Delicious Surprise, Part 25
Part one for Disclaimers
This is the end of the series, and I would like to thank those who helped me so kindly during its inception and delivery:
My betas, Catherine, Cheshyre and Dave;
The folks at The Leela Zone, Scan Art Central and Simpworks, who have given me encouragement and very thoughtful constructive criticism;
The people who physically post my work to these archives. The care does mean something to me;
My regular feedbackers, Mitch and RyeGuy.
I would like to leave you with a brief quotation from the song that inspired this series, Beth Hart's "Delicious Surprise":
Delicious Surprise...Now I do believe...No fear in my eyes...Now I can see...Heaven's inside
Thus, Leela's journey back to herself.
And on with the show!
One Year Later
When Fry clicked on the television, he wasn't surprised by the headline of the day.
Linda's wide smile greeted him. "...The trial of former Earth President Zapp Brannigan, presumed dead for the past sixteen years, reached a stunning conclusion today. Morbo?"
"Puny Former Human President Brannigan will face a century of probation and twelve years of community service. Former New New York Mayor Poopenmeyer, current head inquisitor of The New Federation of Justice, announced that the ruling was 'fair and unbalanced, as written by the law'. When asked for comment, Former President Brannigan said, quote: 'Mommy, I don't want to go to prison.' Unquote. Morbo and his people only ask that the NFJ spare the entrails of Brannigan, so that we may feast for a year on the buckets of lard to be harvested from his enormous gut."
Fry chuckled to himself, along with Linda. By tomorrow, the truth of Zapp's time away from society would be revealed.
He and Leela already knew; it had been poured out during a night of decontamination at the hospital. He had assumed the identity of Rusty Shackleford and worked as a janitor until he happened upon the 'Help Wanted' sign in Dwight's window.
"Fry, turn off the TV."
Fry turned to see the collected, assured smile of Leela. She was dressed for a celebration, in a glittering, slinky red party dress. She looked more confident, more serene, than she had in years.
"So, today's the big day!"
She nodded. "My first full flight." The past year had been a procession of baby steps, short trips from the office to the apartment building. Today she would fly all the way across town, though Fry wouldn't tell her precisely where.
"You sure you're okay with my backseat driving?"
"It couldn't be worse than my front-seat driving. Remember how I would direct you during our outings?"
He laughed; those memories were only in the process of becoming distant. It had been an odd readjustment period for all of them, with Leela working to lessen her need to keep track of Lilah's every movement, learning to allow the natural aging process all teenage girls go through to happen. Lilah had never been very rebellious, and she handn't tugged too hard on the reins. The experience had been a positive boon for all of them. She was, with Amy and Kif, waiting for them at the surprise party he had been planning for a month.
Dania on the other hand...well, that was one more gray hair they shared with Amy and Kif.
The walk to the ship was protracted. Lilah had taken the car, so it would be the Planet Express Ship in which they would make their journey. Leela stepped up the gangway with apprehension, but also a quiet sense of fatalism.
He buckled in beside her, watching as she did the same. One deep breath, and she punched a button; the engines revved.
She sucked in a breath, cleared her eye; nothing happened. No flashback, no anguish. Just the sky before her.
Emboldened, she activated the thrusters, embraced the wheel. The ship roseslowly. Her turns were rusty, but she managed to pull into traffic.
"Go left," Fry encouraged, and she did, merging with another line. "Okay, turn off here, then go right until you see a red star."
She did as he asked, her confidence increasing. "God," she whispered.
"What?" he asked, with some alarm.
"It's so beautiful up here."
His hand squeezed the one resting on the thruster.
"Okay, park down there..."
She did so. She shouted her triumph at the perfect landing, and threw her arms around him.
"I never thought I could do it again!"
"Come on, Leel; I knew you could. And if I know anything, it's what you can do."
She made a face, which shifted into a smile. "Are you going to tell me where we are?"
"Just put down the gangway."
A little gasp escaped her throat as she looked up from unstrapping her seatbelt. "The New Waldorf Monstoria!"
He kissed her cheek. "Coming with me?"
She took his hand and they ran like schoolchildren into the building.
"Ladies and Gentlemen: Mr. and Mrs. Phillip J. Fry!"
Leela shook her head, letting out a laugh. It looked just the ballroom that had hosted their wedding reception so many years ago. The ribbons and streamers and balloons were all shades of violet.
He kissed her lips. "Happy twenty-first, Leel."
She embraced him, aware of the appreciative hoots of their friends. They joined hands and headed toward a large table, and their friends.
"Happy Anniversary, Mom!" Lilah embraced each parent, hugging them as they settled in.
"I'm willing to bet that most of this was your idea."
"Nope. Everyone helped. That's how it was the first time, and that's how it is now," Lilah said firmly. Leela couldn't help but notice the newfound relaxation in her daughter's eyes.
"Yeah, me and the rugrats made the place settings." Bender said, striking a match off of the bottom of his gold-plated replacement foot. Accusatory glances pinned the robot, and he glared back. "I told em they were for homeless Euro-Guatemalan Orphans!"
"Bender, I hope you're not treating the kids as slave labor."
"Hey, the Bender Bending and Angelyne Rodriguez Orphanarium don't participate in the slave trade. We just deal in dope." More accusatory glares. "Geez, you ain't just getting old, yer losing your sense of humor!"
Leela sighed, submitting to Bender's sense of humor. It had been her recommendation that had prompted the state to put him in charge of the new establishment, and it was a job that, to her shock, he and Angelyne had taken on with grace.
"Angelyne and Zapp say hello, too. They bought you a hyper-toaster. I bought you the porn."
"Uh, that's thoughtful, Bender..." The word 'Zapp' finally penetrated her consciousness. "Zapp?"
"Where do ya think he's doing his community service?" Bender winked, puffing his cigar.
Leela downed some champagne. Her gaze fell to her mother, a recently minted legal citizen of New New York. She was smiling at the Professor in a way that wasn't entirely innocent. The temptation to say something poked at Leela's conscience, but she decided to remain silent. Her mother had mourned Morris for sixteen years, and it was more than enough time to start living again.
Dania's hug took her off-balance. Her squishy daughter was enveloped in a quick embrace. "Where's your brother?"
"I saw him at the buffet," she shrugged. "Wanna see what I can do with my party board?"
"Dania, not inside" Amy chided, around sips of a cocktail. "You could end up starting a chain reaction." She winked at Kif, who squeezed her hand.
At that point, Dante elbowed his way to the table and settled a plate of food between Dania and Kif. He frowned. "I still don't believe I got stuck with that stupid Robo-sitter, while you guys got to have fun!"
Dania rolled her eye. "Spleck, Dante! That was, like, a year ago!"
"So? You got to have fun and I had to play canasta and eat witch hazel until her battery pack ran out!"
"Oh, I'm sure there's an adventure waiting for you, son," Kif said, smiling. "And if another one's thrown in my path, I'll pass it down to you."
Dante shook his head as the rest of the adults laughed.
Lilah turned around to a light touch on her shoulder. "Uh, I was wondering if you'd like to dance?" said Dwight.
Lilah thought for a moment. "Well..." Across the table, her father ground his teeth. Her mother just nodded indulgently. "Okay!"
At another table, Hermes and LaBarbara raised a glass to Leela and Fry.
Fry's response, once they looked away, was, "Do you think he's good enough for Lilah?"
Leela's smile was wide. "Were you good enough for me when we started out?" It was a question that clearly made Fry's head throb. Leela sighed. "She's sixteen, Fry. Not a baby anymore."
"I know that! But..."
"She's your little girl?" So knowing were the words that he was taken aback.
He shrugged. "Guess I have to let go a little, too."
To their surprise, Zoidberg waddled up to the table next. "I regret to inform you that he's quitting Planet Express," he read from an index card before him.
They stared. "Huh?"
"Oh, I'm sorry! Take this job and restaff it, why not?"
"But Zoidberg, why?" Her fondness and appreciation for the doctor made her hold back a who else would hire you?
"Wonderful news, I have! Zoidberg has been offered a TV show!"
"I thought that your Uncle's film made it certain that you'd never get back to Hollywood."
"Ever," echoed Fry.
"Well, I shouldn't have said never. Bueno Fiesta Productions has offered me my own reality show." He spread out a folder on an empty part of the table. "They call it 'Doctor Zoidberg'!"
"But uh...how can I say this and not hurt your feelings...your bedside manner is sort of..."
"Stinky," said Fry.
"The producers said I was a natural," he said evenly. "All I have to do is yell 'You Are Ruining Your Life! Buy My Book!" every time they ask me a question. Instant gold!"
"Well, we wish you luck, Doctor. You do always have a place here."
He smiled, such a rare sight, then nodded. "Thank you. Now to the buffet!" He let out a hoot and waddled away.
Suddenly, the strains of a familiar song began. "You know, Fry, it's going to be pretty lonely in a while. Lilah only has one more year before she goes to college, and Dania and Dante will be considered mature in another..."
"In the physical sense." She smiled. "And Bender's orphanarium could always use another empty bed..."
He knew exactly what she was suggesting. "It's been a long time since I changed a diaper."
"You won't have to. We'll adopt an older kid, one that doesn't have all of the chances the younger ones do."
He took her hand. "We can talk about this another time." He stood, leading her into his embrace. "Right now, we're gonna dance."
She smiled. That sounded heavenly.
She wasn't shocked when Bender shoved her off her cloud. "Hey, I got a gift for you that ain't porn after all! I was clearing out my memory bank, no thanks to the Professor back there -" he glared, "- and I found this." His eyes lit up, and onto the ceiling was projected a closeup image of a star.
As it pulled back, more stars came into the field of view, until it became apparent that they were arrayed into letters, then words.
I LOVE YOU, LEELA
Then, in a heartbeat, it was all sucked into a point of blackness.
Leela was awestruck. Fry, furious, chased the robot across the dance floor. "Why did you keep that from us?"
"I thought I could get some money outta you, but then I forgot about it," he admitted. Then Leela found her voice.
"Fry, yanking Bender's arms off and shoving them down the trash compactor won't help." She pulled her husband toward her. "You really did do that for me. It wasn't a fairy tale after all."
"How did you even-"
"The stories you would tell Lilah when she was small...there was always that one I thought you made up." She brushed his cheek. "You gave me what I loved most. No wonder I married you twice."
He wrapped his arms around her. "Twice, and never again?"
"Twice. Never again."
Around them, their friends danced to the soothing sound of Etta James; Hermes and LaBarbara, the Professor and Munda, Lilah and Dwight, Zoidberg and a protesting Dante, Bender and Dania, Kif and Amy. They did not resist joining in.
In the corner of the room, Nibbler curled up, smiling to himself. The Other had found herself again, and here, as on Planet Eternium, they danced for the joy of it.