What Might Have Happened Next
"Please don't stop playing, Fry. I want to hear how it ends."
Fry stopped and turned toward her; slowly, he smiled.
Leela smiled in return. As he took his seat and began to play, the notes wobbly but the pitch true, the image formed: a sketchy Fry and Leela who turned to one another, joined hands, and kissed. The simple tune seemed all the more bittersweet for the hollow way it echoed in the empty hall. But none of that seemed to matter as much as the fact that Fry's smile had come back. It was there on his face so often, you ceased to notice it - until it went away.
Leela clasped her hands together tightly. She'd stripped off her gloves; her sweaty palms had turned them clammy and uncomfortable. It was good, too, just to feel her hands there, both of them reassuringly warm and alive.
She wondered how Fry felt about his.
The hologram figures walked away, hand in hand, and Leela applauded - slowly at first, then as hard as she could. Her claps resounded from the walls and the echoes made it seem, for a moment, as if a whole audience joined her in applause.
Fry stood, and with great dignity, took his bow. Leela rose, too, a standing ovation of one. Then he crossed the stage and disappeared into the wings.
Leela stopped clapping. A strange panic came over her. "Fry, wait!"
Slowly, Fry leaned back around the curtain, his eyes wide.
"Don't go, Fry! Wait for me." Leela edged out of the row to the side aisle and hurried toward the stage, cursing her narrow gown.
Fry came down the stairs to meet her, looking a little dazed. He clasped his holophoner in both hands, like a weapon. Or a shield.
Leela closed her hands over his. "Fry...I want to thank you."
"Uh...you're welcome. I guess." Fry looked up guiltily. "Leela, I'm really sorry I almost got you sent to Hell."
Her own guilt panged her. "I'm sorry I cost you your robot hands." His human hands, beneath hers, were locked on the holophoner in a death grip. They were cold - but oh, so much warmer than the metal ones had been.
Fry shrugged. "It's okay. I just wish I could have finished the opera first."
"And I just wish I could've heard more of it." Reflexively, Leela's hands went to her ears.
Fry stared. "Hey! You're not wearing your robot ears!"
Leela smiled. "No. They're in my purse. I discovered my own hearing came back on its own, after the Robot Devil left. Ironic, isn't it?" She grimaced.
"I guess so." Fry smiled sadly at her. Then he straightened."Listen, I - uh - I want to ask you something." He took a deep breath. "Leela, will you go out with me tomorrow?"
"Yes, Fry," she answered. There was no decision involved; her mouth worked independent of any thought. But she had no objection to it.
Fry's smile went radiant.
Leela smiled back at him. And once again her mouth opened and spoke without any conscious decision on her part. "Fry, will you come home with me tonight?"
As the moment of utter silence stretched longer and longer, she was tempted to laugh; Fry really did look cute when he was dumbfounded. But she was more tempted to kiss him.
She cupped his face in her hands and leaned in. Leela half-expected something to interrupt them, as something always seemed to do; but whatever perverse forces in the universe that always kept them apart must have been sleeping. Their lips met.
Fry's eyes closed and he made a soft, yearning sound; his lips trembled a little against hers. The holophoner fell from his hands and bounced on the thick carpeting.
Leela felt an overwhelming tenderness for him. She didn't know what she was doing until she wrapped her arms around Fry's neck. Is this what it's like to be impulsive? she wondered. She felt her fingers ruffling Fry's hair, realized she'd always wanted to. She wondered why she never had before.
Suddenly Fry grabbed her shoulders and he pushed her away; Leela stared dumbly into his suddenly worried face.
"Oh, god, the Robot Devil did something to your mind, didn't he?! What is it, brainwashing? Hypnosis? Or - or some kind of hypnotic, brainwashing nanobot? Leela, if you're in there, speak to me! I'll get you back, I promise!"
"Fry, Fry!" Leela grabbed his arms. "I'm not brainwashed! Calm down!"
She shook her head.
Fry's brow furrowed in concentration. "You didn't eat anything Bender made tonight, did you? I told him to keep his bottle of 'confidence' out of the concession stand. I don't need another panic like the last 'Flight of the Bumblebee.'" Fry shuddered.
"I"m not drugged, either. I'm not anything." Concerned, Leela took his hands and squeezed them in hers, hoping to reassure him. After a moment, Fry smiled tentatively back.
Leela gave him a quick, soft kiss. "Come on. We can sneak out the back - I have my cab calling card, and I just replenished the minutes."
Fry reached down and picked up his holophoner. "Wait, Leela - I have to ask. Is this a pity thing? Because if it is, I'm okay with that. Really. I just want to know."
In exasperation, Leela grabbed him and fastened her mouth on his like an airlock sealing to a ship. He staggered and fell back against the stairs to the stage with Leela on top of him; the holophoner rolled down the steps and back to the floor. Ruthlessly she used her weight to pin him down until his astonishment melted and he moaned with pleasure, wrapping his arms around her waist.
It's true, Leela thought with wonder, and a mischievous delight. I really do make him breathless.
She pulled away, laid one hand on his chest and smiled seductively at him. "Did that feel like pity to you, Fry?"
He blinked up at her. "Uh...maybe a whole lot of pity?"
"Ooh!" Leela sat up and pounded her fists on her knees in frustration. What was she doing wrong?
"No, really." Fry sat up, solemn and earnest. "Leela, I'm probably being really stupid, because this is everything I ever wanted. But I don't want you to regret this later or anything. I'm not any different from the times you said 'no.' I'm just the same clumsy, dumb, untalented Fry I've always been."
Leela reached out to brush back a lock of hair over his ear. "You aren't any different, Fry. But I am. I can see something different in you."
"I don't get it," Fry said. He ducked his head. "You hardly heard any of the opera. And I can't ever play for you again."
"It's not the opera." Leela struggled to explain. "You know how sometimes, when there's something you can't figure out, and whenever you think about it, you just get more confused - so you stop trying? But then this one little thing happens and it's all crystal clear."
Fry considered. "I know about that first part."
She smiled ruefully. "Well, tonight was like the second." Leela stood up and began to pace. "Remember on the balcony, when I said I'd been a fully justified, prudent fool? I realized tonight I was wrong. I've only been partially justified. And I also realized how sick and tired I am of being prudent. If I have to be a fool, I'll be a fool for something I really want for a change!"
She turned back to him, nothing but the simple truth in her. "And I really want you, Phillip J. Fry."
Fry's mouth dropped open. Then he said, "Excuse me a second." He stood up, faced away from her, and jumped, pumping his fists. "Yes! Yes! Yes-yes-yes-yes-yes!"
Before tonight, that might have put Leela off, but now she just watched him fondly. That was the other thing she had realized. Fry would always be Fry - impulsive, feckless, and childlike, irresponsible about the little things...but utterly selfless about the big ones. He'd never be the brightest star on the scanner, but his heart was as wide as the cosmos and good all the way through.
And he loved her - not just wanted her for her body, or because he was desperate and single. His love was really for her.
Fry turned back to her, beaming. He squeezed her shoulders. "This is for real, right? Tell me I'm not imagining things! You really want me, even without my robot hands?"
Leela nodded happily. She felt as giddy as Fry was acting. "It wasn't the hands, Fry, it was what they helped me see in you. That's still there, even if they're gone." She shrugged. "Besides, they weren't all that great. I could never have let those cold, metal hands touch me...here." And she moved his hand about six inches lower...
"Yo, meat pies!" roared Bender's voice from the lobby. "Get a move on, you two, the taxi doesn't hover for free!"
"Oh, ice weasels! Quick!" Leela grabbed Fry's hand and dragged him up to the stage - he barely had time to snatch up his holophoner. Leela didn't care. She was not going to let them get interrupted again. She towed him, stumbling, through the opera hall's rear corridors and out the back door. Leela flagged the first taxi she saw and offered a double fare if the cabbie-bot got them to her building in under thirty seconds.
Out on the sidewalk, as the taxi zipped off, Fry turned again to her. "Leela, I want you to know that this is most incredible thing that's ever happened to me. The only thing I could possibly wish is that I could play for you again." Fry smiled gently. "Just once."
He looked at the holophoner in his hand, and sighed. "But I guess that's not gonna happen." He reached out and held it over a loose sewer grate.
The yearning in his voice touched her. Leela reached out and stopped his hand. "You know, Fry...you could teach yourself to play again. In time."
Fry grimaced, and his shoulders slumped. "I already tried that. I have stupid fingers. Mrs. Mellenger said that to learn anything, I'd have to practice ten times more than someone with normal fingers. One times for each stupid finger."
"Hmm. That is a lot of practicing." Leela smiled. "But I know something that might help."
Fry blinked. "What's that?"
Leela interlaced her fingers with his - his stupid, clumsy, wonderful, warm human fingers - and drew him toward the door. "You could do it sitting naked on my couch."