fired. She froze. That sound; that horrible sound...
I Know I can make the turn; I know I can do it! I'm the best pilot that's ever stepped behind the controls of a shuttle...
So what if I have damage to my right engine? I'm going to make it! All I have to do is...
"Do you need a doctor? You're sweating, you're shaking..."
Why won't the thrusters go off? ...oh God...OH GOD!
Chest heaving, face frozen in a rictus of terror, she slumped unconscious across the instrument panel. Her throat slowly relaxed, letting in a trickle of oxygen.
"Leela, please wake up. Breathe, breathe."
The world returned in a violent flood of light and sound. She struggled against Fry's hand.
"It's me, it's Fry..."
She went limp against him. "Where am I?"
"You're in the sick bay. Kif and Bender made the first delivery while I watched you."
Speaking carefully to hide the tremor in her voice, she asked, "Is... everything okay?"
"It went as well as it could. Kif's a good guy, Bender didn't get away with anything."
She hid her face in the crook of her elbow and allowed herself to cry, quietly.
"Do you want to try and fly us to the next planet?"
She sniffled and nodded her head. But when the time came, she feigned sleep until the ship docked, then ran down the gangway and scooped Lilah from Amy's arms and fussed over her.
Her behavior confused Fry. She seemed almost desperately affectionate toward him and Lilah for the rest of the night, and refused to speak about the deliveries they would have to make the next day.
When that tomorrow arrived, Leela occupied herself by going over financial documents. Hermes seemed to resent her assistance, but once the ship pulled away, she switched to answering the phone.
The days fled by, each unchanged from the last. Leela took on the role of figurehead and company spokesperson. She arranged for the transportation of each package to PE Headquarters, ferried through payments, and took care of the company's general financial health.
The shift in routines surprised Fry. He had never seen Leela as a homebody, or known she had such business sense. The new Leela fussed over him at the least sniffle, at Lilah's every roll and cry. She didn't appear to be sure that he could cross the street without being killed. He loved her so strongly that these differences did not really matter to him, as long as she was happy.
Then came one night, when Lilah was five months old. Fry found himself jostled awake. Leela's arms and legs were twitching. "No," she breathed. Abruptly she sat up, her eye flew open, and she screamed. Fry struggled to his knees and gripped her shoulders. She blinked and seemed to see him for the first time.
"Wha... what? Oh... whew."
He mopped her sweaty brow. "You need to see a doctor, Leela."
She shook her head. "I can't, Fry. It's only nightmares."
"What do you see?"
"It's too horrible; I can't tell you."
He kept stroking her neck, and finally the words came, faster and faster, ending in desperate tears.
"It's not your fault, Leel," he soothed. "None of this is your fault."
But she continued to weep exhaustedly in his arms, until a squall erupted from the baby monitor.
"I'm going to go crazy if we don't get our apartment back," Leela said as Fry slipped out of bed. He smiled, as though he believed her, and only when he reached Lilah's room did she allow herself to rest against the pillows.
"Don't cry, Lilah! Hmm...you're not wet...you're not hungry..." his voice murmured from the speaker. Then, to her disbelief, he began to sing. "'I'm Walking On Sunshine! Ohh! I'm Walking On Sunshine - Ohh!" His voice cracked when it stretched for a falsetto "And Don't it Feel Good!"
Lilah's crying eased into those strange, burbling baby noises that caused Leela's heart to turn over.
"Boy, look at all those stars. You know, once I moved a bunch of 'em around until they spelled words for your mommy. She wouldn't believe me if I told her that." Leela blinked, wondering if Fry was in the process of making up a fairytale for their daughter. The next sentence chilled her. "One day, you and me, we're gonna go up into the sky together. We'll go to Mars and visit with the Wongs, and I'll take you to the Moon. There's got to be some galaxy I haven't seen that's good for a family..."
Leela shivered. The voice faded to a whisper, and then a rustling of fabric and the padding sound of footsteps approached.
She heard the sheets rustle, then the slippery sensation of his pajamas sliding against the back of her legs.
"Fry, you have to promise me you won't take Lilah off of Earth."
"What if something happens? What if the ship explodes, or if there's an accident? I can't bear to lose you both!"
"Leel, calm down." Her heart was a hammer against his cheek.
"I risk enough, letting you go every day." The tighter he held her, the more her trembling seemed to ease. Her eye was glazed with tears as she turned to face him.
"Okay, Leela. I promise, I won't take Lilah anywhere."
She clung to him. "Oh, Fry..."
He didn't try to sleep, but only held her and watched the night slowly bleed into morning.
Fry stroked Leela's shoulders as she said, "I should have been braver, Fry. I never should have limited Lilah's life this way."
"You were half-crazy, Leel." He noted her expression. "Uh, I mean you went through a lot."
"I want to fly, but every time I touch the controls those memories come back."
"Spleesh!" Dania remarked from the floor. "You guys sound like an All My Circuits marathon."
"Dania, hush," Kif scolded. "You don't know how hard it was for your...Leela, to survive what she did."
"I know it was hard, but it's, like, 3012! That's ancient history."
"One day, you'll understand, right, Amy? Amy?"
"Huh?" She looked up blankly from the Quake Chess board. Zapp appeared to have an advantage, but she was sure she could turn it around...
"Oh, never mind," he sighed.
"Speaking of ancient, where's Lilah?" To confused looks from her elders, Dania temporized, "She's old to me!"
"I left her on the terrace," said Fry.
"What?" Panic glowed in Leela's eye.
"It sounded like a good idea at the time."
"She's not there anymore," Zapp said, shrugging. "Knight me, baby."
"What do you mean 'she's not there anymore'?" Leela grabbed Zapp by the collar.
"Oooh! Now we're getting back on the right foot. Your idea of foreplay is strange to me, but I can learn to like it."
"Where. Did. My. Daughter. Go?"
"I... I saw her slip through the grating mounted to the wall."
Leela dropped him back into his chair and looked at the others. "He could be lying. Check the closets, and under the beds."
"Aye, Aye!" Kif, Amy and Fry jumped from their seats and began searching. Leela glared down at Zapp.
"You'd better not be lying."
"I'm lying? You're looking under a bed for a fifteen-year-old. I know how they act. They don't hide under beds. On them, maybe."
A shriek came from the janitor's closet, and Amy rushed back into the lounge, covering her eyes. A furious-looking Bender and a meek Angelyne followed at her heels.
"What are you screaming at? Robot interfacing is a beautiful thing!"
"Bender, for the love of Zombie Jesus, tuck yer wires back into yer cabinet, mon!" grumbled Hermes.
"You're just jealous," Bender huffed.
"None of you found her? I'm starting to worry that Zapp's right."
"Thank you, my lovely."
"Grr... We think she slipped down the vents, into the basement. That means she's trying to get down into the sewers."
"To see your mother? Fry wasn't watching her, was he?" Leela nodded, and Bender laughed. "I knew he'd screw up one day, but wow!"
"Stop it! We have to find Lilah before something terrible happens!"
"I'm checking the balcony," Fry called, rushing through the lounge and out the patio door. A second later, he poked his head back in.
"The grating's off!"
"What are we going to do?" She couldn't hide the panic in her tone.
"We're going to go down there," said Fry, shucking off his jacket and squeezing into the tube. "Come with me."
Leela nodded, "I don't think anyone else can fit..."
"I'll make myself fit!" Bender growled, tossing his cigar away and shoving Leela down the ramp behind Fry.
They landed in a heap in the basement.
The vent was open. And there was no sign of Lilah.
Panic welled up inside of Leela. "She could get lost! She could drown!"
"Your Mom will take care of her!"
"It's not about my Mom anymore!" Leela cried. "My baby could die!" She dove into the open manhole without another word.
"Your kid ain't a baby anymore," Bender pointed out.
"I know that. My wife doesn't," Fry said, following Leela.